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Published December 8, 2012

Editor's note: This guest article was submitted by Eejit of the Word of Lowtax.

ECM Overview

Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) have finally arrived in MechWarrior Online. Love it or hate it, the new feature has certainly received a lot of attention from the community. Those of you who are EVE players might understand why such a feature could be, shall we say, controversial. 

Before we can unpack how ECM will change the game, we need to know exactly what it is capable of. ECM’s function can be summed up as such:

1. The Guardian ECM Suite module has a range of 180 meters (m).
2. The Guardian ECM Suite’s default mode is "disrupt" (henceforth referred to as "ECM").

a. Mechs within friendly ECM coverage cannot be targeted outside of 200m.
b. NARC, Beagle Active Probe (BAP), and Artemis IV are useless against mechs in friendly ECM.
c. A mech being disrupted by enemy ECM cannot:

i. Share target data
ii. See allied mechs on the targeting overlay or minimap
iii. Achieve a missile lock
iv. Use TAG (although the TAG laser will fire, it will have no effect)

3. A mech can fire a TAG laser into enemy ECM from outside 180m to reveal a mech being “hidden” by ECM

a. TAG has a range of 450m

4. The Guardian ECM Suite can freely toggle to counter-ECM mode (referred to as ECCM from here on) by pressing ‘j’.

a. A Guardian in ECCM mode will counter the effect of one enemy ECM applied to the nearest enemy mech

i. This allows you to target enemy mechs on the fringe of an ECM “bubble”
ii. If there are multiple ECM units affecting a mech, your ECCM will only clear one ECM’s protection

b. A Guardian in ECCM mode will completely negate one ECM source from the nearest enemy mech

i. If you get within range of an ECM “generator,” you will completely disable it, revealing that mech and all surrounding mechs that were benefiting from its ECM
ii. Once again, if there are multiple ECM units active, your ECCM will only disable the nearest active ECM source

5. ECM can be equipped on:

Commando COM-2D
Raven RVN-3L
Cicada CDA-3L
Atlas AS7-D-DC

For a full overview of Guardian ECM functionality, visit PGI’s Command Chair.

So: that's a lot of data, formatted in a way that isn't particularly enlightening. ECM could be interpreted as overpowered, or as completely useless. It might seem like a change so big that MechWarrior Online will never be the same again. Despite how confusing or horrible it might appear, Guardian ECM is actually one of PGI’s best ideas yet.  Let’s go through and unpack how Guardian ECM is going to affect MWO.

Lights and Streaks

The biggest winners from Guardian ECM’s implementation are scouts. The Commando-2D, Raven-3L, and Cicada-3M are the three "fastmover" mechs that will be using the new electronics package. ECM positively impacts these mechs in two important ways. First, it makes them the best scouts in the game, bar none. In the coordinated 8v8 matches that are arriving with Phase 2, these three variants will be able to move around the map and report on the movements of the enemy team without fear of casual detection. (By this, I mean that since these mechs can only be targeted within 200m, the only way to spot these mechs will be visually or using thermal vision.) Good scouts will learn to avoid being silhouetted by ridgelines and hilltops as well as to avoid standing in areas of thermal contrast. Gone are the days of having the perfect scouting spot only to be foiled by a gigantic red arrow popping up above your mech!

Second, these three mechs are going to become much more lethal and survivable. Currently, streak SRMs (SSRMs) are the most effective weapons against light mechs. The Jenner-D dominates the role of skirmisher because no mech can hope to match its amazing combination of speed, durability, and firepower through hardpoints. A JR7-D with two medium lasers (ML), two small lasers (SL), and two SSRM2 along with a decently sized XL engine simply out-performs the competition. With the implementation of ECM, the JR7-D will remain a great mech, but ECM-equipped mechs will also become viable picks where they were not before the patch. Now, a Raven-3L with ECM can cancel out the streaks on a Jenner-D and gain a significant edge by still being able to use its own two SSRM2’s. It will not be an auto-win button as pilot skill is always the deciding factor, but it will certainly help!

