On the Broken Battleground Scaling of 5.2

The 5.2 BG Scaling dramatically reduces secondary stats. Natural 85 on the left, scaled 85 on the right.

Effects of Battleground Scaling after 5.2 Normal is on the left, scaled is on the right.

The 5.2 patch notes contained the following intriguing note for battlegrounds:

Players in low-level Battlegrounds will have their effective level raised to the maximum level allowed in that Battleground bracket. Players’ base stats and spells are scaled accordingly, and are treated as the same level when determining hits, misses, and critical effect chance.

There wasn’t any more explanation about this change, but the general idea is to smooth out battleground brackets so that players at the bottom levels of a bracket can compete with those at the top. That’s a noble goal, I suppose, though the last time I wrote about the problems of fixing low level PvP I hadn’t really thought that level imbalance was the source of imbalance in leveling PvP. Player experience, gear decay, and class imbalance were far more pressing matters. But if we’re fixing levels, okay, we’re fixing levels.

The optimist in me interpreted the above patch note as follows:

  • Miss chance will be equalized across the bracket at a uniform 4%.
  • Because the hit/miss chance is now equal across levels, the chance of melee critical strikes on the Attack Table will also be uniform.
  • Base health will be scaled up to the top of the bracket.
  • Spell effects will be scaled up to the top of the bracket.

This presented the changes in the best light – it allowed characters to gear as best they could for the battlegrounds while minimizing the effects of disparate levels. A level 15 player wouldn’t need to stack 20% Hit to always hit level 19 opponents anymore, which seems to be the real purpose of this. Either gear would scale up to the new level using the amazing Challenge Mode technology released in Mists, or all stats from the gear would remain the same so the character wouldn’t experience any loss of potency. The change was to normalize hit and health.

What was actually implemented this week was much simpler, and far more disastrous:

  • Character levels are raised to the top of the bracket. Base stats and health increase accordingly.

This causes all kinds of problems, most notably placing lower level characters in a bracket at a serious disadvantage from those at the top level. Instead of solving the problem, it makes it far worse.

The issue is gear and scaling.

BATTLEGROUND BRACKETS, GEAR AND SCALING

As you level in Warcraft your gear gets less effective. Oh, the numbers stay the same – a +5 Intellect hat doesn’t start going down – but what that +5 does for you gets less and less. You need more and more stats on your gear as you level to remain at the same ability level. This combat rating decay is a fundamental part of encouraging players to level without causing actual ability imbalance. As you level up your character gets weaker and needs more and more numbers on their gear to keep up.

Gear is restricted by level to prevent characters from progressing too far and gaining too much power. Within the five level spread representing any given battleground bracket you’re going to see more quantitatively powerful gear at the higher levels. At certain levels you’ll see radical jumps in power due to expansion inflation – 58 for BC, 68 for Wrath, 77 for Cataclysm, 80-82 for Mists. This means that the gear available to players at the top of these brackets is substantially better than the gear available to the bottom.

These two factors combine to create an interesting see-saw between powerful gear and stat scaling. Generally the epics available from the end of an expansion will outweigh anything else in that bracket no matter what level a character is, so it’s best to stay at the bottom of those brackets to take advantage of improved stat scaling. If you’re in the 70-74 bracket – which contains Sunwell epics and Brutal Gladiator gear – you’re almost always better staying level 70 because you’ll have the best gear and the best combat ratings.

When you go up to the next bracket (75-79), though, things flip. The Cata gear available at level 79 is so much better (ilvl 277+) than the Wrath gear available at 75 (ilvl 155-179, tops) that the bottom part of the bracket gets destroyed. Heck, anyone gets destroyed if they aren’t in full Cata greens – they’re better than the best level 80 raid epics you could get in Wrath!

This cycle of low / high starts around 55-59 and lasts for 20 levels, up to 79. It gets muddied as the levels between expansions contract at level 80, where a level 80 in Wrathful gear used to be quite good against most classes at level 84 (with a few exceptions). Mists gear contaminated this bracket, though, adding superpowered ilvl 409+ gear. Now it’s a toss up between staying low and reaping the benefits of combat scaling or leveling up for better gear. Stats decline faster over 5 levels than they do over 10, and every level hurts.

