Disclosure: this guide was written shortly after I unlocked Solo Champion following the incomplete GRAW leaderboard reset that happened on 11-November, 2010. Since writing this solution I have unlocked Team Champion and provided a nearly identical guide for that achievement.
To earn this achievement you must rise to #1 on the Solo leaderboard. Expect this to take a very, very long time--most likely in excess of 100 hours. You will need 2 Gold accounts (your primary plus a boost account) or a patient boosting partner to get this achievement. You will also need to understand how the leaderboards work so you can avoid mistakes that slow or stop your progress. Below I will explain how the leaderboards work and outline a basic strategy to earn this achievement using a boost account. I will also offer suggestions for how to improve upon the basic strategy and answer a few questions that I had while going for this achievement.
Basic Strategy Summarized
GRAW offers two categories of multiplayer games--Team and Solo. To rise to Solo #1 you need to win enough Ranked matches in any combination of Solo game types to pass the current #1 on the leaderboard. You can play any Solo game type, including custom types that you create. It does not seem to matter how many different types of Solo games you play because your leaderboard position appears to be based on a combined total of overall "points" in all Solo types (I explain my "points" theory below in the section titled How the Team / Solo Leaderboards Work).
Unfortunately, rising up the leaderboard is not as simple as just playing Solo games without ever losing. You will need to alternate between streaks of winning Solo games and losing Team games to continue making progress. This is required because of the rank system in the leaderboards, which I will describe in greater detail in the section titled The Importance of De-Ranking. For now, just accept the following gameplan as the basic strategy for getting your achievement:
1. Continue winning Ranked matches in any Solo game type until you outrank your opponent by 4 numbers.
2. Switch to a Team game type and lose matches to your boost account until it outranks you by 4 numbers.
3. Switch back to a Solo game type and resume at step #1, repeating until you reach the top of the leaderboard and unlock your achievement!
Note: the process of ranking up against an opponent 4 levels higher than you until you are 4 levels higher, then deranking again until you are 4 levels lower is called a cycle. Cycles are a convenient measure to approximate the amount of effort required to rise to the top of the leaderboard. It takes approximately 6 hours to complete a single cycle of ranking up and down 4 levels using two accounts and playing optimal games.
Note: If you finish games too quickly they may not count. See the section titled Playing Optimal Games for tips on how to run matches so that your progress is as efficient as possible.
Tip: Play with a friend to help each other out
If you're fortunate enough to know someone else who needs the Team achievement and is commited enough to stick it out to the end, you can both work toward your achievements at the same time. The Team leaderboard works exactly like the Solo leaderboard, only in reverse. While you de-rank in Team games, your friend will be ranking up and moving up on the Team leaderboard. Then, when you rank up in Solo, you will be helping your friend to de-rank.
How the Team / Solo Leaderboards Work
Unfortunately, it is not clear exactly how the leaderboards work, because very little information is actually available on the leaderboard. All you can see is your position (you are trying to reach position #1) and level, which is your rank. Most of what is known about the leaderboards is guesswork based on observations.
Fortunately, because I played GRAW just after the leaderboard reset, I was able to observe a lot of interesting things that gave me insight into how the boards work. For example, I observed that while winning against opponents ranked higher than me I would often rise quickly up the leaderboards, but while winning against lower-ranked opponents I would sometimes be passed by others. I also counted the number of games it took each time my rank or my opponent's changed over the course of a complete cycle and found something very interesting: the number of games it takes to rank up once then derank back to the same state appears to be roughly constant and close to 40. For instance, it only takes about 10 games to rank from a 12 vs a 16 to a 13 vs a 15, but it takes about 30 games to derank from 13v15 back to 12v16.
Based on my observations, my theory is that the Solo and Team leaderboards are based on an underlying points system. I think the number of points from one rank to the next may be roughly constant, but the number of points you earn for any given game depends on the level (and number) of your opponents. It makes sense that you would earn more points for defeating players ranked much higher than you, and also that you would earn fewer points for defeating opponents ranked lower than you. This points-system theory is consistent with my observation that I seemed to move up the leaderboard quickly at first while playing fewer games against a higher-ranked opponent, then more slowly while playing more games against lower-ranked opponents.
