Home Editorial Balance Meta-gaming the system: How strategies wax and wane


Monkey and Rock have seen a lot of play at MLG this year.

By now, everyone should know what the term metagame means, but for the uninformed, it generally applies to the current state of stategic focus in a specific game’s community. For example, “4 Gate” Protoss pushes are a dominating factor in Starcraft 2 currently, so much so that most Protoss players will employ 4 Gate themselves to counteract it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the two point conversion is such an infrequently used tactic in football that no defending team ever considers defending against it, even though actual point-after kicks are rarely blocked.

In most competitive communities, the metagame is always evolving. As one strategy becomes popular, certain strategies evolve to counter it. If it can’t easily be countered, more players may use it, to the point at which it is so frequently assumed to be taking place that any divergence can take a foe completely by surprise. Sometimes games grow stale due to a lack of viable strategic options, but these scenarios can be revived with balance changes, add-ons, or incentive tweaks. If a two point conversion became a three point conversion, perhaps teams would consider the risk worth the reward, no?

As I recently discussed in my latest YouTube channel update, many top players in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood have recently taken to a fairly safe, deadly strategy in Assassinate gameplay. Equipping Smoke Bomb and Poison, they stand in a fairly obvious area, attracting pursuers. Often, they will stand on a wire or a ledge, and when a pursuer gets close, they will expose him/her (locking onto them to instantly drain their low profile meter). At this point, if the killer attempts to climb onto the wire, he or she must enter high profile, which will ensue a chase. The scheming player can then easily lure the opponent into a Smoke Bomb, earning an Escape (+100), Stun (+200), then lock on to the victim for an Incognito (+300) Grounded (+50) Focused (+150) Slow Poison (+300) kill (+100). While not all of these factors always align, the recipe is there to consistently score 900+ points.

Why is this strategy so good? The main reason is that it’s nearly impossible to circumvent. If you try to move towards the player, you risk being exposed or (worse) being targeted as the victim. If they’re on the ground and you lock on and move towards them in a blended group, they’ll Smoke Bomb the group then spam Stun into the crowd to catch you. Since these players are typically on ledges, you can’t usually just blend into a crowd and walk into them. Worse still, if you ignore them, it’s possible they might kill you first. If you attempt to chase them, you will get stunned unless you perfectly predict the timing of their Smoke Bomb and counter with something like Mute to prevent hijinks.

Faced with these prospects, I decided the best counter to this strategy was simple: equip the Hidden Gun and/or Throwing Knives and simply nail these players when they’re standing in plain sight. They can’t realistically dodge a gunshot* and if they’re hit with throwing knives, you’ll be the one getting the easy bonuses. While Hidden Gun has a long cooldown and isn’t worth many points, it sends a powerful message: “If I see you, you die.”

To my surprise and chagrin, my use of this counter-strategy drew the ire and insult-laden hate of the opposing player, even as he continued to dominate me and everyone else in score. Sure, I wasn’t falling for his tricks, but everyone else was.  Yet the idea that his tactics had been trumped by just one player infuriated him. The next day, I found many many players in Assassinate were opting for the Hidden Gun instead of Poison. I don’t think I started a trend; I only suppose other players met the same realizations I did.

Within a week, will most players be using the Hidden Gun to shoot down players employing the chase trap? If so, will other players start countering a bullet-laden battlefield by focusing more on stealth, making it harder for would-be snipers to take a shot? If players become more incognito, will skills like Templar Vision and Firecrackers regain popularity? And, if so, will Smoke Bomb and Poison come into favor to take advantage of this situation?

And so the metagame evolves, cycles, and continues. Yes, Smoke Bomb is easily the most powerful Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood ability, but it has counters, as does everything else. And while those counters are not as versatile as Smoke Bomb, the payoff to equipping or using them grows geometrically as more players rely on Smoke Bomb/Poison combinations.

The only question that remains is: When the fuck will anyone have a reason to use Sprint Boost?**

*I have yet to meet man who can outsmart bullet.
**I actually have a theory that Sprint Boost may see some use in Escort soon.

8 replies to this post
  1. Been noticing that trend with smoke bomb in assassinate, annoying
    but sprint boost is getting used more actually, specially in wanted
    a person would use templar vision from a safe distance then sprint before i could do anything
    some were also using it after getting throwing knifed to escape

    • I’ve definitely seen Sprint Boost used more, though moreso in Manhunt and Escort.

