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WOWS Enjoyment - Lanchester's Law, Matchmaking (MM) & Team Balance & Strategies

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Hi All!  Hangglide42 here again with some help in understanding what some find a very frustrating aspect of WOWS (and WOT) and often blame Matchmaking (MM).  This post offers some background into one of the elements that come into play if you've ever had your team seemingly gets crushed where the enemy team, for example, ends up having 4 or more ships than your remaining friendlies and you've asked yourself:

- "What the heck?  Couldn't WG do a better job of MM than to give us such a lopsided match?"

- "That can't be right,  [player] on the enemy team must be using the [illegal] hack/mod."

- "MM put all the unicums on the enemy team!"

Well - here's a basis for how this can happen w/o hacks, cheats or MM imbalances. There are also  some strategies that can help assist your win chances based on what this Law implies (and things not to do - that we've all seen players do).


Lanchester's Law (Lanchesters Square Law)

There are a number of results from Lanchester's studies but it is his Square Law that applies to the perceived MM imbalance issues in WOWS.  In its simplified form, it says that "Assuming all forces are equal in quality (i.e. only numbers matter), the relative fighting effectiveness of the forces is proportional to the SQUARE of the force numbers".

A qualitative way of looking at why this should be is due to a ship having both offensive and defensive capabilities.  The offensive capabilities are the guns/torps to shoot at your enemies.  The defensive capabilities are, with more ships, there is less concentration of enemy fire on any of your ships.  Both advantages multiply your numbers advantage, hence the squared result.

Put in WOWS terms:

Let's say you have a typical situation where you get down 2 ships early in a match because a CL YOLOed and a DD unfortunately got taken out contesting a cap.   So the enemy team has a 12 ship to 10 ship advantage and you may think they have a 20% advantage that can be overcome.  Hold on - Lanchester's Law actually states the situation is a lot worse than that because it is a square law.

Enemy relative strength = 12*12 = 144

Friendly relative strength = 10*10 = 100

which is actually a 44% disadvantage. In other words, being down 2 ships early gives the enemy an almost 3:2 ship advantage.

This gets much worse later in the game when a chunk of your ships have been taken out - say you're in mid-game and now the advantage is 8 enemy to 6 friendly ships

Enemy relative strength = 8*8 = 64

Friendly relative strength = 6*6 = 36

which is now a 78% disadvantage - starting to approach a 2:1 ship enemy advantage.

This snowballs as your ship numbers decrease which can lead to why the result of many matches may seem "unfair" or "MM was crazy" - Actually, no, the results are actually following sound statistical principles based on data on military tactics and what seems lopsided is actually a predictable outcome.  I seem to recall that Jingles also mentioned this Law in one of his casual Saturday videos a while back (I think he was playing a "Tom Clancy's The Division" game in the background).


How can I use this to improve my play and chances of winning in WOWS?

There is hope!  Knowing this, can help you execute certain strategies to improve your chances of winning games in WOWS.


Lanchester's Law only analyzes numbers assuming equal quality

This law does not account for "Super Carry" or "Unicum" levels of performance, nor does it account for "Ultra Potato" or "Super Noob" performance.  As a result, being down is not necessarily unrecoverable, despite the numbers disadvantage.  However, you should realize, that for you to now win, the remaining ships have to seriously outperform the remaining enemy ships by 50%, 100% or more depending on the deficit.  Two rules of thumb to gauge whether a qualitative advantage can overcome a numbers disadvantage is:

- If the remaining health pool of the enemy ships (though greater in number) is cumulatively lower than your remaining team's - that is nothing that a couple of targeted salvoes from the remaining friendlies can't handle to rebalance the math.  If you've ever seen some of the Community Contributor high end competitions 9v9 format w commentators, one of the things mentioned as a factor of one team having the advantage is cumulative health of the team's ships.

This factor is often overlooked by newer players if they see a friendly ship numbers advantage. They may start playing too aggressively, to pad their stats or for other less team oriented motives not realizing that though your team may have a ship number advantage, their health pools are bad and a few minutes can easily reveal that the enemy actually has the advantage.  By not factoring this data point - teams that are supposedly ahead, sometimes squander their advantage and end up wondering how they blew it.

