First Person Teaming: Observation and Communication

This is Part 2 in the First Person Teaming series.

In the Introduction to this series I outlined the general purpose and goals I have in mind and indicated I would begin with this subject: Observation and Communication (I reversed the order from the Intro for logical purposes).

The reason to start here is simple: without effective employment of those skills, you don’t and can’t have teaming in multiplayer games… especially in a virtual environment where real-world physical contextual cues are completely missing.  Oddly enough, implementing these skills is simple too, but for reasons that escape me their proper use is rare in my experience.  I’d hazard to guess that in the First-Person Shooter (FPS) games I play no more than twenty percent of the players truly get the concepts we’re going to cover today.  So let’s improve that, shall we?


Well-designed FPS games offer a variety of cues and clues to inform the player of what’s going on.  Common user interface elements include a Heads-Up Display (HUD) with player’s vital statistics, location, weapon in hand, ammunition count, etc.  But beyond these features are those that can be even more helpful specifically for teaming, as follows:

  • Play status announcements (“Red team has the flag!”)
  • Goal indicators (objective icons, such as an arrow over a captured flag)
  • Team damage feedback (“Hey, I’m on your team!”)

The play status announcements are key here.  I’ve seen too many players ignore them to their team’s detriment.  When the announcer or text update indicates that your team’s flag has been taken (or control point seized, etc) that’s your alert to alter your immediate behavior.  In Capture the Flag (CTF) modes, returning a captured flag is priority one, always (capturing the enemy’s flag is priority two).  Similar rules apply to other modes.  So it’s important for players in the field to pay attention to these status alerts in order to effectively shut the enemy down.

Consider a CTF scenario I have encountered far too many times: I am a Blue gunner in the back of a jeep driven by a teammate intent on capturing the enemy’s flag.  But halfway to their base I hear the feared “Red team has the flag”.  Immediately my priorities change– I swivel around to face our base, knowing the flag thief will be coming from that direction.  But at least half the time, my driver ignores this sudden game-changing event and continues on his original mission.  That is, he is not observant.

That behavior costs games.  But observation is only part of the solution…


I have an obligation to make sure my teammates are observant.  They might miss the alert for whatever reason, so if I see their behavior has not adjusted to the new threat I need to make sure they know what has to happen.  So in the flag-capture scenario above I need to insist that the jeep driver turn around and proceed toward the flag thief.  I also need to instruct other team members to move to intercept if they can.  This is where players who favor long-range weapons become valuable; snipers and rocketeers are good to have when a flag stealer makes good progress across the map.  Just make sure everyone follows through on flag recovery, especially if a dislodged flag takes an enemy-favoring bounce!

But this is just one example.  Instead of idle chatter, make sure your team engages in productive communications (but on the team chat channel, of course).  Players need to constantly inform and update each other of their strategy so that others can choose alternatives and thus broaden team effectivity.  You don’t want the entire team clumping together and taking the same route– the enemy sure won’t, especially if they see your team tends to do so!


In covering the skills of observation and communication I am laying the groundwork for detailed coverage of strategies in future articles.  Going forward I will build on the advice provided here and show precisely how and why those skills work.  But for now, I hope some players are already getting good ideas on how to improve their teams’ chances!

9 responses to “First Person Teaming: Observation and Communication

  1. allnameswereout

    Good observations, and well written Randall. Here’s my 0,02 EUR.

    “In Capture the Flag (CTF) modes, returning a captured flag is priority one, always (capturing the enemy’s flag is priority two).”

    I only played ETF as CTF/FPS game, but as kid I played this type of game IRL as well. Because I was a quick runner I often went on the offense. I liked and like to be on the move. Defense bored me, and I wasn’t able to anticipate quick enough on the events. Flag bored me too. Spying and scouting I loved though. Usually, some of the other folks would be the diversion, and I would pass through elsewhere, or move very quietly. I was often the sneaky kid who was a key player, sneaked through alone or with someone else. Too big groups meant too much arguing, or too much noise (and in hindsight a lack of leadership is apparent). I did what I was good at. At some point, they knew me, and they had 2 people constantly following me near the border of the areas. This was with 2 areas where in enemy line the enemy can touch you, and then you lose a life, with each player starting with 3 lives. If you had 1 left, going defense might be wise. So is different than shooting in FPS; paintball CTF experiences are probably better analogies. At the point my influence and qualities got known I became much less effective, became a diversion, or had to pull all kind of magic to get through. Such as heavy sprinting back and forth, having someone initiate some chat with some shitty humor, going on own terrain then crawling to border, and so on. Quite a twist.

    Now, I don’t know much about sports and the traditional American sports I don’t like much yet I believe one might recognize some observations in their own teamsport. THE sport here is football (US: soccer) which I will refer to as football because the term makes sense (in contrast to your metric system :P). Now, here too, the attackers are quick. They run fast. Faster than defenders. They have technique. They specialize in something. Defenders are often older, but also more experienced. Attackers usually last less long. It has been said a good attacker can never be a good coach, but I don’t know if that holds any value, I only know my country got beaten by Russia which was managed by a famous Dutch coach. Point is, every player has their + and -. Each has their quality. They are humans. They get different salaries. They have their moods, their good and bad days, they all look different as well.

