The Elder Scrolls

From game theory perspective, Battlegrounds is a mess

Content of the article: "From game theory perspective, Battlegrounds is a mess"

So I'm relatively new to ESO, been now playing a month. As a programmer and computer science alumni with an interest on game theory and game design, I've found many mechanics in ESO to be pretty interesting and somewhat unique or unusual for the games I've played.

The Battlegrounds however are really a mess. There's a lot of stuff going to that – only solo queue, gear dependency, etc – but more fundamentally, the core design is flawed.

First, let's establish what is the actual goal of the game mode. Naively, one might assume that the goal is to help your team to be 1st of the match, but this is really not really the full story. To get the daily reward, it is enough for your team to be 1st or 2nd. To get the highest alliance points and an extra champion reward, and eventually the weekly rewards, your team can as well be 3rd as long as you personally are the first in your team in score.

To recap:

  • Your team should be 1st or 2nd for XP.
  • Your place in your team should be 1st.

So what then follows is that it's in fact not an optimal strategy to try to win the game. It would in fact be optimal for the 1st and 2nd team to team together to keep the 3rd team down, while for the 3rd team it would make sense to try to lose as fast as possible, since that reduces the total time spent going after the rewards. For the 2nd team, they should simply maintain their position and help the 1st team get score fast so the game is over more quickly.

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Normally, in 3-way games, only the 1st team gets the rewards so this is not really a problem. If one team gets a big break in score from the other two teams and is significantly ahead, then it would make sense for the 2nd and 3rd team to group up and try to knock the 1st team down. We can assume that the team that gets such a big break is more skilled than the other two teams and knows what they are doing, so even though the 2nd and 3rd team ally to bring the 1st team down, it's still fairly balanced.

On the other hand, in normal 3-way games, teams can avoid getting too much ahead in score until fairly late in the game to avoid the possibility of the other teams allying to bring one team down.

And the team last in score always has a chance by allying up with another team and trying to leverage that alliance.

But since in Battlegrounds it actually makes sense to ally against the team last in score, you would typically have the worst team be pushed further down by the better two teams together. Which creates a wholly imbalanced scenario with no way out for the last team.

The personal rewards aren't helping the situation either. Once you realize what your team's final position in the scoreboard is likely to be, you should stop trying to improve your team's standing and instead focus on maximizing your personal standing. To maximize it, you may want to kill steal from your teammates; you may want to spam a little bit of damage at everything to try to get assists; you may even want to not help your teammate to keep them down in score. I haven't yet examined the scoring system too closely, but I have noticed that I've a few times been 1st in score by doing less damage but a lot of healing, so perhaps I could even game the system by trying to purposefully drag out fights so I can heal more.

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If you wanted to personally maximize your alliance point gain and leaderboard rewards etc, it might even make sense to purposefully let the other teams get score so the game is over faster, while trying to ensure that you're first in score in your own team. E.g. make your own team lose fast while getting personal score from anywhere you can get it.

TL:DR; in summary:

If the Battlegrounds was played optimally, it would make sense for 1st and 2nd team to ally against the 3rd team, while the 3rd team should lose as fast as a possible. For the individual players, they should avoid helping their teammates if those teammates are ahead in score and helping them would let them get more score, while they should try to steal as many kills and spam as much damage and healing – whether it's useful or not – as possible.

Cynically, I wonder if this is why there's only a solo mode available for it.. Groups dedicated to gaming the system would plainly reveal the whole game mode as completely flawed, whether they went for getting the daily reward quickly or for maximizing personal alliance points and weekly leaderboards.


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