Monthly Archives: July 2011

On Zulroics, T11 Normal Raids, and Valor Points

So here’s what I don’t get about last night’s Valor Point change, and maybe it’s because I’m just a PvP monkey these days.

The item level of gear you get from an activity is supposed to be roughly equivalent to the difficulty of said activity. This breaks down a bit when you go compare PvP and PvE to each other, but within a sphere of activity it should be somewhat consistent, right?

Item levels!

  • 397: Heroic Rag? Legendary Staff (that’s what she said)
  • 391: Heroic Firelands  
  • 384: S10 Conquest Gear
  • 378 Firelands
  • 379: Sinestra
  • 378: Firelands
  • 378: T12 Valor Gear <— What Zulroics gets you
  • 372: Heroic T11
  • 371: S10 Honor Gear 
  • 365: S9 Conquest Gear
  • 359: T12 Justice Gear
  • 359: T11 Raids
  • 358: S10 Crafted Gear
  • 353: Zulroics  <– Worse than crafted PvP gear
  • 352: S9 Honor Gear

If we subscribe to the idea that rewards are commensurate to difficulty, adding T11 raids to the VP rewards equation makes a lot of sense. If anything, it shows how completely fucking backwards the previous model was – Zulroics, which are outclassed by crafted PvP gear for crying out loud, were rewarding more than Heroic T11. Are still rewarding more. How does that make sense?

Old content shouldn’t reward as much as new content, and heroics should reward more then regular mode. Heroic T11 drops adequate gear for Firelands, but I think as a raider I’d say, let’s blow through T11 normal to cap everyone’s VP instead of running 7 Zulroics.

Rated Battlegrounds and Zulroics: I smell social engineering.

 

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On Naga Keybind Planning (Affliction PvP)

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For an upcoming CBM post.

Trying to work the Naga buttons into my keybinds has been interesting. I finally resorted to making dozens of pages like this one, listing all the spells I really need, and then trying to make maps that work for Aff/Destro. Adjust with feedback from the game.

Basic idea is that the first page is unmodified, second page is the shift modifier (using Bartender for this). Alt/Option is set to direct things to my focus target for Arena, but that requires me to not use macros. Me not using macros is tough.

The visual layout has worked MUCH better than spreadsheets.

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On Field Notes

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Pictured above is one of my Field Notes (http://fieldnotesbrand.com) notebooks. These notebooks are my preferred scratchbooks – they’re small, durable, with lightly lined graph paper that’s a joy to write on. I do a lot of my thinking in these notebooks, including thinking about Warcraft. Keybinds, strats, gear lists, post ideas, bg maps – whatever I’m trying to work out in my head.

I take a lot of pride in the posts that go up on my main websites, but they tend to be big – really big – and I also try to keep them very topical. It’s a good thing to be topical and thorough, but for a while now I’ve wanted a more informal place to post, someplace without a lot of bells and whistles, with a little more room than Twitter but without the pressure of focus that both CBM and GTG have.

 

Like my field notes, this is very much an experiment. I’m at a strange place with Warcraft now, so I offer no guarantees about content or direction. I like Posterous (really neat interface!) but it’s no WordPress replacement. This is just a simple little site that takes my emails and turns them into posts.

I’ve turned on Twitter integration, so let me know how that works out for you. Hopefully folks can just respond on Twitter, or here; whatever works. (Like I said, it’s an experiment.) I’ve never done autoposting before, so let me know if it’s not working out right.

So, let’s see where this goes.

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ilvl 365 Vicious Gear and the Phantom Tier

I’m sorry; I’ve not been able to let go of the changes to how PvP gear is handled between seasons I talked about in my last post. I think that the issue around compensating players for the miscommunication between seasons threatens to obscure a more pernicious problem – the way in which gear changes between Seasons – which will have effects well beyond the mistakes that were made between Seasons 9 and 10.

Surely, there must be a reason for all this.

THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER

Let’s address the compensation package Blizzard has put together for players affected by their screwups first. Blizzard is going to offer 4k Honor Points to players who acquired gear during the interseason week as an apology for wasting their time; had Blizzard told players that the Vicious gear they were getting would be obsoleted in a week, players could have made an informed decision about gear purchases. Blizzard forgot to say anything, so players spent a lot of time grinding gear only to have it be replaced without warning.

