So I wanted to make a resource for pilots who don’t understand the current “meta”, or people who are just interested in it. I’m going to break it down into two sections – PUG queue (including solo and group), and competitive play, because both are rather distinct.
The meta in PUG queues is shaped by a few factors. The first and most obvious factor is general game balance – what are the strongest mechs and the strongest weapons and the strongest combinations thereof. You can find more information on this in my Solo Queue and Group Queue Tier Lists The second and more pervasive factor is the randomization of maps. Since you never know whether you’ll be fighting on Alpine Peaks or Frozen City, the solo queue meta has always revolved around “what is the most effective most often, and is never not effective”. At the start (closed beta), it was pretty much 24/7 brawling with some gauss rifles thrown in every once in a while. But then, the introduction of longer-ranged maps (and PPC buffs) saw this change to poptarting, as it was brutal at long range, had no real counters, and could be used on every map. This evolved to BESM (big engine stomp meta) where speed and poptarting were combined to mindlessly beat the enemy in terms of positioning through rotations. And now, since the arrival of the Clans, we have arrived at the current meta of mid-range DPS.
The kings of mid-range DPS are the Dire Wolf, Timber Wolf, Hellbringer, and Stormcrow, as they can all mount some combination of the most brutal weapons for this purpose (cERML, cLPL, cUAC/5, etc.) All of these mechs but the Dire Wolf boast impressive speed in addition to that mid-range firepower, and so often the BESM style re-emerges, but that is only really wise if there are no slow assaults to be left behind, because if the team plays BESM regardless of such mechs, they will often lose.
This meta plays differently on all maps, and so I’m going to try to give an overview on how it develops on each. As far as what you should do, either call out what you think would be the best for the team after checking out what mechs you have available (make damn sure that you know what you’re talking about first and don’t try this if you’re playing with a larger group) and try to lead them, or just follow the PUGs and try to work with them as best as you ca n (usually the better or at least easier option). If your leadership is rejected, don’t take it personal, and just stick with the team anyways as a babysitter of sorts.
On Skirmish and Assault, the main engagement tends to occur around the central peak in I9. While the team with the higher ground is generally regarded as having a superior position, it is possible for the low-ground team to successfully assault it if they arrive first, which allows them to pick off a few enemy mechs and assert dominance. Conquest, on the other hand, usually results in a poke fight on either side of Theta, with each team constantly trying to one-up the enemy’s position with a better angle. In both cases, the engagement will usually occur within 700 meters, at the point where mid-range weapons are still at their most (comparatively) effective.
Canyon Network is a map that sees BESM less often than the layout of the map (a big circle around a central area) would suggest, mainly due to the constant elevation changes. Rather, it usually turns into a battle over either Theta or “Noob Corner” (the peak at the corner of D4 and C5). These engagements can start at 1000 meters easily, but usually quickly end up coming down to around 400, and the victor is almost always whichever team just gets more guns on the enemy at a time (which can be difficult to set up in the solo queue).
Caustic Valley, on the other hand, sees BESM quite frequently. A lot of the time, groups and pubbies will push around the right side mindlessly chasing targets, and you have to be prepared to react to this. If done in an organized fashion, this can be effective, but if you’re left behind you have to cut through the caldera itself to catch up, which is obviously a very risky maneuver. In general, you will still want to try to control the general area of the caldera, preferably from outside of the caldera itself, and the “tail” (D5 area) can be a good place to trade from on either side. Caustic Valley got reworked recently, but I feel no need to change any of what I wrote. Yay for fun.
There are a few popular ways to play this map. The most commonly seen one is where one team takes the top of the platform, and the other moves into B4 and just kinda chills out, with both teams trading half-heartedly until one gets bored. This does usually occur slightly beyond the optimal medium range, but almost always will devolve into a shorter range engagement, making the medium range weapons pay off. Common variations include a push through the tunnel by either side (which emphasizes a brawl), a push over the saddle onto the platform (emphasizing fire suppression), a push over the saddle in the opposite direction (emphasizing BESM), and a standoff on either side of the saddle (emphasizing poptarting), although these variations almost never happen on conquest.
