An observation that is repeatedly made on the Storm of War (SoW) server, and also the associated discord chat and forum posts, is the perceived Red-v-Blue balance. That is, the number pilots flying on the Red (= Allies) side vs the number of pilots flying on the Blue (=Axis) side at any given moment on the SoW server. Checking the numbers for the last 6 months, we see a consistent 3:2 ratio of Red:Blue flight hours, but it is tipping further in favour of Red as time goes on. Some think that this might be a problem, like having stacked teams. This article takes a look at the phenomenon and tries to find some reasons, and some alternatives, to the current situation.
Before we start
There are a few matters that we need to clear up before we look at the main issue.
Humans vs AI — Often when people look at the balance, they are only looking at the human-count. This is what shows up on multiplayer lobby screen, and what you would see if you called up the score-card in-game. However, SoW has a large contingent of AI aircraft, from lone reconnaissance to large bomber formations. Sometimes the numbers are not quite what they seem.
Timezone — Sometimes there are timezone differences. On SoW, we see the euro-timezones being reasonably balanced, whereas the american ones are rather lopsided.
Point of view — You tend to notice it being unbalanced when you are flying the outnumbered side.
Numbers does not equal balance — differences in aircraft performance (don’t go there!), pilot skill, communications, teamwork, a ground-controller (GCI), Flak/AAA, objectives and the previously-mentioned AI aircraft will all skew the balance.
History — The SoW server is currently set in 1944, post-invasion. The Luftwaffe was outnumbered by 15:1.
Is it a problem? — SoW is not trying to be a balanced dogfight server. Instead, it is aiming for a sense of history and immersion. If a Blue pilot is feeling intimidated and hopeless going up, then we’re getting it right. Likewise, if a Red pilot is feeling the skies are empty, then that was also an historical experience.
However, it might not be “fun”.
Better off Red?
So why do more people fly Red? Well, there are lots of reasons. Here are a few of them.
National-flying — there is a tendency of people to want to fly their own side. And, with the modern populations of (especially) the United States and the British Commonwealth, as well as Russia, France, etc. etc. there are simply going to be more people wanting to fly USAAF or RAF than those from the Germanic countries. And if they, on average, fly their own side you can expect a huge imbalance.
Politics — then there is the inescapable association of the LW with the political dictatorship behind it. Some people refuse on principle to fly with the black cross. Others are disuaded by the name-calling (kraut, fascist, jerry, nazi, bosch, etc.) that is levelled at the Blue side.
Winning side — some will want to fly for the winning side, and we all know the outcome of the War.
Language — Then there is a language issue. I’ve seen people complainging about the German cockpit labels, the names of the equipment, and other such things. English is simply more common, and thus easier, for many.
Measurement units — Related to that are the units of measure. Personally, I find those feet/pounds/inches/gallons a reason not to fly Red, but there are a lot who prefer them. Especially given that the US-dominated aviation industry has made imperial measures standard.
Performance — Not surprisingly the best performing DCS WW2 aircraft (P-51D) is the most popular on SoW.
New — New is interesting and, just at the moment, the P-47D is the new-kid on the blocks.
Not easy to learn — DCS, being more realistic, is also harder to learn. You really need to put time into mastering the aircraft. So you are more likely to do this for an aircraft you love. Whether deserved or not, there are more people who love the Allied aircraft.
Not easy to swap — You can’t flit between different aircraft easily like you can in War Thunder or IL2:Great Battles. Apart from the key-controller-bindings, the handling of each aircraft is really different.
Money — Oh, and you need to purchase each module too. Not everyone has a Blue module (although, technically, everyone has a Red one – TF51D!). But the point is that swapping sides is more of an issue if you need to buy an aircraft first.
But it wasn’t like this in CloD?!
Also, for those of you who remember when SoW ran a IL-2: Cliffs of Dover (CloD) server, they may not remember this level of imbalance.
