I have already made a guide for designing mechs for somewhat experienced pilots, as well as a guide on what mechs to buy with recommendations on builds to use but I felt that there needs to be discussion on the thought process behind building for the competitive scene. I will point out that this is not an article about the mechlab, and the main reason I am doing this is to explain the mindset behind competitive building and the reasons why the current competitive builds are good. I also did not limit my discussion to current available mechs or even expected mechs, since I wanted it to be about the philosophy of building rather than rebuilding ones already used.
There are three main archetypes of mechs (light, medium, and heavy – which for our purposes here also includes the assault class). Each of these archetypes also includes three roles contained within them, and it is on each of those where my discussion focuses. When I was writing, I noticed a certain pattern to the discussion, and so I went back and edited in five sections for each role’s discussion.
Description: A brief summary and definition of the role.
Weapons: The main weapons used in the role, and the main (if not only) ones you should be using in your builds.
Engine: The type of engine you will want to tend towards, as well as what speed range is appropriate for the role.
Utility: The pieces of utility equipment (AMS, ECM, etc.) that are most useful for the role.
Modules: The special modules (if any) that are extra useful for the role (Artillery Strike, Air Strike, and Cool Shot 9 by 9 are usually the most useful for any role so I have excluded those).
This role primary entails sitting in the wings poking at the enemy before a fight starts, and keeping your distance to take opportune shots once your team is engaged. You do not want to get into a brawl and you do not want to get caught with your pants down by the enemy light squad or that will be it.
Weapons: Your main (if not only) weapon is the ER Large Laser. Having only one is inconsiderable, and three is too heavy and hot so keep it to two. Some people have used single ER PPC builds or double regular PPC builds, but the first does not have enough damage potential and the latter is usually too inefficient, though it does occasionally work.
Engine: Not taking an XL engine in a light is just silly, and in general you will want the largest XL you can fit in the light. However, in a fire support role, you can drop your speed to 140 KPH without much consequence since you will hopefully spend most of your time over 500 meters from any enemies. I would not drop it any lower though, since the ease with which a heavy can hit you increases dramatically below 140.
Utility: You need either ECM or jumpjets to run this sort of mech effectively, the ECM lets you fire from the proverbial (and sometimes literal) shadows without being noticed until it is too late, while the jump jets will let you get back behind cover fast enough to minimize the risk of peeking out.
Modules: The main module I would recommend, if you can fit it, is Advanced Zoom. It is actually really good on this sort of mech (and very few others).
With this type of light mech, you will be running in a wolf pack with similar lights to take down heavier targets (usually through the double-leg technique).
Weapons: Your bread and butter are Medium Lasers and Machine Guns, respectively. You can use Medium Lasers independently to great effect in groups of five or six, with four as a bare minimum, but using purely Machine Guns is not reasonable. As such, a mixed build between the two is usually your best bet.
Engine: Again, you pretty much need an XL to run a light effectively. Since you will be spending most of your battle time around heavier mechs capable of crapping on you if given a chance, you also need to be as fast as absolutely possible, which means you need to move at 150 KPH or faster.
Utility: Since jump jets represent a monstrous increase in mobility, they are almost a necessity. AMS also helps if you suspect you will be facing mechs with streaks, since a full light lance with AMS will cut down on streak damage considerably. ECM helps too, but in a short range environment it is just not as important.
Modules: UAV is a good one for this class. Capture Accelerator could work as well if you’re not on Skirmish, but most times it’s not worth the module slot unless capping is an integral part of your strategy.
This role is simple enough; you chase down and kill the enemy light squad.
Weapons: The SSRM2 is king, and without it you pretty much can not be a “Hunter”. A good complement to the SSRM2 is the Medium Laser, and this should be used when you cannot get enough SSRM2s to purely boat ’em. Machine Guns can also be used as complements, but not as effectively.
Engine: Once again, use an XL. Since you will be spending most of your time duking it out with enemy lights, it is also important that you go as fast as you can (150KPH minimum) so that you can catch them or run away as needed.
