5 Keys to Improving in Online Shooters

Ghost Recon Wildlands Cover
Source: Ubisoft

There are a ton of shooters out there with a plethora of varying weapons and methods to dispatch your enemies, so sometimes learning to do what’s best can be a little daunting due to the sheer amount of details to learn. However, there are some basic concepts to improve your game regardless of what shooter you’re playing. While these tips and principles apply to offline story modes, they are especially applicable to online play, where every decision counts, and there are anywhere from a handful to dozens of enemy players who can kill you in an instant. Both first and third person shooters also benefit from these tactics and strategies, be it something as innocent as Plants vs. Zombies or something as tactically competitive as Rainbow Six Siege.

1. Awareness and positioning

The Division Cover
Source: Ubisoft

The first and most universal aspect of any shooter, be it a first or third person, is to constantly be aware of your surroundings and the visibility of yourself as well as your enemies. It doesn’t matter what gun you have or what game it is, if you simply wander aimlessly or patrol a level with no sense of process from cover to cover, to quote the great South Park ski instructor, “You’re gonna have a bad time.” You should always be trying to put yourself in the best position possible regardless of where you are. Sometimes the best place to be is down low and hidden away, and sometimes up high in a vantage point where you can draw enemies into traps and choke-points.

Every map, every section, and every room have their own distinct sight lines and useful cover, so it’s important to memorize the best places to be in any given situation so that when things get nasty you are at least in a better position to adapt. To use a fighting analogy, it’s better to stay standing or take someone’s back than to get caught in someone’s mount and get your face pummeled into the ground. It doesn’t matter how hard you punch or how quick your twitch reactions are in a shooter, if your position is bad, you’re already at a disadvantage.

The more concealed you are, not only will you be less likely found by roaming enemies, but you will also be in a superior position to ambush them. That’s not to say you must camp and stay in one area, in fact, it’s better if you periodically keep moving from one position to the next, leading enemies on a wild goose chase. It’s just important to make sure you are always making decisions that put you at an advantage rather than sprinting constantly forward in classic Call of Duty style.

Once you’ve learned how to navigate each map properly, a methodical application of checking corners, scoping down sight-lines, and “slicing the pie” as you lean or crouch walk into new areas will grant you great advantages in the moment to moment interactions between you and your enemies. Aside from that, you’ll want to ensure that you watch your own area with steady discipline while your teammates watch theirs. Simply accept that your team will cover their position as you will your own, as flanks are often inevitable once things get going between teams. If everyone crowds each other at doorways, windows, and corridors, you’re inviting multi-kills via enemy grenades or an expertly place LMG. It’s no good to sprint over to an ally’s position as soon as action breaks out. Your eagerness to get in the action can get you and your teammates killed unnecessarily.

2. Respect range and your role

Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Sniper Range
Source: Activision

Once the advantageous positions are prevalent in your mind, it’ll be easier to distinguish what places are better for what role you’re playing as. If you’re a run-and-gun type of player, a short to mid-range submachine gun, assault rifle, or shotgun will compliment darting around from cover to cover. The wider hip fire spread and general high rate of fire of these weapons will also allow for you to come out on top in many frantic and twitch oriented encounters with enemies. However, if you’re out in the open running and gunning, mind the marksmen with bipoded LMGs, DMRs, and sniper rifles, who are most often effective in high and isolated places with long lines of sight on the most common areas of conflict between the runners.

Most shooters are like a constantly evolving game of chess in this way, in that each piece is constantly moving or being removed from a situation according to the proper ineffective use of each player’s role. Typically a shotgun user shouldn’t be roaming rooftops and open areas, as snipers shouldn’t be rushing or advancing too quickly, unless of course you’re trying to build up your super-cool spinning no-scope montage for YouTube, which most certainly isn’t a played out gimmick at this point …

With these factors in mind, prioritizing targets and allocating the correct teammates to their most effective areas of expertise is key. Whether your squad or team have mics or not, it should be given that certain threats or issues in a firefight be addressed quickly and effectively. So if a tank or armored player is making a ruckus on a main front, it would be in the best interest of the team for the engineers and explosive wielding characters to deal with the heavy units head on, while the assault players deal with infantry, and snipers flank to help cover and support.