No matter how much s9 Vicious gear was gained during that time, no matter how many Honor Points were ground out on Alterac Valley weekend, affected players will get 4k Honor as a consolation prize. There’s no accounting for the actual investment of time players made, so the relative justice or injustice of this payoff will vary between individuals.

This is a relatively simple fix that, most importantly, can be rolled out quickly, on a large scale once affected characters have been identified. There’s no need to perform a case by case analysis of each character – just identify all characters who made a purchase of S9 Vicious gear during a set period of time, and email them 4k Honor.

The problem is when this refund doesn’t make a customer whole. By not addressing individual effort, Blizzard shortchanges many of the affected players. If you’d ground 12k Honor Points for naught and got 4k back, you might be glad for the little bit back, but you’re still out a lot of Honor.

There are a few things Blizzard could do instead. They could refund all Honor Points spent during that week, and give people another week to make their purchases. This doesn’t replace enchants and gems and the like, but  at least it brings the gear pieces up to parity. The advantage to this solution is that it targets only those people who could have been affected by the miscommunication, and not people who waited a week.

The other option is to upgrade the S9 Vicious gear to match S10 item levels, either in bulk or only for affected individuals. A bulk update is simpler to achieve, but if you’re trying to apologize to players who actually lost time, upgrading only affected players would be the fair thing to do. This could be much harder to implement than one might expect, despite the simple logic behind it all.

I don’t think Blizzard will pursue either option.

THE VICIOUS CHANGE OF SEASONS

I really feel that the new Vicious and Bloodthirsty sets introduced in Season 10 represent a step backwards for Blizzard. They represent a change of philosophy which will make PvP less fun and more confusing should it happen again in Season 11.

Take a look at the way the Season transitions were handled.

The original system that was introduced by Blizzard in Season 9 was:

  • Each season would have three tiers of gear available for purchase: fair (crafted), good (Honor), great (Conquest).
  • When the season ends, a new tier is introduced at the Conquest level, and all the other tiers slide down. Conquest becomes Honor, Honor becomes crafted.
  • Players in the previous season’s Conquest gear are now in Honor gear, and will get upgrades from Rated PvP.
  • Players in the previous season’s Honor gear are now in crafted gear, and will get upgrades from regular battlegrounds or Rated PvP.
  • Players in the previous season’s crafted gear are now a tier behind, and will get upgrades everywhere.

This system is easy to understand, plan for, and keeps the overall amount of PvP gear available to a manageable level. It mirrors the PvE gear setup, providing a consistent, universal gear philosophy that corresponds to the points system introduced in Cataclysm.

The system introduced with Season 10, however:

  • Each season still has three tiers of gear available.
  • When the season ends, the old tiers are removed. Three new sets are introduced, two bearing the names of the previous season’s Conquest and Honor gear.
  • The new sets are effectively a half-tier ahead of the previous season’s version bearing the same name. The current season’s Honor gear is a half-tier ahead of the previous season’s Conquest gear, and the current crafted gear is now a half-tier ahead of the previous Honor gear.
  • Players in the previous season’s Conquest gear are now a half-tier behind the current Honor gear, and will need upgrades from both regular PvP and rated PvP.
  • Players in the previous season’s Honor gear are now a half-tier behind the current crafted gear, and should get upgrades from the AH, regular PvP, and rated PvP.
  • Players in the previous season’s crafted gear should hit the AH ASAP.

I don’t understand how this change benefits players. You take an elegant system which showed no problems and substantially modify it with negative consequences.

  • More gear sets: instead of going from 3 to 4 PvP sets in the game, we’ve jumped up to 7. Each season will compound this issue.
  • More gear confusion: not only are there Glorious Conquest recolored sets for 2200+ ratings (which confused a lot of players), but now there is gear with identical names but different stats.
  • More gear grinding: instead of letting players continue playing in their chosen realm, we’re sending Arena players back to regular battlegrounds to grind out a new set each season.
  • More time spent acquiring gear: not only will rated PvP players have to spend more time getting gear, but casual PvPers – BG enthusiasts, PvEers who like a little PvP on the side, etc. – will lose the benefits of any Conquest pieces they managed to get last season.
  • Different gear systems for PvP and PvE: instead of having a unified system that new players can pick up in one realm and transfer over to another, now we have two different systems.

