World of Tanks Ural Steel Championship 2011, North American Team Coverage
Brute force seemed to triumph most of the day – giving the Russians three well earned first place finishes
In 1980, the XXII Olympiad was held in and around Moscow, deep inside the former Soviet Union. The Americans and many of their allies boycotted those games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Thirty one years later, in a different climate of amity between the former Cold War foes, champions of a different sort – including the Americans – made their way to the Izmailovo Sports Palace in the eastern district of Moscow to compete against each other in Wargaming.net’s MMO World of Tanks. Three groups of players, representing the US server, the EU server, and the Russian server bested dozens of other teams in their home regions to win the right to battle each other in person, in the finals. UralVagonZavod – the industrial giant responsible for contructing Russia’s main battle tanks – was the primary sponsor behind the Ural Steel Tournament and for bringing over 200 players from all over the world to the arena.
The North American server was represented by the gaming clans Angels of Death, Red Sky, and Wolves [we refer to the US server teams as "Americans" collectively, though many players are from other nations]. The EU server was represented by 1SBP, 1stPAD, and Pirates. The Russian server, on their home territory, had six clans participating including [RED] Rush the middle, [RED-B] Baikal, [STAL4] Centurion, RED-E: Pz, TK Border, and Unti. On paper, each clan was composed of 15-20 players, though most non-Russian clans were unable to field full teams due to travel difficulties. Still, all clans were able to field viable teams in the finals with the help of remote players.
World of Tanks is a mix of 1st person/3rd person shooter, with each player controlling one tank, self-propelled gun, or tank destroyer. It has role-playing elements which help players increase the skills of their tank crews, research upgrades for their vehicles, and achieve better and bigger equipment. At the core it is no more complex than moving your tank around and shooting what comes in front of you. Yet, the brilliance of this game really starts to shine when you have 14 players on a side all working together to parry and thrust against enemy teams bent on doing their best to upset your plans. The tournament format of Ural Steel forces teams to hone their skills against very good clans from their home servers, often requiring weeks or months of coordinated training and practices. AOD told Armchair General they practiced every day for six straight weeks. The teams that reached Moscow were truly at the tops of their games.
The tournament itself was held in the Izmailovo Sports Palace in Moscow, which was used for the weightlifting competition during the 1980 Olympiad. Instead of weightlifters, there were heavy lifters of a different sort taking their places on a stage filled with computers, entertainers, and a life-like representation of a T-80 tank. The contestants started the day walking from the hotel to the Palace and ate breakfast while the spectators started to assemble. This was a time of uncertainty, as no one knew how the day was going to unfold. Would there be time for training sessions on the computers? Would there be time to set up communications such as Ventrillo or Teamspeak servers? Would there be a schedule of games so each team knew when they would be playing? The tournament was scheduled on paper to run from 9am to 8pm, which suggested there would be plenty of time for all of the above. Things moved much faster than anyone anticipated.
"You went to Russia and all you have to show for it is pictures of an Object 704?"
There were 3 divisions within the tournament system. Each division reflected a size class: heavy (tier 10/140 points), medium (8/90), and light (6/60). The heavy team semi-final battles went first, then medium, and so on. The Angels of Death were North American champions in the medium division and Armchair General interviewed them during and after the event. Their experience was indicative of the quirks faced by most of the non-Russian teams, including having to play using a Cyrillic version of World of Tanks, hearing Russian vocals in-game, lack of a local team communication server, inability to practice together in person for even five minutes, and the general pressure of having to assemble tanks, crews, consumables, upgrades, etc. on a Russian client while a Russian audience is engaged with a Russian announcer at incredibly high volume as they wait for the game to start.
After 30+ minutes of technical difficulties and setup, the first game starts and ends with an AOD defeat. Match 2 is rushed to start and one of the AOD team is still loading his ammo when the game begins, almost resulting in a technical loss. Fortunately, a restart is allowed, though the Russian attack succeeded once again and in less than 20 minutes AOD is out of the finals. Red Sky and Wolves both had similar stories and results.
The Russian teams fought solidly with tactics that were well suited to the city fighting of the Ruinberg map. In general they would push a heavy maneuver force through the city, eliminating scattered elements of the opposition as they made contact. Weakened units would drop to the back, while stronger units would continue the push. The play style is different than the North American server teams, which were built around the fundamentals of using artillery to blunt such groupings, probing and destroying enemy artillery assets using counterbattery, and finally punching through the weakened enemy. It may be an oversimplification, but brute force seemed to triumph most of the day – giving the Russians three well earned first place finishes. The European Pirates team managed to snag one second place finish, and the North American teams rounded out the field with 3 fourth place finishes.
Despite the disappointment of not winning the tournament, the North American teams were very pleased to have Wargaming.net charter touring buses so they could tour some amazing places in Moscow. For some, the highlight of the trip was an evening journey to Red Square, taking in the sights of St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, Lenin’s Tomb, not to mention people-watching on the square itself. For others, it was the trip to the Kubinka tank museum outside Moscow which provided the opportunity to see many of the tanks from the game in person and up close. Here the players could walk by nearly 300 tanks, armored cars, self-propelled guns, an armored train, and some very big tanks such as the IS-7 and the vaunted Maus. A very happy group emerged with hundreds of photos of tanks, which would undoubtedly bore many family members upon return to the States. "You went to Russia and all you have to show for it is pictures of an Object 704?" Yes, these gamers are all dedicated beyond words!
The trip was fraught with stresses and delays, each day was an adventure, and while exhaustion was common in players it seemed like everyone came away with an appreciation for Moscow’s sights and took home some fantastic memories from this event. Assuming this tournament will be held on a yearly basis, these North American teams are now World of Tanks veterans in the literal sense. They know what it takes to play under pressure and compete with the Russians, and will be training hard for their next meeting. If your clan is thinking about competing seriously, you better start your training soon. We have it on good authority AOD is already incorporating the lessons of Ural Steel 2011.
Thanks to Wargaming.net for providing some of the photographs for this article.
1980 Olympic report (p. 112 shows the Izmailovo Sports Palace)