- If your remaining ships all have multiple kills or look like they've been doing a lion's share of the damage, this bodes well for your team.  Conversely, if your remaining ships are all sitting on 0 kills, at the edge of the map or playing passively, the Law will probably apply and your chances don't look so hot.

Often it will take a combo of the 2 to pull out of the deficit in late game stages.


Kill early, don't get killed early

The importance of the early numbers advantage is quantifiable and magnifies as the game goes on if it can be maintained.  Thus 2 suggestions:

- Focus any opportunistic kill quickly and early - giving your team the numbers advantage as quickly as possible can be huge

- While doing your job, especially early game, play with self-preservation as a goal as well.

This is especially true of DDs who need to cap contest early.   Be wary of sitting in your smoke too long (torp magnet) or trying to get the kill on the enemy DD while aggressively contesting while under fire from the enemy supporting ships.  Sometimes, you need to retreat, regroup and try again - if you're still alive, you can reasses your team support and try a cap again even if the enemy gets the original cap, you can quickly recap at a more opportune time.  Also, as a DD, staying alive in the endgame could mean the difference in winning and losing since you're the best equipped to snag enemy caps where there are too few ships to defend them all.


Remove ships as efficiently as possible

The Law is bad news for those who believe in "Kill Ownership" or "Kill Stealing".   The Law shows that it is important for both the offensive and defensive factors a surviving enemy ship represents be removed from the game ASAP to give your team the maximum advantage so there should be no such concept if you are playing to win the game for your team.  A ship that survives can still put multi-thousands of HP hurt into a friendly unnecessarily for that "courtesy".  With the exception of a very few cases, there is no "Kill Stealing" if you want to win the game, only "Kill Securing".

I don't have a problem if I've done a majority of damage to a ship but some other teammate gets the kill (e.g. a BB that citadels a CL/CA, but your teammate finishes them off).  The only time there is "Kill Stealing" is if a player is not doing the right thing for the team and not firing (if he should be) except to get the easy kill.

An extreme example of this is I was once a DD in a game in which I ambushed a full health CL coming around an island - after killing the CL, a BB player started raging at me in chat for stealing his kill (he was trying to do one of the sub-tasks for ARP missions). He rage quit & took his Kongo out of the game (we did win the game w/o him) but this is a clear example of personal priorities masking any concern for the team goals (by taking one of the best qualitative ships out of the game and handing the enemy a numbers bonus).

The only exception I make to this rule is if the game is CLEARLY won AND someone wants a well deserved Kraken, or did the majority of work on a ship (and the rest of us are in good health - just in case)


Don't give a relative numbers advantage to enemy

Since the numbers game is such an Important factor, it is essential that if you're going to die, take an enemy with you or put them on perilously low health.  A temporary numbers disadvantage is OK as long as the cumulative enemy health is largely worse than you.  For example, if you are in a 8 ship to 6 ship deficit, but your 6 ships are in pretty good health, but 4 of the enemy are less than 10K HP, that is a temporary situation that your remaining team should be looking to exploit.  A couple of minutes of smart team play can quickly reverse this into a 6 ship to 4 ship advantage which should be the goal of the team.

One "mistake" players will make sometimes is which ship to target as you're going down.  The general philosophy should be, target the ship that removes the guns (or brings that as close to possible) before you die.  You may be going down to a BB, with a CL just behind him also targeting you, but showing broadside - ignore the BB and kill the CL - that would help your team the most with your dying breath.

In that vein (and as a prep for a post I'll do on Brawling tactics shortly) - Here's the hypothetical:

Q: You're in your Bismarck and you have a BB, CL/CA & DD on 3 sides of you within brawling range. 

     What do you do and why?

A:  Point your nose at the BB, Target the CL/CA, Focus the 2ndaries on the DD

(Why? - in an upcoming post - but Lanchester's Law plays a big part in why this should be and this tactic can help you get 3 kills, believe it or not!)


Strategies to do or not do due to the Law

Lanchester's Law also applies to relative numbers advantages as well - not just the macro game numbers.   They also apply to the ships focusing fire (or not) in localized battles. 


- If you have a vulnerable enemy, remove him quickly to give you a numbers advantage in the localized battle.

