The [School of Hard Knocks] is a relatively straightforward Children’s Week holiday achievement: perform 4 tasks in the battlegrounds of Azeroth while your impressionable orphan ward is watching. Welcome to the World of Warcraft, kid!
This is also the holiday achievement that causes the most stress to non-PvPers. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it’s the most hated achievement in the entire What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been meta-achievement – hated more passionately than all the RNG-dependent ones, or any of the other achievements which brings players into the battlegrounds. It is hated because it’s the only achievement in the series that requires you to complete battleground objectives during a fight. You have to play the battlegrounds to complete it.
If you don’t PvP, I completely understand how intimidating this can be. The School of Hard Knocks takes you into an unfamilliar activity which you don’t like doing and asks you to compete against your fellow teammates while other players actively try to kill you. The environment is strange, your teammates may vocally resent your presence, and you are competing with other achievement seekers for the same goal.
When you put it that way, School of Hard Knocks can seem like a nightmare.
But you can do it.
I’m not going to patronize you and say “oh, this is easy!” The School of Hard Knocks is not easy if you don’t know what you’re doing. Heck, it’s not trivial even if you do know what you’re doing! It takes a good attitude, preparation, research, and a willingness to fail. Sometimes, to fail repeatedly.
But with planning and perseverance, you can get the job done and impress the heck out of your orphan. And yourself, too.
Ready? Let’s begin.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
The most important thing about this achievement is to ALWAYS have your orphan out when in the battlegrounds. Put the orphan whistle on your action bars and make sure that orphan sees everything. You don’t want to accomplish a goal and then discover you forgot to summon your orphan, and got no credit as a consequence.
Behind every die-hard PvPer there was once a new player who stumbled around the battlegrounds, blinking in total confusion. Don’t let any of the nerdrage you hear in /bg convince you otherwise — it’s okay to not know what you’re doing when you first zone in. It takes at least a few runs for the map and objectives to make sense, and a few more before you can really start contributing to a battleground.
So my first suggestion is to visit the battlegrounds before the Children’s Week holiday begins and scout them out. Don’t worry about accomplishing anything, don’t fight if you don’t want to, but get in there and figure out where things are. Where is the flag in Eye of the Storm? How does flag running and flag returns work in Warsong Gulch? Where are the towers and bunkers in Alterac Valley, and how do I climb up them?
If you take nothing else away from this post, please take this advice. Get familiar with the battlegrounds before you are under pressure to do something with them. While videos can help, there is no substitute for having run your virtual self over the course, so when the time comes and you are actually competing with others to finish, you will already have the edge of knowing what to do.
The second basic suggestion is to come to terms with dying in a battleground. I’ve seen some excellent PvE players really struggle with this; it can be a very personal hurdle for some to overcome. If you are used to raiding, where death means someone (sometimes you) failed to do their job correctly, the frequency of PvP death can be not only alarming, but a personal indictment of failure. It’s not.
PvP deaths aren’t personal. Sometimes – often, even – there was nothing you could do about it. Shrug it off and move on. There’s no repair bill, there’s no xp penalty, just a loss of buffs and a 30 second timeout. Learn from it, yes – but don’t let it get you down.
I’m passably good at PvP, and I die a lot. Like, an average of 12 times a day. Don’t sweat death.
My third suggestion is that you don’t need gimmicks to complete this achievement. You don’t need a premade or collusion with the opposite faction in order to do these achievements. Really, you don’t. Stories of dancing flagrooms and coordinated tower recaps are all well and good, but they’re gimmicks.
What you do need is planning and perseverance. Don’t give up. Keep trying. You can do this.
Let’s go take a look at the individual battlegrounds to show you how.
ARATHI BASIN: ASSAULT A FLAG
Arathi Basin is an easy one to start with. Each node has a clickable flag at it that represents control of the node. If the flag is gray with no logo, the node is unclaimed, gray with a logo, the node has been assaulted and will be claimed soon, and a colored flag indicates the node is controlled.
Your goal is to find either an unclaimed node, or a node that the other faction has assaulted or controls, and click on the flag. Assaulting the flag is an 8 second channel, so you can be interrupted by defenders.
The simplest way to assault a flag is to ride to the closest node – Stables for Alliance, Farm for Horde – and capture that flag. This often involves competing with several other players during a normal battle, and doubly so during Children’s Week, so it involves some fast reflexes and planning.
If the competition at the closest node is too much, ditch to one of the side nodes – Lumber Mill or Gold Mine. If you’re consistently losing at Stables/Farm, stop trying for them and go for LM/GM immediately instead. Depending on the opponent’s strategy, you may encounter no resistance at all in the first rush.
Finally, if you lose out at the two side nodes, you can ride straight to the node closest to the enemy’s base – Alliance go to Farm, Horde go to Stables – and try to capture that.
