Last Updated: 13-May-2016
While I have been having more fun with Scouting Mode than Invasion Mode since its release (for the most part), it is not nearly as deep or complicated and so I feel comfortable putting basically all of the styles of Guide I wrote for Invasion Mode into a single piece for Scouting. I tried to keep it all useful for both solo queue and group play, but some parts do kind of require some coordination between you and your teammates. But now, let’s cover the best strats to use in this mode, and the best mechs for accomplishing these goals!
There’s a lot of weird shit going down in Scouting, but if you just want to know which mech will reliably do the best job for you…
This is the Scouting Mode’s equivalent of an Invasion Mode light rush. Way more effective than it has any right to be, takes advantage of uncoordinated or newer teams, and really quite boring. But it is also the most important to understand, as it has the greatest impact on how you play the other strats, and in order to understand the strat you need to understand Scouting Mode’s win conditions. Obviously, you’re best off reading through that section of the patch notes, but I’ll go over a few of the more relevant details:
- The attacker’s (“Secure Intel”) win condition is to get picked up by the dropship.
- The dropship will come when either the attacking team collects 10 intel points, the defending (“Defend Intel”) team collects 11, the clock hits 3 minutes, or the defending team is all dead (that last one is kind of irrelevant when we’re discussing smoke dives, unfortunately). There is first a minute-long blue countdown where the dropship is on approach, and then a red countdown while it waits for a minute and 15 seconds, with blue beams firing at any defenders.
- In order for the dropship to pick up the attacking team (without the defenders being dead), at least one of the members of the attacking team must be in the “cap” underneath the dropship when the second, red timer hits exactly 0:00.
In accordance with those rules, you can take 4 lights, spread out to the four corners of the map (collecting intel along the way of course), and make a mad dash to the dropship in an attempt to arrive just before the timer runs down to 0:00. And honestly, the hardest part of the strategy is getting the timing just perfect – you ideally want to spend as little time in the open as possible, meaning that you want to arrive at the cap (ideally) right as it runs out. This will always take some feeling out, but as a good rule of thumb, a 150KPH mech can cover a grid square (end-to-end, not corner-to-corner) in about 12 seconds. You’ll also have to figure things like terrain into your calculations though, so I’d recommend counting it as more like 15 to 20.
In the end, you’ll want to hide a few grids away from the pick-up point, wait until the clock has ticked down to an appropriate level, and then making a mad dash for the point. Don’t stop, don’t let up, just do the necessary evasive maneuvers and try to survive. It is likely that a few of you will be legged and executed on approach, but only one needs to make it for the victory to be counted and the intel points awarded.
Clearly this is an issue that needs addressing, and I must implore you to not use this tactic (honestly, it’s just boring and/or frustrating for both teams), but you need to at least be aware of it.
You’ve gotta understand, probably around half of the IS light mechs are very capable of smoke diving, so I’m just going to highlight the few which I feel make the most sense in this role.
- Pirates’ Bane: This mech is the most popular one you’ll see for this tactic – it’s ridiculously fast, it has ECM, it’s decently hard to hit, has 16 extra armor on each leg, and even gets a C-Bill bonus (though if you’re using this strat I doubt you’re in it for the C-Bills).
- CDA-3M: Its tankiness and ECM help you survive on the point (and approach to the point), but it lacks some of the speed and subtlety of the Locust. Still pretty good at this though, and worth looking out for.
- SDR-5D: This ticks a lot of the same boxes as the Pirates’ Bane, but runs a fair bit slower. This impedes its ability to rush down points and rush to the dropship, but it’s a great non-hero option and the jumpjets help.
- SDR-5K: Now we’re getting into mechs which could better be described as capable of smoke diving rather than limited to it. It retains all of the qualities that make the Pirates’ Bane good except for the ECM, but picks up actual combat effectiveness in the process of losing that ECM.
- Oxide: Yeah, I suppose this mech can smoke dive if it decides not to kill you first. Really not optimized for this style, but it’s still solid at it.
The Clans are left with relatively few options, but you’re still more than capable of running the strat.