Even if you may have a overall numerical deficit, start by easily winning the localized battles to help make a dent in the overall numbers.  Note: this does not mean half your fleet should  chase 1 ship to the edge of the map - in this case, the enemy ship has already given you a numerical advantage by taking himself out of the fight, so take advantage of this, don't get baited and chase, but focus on playing the game objectives (cap or base cap) to win more.

- Don't, by your actions, give a localized numbers advantage to the enemy. 

When you sail around the long way (e.g. around large islands), you remove your guns from engagement for a long time, effectively giving the numbers advantage to the enemy.  If you're a slow ship like a BB, evaluate whether you are really needed at an isolated cap.  If not, you are taking the biggest guns away from a defense of B cap point to provide no help for a very long time sailing to A when it's unnecessary and it gives the enemy a huge advantage when they push B.  The rule of thumb is to not voluntarily turn the numbers advantage over to the enemy:

o Sail only where you're needed, otherwise, you should provide the defense or offense for the next cap

o Position yourself so you can fire at the enemy as constantly as possible


- When you Lemming Train...(* sigh *)

The Lemming Train has started a cap race and your team must exploit its numbers advantage as soon as possible or it's failed and they must consider falling back to defend.   Note: A Lemming Train differs from a Push in that ALL the ships (practically) go w/ a Lemming train without regard to flanking defense - whereas the portion of remaining ships that have defeated a flank, push.

Lemming trains need to steamroll to be successful since you've left your rear flank undefended and easy pickings for the enemy.  Thus, you must advance faster than they can or you'll lose -  you can't delay at all.  If a couple of enemy have stalled the train, the team has to seriously  consider falling back to defend.  Applying the Law to this tactic - is the equivalent to handing the  enemy a huge advantage w/o a fight (your undefended or sparsely defended rear).  If the enemy delays the Lemming Train at all, you've lost the math in the equation and are facing an enemy in your Cap (Standard Battle) or a 1:2 or 1:3 Cap deficit (Domination).  If you are playing  Domination mode and every one went to 1 cap (in a 3-cap game), it's essential that your team push to the next cap ASAP since you've already conceded a 1:2 cap deficit to the enemy team.

When your team lemming trains, if you are one of the couple of brave ships trying to protect your rear, your job is to generally stay alive and harass/delay as long as possible.  This usually includes kiting strategies (defensively retreating while shooting at enemy) and preparations for cap resets/defense (i.e. trying to stay at shot-dodgeable range while still being able to hit enemy ships trying to take your cap).

- You have a Offensive and Defensive purpose in the game

Your ship has both a offensive and defensive responsibility.  Most players think mainly in terms of the offensive responsibility (i.e. your guns or torpedoes), but the reason Lanchester's Law is a Square Law is that your defensive responsibility (i.e. serving as a target for (and hopefully being missed by) enemy fire or tanking damage if you're a BB) is part of the equation. 

As such BBs that only fire from max range at back of map are actually neglecting half of their value & responsibilities and are handing a partial numerical advantage to the enemy team by voluntarily not serving as a target/tanking damage.

The defensive part of the ship responsibility applies to other ship classes as well.  As a cruiser if you are kiting 3 BBs coming around a flank and lighting them up w/ fires so they are all trying to fire on you, it gives DDs a chance to close for torps, BBs and other CL/CAs to pour fire into them safely as well.   As a DD, if you're the target of a CV (hopefully, not while capping) - that's fewer drops the enemy CV is targeting on your BBs.  As a DD, except at the highest tiers where there are some really good CV players and often they will cross drop 3 TB squadrons on you, it's possible to avoid even 2 TB squadrons cross-dropping, unless executed very well.

A corollary to this is - if you're the ship not being shot at - there's probably a reason, & you should look to exploit what your teammate is doing for you (intentionally or unintentionally) as quickly as possible while the window of opportunity exists.  Don't get too comfortable sitting in an already captured cap - your teammates may be under pressure on the other end of the map and you need to take advantage of the enemy focus (before your teammates die) and get the next cap or push to open a 2nd flank on the enemy.


When Qualitative Effects factor in...

The actual Laws formulated by Lanchester are based on solutions to mathematical differential equations (i.e. calculus)  I've distilled the implications to something quite a bit simpler and mapped them to game situations, but there is another implication of the equations that factor in when players get upset that MM has stacked one team with a qualitative advantage (i.e. better ships) than your friendly team.

