Rainbow Six: Siege Year 3 launched today, bringing with it two new operators with wild new abilities. You might think these additions would be enough of a meta shake-up, but developer Ubisoft Montreal has bigger plans for changing the competitive scene in 2018.
Before I get into that, though, let’s start with the Operation Chimera’s operators – Lion and Finka – because they’ve been causing ripples since their announcement. This is understandable, first and foremost because they’re both attackers, instead of the usual one attacker, one defender approach. Chatting with Mindfreak at the recent Six Invitational, Etienne “Magnet” Rousseau confirmed the attacking meta is already powerful in Siege.
“At the moment, attacking [is easier],” says Magnet. “It’s gone season for season at times. When this trap meta started with Ela and Lesion, it was definitely harder to attack. But, at the moment, it’s so much easier to attack, and the fact that both new operators are attackers is a little interesting, especially because I don’t imagine we’re getting any new content for another three months.”
Rainbow Six Siege pros talk changes
Creative Director Xavier Marquis did, however, confirm that a future Siege DLC drop will add two new defenders to help even things out.
That said, Magnet predicts that Lion and Finka will add to the attacking meta. “They’re both really overpowered operators,” says Magnet. “We think they should be nerfed. One of them has wall hacks. One of them gives you extra health. Coupled with Ying and Glaz, you can throw smokes in a room, shoot [the defenders] through the smoke, but they can’t see you because of the wall hacks, or even because of Glaz. Then you can just go for a plant really easily. They’re pretty broken, honestly. They’re broken. They need to be fixed because defenders won’t stand a chance when it comes to pushing a room anymore.”
The King of the Jungle
There have already been tweaks to Lion (at the very least) in Siege’s pre-release Technical Test Server, but chatting with multiple developers about community concerns for Lion and Finka reaped an interesting response. Ubisoft Montreal aims to create balanced but disruptive operators for release, but then tweaks them based solely on telemetry data. If telemetry data doesn’t back up a community outcry for balancing tweaks, those adjustments don’t happen.
Lion is the operator who’s had the strongest community response, given he’s the one who can activate team-wide “wall hacks”. His EE-One-D gadget offers a three-second warning (to both teams) before it activates, but defenders who move during Lion’s scan are highlighted, including through walls, for the duration of the scan. In a game with a wealth of penetrable surfaces, it’s no wonder that Lion is already being called overpowered.
His hard counter is Mute, and defenders can freely move without being outlined so long as they’re within the radius of one of Mute’s Signal Disruptors. Outside of this, Lion has no notable counters. For instance, at this stage, neither Caveira’s Silent Step nor Vigil’s ERC-7 cloak ability render them invisible to Lion’s global. That said, Game Director Leroy Athanassoff did seem open to the possibility of this changing in the future.
According to Athanassoff, whenever a new operator is created for Siege, the operator pitch document has two pages dedicated to synergy and counters. While Lion seems short on counters, Athanassoff hopes his synergy will include a return of one of the launch operators that’s rarely seen in tournaments.
“With Lion, we hope the synergy might bring back Fuze even more,” says Athanassoff. “Because if you time [Lion’s ability] with Fuze, you need to move [to avoid Fuze’s Cluster Charge]. But if you move, you’re being tagged. ‘Okay, so what do I do?’ [Lion has] a strong synergy with Fuze.” He also has a strong synergy with the rest of the attackers, given any highlighted defender can technically be wall-banged.
More specifically, though, Lion is likely to complement the current Ying, Blitz, Glaz attacking meta which – assuming the right attacking operators survive a bomb-defusal plant – means retaking the bombsite is made even trickier for the defenders. Not to mention Finka. Mindfreak’s coach Jayden “Dizzle” Saunders theorised about Finka’s potential impact on the attacking meta.
“The attackers have superior weapons that can shoot longer [distances], shooter quicker, hit harder,” explains Dizzle. “Now we have [Finka] who can boost the whole team and give them more health when they’re going into these battles, where you’ve generally got people like a Valkyrie, maybe a Mute, a Lesion. These [defender primary weapons] do much less damage and usually have a slower fire-rate, and now the attackers are going to get, what, I think 40 percent more health, which is going to effectively be another two bullets, probably, maybe three, depending on the range and where you’re hitting [attackers].