Since the rework, Forest Colony has had a whole lot more dead zones that are never visited, and around 95% of games will be played entirely in the box cornered by F7 and I10. The main point of engagement on this map is usually around H9/G8 and takes the form of mid-long range poke-offs. There are variations of this, though, and oftentimes one or both teams will take the shoreline around H8/I9 to flank the other, or perhaps they will play around in Endor in the F8 area. Visibility is an issue in terms of fog, nighttime, and shrubberies that block sight over hills, so UAVs and ECM are very strong.
This is the best map for brawling, and if the team is at least sorta grouped that is what it will usually come down to. However, thanks to the extremely low level of coordination that typifies the solo queue, there will almost always be a few minutes of poking that precedes the full engagement, which is where the medium range builds retain their edge. The focal points on this map are generally the nose of the dropship (with each team positioned on either side and trying to get favorable trades on the other) or in the lower city in the sort of B4 area. The lower city is more conducive to brawling thanks to the building cover, but the delay before the engagement still exists due to how long your team takes to get grouped and then get a pair.
The focal point of this map is the massive spire at the center, above conquest’s theta, but not much fighting actually happens there, with most of it taking place around its edges a level down (mainly because of how vulnerable you are to everything but LRMs and strikes up there). Typical engagements occur at just outside of true brawling range, making medium range remain the weapons of choice here, and speed is particularly crucial due to the spawn point locations, which make a fast BESM-style push to the right brutally effective quite often from the start on skirmish.
Since the remake, rotation on this map isn’t as bad as it was before, but if Team 1’s Dire Wolves spawn in Charlie, the rest of the team had better throttle themselves. Engagements still tend to concentrate themselves around either the citadel in F6 or the city and park in D4/E4. That being said, it is not rare for the fight to occur between water and land, or in the E7 city, or even the runway. There is a lot more freedom on this map, and the winning team is usually the one that picks the spot of engagement correctly (so, not the laser sniper team that rushes into a D4 brawl). Any range bracket can work on the map, but usually mid-range is your safest bet as it can adapt to most enemy teams.
AKA the great race into Mount Doom. The first team to secure the inside of the great volcano is usually the team that wins, meaning that it is absolutely imperative that your entire team head into the center ASAP, only halting if it is clear that the enemy’s presence has been solidified (basically, if they’ve already got a large group of bigs in there before yours show up), in which case your best bet is to abort the rush and just do a full retreat and group up outside of the center (or cap, if on conquest). Also, on conquest, if the enemy starts just capping, you gotta react immediately and counter it yourself because points get out of control fast on this map.
There are many different routes to take on this map, but in general your best opening move is to go towards the center of the map, conquest’s Theta. Even if you don’t get up there and hold it, it gives you the flexibility to move to one of the sides and engage the enemy from there. Theta itself is usually a good place to hold out in, but oftentimes your team will avoid it for whatever reason, so make sure you don’t get left out to dry. There’s definitely a focus on mid-range poke and DPS on this map, but in most games the enemy isn’t organized enough to properly kite a brawler.
This is one of the most balanced maps in the game, and there are several popular strategies for it. In general, the best positions are the stage (the elevated area around D5 and E6) and the Ring (the area of F5), and many matches become poke-offs between the two teams from those places. Either side can push (on this map, a tight counter-clockwise rotation into E5/F4 from stage or E6/D6 from ring is best), but the ring has the better pushing position, while the Stage is better to poke from. Still, poking is the safest bet most of the time, just don’t get left behind.
This is the latest (non-CW) map, and it is just troll as fuck. The D4/C4 rock formation is the central point of this map, but most of the time you’ll be poking around one side of it. If you can get up top first that’s great, but oftentimes you’ll find yourself poking against a firing line if you’re shooting from up there. Stay out of the low ground along the South of the map if possible, and keep an eye on where you’re going so you don’t get tripped up by roots. The terrible visibility and map terrain make basically every style of play less effective, but mid to short range weapons are generally the winners.
Here’s where it gets a bit different. While a big part of the PUG meta is based on taking into account the randomness of map selection, competitive play not only has predetermined maps that you can build entire decks around, but also deliberate strategies and (ideally) excellent coordination.