Consider that last point for a moment: what if the Valor and Justice point systems required raiders to go out and grind heroic dungeons for gear each tier, just to stay competitive?

(Oh, wait, that was actually proposed for 4.2. But it was dropped, and for good reason – raiders wanted to raid to get Valor Points, not run heroics they outgeared.)

Is this trying to get players to spend more time in battlegrounds? I wondered about this one briefly – perhaps because I’m playing Alliance with instant BG queue times I don’t see population problems across servers. But why regular battlegrounds? All of Blizzard’s focus has been on getting players into Rated Battlegrounds, not regular ones.

What problem could adding a half tier to PvP gear between seasons possibly hope to solve?

THE PHANTOM TIER

It’s easy to lose sight of things when you’re angry. I think a lot of people are still really pissed about the miscommunication of the Vicious gear ilevel change and compensation package, which jeopardizes losing sight of the substantial changes made to how gear upgrades from season to season. The personal injustice of now has more urgency than a longer gear grind later.

But I too am angry, and I think I got lost in my own anger at Blizzard bringing the Honor grind back into PvP. The problems that have been introduced are real, and will have a wide-ranging unpleasant effect on people, and there’s no explanation from Blizzard why these changes were made. Getting pissed about what this change meant to a lot of casual players blinded me to a very simple observation.

Season 10 Conquest Gear is an extra half-tier higher than expected.

This isn’t about the low gear. It’s not about Vicious gear. It’s about Ruthless gear.

It’s easy to get lost in the urgent now, in looking at the problems with Vicious gear that will make players spend a lot of effort to get back up to their previous baseline. But that’s not the point of this change. Not at all.

The gear model that I presented above is actually a currency model.

  • Great: Valor, Conquest
  • Good: Justice, Honor
  • Fair: Gold, Materials

The currency model is then mapped to an activity model, corresponding to the rewards you get:

  • Great: Raids, Zulroics, Rated PvP
  • Good: Heroics, Dungeons, Tol Barad, BGs
  • Fair: Playing the AH, gathering, dailies

Now we can go ahead and equate the gear gained from these activities with the currencies that they provide, right?

Except… the model is missing something.

In PvP, going from activity to currency to gear works flawlessly, because there’s no other way to get gear in PvP. You have to PvP to get the currency to get good PvP gear, period.

In PvE, the activity itself randomly rewards you with gear. Currency buys you good gear, great gear even – but not the best gear.

No, the best gear in the game comes from raiding heroic modes. There’s an entire tier of gear that’s not in the currency-based model. A phantom tier, one of superb gear.

  • Superb: Heroic Raids
  • Great: Raids, Rated PvP
  • Good: non-raid PvE, unrated PvP
  • Fair: Crafted, quest

The simple currency based model which worked so well in PvP – where points are the only way to get gear – doesn’t translate when you take Heroic Raids into account. Look at the various item levels of rewards from specific activities.

Source Item Level
 Heroic Firelands  391
 S10 Conquest Gear  384
 Firelands  378
 T12 Valor Gear  378
 Heroic T11  372-379
 S10 Honor Gear  371
 S9 Conquest Gear  365
 T12 Justice Gear  359
 T11 Raids  359
 PvE BoE/Crafted  359-379
 Zulroics  353
 S9 Honor Gear  352

The best gear available at any given time is always heroic raid gear – that’s a given. But look at the point differences between gear types.

  • PvP gear is always 13 ilevels apart within any given season.
  • Heroic raid gear is always 13 ilevels higher than the regular raid gear.
  • T12 Justice gear is 19 ilevels lower than T12 Valor gear because it matches the T11 raiding gear ilvl (per the currency model).
  • S9 Conquest gear is 19 ilevels lower than S10 Conquest gear. If S9 Conquest gear adhered to the currency model (like Justice gear) and converted to S10 Honor gear, PvP would be imbalanced because of the huge gap between Honor and Conquest.
  • PvP gear has a higher ilevel than equivalent vendor-purchased PvE gear, likely due to Resilience in the item budget.
  •  Conquest gear is always 7 ilevels below Heroic raid gear.

