Tempo / Ebb and Flow / Timing of Kills

Ebb and Flow of the Game:

The concept of this article is simple.  It has to do with the win condition.  If the game goes to 5, you wanna get that 5th kill.  And if not, you want to be ahead after 20 rounds.  Beyond that, NOTHING MATTERS.  The timing of kills plays a crucial role here, however.  Those familiar with, say, soccer, will recall matches in which the losing side stepped up their game and threatened, only to have the final whistle sound before they can equalize.  Atlas is similar — there is an artificial end-point to the game.  If the game were hypothetically to continue to 30 turns (even if Team A has, say, a 4-3 lead), the outcome might be 6-4 in favor of Team B.  But because the game ends at 20 turns, Team A wins.

Something that often occurs (particularly in close games) is one team will deliver what I call the first “punch.”  They get some big plays and do some big damage, and maybe get a couple of kills.  However, they’ve perhaps used some resources in doing this, in getting this advantage — say, an ultimate or two, or maybe even a Catalyst.  So, the other team has resources available, and will have a health lead when the dead lancer(s) respawn.  This allows them to “punch back.”  And maybe that counter-punch is stronger!  More ults and catas and so on.  But then the first team will respawn with their health and cooldowns, and probably deliver the third and final punch.  (Or maybe the game is fast-paced enough that there’s even a fourth punch, by the second team.)  The question is when that final punch is delivered.

This timing of kills is what I refer to as, for lack of a better term, the game’s ebb and flow.  It has to do with concepts from other games like tempo and value.



Turn 8, first punch delivered.  Team 1 goes up 2-0.

Turn 10, lancers respawn.

Turn 13, second punch delivered.  Team 2 goes up 3-2.

Turn 19, third punch starts to be delivered.  Team 1 ties game 3-3.

Turn 21, rest of third punch delivered.  Team 1 wins game, 4-3.


In this hypothetical game, Team 1 was able to get that third punch going just in time.  If Team 2 had been able to stall another 2 turns, they’d have won the game 3-2.

So, one thing that’s interesting is that if Team 2 delivered that second punch a bit slower, say on Turn 15, Team 1 might not have had enough time to get their third punch in order.  You won’t always have the presence of mind to know this, as Team 2, but it’s something to consider.

You’ll often experience the importance of kill timing when you die on Turn 18, especially if you have an Ultimate up or something important.  You choose your respawn on Turn 19, and your movement on Turn 20.  And oh my god on Turn 21 you have the world’s biggest ultimate to win the game but the game is already over.  And you know that’s gonna happen, as soon as you die on Turn 18, and your heart sinks.  Why couldn’t I have just died on Turn 17?  (Maybe you should have!)

Those who know me will know the famous play known as the “Tiggarius.”  It involves going way too ham on your opener and getting focused down on approximately Turn 4 to give up a really early death (especially as Kaigin on Flyway Freighter).  This play isn’t good, obviously — especially because the enemy team usually doesn’t even have to waste any resources that early (i.e. their ults aren’t even available yet, they probably weren’t forced to cata, your team probably wasn’t able to return that much damage, etc. — though maybe a few cooldowns were used).  But even so, the remarkable part is that I win most of the games in which I pull a Tiggarius.  Dumb luck?  Maybe.  But I think it has to do in part with the effect it has on the timing of the game.  Consider the following:

Turn 4, Team 1 delivers first punch, killing me (I’m on Team 2).  1-0.

Turn 6, I respawn.  At this point, assuming the enemy team wasn’t able to capitalize too much on the 4v3 they had for two turns (because it was so early in the game, say), we actually have a health and cooldown lead.  Sure, we’re down 1-0, but we start to get an advantage.

Turn 9-10, Team 2 finishes off a pair of kills.  We’re up 2-1.

Turn 14, Team 1 punches back with the respawns, tying it at 2-2.

Turn 19, Team 2 punches back and takes the win 3-2.

