What does "meta" mean in gaming? Explained
What does “meta” mean in gaming?
Meta is a term used to describe the strongest strategy or playstyle currently available in a game. It’s often a combination of the right weapons & armor, tactics, and character build that high-level players have found to be especially effective. Many players choose to follow the meta to give them an upper hand when competing against others or progressing through a game’s story. There are a number of factors that influence a game’s meta, and it’s common for these to change regularly over time.
What can change a game’s meta?
Many things shape a game’s meta. The most significant of these are changes to characters or weapons — when the developers either make them stronger (known as "buffing") or weaker ("nerfing"). This can make players change strategies, thus shaking up the meta.
New characters and items change the meta too. The “go-to” weapon before an update might get dethroned by something else, or the character class previously seen as strongest might be weak against one of the new characters. The arrival of more characters can also create powerful new pairings. While it might previously have been a weak strategy to play Character A, people may learn that Character A and B together are a very effective team.
When a game is first released, its meta tends to change quickly and often — especially in competitive titles. This is because everyone has the same knowledge base. Once higher-level players get their bearings, though, they’ll start to use smarter, stronger, and better tactics for different game modes. It’s then up to the rest of the player base to follow along with this (the meta) or find their own style.
Does meta stand for "most effective tactics available"?
You might’ve heard that meta stands for "most effective tactics available”, but this isn’t the case. “Most effective tactics available” is actually a backronym created to fit the word meta after it was already being used — not the other way around.
Where can I learn the meta for the game(s) I play?
The best way for you to learn the current meta of a game is through Google. Head to the search bar and enter “your favorite game meta”. It’s important to add any other relevant info to your query, like your class or playstyle. If you play World of Warcraft as a Holy Paladin, for example, your meta is going to be very different to someone playing an Elemental Shaman. So be specific with your search, and you’ll find a guide that’s right for your playstyle.
The quality of these guides is nearly always high, but make sure you pick an up-to-date video or article. It’s frustrating when you follow a build only to find out it’s not been a viable strategy for several years. Include the current month and year in your search to prevent this.
Is the meta ever different in esports?
We’ve explained what a meta is and what shapes it, but it doesn’t always stay consistent at every level of competition. In esports—which is competitive gaming in a tournament or league structure—there are sometimes restrictions in place that prevent players from following the meta. If a tournament organizer deems a certain item, character, or strategy to be OP (overpowered), they might ban the use of it in their events. Esports pros then must adapt the meta to factor in these restrictions.
Sometimes, professional players set up a gentlemen's agreement (GA) to “unofficially” ban items from competition if the meta is too unbalanced. GAs aren’t enforced by tournament operators, so it’s entirely up to the players on whether or not these agreements are followed.
One notable GA was when Call of Duty pros agreed between each other not to use the XM4 assault rifle in last year’s Black Ops: Cold War season, as it was overpowered to the point where every single player ran the same loadout. This one change allowed for a more diverse choice of weapons and—in turn—a more varied and entertaining season.
You now know what a meta is in gaming! If you’re looking to use this in your own playstyle, remember to research the current meta of your game, class, and build, and we’re sure you’ll notice the difference it makes.