The reason that Season 10 PvP gear was bumped up 6 ilevels has nothing to do with PvP at all. PvP item levels were bumped to keep pace with PvE gear, most notably Heroic Firelands gear. Honor gear was kept within 13 ilevels of Conquest gear to keep PvP balanced.

Consider what would have happened if the S10 Vicious gear had not received a 6 ilevel boost: S10 Conquest gear (Ruthless) would be 13 item levels higher than S10 Honor gear (Vicious), putting it at 378 – equal to T12 Valor gear. That’s not bad in and of itself, but then Heroic Firelands gear would be 13 ilevels higher than the Conquest gear – which is a full tier better.

If the best PvE gear available is a full tier ahead of the best PvP gear, PvPers will go after that gear. Each sphere of the game will do this – if the other side grants better gear, then it becomes Best in Slot and people feel they have to go after it. In PvP’s case, such items can unbalance rated PvP play – Shadowmourne in S8, anyone? – which can cause a ripple effect through the lower brackets.

So the reason that we have two different sets of Vicious gear, the reason that we have a lot of PvPers grinding out another Honor set, the reason why the PvP gearing system is out of whack right now, is not because Blizzard is trying to screw over casual PvP players.

No, it‘s entirely because Firelands drops 378 loot, 6 ilevels higher than the T11 Heroic raids. Firelands could have dropped 372/385 loot, but it doesn’t. I can speculate on why this was done – more epic feel, give people who have been raiding Heroic T11 immediate upgrades – but in order to maintain parity between PvE and PvP, PvP gear was bumped up too. That decision had a negative cascading effect for PvPers gearing at the start of the season, as well as inadvertently causing a major snafu with the transition from S9 to S10, but it will keep PvPers from having to get Heroic raid gear in order to be competitive.

I no longer know if this is going to happen every season. I seem to recall that PvE gear levels used to go up in pretty even tiers of 13 in Wrath, but there must have been a 6-point jump somewhere to get to 245. (There was 200, 213, 226, then … 232 in Ulduar, 245 with ToC?) So it might happen, it might not happen.

I feel better knowing that there is a explanation for it all.

I may not like its effects, but at least there’s a reason for the change.

DON’T POINT FINGERS

This isn’t about PvE screwing over PvP.

I mean, yes, in this specific instance a design decision in PvE had wide-ranging implications for PvP players. And it’s a decision I don’t personally understand – because I don’t raid – but because I don’t understand the nuances of it, I’ll take it at face value for now.

This is the price we pay for having an interconnected game. Balance issues in PvP affect PvE abilities. Class issues in PvE can cause problems in PvP. Gear needs to be balanced between the two, which is – obviously – more complex than it seems.

Changes in PvP affect PvE, and changes in PvE affect PvP. This happens all the time. There’s no agenda here, just the butterfly effect. One example of this happening doesn’t prove anything. Instead, let it serve as a reminder: little changes matter.

Adding 6 item levels to Firelands gear caused Conquest-clad PvP players to get new Honor gear at the beginning of the season, but that grind also was also a byproduct of ensuring an even tier between Conquest and Honor gear, and prevent PvPers from seeking out Heroic raid gear for PvP.

Is this still a problem? You bet. If T13 comes out with another half-tier boost, we’re going to go through this all over again.

But at least we can have a discussion about if that boost was worth the trouble it causes in PvP.

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The Changing Face of PvP Gear and the Rocky Road to Season 10

The transition from Season 9 to Season 10 has not been smooth.

  • Conquest Point caps were adjusted to encourage players to participate in Rated Battlegrounds. The resulting system is more complicated than what it replaced, and also splits the uniform PvP/PvE reward model introduced in Cataclysm.
  • At the end of Season 9, Conquest Points were converted into Honor Points (as expected.) Unfortunately, the Honor Point cap was not raised during the interseason week (as intended), causing all points over the 4000 cap to be converted to gold, preventing people from using their earned Conquest Points to complete their Vicious sets.
  • In an unannounced change, Season 9 Vicious sets (ilevel 365) purchased by Honor Points in the interseason week were not the same as the Season 10 Vicious sets (ilevel 371) purchased by Honor Points during Season 10. This means that players who spent the week between seasons grinding out Honor Points to start Season 10 in full Vicious gear found themselves with inferior gear than what they could have purchased once S10 started.

