TFN: Hey Aimstrong, thanks for taking the time to do this interview.
Aimstrong: Thanks for having me here. After the very intense finals, I have been enjoying some well deserved rest and relaxation. I'm more than happy to answer any questions you might have, though.
TFN: Let's start by asking 'who is Aimstrong?' How old are you, from which country do you hail, and are you really a bloodthristy unstoppable Viking?
Aimstrong: I am a bloodsthirsty Viking hailing from the land of Denmark. I serve King Harald Bluetooth and this tourney was won in his name! In all honesty, I am a 21 year old Dane – my figure is as imposing as any Viking of old's, though. I have studied psychology for 2 years at university but have decided to change course and go to medical school instead.
TFN: How long have you been playing and what attracted you to the franchise? Why Company of Heroes and not StarCraft, for instance?
Aimstrong: I began with Company of Heroes when it came out and played versus the computer with friends at LAN parties and the like. It wasn't until Opposing Fronts that I really started playing it online.
I have also played StarCraft and especially StarCraft 2. What I like about those games is that the micromanagement can be very intense and you often reach a point where, in your current "condition" you are not physically able to micromanage everything at once. It's like having to do a work out for your brain.
I feel there is too much "gimmicky" stuff in SC2 for me to keep playing. The game is very well balanced, but it is balanced around mechanics I personally don't care much for. I feel it is bad design to implement mechanics just to increase micromanagement needlessly, and I also feel there are a lot of "anti-fun" elements in it. It's kind of the same reason I prefer League of Legends to DotA or HoN, or SC1 and WC3 to SC2 (the graphics make LoL unplayable for me though).
The Company of Heroes series for me provide a good compromise with what I want from a RTS. The average actions per minute required to micromanage are much lower than in StarCraft, but when there is a big fight going on I feel the levels rise to the same levels as intense battles in StarCraft. I feel I don't have to focus so much on boring details like constantly micromanaging my base, but I can instead focus on the fighting, which has always been my favourite part of playing; outmicroing your opponent in a battle is one of the most satisfying feelings when playing games.
TFN: How does it feel winning the first The Frontline Network Company of Heroes 2 World Championship? What will you do with the prize money?
Aimstrong: I am planning on early retirement! In truth, I have bought a few trinkets to reward myself for the effort and I also bought a few beers that I owed to other people. As some may know, I didn't orginally plan to play in the tournament. I've been in a long retirement from the high level CoH scene (6 months!) and wanted to stay out of coming events. But after some convincing from some friends, fans, and Tommy, who all really wanted me to play, I eventually caved in and gave it a chance. I plan to be boring with most of the money and just save it up. It is a nice addition to a student's budget.
TFN: How did you feel about going into the finals against Sepha? Did you do any special preparation?
Aimstrong: I prefer to not watch replays of my opponents. I was warned Marcus was a total beast (rumor has it that he was 120-0 until the semifinals where I beat him), so I checked up on one replay of him, but I ended up closing it down a few minutes after. For me, playing games is fun first and foremost and I just can't make myself watch others play (unless I mentor them). It's just too boring for me. I had heard that Sepha was going to get all dirty with the scout car spam, though.
The preparation I made was mostly physical. I tend to do some warmup games about an hour before the tourney kicks off. I wasn't satisfied with my play in the warmup on day 3, which worried me. So I actually spent half an hour before the games vs Marcus boxing into the air, doing some exercises to get the blood and adrenaline pumping – yes, I imagined myself punching Marcus in the face and breaking his nose . When after that I still felt a bit tired, I looked into a lamp to "cheat" my body into thinking it was daytime to wake it up (it was typical bad and cloudy Danish summer weather outside).
TFN: We were casting at the same time as the finals was being played. Did you have a chance to look at any of the games live? Did you enjoy watching yourself play?
Aimstrong: I was watching most of the show. For me, it's become a tradition to watch the casts of the big games if I win it. I have to admit I am usually a bit too let down if I botch it and end up losing the series.
It was fun to watch the show and I think you guys did a great job; it must almost have been as exhausting casting for so many hours as it was to play. It was especially informative with the Relic developer being part of the crew, although I disagree with some of his strategic and tactical assertions.
TFN: When you play as Germans, how do you deal with the Russian M3 Scout Car?
Aimstrong: I'd say that the scout cars, especially when spammed like Sepha did, force the Ostheer player to tech into T2 for scout cars of his own. One of the problems is that for the Ostheer player to not lose too much out against massed scout cars, he needs to preemptively tech T2. This is a problem when it isn't even a given that the Soviet player will even tech into T1 or use massed scout cars early; I'd say it's a flaw in design that the Ostheer player is forced into mind games like that.
TFN: How do you deal with snipers, and particularly Soviet snipers?
