Monday, November 7, 2016

Support Theory


Most of you are familiar with the Dengaroo list; for those who aren't, Taking the Sith has a good post describing how it works. In short, it's one of those two-monster bosses. Dengar's the big one with the threatening claws, and Manaroo is the small thing that's secretly the heart for both monsters. It was never a well-regarded list, and fresh complaints popped up on Reddit after it won Worlds 2016. I think the list of complaints can be summed up to three things:
  1. Dengar deals and soaks enough damage to joust most lists by himself.
  2. It's tough to disrupt Dengar.
  3. Manaroo can support Dengar from unlimited range, which makes it harder to kill her.
Rather than being bad things, I think these are necessary for support ships to be viable. Support ships are relatively new and uncommon in X-Wing. The competitive true support ships (Emperor Palpatine, Manaroo) showed up around Waves 6 and 8. Biggs and Howlrunner are also support ships, but not of the type I'll look at here. Outside of X-Wing, they're found in all types of competitive games: class-based First-Person Shooters (e.g. Mercy and Lucio in Overwatch, the Medic in Team Fortress 2), MMORPG arenas (e.g. healers in World of Warcraft), and certain MOBAs (best example are healers in Heroes of the Storm).

If you've played Team Fortress 2, you've probably seen this comic by Penny Arcade:
This isn't an unusual strategy. Healers and support characters are often the priority target in these games. Why? Wouldn't it make more sense to kill what the support characters were supporting first, and make them useless?

Let's do a simple thought experiment. In the Red corner is two characters who specialize in dealing damage (I'll call these damage-focused characters "DPS"). In the Blue corner is a DPS and a support. How much does the support have to boost the DPS for this to be a fair fight?

The tempting answer is the support has to make the DPS twice as effective (either surviving twice as long or dealing twice as much damage), but it's easy to show this is not enough. Let's suppose the support makes the DPS twice as effective. If the Red side shoots the Blue DPS first, one DPS will die for each side at the same time. This leaves Red with a DPS that's good at killing things, and Blue with a support who's not as good at killing things on his own. That's an easy win for Red. If the DPS is tankier than the support, Red could also kill the support first and get a short 2v1 against Blue's DPS. The DPS + support team can't win unless the two-DPS team is dumb and splits their fire.

In order for support characters to be viable, they have to increase the team's effectiveness by more than what you'd get from swapping out the support for another DPS. The exact amount depends on the support's solo effectiveness. A support which can deal decent damage by himself after the DPS goes down can get away with a smaller boost. If the support is largely useless by themselves, then he has to boost the DPS by enough to almost kill both enemies.

Many of the previously-mentioned games make the support boost extremely strong, to the point where support classes are mandatory. If you've ever had the "pleasure" of playing a game of Overwatch without a healer on your team, you know what I mean. The weakness of supports is they generally die pretty quickly when focused and they generally can't support themselves as well as others on their team. Trying to chew through the DPS who are being healed is a tough task. Kill the healer first, and the DPS become much easier to clean up.

(Overwatch has 6 players on each side, and Mercy, one of the primary healers, has an ability which resurrects dead allies. You either kill Mercy 1st, or you might have to kill her 11th. Thankfully, Mercy can't heal herself and she can't resurrect when she's dead.)

With this in mind, it should be expected that Dengar can beat an entire squad by himself while being resilient to disruption with the support of Manaroo. Despite Feedback Array and the maneuverability, Manaroo can't do a lot by herself. Several players have found success by killing Manaroo first, and the numbers show Dengar's much less effective when Manaroo can't pass tokens. If Manaroo had to stay near Dengar, it'd be almost trivial to kill her first. Without these features, a 40-point support ship can't be viable in this game.

Killing Manaroo's not an easy task. She's a 9-hp 2-agility ship with Boost and Barrel Roll. Still, she has a relatively low pilot skill and she has to choose whether to keep her Focus for defense or pass it to Dengar for offense. She also can't get too close to Dengar without making him less effective. I think Manaroo's maneuverability is what makes the Dengaroo matchup skillful and interesting. It's a race to catch and kill Manaroo before the Dengar clock cripples your list.

I see Manaroo and Emperor Palpatine as X-Wing's first viable support ships, and I'd be disappointed if the support archetype is taken out of the game.


P.S. I think some of the negativity around Dengaroo comes more from emotions. It feels bad to be shot by Dengar and not be able to take shots back. It feels bad to roll lots of evades and reroll them to blanks. That's entirely valid, but it's also something you can control.

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