This page was written and illustrated in July-August 2021 by Cadillac, and focuses mainly on sumo bar. The intent of this page is to provide a short background of the game mode, and act primarily as a player's guide covering low to mid level sumo. I tried to structure this guide in a way that applies to and explains a majority of play styles, but will not have covered everything. More information and graphics may be added in the future.
Sumo is a game mode that originated around 2006 with the release of 0.2.8.0. Sumo has long been among the most popular modes, especially within the competitive community. The game mode is fast-paced and challenging, with virtually no skill limit, making it attractive to competitive players. Additionally, many people find sumo to be a relaxing environment. The smooth flow and rhythm that can be found with binding and mazing is very satisfying for many, and can make it a mindless outlet. Sumo’s variety means appeal for players of all skill levels and styles, so remember that not everyone is playing for the same reason. Additionally, sumo shares its physics with fortress (with the exception of EXPLOSION_RADIUS, which is now set to 0.75 in competitive fortress), making for a close relation between both the game modes and the respective player bases. The core physics of sumo essentially come down a small handful of commands that were put together with the CVS release:
Side note: these settings come with every client, and can be set using the command:
The Game Mode
The goal of sumo in Armagetron, like sumo wrestling, is to stay inside of the circle/zone while forcing your opponents out. Different from its inspiration however, the zones in-game shrink over time. As such, players try to make their way towards the center over the duration of a round to ultimately have the best positioning. The circle is made up of individual zones for each player, all stacked upon each other in the middle of the arena. If a player is killed, or outside of their zone for too long, it will begin to spin faster and faster as it reaches the point of collapse, eradicating its owner (an eradicated player awards no kill points.) “Too long” in this case means four consecutive seconds. Reentering the zone extends and reverses this process. It does not instantly reset the timer, but instead slows your zone gradually, bringing it away from the point of collapse, and back to its initial state. Lastly, the final surviving player’s zone will collapse safely once there are no remaining opponents. This does not kill its owner.
Sumo is most commonly played in matches to 900 points with up to eight players. Like most things in Armagetron though, there are variations. The primary example in this case being 18 round sumo bar with no score limit, currently used mainly for tournament play. Some servers might also allow for more players; in some cases 10, 12, or more players may be allowed. We often find however, a large increase in lag after eight players. Players gain points either from killing opponents, or by being in the circle when an opponent’s zone collapses. 30 points are rewarded for kills, and 60 points are divided equally among all living players inside of the circle when a player’s zone collapses. Additionally, some servers subtract 30 points from players for suiciding.
Variations and Tournaments
Since the creation of sumo, servers have seen many variations of the game mode, though the classic sumo bar remains the most popular. Beyond some lesser played (mostly dead) variations of sumo like Chico, Nano, and Flower Power, there are two main variations played in teams that have remained popular as competitive variations. Team Sumo and War Sumo are both referred to mainly as the abbreviations of their respective tournaments, TST and WST. TST and WST are the two most played sumo tournaments historically, even ahead of SBT (the Sumo Bar Tournament). Both TST and WST have seen overhauls of settings and maps in the past. TST is now played 2v2v2v2 in a single circle, with the first team to 2000 points winning. WST is 3v3, also in a single circle, played in matches to 1000. In the past we have seen other tournaments like 1v1 Sumo, or the Single Bind Sumo Bar Tournament, a minor variation of SBT where settings force players to single bind. Though many elements of this guide will carry over to play in other variations, it is only written with classic sumo bar in mind.
Sumo bar itself has seen some minor map variations, like the variant used in SBT14. Largely though, the map has stayed very consistent. The main change of note is the 2020 dynamic zone size solution by Raph and Titanoboa. To accommodate the slowly returning player base, Titanoboa created maps with appropriately sized zones based on the number of players, and Raph wrote the script detecting the number of players and switching to the correct map. All current popular sumo bar servers make use of this work.
Starting to Play
Round Progression and Beginner Strategy
One of the great things about sumo is that every round is highly dynamic, though there is a noticeably consistent flow to most rounds. These consistencies begin at the very beginning of each round. The start of a round is incredibly important in setting yourself up for the rest of the round, so every decision you make at the start is important. Immediately, most players will be turning towards the center of the zone. Grabbing center space is important to give yourself something to work with later in the round, but it is not more important than staying alive, so turn away before you put yourself in an unlivable situation. Different players have different risk tolerance based on their skill level and style, so exactly when you turn out will vary (more on this later.) Some players may choose to stay in the middle of the zone, but most will choose to turn away and secure their space on the outside, which I especially recommend for new players. Once you section off a portion of the zone, quickly see if there is extra space next to your current box. For example, there is often a bit of space between you and the person that spawned next to you. If you can pick this space up safely, go for it. Keep in mind that it is beneficial to establish space before making your first expansions. Should expanding not work out, you will at least have a survivable amount of space you can retreat to. Once you’ve established your starting area, start to set up your space in a way that you can survive in it comfortably while you wait for action to happen elsewhere.
Early-Round Goals: Secure space, establish an entry point to the center (if safe to do so) for later in the round, and wait. Most importantly: stay alive. Dying early does you no favors.
Because rounds in sumo are so dynamic, some players are always bound to have an unlucky start. Playing the opening seconds safe, and surviving the early-round puts you in position to take advantage of other players dying, and space subsequently opening up. During the mid-round, keep yourself positioned to expand into opening space, especially towards the middle of the zone. Also keep a lookout for players in vulnerable positions. You may be able to close off their only exit, or force them out of the zone. During the mid-round, continue to play with caution, but not completely passive. Mid-round is where you secure your positioning for the end-round, so do what you can to give yourself the upper hand.