      Also, I was finally able to cancel someone’s attempt to Charge me the other day with Throwing Knives!

  2. Fun fact: you see 2-point conversions a lot more in youth leagues (generally because the kickers aren’t good enough to reliably score the one point). In some leagues, they go so far as to reverse the scoring (1 point for running it in, 2 for kicking) just to encourage teams to try the kick.

    • I had no clue, that’s pretty interesting. Do you think there’s anything they could do in the NFL to incentivize them more? Make the goal posts narrower, or farther off the ground?

  3. i this he is right stealth good caping poeple in the face EVERY kill bad and sprint boost is f@cked up and is just a way too say kill me now!!!! but i think it is a good steratigy but not for the entier game.

  4. Perhaps if people would play the friggin game the way it’s meant to be, instead of just trying to invent ways to beat the system, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time analyzing this skill-works-for-that-counter and so on. Rooftops are for escapes/chases and aerial kills: they’re not party spots. Likewise, running in circles to lure-in folks for a smoke stun is lame. It does nothing but piss other people off, make you look like a dick, and ensure that everyone and their grandma is gunning for you JUST TO SEE YOU DIE.
    If we’re arguing from a productive standpoint, it’s not. Your time could be much better spent just walking to a target and slow-poisoning them with a focus bonus. You can easily get two kills like that in the risky time spent waiting for bait. If we’re arguing from a strategic standpoint, it fails…it really only works once or twice, then folks start ignoring you or using counters if they’re smart. So…just don’t do it.

    • lol reading that now I realize I should have added :P at the end.

      I love the game but I’m seriously hoping some stuff gets fixed in Revelations. Like the Free-run button. That needs to be an option, not a state. In other words, it should be a context-sensitive button-press-requiring option, not a state of being where, by having the A button pressed to run, your character is magnetized to randomly jump up the nearest wall. It’s SO frustrating to be running from a pursuer only to have your persona randomly jump a crate and stand like an idiot staring at the wall.

      Likewise the targeting system, as mentioned above: I have found that being patient and holding the target trigger till your desired target highlights helps a BIT with accuracy, but it doesn’t do much in last-second decisions, such as in Assassinate.

  5. NFL & college football teams go for a 2 point conversion FAR too infrequently.

    When trailing by 14 points late in the game, a touchdown to cut the deficit to 8 points MUST be met with a 2 point conversion attempt to cut the deficit to 6 points (or leave it at 8 points, WORST CASE).

    Also, when a team trails by 15 and scores a touchdown to cut the deficit to 9 points, said team should almost definitely try a 2 point conversion to cut the deficit to 7 points (and accept that worst case is to remain by down by 9 points).

    When you’re down by 15, if you score 6 to cut it to 9, it is not enough to merely kick the ‘free’ extra point to cut the deficit to 8 and be satisfied that you have just ‘made it a one possession game.

    That is the wrong strategy.

    Making the game a “one possession game” by kicking the extra point to cut the lead from 15 to 8 stresses the wrong “most important thing.”

    The object of (almost all) football games is NOT to “stay alive as long as possible.”

    It is to WIN.

    If you’re down 9 following a late touchdown, the only way to win is:

    (1) Score a 1 point conversion


    (2) Get the ball back almost immediately


    (3) Score ANOTHER touchdown


    (4) Make a two point conversion

    AND, then,

    (5) Win in overtime.

    If you end up MISSING the 2 point conversion at the end of the game (that is, if you successfully score a TD (to cut the deficit from 15 to 9, then kick the ‘safe’ extra point to cut it to 8, then get the ball back, then score another touchdown (to cut the deficit to 2), then MISS the 2 point conversion, THEN you lose.

    BUT – if you try & miss the 2 point conversion on the FIRST of the 2 touchdowns you need, and as a consequence, you are stuck down by 9 instead of being down 8, yes, that’s bad – but it’s less bad than missing the potential game-tying 2 with no time on the clock.

    By missing the 2 point conversion EARLIER in the game, you AT LEAST have the KNOWLEDGE THEN that “OK, we’re still down by 9 – we need to use game theory to score on TWO more possessions.

    This is unlikely but possible to do.

    But if you save the attempt for 2 until the game’s end, you leave yourself with ZERO chance.

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