If you fail in the inital rush, don’t give up. Nodes change hands all the time in Arathi Basin, so you will have plenty of chances to assault bases. Use the map to scout out which bases are under enemy control, then look for ones that are lightly defended. (Or not defended at all!) Stick with others, don’t pick a fight in the road, stay and defend nodes that are taken.
The one place I don’t recommend you go for the achievement (at least not if you don’t like PvP) is the Blacksmith. Let me repeat that: do not go for the Blacksmith if you are at all PvP averse. The BS is seen as the critical node for most Arathi Basin strategies, so it is usually hotly contested throughout the match.
Here’s a map of Arathi Basin, with your target’s priority noted for both Horde (in red) and Alliance (in blue).
So for the Horde, it’s Farm -> Lumber Mill / Gold Mine -> Stables -> Blacksmith. For Alliance, it’s Stables -> Lumber Mill / Gold Mine -> Farm -> Blacksmith.
There are a few tricks that can help you rush a flag. Mount and start running against the gate before it opens. Aim at the flag but be near the center when the gate opens to get out quickly. When you approach the flag, have your mouse free for clicking – I switch to keyboard driving in those last few seconds. And spam your clicks until the channel starts! Don’t just click once.
Here’s a video with an example of Alliance taking Stables (the easy way) and Farm (the harder way.)
Ride hard and click fast!
ALTERAC VALLEY: ASSAULT A TOWER
So now that you know how to assault a node in Arathi Basin, it’s time to move on to the frozen battlefield of Alterac Valley.
Your job is to assault one of the four towers or bunkers before anyone else gets there first. The towers (and bunkers, I use them interchangeably) have flags at their top level that need to be clicked. The towers do not change ownership like nodes in Arathi Basin; instead, once they have spent 4 minutes being contested, the towers are destroyed. They can be defended before they are destroyed, which allows the possibility of trading assaults, but in most battles this just doesn’t happen. You should proceed with the idea that you have 4 shots to assault a tower each AV, and after that it’s time to farm honor. So be ready to run AV a few times before you get the achievement credit.
There are four towers: two on the far side of the Field of Strife (a large open plain in the center of the map), and two clustered near the enemy leader at the far end of the map.
If you are Alliance, you will start at the top of the map and need to ride south to reach Iceblood Tower (blue 1), Tower Point (2), and the two Frostwolf Towers (3). Horde start at the south end of the map and ride north to Stonehearth Bunker (red 1), Icewing Bunker (2), and the two Dun Baldar Bunkers (3).
The location of the towers dictates the three strategies you can adopt.
- Closest tower first, then rollover. Ride hard to the closest tower (1: Iceblood Tower/Stonehearth Bunker) and try to get it first. If it’s taken, move to the next (2), then the final two (3). This method has a lot of competition but has some resiliency built in – you give yourself 4 chances, and you might get lucky on any given one of them. The drawback is that your chances on the subsequent tries are lowered because of the time you spent at the previous towers.
- Ride straight to the second tower (2: Tower Point/Icewing Bunker) and capture it, ride on to the end if you fail. I like this option because it has less competition than the closest tower, but only delays you a little on your way to the final two targets. The delay is less because these two towers are along your riding path to the enemy base, while the closest ones are not.
- Ride straight to the enemy fortress and capture the towers (3) there. I like this option a lot, but you have to know your route well and be able to check the map to see where your competition is not. You have to choose your target as you leave the bottlenecks (3: East/West Frostwolf Towers, North/South Dun Baldar Bunkers) and you only get one shot. There is no recovery if you choose wrong; you have to try again next battle. So while it’s risky, it also has a very good chance of success.
No matter which method you choose, there are some preparations you should make.
- First, practice getting up the tower stairs. Horde have it a little easier here, as bunkers are less dizzying than towers to climb quickly, but both sides need to practice.
- Second, running speed is everything. Make sure you have speed enchants on your boots and Swiftness potions on hand – and practice climbing towers with both active! Unlike AB, where most movement is mounted, AV assaults have an unmounted component so speed boosts will help. (Dont forget to practice with the speed boosts active, or you will launch yourself off the stairs.)
- Third, practice running the map. See where people go in the pack to find all the little tricks of terrain that confer an advantage, and use them! Your goal is speed, and lots of it. Every second counts. I’ve included some videos below to show some of them, but there is nothing like practicing yourself.
- Fourth, practice fast mounting out of the cave. Unlike AB or EotS, you can’t start mounted. You need to move slightly out of the cave and start mounting. That initial mount will either put you at the head of the pack (and in a good position for the nearest tower) or the middle (better to go longer.) The way to do this well is run just past where the rock ends and the normal ground begins and mount up.