Mid-Round Goals: Stack up points, expand, move towards the center, secure a strong position for the end of the round.
The end of the round is where you see your earlier efforts pay off. Going in, you will ideally have at least some portion of the center for the final fight. If you don’t have enough space in the center, you will have to take a more aggressive attacking position to pressure the other player. The end of the round is where players really get to show off their survival skills. You will need to arrange your wall in a way that balances the inside and outside of the zone. After a certain point, there just won’t be room for more than one player to be completely within the circle. You will have to set yourself up in a way that spreads out when you are in the zone, so that you will never have to be outside for longer than 4 seconds. Players’ mazes will become very dense at the end, and having a feel for where the end of your tail is becomes noticeably more important. Try to not give up at the end of a round, especially in casual play. Even if it seems like your opponent(s) have an upper hand, there is such a high chance for mistakes in the end-round, that you may be able to pick up an extra 30, 60, or 90 points. Plus, it is possible for multiple players to be eradicated and get points for the last few zones at the same time. Round-ends are difficult to teach at a low level, and the best way to learn, like all of sumo, is by playing. For real practice, survive to the end, and don’t give up once you get there. This is part of why I think it is better for newer players to play slightly more passive earlier in the round. Surviving results in more time playing, and more experience with the entire flow of a round. Again though, playing overly passive will see you pushed out of the zone early. You do need to make some moves to set yourself up.
End-Round Goals: Condense your wall, use tighter mazes, keep yourself close to the zone, pick up as many points as possible.
As rounds progress, so does the potential for points. Every time a player’s zone collapses, 60 points are divided among the survivors inside the zone. Early in the round you are likely only getting up to 15 points for a zone. Dying early, even if you get a kill or two, really limits your scoring opportunities. A player who lives to the end of every round will almost always far outscore a more reckless player who picks up a few kills but dies early. It is very noticeable how points snowball in sumo, and it can really set the momentum of matches.
Settings and Preferences
Having covered how sumo works in broad terms, new players should have a general idea of how the game mode works, and maybe even some ideas on how to go about playing. This is a good jump start. Remember, however, that sumo is still very technical, so there are a lot of specifics to cover. Before getting into technical skills, there are a lot of settings choices that impact play. Certain settings that are good in other game modes may not be useful in sumo, and may even make it harder. It’s much easier to get used to new settings before you’re too comfortable, so I will cover some of these first. These settings will be covered in varying levels of detail. There either exist better explanations for settings elsewhere, should you need more detail, or their lesser impact may not warrant more. Among long-time players, some settings choices are more controversial than most play style elements, and most settings don’t really have any major correlation with play styles, so it can be difficult to know what settings you should use. Most of this section will end up being what feels best for you.
First up is keybindings. The variety of answers you will get if you ask different players what keys they use to turn/glance/brake is comical. There are many variations used ranging from normal to absurd. To help organize some of your options, I am going to break these down into just a few groups.
The first question is how many keys to use. Players use 1-4 keys for each direction (referred to as single, double, triple, or quad binding.) Double and triple binding are the most popular choices. Single binding really puts a lot of pressure on your ability to bind quickly, and I think we often see a skill ceiling with single binding (still, there have been good single binders.) Double binding seems to be the most popular option, especially among players to exclusively play sumo/fort. Triple binding is also popular, though seems to be more common in players who play/played a lot of another game mode. Quad binding is the least common option currently, as making 4 turns in the same direction at the same time in sumo/fort is almost never needed. One of the recommendations settings-wise I am comfortable making for new players is that they either double or triple bind, depending on how much you play other game modes.
In addition to turning, you must keep in mind where you will have your braking and glancing keys. It is best to have these set in a way that you can play without having to move your hands, or doing so as little as possible. Many players (though not all) will use their thumb to brake (generally using the space bar), and use the remaining fingers, not occupied with turning, to glance. Also keep in mind that you might want room for instant chats within reach of your fingers, especially if you plan on playing fort as well.
Examples and suggestions are based on English, QWERTY keyboards.
The next decision that divides players, is what keys go with what hands. Here there are three main options. At one end are the players who use their left hand to turn left, and their right hand to turn right. For example: d f = left, and j k = right. Further along are those who have at least one left turn key, and at least one right turn key on each hand. For example: d j = left, and f k = right. I believe this second setup is less commonly used by triple binders, but there certainly are some who do it. An example of this would be something like : d f l = left, and s j k = right. Lastly, there is the option to use one hand to bind both directions, leaving your other hand free, generally for glancing. For example, you might see something like using the arrow keys to double bind each direction, and maybe w a s d being used for glancing. In my opinion, the first method, using one hand per direction, is used because it feels more natural for more players, especially those coming from different game modes where fast turns are slightly more important than precision. The second method gives you the ability to single bind one handed, and some argue they are more precise or consistent using this setup. This method seems like one that develops among some players who have mainly played sumo for a long time, and maybe is unnatural for some people at the start. The third option really gives you the freedom to do a lot of glancing and get a feel for your surroundings, but requires you to be very fast with just one hand.
In general, I think it is good to use keys in the rough middle of your keyboard as it leaves most keys in reach easily. Most importantly, you want to be comfortable when you are playing, so try to avoid setups that leave your hands or wrists in awkward positions.
