PvP isn't only for MMORPGs. Most of us have an RTS that is very near and dear to our hearts. We've created empires, exterminated billions of little digital people, and had laughs all around doing it. Some of you have never played that RTS online, most likely for one reason: You're fed your own buttocks. The fork isn't even clean. So here's a quick primer for those of you who can use some advice. First, as usualy, the terminology.
Situational Awareness: Always, always, always have scouts all over the map, or observation units. Whatever it takes to see everything you can. At the barest MINIMUM, make sure you can see far down every avenue of approach to your critical areas. Situational Awareness isn't relegated to defensive actions only. See Blindside below.
Build order: Most hardcore online RTSers have a "Build order" laid out with mathmatical precision. The purpose of a build order is to produce the most offensive capability in the shortest amount of time. If you take your time, you will die.
"The Rush": Also known as "Zerg tactics" after Starcraft. Very effective against "City builders". This tactic involves building a small, but effective fighting force at the earliest possible moment, and sending them out to kill you enemy before they can get firmly established.
"City building": A purely defensive role, used to create a heavily fortified defensive position that your enemy cannot penetrate. Defensive structures abound. The end-game for this strategy is using your superior economy and technology to overcome your foes, usually very late in the game.
Sniping: Fabian tactics. This involves chipping away at your enemies force or base of operations, then fading away before you accumulate significant casualties. Think guerilla warfare. Best used against someone with a superior force. You may be delaying the inevitable, here, but you'll sure piss them off before you die.
Ambush: Trick your enemy into thinking you're weaker than you actually are by attacking with a small force. Get him to chase you back to your main element, then hit him with superior numbers. This tactic can turn the tide of a fight if done right. Artillery works wonders in many games. See blindsiding below.
Blindside: Your enemy's attention is turned elsewhere. Might as well hit him before he can properly respond. Use a very mobile force to harass a stronger foe while he's out pummeling someone else. See situational awareness.
Choke: Just about every RTS out there demands you collect a resource in order to keep going. Find these resources, memorize where they are on the map, and grab every one you can, as often as you can. Many times you can end a match before it has even started simply by controlling a dominating number of resource locations. This will let you outproduce your enemy. Remember, numbers help overcome lack of tactical ability.
You've got a basic idea, now, how to act online in a game. Practice is key here. Memorize the most commonly used maps. Play people much better than you, and record the games if you can. See what they did and when they did it. Forums again, forums are your friend. Many times people will discuss build orders, strategies, maps, et cetera. Let me give you an example of my own experience, here.
The game is Homeworld. First one. I thought I was good. Single player on the hardest mode was nothing to me. I went online and got torn to tiny little bits. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong! No matter what I did, the enemy had better tech, better ships, and more of everything. Finally, I ran afoul of one of the highest ranked ladder people. I happened to record that match, and watched it later. I still have it on my old hard drive somewhere. I watched the entire battle, many, MANY times, but from HIS viewpoint. I saw what he was doing that I did not. Finally I managed to put together a respectable build order, and went at it again. I did much better the next game, after following the build order I'd written out. I still lost, mind you. Build orders aren't everything. I was out-maneuvered. The third game after, though, I will remember until the day I die. It went down like this.
Three player free for all. I got my build order going, and as soon as I had the resources and time, I constructed about ten probes. I spaced them all around me, and two each for the other player's starting postions. Enemy number one had a force comparable to mine. The second enemy's force was miniscule. It reminded me of how I used to do things. He immediately got cocky with me, and blew up my probes. "Do it again, I'll take my fleet over there and @#$@#$... ect, ect, ect." Well, enemy two is now target number one. After I was up to a decent fighting force, I went over there and ate him alive. I stole a good number of his ships, while taking minimal losses. Ships that were near death I either repaired or recycled. End result, most of my fleet is intact, I got some of his frigates, and he's seriously miffed. This took about half an hour. Hrm, I thought. What's enemy #1 been up to while I was gone?
I found out after my probes arrived. Mister silent type had been building the entire time. His fleet was about double mine. I was in trouble. Worse, resources on the map were scant. I would be unable to shore up my numbers before the fighting broke out. I'd have to pare down his force to even stand a chance. My problem was compounded when enemy #2, who had stuck around, started telling enemy #1 everything I was doing. So much for the element of suprise. I'd be doing no sniping or ambushes here. He divided his force into two sphere formations. One he sent towards my mothership. The second he left at his. Either were capable of crippling my meager force. I was still racking my brain when I noticed he decided to send his second sphere as well. His mothership was alone.
I immediately teleported my carrier over to his mothership. I used it to slowly chip away at his ship, while building bombers to add to the damage. When they ran out of ammo, I had them suicide by crashing into his mothership. Damage inflicted was slow, but accumulating. His two spheres kept coming. Finally, I had to act. His first sphere loomed into sight of my mothership. I had at best a minute before it would come under fire. I had just enough resources to teleport it somewhere. But where? I did the math in my head. Even if I sent it all the way to the other side of the map, it wouldn't be enough time for me to get his mothership with my carrier. I had to do something else.
I decided to hyperspace my mothership over to his, to add to my carrier's meager firepower. While plotting the trajectory, I thought, what would happen if I hyperspaced it right into his mothership? Well, no time like the present to find out. I sent my mothership into hyperspace and waited. Mister silent type spoke for the first time. "You're just delaying the inevitable." Them my mothership dropped out of hyperspace at his. For the moment, there was only the coming-out-of-hyperspace blue rectangle animation. Then suddenly a huge explosion! BOTH of our motherships had detonated, along with my carrier that had been too close. Apparently my foe hadn't had carriers himself, since the match immediately ended. A DRAW.
Sometimes, taking a draw from certain defeat is victory enough. One game I wish I had recorded.