"They stand outside our gates. I say 'they', but truly, 'it' is more fitting. We had thought we stood a chance, but instead we were hounded, hunted, only barely able to retreat to this lonely tower that was our brief refuge. We immobilized many, but still they came, a vast worm with its head cut but the rest still ravenous. We ran, but nothing could outrun the forces that drove them to impossible speeds, nor escape the magic they crudely wove to ensnare us. Fully half of our number perished before we made it to our last holdout in Albion.
And even this will soon fall. Siege weapons are rolled forward by the lucky few almost capable of independent thought, watched blankly by the rest. All are slack-jawed, dull-eyed, single-minded. Hundreds, waiting for a piece, a morsel of our desperate few. I doubt any one of them is aware of what they are doing, that any one of them understands just why they stand there. They wander aimlessly, those at the edges circling out and around the seething mass. They have no knowledge, no cunning, no plan. But in concert, they display a will, a hunger, the knowledge that we are here, and that sooner or later, they will have us." - Bubblybongwater, Level 50 Warden, upon facing the Albion Zerg.
Starcraft is (correct me if I'm wrong) largely a dead game now. It has been overtaken and replaced by newer games in the RTS genre. But its memory lives on, in an entirely different genre, one where the Zerg is alive, well, and terrifying.
In mmorpgs, particularly in Dark Age of Camelot and World of Warcraft, the mmorpgs I have experience with, zerg is used to describe the mass of players that results when a lot of people are fighting over something at once. Its not a guild in that it's not permanent, and not a party or group in that it has many more people than just a group can hold. It’s essentially a big mob of players looking for someone to beat up. A zerg, singular, is a group of groups, usually not more than 40 in WoW (40 is the limit of a raid group, the next step up from a group), or in DAOC, as many as 200. That's 200 per side. There are 3 sides. DAOC is all about the zerg.
How do they start? In DAOC, you don't need an excuse, just the desire to wreak some havoc and take a keep or two. Players will meet at a gathering place, yell for a group, ask for or create a chat channel for communications, and if there are other groups, follow those around until they find some filthy Albs / unclean Hibbies / dirty Mids. Smash, rinse, repeat, capture keep. WoW doesn't need the gathering place per se, but generally they need a specific target, usually Hillsbrad. Players fly into town, ask in general chat for an invite to a raid group, run up to where the fight is and go at it.
Once the zerg actually gets rolling, it tends to be in a couple situations. In World of Warcraft, it's limited to 2. Advancing on an enemy town for temporary control of it, usually the Hillsbrad towns of Southshore and Tarren Mill, or as the main attack force in the Alterac Valley battleground (Which I don't have experience with). Hillsbrad zergs tend to acquire an opposing zerg, and hours are passed as they bounce back and forth between towns, trying to gain a significant advantage.
I am surrounded by fools.
I write this to you, my dear, in the lull of battle - We have retreated from our meaningless assault to make camp at the foot of a ruined tower, long since abandoned. Again and again we have been thrown back because of idiocidy, and as many times pushed back before our opponents, who possess half a shred of intelligence between them, vanish in the face of the Southshore guards. They... Perhaps this shall make more sense if I describe my arrival.
I had heard through the grapevine of Horde incursions against Southshore, and knew that the Forsaken encampment of Tarren Mill was the Banshee Queen's newest pet project, with thousands of gold pieces going to its defense, but even so, I was not prepared for what I felt. From the moment of my arrival from Menthil, it was clear that a mighty battle raged - the energies of magick were constant, a wave of distortion roiling to the north. It played with the very fabric of time, casting my awareness into a sort of slideshow, blips of sight static in my mind. It is unpleasant, but fading, and I was determined not to allow the Horde another step towards my adopted town. So I journeyed northward, found a group that would take my perhaps underage self, and went into battle.
Let no one fool you - The war in Hillsbrad is a far different beast from the war against the Dragonmaw orcs, or even the small parties of Horde scouts intent on crippling our future strength. There are dozens here, on both sides, and it is as if the sheer weight of our numbers depresses our intellect. My first sally against the Horde was a disaster - I leapt into range to hurl a fireball into their ranks, but instead barely escaped with my life. You always say I don't have enough scars, but I could have done without the one I got from THAT mistake.
My next would have gone better, save for the fact that my allies are entirely too dim to live. I followed just behind the front line of a charge, hurling shards of fire into the retreating horde ranks, only to again face near-death at the hands of the rotting corpses that serve for guards at the Mill. The standing Horde army cowers behind their allies, and none of my elders seem interested in stopping the squads of guards that cut a swath through our ranks, only in defeating a few of their cowardly army. Weakened and thinned by the guards, we were pushed back, past the broken tower I now write at, back into Southshore. Then, they ran. Before they even aroused the ire of the defenders of Southshore. As I said, cowards.