The quick summary is that "A qualitative advantage needs to be the SQUARE of the numeric advantage of the ships to gain equivalence". In other words if you have twice as many ships as the enemy, their ships have to be 4 times better than yours to equal your numeric advantage.  This result is not obvious, but I would suggest you follow-up by googling articles on Lanchester's Law in greater detail if you're interested in why this is the case.

In WOWS, there will always be a variation in the relative strengths of the ships in the tiers - some will be borderline OP and others relatively weak for their types at their tiers.  MM tries to keep the number of high-med-low tier ships per team equivalent and there is at most a +/- 1 difference between the teams in ship types (i.e. you may have one more cruiser and the enemy has one more DD. Also, since a number of patches ago, I believe the CV counts always match to prevent the 2:1 gang-up in CV play).

When you attempt to qualitatively compare ship strengths, what you actually are doing is using maximum ship potential characteristics as your metrics.  This is what you are doing when you compare, armor, speed, rudder shift, shell damage characteristics, penetration curves, turret traverse &  DPM/ROF data points.  Though this can give you the worst case "bad news" when looking at ship lineups and thinking - "um...what is MM thinking?" - you should take heart in that it all comes down to how good the Captain of the ship is at maximizing the strengths of the ship and minimizing their weaknesses - the player factor has a larger effect on what you need to worry about than the imbalances in a ship type in providing the true qualitative value of a given ship.

This is reasonably good news for all players as it says that the ship numbers and player's skills factor more heavily into the success/failure of your team than what ships you're facing.  For those who worry that MM has put the Montana on the friendly team and the Yamato on the enemy team, this is not the clear disadvantage that you'd expect because a Yamato is not equivalent to a Montana squared - the Captain and how they use game strategy and tactics influence the outcome much more than any unfair MM advantage.  (By the same token, seeing a recognized Unicum player division on the enemy team, probably doesn't bode well for the friendlies - unless you have an equivalent division).


Follow-ups as they may apply to WOWS....

I am also curious if there are any other studies which exist concerning stats/effectiveness of smaller, outnumbered forces and how they can "overachieve" or gain "force multiplier" effectiveness and how they can be applied to the WOWS gameplay model.   Examples of this would be studies regarding Special Forces (aka Green Berets where small A-Teams use force multiplier tactics to take on a larger contingent).  This tactic was used in the 2nd Gulf War along the Turkish border w/ Iraq - originally an army Division was intended to provide the offensive pincer from that front, but due to Turkey's refusal to allow the staging of this front from it's soil, the Northern front was handled by Special Forces groups in conjunction w/ indigenous forces. Of particular interest would be studies done on covert small units such as Navy Seal Teams or other small elite units. 

Why I'm very curious about this factor, is that when players start getting to the Unicum levels (or just plain very good), how much above the norm do you have to perform to be able to "carry" a team that is at a numbers disadvantage?  Also, if the studies (since many of them would be in thecontext of military tactics) exhibit certain strategies to overcome the numbers disadvantage, can these be applied to WOWS.

If anyone has any knowledge of such studies, please add to the comments and maybe they can be applied to WOWS strategy!  Good Luck & Have Fun All! o7


A complete list of Forum Articles in the links below can be found in WOWS Enjoyment - List of Forum Articles & Guides.



Edited by hangglide42
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Very well written, I have myself been wishing to write an article on this for some time, but I'm glad you beat me to it.

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Does little good unless it is consumed by the masses in a much easier form... animation works well. So do - believe it or not - comic book presentations.


Pass the information on to the video teams at WoWS/WG, try to be more pedestrian in your explanation and maybe it can help the masses. 

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Excellent post +1. I intuitively *knew* much of what you laid out as any observant person should be able to do with thousands of battles behind them. It is to be hoped that with time and experience the number of potato teams (radically increasing in the last 6 months in my view) will decrease as at least some of your conclusions are grasped.

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What about RNG rolls where good hits do NOTHING and over pens score big? it makes no sense so that makes this article another excuse.

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This should be on the curriculum for playing T5+, NOT taking away CV's like they are currently doing in Clan Wars.....Great read!

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