Tournaments / 15 Sep 2010, 13:42
As usual, the announcement of a new EQL season has let to plenty of discussions both on this website and the servers with relation to the chosen rules. I thought I’d blog a bit about the history of QW TDM leagues as I’ve known them to perhaps give some background into the evolution of league rules. It is worth pointing out that I didn’t start playing QW online until late 1998 and so (unlike a couple of other people on this site) I do not have all the facts about some of the UK leagues I mention below. Hopefully the general impression I give will be accurate though! To those not interested in the UK leagues, scroll down, and hopefully you will find something of interest.
The first league I played in was the United Kingdom Quake Academy (UKQA). This was a 4v4 designed primarily for newbie players with a goal of preparing them for life in the main league at the time, the United Kingdom Clan League (which had 6 divisions). If memory serves there was originally a limit on how many LPB (non-modem) players you could field in any given game although this may have been dropped for the final season. It was of course like all novice leagues quite imbalanced at times, with a wide range of skill levels and indeed a few experienced ringers playing under alias for an easy ride (much like Riker playing NQR div6 a few years ago). Essentially it was a bit like the ‘rookie’ divisions we’ve seen from time to time but there arguably wasn’t enough support given to new players.
UKCL was the premier league in the UK encompassing up to 6 divisions during the time I played. Again there was a restriction on pings and you had to field at league one modem player (possibly more in the lower divisions). This may seem quite strange these days but you need to remember that at the time (1990s) the majority of players in the UK were on modem which gave players on uni connections or even ISDN a huge advantage. The idea I assume was to stop clans dominating based on ping and ensure that the top modem players still got a chance to shine. As time moved on pressure was exerted on the admin team to remove this restriction for div1 which came in part from rival leagues like the Free Ping League (FPL). By the time I took over running of the UKCL isdn was much more common with broadband (cable/dsl) starting to be rolled out, so pings were unrestricted throughout the league.
But perhaps more interesting, and relevant to today, was the way the maps were chosen. In UKCL rather than having home/away maps it was simply a case of playing a different predetermined map each week on a set day at a set time weekend afternoons usually although there was obviously some flexibility). Games lasted 30mins and were originally 5on5 before shrinking to 4on4 as players movement and skills improved enough to make games seem crowded with 10 players. Having a predetermined map arguably placed too much emphasis on luck in terms of what clan you were drawn against to play that week. For example when playing a weaker clan you’d want a well known map like dm3, whereas against a division favourite the relative unknown territory of a uk99a, e2m7 or whatever could be a welcome leveller. The plus side was that it gave you a bit of a focus each weak in terms of learning the map, devising tactics, practicing etc (since all clans were playing the same map that week it was much easier to find prac on ‘strange’ maps than you might think nowadays!). Ultimately the league adopted a more traditional approach of home/away maps (from a set pool) lasting 20mins each, although there was no 3rd deciding map or frag comparison (the game just ended 1-1).
Alongside the UKCL there was also the Modem Clan Wars league (MCW). This usually followed a very similar format except that games were played on weekday evenings rather than at weekends. Plus of course only modem players were permitted. Again what may be hard to grasp nowadays is that some of us continued playing in MCW even once we’d become LPBs. I’d play on ISDN with 27ms and then dialup my modem with 100ms when it was time for MCW! Of course over time the number of modem players diminished (both because of improved availability of broadband and a general exodus from QW towards newer games like Q3 and CS) and so the league wound up around 2001 I think.
It shouldn’t be underestimated what affect these leagues had on the mapping scene at the time. UKCLDM1-9(?), androm9 (later to evolve into CMT4), titan2 (a common feature in games involving 10+ players), UKPAK1-8 and many more were all maps created for and used by leagues of the time. In hindsight I think some of the maps used were pretty shocking but surprisingly people were much more accepting at the time and just got on with it (perhaps due to all the tournaments being driven by the admins with much less ‘player power’).
