Welcome back to The Front Line, DarthHater’s column dedicated to helping you improve your PVP experience, both as a member of a team and as a leader of one. Last month, we discussed how you can improve your PVP communication. Today, we turn our attention to situational awareness.
Situational awareness is one of those subtle skills that separates a good player from a great one. Players who are situationally aware often seem to have superior reaction times and knowledge of events around them. In reality, they are just keeping track of the developing situation beyond what they are directly faced with — an ability that you, too, can acquire. Hit the jump for more on improving your situational awareness!
Situational awareness is about being able to perceive what is happening around you, even if you are preoccupied with something else. The concept of situational awareness has real-world applications, like flying aircraft or steering ships. It is about collecting, interpreting, anticipating and acting on information in your immediate surroundings, all while you’re doing something that requires a certain amount of your focus. It is easy to focus too hard on what is immediately in front of you and miss an important opportunity or a dangerous hazard.
In real life, situational awareness helps prevent tragedies and keeps people safe. In The Old Republic, situational awareness helps in a similar fashion — helping prevent the tragedy of losing PVP rounds while keeping you and your teammates alive. The more aware you are, the better you and your team will fare. Regardless of whether you are a Tank, a Healer or damage dealer, knowing what is happening around you in PVP will greatly increase your effectiveness
This is all well and good — but, you ask, how can the mythic concept of situational awareness actually help you in PVP combat? Most combat in SWTOR’s PVP is group-focused, and very rarely do you fight another player one-on-one. In any conflict, there are an indeterminate number of opportunities for you to greatly increase your team’s chances of winning by paying attention to the situation and reacting appropriately:
- Snaring, rooting and stunning opponents at the right time can save a teammates life, or it can ensure the death of a slippery enemy healer. Either can turn the tide in favor of your team.
- Capturing an objective or giving someone else the opportunity to do so without being interrupted can easily be the reason your team wins the match.
- Peeling enemies from your healer, even if they are not priority targets, can waste a lot of the enemy team’s time and give your healer a chance to recover.
- Using taunts or damage-reducing abilities that affect allies — like the Juggernaut’s Intercede, or the Sniper’s Ballistic Shield — can give your team the precious extra seconds it needs.
For all of the above, though, you’ll need to see these things happening. That’s where situational awareness comes in: you can’t react to a situation you haven’t perceived, and you can’t react appropriately without interpreting that information.
Commonly, situational awareness is referred to by experts in the field as “the bubble.” The imagery of a bubble is supposed to convey the scope of your awareness. Things inside the bubble you are aware of and can react to, and things outside of the bubble are considered beyond your mental reach. When you are too focused on one thing, it is possible to lose the bubble entirely. Once that happens, you are considered to have “tunnel vision” because you aren’t paying attention to anything except what is immediately in front of your face. It is at this point that you start to miss things which could have an important impact on your performance.
Maintaining a sufficiently large “bubble” of situational awareness is hard for the inexperienced, but it can be learned. For the purpose of this column, we’ll be breaking down the rubric of situational awareness into four linked categories:
- Perceiving Information
- Interpreting Information
- Anticipating Information
- Acting on Information
Once you’ve established good situational awareness as a habit, you probably won’t find yourself thinking about the process in such demarcated steps. Nevertheless, it helps to understand the steps of the process and the factors that are in play.
In SWTOR, the potential size of your bubble and, as a result, what you can perceive, depends on a few things:
- If you are not comfortable with your class’s abilities, it is hard to extend your perception beyond what you’re doing. The more comfortable you are with your class’s rotation and capabilities, the more attention you can devote to other things. This is one reason that players who are experienced seem a lot calmer and collected in PVP.
- How much of the area you can see will drastically affect your bubble. Ideally, you will have a a UI setup that does not impede your view of the fight but is easily and quickly scanned and conveys the right information. Keeping your camera zoomed out and doing regular sweeps around you is also very effective.
- Your current task can also impede your ability to perceive your environment. For example, you have to devote a lot more of your focus to killing a healer than you would to capturing an objective. While killing a healer, you need to watch for casts to interrupt, keep the healer snared and stun when appropriate to apply pressure. While capturing an objective, you are in essence waiting for a cast to finish. Since you can’t move without breaking the cast, you can constantly look around for incoming enemies.
