Multiplayer PvP is hard to get right. If the core gameplay is fun, it often doesn't matter what the game mode is—but if the core gameplay sucks, then even the coolest game mode ideas won't salvage it.
Then again, when fun core gameplay meets a fittingly well-designed game mode, that's when something truly special happens. A clever game mode can turn an otherwise good game into a great game.
Here are some of the best PvP game modes I've had the pleasure to experience in my time as a competitive online gamer.
5. Arathi Basin (World of Warcraft)
Arathi Basin was easily the best OG battlegrounds in World of Warcraft. Its point-capture gameplay—sometimes called Conquest—was innovative at the time, and being able to play 15v15 was unlike anything before it.
Two teams battle to capture five resource points ("nodes"), which can be re-captured over and over. A captured point accrues points for the team that owns it, and the first team to reach the point limit wins. Players respawn on death.
Keen readers will note that Arathi Basin is exactly the same as Guild Wars 2's Structured PvP. But Guild Wars 2 only had 5v5 teams fighting over three points, and it's the greater scale of Arathi Basin that made it more interesting.
Guild Wars 2 also had core gameplay mechanic issues, such that fighting over points was a frustrating endeavor whereas it never felt that way in World of Warcraft.
4. New Bloom (Dota 2)
Diretide may be the most well-known event game mode in Dota 2, but 2014's New Bloom was easily the best (with 2013's Wraith Night a close second). It may just be the most unconventional fun I've had in Dota 2.
The goal of New Bloom is to inflict as much damage to the Year Beast as you can before it wipes out your team. And that's pretty much the whole game mode.
But as simple as it sounds, it gets more interesting the more you think about it, and a DPS-centric game mode like this would translate well to all kinds of genres, including fighters and shooters.
Technically, New Bloom is a cooperative mode—but I'm including it here anyway because it would only take one simple change to turn it into an awesome PvP mode:
Have two teams compete to inflict as much damage as they can to the Year Beast, while fighting each other. It might be a bit of a clustermuck, so maybe it could be a two-piece boss (Yin and Yang?), and that'd introduce a bit of strategic and tactical play. Nonetheless, the idea is awesome, and I think it could be the next big thing once battle royale fades out.
3. Breakout (Halo 5)
To be honest, I've only played Halo 5 a few times. But of those times, I remember Breakout being one of the most tense competitive gaming experiences I've had—and that was just a casual game with friends! How much more nail-biting would it have been in a tournament setting.
The two-teams-one-flag concept is brilliant, and offers a purer PvP experience than traditional two-flag Capture the Flag.
Whereas CTF encourages multiple simultaneous skirmishes around the map, Breakout funnels all of the action to wherever the one flag is (with weapons scattered around the map to gently spread players around).
I also like that Breakout uses a round-based one-life-per-round design instead of infinite respawns, which ramps up the tactical aspects of the game mode to more interesting levels.
2. Battlegrounds (Battlerite)
While the Battlegrounds game mode was released to much fanfare back in 2017, it died a quick death—not because the overall mode itself was poorly conceived, but because it had one fatal flaw that the Battlerite developers stubbornly ignored, plugging their ears to community feedback.
Two teams start at opposite ends of the map, with each team's base having a Guardian. Gameplay cycles through two phases: the "Event" phase where teams race to complete objectives around the map (e.g. capture points, defeat monsters, etc.) to daze the enemy Guardian, and the "Assault" phase where one team defends while the other team tries to take down their dazed Guardian.
Genuinely fun to play, but for the fatal flaw: players could level up and collect "power shards" over the course of the game to deal more damage, and said shards would drop on death.
But players would become nearly unkillable after crossing a certain power threshold, leading to a snowball effect and runaway victories. Without this, Battlerite's Battlegrounds could have pioneered a PvP game mode for the ages.
1. Sniper CTF (BaboViolent 2)
Some of my fondest gaming memories come from 2011, when I sank countless hours into honing my BaboViolent 2 skills. I was super competitive back then, and this fast-paced top-down indie shooter game was the perfect outlet for my bottled up stress.
My favorite game mode: Capture the Flag while everyone ran the Sniper Rifle. The unique thing about BaboViolent 2's Sniper Rifle? It fired one bullet when unscoped and two bullets when scoped...
...meaning you had to scope-fire to one-shot somebody—and when scoped, your vision was severely limited. Not easy in a top-down shooter.
Anyway, it was the perfect balance between fun and skill, and it put everyone on the same playing field since everyone had the same weapon loadout. A superbly simple game that was held back by its graphics.