There were also cup competitions organised by the leagues. Basically more of the same exception a knockout competition where you could be drawn against teams from any division. In contrast to modern QW where many shy away from the prospect of playing a higher div clan (even in prac), back then there was more of an ‘FA Cup feel’ where lower division clans would in general relish the chance to pit their skills against more famous opponents and perhaps cause an upset.
But there’s more! Another UK League from the 90s was the Quad Frag Fest League (QFFL). This was essentially a fun combination of TDM and FFA whereby games were played 4v4v4v4 on large maps (you may have seen QFFL2/5 in the current XS4ALL FFA map rotation). I think it was Teamplay 1 (only teammate armour can be damaged not health) with dmm3 and was thus full of plenty of spam. The league was later replaced with the United Kingdom Packetloss League (UKPL) which was played 3v3v3v3v3 in an attempt to boost activity as some clans found it tough to field 4 players (or if they had 4, were more interested in playing a traditional 4v4).
Some common elements all these leagues shared that are different from today were:
-Games were played on dedicated passworded league servers rather than the current approach of grabbing random pubs
-Games usually had an admin present
-Clans had little influence on scheduling
-Fairpacks LST setting was used since shotgun/axe scripts were widely regarded as cheating in the UK at the time. This meant that your dropped weapon was always the last one fired rather than one held in your hands. One amusing side affect was that a kteams bug meant that this wasn’t reset on gamestart and thus if you fired RL in prewar you could drop one at the start of the game even if you didn’t have one, e.g. by spawntelefrags!
One vaguery of the UK scene at the time was that there was something of a split community. On the one side there were ‘net’ players who just played on a range of internet servers as we do today (although typically Barrysworld). Then there were ‘Wireplay’ players who played on a dedicated gaming service that you had to dial-in to (it may come as no surprise to learn that this service was founded by British Telecom). Anyway I won’t go into much detail as I was primarily a net player, but suffice to say that Wireplay ran their own leagues such as the Wireplay Deathmatch League (WPDML).
But enough about the UK scene. Those of you who have played CMT2 – at least, those of you who haven’t completely obliterated your textures! – will likely have spotted the ‘posters’ on the walls of the RA room showing scoreboard screenshots from classic QW matches (a genius design touch, IMHO). One such poster is taken from a game between Death Row, of the USA, and Clan Nine, of Sweden. A bit of googling or maybe archive.orging will doubtless bring back far more detail than I can hope to regale here, but suffice to say that this was a legendary LAN matchup between the two best clans from either side of the atlantic. As an aside the star players of each clan (Thresh from DR and Xenon from ) were able to use their fame to setup major gaming websites that are still running today; www.firingsquad.com and www.esreality.com (formerly xsreality.com) respectively. Anyway, one of the issues with such a match was that in North America dm3 was the main map for 4on4 (tb1 if you like) whereas e1m2 was also heavily played in Sweden and as such was ’s homemap. So for this game between the two clans it didn’t really seem fair to just play dm3. In the end they played 5x dm3 and 4x e1m2, which seems a fair compromise.
Of course so far you’ve not seen me mention dm2. Dm2 has always featured pretty heavily in places like Germany and Poland, as well as being relatively popular in Scandinavia. And so for a league like Villains, one of the first truly European leagues, it made sense to focus on a primary 3 map pool of dm3, dm2, e1m2 (tb3). I’ve called it a league, but in reality it was a tournament more akin to the soccer World Cup whereby teams were in mini-groups of 4 before progressing to knockout playoffs. The final was played best of 5 and in many ways it was the blueprint for the modern map pool and selection. It was also an invitation-only tournament to in theory maintain a high standard of play throughout (I say in theory, as my somewhat naïve clan Strikeforce somehow blagged ourselves an invitation to Villains 2, along with perennial losers Gods of Hellfire (GoH) from Belgium!).
The ‘spiritual successor’ to Villains was Challenge-Smackdown. This was a highly ambitious project by the now defunct Challenge network to standardise QW TDM across the world. One of the premises was to have a stable ruleset (including map pool) across all regions and then ultimately have a LAN final between the winners from each region, a dream which sadly never came to fruition. The map pool was expanded slightly from Villains, to include dm6 (popular in Germany, Holland etc) and e3m7. In later seasons the pool changed slightly to incorporate e2m2.