Utility: ECM helps since it can potentially shut down the enemy streaks, but it is not necessary since BAP can (and will) be mounted on any streak mech to counter it. Which also brings up the point that you need either BAP or ECM, since without a way to counter enemy ECM you can potentially lose most of your firepower by just being too close to an enemy mech. AMS also helps in light fights to shoot down enemy streaks, but again it is not necessary unless you think the enemy team will be leaning on streaks for a significant amount of their anti-light damage. Jump jets are again almost a necessity or else you will get out maneuvered every time.
Modules: My personal favorite for any mech that relies on streaks is Sensor Range, since it increases the room you have to work with against ECM targets. Again, Capture Accelerator is good for this role if you are not on Skirmish, and you would be smarter to bring a Hunter light than an Assassin one if you’re going for a cap victory.
This is regarded by many as the most fun role to play, and will see you either acting as your main force in a lighter drop deck, or as a vanguard for your main force. These fit best in brawling drop decks, but can also be used as bodyguards of sorts for your long-range mechs.
Weapons: These mediums rely primarily on ballistic or missile weapons, with energy weapons as back-up. Primarily, you will be looking at either an AC/20 or a total of around 20 SRMs as your primary weapon, along with smaller weapons such as medium lasers, SSRM2s, or maybe even small quantities of regular SRMs or Machine Guns as backup firepower.
Engines: As far as engines goes, you will want to tend towards standard engines due to the importance that you survive for as long as possible. In a brawl, surviving longer means that the rest of your team will be able to survive longer as well, since you will at the very least be able to distract the enemy team with your mere presence and/or backup weapons. For speed, you will want to have 80-100 KPH – any slower would make it too difficult to close on the enemy and any faster would not leave you with enough tonnage to mount enough big guns.
Utility: Jump jets are absolutely fantastic on strikers, but they are not required. ECM is also nice, and should be taken if possible, but still isn’t a huge deal.
Modules: Target Info Gathering is incredibly useful for identifying and annihilating weak points.
This is an important role to consider for mediums; due to tonnage or class restrictions in competitive drops you often will only have a couple of mediums that fills the extra slot and in general you will want it to use the same role as your heavies. Sometimes medium fire support mechs are used in wolfpacks in order to shape the battlefield as well. I will go further into the virtues of and reasons for direct fire support when I discuss heavies and assaults, but in general you want a mech with high DPS and/or high pinpoint alpha strikes.
Weapons: This leaves us with the primary weapons of AC/20, Gauss Rifle, AC/10, multiple AC/5s, PPCs, and (ER) Large Lasers.
Engine: For the sort of playstyle that sticks with your heavy group, you really only need around 70 KPH. Faster is always better, but anything above 75 would be more for convenience’s sake than anything else. In a highly mobile wolfpack, you will want to be able to almost keep up with your light squad and avoid getting bogged down by the enemy one, so you need at least 120 KPH.
Utility: Other contributing factors to good medium fire support builds are asymmetric builds, jump jets, and ECM.
Modules: I would really only recommend Seismic or maybe Target Info Gathering.
Mediums are the most effective light-hunters (although whether they are worth the tonnage investment is up to your own team).Your job as a light hunter is to run down and kill enemy lights. Seems obvious, but it’s important to note that the requirements for an effective light hunter are both the ability to kill lights effectively, and to keep them within range for long enough to do so. On the contrary, the requirements for a light killer are just to kill light mechs stupid enough to stay within their range so they do not need speed (since this relies on the enemy lights being dumb, there are no competitive light killer builds).
Weapons: This is the only medium role with strict weapon requirements: streaks. At least four SSRM2s are required in order to make such a mech effective at its role, but it is rarely wise to use streaks alone and most would want to take two or three extra Medium Lasers as backup.
