Leading on the battlefield isn't just about telling people what to do and where to go. In it's simplest form this is what typically happens, however those who excel at leading go well beyond this. Leadership is about so much more than bossing people around. The large part of it that many people overlook is controlling troop morale. If morale breaks, your force will weaken. Additionally it's largely about intuition and being able to not only predict enemy troop movements, but also be able to force your enemy to engage at a time and place of your choosing. The more you can control, the better.
To make this happen you need the Mental Magic those professionals call Psychology. Yes... there I said it. The one subject in school you hated is now your friend. Not only that but in a lot of games and life situations your other favorite subject called Math makes a huge appearance. From counting troops at a glance, to knowing the speed at which your troops move and how long it takes you to arrive at a destination. The ratio of supply you have to the supply you will need. You also need to factor on the fly what the random people who couldn't listen to instructions if it was color-by-numbers will do in a situation.
Yup, thats a lot to take in. But it's so much more than that. Controlling the mental state of your troops, and the mental state of your opponent is key. On top of that you need to defeat the toughest enemy you will ever face in life or in game: yourself.
Controlling Your Mental State
People never realize how contagious they are to others. As a leader, your mental state will transfer to the people who follow you. If you display fear or panic, your troops will be fearful and panic. If you display courage your troops will display courage. If you are irritated your troops will grow irritated. You must control your own emotional state at every step of the way.
Let me tell you, this is not easy to master and even I lose it sometimes. I've spent 14 years leading digital troops into battle by the hundreds and while I probably should have mastered this by now, I am humbled every single day I step on the battlefield and realize that I am not perfect and I always have room to grow. Just realize that, win or lose, victory or defeat, every battle is a lesson and how you handle it will be a reflection of your leadership ability.
Use Auxiliary Means of Mental Peace
One thing I began doing after the idea was passed to me was I began listening to music that put me in the right state of mind to lead. For a while I even ran a little experiment to see what it would do to a large audience. For over a year I streamed music to our voice communication software while leading events. The mood set by the music widely affected not only my state of mind but also the state of mind of the people following. Music has a wonderful ability to help keep us in a state of mind. Whether it's relaxed or hyped up. As a leader you must keep your cool at all times, consider this when choosing your playlist.
Additionally a short brief meditation before you go can help center you and prepare you for what is to come. Things rarely go as planned and having a clear mind and some reinforcement in your mood control can go a long way to keeping you calm and level headed.
Keep a Solitary Focus
There's something I tell every event leader in Gaiscioch. If you are defeated, accept the blame on yourself. If you are victorious, pass the credit on to your troops. The more you can control the emotion in the room the better you will perform and the longer troops will follow you. While it may not actually be your fault, the one thing you don't want to do is alienate your troops or get them bickering among themselves. By having one solitary point to focus the blame of defeat you can be humble, even vulnerable to your troops, and also build respect for being accountable for your short comings. This will strengthen the bonds between you and your followers.
Passing The Vibe
Get excited, get vibrant, be vocal and encouraging. People love to get hyped. It helps them perform, it makes them feel needed and appreciated. When your warforce does well make sure they know it. Give them praise, keep their spirits up and be sure to be the rock of encouragement in times of defeat and victory. Don't worry about the things you can't change, worry about the things you can. Your mental state will directly be passed to the people following you. Don't trouble yourself dwelling on the things that happened in the past, or you'll end up tripping over the future. Keep your chin up and stay focused on the next engagement.
Know Your Limits
Nothing defeats morale like loss. Even with the best leaders keeping spirits up, if you keep losing morale will decline and people will leave. You need to assess what you have at your disposal and know what you can and can't do. Fighting endless battles you can not win will not fare well for your morale. If you find yourself being defeated find a way to get small victories. Sometimes we face opponents far greater than us. There's no shame in doing what you can with what you have. In some situations you can drop additional firepower to help balance the playing field, other times it's using a pinch point or ambush to catch your enemy off guard. The key is to have the morale high when you need it most. Keep morale in mind when you're leading and don't let one loss turn into many.
Don't Feed The Trolls
There is no greater sound in this world than the silence of a skeptic after you've done that which they deemed impossible. Let your actions speak for you. In life and in games there are trolls. People who are so hell-bent on creating chaos that they will destroy anything they touch. Some of these people do it willingly, some people do it unknowingly. You will encounter these people in life and can spot them by their negativity, need for drama, and self-loathing. The go out of their way to destroy morale like succubi. Avoid these people and certainly do not feed their antics. No good will come from it. If you do not feed them, they will starve and move on to a new target to feed upon. Let your presence speak for you. Don't reduce yourself to petty insults and badgering. Trust me, nobody takes a troll’s word for anything. A person who only speaks insults has no value in their words. If you only paint with black there is no light. For your words to have meaning you need contrast. Trolls don't have contrast. They only have negativity.