There is an important limit in the ranking system: games vs. an opponent whose rank differs from your by more than 4 will not count!. For example, a 12 beating a 16 will count and will earn a lot of points. However, an 8 beating a 3 will not count.
For the Solo / Team leaderboards, your actual rank does not seem to matter as much as the difference in rank from your opponents. As far as I could tell, a person cycling between ranks 6 and 10 will climb up the leaderboard just as quickly as someone cycling between 12 and 16. You can reach #1 on the Solo leaderboard at any rank.
Note: It is possible to exploit the points system to accelerate your progress somewhat if you have more than one xbox and several extra accounts. This idea is discussed further in the Suggested Improvements section.
The Importance of De-Ranking
It can be tempting to try to work toward the Universal leaderboard achievement at the same time as this one. You might think that you could simply win Solo games and never lose in Team, and that way you would never lose rank and you would be making fast-as-possible progress toward World Champion. However, this approach is not as helpful as you might expect. Here are a few reasons why:
1. It takes time to rank up your opponents
As you continue to win games, your rank will increase and your opponent's rank will decrease. Eventually you will become 4 ranks higher than your opponent and your games will no longer count. If you decide not to derank, your only other option is to rank up your opponents. To do so, you will need more accounts and more time. The more you rank up, the more difficult it will become to rank your opponents up to your level or higher. It won't take long before the you're spending vastly more time ranking up your opponents than you're spending on moving yourself up the Solo leaderboard.
2. You need to play opponents ranked higher than yourself for best progress
Suppose you do keep ranking up. There is a maximum rank of 25, which means that by the time you reach rank 22 it will become impossible to play opponents ranked 4 levels higher than you. Your progress towards Solo #1 will gradually slow down. Above 20 it also gets tougher to rank up accounts, meaning it will take longer to create opponents for your main account. I cannot recommend going for the World Champion achievement at the same time as this one--it is best to go after each of the 3 leaderboard achievements one at a time.
3. You'll never reach Solo #1 before you max out your rank
It took me 20+ cycles to reach Solo #1--that's ranking up 80+ times. Without deranking I would have been just over 1/4 of the way done by the time I maxed out my rank.
Q: But won't losing a lot of games in Team make it more difficult to get the Team Champion achivement?
A: No! The leaderboards seem to be based on a points system, and there is a "zero" level that you cannot drop below. After 20+ cycles of deranking in Team to earn Solo Champion, I rose from the bottom of the leaderboard (about #960) to #120 in less than 24 hours. My losses did not seem to slow my progress towards Team Champion at all!
Playing Optimal Games
If you finish games too quickly they may not count. Games must last about one minute total to guarantee they are recorded correctly. It might be that the servers record games with a minute-accurate timestamp, and if you complete a second game with the same timestamp as your last, then you will lose one of the games. Although nothing will tell you whether your game counted or not, it is possible to observe the problem of dropped games indirectly. First, play a complete cycle with one-minute games and count the number of games it takes each time one player's rank changes. Then, play a second cycle with very fast games you will notice that it takes more games for ranks to change.
Tip: Turn on the Auto-Launch timer
You do not need to run the match time down for a whole minute--in fact, it might be that games are recorded on the server between matches. If you turn on the 30-second auto-launch timer and let it count all the way down each time, then you can end your matches after 30 seconds of game time. You can find the Auto-Launch timer under the Advanced Options menu. I ran 5-minute matches and ended them when the clock hit 4:30, then let the Auto-Launch count down the entire 30 seconds between matches. I found this method to be very quick and consistent.
Q. How should I set up / end my matches?
A. In general, you want to play a type of game that is very easy to end quickly. That way you can keep an eye on the clock so you don't end your game prematurely, then move quickly to end the game when the time is right. There's not any one correct answer to how to set up your games, but here are a few suggestions:
- Choose a smaller map that you are familiar with (or find easy to navigate).
- Territory type, Custom; Set a single Center Zone, Victory = 5 points. Simply step into the Zone when the time is right and 5 seconds later you win the match
- Respawns = off; Find your second account and kill it. This might take some time if playing by yourself, but might be a nice way to stay entertained if boosting with another person.
- Suicide method: I have been told (but have not verified) that matches will count if the losing player drops a grenade at his own feet.
