Welcome to the exploration into Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Yes, you and I are about to delve into passages of a new chapter each article of the 2500 year old military treatise on how to kick ass and take names with your brain thumbs. I won’t be covering the entire chapter, but I strongly encourage you to go out and read the book for yourself. There is much, much more to be learned from every line.


CHAPTER 6: WEAK POINTS AND STRONG


No exposition, let’s just get right to it.

 

Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.

Every game has a series of openings a player can take to set oneself up for a greater strategy for victory.  Take Starcraft for example: every race has what is called an opening “build order” that serves as a framework moving into the mid or late game.  Depending on where you want to steer the direction of the game will determine whether you take an early gas, build an early expansion, or pump out army units to overwhelm your enemy.  Each build order can be classified as “safe” or “unsafe” and have varying levels of reward for how risky the build is.  This can be directly translated to the Crucible.

First, let’s take a typical game of control.  Each team spawns and runs to their respective points.  They capture that point and there is a firefight shortly thereafter on B point.  This is what I would consider a safe opening.  Both teams secure their first point and then fight for superiority on the hill that is B.  Even if you lose, you can still fall back to your spawn point.  However, consider this.  What if your entire team ignores the first point and sends all 6 members straight to B?  You know that the map is designed for conflict to initially occur at that point.  Why not exploit that and set up good sightlines into the incoming enemy prior to engagement?  And, after you’ve won the engagement, you can send one or two to backtrack and capture your spawn point.

Now, let’s examine a typical game of Elimination or Trials.  In my opinion there are only three major openers: pushing into the center of the map, pushing to enemy spawn, and pushing to the control point.  Bear in mind that I am well aware that occasionally the center of the map IS where the control point spawns.  Unlike control, the nature of the ruleset in Elimination means that whoever “wins” the opening often wins the match.  Control is a balancing act where you attempt to just ride the wave as far as you can before it crests.    Unless you are in an incredibly dominant position, a successful Control team does not push beyond the tipping point.  However, due to the length and respawns of Control matches, the flow of the game is much more fluid.  Elimination does not allow enough time to recover from a poor opening.  It can quickly snowball out of control with a successful team reaching super much quicker, especially utilizing said super on the heavy round.

For these reasons, one simple way to find strategic success in Trials is to perfect your opening.  Where are you heading, why are you heading there, which sightlines are you covering once you get there?  If your enemy mirrors your opener, you need to post up quicker than they do.  For this reason, if I find myself running Bladedancer in Trials or Elimination, I will actually run Fleet Footed instead of Quickdraw just so I can be already hardscoped down the anticipated sniper lines before my opponents.  As a nearly-dedicated Striker Titan, skating nearly always allows me to arrive before my opponents, allowing a huge advantage.

 

You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended.  You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.

This advice seems like a no-brainer, but the concept itself is very subtle.  If you were to track the reasoning behind why you win gunfights, I believe you would find it’s because you either anticipated your opponent(s) and their movement or you caught them off-guard.  It’s why flanks can be so effective: when you go uncontested, you choose the rules of engagement.  It is why, in general, it is much better to be proactive than reactive.  It’s also why blink is fucking amazing.

 

Blink.   Why is Blink-shotgun so effective?  Because you’re attack from a place a person isn’t defending: their flank.  And yes, above your character is your flank.  Why?  Are you looking there?  Are you aiming your sights well above head level?  Nine times out of ten, that answer is noBlink allows a player the opportunity to create a flank in an instant.  It isn’t the shotgun that’s killing you (although it’s a damn good tool at doing that) it’s the fact that your enemy has generated an opportunity of attack that’s nigh impossible to defend against.  AND THAT’S A GOOD THING.  Your enemy could kill you with a ham sandwich at that point.  If a shotgun didn’t work the way it did, (or didn’t exist) TLW, Hunter backstab, and sticky grenades would all be sufficient.
On the topic of defense, you’re the safest when you can cover areas difficult to push, whether that be from bottlenecked lanes of traffic, elevation, or entrances to engage.  It’s these reasons why I absolutely love being in B room when I play on The Cauldron.  Most people hate Cauldron, and especially B.  That’s where I thrive best on the map.  Why is this?  The doors.  With proper radar management, you can never be flanked on B.  You always see them coming.  While you can be pinched, it is incredibly easy to communicate to your team about a flanker and quickly exit the room to handle the straggler and team push with a numbers advantage back inside.

Also keep in mind that defense has to do with “holding positions”.  This isn’t camping.  It’s map control.  It’s taking a zone or an area of a map, and patrolling it up and down, not allowing it to be penetrated by enemy movement.  You should still be mobile in a defensive or entrenched position.  You should just never leave your zone.  This is why zone defenses in football can be so incredibly frustrating.  It is easier to cover up man-to-man mismatches by constantly shifting coverage based on an area of field.

 

Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.

This statement sums up the entire essence of Sun Tzu’s philosophy.  You’re only as good as your opponent is ignorant or stupid.  This is why at the highest levels of play, there are tactics and strategies that just flat out stop working.  Or, those actions become incredibly strategic in nature as opposed to the status quo for victory.  In Dota, and other subsequent clones, these are known as pubstomp heroes.  They reach certain breakpoints that novices neither understand nor know how to properly counter.  Eventually they snowball out of control, and especially in the case of Dota (1/2), can dismantle an entire team by themselves.

 

For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left.  If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.

Know where the enemy is or anticipate where they are going to be.  Do this and you can find the chinks in the armor.  Even if that means never engaging them in the first place.  The clock can be just as much of a weakness as not covering a line of sight.

 

Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us.

Remember week one?  HAVE A PLAN.  Dictate the pace of the game and make the enemy come to you.  Make them play into your sightlines, your zones of control, your quick or drawn out engagements.  The only time you are weak is when you allow the enemy to dictate.

 

Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.

Just because you beat a team playing the clock and capture point doesn’t mean it’s going to work every single time.  Teams and people are going to adapt.  You need to adapt with them.  Flexibility is the key to becoming a better player.  Most importantly, discover, analyze, and evaluate what works and doesn’t work for you and build upon it.  Daigo Umehara has been a mainstay in the fighting game scene for decades.  If you take the time to watch Daigo, although he obtains mastery with characters, he rarely, if ever, plays the same way twice.  He is constantly adapting to the situation and maneuvering himself into positions of power over his opponents using his entire arsenal.  Fighting games are formulaic.  How you win a round is very much not.


TLW:

So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.