    I believe one can see a lot of elements of these games in other games as well, including our example of CTF/FPS.

    As I said, everyone has their quality. In essence, one has to do what they’re good at, yet, sometimes one has to pick the slack and do something one is less good at just because nobody else is doing the dirty work; IOW, out of necessity. In a teamplay game like FPS it is not much different. You have people who rush in, who frag the shit out of the other team and that is what they are good at. If they can push through, and you are able to create a diversion, then your teammate might be able to grab or defend (or…) the objective et voila. For example, in ET I am a top notch medic. I love the class because it gives me the freedom to live longer, pass through and survive, use adrenaline as ego medic rushing through (getting kills, or for objective) while I can also run myself to death for reviving and healing my teammates. I’m good at both. What I prefer depends on several factors, including my mood, but also my faith in the team (or certain players). If Dodo the Clown who usually TKs (or just, to put it more fair, is not good…) dies before my eyes it might be smarter to leave him there. It might not be worth the effort. But if a good player dies a few miles a way it might be worth the sprint. Maybe I do die during the sprint. Possible. Then it failed. Maybe I’d die right after I revived him. Maybe he went AFK after his kill to make a cup of Java. I’m a good sniper too but I’m a bad fops.

    Now, it also depends on the way CTF works. If its sudden death (whoever gets flag first wins THE game) the rules change. I see this in football too. If at some point (in finals series after undecided, like tie-break in tennis) the enemy is able to score then the game does change. If they have the ball, you adapt to that. But not always everyone does this. There might be different strategies. An attacker might be freakin’ tired, not have the condition. An attacker might feel it isn’t worth it to run back. Usually, reporters praise attackers when they do come back, and ‘offsite’ is a rule to stimulate this as well, but you know some attackers don’t do this, yet [some of them] function. If it is sudden death mode though the points make a huge difference, and sometimes a team decides to only defend after the score is 1-0 or 2-0 or 2-1 in their advantage. Especially when the end draws near. Keeping pressure by attacking however _is_ a valid strategy. Sometimes it gets 3-0 or 4-0 then. And you can bet at 3-0 they lost their moral. Although we’ve seen cases where they came back to 3-2, 3-3, or even 3-4.

    In short, what you propose is rule of thumb but not necessarily the best way. What does suck, especially for morale, is these people who 1) cannot frag or otherwise don’t contribute a more than average performance 2) never contribute something substantial like playing engineer when nobody wants to or go to other team if teams unfair IOW don’t do fairplay 3) whiners, elitists suck too :-). Still, I say, if someone doesn’t defend, but makes it up in a different way, for example attacking so good that they must defend more hence attack less effective it might add up to a 50% efficiency, or even more 🙂 in some teamplayer sports, one player makes one good action at the right moment and zakaa, effective. If he scores, we love him. If he plays whole game no score, we don’t. No matter if he played good or bet. That one action makes the difference. Those who know more about football however do look more through such, and are able to judge more objectively rather than the short sighted effect of the score.

    Sometimes it takes little effort and people do not anticipate while it’d be easy to do so. For example in ET because they are fops class and spawn near the tank yet do not throw a nice lil airstrike on the tank to disable it. Or don’t give ammo. Or don’t repair the MG while they’re engie. Or don’t use that bazooka to kill that nasty MG. Or don’t revive that teammate lying besides the hyperactive medic who is constantly strafing because an enemy might show up. To combat this problem, there are 1) keybinds and private/public chat 2) small groups called fireteams also with their own ‘chatroom’ 3) VoIP solutions (e.g. teamspeak) 4) after death, you see how a teammate is doing, or can freely wander around.

    Communication, and observation. Keyword: anticipation. Includes giving feedback, foresight, communication, proactive security. And having the guts to give and take criticism. On a pub that is less easy than with good friends in a clan or fireteam. Thats what it is all about. Friendship. Community/kolkhoz, trust, knowing everyone’s + and -, knowing each other’s character, and often: leadership. Teamwork. And, exercise. I’ve experienced ‘work excursions’ where you have a day off (official, or during work time) and where you play games with colleagues. This has _exactly_ the same goal which is in short: building team spirit.

  2. I will go further into details later because as you say there are rich varieties of objective-based games like CTF.

    Regardless, I believe preventing a flag capture will always be the highest priority although on an as-needed basis. Obviously, the first rule of normal business in this sort of mode is for YOUR team to score– but that effort can be pointless (pun intended) if your team is easily allowing the other team to do so.

    Perhaps it may be best to call flag capture prevention “Priority 0” since it really is an ad hoc event. And note that I am NOT talking about conventional defense here– the team that squats in their base trying to keep invaders from seizing an objective tends to lose; the smart enemy takes advantage of their clumping and takes them all out in short order (I will also discuss this as a future segment).