Auto-Playing Team Games
If you are using a second account on the same XBox as your main profile, it is possible to set up Team games to run on their own. Although auto-playing games is generally quite a bit slower than playing them yourself, you will be able to de-rank yourself while sleeping or away.
To set up auto-play, follow these settings:
Mode = Team Territory
Type = Custom
- Respawns = Off
- Zone Control = Capture
- Helicopters = On
- Zone = 1 Base
- Scoring = Capture All
- Victory = Time
Map = Desert Gulch / Rocky Cove (any small map with open skies)
Time = 5 Minutes
Advanced Settings = [as listed, only important settings are shown]
- Number of Players = 2 (actual number of players so nobody else joins)
- Team Start Location = Standard (players 1 & 3 win) or Swapped (players 2 & 4 win)
- Auto-Launch Timer = 30 Seconds
- Game Start Timer = Off
- Drones = None
- Lock Room = Yes
- Map Rotation = Same
- Map Plays = 1
These settings will create an "Attack and Defend" style game. The defending team will spawn in the base zone, and the helicopter will attempt to kill the attacking team. If at least 30 seconds have elapsed and the helicopter kills at least one member of the attacking team, then the defending team scores a victory.
As long as all the players are on the same XBox the Team Start Location setting will make the teams the same game after game. If you are playing over XBox Live, you will not be able to determine which team is defending, so auto-play will not work.
The basic strategy I've outlined here is about as good as it gets with two accounts and one box. You can auto-play Team games to make progress while you're away from your box, and you can play Team games yourself to speed up your progress somewhat while you're around. Doing better will require more accounts.
While working on Solo, I had accounts at ranks 8, 12 and 16. In the evening I would rank my main account up to 16, then I would set it to de-rank against my level 12 account overnight. In the morning my main would be 12 and my other account would be 16. I would then set up my main to lose to my level 8 account and go to work. By the time I got home my main account would be completely de-ranked. Although two sessions of ranking and de-ranking in a row doesn't get you to #1 any faster than playing one cycle at a time, it can help you to work around your schedule and possibly get in more cycles in a day that you would otherwise accomplish.
You can take advantage of Team auto-play to reduce the number of games you have to play yourself. Since auto-play is not as efficient as playing games yourself, this will slow your overall progress somewhat, but you'll get more done without touching the controller.
Let's suppose you're cycling between 11 and 15. Start by de-ranking your account completely (lose in Team until you are ranked 11 and your boost account is 15). Now switch to Solo and start winning. It will only take about 25 games or so until both accounts are 13. Instead of playing out the rest of the cycle, switch back to Team and let the games auto-play until you are completely deranked again.
Normally, it will take you about 2 hours to rank up 4 times for a complete cycle. With this approach you'll only play for about one hour (two sessions of about 30 minutes each) to rank up 4 times across two half-cycles. Since it takes so many games to derank, this will not help you to complete cycles any faster than normal. However, this approach is a good way to work with limited gaming time or get more work done without actually playing.
If you do happen to have more accounts and more than one XBox, you can take advantage of the fact that playing against accounts 4 ranks apart from you will change your rank much more quickly than playing against the same account for the whole cycle.
The idea is simple: as much as possible, de-rank against accounts that are 4 ranks lower than you, then rank against accounts that are 4 ranks higher than you. Since it takes about 10 games to move one rank like this, and each game takes roughly a minute, you could complete one cycle in a little more than 80 minutes (instead of 6 hours) if you had enough accounts sitting at the right ranks.
The only "problem" with this approach is that the other accounts in your accelerated cycle will rank up and down just as quickly as you, and when you're done they won't be the correct ranks to do another accelerated cycle. However, if you have more than one XBox you can use your extra boxes to fix the ranks on your "acceleration" accounts while you continue doing regular cycles with your main profile and a second on your main box.
The best way to set up the acceleration accounts depends a great deal on exactly how many accounts and boxes you have at your disposal, so I won't go into great detail. In general, keep an up-to-date list of your accounts and their ranks so you know which accounts should play which others. Refer to other sources to learn about building a "ladder" (this should be discussed in various solutions for the Universal leaderboard's World Champion achievement). That will help you to figure out how to rank your accounts to where you want them.
Please post any questions or suggestions as Comments here. I will attempt to answer questions and can add anything that I might have missed to the solution.
Best of luck!