The 85-89 bracket was dominated by mixing and matching Cata PvP gear and Mists blue gear, with most classes staying at 85 but a few advancing on to gain exceptionally good abilities. There’s some gear improvement at 87, but most every BiS item in the bracket can be equipped at 85. There’s nothing at 89 which beats what an 87 can wear, and not much of it beats what a 85 can equip.

In each one of these brackets the power skews low or high. If overpowered gear is available at the top of the bracket, then level becomes a major issue. If favorable stats and great gear is available at the bottom of the bracket, level isn’t an issue and the bracket is generally easier to level through.

Scaling changes on PvP gear. Normal is to the left, scaled is on the right.

Scaling changes on PvP gear. Normal is to the left, scaled is on the right.

HOW LEVEL EQUALIZATION FAILS

The change in 5.2 brings everyone’s effective level in a bracket up to the maximum while leaving gear intact, causing two different and distinct problems. These problems will be better or worse depending on the way the bracket skews.

First, lower level characters are locked out of the gear they need to compete on an even field. Raising effective levels does little to nothing to address the gear disparity between expacs. A level 75 character will still be clad in Wrath blues and greens (and possibly BC purples), facing off against level 79s in Cata greens. (Keep in mind that’s a 150 item level disparity.) In the high skew brackets (55-59, 65-69, 75-79 and now 80-84) this is a serious problem.

Second, lower level characters suffer increasingly dramatic penalties to their secondary stats in brackets where gear is mostly equalized. In the low-skew brackets (10-14, 20-24, 60-64, 70-74, 85-89), combat scaling favors the lower level characters and allows them to compete with the increased health, damage and abilities of the top of the bracket. Gear is relatively balanced across these brackets, so you avoid the first problem.

Equalizing only the level and not the gear means that the low level toons are now walking in with gear 5 levels below their opponents. If those 5 levels span an expansion gear break, they’re in trouble. If those 5 levels encompass a sharp decline in combat ratings, they’re really in trouble.

Let’s look at Hit as an example.

I thought the original idea behind this change was to make a smooth 4% Hit Cap for PvP, basically negating any advantage the top of a bracket holds over the bottom. Everyone needs just a little Hit and it’s all even.

Hit scales (down) with level. The higher level you are, the more Hit rating you need to get +1% Hit. But your gear doesn’t scale. You’re now level 84 wearing level 80 gear, itemized for level 80. That 4% Hit you had before you zoned into the BG? It’s now 1%. You’re going to need about 14% Hit on your gear to get to 4%. I don’t even want to think about how much Hit dual-wielding classes are going to need to be competitive.

If the goal was to equalize Miss/Hit across a bracket, this change absolutely failed to achieve its goal. It fails twofold:

  1. It doesn’t make it any easier to hit players of a higher level.
  2. It makes it harder to hit players of the same (low) level.

If this wasn’t the specific goal of the change, I fail to see how this helps equalize the top and bottom of a bracket.

I went ahead and pulled some data off of my Warlock last night and compiled it into a spreadsheet.

5.2 Battleground Scaling Changes

I lose 61% of Cynwise’s secondary stats – Hit, Crit, Haste, PvP Power – in exchange for ~35% increase in effective health. She goes from being agile and hard hitting to clunky and slow, just like everyone else in the battleground. Keep in mind that her gear is exceptionally good (item level 414-438) and she has an overabundance of Hit. She’s got more Hit than Cassius Clay.

This really changes the feel of each battleground, and not for the better.

At this point the only sane gearing strategy while leveling is to go for as much of your primary SP/AP attribute as possible and ignore secondary stats. Any nuances to gearing don’t matter

HEIRLOOMS AND BUGS

Up till now I’ve just been talking about how the scaling change affects low level characters in a bracket based on the design. There are two wrinkles to add to all of this – heirlooms and bugs.

Heirlooms scale according to your effective level. This means that a level 20 toon with heirlooms now has the stats of a level 24 with heirlooms, which is the only place where scaling seems to be working right!