Always thank your troops for supporting you. Be sure to say thank you. Call out heroic actions. Give your supporters the spotlight as it allows them to be part of the team and have their moment of accolade. Everyone wants to feel important and the more important we make people feel the more loyal they will be to your cause. Never leave a battlefield angry. Always make sure to let your troops know they are appreciated.
Expect the Unexpected
One thing I see a lot of people get hung up on is things not going as they planned. When dealing with large numbers of people you'll find that your audience becomes rather unpredictable. Especially when you throw in a large number of adolescents and people who hide behind anonymity so that they can cause people grief. This is a fact of life in the gamingverse. You've gotta be ok with it and be able to roll with the punches.
When you're building your plan in your mind, expect that—whatever you ask people to do—1 out of every 10 people will do something different. They will wander off to farm a crafting node, go pick up a shiney, or stand in the open area revealing your ambush. If you plan for this, and expect it, you will never be let down. The random person who goes against the grain needs to be part of your plan. Because one way or another they will be there. You might as well use their short attention span for your gain.
An example: a tactic I use all the time in Guild Wars 2 is running by a supply camp, but not stopping to take it. Maybe throw an attack at the NPCs to draw them over as I run by. I can guarantee someone will stay behind to take that camp. People simply can't resist the temptation. So not only do i get the supply camp but i also don't tie up my warforce on an objective that only requires a couple people.
Think of it this way, when you get into a firefight you want to have the people you know and trust at your flank. You don't want the guy who can't pay attention to save his life ruining things. Give them plenty of distractions for them to ‘oo shiney’ off into the woods and you'll have a much more peaceful experience. Just realize that they can be tools at your disposal if you can recognize their motivators.
Control Your Enemy
This is an area that some people just simply don't get. Some people get caught up in the now and can't see the steps ahead. How many times have you seen the enemy approaching your shores and the first thing a leader does is call a full-on defense at the target being attacked. The call out to everyone in the realm and pull all their troops to one place. Think about this for a moment. Flip it in your head. What just happened?
The leader just did exactly what the opposing force asked him to do. While the leader might save that one objective, what about every other objective. Say you're outnumbered and outgunned, how do you defend yet assault. Sending small auxiliary forces to the invading realms homeland and having them attack that which they hold valuable will result in that assaulting force having to make a tough decision. Keep assaulting and lose something sacred, or scramble to mass a defense and scrub the assault. This pulls them away from what you hold dear and puts them back where you want them.
I can not tell you how many times i've been called an idiot for doing this very thing but at the end of the night skeptics are silent. More often than not this works beautifully. You just have to be able to amass a credible threat on something they want to keep. Zerg mentality and the lack of delegation are your friends in this situation. Many times there is just one leader and they don't delegate well. I try to encourage all leaders to have at least 1 group of people that you can count on to do odd missions as needed.
Lastly, the more you can take objectives in their home realm the longer their forces will stay focused on keeping their homeland. This gives you time to strengthen your forces and repair the damage. Additionally you can use this technique to keep your opponent stationary allowing your auxiliary forces to advance on other targets. The more you can control their movements the more you control the battlefield. Never let them control your movements. Become aware of your actions as reaction to their moves on the board. The pieces will come together and you will have a better understanding of how to control your opponent.
Tying it all Together
If you can master the mental magic of leadership, and conquer the ultimate raid boss that stares back at you through your bathroom mirror, you will have doors of opportunity open before you. Build trust and loyalty with your troops through encouragement, and distance yourself from negativity trolls. Be the light on the battlefield and keep your morale high. If you are defeated accept the blame whether it's your fault or not and rise to meet the challenge by providing your force with a victory. Lastly, be sure before you begin that you have your head right. Don't bring anger and rage into your warforce. It will never end well for you. Realize that it's through defeat that we have the ability to improve. Look at what went wrong and in your mind think of alternate endings based on small changes in scenario. The next time do something different. Control the battlefield.
About the Author
Benjamin "Foghladha" Foley
Benjamin founded the Gaiscioch Social Gaming Community in 2001 and has since been the founder & activities director for this well known community. His role has gone beyond just running the Gaming Community and now includes running the Athletics Program in Portland, Oregon, as well as acting as the Managing Editor of the Gaiscioch Magazine, and is the Lead Producer on the Gaiscioch Livestream Productions. Additionally he networks with game developers to form relationships between Gaiscioch and development studios.
His experience in publishing dates back to helping his Grandparents who operated a printing press for over 40 years. In high school and college Benjamin excelled in journalism and played an active part in the school newspaper. Benjamin currently works full time as the director of technology for a franchise trade publication & education company.