This is not for "pro" players but rather average players like myself who are looking to improve.
I already know the basics - camo, armour, positioning. The improvement is coming through being more aware and responsive to the battle around me. In other words.... It's all about the Minimap, Baby!
#1. Start of the Game - Where should I be?At the start of the game I have a good look at the minimap as
Is there a weaker flank I can reinforce?
Is that flank even worth reinforcing? (defending a flank solo or in a pair is usually suicidal)
Where are our top tier tanks going?
Is there somewhere I am "expected" to be (i.e. heavies in city fighting, mediums sweeping open flanks, TD camping spots, areas I need to scout as a light)
TL:DR Wait a minute, see where everyone is going, and pick a flank
Cautious Early Involvement
Now we deploy. I like to get into position to do early damage, but not at the expense of losing HP (or worse, the tank). Basically, get your gun somewhere (safe-ish) it can be shooting early.
I'd add: don't go far from friends unless you have the raw speed to get out of trouble. I'd also add a corollary: and you can fight off any tanks of equal speed. I.e. if I'm in a Tier 5 Chaffee and I see two fast Tier 6 Cromwell mediums and a Leopard on the other team, I'm not going yoloing off solo into enemy territory.
However, ask yourself: can I flee? If things go pear shaped and you find yourself heavily outnumbered and outgunned, do you have an escape route? That bush in the middle of the open fields might seem like a good spot - but it'll be hard to escape unscathed when spotted. Likewise canyons can trap you.
No yolo! Charging in (aka "suicide scouting") seldom works. Maybe 1 in 10 it comes off, you throw the enemy into disarray, kill their arty, etc; the other 90% of the time you condemn your team to being 0-1 down. Most times, you will charge into a bunch of otherwise useless enemy campers who will quickly vaporise you. The current maps are too narrow and crowded for meaningful manuevers at this stage.
Throwing Good Money After the Bad
If you see a single tank charge way off in front to fight enemies by himself, let him go. And die. Don't "help." By following him and trying to support, you have likely doomed yourself too, and hurt your team. Now your team is 0-2 down, instead of 0-1. Worse still, allies may follow you and then your flank will crumble as you go in to attack and die piecemeal. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the intellectually weakest for the greater good.
#2. Early Game - Where are they?As contacts start "bleep" and contacts pop up on the minimap, I reassess the minimap.
How many enemies have we spotted? Where are they? Where are the still-hidden tanks likely to be?
I.e. 7 enemy tanks have been spotted on the left flank, and 2 are destroyed. Setting aside the two artilleries, that means 4 unaccounted for; of which probably one is camping near their base. So we are only facing 3, maybe 4 tanks on this flank.
If you have XVM installed (which you should) you'll also know which tank has been spotted where.
TL:DR Find them, get your gun where it can shoot ASAP, but stay safe - preserve a line of retreat.
Don't lose too many HP.
#3. Mid Game - Finding the GapsOnce about half the tanks are gone, gaps will start appearing in the enemy line. By now, after looking regularly at the mini-map, you will also have a fair idea of where most of enemy team is located.
Yolo time! This is where an aggressive push often works. There are often opportunities to flank enemies - you now (hopefully) know where the weak points are. This is a great chance to get in "free damage"
If you're in a light or fast medium, you might consider a run through to their artillery. Or maybe you can get behind their main force and harass them, distracting them and relieving pressure on your team mates. If you have a more powerful tank, you may even completely break the enemy flank.
TL:DR Now is the time to seek out and find gaps, push or flank your foes. Check the minimap, think, then act decisively.
Know When to Hold Em, Know When to Fold Em
...know when to walk away, know when to run.
The mid game is also when you really notice things going pear-shaped.
When you lose tanks, and the death message appear, check the mini-map and quickly consider the big picture:
Is your flank crumbling?
Is the other flank crumbling?
If you are going to withdraw, be decisive. A slow"fighting retreat" just sees you exposed as you withdraw. Don't hang around for one last shot. Once you decide to pull out, go. That low tier medium facing three full-HP enemy top tier heavies? He's about to die anyway. Make sure his sacrifice isn't in vain. Escape, and set up somewhere you can engage the heavies on more even terms.
If you think it's time to withdraw, the time is now. Not in a minute or two when escape is impossible.
Amusingly, a team-mate gets stuck...
...and has to be pushed free. Names hidden to protect the innocent :-P
#4. End GameThis is where preserving your hitpoints early is handy. It's why I have become more selfish when retreating/sitting behind allies. Would you rather it was you, or that red WN 30 potato left fighting in the clutch stages?
I notice many blue-purple (good-great) players are rather cautious and they are usually always among those left alive at this stage. They may be "campers" and "farm damage at the expense of team mates" but they are also winners. There's a reason they do what they do.
If you have been paying attention to the minimap, you should have a fair idea where enemies are. It's why fast tanks are so dangerous - they can swap flanks, or attack/defend unpredictably. Whereas that 15kph TOG is probably is where you last saw him. Vision range is also useful here, which is why you should never throw away your light tank in a suicide mission early in the game.
If in doubt, defend cap rather than attacking. If you have XVM, you can tell who will win a race to cap and how many are on cap. This is VERY useful. Only 3 tanks count towards capping at a time, but extra tanks can be useful backup if one of the three is hit (and has its cap points reset.) Often, if there's already 3 on cap, I usually move off cap a bit where I can intercept enemies and protect the capping tanks.
GENERAL TIPSGet Comfortable in Your Tank
If you're always grinding "stock" tank to get better guns, engines and equipment - you're always driving a sub-standard tank. Likewise if you're always training up new crews, you are gimping your performance. A 80% crew has 15% lower speed, accuracy and DPM than a maxed 110% crew. If you're only playing for the "grind" and to unlock tanks, and not to have fun and blow stuff up, why are you playing the game?