For a beginner, I would suggest something similar to:
d f = left, j k = right, [space] = brake, s = left glance, l = right glance, a ; = back glance
Having mentioned brakes, it is important to know you have two options available to you. You can use regular brakes, which deplete as long as you are pressing your bound key, or you can use toggle brake. Toggle brake starts depleting once you press your bound key, and stops once you press it again. If using toggle, you must remember to toggle off in order for it to replenish. Using regular brakes allows you to be very precise in your brake usage, while toggling allows you to focus your finger presses on more important things like turning. Both options here are common among active sumoers. Also to note: you can bind a key for each option, though for whatever reason this is very uncommon.
The next settings that have to be covered are camera settings. In other game modes, particularly deathmatch modes, the main focus of your camera is the area immediately surrounding your cycle. You have to be able to see close tunnels and hooks you are about to encounter. What your closest opponent is doing is most important, and not necessarily what everyone else in the server are up to. In sumo however, you need to know what is happening all over the zone in order to plan ahead. Most sumo/fortress players accomplish this by using custom camera (there are currently only a small handful of strong sumo players using other cameras.) Custom camera provides a high degree of customization, and allows players to see much more of the zone than smart cam. See this page for further explanation and some custom examples. Additionally, most players are happy to tell you what they use, so try asking a few people what settings they use. Ideally, you will find a camera that gives you a good view of your surroundings, but not so far/distorted that it compromises your ability to make precise turns and take tunnels. Finding the best camera for you is a matter of experimentation, and maybe tweaking it over time. Sumo sees some players using slightly more dramatic cameras than in other game modes, like extreme FOV values, or steep angles.
A note on VSync:
Try turning VSync off to see if it improves how your client runs. Turning off VSync will remove the 60FPS cap, and on some systems, VSync creates input lag that can make sumo very difficult to play. Experiment on your client to see if turning it off improves gameplay. Some players also use a program to place custom limits on FPS, lightening the processing load on the computer, while avoiding the VSync input delay.
With the most important settings taken care of, there are some minor adjustments you can make to the client to suit your liking.
ZONE_HEIGHT - Set the zone height
ZONE_SEGMENTS - Set the number of segments that make up the zones
ZONE_ALPHA - Set the opacity of the zone
ZONE_ALPHA_TOGGLE - Adjust the appearance of the zone, filled in vs. outlined
FLOOR_MIRROR - Mirrors objects on the floor
AXES_INDICATOR - Pointer at the front of your bike
PREDICT_OBJECTS / LAG_O_METER - How your client displays the latency of other players. Learn about these 2 options and pick the combination that works best for you
With settings covered, we can now get back into gameplay. Like any mode, sumo requires two sets of skills: strategic and technical. Technical skills are hard to learn outside of playing, so before moving on to strategy, I will quickly cover just enough to give new players an understanding of what exactly needs practicing.
The immediate challenge of sumo, especially for new players, is staying alive in relatively tight spaces. Player walls in sumo are 400m long, and not knowing how to manage your wall can quickly put you in desperate situations. Living in limited space is the first technical skill. The first thing I suggest new players learn is külting. Külting is a very simple move that is very effective. Külting only requires regular triples and straight lines, so it is both simple and versatile. Külting can be done to fit essentially shape of area, given it is wide enough to triple. Külting is also easy to follow if you are in a tight space where you need to follow your tail closely. For new players, külting’s simplicity instantly takes a load off, allowing them to use their focus elsewhere. For experienced players, külting is still a very powerful tool. Appleseed (recognized as an expert Sumo player) has called it "the most important move in sumo." Still, it is often overlooked, possibly because it’s not the most exciting or satisfying way to use up wall length, but knowing how to kült effectively can make a huge impact.
Mazing and Tracing
Once players become more comfortable with the physics of sumo, they might be ready to use more complicated methods of using up their wall and space. Usually, this means mazing or tracing. Mazing is essentially using your own wall to create a tunnel with a place to turn around and exit. Tracing on the other hand, is following walls closely on the outside, then often turning back and tracing the same path going the other way, stacking new layers on top of each other. If done well, both can be extremely efficient ways to increase the density of your wall pattern, allowing you to live in smaller spaces if needed. It is important to keep in mind while mazing in sumo, that you are vulnerable to somebody closing your only exit, so it might not be best to make very deep mazes, where your opponents will have sufficient time to react and seal you in. Similarly, while tracing, though you may not get sealed into a small box, you might often have a more open setup where opponents could easily stab your wall, separating you from a portion of the space you intended on using. For a more in-depth explanation of mazing, see this page.
Because everyone in the game will be looking for space to survive in, if you do not protect your space, you may find it being taken by other players. Setting up and protecting your space will be covered extensively in the strategy section, but it does require technical skill as well. Specifically, the ability to follow the end of your tail will play a large part in your ability to protect your space. Throughout a round, most players will more or less be following their tail for a majority of the round, though how closely you follow your tail will depend on your play style. Following your tail in sumo is essentially like defending in fortress, though it quickly becomes much more complicated. Good tail-following comes from remembering the path of your tail, good reactions, and precise turns.
The technical skills so far have mainly been defensive skills, though it is very rare that you will end up with the right space at the beginning of a round to where you will be able to defend exclusively. You may often find yourself in a position where you need to attack a player, which requires planning ahead a few seconds. These seconds are necessary to build speed and find where the weakest point in their defense will be. Even if you aren’t able, or don’t intend to get into a players space by cutting them, just pressuring the end of their tail is a very strong move, as it often forces shrinking.