Additionally, ECM guarantees that you can always employ your streaks. This is good news for the Commando-2D, which many pilots build around its capacity to mount SSRMs. If you are being disrupted, just toggle to ECCM and your streaks are ready to go. ECM allows otherwise suboptimal mechs to compete against "stronger" designs and find a powerful and dynamic role on the new electronic battlefield.

This might sound like doom and gloom for the Jenner-D, or other builds which employ streaks. This is hardly the case. The Jenner-D can remount those two SSRM2s to two SRM4s. That is a lot of firepower for such a small mech. In the pre-ECM metagame, a Jenner-D that got in the rear of a big mech, such as an Atlas, could fire lasers and SSRMs for good damage, but the SSRM damage was spread across a large area.  Now the targeted damage of the SRM4s will allow a JR7-D to quickly core an opponent. Additionally, landing a salvo from an SRM4 against a light opponent hurts far more than a SSRM salvo does - and not only is the missile damage doubled, it remains heat efficient. Other builds which relied on streaks will also benefit from a move to regular SRMs. Centurions, Hunchbacks, and Catapults that boated Streaks could become SRM-brawling monsters.

Of course, SSRMs have not been nerfed into oblivion, and will continue to provide important close-in, reliable damage to lights harassing a team’s main force. Even if these harassing lights have ECM active, ECCM can be used by either a light returning to the fight or an Atlas-D-DC in the group that is equipped with a Guardian module. But does Guardian ECM herald the death of the Streakapult? Yes - and thank you, PGI. ECM also gives solid variants like the Jenner-F, which sports six energy hardpoints and several powerful builds, the chance to be considered top tier as well. Are six lasers nice? Yes. What’s nicer? 2xSSRM2 dealing a guaranteed 10 damage every 3.5 seconds. If you can't make that choice, though, perhaps a light laserboat is in your future. Pilots choosing light or fast variants without ECM will have lots of good options to choose from that can fill a variety of roles and playstyles.

LRMs and AMS

Guardian ECM does have the effect of somewhat "nerfing" LRMs, but this shouldn't be considered a bad thing. LRMs have always been excellent for punishing mechs in the open or lone wolves away from a group of AMS-equipped mechs. Most players have experienced a frustrating game of being pounded to death by swarms of missiles. ECM provides a solution to these LRM boat groups while still keeping LRMs viable. The old metagame allowed a lance of four pilots to drop all in LRM boats and rely on the other four players to spot enemy mechs. Now, organized LRM lances will need to bring a TAG and/or ECM-equipped spotter mech to ensure a counter to the enemy team’s electronic warfare (EWAR) strategy. Additionally, a TAG can only reveal a single mech—the LRM boats are not free to fire at their own target of choice. The LRM lance needs to work together to have the designator laze good targets.

This is a welcome change, as a well-coordinated LRM team can be a truly maddening opponent. While there are a variety of tactics that can defeat a group boating LRMs, even a victorious team might hesitate to qualify them as fun. ECM does not invalidate LRM boats, nor does it entirely negate the need for an anti-missile system (AMS), but it does force lances built around LRMs to do more than “keep circle on enemy robot, hold left mouse button, win.” ECM brings LRMs to a positive and balanced place in the metagame, although it will be interesting to see if PGI changes LRMs after a few weeks of data.

Expect to see the rise of direct fire support builds as well.  The Catapult-K2 with dual PPCs or Gauss Rifles comes to mind, but I am sure the community will produce many creative builds that bring fire support without LRMs.

Heavies and Phase 2 Matchmaking

Overall, I consider the new Guardian suite to be an excellent addition to MWO. I have about a thousand words above detailing why implementing EWAR will have a long-term positive impact on MechWarrior Online’s metagame. The one major negative of this particular implementation is the inclusion of the Guardian ECM Suite in the Atlas-D-DC. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the Atlas-D-DC—it is one of my favorite mechs. It has a fantastic weapon hardpoint layout, amazing endurance, and a variety of viable builds that ensure I never grow tired of stomping around the map as the big man on campus. Here's my concern: the AS7-D-DC is already far and away one of the best mechs in the game. It can brawl, it can snipe, it can be a juggernaut, and it can do almost all of that at the same time. The Atlas-RS and -D are both viable sidegrades as they both can compete with the D-DC. Even the Atlas-K has a purpose as it sacrifices optimal hardpointing in favor of have two AMS mounts. The issue is that when ECM is thrown into the mix, the Atlas-D-DC suddenly becomes god-tier compared to the other Atlas variants.