Something like that.  Basically Team 1 gets such an early and weak punch in that Team 2 is able to seize control of the midgame (assuming we start playing well – there are plenty of games in which Team 1 would just go on to win easily if Team 2 is bad).

So, with this general framework in mind, it’s very clear that you want your kills to be well-timed to allow you to finish the game with a lead before the other team can bounce back.  Kills around turns 17-19 are super effective for this.  Of course, you can’t always choose — if you have the chance to confirm a kill, you should probably take it!  But see below.

Confirming Kills:

At the end of the day, you can have all the “advantages” you like, but it’s kills that count.  This ties in with the above — it doesn’t matter if Team 2 has no catalysts left and is on 10 hp each if Turn 20 ends and they’re up a kill.  So, you need to finish kills.


  1. Obviously, confirm kills when you can.  But not all confirms are created equal.  If an enemy is low health with no dash or defensive cooldowns and no way to heal, leaving them alive lets them do damage longer, sure, but there’s no rush to kill them if it’s inconvenient to do so.  You can finish them off next turn, say.  Whereas if an enemy has a dash or heal coming up in one turn, failing to confirm is very costly!

If the enemy is low and it’s early in the game, maybe they’ll blunder and use their catalyst, only to die next turn anyway — thus you get a benefit by not having finished them off (but this relies on the opponent making a misplay).  But delaying the kill secure, although rare that you’d want to do this, can make sense if the kill is still certain the following turn and you wish to affect the game’s ebb and flow.

  1. Think about what kills you can secure.  This is a really important calculation that I very often run, and you’ll see me talk about this in games on my stream.  I’ll say like “okay, it’s about to be Turn 15, we have 6 turns left to win, we’re down a kill.  Who are viable kill targets for us?”  I check health, catalysts, dashes, positioning, etc.  Catalysts are particularly important — it’s very difficult to secure a target with a catalyst available that late in the game, unless they’re already low.  I probably won’t even bother going for a tanky frontline at that stage unless they are low or don’t have their catalyst + dash, or both.  I also count enemy kills.  I’ll say like “okay, they have 3 kills already, and our Zuki has no dash or cata so they’ll be able to confirm her pretty easily.  Our Blackburn is also low, so we need one of them to stay alive.  If Blackburn plays safe, do we have the damage to get the kills we need?”  This kind of strategic thinking doesn’t always pan out in solo queue because your team isn’t necessarily coordinated about that, and aren’t always thinking about those concepts the way you are.  But it’s huge for team play or FourLancer.  Especially towards the endgame, you have to prioritize.
  2. Repeatedly kill a target.  If someone uses their cooldowns, KILL THEM.  Oh, that Grey just used her catalyst turn 4?  Great.  Let’s hit her, plan in case she dashes, and kill her by Turn 7.  Okay, she’s back up Turn 9?  Great, let’s focus her again.  Unless you’d rather kill that 170 hp Titus who still has his cata?  Didn’t think so.
  3. On the flip side of the above, it’s often OK to take a death early.  If you could avoid death, think about what you gain.  Is it better to just come back with full hit points and a full set of cooldowns, including perhaps the cata you’d have used to stay alive?  If you know you’re going to die in the next 3 turns almost guaranteed, what point in the game is it?  If it’s very late, do your best not to!  If it’s early, should you die right away or try to stay alive another turn or two?  How much can you get done in those turns?  How much will the enemy have to invest tracking you down?

Saving Catalysts:

Okay, so you basically get the idea from the above that like, you don’t want to burn a catalyst early if possible.  If you’re sure they’re going to pound you, it’s fine to do it, but don’t take a bunch of damage, say “oh darn I should have cata’d” and then cata the next turn to stay alive if you’re just going to die soon after anyway and have no cata the rest of the match.

Simply put, as soon as someone has no dashes / catas, everyone is going to focus them.  So, by having one, you put psychological doubt into the minds of your enemies.  The unpredictability alone is worth a great deal.

Power Plays:

If you are able to secure a kill, can you take advantage of having a 4v3 for two turns?  This is how games snowball.  Think about how to press your advantage.

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