“Looking at the Ying, Blitz, Glaz play we’ve already got, I feel like attackers are winning more rounds, and now we’re going to give them more health. That’s an interesting decision.”
Finka Makes Your Heart Race
On top of Finka’s ability to temporarily boost the health and accuracy of her teammates, she can also revive a down-but-not-out (DBNO) teammate by activating her Nanobot Shot ability (except, reportedly, if they’re stuck in a Frost Welcome Mat). This perk is more situational than the obviousness of boosting an attacking team before a push, but Finka has stronger and more varied counters than Lion.
So the narrative explanation goes, an attacker’s boosted accuracy and health comes at the expense of a faster heart rate. This means that Smoke’s Compound Z8 remote gas grenades drain health faster while Finka’s nanobot buff is active. The faster heart rate also means that Pulse can track an attacker’s heartbeat with his Cardiac Sensor from 14 metres instead of nine. Additionally, both Echo’s Yokai ultrasonic blasts and Lesion’s Gu Mines cancel out Finka’s buff. In light of the strong counter options for Finka’s ability, it’s strange that Mute is the only counter to Lion.
Expect to see Lion tweaked quite a bit after launch, and possibly Finka, too, if she proves to be as powerful as Mindfreak is predicting. Also expect to see more global abilities in the future, but possibly not until year four or beyond. “We will have more globals in the future, but I need to switch to another operator in terms of game mechanics,” says Marquis. “I already have my roadmap of game mechanics I want to add, so this is globals [for season one]. Season two, season three, season four after will be something else.”
We will have more globals in the future.
Picks, Bans and Round Changes
As strong as these new attacking operators are on paper (and in execution based on what I played), one of the bigger changes to the competitive meta will be the introduction of an operator pick-and-ban phase. The plan is to launch this feature at some point in 2018, and it will allow for two attacking operators and two defending operators to be banned outright. According to Athanassoff, the plan is to have the defender ban one attacking operator, then the attackers ban one attacking operator. The attackers then ban one defending operator, and the defenders ban the second defending operator. These bans apply to both teams for the duration of the map.
“Today, we are in a situation where we have millions and millions of players, but we need to find the right balance between 200 players who are the best in the world, and the millions of players who are playing the same game,” says Esports Director François-Xavier Deniele. “Actually, it’s not the same game, because these [competitive players], I am not playing like them in Rainbow Six. We need to find the right balance, and for me this pick-and-ban was a good answer that says we will challenge [competitive players] to not use the same operator all the time because of the ban session.”
Part of the decision to add the pick-and-ban phase for operators is also to improve the viewing experience of Siege tournaments. “It’s part of the storytelling,” says Deniele. “There is some really good [caster] analysis regarding why these [teams] are picking these operators, but it’s too fast. They’re saying it in five seconds. For a viewer, we are seeing they cannot understand this phase because it was not part of the storytelling of a match.
“With the pick-and-ban, it’s exactly what League of Legends is doing very well. It is part of the strategy. You can have some emotion because this player is picking an operator for the first time, or this operator hasn’t not been picked for a long time. It will create storytelling; it will create discussion within the community.”
On top of this, Ubisoft Montreal plans to change the flow of alternating attack/defence rounds to five rounds of attack, followed by five rounds of defence. Assumedly, the latter five rounds would only be used if required. At first glance, this causes potential banning problems because both hard breachers – Thermite and Hibana – might be banned, which would put the attackers at a distinct disadvantage.
Upon closer inspection, the fact that the attackers choose to ban only one attacker (and one defender) means that for both hard breachers to be banned, it would have to be done because the attacking team chose the second. Although this seems unlikely, in the event it does occur, it plays into Ubisoft Montreal’s intention behind the pick-and-ban phase as well as the five-round map flow: mind games before the match even starts, and significant changes to pro team's battle tactics.
“I don’t know exactly what we’ll do with the five attack, five defend [flow],” admits Deniele. “It’s a good idea in terms of the viewership experience because it’s changing the format of every match. It’s also very interesting because it will change the strategies of pro players. For the viewer, it will also be simpler to understand that this team will play attacker, and after, this team will play defender.