The drawback is that this now means that heirlooms are more essential to leveling battlegrounds than ever before. Players in non-heirloom gear will be at a significant disadvantage to those who have them, and the more heirlooms the better.

The biggest gap in leveling battlegrounds is caused by experienced players with enchanted heirlooms. They are the new twinks of PvP. This change, as implemented, strengthens their superiority and makes it even harder for new players to compete. Without normal gear scaling the problems of low level PvP will now get worse, not better.

The second problem is that the scaling is really buggy right now. Players are reporting on the forums that no secondary stats from heirlooms are getting applied (at all). I was in my PvE set last night and missing every few casts (which absolutely should not happen). Players have reported that you are better off taking off all your gear and fighting naked rather than using the scaled gear. There are a lot of problems here and it doesn’t seem to be working as intended.

It’s my hope that the implementation can be straightened out or rolled back, as these changes have all negatively impacted PvP play in sub-90 battlegrounds. They don’t accomplish the putative goals and exacerbate existing problems in low level PvP.

—-

Update 2013-03-08: Ghostcrawler confirmed this is bugged and a hotfix is coming soon. Nobody panic, nobody level, someone tell my Arena Partner that he’s not going to remain godmode healer forever and then pass him some smelling salts.

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25 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

25 responses to “On the Broken Battleground Scaling of 5.2

  1. Warlock P

    Yeah, wow, I don’t think I’ll be in a BG anytime soon until this is fixed.

  2. I was waiting for this so badly to level up my monk… meh I think it will be sat in Ogr for a while.

    Lower level PVP should be everyone with the same stats and gear (let’s leave the gearing game for the level capped). There is too much need for the heirlooms because the PVP rewards cost too much in honor to upgrade your gear every now and then.

    Hopefully this would return no-XP’rs to regular battlegrounds and spice things up.

  3. Good job, Cyn. Genuinely sorry Blizzard broke your game for you.

    It’s almost like they read “On Why I’m Not Lvl 90″ and said, “ok, we’ll fix him….” They wouldn’t do that, right? Right?!

    One of my friends actually left WoW in part because of the heirloom issue, citing those pieces as the ruination of low-level pvp. I personally bought a lot of it and enjoyed it, but in retrospect, while the gear was kinda cool the stats were probably overkill. A simple, account bound, removable experience-gaining buff would’ve more than sufficed. I’m leveling a monk now w/o any heirlooms and the daily quest for bonus xp is really nice. I’m moving along at a good clip, and it’s more fun to get new gear from boss drops anyways, instead of wearing the same chest-helm-shoulders-leg-back-axe for 80-85 levels.

  4. My rogue is in the 55-59 range right now, and between the BC gear and DKs, it’s pretty painful right now. The only redeeming feature of this zone is that so many DKs don’t know how to play their class well that it evens out things a bit.

    But still, the difference in the fully geared heirloom toons and those that have only a piece or two is pretty huge now.

    Something that didn’t occur to me until your post was that across most BGs last night there was a lot of lag. I’m wondering if that “normalization” process is what’s causing the lag, in much the same way that there’s lag induced by cross realm zones.

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  6. “You need more and more stats on your gear as you level to remain at the same ability level.”

    Are you saying that increasing your level while keeping the same gear actually makes you weaker or only that +5 int doesn’t seem as important as you grow in level because it becomes a smaller percent of your overall?

    • Both, actually. Stats which don’t have a rating component scale contextually – mobs get more health so you have to do more damage, so that +5 isn’t as relatively effective (%) as it was before. Stats which do have a rating component actually decrease and contribute less regardless of context, so that +5 Crit might be 2% at level 10 and .5% at level 19.

      • Thanks, I appreciate the reply (and your reply, Rades). This seems like information I should have known, but I guess I don’t think about it too much usually (especially as someone who doesn’t usually play alts).

    • It’s really easy to see this effect when you level up, any character, at any level. Next time you are about to ding, take a look at your stats – if you had 9% haste, after you ding it will have dropped a bit, maybe to 8.5%, maybe to 8%, etc.

