For the third season of their Traditional Sixes League, RGL made the decision to break from the Global Whitelist and unban the Detonator, Gas Passer, Scorch Shot, and Solemn Vow. While it is not novel for North American leagues, or simply Americans in general, to diverge from the standards set by the rest of the world, this change did mark the first major time the Solemn Vow would be used in competitive 6v6.
Stat comparison of the Ubersaw vs the Solemn Vow. (graphic by mitch)
Ever since the Global Whitelist was first unveiled in September of 2016, various arguments for and against the banning of the Solemn Vow have floated around the forums. This discussion peaked in December of 2018, when serious consideration was given toward unbanning the Solemn Vow, alongside the likes of the Soda Popper, BONK! Atomic Punch, and Buffalo Steak Sandvich. On one hand, some argued that the Solemn Vow could increase skill by allowing Medics to call exact health and uber figures at the risk of their personal safety. On the other hand, others argued the opposite, claiming the ability to gain this knowledge passively and more accurately than ever before has eliminated the skill required to do so through inference and good communication. Most recently, as of a poll conducted in May 2019, players are split on the issue, with 39.13% of players for unbanning it, 36.23% for banning it, and 24.64% hoping for more testing.
Nevertheless, all parties largely agree that the difference would be small at best, which was reflected in the testing done. During whitelist pugs conducted first in 2017, then again in 2018, teams concluded that the Solemn Vow had very little impact on overall play, at least compared to the splash the Rescue Ranger and Cow Mangler made upon their debuts. However, given an entire season to experiment and adapt to the new weapon, have things changed over one-and-a-half years later, and could they continue to change in the future?
To examine how the Solemn Vow’s unban affected the last season of TF2, we looked at how often Medics equipped either the Solemn Vow or the Ubersaw over three sets of logs spanning RGL Season 3. The first covered all 34 Invite matches that took place over the regular season, thus showing what was happening at the highest level of play. The second looked at the logs from PugChamp, which allowed for a much larger sample size. Finally, the third sample covered all logs from na.serveme.tf, which should give a better impression on what North America is running as a whole.
For each of the individual logs in those samples, we recorded what each of the Medics were running as their melee weapons, specifically whether it was the Solemn Vow, Ubersaw, something else, or if the data was missing.
Regarding the latter, it is important to acknowledge, as is evident from the graphs below, there is a huge proportion of missing data. This was one flaw with getting data from logs, since unless a Medic actually takes a swing with their melee weapon, it doesn’t get recorded. As a result, a large proportion of the matches simply didn’t have Medic melee data, which was then recorded under the “Other / Unknown” category. It is very likely that this missing data inflated the Ubersaw numbers in the results, since the Solemn Vow’s effect is completely passive while Medics using the Ubersaw are incentivized to use them in active combat. Thus, Medics using the latter may be more likely to be recorded in the logs. Moreover, according to anecdotal evidence, there were many games played that didn’t use the latest whitelist, meaning that Medics would be forced to use the Ubersaw regardless of personal preference. Whether this had a significant impact on the equip rates is unknown.
Medic melee equip rates across all of RGL Season 3. (graphic by mitch)
Medic melee equip rates in North America over the course of RGL Season 3. (graphic by mitch)
Ignoring the various sections of missing data, it is clear that the Invite scene uses the Solemn Vow much more frequently than the lower divisions, with a 50% equip rate for the former versus 15% for the latter. While the sanction of half of Invite Medics pales in comparison to the near-universal use of, for example, the Crusader’s Crossbow, it does show the top players in the game are slowly beginning to take advantage of the weapon. Slowly, it seems this realization is beginning to trickle down to the entirety of the North American scene, as shown in the graph of usage rates over time. Slowly, as the season progressed, the Solemn Vow went from a 3% equip rate to just under 22% by the end, once again after taking out missing data.
We spoke to a handful of top Invite medics to get their thoughts on the weapon.
skeez ( froyotech):
It doesn’t fundamentally change anything and just gives you free info you otherwise wouldn't have had. I guess it helps focus calls a little bit in scrappy teamfights.
LOLGUY ( Ascent):
More fun than ubersaw; too bad no servers actually have it unbanned
b3arodactyl ( MyAnimeList):
I've just been using Ubersaw all season, because Solemn Vow is mad lame, not fun to use, and doesn't add anything interesting to the game. But my team did make me try it out, and it's definitely broken.
The Ubersaw is only ever useful a handful of times throughout the season (although it is a big advantage when it is useful), whereas the Solemn Vow gives information that is helpful in virtually every situation. In an ideal world where ubers are tracked perfectly and focus fires are communicated perfectly, the weapon wouldn't have much use, but in reality it helps teams improve their focus fire almost for free, gives a lot more room for tight advantage pushes, and prevents medics from being punished if they use the information they gain correctly. Pushing off tighter advantages is arguably a more interesting thing for the game, but it works both ways because the enemy medic has the same info and can easily kite. At the end of the day, it removes an interesting skill based mechanic from the game and adds no real value.
cookiejake ( Dorsia):
It's a pretty useful utility, and I definitely feel like I get more use out of it than the Ubersaw. It's more all around helpful, whereas the Ubersaw is more for occasional clutch potential. But I feel like there’s been a lot of times I’ve been able to call exactly someone's health on the other team and it changes the whole scope of the fight because it gives our soldiers an easy target to bomb or my scout knows he can just pistol down a guy sacking cuz he's really low. Also, you can see the other medic's uber percentage which has actually had me calling my team to push on like a 10% ad, because I knew for sure that we had it. I don’t think it’s too strong, or that it should be re-banned, but it's definitely the best Medic melee option in my opinion.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the Solemn Vow. Perhaps its use in North American leads to its emancipation across the world. Perhaps it will be banned again in RGL Season 4. Regardless of what happens, it will be entertaining to read the latest thread arguing about the latest whitelist.