Aimstrong: I only ever get a counter sniper of my own as the Soviets. The 2-man sniper team against the 1-man sniper always disfavors the latter greatly. Snipers seem to be much more easily killed in CoH2 than vCoH. Also, TrueSight™ makes it much easier to flank a sniper. This makes regular infantry much more powerful against them. At the same time, scout cars and the like can detect them easily and deal a lot of damage. Currently, people don't lay many mines, which makes vehicles better at chasing snipers down, and suicide vehicles are also much cheaper manpower wise in CoH2 compared to vCoH, while the cost of the sniper is the same.
TFN: Your Soviet build order makes use of combined arms and seems almost unbeatable. How does the build order work?
Aimstrong: For me it is very important that you have different "elements" in your army. This means having a mixed unit composition. Conscripts and Grenadiers are the main "core" of both armies (until later infantry is made available). The players then have to supplement these units; the Ostheer players usually do it with MGs and later on T2 vehicles. The Soviets can do it with a more viable flamer (since the Engineer units are much more flexible than pioneers due to their weapons), snipers, and the scout car. Early on, this gives you a mobile army with long range capabilities as well as the option to rush a fortified position. The long range utility of the snipers makes it so that you have an easy time defending as well as attacking, so the Soviet player can pick the fights.
That is of course until the Ostheer player gets vehicle tech from T2, which hits around the time the snipers actually hit the field. As soon as I get the sniper out I tech for the AT nade instantly to prevent bumrushing of the snipers. In the finals game, at this point, our army compositions were both rather varied, but I would say mine had better mid/late game viability. He was forced to spend fuel and munitions to counter my more manpower-based composition.
As we saw in the games, vehicles are prone to being AT-naded with Oorah, blizzards and TrueSight™. AT nades are usually not enough to actually destroy the vehicle threat and Guards fill in that role nicely. They work well in scout cars, too, which allows your AT to have the same mobility as his vehicles. The German T2 vehicles are especially good because of their shock value, so their value gets lower as the game progresses – especially considering my next step is to get the SU-85. The SU-85 gives me anti-vehicle coverage for the rest of the game. I feel that tank is a bit over the top at the moment.
TFN: Throughout most of the tournament the Soviet players would go Guard Rifle Combined Arms Tactics for Hit the Dirt, PPSh guns, and Guards Rifle. However, you used Guard Motor Coordination Tactics. What made you choose the latter commander over the former?
Aimstrong: This brings me to my finishing point when talking about my Soviet strategy. The upgraded T-34/85ss give your unit composition a main battle tank (something it would otherwise lack when going T1->T4). At the same time it includes the guards which are vital to dealing with Ostheer T2, and the 120mm which is kind of like a mortar on steroids.
What you end up with is an army composition that has most "elements." Anti-tank (that is viable vs every single Ostheer tank in the game), long range snipers, main infantry, elite infantry, artillery in the form of 120mm mortars, and main battle tanks. Compared to Sepha's Soviet composition of mostly upgraded Conscripts, artillery, and anti-tank, my army was much more flexible.
Overall I think the commander stands out, since all of its abilities are useful. Most commanders seem to be put together randomly, which in my opinion is a shame with the way the whole system works. I'd much prefer if we were able to design our own commanders instead, and it would better fit the more two-dimensional system in CoH2 compared to vCoh's tree system.
TFN World Championship Finals Aimstrong vs Sepha G1
TFN: We saw your big T1 German build in game 1 of the finals. What was the thinking behind going for so many T1 units?
Aimstrong: In my early days in the game I had encountered a lot of infantry spam from Soviet players. To counter this, I felt the Ostheer player could utilize the fact that their T1 (which I feel is obligatory to get right now) includes the MG. This makes it so that the Ostheer player can eventually field more different units than the Soviet player and use the combined arms to take him out, especially with the LMG42, which is a very nice upgrade. The idea is to forgo the relatively shoddy units from T2 and instead use Jaeger Doctrine to make the Grenadiers viable in the late game and use the tanks from T3 (which are all very good vs everything but SU-85s).
In retrospect, I believe that there may still be something to it even vs scout car spam. It may just require extremely intelligent positioning.
TFN World Championship Finals Aimstrong vs Sepha G3
TFN: How come you changed your Axis build "on the fly" for game 3 and how do you think it worked out?
Aimstrong: It was evident that my T1 strategy was getting completely dismantled by the power of multiple scout cars hitting at the same time. Sepha's scout cars made me lose the manpower and munition war, and he was able to win the fuel war by forcing me off the map.
I had run into some scout car rushers in some practice games a few days before the tourney started, and I also knew the Ostheer SdKfz 221 scout car with the upgraded gun was effective against Soviet scout cars. The moment I lost game 1 I knew that I had to try my luck with a T2 composition in game 3. As I mentioned earlier, I feel the Ostheer scout car is a necessity against scout car usage like Sepha's.
It was a very intense game and I feel I could maybe have won it. The problem was that my advantage was midgame. With the way the balance of SU-85s vs T3 is, my moment of opportunity was on borrowed time. I was also surprised at the Panzer Grenadiers' lack of effectiveness against Conscripts with Hit the Dirt and PPSh guns. I haven't used T2 much in practice and I didn't feel completely at home with all the units. In the end, I was able to drain a lot more VPs from him as the Ostheer than when the tables were turned, and my persistence in game 3 allowed me to get a definite faction choice in the ace game.