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  8. It sounds like this has gone exactly the opposite of what they intended, which – while it sucks, no doubt – makes me think that they’re going to do something to remedy it. Maybe they didn’t have many people testing this / giving feedback on the PTR? I know they said that PVP changes are always difficult to test due to lack of substantial testers. And it’s easy to see where the “just scale everyone up to the top level!” idea might have come from, and perhaps no one realized the solution was actually much more involved.

    …though, this really should not have slipped beneath their notice, since they now HAVE experience in the whole stat scaling thing with Challenge Modes. It’s strange how they can adjust item levels and secondary stats properly for Challenge Modes so that hit capped = hit capped, but they went a different route for PVP scaling.

    Anyway, I’m sure they’ll fix this. Your post and others on this topic make it absolutely clear PVP scaling is not accomplishing what they wanted to accomplish, so it’s just a matter of time.

    • I suspect that for challenge mode scaling MoP gear has hidden attributes/parameters that they use in scaling calculations. Older gear had such a mishmash of stats that while it seems it ought to be scalable via algorithm, they’re afraid there are gremlins hiding in there that would break in wonderfully delightful ways.

      That said, I’d love it if we could have CM scaling applied to all BG brackets. I would be found rolling new toons for the express purpose of lowbie pvp all day long.

  9. scotth

    This seems so obvious to me that I can’t believe it made it out of the meeting where someone brought it up, never mind going live.

  10. Dejara Thoris

    Makes me glad I unsubbed. Something seems to be wrong in Team 2.

  11. While I appreciate the great explanation this article provides, I think this writeup presumes a level of knowledge that the casual XP-on battleground player doesn’t bring. Consider that in a typical XP-on battleground, players don’t hit cap at all. Shrinking the delta from a maximum of four levels to everyone playing at the same level will make a significant difference for PvP newbies. Veteran battleground levelers will definitely need to work harder to reach cap, but they at least have the knowledge.

    Level scaling in battlegrounds only hits hard if you’re geared without BoAs (current bug notwithstanding). If you use mostly BoAs, secondary stat scaling doesn’t affect you (as you noted). If you have shoddy gear to begin with, you lose little in the way of secondary stats, but gain significant ground by the shrinking hit cap. Until players reach the upper (75+) brackets, level scaling in XP-on helps the players who need it the most.

    Ideally, as you say, the level scaling would leave secondary stat scaling alone. The idea of scaling gear intrigues me, but I think that woiuld cause just as big of an uproar — clever players will leverage that technology e.g. leveling engineering as high as possible to scale gear that already brings tremendous power.

    The negative effects of level scaling affect XP-off players and leveling veterans much more than XP-on players. Meanwhile, the players who gain the most from level scaling will be the ones who likely don’t even know it’s happening.

  12. The whole situation of minmaxing gear levels against player level in within the various PvP brackets is obviously an unintended design.The devs have stated their intention to fix it properly and for good with an ilevel crunch, but that probably wont happen until they’re feeling a bit more confident that it wouldn’t kill the game.

    Once they’ve figured out all the bugs I’m sure this will only improve balance. I really hope they will fix Hit rating to remain the same after the conversion, as it is currently in Challenge dungeons. I have to wonder if this bug is related to secondary stats on Heirlooms gear not applying– like they tried to fix the system upscaling the heirloom’s hit rating five levels but still using the lower level conversion.

    Really all I can say, for the PvP twinks who lost out from this change, is the same thing that I said when Mists robbed shadow priests of their full arsenal of healing spells and raid CDs– it’s unfortunate for the people affected, but really they’ve been getting away with too much for too long anyway. =P

  13. Vukodlak

    I came back to WoW using the Scroll of Resurrection & 10-day MoP trial, essentially getting 17 days of WoW for free. I was having fun leveling a bunch of alts through battlegrounds, but I had most fun with my 85 Warlock.