The first one is a policy change, and is irritating because of the devious way in which the change was introduced, but at least it was communicated and isn’t going to be a long-term frustration. Either you’re okay with it, or you’re not, but it’s the way things are now. Rated Battlegrounds are here to stay and Blizzard wants you to play them.

The second change was a deployment bug. Someone fucked up and included code in the 4.2 release that shouldn’t have been in there until a week later. In hindsight it really wasn’t that big of a deal, because the gear you could get with the lost Honor Points wasn’t going to be all that great in a week’s time anyways. But it was frustrating if you had Conquest Points and wanted to do something with a nice big pile of them.

Which leads us to the third change, which actually is a really big fucking deal, and there are two parts of it.

  • There is a major change in the way PvP gear is going to be upgraded between seasons, with significant implications for all PvP players.
  • And Blizzard forgot to tell anyone about it.

Let’s be honest. Blizzard fucked up in not telling anyone about this change, and they know it. They’ve had the good graces to come right out and say it, to their credit. How something like this gets missed is a lesson in corporate communications – someone might have noticed it, but it wasn’t the right person. Sure, I have found forum threads talking about it on the PTR (which does me no good in hindsight), but the right person didn’t stand up and say, hey, we need to mention this.

A lot of people spent time and effort in that week between the seasons grinding Honor Points so they’d be ready for Season 10. It’s a chance to get all caught up – everyone starts off equal at the beginning of the season. Only, because someone at Blizzard forgot to mention a critical point in the patch notes, that effort was wasted.

Don’t forget, that’s real time spent. Don’t try to say that it’s only a week. That’s bullshit. That’s real time people could have spent doing other things. That’s customer time just outright wasted.

Will the communication gaffe blow over? Eventually, maybe, I don’t know. Blizzard has indicated that they will try to make it right, because this is an actual customer service issue, but how can they really compensate them for it? Customers didn’t get the rewards they were expecting for the work they put in because of a corporate mistake. They made choices with their time that were wrong, and time is money.

But that’s not even the biggest problem here.

BRINGING BACK THE PVP GEAR GRIND

And there is no longer a requirement to “grind” unrated BGs for Honor each season, so the real time investment isn’t changing as much as some players are perceiving it to be.

- Zahrym, “4.2 Conquest change

The Bloodthirsty and Vicious Gladiator’s gear of Season 9 (i352 and i365, respectively) are not as good as the Bloodthirsty and Vicious Gladiator’s gear of Season 10 (i358 and i371). You can make a good argument that the set and gem bonuses of the S9 Bloodthirsty Gladiator’s gear are equal to or outweigh the stats of the S10 crafted Bloodthirsty gear, but the S9 Vicious gear is a clear loser to S10. Not by a lot, mind you – but it’s better gear.

The gear progression path laid out for Cataclysm, both for PvP and PvE, was both simple and elegant.

  • Raiding and rated PvP gets you the the current tier of gear (Conquest/Valor Points).
  • Heroics and unrated PvP gets you the last tier of gear (Honor/Justice Points).
  • Crafted gear gets you two tiers back.

Yes, the absolute best PvE gear can only be gotten by raiding, but this currency system made sense. It’s easy to understand the flow between different tiers, it’s easy to plan out your gearing needs when a new raid tier is introduced, or a new season starts. Your current gear drops down a level, and you work your way back up to the next one.

Zahrym touches on this in his post on the 4.2 Conquest Points changes, quoted above. There were many great things with the new PvP system, but one of them was the promise that once you’d geared up for rated PvP, you didn’t have to go back to unrated BGs to do it again. This was good for both Arena players and regular Battleground players, as seasons past would see a swarm of well-geared Arena players either destroy casual battlegrounds, or resort to afk/botting to grind the Honor Points required for their PvP kits. The new system allowed people to assume that, by having a full Conquest set in one season, it would become a full Honor set in the next, eliminating the need to visit unrated Battlegrounds to gear up. Rated PvP players could keep playing what they wanted to play.

And don’t forget – the Honor Point grind for a full set is long. If you’re getting about 150 Honor Points per battleground – a pretty good average, by the way – that’s 179 BGs. At 15 minutes a BG, that’s 44.75 hours of play. So not having to grind out Honor Pieces each season is actually a really attractive perk, and Zahrym is right in calling that out.