Of course by now improving connections across the continent, together with the demise of national leagues such as UKCL, meant that clans were now playing against foreign opposition much more frequently. One problem with a tournament like SD was that with no concept of divisions, relative newbie clans could be placed up against the likes of Flaming Fist, resulting in a particularly heavy defeat. And so up sprung Nations Quake Rank (NQR), which was based on the Nordic Quake Rank ladder previously involving solely Nordic clans. This ladder tournament gave clans the chance to play against literally any opposition they wanted. It was also very liberal when it came to map selection, I think you could choose from any episode map plus dm2/3/6. So we saw clans championing all kinds of weird and wonderful maps, such as e2m2 (JAMS), e3m4 (Headcharge), e1m5 (Axemen), e1m6 (Koff), e3m3 (Kala) etc.
The evolution of NQR is something, if I’m honest, I can’t remember a great deal about. At some point they changed it from a ladder tournament to a traditional league system (again with a view to avoiding huge mismatches). The map pool gradually shrunk but how and when I wouldn’t like to say. A ladder tournament (Ad Mortem) briefly sprung up to replace the old NQR, and ultimately EQL took over the mantle as premier European 4on4 league.
OK, I hear you ask, so where do CMT maps come in? CMT was the brainchild of legendary Norwegian whiner Link, and actually started life as the Smackdown Maps project (http://web.archive.org/web/20021222215815/www.challenge-smackdown.com/hq/sdmaps/ ). This was in response to a general feeling of apathy towards the ‘extra’ maps in the Smackdown pool and Link’s belief that If maps are designed for 4on4 from the ground up, that they would work better than some random episode map. Ultimately I think perhaps Link grew frustrated at the conservative attitudes within the Smackdown admin team (myself included) and then setup CMT as a kinda standalone project but hosted over at NQR. The funny thing is although I wasn’t overly keen on using brand new maps in a tournament like SD I still took a keen interest in the project. I actually went around showing Link some of the old UK maps to see if there was anything he could use. CMT4 was basically androm9 after he emailed the mapper with some changes he’d like made based on some analysis we did (removing some ammo, swapping RA for YA, also the SSG near YA used to be a second LG… anyone who thinks it is too easily dominated by shaft should see the original!). But yeah, so NQR run a CMT tournament over the summer. There were some big clans involved like Slackers, CMF and Firingsquad. At this point feedback was still possible and CMT1 and CMT5 were both tweaked a little to make CMT1b and CMT5b.
CMT maps then got played a bit in NQR and EQL. But as is apparent from recent discussion threads, there is still no general acceptance of the maps to be used (or not) alongside tb3. CMT maps are 7 years old, Episode maps are twice that. There is talk of people designing new maps – how should it be done? By committee, by a mapper under heavy instruction from div1 player(s)?
My feeling is that such endeavours are likely to be a waste of time. Because one of the main arguments against new maps is not “This map is flawed in design”, but more like “This map is flawed because the lack of player experience means games will be of lower standard”. I think CMT1b, CMT3 and CMT4 are actually perfectly decent 4on4 maps. I’m not convinced any new map will be necessarily be inherently superior to them. If after 7 years these maps are not embraced, what hope is there for something new? CMT was not just some random map made for 4on4 and shoved out there. It was a full-on project involving iterational playtesting, analysis, feedback loops, guides, and even a close alignment with tournament admins. And in all honesty CMT is probably more acceptable to some players than anything new for the very reason tb3 is more acceptable than CMT – because it has seen more play to date. I remember one div0 player commenting “if you’re gonna pick Kenya, at least pick normal Kenya!” in relation to our selection of Schloss during the summer ladder.
My intention here isn’t to stir up another debate as to the merits of an expanded map pool – that seems to be ticking along quite nicely elsewhere on the site. But hopefully I’ve given a little bit of background into how the map pools used in leagues have expanded. Of course, I’ve not really touched on the scene in other countries, so feel free to add your own anecdotes about how the accepted map pool evolved where you live.