Engines: Either standard or XL engines can be used, with some preferring XL for the speed boost and some preferring standard for the survivability against enemy light wolf packs and snipers. Either way, you want to be running at speeds of around 100 KPH or higher in order to land a few salvos on an enemy light running directly away from you.
Utility: BAP (or ECM if available) is required in order to retain your ability to use your primary weapons, and jump jets are very important for chasing and fleeing as well, though not as necessary.
Modules: Like the light version of the role, it is all about Sensor Range.
And that about wraps up mediums. Before moving on to heavies and assaults, there is some stuff about competitive play I need to explain. After writing my “Mech Buying Guide” article, someone challenged me to explain why such builds were so good, and it is a very relevant explanation to understanding the building process, so this then is an explanation of the competitive environment.
The primary goal in all game modes of competitive play is to destroy the enemy team. Currently, the three game modes are Assault, Conquest, and Skirmish. Capping is a potential alternative strategy in Assault or Conquest, but most of the time the winning team is the one that kills the enemy team first. This means that any competitive team’s first priority should be killing each enemy mech as quickly as possible, while at the same time not dying. As far as killing the enemy mechs quickly goes, high pinpoint alpha builds are the best at it because if enough of them shoot at the same target at the same time, it will go down instantly. Even an Atlas is going to have at most 180 hit points in their CT when shot at from the front, which is the amount of damage you get from a mass alpha strike from six poptart mechs with relatively low alpha builds, and only four or five from more…ambitious builds.
This requirement for a low time to kill (TTK) applies the first guideline for alpha fire support mechs: mount weapons with high pinpoint damage that can be fired at once and preferably at range. These weapons include the Gauss Rifle, AC/20, AC/10, multiple (U)AC/5s, and the (ER) PPC. A build which boats multiple of one of those weapon (ex. double Gauss) or combines them to get a total alpha strike of 30 or more has proven to be competitive, although a lower alpha means you have to make up for it with higher DPS (DPS still matters even for alpha fire support mechs, it is just not the primary concern).
The next concern after low TTK is survivability, and in particular winning trades. This goes beyond loading your armor to the front in order to protect you better from incoming damage from the enemy heavy squad, and extends to the amount of time you spend exposed. This is another reason why projectile weapons with high alpha and low fire rate are preferred: weapons like the AC/2 require you to be exposed in order to take advantage of the high rate of fire, and weapons like the ER Large Laser come out in a stream which forces you to be exposed for the full beam duration in order to use it to its full effect. The three best ways to win trades are through poptarting (using your jump jets to rise above cover, fire, and then fall back behind your cover), hill peeking (climb a hill, peek the top of your weapon mounts just over the top, take a shot, and back off), and side peeking (peeking your weapons around the side of vertical cover like a building, shooting, and then pulling back). The requirement for the first option is jump jets, for the second option is high weapon mounts, and the third requires an asymmetric build. Jump jets also have the added advantage of a general mobility bonus and asymmetric builds let you shield your valuable side with your unimportant one. I can not really think of any advantages of high weapon mounts other than being able to shoot over obstacles, but that is a pretty sweet advantage.
There is yet another reason why these sorts of builds are generally favored in competitive play, though. You do not know ahead of time which map you will drop on. The Cataphract 3D was popular in early 2013, even one of the most popular mechs for competitive play. But what pushed it over the top was the introduction of Alpine Peaks. Sniping was already a strategy at least on par with brawling back in those days, but on Alpine a team with snipers would beat an equally skilled team without them nine times out of ten. Alpine had no counterpart (a map where brawling is overwhelmingly dominant over sniping), and the introduction of Tourmaline put the final nail in the coffin of the brawling meta. A lot of people blame the Highlander, but while its introduction encouraged poptarting, I think it was less the fault of the Highlander than others do.
With that out of the way…
Fire Support Alpha
Description: I named the role in this way because it is about direct fire mechs who use pinpoint alpha strikes with high damage projectiles. The only part that might be misleading is the “support” part, because a lot of the times these mechs are used as the main force.