The same distribution of various assets your team has applies to general vehicular warfare in games like Battlefield as well, where the simple rock-paper-scissors balance of land, sea, and air vehicles requires coordination to help preserve everyone’s lives and vehicles, and therefore dominance of key objectives. For example, if a chopper is clearly on the run and being hounded by enemy choppers or jets, it’s in the best interest of the players below to help fire rockets and tank shells at the enemy air vehicles in hopes of continuing the air dominance of their allied air vehicles so they don’t get pounded from above themselves.

In turn, boats can help suppress and eliminate enemy infantry while allied troops support the air, and the air, once safe, can return the favor by striking the enemy ground and sea vehicles. In other words, everything in a large scale shooter is tightly tied together. Lose one vehicle, a flank, or an objective, and the dynamic changes immediately. So it’s always important to understand not just what you’re fighting but from where and why. A smaller scale shooter like Call of Duty for example, is no different except that everything happens faster and changes more quickly. Regardless of the game, it’s paramount to your teams success that you fill the gaps when team players, vehicles, and objectives fall, otherwise the entirety of the map’s current dynamic could be upset and result in slaughtering flanks and an overall loss.

However, you shouldn’t always commit to a battle or conflict with the enemy team if that means if doesn’t gain you any advantage or progression of dominance over the map. There’s no need to go eliminate a squad of mountain snipers if all their scores are on the bottom of the board by games end, with each 40x scoped sniper scoring maybe a single kill in the whole game. It only helps that they’re ineffectively pestering you with shots, as in the end their uninvolved approach only allows for greater allied numbers in the real fight. In that sense, the snipers have taken their approach to range and their role to an extreme that essentially removes them from the game entirely.

3. Utilize a versatile loadout

BF4 Pearl Market
Source: EA

As respecting your role on the battlefield is key in any given situation, being well prepared to act the role is equally as important. You can’t quite effectively snipe from a rooftop with a silenced, scope-less rifle, or succeed in assaulting an enemy position without proper grenades and gadgets for detecting and flushing out enemies. Thus, making sure to take into account the objective, map design, and balance of your teammates’ choices is crucial. Even just having the wrong scope, say an ACOG instead of a holographic, can change entirely how you have to play due to the differences of down-scope reaction times. If you’re playing a close quarters map, it’s better to use short ranged guns to deal with constant in-your-face threats, while utilizing single fire set weapons with longer scopes will do much better on larger maps.

The concept of choosing proper equipment is a given for most players, but it’s important to be reminded that you can’t force a style of play or weapon choice in the wrong setting. The best sniper is still going to suffer on maps with few long lines of sight and a lot of vulnerabilities via flanks. By the same token, a shotgun user is going to have a hard time with wide open maps that have little cover. Just like in regards to range, choosing the correct gear makes all the difference in how effective you are, and therefore the team overall.

Not only should your primary weapon choice match your style of play and the requirements of the maps’ pace and dynamics, it’s important to do your best, if the game allows, to utilize secondary weapons, sidearms, gadgets, and equipment that help address the various ranges of fighting in shooters. It’s great to keep a potent machine-pistol or small shotgun and claymores on you if you’re sniping to help deal with the inevitable hunt enemy players will mount once killed.

The more you can adapt to situations and blend your ability to reach out to people at different ranges or keep them at bay with gadgets, you can continue to fight rather than get pinned down or stuck due to an inability to address a threat. Of course every game is different in what you can choose to use, but the more diverse your loadout is, the better you can solve problems with your teammates in game. Try to focus on what each situation requires instead of what are simply your favorite guns and gadgets. Don’t be stubborn, those weapon related achievements or assignments can wait.