“We can evaluate. We can change and tweak it a bit if we see that some teams are finding the right angle to win; we will change it. What is good with esports is we can change all the time and people will understand. This isn’t soccer where you cannot change the rules.”
Sixth Man of the Year
These mind games are further complicated by another planned change to the pre-match system. At some point this year, attackers and defenders in competitive matches will be able to see the operator picks of the other team. This transparency comes with a twist. There’s a secret “sixth choice”, as Ubisoft Montreal calls it, wherein both teams can opt to change one of their operators, albeit without any transparency to the enemy team.
This way, the drone phase is more about spotting defences and that one elusive operator, while defenders will want to find the identity of that fifth attacker before committing too heavily to a certain type of defence. It’s a great step forward for creating a pre-game meta that embraces the intel-gathering and denial that’s a core part of Siege’s gameplay loop. But more importantly, it means that the pre-match phase is more interesting for viewers because they’ll be able to see the sixth choice.
The tweaks and changes don’t end there, either. Ubisoft Montreal announced its plans to buff and rework particular maps. Buffs are intended for maps that are already part of the competitive scene, but require minor changes to hone their competitive viability, specifically in terms of the appeal of all objective points instead of one or two. Club House is the first map to receive a buff, and the plan is to release a buffed map with a new season. That said, Ubisoft Montreal stresses it has a “when it’s done” policy for map buffs and reworks.
As for reworked maps, the first one, Hereford Base, is due to launch with season three in year three. Ubisoft Montreal differentiates map buffs from map reworks in the amount of work required, and the number of changes players should expect. Hereford, for instance, will be set decades in the past compared to its original form, which impacts the look of the launch map. In gameplay terms, Ubisoft Montreal pledges that objective sites will be changed to reflect the intention that attackers should be entering the building and not picking off defenders from outside.
Basically, the aim behind the reworks is to have shunned maps re-enter the competitive scene. While Ubisoft Montreal devs were cagey on which other maps these might include, reading between the lines of some of my interview responses suggests that Favela, Yacht, and even Plane are also in Ubisoft Montreal’s crosshairs for redevelopment.
Twice The Esports Opportunities
I went to the Six Invitational expecting Ubisoft Montreal to talk about two new operators and, maybe, tease what to expect from the others set to launch in year three. What I discovered, instead, was a roadmap for significant changes to the competitive scene that shows Ubisoft Montreal is deadly serious about balancing its game for the top level of play, while keeping it engaging for its ever-growing more casual player base. Global abilities for two attackers alone have massive implications for the meta, so too would any one of the changes to the competitive scene in isolation.
Beyond this, there’ll be more matches and, perhaps more importantly, every match will be streamed. That’s big news for the growing Siege community, eager to engage with the game more frequently, but it’s also important for the players. It means more replays will be available for teams to dissect. Given that Mindfreak specifically cited this as an issue in their loss against Rogue, it’s a positive step forward for competition across the board. On top of this, more LAN matches means that APAC teams like Mindfreak have more opportunities to test their mettle against other world-class teams.
Deniele emphasises the importance of this kind of tournament setup moving forward when answering a question about the biggest point of feedback from the competitive community. “Stability of the scene is important for them,” says Deniele. “That’s why we decided to move to a six-month league. It’s to have a stability for the players, for the organisations, to be sure that at least you are six months in the pro league. We are doing more LAN events so these teams can practise against the other teams, not just four times a year, but even when they’re going to a Dreamhack or a LAN event locally, they can practise. Stability is something really important, and for me it’s improving the viewership, which is something that’s important for [competitive teams], because it’s bringing more viewers, more fans for them. That’s why we’re working really closely to develop this aspect.”
The fact that Ubisoft Montreal is so willing to rapidly evolve how Siege is both played and viewed speaks volumes to how cautious the developer is of becoming just another stagnant competitive shooter which, ultimately, much like real-world sports, doesn’t change too much year in, year out. For better or for worse, even at the risk of upsetting its top-tier competitive scenes, Ubisoft Montreal is unashamedly tossing multiple spanners in the works and it’s hard to not feel excited for how different Rainbow Six: Siege will look by the time the next Six Invitational happens in 2019.