In competitive matches, there are also a few restrictions that play into what you can take, usually taking the form of tonnage restrictions (for example, you can bring 8 mechs with a total of 550 tons), class-based restrictions (for example, 2 light mechs, 2 medium mechs, 2 heavy mechs, and 2 assault mechs), as well as occasional chassis and weapon restrictions, depending on the league.
There are a few basic styles of play that fit within the meta; each is viable on certain maps only, so let’s go over a few. This isn’t going to be a comprehensive list of every single thing you can do, but it should give you a good idea of what’s out there.
Long Range Standoff
Most Suitable Maps: Alpine Peaks, Tourmaline Desert, Caustic Valley, Crimson Strait.
The name is pretty damn indicative of how this goes. You load up your mechs with the most powerful long-range weapons in the game, and you just sit back and slowly whittle the enemy team down, hoping that you whittle faster and that they don’t get a good push going. For specific mechs that fit this style of play, you can check out the Long Range section of the Competitive Tier List.
Medium Range Firing Line
Most Suitable Maps: Caustic Valley, Forest Colony, HPG Manifold, Terra Therma, The Mining Collective, Tourmaline Desert
This involves getting a number of (usually) medium range mechs together, looking out over a wide line of fire, and just lighting up anything that steps into it. The style of play emphasizes alpha and DPS and does not require much mobility, so mechs like the Dire Wolf are commonly chosen. This can also be a version of the long range stand-off, essentially where everyone camps back as far as possible and instead of poking, just stands in the open and fires. For specific mechs that fit this style of play, you can check out the Medium Range section of the Competitive Tier List.
Medium Range Poke-off
Most Suitable Maps: Canyon Network, Caustic Valley, Forest Colony, HPG Manifold, The Mining Collective, Tourmaline Desert, Viridian Bog
This is the most solo-queue style of competitive play, where you take medium-range mechs and just try to win trades. This is also very popular due to how all-around strong it is and how hard it is to counter – while it doesn’t have exceptionally favorable match-ups against any of the other main strats in general, it also isn’t particularly weak to any of them. This also emphasizes mobility and alpha strikes over raw DPS, so you’ll find mechs like the Timber Wolf to shine, and for other mechs that fit this style of play, you can check out the Medium Range section of the Competitive Tier List.
Most Suitable Maps: Frozen City, River City, Viridian Bog
As you can see, this is the most specialized of the strats (and often the hardest to pull off depending on the map), but it can usually crush anything it runs against assuming it is able to get in range without taking much damage on the way. Thus, mobility and tankiness are key, and depending on the map you’ll see many highly maneuverable brawlers or a few slow war machines backed up by lights. For mechs that fit this style of play, you can check out the Short Range section of the Competitive Tier List.
Most Suitable Maps: Caustic Valley, Crimson Strait, Terra Therma, The Mining Collective, Tourmaline Desert
This is different from the others because it’s not a style of fighting so much as an alternate path to victory on Conquest and Assault, but it’s out there (unfortunately in my opinion) so it’s worth mentioning. The biggest example of a capable situation is Terra Therma on Conquest, where it’s nearly impossible to play against it unless you do the same. In situations like these, it can be wise to load up with as many lights (and maybe Stormcrows) as you can, while filling the rest of your available tonnage with big mechs.
Poptarting: Basically mid-range poking, but through jumpjetting with Pinpoint Frontloaded Damage weapons (e.g. Gauss Rifles, PPCs, and IS ACs).
Moving Firing Line: Sort of a combination between the firing line and a push, but a very slow push. Keeps you from getting locked down in any one place, but you need to make sure you’re moving through favorable terrain.
BESM (Big Engine Stomp Meta): The good ole rotation game, usually counterclockwise and usually boring but it can work. The whole idea is to catch the enemy’s tail and hit them there before they hit yours.
LRMs (more of a dishonorable mention, this): This is where you run LRMs and are a bad person. I’ve done it. I don’t recommend it. The guilt still eats at me.
That’s Pretty Much It
I’m going to try to keep this article generally updated to reflect shifts in the meta, which will usually mean just waiting for such a shift to be concrete before I change anything so that I don’t give any potential misinformation. I hope this helps you and you find it interesting.