Psychology & WoW

BY Andrew Miesner / February 18, 2010

Psychology & WoW  

by Sascha “Yiska” Heinisch

While the execution of most moves in WoW aren’t exactly an art form, the timing of the moves most definitely is. Even though the game is limited by a global cooldown that prohibits you from using most abilities more than every 1.0-1.5 seconds, your enemy still performs theirs in the meantime, which you have to detect and act accordingly. Because of the current state of the game, the margin of error you can allow yourself got a lot smaller. One poor decision, be it because of missing key information, misjudging a situation, predicting an enemy move incorrectly or just drawing the wrong conclusion and your game might go downhill. Your mind has to be fresh at all times.

Most gamers would agree that they have good days, in which just about every clutch headshot/surround/ interrupt works, and bad days. Let’s not talk about those, I guess… If you have ever come home from a hard day at the office, trying to perform in a competitive environment and you felt like you’ve been robbed of the ability to comprehend just about anything that is happening on the battlefield, you know what I’m talking about.

While this is of course true for every e-sport, I’d say that WoW players suffer among the most. The information is presented in a half numeric, half visual form and requires immense capacity to be on top of your game. WoW arena, unless you are heavily outskilling your opponent, is not a the game you want to play to relax. Depending of what you did before an arena session, your performance will differ greatly.  Now of course each and every individual is different and the duration we can concentrate varies. Still, if I know my arena session is going to start soon I don’t want to read a book or watch a movie because this also requires me to absorb information that is thrown at me. What I want to do is let my mind wander. We aren’t designed to concentrate for that many hours.

So, I tried to find a way to get into a productive mood and oddly enough I learned from my (awful) computer. When he can’t handle the information I’m giving him, he starts lagging until he can once again deal with it. Sometimes the RAM is just full (because of poor coding) and you need to reboot. I am very poorly coded as well (you’ve got no idea) and I push my personal reset button by going out for a 30-50 minute jog. Others might find theirs in a power nap or working out in the gym. When I come out of the shower, I feel like I just woke up and had my first coffee. I’m ready to devour more of the simply insane amounts of information WoW floods me with and I unfortunately still make poor decisions, but that is really just because I’m not a good player. My mind just goes blue screen and so does this analogy. I leave the good decisions to Venruki, Sodah, Flexx and the others.


If we play our best, we can win every game – Twixz


The quote above is perfect for WoW because the structure of the day is so important for every team and the top is pretty close together. Jet-lag can really hurt your game and we have seen it before. For me, it is no coincidence, though, that the champions of the past couple of month were teams who all had one thing in common: They were confident.

Be it SK-Sansibar, Button Bashers or coL.Black, those guys never shy away from an interview. These teams are notorious for filling gaming halls around the world with their battlecries of “Kill Him,” “Töte ihn!”(German) or 쏴 죽임(Korean). The advantage is apparent; These guys bring their comfort-zones to the tournament in their suitcase as if they were playing at home.

I’m not just rambling here, because confidence really is that important in WoW and it materializes in the actual game play of every single game. If you have a plan in your head, you will obviously react faster, making your team better in the process. Momentum has been a key factor since WotLK came out and once it’s lost, it’s really hard to come back while being on the defense. Most of the time it will drain so many important cooldowns that you won’t be able to sustain the momentum and decide the match in your favor.  RMP is a classic example, as the opener for this comp is so important for the entire match that a bad start can already throw you back far too much. Because of the global cooldown, you often have to decide between an offensive move and a defensive one. If you need to apply Ice Barrier and Counterspell defensively on the opponent’s Mage, you are on the defense and it will be hard for you to score a kill any time soon in most cases.

Next, there is outsmarting and like in every other game, staying a step ahead of an opponent player is not an easy task and the better they are, the less you can predict them. Mind games occur which manifest themselves, for example, in fake casting. For the non WoW-readers: Skilled players fake cast to lure out an interrupt which often has a couple of seconds of cooldown and if those hit they not only interrupt the cast, but they also lock you out from casting another spell in the next 4-10 seconds. Because of the nature of WoW which is played on the internet, there is latency and even though you might see the casting bar on your screen, the enemy player might have just stopped casting and “faked your counter.” Now, a true battle of out smarting each other goes down in almost every match. Skilled interrupters will analyze the faking behavior of their opponent (for example they fake late at 1.1 sec) while amazing casters will switch their behavior when they fake so they stay as unpredictable as possible. It’s a mini-game, not much different from rock, paper, scissors, which is a skill game after all. The great mind will always guess right more often and win the series.

There are other mind games going on in WoW though. A great example are the strategies that coL.Red performed in Orlando. Because they had 4 players on their roster, they had a couple of comps they could effectively run against an opponent. For example they would let Venruki sit down and shortly before the game started Snutz would switch chairs with him. The advantage they gain from this is that the opponent team created their gear, spec and maybe even setup according to the comp they thought they would meet. These surprise effects do win games like we saw against EG.

The most impressive usage of psychological warfare was arguably the switch that coL.Black made at MLG Orlando, when the series against Button Bashers was tied at 2-2. They knew that Protection Warriors had been the bane of the Koreans in the past and took full advantage of this, winning the series 4-2, sending BB to the loser’s bracket. Check mate.

A player that had psychological warfare down to an art form was of course SK.Realz early last year. While many argued that he wasn’t individually the strongest Priest in the scene, he was still a great leader. He earned his nickname “Dr.Realz” when they played in Blizzard’s American Regionals, when his RMP beat the later to be World Champions while the other RMPs failed.

As you can see, WoW is a game with psychological depth, much like many other e-sports. I’m sure I missed important parts of a top players thoughts that he has during a tournament, but this is just what an avid observer has gathered over the years. I, for one, will push my reset button now and if you made it till here you should probably too. Stay tuned.