Additionally, though there are certainly ways to limit it, players will occasionally find themselves needing to tunnel. Skilled tunneling really comes down to good zone awareness and precise turning. Before tunneling, you should look ahead in order to give yourself a decent idea of what you are going to encounter, and where you are going to end up. If possible, think about taking the middle of a tunnel. Ideally, this will give you an emergency exit on either Sid of your tail. If, for example, someone seals you off you have options. It also conserves rubber, which you will be need when tunneling. If you are not confident in your ability to make precise turns, it is generally safer to take a turn slightly late. Hitting an oncoming wall quickly before turning, though it uses rubber, is much more forgiving than turning early and hitting a corner head on.
Finally, the last technical skill is timing. Timing is important in almost every aspect of sumo, but there are a few occasions where it is more of a technical skill than strategic tool. The clearest examples of timing as a technical skill are the delays of certain occurrences, and having a feel for these timings. Dead tails disappear after 8 seconds, and having a feel for this can set you up to grab opening space before other players. Zones collapse after 4 consecutive seconds without their owner inside, though this is prolonged if a player is a reentering and exiting. This is useful in knowing both when other players’ zones are collapsing so you can get points, and when your own zone is going to collapse, so you know how much flexibility you have. It is impractical to count 8 seconds out every time a tail dies, but through playing, you will develop a feel for the timing. Likewise, counting how long players have been out of the zone is not how anyone plays, but instead you will develop a connection between the speed of a spinning zone, and knowing how close it is to collapsing.
Strategy / Playstyle Components
Establishing and Expanding
So far, only basic strategy was mentioned in the Round Progression section, intended only as a quick starting point for new players. From here, different strategy elements will be covered in more depth. This section will be more mid-level sumo, which is where you start to see individual play styles evolve, so not everyone will make use of these strategy elements in the same way. Keep in mind though, that there are many opportunities to adapt certain elements in a manner that suits your personal style, even though it may not seem immediately applicable to your style.
First up: controlling space. Sumo is all about space, so controlling it is a large share of the strategy. Controlling space begins as soon as the round opens, as mentioned in Round Progression. The first few turns are incredibly important. Immediately, there are 2 natural options, and your choice depends on the space you intend on taking. If you intend on taking the corner space of the zone, it is best to turn towards the middle as fast as possible. This gives you the most axial space, as well as a good jump on getting towards the center. Once you decide to take the corner space, it is important that you turn away from the center before the person who started on the opposite side of the corner. Taking the corner space is a more passive starting strategy, and well suited for less aggressive players. In my opinion, taking corner space is also the best option for new players, as it is a good way to live through the opening of the round. Alternatively, some players will try to set up their space mainly in the axial and center portion of the zone. For this style, it is still possible to set up by turning immediately, but you might find it better to wait 1-2 seconds before turning into the middle. This start results in very strong positioning as the round progresses, but you do have to pay close attention and react quickly to what the person who spawned next to you is doing. If they turn into you, there is not much space or time for you to react, and it will be a close fight very quickly. If they turn away however, this can give you another moment to think about grabbing extra center space. Once you’ve grabbed center space, you would turn back towards the outside of the zone, driving just inside the wall of the enemy who spawned next to you. For either of these starts, you will want to get back to the start of your tail relatively quickly, to discourage other players from wrapping around and taking your space from behind you. From here, you can either try to expand around the outside of your tail, or sit back and camp. There is a lot of open space at the start of the round, but being undisciplined in your expansions can cost you your existing space. Also remember that not all space is equally as valuable, so make the most of the beginning moments by focusing on the best space.
Setting up your space and holding it is going to be covered in great detail, but I will first cover expanding, as it is slightly less dependent on play style. Ideally, your start will be efficient, and land you a good amount of useful space, but most likely you will need to expand your space throughout a round. Some good expansions will come about as a result of good fortune, like your neighbor dying at the right time in your rotation that allows you to inherit the majority of their space with minimal effort. Often times, however, you can, and will need to create this good fortune for yourself. Set yourself up to take advantage of opportunities, because they happen for everyone. Planning ahead and having good zone awareness are crucial in expanding. If you are able to see what’s going on around the zone, you will have a good idea of where space is likely to open up, so pay attention. Who is likely to die? Who is overextending themselves? Who is axis changing poorly? Their space will be exposed. Sometimes opportunities will arise unexpectedly, and it will be a game of reactions to get it. Other times, you can set yourself up in a way that will allow you to make the first move. If you notice space about to open up, you may need to axis change to get there and grab as much as possible. Additionally building speed is a great way to make fast moves on open space. If you have speed built up when you make a move, you will be able to cover much more ground than other players, giving you a huge advantage. Lastly, you must do risk/reward assessment before expanding. The risk/reward assessment is where unique play styles will shine through in expanding. Some players will have a much higher risk tolerance, and some may generally expand only if they are sure they will live. One of the hardest parts of expanding is being disciplined. Expanding at every opportunity, being greedy, and trying to grab too much space can leave you exposed. On the topic of greed, amassing every bit of open grid is not always advantageous. Hoarding space spreads you out, leaving your space more vulnerable to holes. Being spread out can also leave you in a bad position to expand when better space arises. You will spend more time at greater distance from the center, and you will often be playing a low-speed, tail-following style in this scenario. In spite of these negatives, hoarding space isn’t always bad either. If your opponents are not great campers, and need more space to live, holding a lot of space puts far more pressure on them than it would a strong sumo player. In the late-round too, having as much space as possible will usually be the right play, but in a small zone, its not exactly hoarding as explained here.
When expanding, you essentially arrive at three questions:
- Is this space beneficial to me? (i.e. Center space, axial space, space necessary to live, applying pressure on others, etc…)
- Is it safe for me to expand here? (Could I get killed? Will I lose control of my area?)