Weapons: Due to the aforementioned requirements, these mechs use the following weapons: AC/20, Gauss Rifle, AC/10, (U)AC/5, (ER) PPC. Any combination of those weapons which adds up to a 30 or higher alpha strike will generally work, with higher usually being better. Other considerations that influence how good this sort of build is include its weapons’ projectile speed, range, and heat efficiency.
Engine: A big part of winning a shoot-out is about not just killing, but also surviving. This means you usually want a standard engine, although there are a few builds that work well with XL ones. Mobility is not a high priority since strategies with these builds generally focus on either holding a position or pushing at a medium pace as a firing line, so while going faster than 65 KPH is nice, it is ultimately unnecessary, and the minimum is more in the area of 55 to 60.
Utility: ECM and AMS can be nice, but is unnecessary for this role. Other than that, you need one of the three features enabling a mech to trade favorably (jump jets, high weapon mounts, and asymmetric hardpoints).
Modules: There really are not a whole lot of special modules you want on these mechs, so if you have got extra slots you can go for Seismic Sensor and/or Target Info Gathering.
Description: This role is filled by mechs that stomp slowly and carry bigass guns. The role has dual purposes, the first being to put out a metric buttload of damage at short range, and the second to provide cover for your other mechs. For both of these purposes, it is important that you stay alive, which leads us onto one of the most important techniques for a brawler: arm shielding. Whenever your trigger is not being pulled, you want to be facing perpendicular to the largest contingent of enemies, or as close to it without putting enemy mechs into your rear arc. This also includes leading with your arm when you are pushing en masse and are not yet in range to start brawling.
Weapons: In order to facilitate this playstyle, your goal should be to use fire-and-forget weapons, just like with alpha fire mechs except for the damage does not need to be long range or pinpoint. This pretty much leaves us with only the AC/20 and SRMs as far as brawling weapon options go. While you do not want to rely on any others, having backup weapons is also a good idea for this playstyle, with the support weapon of choice being the medium laser (in groups of at least two).
Engine: Speed is one of those things that would be really nice if it was an option, but oftentimes you can not afford it tonnage-wise since running anything but a standard engine in a brawler is almost always a bad idea and very large standard engines are not exactly efficient. That being said, if you can afford to fit a big engine in without sacrificing much, go for it.
Utility: Extra equipment like jump jets and ECM help a lot, but are not absolutely vital. That being said, if you can take them, do.
Modules: UAV helps some in brawls, but Target Info Gathering is your most important non-consumable for sure.
Fire Support DPS
Description: This role mostly focuses on heavy mechs which put out big damage numbers but are not tanky enough to be front-line brawlers. Generally the position is used in conjunction with brawlers; brawlers draw fire and tank damage while your DPS mechs sit back and lay into the enemy using their brawlers as cover. It should be noted that these mechs must be used in a supporting fashion, since they are generally quite fragile.
Weapons: The main guns you see on these mechs are the AC/20, (U)AC/5, and AC/2. Ballistics just have the highest DPS of any usable weapon in the game right now.
Engine: Sometimes using XL engines is simply unavoidable with certain builds, but if at all possible you should opt for a standard. As far as speed goes, it is absolutely essential that these mechs be able to keep up with your brawling contingent as they are vulnerable to being picked off, and it is preferred if they are at least slightly faster than your brawlers so they can reposition to put the brawlers between them and the enemy if need be. Try to aim for ~70 KPH for this role.
Utility: Jump jets and ECM are nice and should be used when available, but they are not required since you will be relying on your team for utility and your only purpose is damage.
Modules: Target Info Gathering and Seismic Sensor are both very useful for this role, more so than most others. Knowing exactly where to point your guns and being able to tell when enemy light mechs are about to tear you a new one are both very important.
That about wraps it up. Thanks for reading, I’d be glad to answer any questions you might have.
2/24: Edited to include Capture Accelerator in a couple of the light modules sections.