Let’s start with tank classes. Then we will see how different specs or situations may give tanks different roles.
Everyone knows the different tank classes. Light, medium. Heavies and tds. Lights were supposed to scout and escape, heavies were supposed to be invincible, and TDs were either supposed to break through fortifications as assault tanks, or to destroy a heavy tank line. Arty weren’t really designed or used to attack tanks.
Historically those classifications were devised between WW1 and WW2. They gave different roles to different tanks, depending on the army’s doctrine which itself depended on their geography and geopolitical considerations. Therefore they changed depending on countries, and periods. at the end of WW2 progress in motorisation, suspensions, guns, projectile, and finally sight systems made armor pretty much obsolete : engaging the enemy first and from farther was serving the winner. That was the advent of the MBT or main battle tank: a big gun on a very mobile platform. The first to reach this was arguably the Russian T-34, which was mobile, as effective as the KV-1 at a fraction of the cost, and armor wise nearly as effective. However it was still archaic in other ways, until the wide turret ring mount for a larger turret allowed for very large guns to be mounted, which the British centurion achieved first, followed closely by the T-54. These were to be known later as main battle tanks, or MBT.
In the game, the tech tree is conveniently sliced into lines, which vaguely follow the tank classes. Actually, many lines start as light, and later grow heavier into medium and then heavies.
We can discuss the specific roles of tds, heavies, mediums or light tanks in the gameplay, but once you start playing them you realize not all heavies are born equals, not all tds play the same. Some heavies are fast with weak armor, some tds have a turret, some have either fantastic or horrible camo, high or low silhouette. Discussing tank roles based on tank classes leads at best to very generic statements, at worst, is very misleading.
Rather than comparing tank classes with each other or roughly sketching them a generic role, I will directly review roles on the battlefield, and depending on team composition, how late in the game you are, or other circumstances, any tank might suddenly be called for the roles.
Not all of these roles will find a place in each game. Similarity, you might need to fulfill 4 different roles at different moments of the game. Identifying when is the time for you to perform or change role is the key skill.
For exemple, to defend a choke point, you need a very strong armor, which not all heavies have, but that you can find that armor in some meds or tds. It’s your job to identify if that role needs to be fulfilled by you, or if instead you need to run for your life. We will try to identify different roles below.
basic tank roles
requires strong armor and big gun
necessary when some enemy is very weak, to remove him
classical exemple: KV1
the bully is the easiest job to understand : drive straight into the enemy’s face and shoot him.
Classically when starting the game players want to be either a bully or a sniper, and I don’t know about the psychology behind this. As a result however, that player usually becomes a suicider or a camper. I wanted to be a bully. Playing the bully with the wrong tank or in the wrong situation kills you real fast and it only took me 10.000 games to understand that part.
The bully is someone who knows he has impunity. Of course being top tier immediately makes you a better candidate. The bully can use speed, armor, and gun to really dominate the battlefield, or most likely, some immediate target.
In the first case the job is to lead the charge. Don’t let the momentum slow down, if you have the right tank to locally dominate, make sure that side of the map is clean, and make it easier for your weaker allies, by drawing all attention upon you and pushing. Would it be a bridge, a cave, or something, by pushing the enemy out, you will also allow your allies to win a strong hold as a safe position for weak tanks, or you will allow for the forces here to join the other flank sooner. That other flank might be under pressure and might need some immediate help. Often times, if you aphave an advantage on one side, it is because the other side suffers. It is your job as a bully to make sure no time is wasted there.
The other possibility for a bully at shorter scale, is to have impunity over a single tank, and possibly only for a limited amount of time. It might be because the target is distracted, afk or reloading a clip, or it might be because he has exactly the worst tank to meet you. In any case it is your duty to remove that tank from the game in absolutely no delays. Ram-shooting a reloading borsig rather than waiting will decide whether you or him will die. derping a T49 into death rather than fearing for his splashing HE on you, will potentially save many green lives later.
necessary when having a weak gun
typically light tanks, medium tanks
This is might be the most famous role, one that everyone asks others people to do, sometimes without really knowing what it means.
The flank is the side. That might apply globally or locally.
For a global flank, there needs to be a main front. Main forces will stop each other, bringing the game to a stall. At this point, being able to shoot the enemy in the sides (or rear) will allow things to ease out for your team for example either by dealing damage and weathering the enemy out (sniping), either by making them abandoning their positions (distraction). The hard flank means a very wpquockl full speed across the map action.
