The Final Battle

My recent post about guilds dying combined with all of the recent discussion about America’s Army 3 has inspired to write about my best memory of a clan dissolving and, actually, one of my all time favorite moments in online gaming. This happened way back in 2004 so hopefully the statute of limitations on anyone taking offense to any of this has long since expired. 😉

I’m going to spend a lot more time talking about my time with The Praetorian Guard (also known as [TPG] and simply referred to as TPG from here on out) in future blogs as we gamed together for a long, long time but for now I’d rather skip all that drama and start right into the story. I had decided to leave the America’s Army division of TPG which I had been more or less running myself for some time. Unfortunately I had leaked this information quite a bit earlier than I had planned and it resulted in all sorts of disarray within our ranks. This caused several problems but the most immediate was that we had a TeamWarfare League ladder match scheduled for later in the week and all of the chaos would make playing it quite a problem.

I’m sure anyone who was in the clan can attest that I took TWL very seriously at the time, probably too seriously as I’d often stress myself out worrying about who was showing up and when, if everyone was following the correct procedures, and that no one was breaking any rules. All of that nonsense was actually one of the reasons I decided to quit the AA division of TPG in fact. So, with people leaving the clan or at least the AA part of it, and not seeing the point in participating in another one of these high stress matches when we were most likely going to call it quits anyway, we were having problems securing the six people needed to participate in the match. Since I took this shit so seriously, despite “retiring” I pledged to lend my hand this one last time.

Lying in wait...
“Lying in wait…”

I wasn’t the best America’s Army player in the clan by a long shot – I had my moments of excellence, but for the most part I was pretty mediocre. Instead my main strengths, in addition to an occasional clever strategy, were in organizing the whole thing and keeping everything (and everyone) in line. This was no easy task, mind you, as we were a pretty casual group of guys for the most part and I always got the impression that most of the clan considered these matches more of a necessary evil than a fun part of playing the game. That and the usual scheduling problems and other drama that always comes up in these clan / guild situations. I’m sure with the popularity of World of Warcraft end game raiding nowadays plenty of you know exactly what I mean by that.

So, I was onboard but I was hardly an “army of one” myself. I honestly don’t remember exactly who else ended up playing that night and the records (mostly forum posts) are pretty sporadic from around that time because of the uproar that was going on within the clan. I know my trustful and highly skilled friend Blood, who was fairly hardcore and was one of the few guys who I think actually really liked playing matches, probably didn’t even have to be asked. Also the other two leaders of the AA division of TPG, PaleHorse and 20kill were onboard as well although 20 didn’t think he could make it. Amouro, who was good but I don’t think ever particularly cared for TWL matches, reluctantly showed up as well. We were having so much trouble getting the numbers we ended up drafting Joeypants, who was a mainstay in other parts of TPG but rarely played AA with us and indeed had never played a TWL match before, into the fold at the last minute. I know I’m forgetting our sixth man but no one can seem to recall exactly who it was – possibly Ace, TheBucket or Rhonis.

We were facing a clan called the 75th Rangers. They were a relatively large “realism” clan who split themselves into several smaller units with different names which all participated in TWL at the same time though often to different degrees. They were all the same group as far as we were concerned though – and we were concerned as we had some negative experiences with them in the past. The first time we had played a part of the [75thR] they called us out on an extremely minor rule violation that had absolutely nothing to do with the game itself (a TWL setup thing…) yet still insisted we forfeit the match. They had every right within the rules to do so but they could have also just as easily let us play regardless instead of taking the free win. The whole thing seemed rather unsportsmanlike and left us all feeling pretty snubbed.

We were really cautious every time we played the [75thR] after that and, I dare say, a bit vengeful. I seem to recall them giving us a pass on another, different issue we had the next time we fought them which was a pleasant surprise. Regardless we beat them the next two times we played them and, at least in my mind, victory was extra sweet because of our first, negative encounter. I should go ahead and disclaim that I harbor no ill will towards any of those guys. They gave us some tough fights and, honestly, I’d rather play against a team who went by the book to a flaw than a bunch of trash talking, hack using, idiot children. When they lost they’d (very briefly) congratulate us and immediately report the score, no excuses made which is about as best as you can hope for in a competition like that one.

So, anyway, we made it to the match with the right amount of guys and, somehow, several of our best guys. The map we were playing was SF Arctic which was a relatively new map. The scenario in Arctic is that a convoy had been bombed and immobilized on a road through a snowy mountain pass. Three APCs (Strykers or BTRs depending on what side you were on) who were traveling with the convoy took up defensive positions around it. These Strykers could be entered and gunned but not moved. They had limited fields of view and their turrets moved rather slowly but because of their powerful 50 caliber machine guns were extremely effective in the right situations. An interesting balance twist was you were somewhat of vulnerable to being flanked and quickly killed by enemy RPG fire if you were operating one so using them was a bit of a gamble. Blowing up the Strykers is also one of the other team’s objects so you will be getting shot at. The rest of the map around the road was divided between being relatively open with some excellent opportunities for sniping and lots of paths through craggy, overgrown areas, which provided plenty of chokepoints as well as flanking opportunities. Interesting map.

Drop the RPG and put your hands on your head!
“Drop the RPG and put your hands on your head!”

TPG actually had a pretty good track record on the map, having played it three times previously in TWL and winning every time. 20kill and/or Itch, had originally come up with a basic strategy for the map that we, as a group, were able to test out and refine a bit. The final defense strategy worked out into a situation in which our team was spread out all over the map, laying prone and peering through our scopes at specific choke points, and listening carefully to every boot we heard crushing through the snow. Our Strykers were only manned as the situation dictated since they were so risky to jump in being that they were always, manned or not, big fat targets for enemy RPGs. The assault strategy was a little more chaotic and reactionary but worked well enough most of the time. Overall our Arctic strategy just barely worked most of the time and could easily be ruined by a slow trigger finger or a few unlucky deaths.