A corollary to this is - get comfortable in your tier. Players often "grind" quickly to high tiers without understanding or grasping the gameplay (or learning about enemy tanks) at the lower tiers.
For example, in tier 5 I am a good player (usually one of the best ones on my team); in tier 6 I am capable, in tier 7 I am so-so, and I am outmatched in tier 8. So I confine the majority of my games to Tiers 5-6, while "learning" in Tiers 7-8.
....The Need For Speed
....Is the other flank crumbling?
This question highlights another point - the need for speed. A slow tank cannot easily withdraw, or switch flanks to support a flank, or race back to stop an enemy cap. Many game-winning strategies are simply not possible with a slow tank. Speed > Armour. Many slow tanks have great armour. Great if facing their own tier or below. But how often are you top tier? 1 in 3? When lower tier, your armour is likely to be outmatched, especially with the prevalence of gold ammo. So while armour is useful 33% of the time, speed is ALWAYS useful: 100% of the time. And speed is arguably even more useful when you are a lower tier.
Slow+ Tough: An armoured AT-2 tank destroyer, against foolish opponents, who don't know it's weak points, is almost impervious to frontal fire from equal or lower tier foes. It can chew through swarms enemies who obligingly attack it frontally in chokepoints. However once it moves to a flank, it cannot redeploy elsewhere. It's hard to "win" a game in an AT2 unless the opponents co operate. It's only tactic is a slow, frontal advance or a "back to the wall" last stand. Against higher tier foes (most of the time) it is largely neutered - the armour is negated by gold spam/better players/better guns, and its gun cannot always penetrate foes in a head-on duel. Furthermore, its lack of speed makes it an easy artillery target. It is a one-trick pony that relies on your opponents and team mates making certain choices.
Fast: A T-67 (also a tank destroyer) is a speed machine which can outrun some light tanks. It has armour weaker than a coke can - but it doesn't care. It can use its speed to flex all over the map, controlling engagements with superior vision range, fleeing unfavourable fights, and flanking with ease. It can blast across the map to support allies or reset an enemy cap. It's useful in higher tier games where its gun reliably pens when flanking and it can even be used as a pseudo-scout. You can do well regardless of your opposition or team mates.
Make Favourable Trades
If you're facing 3 enemy tanks with their guns trained on the rock you're hiding behind - why roll out and exchange 1 shot but get 3 in return? But it's amazing how many players cannot resist doing this.
They roll out, do 250 damage, get 3 x 250 damage shots in return; and are probably now tracked and mostly dead where opponents can easily finish them off.
Usually they are loath to rush you and possibly lose their precious HP, so you have time to sit behind your cover and consider you situation.
Can you retreat toward backup?
Can I use my armour? (Sidescrape > Peek-a-boom); 70d+ = nearly automatic bounce
Can I ensure I get the first shot in/can I position myself so they can't flank me if they charge?
Is there a weak tank I can finish off? (gambling on one-shotting a tank and reducing the odds to 1:2)
Do I need to pop out and shoot to discourage them from rushing me?
Remember - there's rarely a need to trade damage at a loss. Ultimately, if you and your opponents remain in situ for the rest of the game, you've just tied up 3 enemy tanks with one of yours. You can then pop out and hurt them when your team mates flank them in the end game.
"Free" Damage. This is the holy grail. Enemy tank turret facing away from you? Maybe you're in a bush out of his view range. He can't shoot back! Awesome! "Free" damage is damage you do without risk to yourself. Something for nothing - it's the best trade of all. Constantly be thinking: how can I get in position to do unanswered damage?
A corollary to this is get the first shot in. This could be done by abusing camo/vision mechanics, or simply using cover wisely. Having a first shot can damage crew/modules (making return fire less effective) and has a psychological impact on the enemy player as well. It also gets you 'one-up' if it becomes a race to trade HP.
However, if you are a heavy, I would expect to lose some HP. If you are leading the line, you will take hits for your team. You have the biggest HP pool and can lose chunks of HP with less risk, and negate hits with your armour. For example, if you are a KV-1 with an allied Crusader, you should be the one to push around the corner to fight that 105mm-toting Pz IVH. You might take 100-150 damage of your 640+; whereas the Crusader might get derped outright. A heavy that has 100% HP at the end of the game is either very skilled at angling or (more likely) has been sitting back, hiding behind mediums and lights.... ...i.e. not doing his job.
Focus Fire, Secure the Kill
I don't call it kill stealing, but kill securing. The faster an enemy gun can be put out of action, the better. Work on one enemy tank and take it out of action ASAP. This preserves your team mates precious HP. Occasionally I leave a kill for someone else (i.e. I'm in my slow loading SU-152, with 700+ damage gun, vs a enemy with 50HP and two team mates are close by) but 90% of the time, focus your fire, remove the enemy tank, and take its gun out of the game.
It's not kill stealing, it's a public service. You've made your team mates safer, sooner!
Use your minimap
Use your minimap all the time
Actually play your upgraded tanks and don't rush off to grind the next tier
Don't always rush in to help team mates in trouble
Withdrawing is a valid tactic: when you decide to do it, do it early and decisively
Don't use slow tanks; speed > armour
Don't trade damage at a loss (ie. play peek-a-boo with superior enemy forces)
Focus fire & kill steal - take out the enemy gun ASAP
These are not hard-and-fast rules (I can think of lots of exceptions) but are good general guidelines which have improved my play ~50%. I'm trying to widen my horizons from managing my tank (tunnel vision), to managing the entire battle (tactical awareness). The key is the minimap. Did I mention that already?