I think the turning point was me losing the MG-42 to him. Because of some design issues, it is extremely hard for Ostheer players to handle stolen MG-42s in houses. Although one can argue about the Molotov's effectiveness, it gives the Conscripts an extra "element" by letting them force an MG out of a house. There is currently no equivalent for the Ostheer. I feel 6 man weapon teams need to be reduced.
TFN World Championship Finals Aimstrong vs Sepha G5
TFN: In game 5 you chose Soviets, who had won all previous games, but Sepha put on enormous pressure in the early game. What was the turning point?
Aimstrong: While watching the games I could see that the game seemed very close. While playing it, I never felt I was completely on the back foot. When you play the same opponent for so many matches, you realize some of his habits. Sepha made a very good attempt to handle my Soviets in G5.
I think the turning point was his attempt to checkmate me by driving the flamer half-track inside my base. With the way AT nades work, it was a very risky move but with high rewards. It was doomed to fail since I had called in a second Guards squad to replace a lost Conscript squad. I never felt the half-track stood a change against 2 Guards and AT nades.
Although I was off the field, my unit composition was intact. With the Soviet snipers, this means that I could take the map back with relative ease. All his teching options would eventually be countered by my SU-85, so it was only a question of time. Thus I don't feel it was possible for him to use his map control advantage that much.
TFN: TrueSight™ has made it impossible to see beyond obstacles like houses. What are your thoughts on it?
Aimstrong: I think it is a very interesting feature. It forces the players to play "smarter." You can for example no longer camp the opposite side of a house and enter it when you see his units move close to it. Now you actually need that line of sight, and this completely changes the pacing of the game. I think it's neither good or bad; it's refreshing.
TFN: How have you adapted to the new capping mechanic, which allows you to capture points by standing in an area rather than having to touch the point with a unit?
Aimstrong: I like it. It gives an extra option to micromanage your troops to the edge for efficiency, which I think is a fine addition. At the same time, it gives a nice fighting dynamic around capping points now, and allows you to spread your troops out, seeing that they no longer require backup while capping points.
TFN: What about footprints and tracks in the snow - do you use that information during a match?
Aimstrong: I actually didn't know it had made it into the final game. I have only ever used it once during the beta. There is simply too much stuff to focus on, at least in a match series like this.
TFN: We saw a lot of building use from you as both Germans and Soviets. Why is that? Does this differ from your vCoH play style?
Aimstrong: The buildings currently give way too much protection to units. Before the tournament, I jested with some friends that the winner would be the one to use the houses correctly. The Germans have an especially hard time taking out units in buildings since they lack Molotovs and their sniper is not as viable as the Soviet sniper.
I kept this in mind while figuring out cap orders and what territory I would be satisfied with holding. You also can't see through buildings like you could in vCoH, which means that you have to either hold it, or you risk a unit coming from a flank and taking it (since you can't see the unit coming). Buildings also negate the effects of blizzards. This makes it so that they are much more important but also makes the game more static, which I think is a shame.
TFN: How else have you changed your mindset for CoH2 compared to vCoH?
Aimstrong: This was my most intense series that I have won. It is actually the first time in a series where it has come to the ace game and I won it - I usually go out with a bang instead. I felt it was a very good experience, except for some issues with the Soviet faction. I remember I was extremely annoyed and sad after game 3; Hit the Dirt, scout cars and weird rocket artillery gets old really fast. Luckily my resolve carried me through.
I think CoH2 has some decent potential but it also requires some changes. That being said, the finals series felt just as intense and balanced (seeing that we both get to play the ”OP” faction) as any I have played from vCoH. I also feel that, although I disagree with him on certain points, that the Relic balance dev seems competent. So I am optimistic about the future, gameplay wise.
TFN: How many frozen corpses of my men must pave the way to Berlin before I can reach the same level of play as you?
Aimstrong: Ask Tommy; by the end of the history of Company of Heroes 1 I would say he was at my level, and he is the person I am the most proud of having mentored to date.
To play this game at a high level though, I think you can get far with a variety of skills. That is one of the beautiful things about it. Some of the high level players have good micro, some have good decision making, some are patient and cautious, and so on. It is of course good to combine as many of those as you can.
TFN: Thank you so much for your time, both Tommy and I (FatalSaint) from The Frontline Network congratulate you on your new title: first ever TFN CoH2 World Champion!
Aimstrong: Thanks for hosting a fantastic tourney so early on for the game. It being so early after release, and players not knowing what every unit and abilities does, gives the tourney a very interesting flavour.
Last but not least, I want to make a shoutout to KoreanArmy, Thoughtwalker, Crowking and crew, Interface Zealot, Jeep, Dcoke, Hicksi, Shana and Vestice... If I cancel my retirement plans I made earlier and make it this far again, I will have to cut this list down!