There’s a trend in modern multiplayer first person shooters that disturbs me. No, it’s not the modern military shooter, that trend is already dying out. It’s not the rise of hero shooters either, since I do enjoy Paladins when I have enough to actually build a damn loadout. Overwatch I’m not too fussed about, but that’s partly because of the rather lackluster customization options available (I want my hats, dammit!). No, it’s an issue that I’ve been noticing for some time. Team sizes are shrinking.
Overwatch, by default, is a 6v6 game. Paladins is a 5v5 game. Dirty Bomb has 5v5, 6v6, 7v7 and 8v8. Man, talk about being spoilt for choice. Lawbreakers, based on this IGN gameplay footage, is a 5v5 game.
It’s a weird thing to pick up on, but after observing myself playing TF2 and thinking back to my favourite moments in the game, it always had something to do with two full teams of twelve clashing with each other. Like on my birthday a few years ago where 7 of us decided to band together and crash a full server, and pretty much tearing the other team apart. Or that one miracle game where we have three Medics and enough firepower to bulldoze through the enemy team in Badwater in less than 5 minutes. Or that one game on Dustbowl where I mounted an iron defense in Stage 1 Point A as an Engineer along with seven other hard hats and two firebugs, along with a nursemaid and a really clueless Scout. Or those really close matches in a community server at 11 p.m. (thanks g4stly!) where it’s a really intense tug ‘o’ war between two teams, with a squad of 5 leading a charge on each side and flanks and counter-flanks circling around the frontline like hawks waiting to dive in for a pick. Or those solo sessions where I as a flank Heavy took out a large chunk of the enemy forces and the rest of my team rushes in to tear apart the survivors like a high-pressure water jet washing away stray clumps of dirt.
It’s just that, when things do come together, a 12V12 will definitely feel more epic than a 6v6. It’s the difference between winning a skirmish and winning a war. They both feel good, but the 12V12 always have a sense of grandness that comes with a larger crowd, something a 6v6 game can’t hope to replicate, even if they spawn a hundred bots alongside each team. There is something about 12 people working together that just isn’t the same as 6 people and a few bots together.
Conversely, when things fall apart, they will really scatter to the point where even two b4nnies can’t salvage it. It’s kind of like having a fight with a wave at a rather filthy beach: futile and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth as the wave crashes into your face. Especially if some of them starts the “it’s just a game” chant when their idea of a game is to crouch in a corner tossing Sandviches at passers-by. Does this game look like Diner Dash to you?
But then, leaving these two extreme cases aside for now, what about the average 12V12 match? What exactly is it about the large team sizes that makes it so attractive?
In a normal 12V12 match, you normally have a semblance of a sensible team structure. There’ll be a respectable number of players charging towards the objective, which forms the main force of your team. Then there’ll be some of the “go fast get frags” crowd that form the flanks. And you have the Engineers, Snipers and Spies providing support from the back. Medics, if there are any, will normally be at the main force.
By having 12 players, you can afford to have the team composition to be slightly lopsided. The team does not need to follow a very strict composition since the larger numbers will make the difference relatively small, while a small team will need to follow the meta team build a bit more strictly if they are serious about winning, as one Soldier switching to a Spy makes a larger difference in 12V12 rather than 6V6.
And the larger team sizes in 12V12 means that a team can afford to sacrifice a player for the time being for some risky strategies. Backcapping. Sneaky Teleporter exits. Having one guy dedicated to giving the top-fragging Soldier on the other team hell so the rest of the team can have some breathing space. Having a dedicated flanker to harass enemies at their spawn to buy the rest of the team some time and space to capture the objective. Losing one out of twelve players is a relatively easy pill to swallow compared to one out of six, where the relatively larger difference in firepower can be lethal in a teamfight. It’s not impossible to do it in a 6V6 game, but it will certainly be much harder to mask the disappearance of one player. Not to mention, if the game locks players down to one character for the whole game like in Paladins, the disappearance of one player becomes even more apparent.
Not to mention, larger teams meant that the matches are inherently more chaotic and unpredictable, since there are so many factors that can change the outcome of a game when that many players are on the line. Thus, to a solo player, it will be harder to know what to expect. This is more of a personal taste, but I feel that having to plan nothing and prepare for anything is a lot more exciting.
Now, I’m not saying that 12 is the magic number where miracles happen. My point is, large teams provides the sort of hodgepodge fun that can’t be found on smaller teams. It also makes coordinated team efforts much more impressive since there are more people that needs to come together for it to happen. Aside from that, less emphasis is being put on every player, so strategies where having one player to go off to do something risky but rewarding should it work can be more commonplace.
But then, as I said, team sizes are getting smaller. Part of the reason is because it’ll make matchmaking easier, but the main reason, I suspect, is because of game companies trying to push the competitive aspect of games. Large team are problematic for competition since it makes the barrier of entry higher by needing to have a larger number of people of similar skill to group up. Aside from that, communication will be messier, and coordinated efforts by teams can be more easily disrupted due to the more chaotic nature of larger teams. All in all, organizing a competitive game with 12 players or more on each side is just a nightmare.
And I suppose this is the way things will go. Games with competitive elements have been proven to be better money makers regardless of how the games are made. I do feel pretty bummed by this, but then, me yelling to the whole universe about this will just be fighting a wave on a filthy beach. I suppose there’s PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS, but the issue with playing that is this: I do not like playing in a free-for-all, I like playing as a part in a large team. Big enough that I can get away with some stuff to pull off something spectacular or die trying, but not so big that whatever I do feels futile, like in Planetside 2.
And I feel sad to think that this is the route multiplayer FPSes are going down. I like playing in large teams, whether it is a full-blown turf war in the middle of Dustbowl or a solo flank’s beatdown at the enemy spawn in Nucleus. Big teams offer a kind of fun that small teams can’t. It’s messy, random fun, but I like it for what it is.