Well, there sort of was. I do not have many numbers, but the few cases I found were still Red-favoured. Out of 8 cases I found from old screenshots and videos, there was one exception (Brooklands Raid) which was 40 Blue (16 bombers, 24 fighters) against 30 Red fighters.
It is not that flying preferences have changed much, but in SoW-CloD the scenario was different to SoW-DCS.
In 1940, the bombing raids (and thus mission focus) were usually AI, scripted, and ever-present. It did not matter if the Red side was in ascendancy, as there were always raids of bombers coming over and defence was needed. That then helped the Blue pilots. Despite their inferior numbers, a large raid was either a distraction, or a focus for the human pilots. By the time of the 1944 scenario, the tables have turned and the Blue pilot is outnumbered not just by Red fighters, but has to deal with the incoming A-20 and B-17 raids too.
Additionally, in 1940 Blue had an area advantage, being able to attack starting from Oye-Plage to Querqueville. In 1944, even with a-historic comprimises (Lessay, Maupertus and Caen should not be used), the number of LW bases is extremely limited, Allied radar is good, and vectoring Red pilots to victims is easy.
Can’t we do a Blue-offensive map?
With the release of the Channel map, one idea might be to go back to the Battle of Britain scenario, like what worked for CloD? This is simply not feasible.
Firstly, the Channel Map has a lot of major problems. Performance (in terms of frames per second) is sub-par. It is unlikely that this will be fixed any time soon, so we are really waiting for hardware to catch up. Again a long wait.
Then the Channel Map has other major problems. Such as a lack of airfields. For the time period of the map, for example, there is not a single operational LW airfield present. The historicity of the map is poor, with it difficult to contrive any time frame that does not clash in some way.
The Channel Map area is also limited. With so few airfields, clashes will naturally end up focused into a small area. It is difficult to support, for example, 1940 raids on Biggin Hill or the massive air battle over Dieppe in August 1942. Seriously, the total number of airfields on the Channel Map, let alone period-accurate ones, is abyssmal.
As a result, not too many people have the Channel Map… and we are already low on numbers in DCS due to the complexity of the aircraft, lack of WW2 assets, etc.. An SoW-move to the Channel would indeed split our SoW community.
But there are other problems with reversing the scenario. At the moment, there are no LW bombers. Yes, there is a Ju-88, but it is torpedo bomber, not a level bomber. We could try to re-skin the A-20 as a mutant Do-217? Or pretend that KG200 was operating hoards of captured B-17s. But then everyone has to have these paintscheme-mods (we don’t have default German markings for those the way we have British markings for the FW190). And re-skinned Allied aircraft is probably a bridge-too-far for the already-stretched imaginations of our virtual pilots.
And then the WW2 Assets pack does not suit a role reversal either. The Allies have no good low-level anti-aircraft gun (equivalent to the Flak-Vierling). Barrage balloons and other assets are still not working in multiplayer. All of these hinder a Red-defence scenario.
So forget it. There is no easy way to reverse the scenario in DCS with the current aircraft, maps and assets.
Set to get worse?
Things are unlikely to improve. The P-47D is increasing in popularity, and this will likely continue… especially with the recent arrival of the new variants and armaments. And the future release of the DH-98 Mk.VI fighterbomber will again draw more pilots to the Red side. There is an F4U Corsair on the horizon, and plans for a P-38L Lightning too. Yet, there is still no sign of the FW 190 F/G-8, let alone the Bf-109 G-6 or Me-262. And we are aware of the already-anachronistic use of the 190 D-9 and 109 K-4 for Normandy scenarios and would like to remove them. Hmm… not easy.
DCS is a superb simulator in terms of aircraft fidelity. Yet it is also really limited in setting up a scenario to remedy a natural preponderance of players to fly the Red side.
In the meantime, Red pilots need to diversify their portfolio away from purely air-to-air. Fly more ground attack, anti-shipping, bomber escort missions, and so on. Blue pilots have to get organised. Teamwork, communications and GCI.
Otherwise, if any of you have ideas or suggestions, do let us know in the comments below or via discord.