    Although I was still competitive using full Cataclysmic gear, I found out about MoP blues and spent thousands upon thousands of gold to purchase and enchant these BiS MoP blues. Although incredibly overpowered in XP-on battlegrounds, I found out about the 85-89 twink community and had a blast in XP-off battlegrounds. My only complaint was not being to hit these 87-89 twinks, but when I heard about the purposed scaling in 5.2, I was excited. To think, I wouldn’t have to spam Corruption 10 times in a row before it actually applied made me wait for 5.2 before I resubscribe.
    .
    I know it may be hard for some to believe, but some of us don’t like end-game content. I have way more fun leveling a bunch of alts through battlegrounds than I do doing end-game PvP’ing, raiding, questing, etc. I think It’s the tight knit communities that each bracket has that does it for me. Such communities don’t seem to exist for end-game level content anymore.

    Thank you for saving me some money, Cynwise. I have no interest in MoP end-game content, nor will anytime soon. For now, I’ll just keep my eyes on WoW-related news to see if they fix this problem. That is, if it was unintended.

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  15. Tyson

    Throwing in the removal of our lock mounts running on water in bgs I might give up on my lv 90 lock now.

  16. TJ

    Thank you for bringing this issue to the everyone’s attention.

    On my level 20 disc priest resilience from heirlooms is all over the place. I should have around 53% resilience but if I enter a BG with heirlooms equipped it shows only 40%. Sometimes this can be fixed by re-equipping gear but once the BG starts it will revert back to 40%.

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  18. NetherLands

    Tne frustrating thing about this is that on e.g. the EU Forums it was predicted beforehand that this would happen, except for the Heirloom issue (somehow it hadn’t occured to us that Blizzard would go out on its limb to screw newcomers even more over).

    Perhaps the Devs should take better notice of what happens and is said in the EU, and I’m not talking about World Firsts here.

    (and yeah, being bitter here, but the same happened with e.g. the WSG Graveyard shift from Cata, people commented on it while it was still on PTR etc. and suggested alternatives but *zilch*; being graveyard camped in WSG by Heirloom Hunters and their healbots making a very good calling card for WoW PvP I guess).

    In case they don’t want to tackle the Heirloom issue right on (shunt them into the so-called ‘Twink BG’s’, make them unEnchantable or better yet replace them with flat XP multipliers/XP Pots/Levelling Services instead) they should do as someone first suggested on the US Forums:

    scale the Heirlooms always to the lowest character level of the bracket, irrespective of actual character level

    That would leave PvE unaffected and also would make playing the actual content instead of skipping it more worthwhile.

  19. Kevin

    I just have a question…is it still possible to twink? Like real twinking? I thought that xp-off characters were shunted into their own private BGs…essentially forcing twinks fight each other rather than the common leveling character, but someone told me this is not the case. That there are ways around this?

    To me that seems like the biggest problem that needs to be fixed. If there’s a way for a character to get into an xp-on battleground and NOT LEVEL so you can just camp that bracket at whatever the optimal level is I think that should be fixed, because some smuck who’s trying to level through the BGs has no friggen chance against the guy who treats [insert bracket here] like it’s max level.

    • Bwappo

      As I understand it, the latest exploit that enables an XP-off player to play in XP-on battlegrounds got plugged. It was a real issue for a couple of years, especially in the 10-14 bracket. Now with battleground stats scaling in its current state, the motivation to find another exploit diminished considerably.

    • I guess the question is, what are you considering to be “real twinking?”

      Many XP-off battleground brackets are thriving. These BGs are places where players choose to stop leveling and play on more equal playing fields than leveling / endgame brackets. For most the appeal of not having to grind out gear every season is a big one, as is playing with generally a higher caliber of player. This is where the folks who I consider to be ‘real twinks’ play.

      There are exploits that people can avoid this, yes, and their use is most prevalent in the 10-14 and 75-79 brackets. This isn’t common but I’ve certainly witnessed it.

      There is a third class of player which probably doesn’t consider itself to be a twink at all, but rather an experienced player who gears up as best they can for leveling in PvP. By locking XP to farm dungeon gear, equipping and enchanting that gear and heirlooms, and then unlocking to PvP through a bracket, these players outgear their opponents and are highly effective in any bracket. Even without locking XP, a player who takes their time to gear well will have an advantage in a BG.

      Is that twinking? It isn’t to me – it’s just common PvP sense – but it might be to you.