4. Mind the details

Halo 5 Flag or Fight
Source: Microsoft

Now that all the greater concepts of shooter gameplay have been addressed in terms of movement and application of your abilities, the last thing you need to take into account are all the details that will help you make the correct decisions regarding the aforementioned strategies. It’s hard to make the proper choices if you’re not paying attention to all the visual and audio cues, from obvious objective notifications, to subtle sounds of enemy movement or use of gadgets and vehicles. Headphones most definitely help in this regard.

Any Halo veteran knows that the mini-map is king. There’s a lot of valuable information in mini-maps, and you’re only doing yourself a disservice by ignoring it or not paying close enough attention. If you’re closely checking and watching the mini-map and other signs of enemy advancement, you’ll be much more able to prioritize targets and get into a solid position before conflict breaks out. To use another fight analogy, you can’t set up a take down or a kick without the proper footwork setup first. The same goes for incoming enemies, as you’ll be much better prepared to engage them if you’re anticipating ahead of time via all the available details in the game like spotting, intel through team voice communication, and obvious breaches in destructible cover, if possible.

Aside from the simple back and forth of battle, paying attention to all the details in game make a big difference in clutch and last minute efforts for wins. Like the picture above, it may be better to pursue the stolen flag than to even engage the other enemies, despite your instincts. The idea is to always have the long term big picture of the round in mind so that the enemy team doesn’t walk away with an easy win just because you were too busy distracted by ultimately irrelevant enemy forces.

On the other hand, you can do the same in an offensive position, like if a teammate is arming an objective or stealing one, you can use your presence to execute the exact same distracting conflict to give your team valuable seconds to pull off a point or win. Shooters aren’t just about who kills and who dies, but also the ever changing context of each situation and how it applies to the overall score. Just like addressing range, it’s important to think about what’s in your face and far away, both in time and space. Try to visualize and imagine what most likely will happen after each decision instead of simply acting impulsively.

5. Patience is a virtue

Rainbow Six Siege Patience
Source: Ubisoft

The key to succeeding in a shooter is not just about twitch reaction skills, which are valuable, but how and where you set up those kills. Surviving these encounters takes an even higher precedent as staying alive helps keep your streak going, demoralize the enemy team, and provide support to your teammates. For gamers, being patient is an obvious requirement for success but is ignored just as often since many games encourage or seem to encourage a fast paced, non-stop attitude towards action. But even in the fastest paced games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, deliberately waiting and moving with specific intent to stay safe and concealed can go a long way.

Rainbow Six Siege is a perfect example of an anti-Duty, in that sprinting and taking an aggressive stance towards your enemies will actually more often turn out to be a disadvantage rather than a lucrative kill-bringing tactic. Your loud stomps and the levels’ surveillance will usually just get you ambushed and killed instead of providing you with surprising flanks against your enemies. Siege has a lot to offer in terms of forcing players to recognize the benefits of taking a more relaxed and focused approach as opposed to a more cracked-out gun-slinging one.

Just like paying attention to the details of the mini-map and visual and audio cues, being patient doesn’t require much more than a little discipline and the willingness to quit your cursing of rival 12-year-olds, so that you can focus on the sights and sounds of the game. This overall principle doesn’t need a ton of elaboration but is still worth highlighting because it effects everything already mentioned in this article. Having the right amount of patience applies to every choice and moment in a game.

Sure, at times you’ll be forced to run-and-gun to secure an objective in time or avoid an enemy team advance, but the patience you employ allows you to sit and observe for a moment, even under pressure, so that you make the right decision in the long run, as opposed to rushing out too early in a panic induced spray-and-pray. Remember, even with infinite respawns, it’s always better to focus on self-preservation than to throw away life after life due to your impatient bloodlust for locating your enemies. Just relax and adapt.

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