Alterac Valley is big. REALLY big. And it has an asymmetrical map — the Horde and Alliance have very different experiences in AV — so I went ahead and recorded two videos to help familiarize you with the terrain and show how this all works in practice, one from each faction’s perspective.
Here’s an Alliance-side tour:
And here’s the Horde-side tour:
Alterac Valley can be a lot of fun, but with 39 other players shooting for 4 towers, this task is a bit more challenging than Arathi Basin. But it’s still pretty easy compared to the next two.
On to Outland and Eye of the Storm.
EYE OF THE STORM: CAPTURE THE FLAG
Eye of the Storm is a mixture of Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin, with four bases (one on each corner) and a flag in the middle. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to take that flag and capture it at one of the bases your side controls. You control a base by having enough people of your faction hang around there long enough to capture it.
If you’ve never been here before, the map is straightforward:
The black squares are the 4 nodes you can control: Mage Tower, Fel Reaver Ruin, Blood Elf Tower, and Draenei Ruins. The white circle is the flag in the center of the battleground.
There are really only two ways to get this achievement.
- Grab the flag yourself and run it to the base. This is pretty straightforward, if somewhat hectic.
- Guard a base, have someone else on your team grab the flag and run it to you, but you capture the flag. This requires you to communicate with your teammates, and for them to cooperate with you. The runner takes the flag almost to the base you control and drops it; you pick it up and capture it.
The first method is relatively straightforward. Go to the middle of the map, fight off the enemy, and grab the flag as soon as it spawns. Then run like the wind to the nearest friendly base you control.
The second method relies more upon your powers of persuasion. Let people know in BG chat that you are here for the achievement, and that you want to cap the flag but would rather defend a base. Ask if flag runners will let you cap it. Many will. Whisper them when they pick it up where you are at and let them know if your base is clear.
Here’s where working together with other people will really pay off. Guildmates, server mates, friends you quested with back in the day — if you can go in as a group you can focus on spreading around the flag captures until everyone has one.
The biggest problem with this achievement is that the flag is noob bait. It can help you win Eye of the Storm, but the better strategy is to take 3 of the 4 bases and hold them while letting your opponents run the flag to try to catch up. (Hint: it doesn’t work.)
What often happens, as Ihra describes so eloquently, is that the battle sometimes settles into each side holding 2 bases and fighting in a swirling fight over the flag in the center of the map. If you’re PvP averse, your best bet at that point is to hold one of the bases and adopt the second strategy (asking someone else to let you cap it.)
Here’s how it looks in practice:
There’s really no secret recipe for this task, just persistence, perseverance, and tenacity. Keep at it until you get the flag, and then run like the wind. Your orphan will keep up!
WARSONG GULCH: RETURN A DROPPED FLAG
The Warsong Gulch achievement sounds quite hard, but is easy if you play the battle as intended. Your task is simple — return your flag to your base once an enemy has dropped it. Normally, this is done by killing the enemy flag carrier (EFC), which makes them drop it. But there are all sorts of gimmicky plans to let the enemy take the flag, point to your orphan, and have them drop it repeatedly, and you know what?
I hate to say it, but sometimes those gimmicks work. Because Warsong Gulch is the smallest battleground, with only 10 players per side, your chance of getting a premade like that is actually pretty high.
I try to always talk about the battlegrounds as they are, not as I’d like them to be. And the likelihood of you finding an easy WSG during Children’s Week is good. But if you don’t, and you find yourself chasing the EFC all over the map, let me give you some tips on how to get that flag back.
The first is that you have to know where they are going before you can catch them. Your map helps immensely here, since your flag will show up on it. By watching it you can learn where they have gone.
There are three common escape patterns for the EFC — the roof, the flag room (FR), and the graveyard (GY). Each has characteristics you can pick up on the map with a little bit of practice.
First, the roof:
The roof is the best initial defensive position for the EFC. From the roof there is only one entrance and two very large escape paths, as well as a quick route to a flag capture. Most EFCs go to the roof first.
There are two ways to spot a roof runner: the little bend they make as they run up the hill to the roof (which looks like a ? or a shepherd’s crook) and that they tend to hug the front side of the base. The bend is the easiest to spot, since the only time someone runs in that area they are going up to the roof. There is no other reason to go there.
Second up is the flag room, or the FR. Some runners like to hide in the little room in the corner for protection, others like to be ready for an instant cap by standing on the flag spawn point. There are three ways into the FR, as so:
As they approach their base, they will either go straight up the tunnel (the entrance is that funny structure in the middle of the map) or up the ramp on the side, which means they will pass in a wide curve in front of the structure. These are called out as “EFC going tun” and “EFC going ramp.”
The tunnel is a straight shot into the flag room — just watch and make sure they don’t peel off to go up to the roof. The ramp offers two entrances, one to the second level, and one to the ground level. The quickest way is to turn immediately up to the second level entrance, which has a very straight pattern when you’re watching it on the map. If they veer off to the side, they’re going onto the ground floor.