- Arctic Cheetah: This is the obvious choice. It has speed, ECM, good hitboxes, and is almost as powerful a mech as the Oxide. The issue is that it runs about 25 KPH slower than its IS competitors, making it a fair bit worse at this role. I’d probably place it on the same level as the SDR-5K in terms of competence in this strat.
- JR7-IIC-A: This is here because it is the fastest and most maneuverable Clan mech in the game. It lacks the ECM and the hitboxes of the Arctic Cheetah, which I feel makes it less capable in this role, but it’s very fast and can hold its own if it has to fight.
- IFR-D: It doesn’t have the ECM or hitboxes of the Arctic Cheetah, or the speed of the JR7-IIC-A, but it’s still serviceable and is the most combat-ready of the bunch. I don’t think it is at all optimized for the smoke dive, but it’s an option.
Now that you know the strat, let’s discuss how to counter it. There are actually a few ways to go about it, but the best way is to start searching for (and killing) enemy mechs ASAP. For this reason, you’ll want to start wolf-packing down isolated mechs right off the bat, and your team will need fast mechs to accomplish this.
Alternatively, you could start out by capping. For this to work, you need to be confident that your team can cap 10 points and find an eleventh to camp before the enemy team. Camping this last intel point forces the enemy team to either come to you before the dropship arrives…or wait until it comes based on the game timer. If the enemy team is really dedicated to the smoke dive, they’ll just wait 10 minutes until the dropship comes automatically, but if you’re lucky they’ll get impatient and engage on a losing fight, or sacrifice mechs to distract you. Even if you can’t cap 10 and find an 11th to camp, capping points early decreases the number of points that are available for the enemy, extending the length of the match and giving your team more time to find the enemy mechs and kill them before a smoke dive even becomes an issue. And most of the time, the enemy will have an advantage in capping so you will be forced to just hunt them down while they search for intel points. The problem with this strat is that if you can’t get to the first 11 points before the enemy gets to the first 10…you’ve failed.
Assuming you haven’t managed to eliminate the entire enemy team before they trigger the dropship, you’ll have to scramble to find it if they want a chance in hell of stopping the smoke dive. Fortunately, some beautiful people have done the testing and found the locations where dropships can spawn:
Caustic Valley: B5, C2, E2, E5
Forest Colony: E8, H7, H12, I10/J11
Grim Plexus: C3, E5, F9, I3
Polar Highlands: H10, J7, J10, H7(?)
River City: D5, E8, E2, H7
So, once the blue countdown starts, run to look around those rough locations and check for green smoke. Once you find the correct location, you want to spend a good amount of time searching the nearby cover for enemy mechs in an attempt to thin out their numbers a bit more before the smoke dive begins. By the time the timer hits around 20 seconds, you’ll generally want to have most of your team back near the point, ready to focus down legs as soon as they’re spotted. And that legs thing is vital – as long as they’re a decent way from the cap, you can just leg them and leave them for later. Ideally, by this point of the match, you’ll have already found and killed a couple and damaged the others so that you can do a clean sweep as they approach. If not, you’re going to have quite a tough time focusing them all down in time, but it’s still possible.
The problem with this is that, if you don’t find the enemy mechs in time, you won’t be able to kill them in time and you’ll lose. And finding these mechs can be very difficult and risky because, depending on the map and location, you could have a dropship with ER Large Lasers shooting you the whole time. So, while it’s certainly possible to beat a smoke dive, it’s very difficult without just having better coordination than the attackers.
The IS mechs are left on the weaker side of anti-smoke diving mechs, which is fortunate for Clan vs. IS balance because they’re the best at diving.
- Oxide: You need a fast mech that can kill other fast mechs. While the Oxide is best known for destroying bigs, it’s more than competent against light mechs thanks to its fast missiles, tight spread, and devestating DPS. Other traditional IS lights work here too (FS9-S, FS9-A, CDA-3M lol), but the Oxide does it best from what I’ve seen.
- BJ-1X: This variant is excellent for its ability to quickly leg mechs, and if you really want to focus on that aspect you can switch to a Med Pulse build. But with the meds, you can scrape armor off at around 600 meters, scaring off enemy smoke divers. The main issue is that you won’t be able to scout out enemy positions in this mech, so you’ll rely on your team for that.