All that said we rarely played Artic on public servers and hadn’t played it as a group since our last match in it nearly a month previously. Indeed we hadn’t had any sort of practice for this match at all and one of our guys, Joeypants, hadn’t even ever played the map. Confidence wasn’t exactly at an all time high.

Whatever. All notions of “confidence” went out the window once we started to actually play because just about everything that could have gone wrong did as we started out on the assault side. Amouro’s ping was fluctuating wildly, bouncing from 100ms to over 3000ms, so he couldn’t really be counted on. We also had an unprecedented number of, shall we say, “friendly fire” incidents – we almost never had a single team kill in our TWL matches, never mind multiple times in multiple rounds! Blood in particular, who I mentioned before was one of the better players in the clan, somehow managed to score several TKs during the match including blasting PaleHorse to smithereens with an AT4 just as he was about to secure one of the objectives. The rest of us either played just as badly or suffered from rotten luck all the same.

All that was fine though because unlike in past TWL matches we all pretty much instantly stopped giving too much of a shit. We cackled like hyenas at the accidental TKs and joked around about our deaths. We also, however, cheered like drunken frat boys as we encountered those rare but defining America’s Army clan match moments where almost the entire team is dead, sitting around in observation mode watching our one or two last guys fight against impossible odds, Rambo style, and somehow come out on top – us cheering them on and congratulating them on their incredible feats. We threw the usual pressure of a TWL match out the window and just played. When the smoke cleared, despite all of the horrible mistakes and other problems and our much less serious attitudes, we somehow weren’t actually doing all that badly. Hmph!

As half time rolls around and we swap sides to go on defense my AA client crashes and too late in the process to rejoin before the match resumes. Great, now we’re playing a man down in addition to playing with a guy who has never played the map before, a guy whose ping is wildly out of control, and a guy who is almost as lethal to us as he is to the enemy. That’s when a cunning plan is hatched: we somehow decided to man all 3 of the Strykers and man them the entire time (within reason) at that. Normally this would be considered, at least amongst the tacticians in our group, a horribly stupid idea. I already noted how dangerous they were to be in – two RPGs could take out a Stryker and the player in it and, if I correctly recall, this could often be done before the Stryker gunner could move his turret around and line up a return burst or get far enough away from the blast if he decided to haul ass away. Apparently other clans shared the same opinion though, as in all of our matches, scrimmages, and even the majority of our less silly public games on the map we’d never seen this done. That was the point though – we were counting on our opponents to be unprepared for such a strategy.

Shoot first, identify targets later. What? It's a fucking sandstorm!
“Shoot first, identify targets later. What? It’s a fucking sandstorm!”

This had actually worked fairly well and when the match was over we had tied the game, all while laughing, joking around, and taking the whole situation as lightly as possible without intentionally sabotaging ourselves. In this ladder when two teams tie they enter into a sudden death tie breaker round on a predetermined, different map. This map was SF Sandstorm.

Sandstorm was a pretty awesome little map that featured a small walled village with a second, smaller walled compound next two it. The map was fairly old and didn’t get much public play from any TPG members but most of us had put our fair share of time into it early on and we had eventually developed a pretty decent strategy for it. That said with two good teams fighting it out the map usually resulted in some extremely intense battles with very close rounds often hinging on a single player. We had played it 6 times in TWL and were 3-3 on it. Not impressive, but our last two attempts at it were relatively easy victories. At this point we all decided to get a little more serious and attempt to go out with a bang by pulling off what we would definitely consider to be an upset win. I rejoined the server and we swapped in 20kill, who ended up showing up after all, late to the party, to replace Joeypants.

It’s hard to say if we were just riding our highs, the other team was totally unprepared to play Sandstorm that night, we had unnerved them somehow, or what exactly happened but we proceeded to easily wipe the floor with [75thR] in this final round using our usual map strategy and team tactics. A very convincing, not to mention satisfying deciding round.

The victory kept us at 5th rung in our ladder which at the time had over 100 clans and put our record at a respectable 25-10. We couldn’t believe we won. TeamSpeak was full of celebration, laughing, cheering, giggling, you name it. Honestly, looking back over this post, it’s difficult to convey the utter ridiculousness of the situation and the huge amount of fun we all had in being a part of it. This was definitely one of my favorite memories of TPG and, as I said before, one of my favorite moments in online gaming period. I actually felt a little sorry for the [75thR] guys after this, I mean, who knows what the score might have been if we were at full strength and actually trying! 🙂

The much less exciting epilogue of the story is that [TPG]AA went on to fizzle out without the involvement of myself and several other key members. Blood, with some help from Rhonis, tried to take over the reigns and hold things together playing one last, losing TWL match against the number 3 team. It was obvious that the interest just wasn’t there amongst clan members and soon they were all but forced to officially dropped out of TWL. No discredit to Blood here as having enough committed players was a problem before I left and inadvertently decimated the ranks never mind afterwards. The few members who didn’t stick around for other games went their separate ways and that was all she wrote for that chapter in TPG’s history.

This post goes out to all of the [TPG]AA members and participants, particularly 20kill, PaleHorse, Blood, Amouro, and the infamous Ace. I know some of you will be reading it.

These screenshots aren’t from the match, in fact they’re from a much newer version of AA (2.8.4) and taken in offline mode using an array of funky console commands.

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