No matter which level they’re on, the EFC in the FR usually hugs the back wall. If they’re along the edge of the map in their base, they’re probably in the FR.
Experienced flag carriers will often retreat to the Graveyard when trouble strikes. This puts them right in the resurrection vector of all their team’s reinforcements, as well as being defensible with a good escape route down to midfield. The resurrection vectors favor the defense here; your casualties will be sent across the map, while theirs from all over the map will be sent in as reinforcements.
If that’s not bad enough, there are three ways the EFC can escape: out to midfield, out the ramp, and out along the fence. Midfield runners can be especially dangerous if they can get back to the tunnel, or meet up with other forces down at midfield. Ramp runners are usually the easiest to kill, since they chose a bottleneck where your midfield reinforcements can trap them. Fence runners are experienced and you’re going to have to chase them down before they either run out to midfield, drop into the tunnel, or climb out on the tunnel roof and heal.
Here’s a video giving a tour of the battleground, showing the layout of the map, how to find the EFC, how to return a flag, and (as a special bonus) how to capture the flag.
Okay, is your mind spinning yet? Because now that you’ve found the EFC, you have to kill them.
The best way to kill an EFC is to bring a lot of your friends and gang up on ‘em. The problem is that those friends are likely going to be trying to return the flag too (unless they’re really your friends, and they know you’re there for the achievement.) So there’s competition, but just watch the EFC’s health, and be ready to click on the flag when it drops. Eventually you’ll get it.
The other way to kill an EFC is to take them out on your own. Make sure to disable any healers who could be healing the EFC, and then focus on countering their moves while burning down their health. I’m unqualified to give class-specific PvP advice for the majority of the classes in Warcraft, so I won’t even try. If you are having trouble with this task, try dueling with some friends to get used to individual combat. But keep in mind some EFCs are practically unkillable without help.
As for the rest of the strategy? I will point you to Gnomeaggedon’s great WSG guide, Midfield is Not An Objective.
BE A GOOD GUEST
One of the biggest problems with the School of Hard Knocks and other achievements like it is that they bring people into battlegrounds with goals wildly different from the primary goal of the match – namely, winning. Be it honor farming or achievement chasing, players actively working at cross-purposes to winning is the bane of battleground players everywhere. This strife between those who are there for the PvP versus those who are there for the achievements can be a large contributor to the stress around this holiday (on both sides).
It’s odd, because the School of Hard Knocks is actually not that bad for winning battlegrounds, as achievements go. While running the flag in Eye of the Storm is not an ideal strategy, it’s at least actively contributing to victory, and all the other tasks are helpful to any strategy. There are other holiday achievements where you do nothing to help win (I Pitied The Fool) or have bad strategy (With a Little Helper from My Friends). Heck, there are plenty of PvP achievements guilty of that sin! (Hint: anything that requires you to fire a turret gun in Strand of the Ancients is bad strategy.)
So listen: you don’t have anything to apologize for by queueing for a battleground for this achievement. It’s a valid part of the game.
But in return, I’d like to appeal to you: be a good guest. Don’t leave once you’ve capped your flag, or when you think you can’t complete it. It’s equivalent to leaving an instance midway through because you didn’t get the drop you wanted. Seriously, have you ever had a tank drop in the middle of a fight because they didn’t get the loot from a boss, leaving you to deal with the adds they pulled? Don’t be that guy.
No matter your feelings on PvP or abilities in the battleground, you still have something to contribute. You’ve taken a role in a raid group, put yourself in a position where you can do some good and contribute – no matter how good or bad you think you are at PvP. Stay and defend that node you just captured. Go protect your flag carrier. Heal like you’ve never healed before.
But please, don’t leave your teammates in the lurch and drop group.
PERSISTENCE > TALENT
There’s a famous quote from Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Keep that wisdom in mind as you work on the School of Hard Knocks. Not only do you not have to be superbly talented in PvP to accomplish these tasks, you don’t even have to be very good at PvP at all. Seriously. Watch the videos above and you’ll see success is putting yourself in the right place at the right time. Well, and clicking on the right thing. But you get the idea.
What you do have to have to succeed is persistence. Tenacity. Stick-to-it-ivness. Don’t give up. You are going to have to make multiple attempts to succeed — don’t fool yourself that it’s going to be as simple as visiting each battleground once. Give yourself plenty of time to work on this, and keep going. Keep going! A positive attitude will get you though this. Don’t give up.
A FINAL WORD
Don’t forget to have your orphan out at all times in the battleground. Nothing sucks worse than finally capping that tower in AV and discovering no one was there to watch you do it. (Trust me, I’ve done this.)
Okay, that’s all I’ve got on the School of Hard Knocks. Good luck! Go forth and achieve!
The kids are counting on you!