These first few battles set the tone that has not abated, and established a pattern I see no signs of changing. I would escape this idiot's hell, but I have seen the bodies of those fellow youths who sought to escape this madness, cut down by the thieves who watch us from the shadows for any poor fool who exposes himself. Nonetheless, this message shall reach you. By the Titans... they come again. Curse this battle. - Calar, 34 mage, on his first and last encounter with the Hillsbrad Zergwar.
DAOC zergs are a bit more varied in their individual actions, but have a singular purpose - to take towers, then keeps, then relics. They usually attempt to cut a swath through a defender's land, taking whatever is least defended until they meet opposition, whereupon they dig in and fight until the separate members of the zerg are called back to real life. DAOC zergs are especially fearsome things, thanks to runspeed spells, which have an upgrade only hardcore players can acquire granting simple AOE speed to everyone instead of just to one's group. Coupled with the especially fast runspeed spells that are also hard to get, this directly helps the zergs, whose huge mass of people means more chance people will have that upgrade, and essentially granting the bigger group of players the better chance at the speed edge. Crowd control counters the ferocity of the zerg to some extent, but remember that they'll definitely have the same abilities.
In DAOC, zergs have a lot to do with luck. Namely, whether you're lucky enough to have a core of smart, hardcore players on your side. In this sense, zergs are mainly a delivery mechanism for people who know what they're doing, providing protection and concealment until the zerg reaches a tower, keep, or fellow zerg. In WoW, players are more independent, with no runspeed spells, no powerful crowd control, no extremely hard to get gear that confers highly useful abilities, and so the main benefit of the zerg is the power of numbers. In both cases, though, zergs are chiefly a group of individual players who have a vague idea of what to do, and are following everybody else until they find someone to fight.
Pretty much the only way to stop a zerg is to get together a zerg of your own, and send it against the opposing zerg. Where they meet will determine the nature of the battle. Open field battles, more common in WoW, can typically occur in two ways.
The straight charge, wherein one or both sides just run in and start hacking away at each other is the rarest. Typically, these occur when one zerg has managed to come within striking range of the other while the second was unready or looking the other way.
More commonly, they see each other at the same time, and end up in a stand-off, standing just of range of each other's ranged attacks, some players moving just inside range to get a shot off before running back. Stand-offs take awhile, and result in melee classes standing around waiting for the mages to stop screwing around and give them cover for a charge.
Sieges are usually the way of things in DAOC, as one side tries to take a keep, but cannot before an opposing critical mass of players arrives. Sieges are much like stand-offs, except one side gets walls and height, as well as a few siege weapons mounted on towers, and the other gets (they’d better have, or they’re screwed) lots of siege weapons. The DAOC siege is today largely a function of whether or not the attackers can break a few holes in the walls before the defenders push them off their siege weapons, and it becomes a largely even fight once the attackers have a foothold inside.
The victor in general depends on two factors, numbers and how well members of the zerg avoid ‘zerg mentality’, essentially the diffusion of responsibility among many players who often have troubles working in concert anyway.
If you play in either WoW or DAOC, you’re probably going to end up in a zerg at some point, if only for self-defense. The main thing to avoid is that dissipation of responsibility. If there’s no one in the zerg who knows how to command, it might have to be you. If not, though, there are other things to remember.
There are other things to be done besides killins. Everyone loves to blow things up or go choppy choppy, we know. But generally, the prevention of damage trumps damage dealing classes. If your healers aren’t healing, you’re in trouble. They might not be healing because they’re getting smacked, in which case you need to keep bad guys off your healers’ backs. Or it might be because they’d rather be using their damaging abilities, in which case you need to find some extra brains for them. You’re better off mezzing a big group of enemies than tossing a few bolts at them, preventing the damage they could do while you deal with their friends. If you’re a dotting class in DAOC, those dots shut down casters, interrupting with every tick, and that’s way better than just the damage they do, so spread the dots around, instead of stacking them on one guy.
You need to have a plan and an objective, both clearly explained. Otherwise, everyone’s just gonna get lost and die. Doesn’t need to be a complex plan, because the most important part is that everyone stays together and realizes that it’s better to focus on keeping allies alive than getting a couple kills. But enough of one that the enemy can’t predict what you’re going to do, and to keep your zerg cohesive.
Stay smart and don’t let the horde think for you, be responsible for your allies, have a plan, and you too can engage in successful and enjoyable mob beatings!