    What I am talking about specific to my example is dynamic change in tactics based on changes in game events. Note that the main characters in my scenario (me and my jeep driver) are on an offensive mission ourselves when the enemy takes OUR flag. It is precisely at that point that my team MUST change tactics on the fly and prevent the successful capture of our flag at all costs. Far too often I have played on teams where that was not understood by the majority and the purpose of this particular article was to explain the need.

    And I am with you completely on the last part of your comment– the real and virtual worlds do not have to be as disconnected as some people believe, and lessons learned in each can translate into the other.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Randall Arnold

    I wanted to make this a separate post: what you say about people who “don’t contribute much” rings true, but even that is easily solved.

    If you have a teammate with lesser skills than the rest, they can always play a very important role: professional distraction. I myself have fallen into that role on an as-needed basis or when I am the weakest member (it happens). Playing full-time cannon fodder may not be seen as admirable but it sure helps the TEAM, and it’s fun to taunt the enemy afterward when they realize I was simply averting their attention from what my fellows were doing. ; )

    Of course, as you say, the success of the tactics I am addressing in this series depend on peoples’ receptiveness. But that pretty much goes without saying and I won’t delve into player pettiness.

  4. allnameswereout

    “Regardless, I believe preventing a flag capture will always be the highest priority although on an as-needed basis.”

    IRL/CTF without weapons, at least the way I played it, the flag has only gotten to go to the border in order to be captured. Or one had to take it and run to the farm (residing on the border) which meant an end sprint from the border, without being insecure. IVL/CTF, sometimes the drop off point of the captured flag is near the place the friendly flag spawn resides, but not necessarily. Sometimes there are multiple flags to be captured. If you’re on heavy offense, it might be better to capture the flag and then move back. It might be wise to wait. To hide for a surprise. Or serve as distraction. Trying to meet the enemy who has the flag, or not. What if you already have the enemy flag and they grab yours? You might be quicker. In essence, once a flag is taken to become captured every player should trigger this event and take it into account to decide the strategy and mode they’re playing. This might lead to small or substantial changes. The same is true for when your team takes the enemy flag. You want to defend the enemy flag (or rather: its caretaker) allowing a safe passage.

    If you take the depot level on ET as example, in the beginning the Axis usually heavily camp. If they’re worth their salt they’ll win time there, and possibly beat Allies morale. However, one can sneak around via the tunnel and via grenade/double jump (if enabled) via the Axis spawn exit at top of bunker. If grenade/double jump is enabled a disguised covops is not even required to enter the depot yard. A medic might be worth more to compliment engie instead. Or 2 engies. There are also a few places where, if you jump on a teammate, you can get inside the base as well. If alternate CP spawn is activated, it might be better to enable this instead of going for end objective. From all of these options the settings clearly matter. However, also, the strategies to be decided are not hard set. There is no ‘best’ strategy. It really depends on all kind of factors, most often what the hell the enemy is doing. That is why anticipation is important _but_ you must value your own & your team’s qualities as well. Example: as football coach you can adapt and anticipate on the enemy all the time, but if you do not value your own positive qualities enough you adapt too much to the enemy.

    I think your example is about UT? Its a good example of right hand does not know what left arm does.

    You gave another example about rushing with the whole team on one side, but if you have medics in there on the back and you apply some kind of teamwork there, that might turn out very nice. Again, I’m speaking not really about CTF but rather I have e.g. Oasis map of ET in mind with offense and defense (speaking of Allies pov). Especially if you suddenly do this. I’ve seen this happening in Oasis from both team’s viewpoint. Suddenly all Allies come out of the tunnel. With only a few, if any, Axis defending there. Then the Axis must fall back to the fort. The point made is less true for CTF, but there will be situations where it applies.

    All in all, it is a complex combination which when flexible is in theory more effective.

    I believe examples are a very good way to provide people insight but the example must make sense to them. I know my ET examples make sense to you, but beyond that… 🙂

    Cheers, –Jeroen.

  5. Again, you’re going into far more detail than I intend. That’s not a bad thing, but trying to address every single mode and contingency is not practical for me.

    Rather, I will focus on the basics and common elements, recognizing of course that there are infinite variants. The fundamentals are what is critical here– ie, adjusting game strategy on the fly. Too many people, in my experience, lack that reflex. I’m pointing out the simple things that can help them develop it.

    And of course, once a player grasps the importance of such reflex then they will see how and where it applies. But the audience I am addressing needs to crawl before they walk… and I’ll leave broad expansion on that to the comments section where folks like you can help. ; )

  6. allnameswereout

    You’re right, and it isn’t written coherently either. I should know you understand how this works. I hope you’ll find good examples to explain your points because they’re important for people to understand abstract information. Much like pictures, its a guidance. Analogies & examples make things so much easier clear — at least for some people. Yet other individuals learn by doing. By mistake and success.

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