|'Mechs are serious business|
I was watching a stream yesterday and in the chat there were a few players from different units having a conversation. One of them was asked why they were doing badly in 12-mans recently and he replied "because we were running fun builds". The other guy responded, probably jokingly, that they were a "tier 2 team" if they don't play to win and bring serious business builds all the time.
I must say, I'm a bit sad that this is a reality in MWO. I think it's still an issue that polarizes the community as well. As it happens, "playing to have fun" and "playing to win" are two separate things in MWO. When you want to take advantage of the deep customization and the great variety of mechs in MWO, you play for fun. When all it matters is killing, "carrying", competing and winning; you're expected to bring 'Mechs and builds set in stone, built to take advantage of the current gameplay (im)balance.
Shouldn't they be the same thing? Why isn't a player trying out anything other than "top tier 'Mechs" (I hate that classification by the way) expected to win? The answer to that seems to be "the possibility of dropping against optimized builds". It's all fine and dandy as long as you're grouped with other players playing to have fun, but as soon as you get "playing to win" players in the queue disrupting the balance, then you have to counter-escalate or risk losing repeatedly. This is a common occurence in the streams of competitive players. They start with fun builds like brawlers or obscure mediums, do fine for a few rounds and later get a few disruptive meta 'Mechs on the other team and get absolutely demolished. Then suddenly it's "business time" and they spend the rest of the night with usual builds and mechs, "carrying" their teams to victories.
The people who are very upset about this situation seems to be those who don't really like the "play to win" aspect of the game. They who refuse to counter-escalate for various reasons, mostly because they find the current meta stale and boring. Their options are extremely limited; they either improve themselves and find creative ways to have partial success or they just deal with it and accept defeat whenever they get meta 'Mechs on the other side. For the "play to win" players there isn't much problem with the fun side, as winning always brings satisfaction. Some of them even admit that they couldn't care less about their mechs and builds, as long as they win.
Naturally this creates a lot of friction between both types of players. People are accused of taking advantage of unbalances and are labeled as tryhards, metahumpers and such. People on the other end of the spectrum accuse others of being filthy pugs, people that are to be carried or in the case of teams, "second tier".
Who is responsible for this then? Are "play to win" folks to blame because they ruin the matches for others by bringing superior builds and mechs? Are "play for fun" folks the reason the matches are so horrible for others? I'd say there's no one right or wrong here. Different people have different mindsets and you can't force them to play in a certain way. The blame lies completely on PGI's shoulders.
Think about it, MWO is a game that thrives on its customization aspect. PGI makes money by selling mechs, mechbays, hero 'mechs and customization of each of them cosmetically. Yet, they also allowed for a single meta (PPC+AC) to dominate everything else for over a year. This created an environment where only a fraction of the game content is "viable". If you only want to win in this game, other than a good understanding of the underlying mechanics and tactics, you only need a handful of 'mechs. Let's say a CTF-3D, Dragon Slayer, SHD-2H and maybe throw a Jenner in there. With the arrival of Clans, some even argue that all you need is a TBR. All of the other 'mechs fall into the "playing for fun" category and are completely optional. Many people will even agree with me that you're actually putting yourself at a disadvantage by bringing something else.
I'm still puzzled by how PGI allowed this to happen. It's bad for the community, it's bad for their finances and it's bad for gameplay. The good thing is, that they took some radical steps to alleviate this in the recent months. AC speed and range nerfs, SRM hit detection fixes(after nearly a whole year), jump jet tweaks and especially the latest jumpjet acceleration and height fixes seem to have let at least some of the competitive players to experiment.
Maybe they realized that if they want to grow their business, the gameplay balance is crucial. Yet, there are more balance issues to tackle, and the friction between player groups still remain.