- Do I add to my current space or should I abandon it?
Setting up and Holding Space
Having covered establishing your initial space, and expanding it, this next portion will cover holding and camping your space. This portion of the guide may be the most dependent on individual play style, so just keep that in mind.
After the initial smash-and-grab of space in the first few seconds of a round, you will need to think about how you are going to set your space up to best hold it throughout the remainder of the round. Major keys to setting your space up well are how you arrange your wall, and positioning. Positioning is more reliant on the start of the round, so we will cover it first. For positioning, the ultimate goal of course is to have control of the center, though we know not everyone goes about this the same way. I will break down 3 main options regarding positioning.
The first option is to fully commit to getting center space. This generally means at the start of the round, but that obviously won’t always work. As such, this may materialize as aggressive moves later in the round. Taking this approach generally puts the player into survival mode immediately. From there, they will slowly develop the structure of their space and expand outwards over time. This strategy involves a lot of risk, but for some strong players, it can result in a strong positional advantage for the late-round, as long as they have the survival skills to maintain it. To understand this approach, look to players like Carnage, kronkleberry, liz, or Nanu, among others.
The second approach is essentially the opposite of the first, though relies on similar skills. Players of this second style will generally look to take the corner space described earlier. From here, these players will essentially just exist on the outskirt of the zone, taking a fluid, sometimes nomadic approach. The pressure on these players often comes more from the closing zone than other players. Playing this style also requires strong survival skills in tight spaces, though these players will have the limited flexibility of exiting and reentering the zone, a luxury players fighting in the center do not have. For player examples of this play style, watch Xyron, or tx. Vov could also be included as a variation on this nomadic style. Though he won’t be playing the edge of the zone, he is very fluid in the space he holds. This more aggressive variation of the nomad style often requires strong tunneling skills.
The third/last style is to establish a ‘vertical’ space, essentially a corridor from the edge of the zone to the center. This style gives you quick access to the center, allowing you to expand if space opens up, and a connection the the outside of the zone, where you can relieve pressure put on you by other players. Examples of this positional style include wap and appleseed.
Connections and Pressure Points
Independent of general positional style, there are a few topics that can be applied to any style, as well as some ideas to keep in mind. Throughout the round, be conscious of how your space connects to the players around you. These connections can be either a pressure point or an access point. Pressure points would be the borders, or connections to other players spaces where there will be pressure on you, while access points are more passive connections, that you may eventually be able to use to expand once they are dead and their space opens up. Long, uninterrupted connections are prime areas for attacks to happen, either by you or on you. This can be good or bad, but it will still be a pressure point in your defense. Long, uninterrupted connection in this sense doesn’t necessarily mean straight lines.) Another form of a pressure point is a point in your rotation where you pass, or run parallel to another player while they are completing their own rotation. At these points, there is always the threat of either of you making a move on the other. To deal with this kind of pressure point, consider speeding up your rotation on the next pass to either put you ahead of them, avoiding the pressure, or giving you the speed to make an aggressive move on them. Making passive access points with other other players’ walls in a round is akin to diversifying a financial portfolio. If you border only a few players, you have lower chances of a neighbor dying, therefore fewer opportunities to expand. Additionally, If you are sectioned off by only a couple players with large spaces, your freedom to move throughout the zone will be greatly limited. Oppositely, if you border a large number of players in a round, you will have far more opportunities to expand, and greater mobility. Having a lot of connections will also mean those borders are likely short, giving other players small windows to pressure or attack you.
At the extreme end of thinking about connections, think about isolating players, sectioning them off from each other. This is most relevant if you have a strong position in mid to late-round, when everyone is in closer quarters, and people begin to get pushed out of the zone. Isolating players benefits you in three ways. The first two have already been explained; Isolation limits their movement around the zone, and creates long pressure points for these players. The third is that it acts as a way of gaming the points. Create luck for yourself. Sumo is close quarters combat, there aren’t many suicides throughout a match, and kill points are going to be awarded to someone, even if it seems random at times. Make yourself the best candidate to get kill points without wasting time hunting for them. If you’re the only person the isolated player(s) can come in contact with, you will get the kill, even without making an obvious move.
Now we’ve covered getting space, and where you want that space to be, but now you have to live in it. How you go about this will, again, depend primarily on your play style. This section will cover a number of stylistic elements. As a quick note, think about the shape of the space you have ended up with, and then back to your elementary school math class where you learned about the relationship between perimeter and area. If you have a long and narrow space, you have a lot of perimeter to work with with less area, so think about using long straight lines running close to the length of your space. Not only will this use space efficiently, but long simple lines are easy to retrace, keeping your space simple and safe. I find this to be another benefit of the ‘vertical space’ setup. Vertical space has a kind of synergy with basic moves and simplistic organization. Again, as a great example of a vertical space holder, watch appleseed play. Most of his movement will be generally ‘up and down,’ or going longways through his corridor. Oppositely, maybe you grabbed corner space early in the round, or somehow otherwise ended up with a generally square chunk of zone. You will have more area to work with with less perimeter, in my opinion making (not necessarily complex) mazes a more efficient use of space. Andrei seems like an obvious example of a player who often holds a more area-heavy space, filling it with mazes. This concept does not apply to every case, for a number of reasons, but I think it is something to consider. A notable exception to this rule depends on where you are at and what your goals are during the round. For example, long, perimeter-heavy spaces often lend themselves to building speed. If you’re trying to build speed to attack, this is great, but if you already have control of the center, maybe you don’t need it. Finally, good campers are always going to be good campers. They will adapt to their surroundings, but they might not necessarily change their style of camping like talked about here. Using what you’re good at will still be best.