This is the most knowledge-intensive step of the process. The more information you have about the enemy’s capabilities, the easier it will be for you to interpret what is happening around you. The less you have, the longer it will take to recognize opportunities. It is also possible to completely miss opportunities if you don’t know enough about your opponent.
Your comfort level against other classes will come into play here. If you know nothing about any other class, you’ll have to watch what they are doing a lot more closely to maximize your effectiveness against them. This can limit the amount of time — and concentration — you have to spend on other actions.
A good example might be to look at Concealment Operatives / Scrapper Scoundrels. They have the potential to inflict a large amount of single-target damage in a very short period of time when opening from stealth, and they also stun their target while doing so. This can be easily negated by knocking the Operative back after snaring them. With no uptime on the target and no good way to close the gap, the Operative’s damage potential is mostly eliminated until they can limp back to their target. If you saw an Operative open on a healer near you, but were not familiar with their capabilities, you may not do anything about it, and instead opt to attack a different target.
Anticipating Information is one of the harder steps to get used to, because it primarily comes with experience. While Interpreting deals with how players are currently acting, Anticipating deals with how players are likely to react to current events in the next 5-10 seconds.
Facing the same enemy constantly usually gives you insight into their normal attack patterns and frees up more of your attention that you can use elsewhere. If your enemy consistently favors the same attack plan, it makes their actions a lot easier to predict.
Familiarity with your team can also enhance your ability to anticipate. If you regularly play with the same players, you begin to recognize opportunities and patterns based on their actions rather than simple observation. You can also plan ahead, since you can count on them to normally do the same thing in a given situation.
A good example of Anticipating in action is when you must choose whether or not to break a stun using your 2-minute cooldown. You need to immediately decide if the situation you and your team find yourselves now and the one you will find yourselves in at the end of the stun requires you to be moving and active or not. Many players tend to (incorrectly) break the very first stun they experience. Unless you are alone and you are certain that every second counts against this opponent, or the stun in question is important enough to break (to save an objective, for example), there is little reason to break it. You need to Anticipate where you will be at the end of the stun.
Acting on Information
Acting on information is normally considered the easy part. After all, we’re already doing this when we are in PVP, to varying degrees of success. The tricky part here is making sure that you don’t focus on your actions to the exclusion of everything else.
Once you’ve committed yourself to a course of action, make sure you keep your “bubble” intact. Situational awareness is an ongoing process that doesn’t have a clearly defined beginning and end point. Even though you may be doing what you should be in this particular instance, the situation can change quickly. You don’t want to miss opportunities that could help turn the tide, so continue to watch for them.
Situational awareness is something that comes with time. It requires a mix of knowledge, experience and willingness to remain perceptive. However, the rewards you will reap from making it a habit are rich indeed. Try to keep these tips in mind as you PVP, and before long you’ll find yourself doing them simply out of reflex.
Glossary of PVP Terminology
When multiple players attack one enemy target in the hopes of killing them before the enemy team can react. This is sometimes also called “training” or “pressuring”.
A) A protective ability available to all Advanced Classes capable of tanking. It redirects 50% of all damage done to a specified ally to the tank, so long as the tank remains within 15 meters of the selected ally. Guard requires that the player be using their “Defensive Stance”. It is most commonly used to protect healers, making them significantly harder to kill.
B) The act of defending an objective to make sure that it is not captured easily by the enemy. Someone is considered to be guarding an objective if they are making active attempts to defend it from opponents.
Short for “incoming,” this is used to announce to your team that enemies are attacking a specific objective. For example, “4 inc east” indicates that four enemy players are on their way to the east objective.
Used to describe someone beginning to attack someone else, often used specifically to describe someone beginning an attack from stealth.
Using crowd control, stuns or snares to alleviate pressure on one of your teammates. This strategy is most commonly employed to protect healers who are being focused, or to protect flag/Huttball carriers. While tanks normally specialize in peeling, all classes have abilities which can be used to peel.
Time that is spent attacking a target using optimal skills and abilities. For example, knocking a melee character away from a target that they are attacking reduces their uptime on the target, as they need to be in melee range to do optimal damage.