Comparatively, the Clan mechs are optimal for countering smoke dives, and have a few options at their disposal.
- IFR-D: This mech is incredibly effective at seeking out and destroying enemy light mechs. Their beams will just tear off legs ridiculously fast, and if you can manage to get a wolf pack going, you’ll be able to make short work of any enemy mechs that are trying to dive on the point.
- Stormcrow: Streaks may be the most obvious solution, but I don’t think they’re the best. You can’t kill the enemy quite quickly enough if they’re running at the cap, and you definitely can’t choose to leg them, which makes me lean towards a hybrid build, or even an SRM Brawler. But even then, if you’re trying to hunt them before the actual smoke dive part, they may be able to simply outrun you.
- Arctic Cheetah: This is the best mech you could bring if you’re struggling with the “find the enemy” part – the jumpjets help, and the ECM makes your approach a bit less obvious. The JR7-IIC-A works well at this too, but is less potent in a fight against lights.
Just Fight Them! (Attack)
This is my favorite way to play, and the way I wish that everyone would embrace. There’s really not much else to say about it other than playing it like a regular 4v4 fight. And the thing is…4v4 fights are a lot of fun. Like, a lot of fun. To me, having to plan around things like intel and smoke dives and all that crap just takes a bit of the magic away. Fortunately, on Attack, you don’t have to worry about that! You can just play whatever mech you want in the tonnage range without worrying about the enemy running and depriving you of glorious combat. If you’re interested in which mechs I think do best at this…well, as team sizes decrease, brawling tends to get stronger. And as mech tonnages decrease, brawling tends to get stronger. So take a look at the Competitive Tier List and take one of the medium mechs in the brawling section. You can make the other range brackets work too, so feel free to try out those, but brawling (with maybe a bit of mid-range) is just obviously the best.
Just Fight Them! (Defense)
On defense, you don’t have the luxury of ignoring gimmicky smoke dive strats. Your mech choices don’t have to revolve around this, as with the anti-smoke dive strat, but they really should take it into account. So what we’re looking for are mechs that are generally strong enough to give you a fighting chance against opponents that actually want to have fun and fight, and fast enough to give you a fighting chance against smoke diving scum.
- BJ-1X: This easily fulfills the requirements – it can play well against brawlers by getting early harass on them, and it can leg lights better than most mechs.
- GRF-3M: The loss of hitscan can hurt your ability to kill lights, but the speed keeps you very relevant, and you can take on larger mechs pretty comfortably.
- Oxide: It’s really fast, and really powerful. It’s not quite as valuable in a brawl as a big medium brawler, but it’s much more flexible.
- IFR-D: I really think this mech has found a bit of a niche in Scouting mode – it has great speed, lots of hitpoints, and some really sweet offensive and defensive quirks. It’s hard to see anything but a group of 4 hardcore brawlers beating 4 of these (pilot skill and coordination being equal, obviously).
- Stormcrow: It’s not fast enough to chase down a light mech, but it can stay in range for a few alphas, which should suffice. Versus bigs, it can cause utter devastation, only matched by IS brawlers. And if you’re particularly worried about lights, you can try the hybrid build I linked earlier. Or you can just bring 12 small pulse.
There are a lot of things I like about the Scouting mode, but the boredom and frustration of smoke dive matches are enough to put me off the mode for the most part. I would recommend that PGI make it so that the dropship doesn’t have weapons, and make it so that the attackers have to be in the cap for a few seconds (5-10) before the game ends. The cap progress doesn’t have to be blocked by the defenders, but they have to be given a good chance to repel a smoke dive, and the attacking time has to be incentivized to take mechs which are good at anything but that one gimmick.
I feel the need to point out that this is all based on my own experiences with the mode, and the knowledge of other that I’ve talked to. I’ve played in groups, I’ve played in solo queue, but there is a chance that my experience in those settings are going to be different than your experiences in those settings. If you disagree with me about some of my points, or find something that you know to be factually incorrect, please let me know on the forums – this is the first incarnation of the guide and while I expect it to be good, I don’t expect it to be flawless.