Next, and maybe most importantly in managing your space is how you distribute your extra wall throughout your space. Imagine you have a good start to a round, and the outer most perimeter of your space is 200m. Player walls are 400m in length, so now you have to figure out how to organize an extra 200m of wall within your space in a way that is easy to navigate and replicate on subsequent rotations. First I will cover how I suggest new players go about this, then I will cover a range of options. For beginners I suggest keeping your space edge-heavy. Edge-heavy meaning dumping as much of your wall length on the edge of the zone, doing basic mazes or patterns out of the way of the rest of your rotation. This keeps your the center of your space open with plenty of space in case you panic or otherwise need somewhere to fall back into. This also helps keeps your wall simple and easy to defend in the middle of the zone, where you are going to see the most pressure. One weakness to this strategy however, is that if you find success in the middle, and are able to expand, you can be exposed on the back side of your rotation. There will be an opening right before where you dumped your extra wall. Even for better players, dumping extra wall outside or at the edge of the zone is a great way to maximize your space in the zone, though it might look a little different from the beginner method. One thing you will want to avoid is making your space middle heavy, meaning a lot of extra wall in the portion of your space nearest to the center of the zone. The major drawback of having your wall center heavy is it limiting your mobility. It will force you to take a longer path to the middle of the zone, or to space that is opening up.
As players improve past the just-trying-to-live phase, many seem to end up using some form of a ‘border distribution’. Some strategy might be starting to develop in where players use their line, they get better at following their tail, and they leave the middle of their space open as a sort of panic room, somewhere they can survive if things start to break down. There is a lot of variation on this distribution. You could have mazes spread around your perimeter, külts, or just a layered outer wall. This flexibility helps make this style probably the most common (currently) among very good players as well, though with some tweaks and additional skill.
Speaking of strategically leaving extra wall in specific places, this is where I introduce what I call breakwaters. Breakwaters are essentially stretches of wall that will act as a sort of shield against attackers, and keeping you within striking distance of your own wall. You might consider leaving a breakwater around the outside portion of your space, to discourage someone wrapping around the end of your tail. You might find this useful if you had, for example, just expanded in the middle, leaving you a ways behind your tail. Similarly, you could leave extra wall before where you intend to expand, allowing you to expand on the outside of your space without leaving a massive gap. Leaving a closer point like this means you can fall back into your space much quicker if someone pressures you. This hints at the last reason to make them, particularly inside your space. Breakwaters can serve as a way of sectioning off your space. If you are attacked, either by cut, hole, or otherwise, these stretches of wall act as a series of points you can retreat to quickly to protect a portion of your space. Rather than not being able to reach your tail in time, and losing all your space to the attacker, you only have to make it to a certain point in order to protect the majority of your space. Internal breakwaters also relieve attacking pressure by breaking up the time you spend on your outermost perimeter, allowing you to duck inside your space for a few seconds. A drawback to these internal breakwaters is that they limit axis changing. Both internal breakwaters and axis changing are tools that relieve pressure, but they can inhibit each other. You can use both, but consider which fits you best, and maybe put more focus there.
If you take the breakwater concept to an extreme, you will arrive at another style of camping, of which Carnage is the primary example. This balanced wall distribution uses the length of a wall evenly throughout both the perimeter of the rotation and the interior of your space, often crossing through your space throughout a round. This play style relies heavily on precise turns, exceptional tail-following, and awareness on another level. This style of camping is essentially an intricate fort defense made of mazes. While most play styles give you some flexibility in how close you follow your tail, this style requires close following for most of the round. An advantage to this style of camping, is that it is difficult to attack because you disappear into your space sporadically. On top of this, the space is unattractive to attackers anyway, as it seems cluttered from the outside. Using Carnage as an example, he is usually nestled in the middle of the zone, meaning short connections with many players, giving them all short windows to attack. While this is mostly do to his positioning as opposed to setup, the setup further divides the amount of time players have to attack. This setup is resemblant of a turtle. The number of cutbacks into his space means Carnage will frequently disappear into the outer shell of his space, and it is very difficult to time when he will resurface.
This far, the organization idea has only been explained on the macro level of setting up your entire space. That entire space is going to have a lot of small turns inside of it though, so try to align your walls in an organized way. Align your walls such that if you are caught in your own space, you aren’t forced to make awkward turns to fit the space. Let your walls work for you. Rather than having to avoid them and constantly adjust to survive your own space, let them align you for turns or tunnels. When you’re already being pressured by everyone else in the zone, you don’t need your own space to be dangerous as well. At the smallest scale, there is essentially a default size for triple and double binds, were you to press all the necessary keys at the same time. Some players, like appleseed and koala, use this to their advantage to keep consistency in their space. Other players rely more on good timing or muscle memory to get consistency and organization in their space. In cases of good organization, a player might look like they are playing Tetris, filling their space with different shapes, but of the same size.
