SATAL: Studying Air Combat Tactics from DCS Competitors
Cheering, jeering and learning from competitors fighting their hardest The first week of the 2021 season for the Squadron Air to Air League (SATAL) is over, and the spirit of competition flies ever higher with the official return of this event. SATAL is a high-profile international tournament for competitive teams and squadrons that fly in Digital Combat Simulator World. The roots of SATAL can be traced back a few years, but to put things in perspective, this year's tournament is presented by Thrustmaster. Past tournaments had co-sponsors like Eagle Dynamics, Black Hog, and Wild Weasel Apparel, with considerable prizes provided by companies like Tacview, Foxx Mount, Buddy-Fox, and Heatblur. The rewards for winners and runner-ups have included hundreds of US Dollars, flight simulation hardware, apparel, and full-fidelity aircraft modules. The tournament is organized and broadcast by DCS World Events (DCSWE), an organization that has hosted multiple competitions of all sizes in Digital Combat Simulator for many years. Led by its knowledgeable and energetic host, M0ltar, the staff of DCSWE includes Alpha-Whiskey creating amazing short videos promoting the tournament, new staff members collecting statistics, and a revolving door of co-hosts that commentate on the action. From an entertainment perspective, the primary draw of SATAL is the team-based combat from its Diamond, Gold, and Silver leagues presented in an esports-style format. The team aircraft liveries showcased during the matches or in teaser trailers called "supercuts" invoke mental images of sports team jerseys. The particularly colorful commentary adds some fun, unpredictable dialogue to what's happening on screen. The multi-screen format used for the broadcasts provides a lot of situational awareness with screens dedicated to the Tacview universal flight analysis tool to provide an overview of the combat area and smaller windows showing the competitor's aircraft and missiles in flight. Visually a lot is going on, with the focus constantly shifting to where combat is in progress. To those with a more analytical eye that are eager to learn something, watching even a few rounds of SATAL can provide a wealth of information. Whether you fly in DCS World as an online-only player-vs-player (PVP) specialist or offline single-player campaign warrior, any information on air-to-air combat is valuable. In the case of SATAL, its viewers are presented with the opportunity to study teams of pilots well versed in aerial combat that train to fly on a competitive level. The incorporation of Tacview data and verbal explanations about what happened during or after a match further enhances the understanding of what spectators are seeing. When I was beginning my journey in learning how to fly in Digital Combat Simulator over a year ago, I referred to SATAL as a way to answer questions I had. Ideas on how to approach beyond visual range combat and samples of effective evasive maneuvers. I wanted examples of the things to do and things to avoid to help wrap my head around combat in DCS World. Because of SATAL's screen format and the forthright explanations of what is happening from the host, I felt as though years of information was casually presented to me. Wingman tactics, valid missile launch speeds and ranges for PVP combat, candid discussions about known bugs, potentially exploited bugs, introduction to concepts like "skating" while supporting a missile, notching active radar homing missiles, multiple examples of how to evade a missile while maintaining high speed, explanations of tactics like setting up a grinder and too many other things to list here. While it's easy to sit back and finger-wag the competitors for not seeing an obvious threat from the spectator's point of view, watching their mistakes and victories closely really helped build up an idea of what does and does not work in the realm of DCS dogfights. Of course, just watching SATAL isn't enough to make you an unbeatable ace, but it's a way to study towards that goal. I started watching SATAL at the start of its 2020 season and since then have seen every matchup into the start of the 2021. I strongly feel as though this is a resource that got me excited about Digital Combat Simulator and the continued refinement of my own skills. While I still primarily fly player-vs-environment (PVE) or mixed PVE-PVP strike missions, the things I learned from watching SATAL and went on to practice on my own have carried over to the sorties I've been flying. Because of this, I've frequently suggested that people watch SATAL for both entertainment and educational purposes. The Squadron Air-to-Air League continues to broadcast on Twitch with recordings of those broadcasts, supercuts, highlight reels, and new skin showcases uploaded to their YouTube channel. The official forum thread on the Eagle Dynamics forum, Twitter account and Discord server are also places that people can get involved and see the latest updates. About the Writer Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.