A local flank, or flanking someone, means you have a blocker, someone that is invincible or extremely costly to overcome frontally, whether in credits, time or hp. Making a short flank around the building will allow you to shoot his side or rear and will be much more efficient to overcome him. The softer armor will mean regular ammo or HE, leading to more damage, dealt faster. Being behind his gun will mean less chances of being shot by him.
The second line tank a.k.a. “Support”
fragile tanks with useful guns
Typically TDs. some fragile heavies, particularily when low tier, or meds
The support tank can be many things. Most importantly, it means that some tanks are either too valuable or too fragile to place into a direct confrontation with the enemy. Many of the different roles that I exposed in different sections here are support roles. But very often what we mean by support role is second line. What is meant by second line, is staying near the front line, but not in front, which should be for exemple a blocker ( preventing the reds from advancing) or a bully (pushing into the reds). You can be visible and even close to the enemy, but always in a way that the enemy will decide first to shoot someone else, either because they are a bigger threat to them, or are closer to them. Lots of times people shoot the closest target first, hence the name second line. You may be in a position that the enemy can’t shoot you, but if he moves to get a shot he receives two. One from your front line mate, and one from you.
You may want to make yourself visible or not, depending on if you want to surprise the red with a shot, (which is an ambush) most likely because you want him to attack and die, or if you want the red to know his interest is not to move forward, which protects your front line friend from receiving damage, most likely because your friend is already weak and might die, but he still has better armor so he stays as the main blocker.
requires precision gun
necessary when on low hp, or when red have derp guns
may be performed by TDs, weaker tanks in a support role, and a lot of times, light tanks when no spotting can help the team
The sniper has the worst reputation. When sniping, reds and greens will hate you, and I can’t say which one will hate you the most.
But regardless the hate, sniping is the safest way to inflict damage, and damage is by far what wins most games, if you set aside capturing bases. Realizing this, proper sniping is definitely a rewarding strategy, much more so than spotting.
So what is sniping ? It is a for, of support, only it is done at further ranges. Instead of appearing as secondary targets, it relies on maintaining invisibility.
Making consistent damage and remaining invisible may mean relocating, and may mean relocating often, and this is what separates good sniping from camping.
Invisibility may mean distance, but not always. Some tanks can remain invisible even down to proxyspotting. (In theory 50m, but I have measured 48m , yup, I have tested invisible tanks that were this close). So you may need to study your camo mechanics very accurately to perform as a sniper.
Whenever you have lost much hp, particularly if you become within a single shot of your death, it is wise to stay out of sight. Depending on the situation you may cap, but most of the time the best use of your tank is sniping. Continuing to make damage but letting the more survivable tanks take their turn in the heat of the enemy. Keeping your gun in the game at this point will do a lot towards the win.
As a sniper you want to kill first the tanks that might spot you, either because they are too close or their viewrange or mobility is too great. This ensures that the enemy stays blind, and this in turn will allow your job to continue for longer.
exotic tank roles
Here we will discuss roles that are more advanced, circumstantial, or less known.
Ambusher a.k.a. “the assassin”
The ambusher is not a sniper. The ambusher is also concealed and invisible, but will come out exactly when needed. At that point it should be too late for the red target. Typically a good ambush includes appearing immediately near your target and removing him from the game in a single shot. derp gun comes immediately to the mind, but you can think broader as you may come full speed (or fool’s speed ?) and shoot HE while ramming a target to instakill it or cripple it beyond recover. For example, a RU full speed can deliver up to 900 damage on a lightly armored tank. A FCM can kill many full health tanks in a single ram without even shooting.
The point of the ambush should really be to kill someone or put him out of the game. If that target survives and depletes you, or if the sudden exposure gets you sniped or cross fired irremediably, it is a complete fail.
The surprise might also allow you to deal damage and be out of reach before the enemy is able to return fire. This is typically the case of the AMX 13 line for example. At best you will arrive unexpectedly behind someone and clip him to death, but there are occasion wher pe you can just unload and escape without being shot back, just by using surprise and speed upon a slow and isolated enemy.
In such cases, timing and planning your approach route is essential to keep the surprise the longest. You want to keep hardcover between you and target, and keep out of the proxyspotting range (50m) unless the enemy is extremely inattentive about you. (See fisherman)
The blocker is supposed to slow down or prevent the enemy team from moving, usually one blocker can delay several enemies by using effectively his armor, gun fear, tracking abilities or other means. He will do that at strategic points, usually choke points or town. Usually the blocker is well armored, and possibly is a slow tank. The goal is to get there in advance, anticipating where reds will want to go. The blocker will delay them to keep them in the fire line of a sniper, to allow a flanking manœuvre to devellop or catch up, to prevent enemy from reaching a cap, from coming out or escaping a situation. The goal is to buy time and survive for as long as possible. Managing your hp efficiently, baiting shots, wasting enemy’s time and energy is more important than making damage.