I’ve alluded to axis changing a number of times throughout this guide, here is where it finally gets covered. Axis changing is simply changing the direction of your rotation. The simplicity of the definition is very misleading from the complexity of executing a good axis change. Axis changing is good in a number of situations. Most commonly, it is done to relieve pressure, generally put on you by an attacker. Alternatively, you might use it to put yourself in the position to apply pressure to someone, as it is much easier to attack someone rotating in the same direction. Axis changing also becomes a powerful tool in the late-round. Axis changing at the right moment can take away any last ditch attacking opportunities from your opponent when they are in the weaker position. Setting up for an axis change takes a bit of planning to maintain as much of your space as you can, but sometimes it has to be done before you are able to do so, and you will have to live with that. To limit lost space, you will want to limit the amount of concave shapes jutting into your space, as these are the biggest cause of lost space. Axis changing around concave shapes will leave a larger version of that shape in its place. These pores in your perimeter can allow attackers to maintain at least some shrinking pressure. If you can afford to wait before axis changing, try to make your perimeter as simple as you can. Also before axis changing, make sure you have enough wall length to make it fully around your space again before your space opens where you switched axes, or at least have enough speed to fend off any attackers.
Having covered space management in depth, it’s important to know that there are situations where opening up your space can actually be advantageous to you. Generally, this will not be the case until the end of the round, when you only have one opponent to worry about. At the end of the round, if you have the worse position and won’t be able to out-camp the other player, often times it is best to open your space up on the inside. This gives you a longer window to pressure the other player and the space needed to do so. This pressure can give you a chance to cut your opponent, and if their space isn’t set up well, it also can force them to shrink or die. As long as you stay close to/ahead of them, you are a threat and they won’t be able to expand into the space you opened up.
In some aspects, attacking in sumo is easier than in fort. Player walls in sumo are never as simple as a defense in fort, and as a result, have far more vulnerabilities. On the other hand though, you are also working with limited space, and have to focus on maintaining your own area. Making a successful move requires paying a bit of attention to the player you are going to attack. Keep an eye out for opponents expanding, leaving openings in their tail at certain points in their rotation, or players caught in tunnels. If you think you can cut an opponent, think about building speed and where they are likely to open their tail. For example, if someone is following their tail closely, any concave shapes in their defense will be a weak point. This is especially noticeable where there are triples. Tracing concave shapes always means having to take a wider path, leaving a window for you to break through their tail. If someone hides deep in their space, they might not expect, or have time to react to you coming in to kill them. Cutting an opponent may be the most satisfying way to attack someone, but it is far from the only option. Like mentioned in the last section, pressuring the end of players’ tails is really powerful, even if it doesn’t result in a cut. Continual pressure might also lead to them axis-changing, which can shrink them even further in order to avoid you. Finally, keeping an eye on the tunnels around you. It is often good to leave tunnels open in case you find yourself needing them, but if you notice someone stuck in the tunnels, sealing their exit is an easy kill, and may even leave a hole for you to steal space from a neighbor.
As a final note on zone control, it’s important to know when to switch between a defensive and offensive position. This will come with playing; you will build a feel for when to change. Different play styles will also dictate how much time you spend doing one or the other. As a general rule though, think back to space and positioning. If you have good positioning for the rest of the round, its probably best to set yourself up to camp and defend your space. If you don’t have the right positioning, decide if you have enough space to live for now, and then how long you can afford to wait before making a move. Limited time may force you to raise your risk tolerance.
Having alluded to zone awareness a few times so far, it might help to explain some of what that might mean for you throughout a round. Essentially, regardless of style, everyone should try to always have a decent idea of what is happening around the zone. This means knowing what the landscape of the zone is currently, and what it is likely to be like in a few seconds time. Try to keep track of where other players are, and what situations they find themselves in. Who is at risk that you might be able to kill or push out? Who is in a strong position that will need to be pressured? Who is in position to pressure you? Where is space open? How well are your neighbors following their tails? Are there any holes that could help or hurt you? Paying attention allows you to be proactive. You must also develop some ability to see what will be happening in the near future. This is crucial for each section covered in this guide. If you don’t learn to see where space will be opening up, you won’t be able to set yourself up for safe expansions. If you can’t predict where people will be, you will get caught out in tunnels, or find yourself getting cut and attacked often. Playing more and paying attention to how others players were able to kill you will help you build this intuition. Tied closely to this is understanding who you are playing against. Knowing other players’ styles and habits is a huge help in predicting what everyone around you will be doing. Don’t play with blinders on, you have to know what is happening around you. Naturally, you will need to pay greater attention to what is happening immediately around you, but you can’t ignore the rest of the zone. Good zone awareness reduces the amount of time you spend reacting, and allows you to dictate more of the round.
Speed and Rubber
Managing speed and rubber is often one of the last things new players are thinking about while they just try to stay alive. New players will often brake throughout a round to keep themselves at a low speed, giving themselves time to think. Try to consciously brake less, and remember that braking is not the only way to get rid of speed. Every turn you take lowers your speed by a small amount, so making a lot of turns quickly is a great way to shed a lot of speed if you have the room (though still try to keep your wall organized.) Similarly, new players waste a lot of rubber running into walls needlessly, or stabbing walls that opponents are unlikely to need to go through. These are both bad habits to build over time. The general philosophy for both brake and rubber management is to save them only for when you need them. Of course, a new player might need them more often, but as you build confidence, think about what you can do to use both less.
From what I have noticed, less experienced players are often afraid of building speed. As they improve, mid-level players become somewhat more comfortable when they build speed, but will still try to get rid of it often. Further still, good players build and shed their speed throughout a round very deliberately. Speed can be incredibly useful, so try to get comfortable with it, and think about leaving long straight walls in your space for situations where you need to build speed.