But that’s no longer the case.

The change that was introduced in 4.2 is that each season will introduce three completely new sets of PvP gear. These sets will be calibrated for that season, not for the season preceding it. They will (confusingly) share the names of the previous season’s sets, but that’s it. No more cascading tiers, no more smooth transitions from season to season.

Every season, you start the gear grind over again. Rated PvP for top gear, with a weekly cap. Unrated PvP for the rest of your gear until your eyes bleed, or you seriously consider botting.

You can argue that the slight increase in stats between the i365 and i371 isn’t worth the time to upgrade. It’s not a huge difference. It’s only six points, after all!

Well.

What if I rephrased those six points as half the difference between Vicious and Relentless sets? What if the sets were called “Season 9.5″ instead of “Season 10 Honor Gear”?

If you’re in full S9 Conquest gear now, you can upgrade to S10 slowly with Conquest Points, and S9.5 quickly with Honor Points.

The difference between tiers is 13 item levels. The difference between seasons is 6 ilevels. If you’re in S9 Conquest, you’re now 19 ilevels behind S10 Conquest, not 13.

You still think you can’t use some upgrades?

Whether this was done to encourage players to spend more time PvPing in general, or to increase attendance in regular BGs (something I hadn’t thought was a problem, to be honest), or to just make it take longer to get geared up – this has the effect of laying naked the gear grind that’s such a central part of Warcraft’s endgame, of taking the last shreds of a system that rewarded past effort and throwing it to the winds.

This isn’t a slight change. Changing gear distribution so that PvP players are faced with investing time they were not planning to spend is not something you forget about. This change not only destroys the symmetry of the PvP/PvE point system, it brings back the gear grind that we had hoped was gone the way of the dodo.

And that is the real problem with this change.

STOP THE RIDE, I WANT TO GET OFF

I took a break from Warcraft this past week, expecting to come back refreshed and ready to tackle S10 and Firelands. I rather enjoyed reading books at night and going to sleep early, but I still missed WoW. I was going to get into some PvE, see what these dungeons and raids were really like, but still keep my hand in with PvP through Arenas. After all, I have a full S9 Conquest set, I have some time free to work on my T11/T12 now, right?

I may have been refreshed when I logged back in, but my enthusiasm for PvP got washed away pretty quickly once I saw the changes to PvP gear in S10.

These changes are bad ones. They complicate the PvP gear system, which is exactly the wrong direction it needs to go in. They reintroduce a gear grind that is unmatched by anything in PvE.

And, most damningly of all, the PvP developers forgot to put them in the release notes.

If you want to give the appearance of not caring about your customers, about the fans of your game, I think this is just how I’d go about doing it. I think if I wanted to give the impression that I didn’t give a damn about PvP, this is the way I’d do it.

You seriously forgot?

(W)e’ve maintained an open dialog with our developers over the past 24 hours regarding the way in which the PvP season transition went down since patch 4.2 (this includes relaying a lot of the feedback we’ve seen on the forums to them).

- Zahrym, “i365 Vicious vs. i371 Vicious”

I trust that y’all will make up their own minds about this change, and will either decide that it’s a big deal, or not a big deal, and just get to work getting your Vicious (S10!) and Ruthless gear, or go find something else fun to do. I know you will!

But you know what? I liked getting enough sleep, and cleaning out my home directory, and shopping for crap on the internet, and playing stupid cute addictive games on my iPhone, and having nice, relaxing non-WoW evenings with my spouse. WoW is fun, but it’s not that much fun.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never been more disappointed in this game company than I am right now, and the only thing keeping me from canceling my account is that my son wants to see how the Gilneas starting area ends. There have been enough mismanaged changes to PvP in the past few months that, frankly, I’m sick of dealing with it.

I’m tired of the sticks and carrots to get me to do the things that I don’t find fun.

I’m tired of the gear grind. I’m tired of feeling like a rat in a lab being told to do this thing and that thing and oh my god where is my cheese now? Dailies and heroics and rated battlegrounds and cheeeeese!

I’m tired of the bullshit.

I would rather go fly a turtle to Mars than PvP in Warcraft right now.

Blizzard, you can take that feedback how you will.

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