Why would you take an AS7-RS when the D-DC can protect itself so well from LRM boats and Streak-a-anythings? Why would you bother with the suboptimal layout of the Atlas-K when the ECM plus one AMS found on the D-DC is significantly more efficient than the mere two AMS sported by the K? The answer to both questions is that you will not bother with other Atlas variants aside from the AS7-D-DC because ECM is too good to pass up. Consider how powerful both ECM and ECCM are in a brawl, my favorite place to be when piloting an Atlas-D-DC. A good pilot shoots at exposed armor sections. Remember that ECM blocks target acquisition within 180m. Therefore, if you are in a brawl and lack ECCM, you will not be able to see what parts of your opponent’s armor are weak or open. This makes the Atlas-D-DC the best brawler in the game as it does not need to rely on others for ECM.

This clear advantage will poison both standard four-max queuing and the new Phase 2 eight versus eight matchmaking. In regular games, typical premades will want to run an Atlas-D-DC as the core of their team. Most solo queue players will also want ECM, and if not inclined towards lights or the Cicada, they will undoubtedly gravitate towards the Atlas-D-DC. Expect most organized 8v8’s in Phase 2 to sport a team of several AS7-D-DC’s. Those Atlases bring their own ECM game and can stomp across the field with impunity. One or two fastmovers with ECM will hardly bother them, as they could have four or more D-DC’s with ECM to prevent exposure. The D-DC’s flexibility and extreme tonnage means the team of Atlases could effectively engage anything at any range from any position.

Giving ECM to the Atlas-D-DC is negative not because it ruins the variant, but because it makes the already-amazing AS7-D-DC a chariot fit for Mars himself. It reduces the number of viable mech picks and team compositions. Instead of giving ECM to any Atlas variant, ECM should have been bestowed upon mechs, like the Raven and Cicada, that were suboptimal on their own. A logical choice would be the Awesome. The Awesome is not a bad mech. Once again, I have enjoyed piloting Awesomes. However, an Awesome simply will not stand up to an Atlas in a fight, and it is consequently underused. Giving an Awesome ECM instead of an Atlas would encourage teams to bring at least one to the game. It would strengthen the chassis to the point where it is an equal but different option compared to the Atlas.

The Cataphract would also make a good ECM recipient. The Catapult generally has a better hardpoint layout (and is faster than the Cataphract) and as such, many top teams would rather field a Gaussapult instead of a Gaussaphract. ECM on the Cataphract would incentivize teams to bring Cataphracts, even though they are suboptimal compared to the Catapult. Canon be damned, sometimes gameplay design choices need to supercede the source material if it makes for a better game. Other chassis might also benefit from ECM to become viable at all levels of play, but the Atlas has never been in need of a buff - and giving the AS7-D-DC the Guardian suite does just that.

Wrapping Up

The introduction of the Guardian ECM Suite is an exciting and positive evolution for MechWarrior Online. ECM adds depth to many areas of strategy and tactics, from reinvigorating and redefining how lights are chosen and operate to evolving how teams bring down the LRM apocalypse. Pilots of all weight classes will enjoy a higher skill ceiling thanks to the Guardian suite and it will greatly extend how long players stick with MWO, which certainly means success for PGI and game longevity for dedicated MechWarriors. We can all look forward to the era of ECM with anticipation, not with fear. Even ECM on the Atlas-D-DC may be addressed directly by PGI over time or it could even sorted out by creative players community-wide developing clever solutions to exploit some unseen facet resulting from this change. Whatever the case, ECM is here, ECM is an exciting addition to the game, and it is time to stop reading and start refitting your mechs for the battlefield of tomorrow.

See you on the battlefield and SQUAWK!

Pringlescan
I'm a former Goonswarm Intelligence Director, before leaving to play WOT first as a DC in CONDI then as a DC in SGLE. Currently I'm involved in Word of Lowtax in Mechwarrior Online as well as trying to make sure PGI doesn't ruin MWO Community Warfare

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