We’ve covered a lot about sumo so far without actually talking much about scoring and winning. The most important thing about points has been covered though, which is just staying alive and getting zone points. Zone points are the strongest scoring tool, so being alive is necessary. On top of being alive though, you have to be inside the zone to get your share of zone points, so try to be inside the circle for every zone collapse. Not only are you getting your points this way, but you are also taking away potential points for everyone else. This becomes more and more important as the round progresses. Fewer people to divide the points between means there’s more to gain and more to lose. Pay attention to the timing of the spinning zones; if you have limited space, worry first about keeping your zone alive, but if you have to drive outside the zone for a couple seconds so that you are certain you will have enough space to be inside for zone points, do it. Sumo is a game of snowballing points at every opportunity. Two quick examples:
- If there is a zone about to collapse, and you see an opportunity to kill another player, try to do it before the first zone collapses. If you were the last 3 alive, you might end up with 120 zone points instead of 90 or less, in addition to picking up the kill.
- If you have a player stuck on the outside of the zone while their zone collapses, they might just get eradicated, giving no kill points. If you can bait them in just enough for you to kill them though, you’re picking up an extra 30 points.
If you’re in the position during a match where you have a comfortable lead, you don’t need to worry so much about what others are doing, and you can really focus on playing your own game, without having to take risks. Of course, others may be targeting you more heavily, so maybe you will have to adjust to be a little more defensive. Largely though, no major changes to your style. If you find yourself in a close match, specifically near the end, things start to change. Whether or not you have the lead, you really have to start thinking about kill points. One player may be able to jump ahead score-wise with a match-deciding kill. Lastly, if you are losing, specifically if the gap is more than say 30-60 points, you really need to consider a few options. The high-risk, high-reward option is to hunt the leading player. This may put you in risky situations, but if you can kill them early, you are getting kill points, stopping them from getting points, and buying yourself a lot of time to get extra points. Generally, if this is the path you take, you will want to dial the risk way back after you kill them, and focus on living for zone points. Alternatively, you can choose to leave the leader alive, as they are supposedly a strong player and could kill you. Here, you would instead hunt weaker players. While you are leaving the leader alive to collect zone points, you are banking on the extra kill points adding up to cover the score gap. Yet another option is to continue playing safe, just focusing on staying alive. You are removing your fate from your own hands in a way by doing this. You are then banking on the leader being killed or messing up without your intervention, in order for you to catch up. Alternatively, keep in mind who else is playing. Sumo is full of relationships and match politics. There might be eight players with their own agendas. Just keep in mind then, that there may be other players trying to do some headhunting for you.
Lastly, keep fighting until the Match Winner message is displayed. In addition to general comeback opportunities, there are often matches that end with multiple players above the score limit. Armagetron has a few-seconds window between a player hitting the score limit, and the match ending, so it is possible to not be the first person to hit 900 points and still win the match.
How to Improve
Reading and theory can only get you so far, so here are some quick ideas on how you can actually improve.
Watch other players. This is probably the most common advice you will get if you ask someone how you can improve. Every good player now has watched other players to learn about sumo themselves. Often, you can ask a player who they watched when they were learning, and they will have a list come right to mind. Often, those older players’ styles are very noticeable in the newer player’s own style. Every time you die, try to be watching what the ‘good’ players are doing. It is great if you can find good players whose styles are similar to yours, that you like and would like to imitate. Finding players with very different styles is also a great way to gain a fuller understanding of sumo. For example, something that may be a massive part of someone else’s style could be adapted to be tool that you occasionally use to improve your own style. Another reason to watch other players of all levels is that it allows you to see what different people are vulnerable to, and what you can take advantage of when facing them. It is easiest, and probably best to watch how current good players are playing the game in order to learn, but there are recordings available of old matches, and you can learn a lot from watching those as well.
Another way to improve is to pinpoint individual aspects of sumo and exaggerate them when practicing, so that applying it under the pressure of a match feels natural. A few examples might be:
- Single binding: forces you to think more about your moves, and how you set up your space
- Playing without brakes: builds your comfort at high speed, and losing speed by turning instead of braking.
- Limiting your space: gets you comfortable living in tight spaces, and understand how to make a trail that you can follow through multiple rotations.
Of course, you don’t need to be so extreme in all of these aspects during normal matches. This practice strategy is like using ankle weights; incorporating these ideas at a normal level in your own game will feel much easier after exaggerating them.
In a similar vein, use specialized practice servers or settings. Some players will have their own custom environments they like for practicing alone, but there are great public servers you can take advantage of. Tunnel Trouble and Snake are the best examples of this, and help you focus on specific aspects of sumo.
Most importantly, you have to play sumo to get better at sumo. Playing a lot will help you improve faster, but you also have to be active in your learning while you play. You can play a lot without thinking, and still improve, but it won’t be as effective as actively learning. Focus on what is working, what isn’t, and what others are doing. Limit the lazy, throwaway decisions that get you killed. Play to win by staying focused and trying to live.
As You Improve
As you start to improve, you will build some muscle memory, making you more comfortable just staying alive. This will allow you to shift your focus to more conceptual ideas throughout more of the round, also allowing you to plan ahead.
After a while, you will be more aware of your own style developing. Being aware of your style means you can focus on certain aspects of the game that fit you best. You might notice there are aspects of the game that even though you are able to do them now, may just not fit into your style or be necessary. Oppositely, there may be things that you used to avoid because of your skill level, that you can now incorporate more heavily into your style. As you improve, your style becomes the deciding factor for what you incorporate, as opposed to being limited by what you can and can not do. As your unique style develops, you will also become more predictable. To varied extents, others might be aware of your habits, and adapt around that, forcing you to change in turn. More noticeably though, you will be predictable to yourself. You will have a better feel for your own space, and when everything breaks down, moving through your space will feel more natural, and you won’t find yourself being caught off guard by previous walls that feel out of place.
Sumo is not all luck.