The shield may not have armor at all. But say if you platoon and your toon mate is 10 hp and being targeted by some red, you might have to step in front of the red and absorb his shots to save our friend life. Keeping your two guns in the game will do just much more for the win than saving a few hundred hp. In public matches, receiving a shot for some unknown player might be worth it, but wheighing the benefits is much more difficult. you might receive a 400dmg to save someone who will end up with a total score of 300dmg in entire game. Not taking that damage might keep you in game for another minute, potentially dealing overall another 1000 damage. But on the other hand, you might want to save a derp gun who is able to kill a red guy with each next shot.
the archenemy aka the nemesis
situational to specific tanks
Occasionally in some games, being annoying or dangerous for just one tank may be your best use. This is a special variation of the bully, where you are the exact tank to counter a particular tank in the enemy’s team. If that tank is very dangerous but that you have the ability to counter him, it might be your job to hunt him down or otherwise disable it. For exemple a sniping borsig can ruin your team in no time. For exemple if you have the derp gun (T49 for exemple) killing him may save several of your teammates. If you have the viewrange (T71), keeping him constantly spotted or shot (even small shots) will force him to relocate and he will never be able to shoot, also saving several of your teammates.
The antithesis of the archenemy is the prey. This is not a role so I don’t include in its own paragraph. If one tank in the red team is extremely dangerous for you, you need to worry about staying under help and cover from your team. This ensure that you can make your job and not die.
The role of the bait is to appear weak, and to provoke someone into the desire of being a bully, and committing a mistake. Bringing him to his archenemy, to a line of
camping sniping allies. Being a bait can also be a form of distractor, by luring him into a chase where his team will lack him much more than your team will lack you. For exemple a very weak light tank on low HP getting chased away by an upper tier heavy tank or TD with full HP exactly when his team is lacking armor, HP or a big gun.
Actually the lower your hp, the higher the chances of being a successful bait. People become crazy for a kill, and they would run miles to get one. Lead him to a trap.
On a smaller scale, this is a small strategy to have the enemy waste a shot. Show him your track, a bit of your turret, move in and out, try to have him on reload, to help your ally push or just to give the return shot.
The bait and the fisherman
It includes 2 tanks each in a different role: either scout and sniper, or distractor and ambusher.
The bait and the fisherman is a game I devised to train a friend of mine into playing the derpy SU152 in the early days of blitz. We would play a BT-7 and a T82. Bt-7 would assault some red and as soon as the red would chase the Bt-7, the T82 would either come out and kill the target in a single shot in the rear, or the Bt-7 would lead the unsuspecting target directly into the T82’s line of fire. As you guessed, the Bt7 is the bait, and the T82 is the fisherman.
More generally, the job is to disturb and turn the enemy into shooting or chasing you, and the intention is to either have them present their weaker side to your team strong guns, to lure them into an ambush or move them into the fire of a derp or of a sniper.
In light tanks, I also frequently lead high speed red chasers into my green campers. The trick here is to lead them into the immediate camper’s vicinity as a camper never checks the minimap or his rear. Target needs to come right in front of his gun. I then let them all discuss together whil I run towards my next business.
The bait’s job becomes increasingly efficient and difficult the less health he has. Because the less health you have, the more the red wants to score a kill, and the more he is likely to chase you or make that last shot into you. But for this same reason, you might just die if you can’t master the chase or get your cover fire to work. On the other hand, being 100hp and getting a full health enemy to go boom just because he tried to shoot you is a very high satisfaction.
Finally, this game is best played with a very trusty platoonmate who knows exactly what is going on and what the manœuvre is.
Camping might sound like an absolutely useless role on the battlefield. Staying at spawn rotating turret, or going to town to hide behind the nearest house entire game, are famously performed by the 30% player.
However there are some occasions where camping is worth it. You might be a glass cannon, or you might be in anotherwise very weak tank. At this point, it may be worth moving only when the enemy’s position is known. It will make sure to avoid bad encounters and early death, and it will allow you to go to the safe and effective position.
Also people forget that whenever the game mode is base capture and that your team leads by point, avoiding enemy contact is a good idea. Like smart sniping, smart camping is something that comes necessitated in due time.
I have exposed here a few roles that I could think of. They are not of equal importance, nor will you use them all at the same frequency. However if you want precision’s or if you can think of a role worth mentioning that I forgot, you may want to leave a note below here to present it and discuss it.