Category Archives: Cynwise’s Battlefield Manual

The Curious Case of the Big Daddy and Secretly Scaling Equipment

The Big Daddy is the Cataclysm heavy explosive available to Goblin Engineers. It requires Engineering 440 to use, and 500 to make, it’s expensive, but it also does respectable damage – about 5k – and the damage is tripled against targets at full health. Oh yes, it can crit, too, so you could get a lucky 30k damage off this baby. It’s also off the GCD, so it’s great to use after an instant cast spell, though you really want to use it on “unsuspecting targets” – thats those poor folks at full health – whenever possible.

They’re not quite as nice as the Global Thermal Sapper Charge was in the early days of Wrath – massive siege damage in SotA/WG/IoC was awesome – and they’re not as cheap as Saronite Bombs, which you could make part of your attack rotation with impunity – but they’re good for what they are.

Except… you notice that little bit about “Requires Engineering 440″ to use?

You can get Engineering 450 at level 65, when most characters have around 4k-8k health. Even in the level 70 twink bracket, health pools range from 10-14k, with 18-20k reserved for tanks.

These bombs can 1-shot an entire defending force if you attack when they’re at full health at level 70. At level 80, they can still take out 1/3-1/2 of the defender’s health.

Holy crap.

PvP being PvP, players figured this out, and maxing your Engineering at level 65 became an even easier way to dominating the battlegrounds than rerolling Mage.

(I kid, I kid!)

So far, you’d think that this is a simple story of an item being overpowered in the leveling brackets and getting removed from said brackets, right? I mean, you can’t have bombs that can take out entire nodes of defenders, can you?

But instead of doing the obvious thing – raising the required Engineering level beyond 450 – Blizzard did something really interesting.

SCALING DAMAGE WITH LEVEL

Sometime between 4.1 and 4.2, the Big Daddy was changed so that the damage scaled with level. No longer was it 5k at level 65 – now it was 700. Level 79? 1400 or so. The damage was changed to allow it to still be used at lower levels, but for it to become less attractive overall. Saronite Bombs do more damage at level 65 than Big Daddies, which solves the problem neatly and returns us to the idea that you might be able to use things from the next expansion while leveling, but you probably shouldn’t be using things from two expansions away.

That’s actually an interesting rule to consider: think about how unbalancing Wrath-level gear, gems and enchants would be if they were available at, say, level 30. There are limits on enchants to prevent this from happening, for instance (item level 35 for BC, 60 for Wrath), but no limits on the gems – but sockets don’t show up until BC-era gear anyways, so it isn’t a big deal. With the introduction of Cataclysm, gems needed to have restrictions added because you could have level 60-70 players sporting Cataclysm gems.

So why didn’t the devs just change the Engineering requirements on the Big Daddy to be 475 instead of 440? This would have placed the items out of reach of everyone lower than 75, which would take care of the most egregious abuses. It would still unbalance the 75-79 bracket, but that bracket is already unbalanced because of the availability of Cataclysm-balanced gear starting at 78. The 80-84 bracket is unbalanced as well, but it’s unbalanced because of scaling and the hard ramp of gear. Adding in a bomb that does 5k-30k damage isn’t going to further unbalance things.

Or will it?

Think about this for a minute. Instead of making a simple change that mostly fixed a problem, the developers dramatically changed how something worked by level, making it scale all the way from 65 to 85 (and possibly beyond). It still does a lot of damage, and is great against unsuspecting targets, but it’s not going to 1-shot people in any bracket it’s available in. That took thought, planning, and careful analysis to realize that a simple level restriction wasn’t going to work.

In every sense of battleground fairness, this is a great change. And it’s great for many brackets.

Which is why it’s so unexpected. Not because we shouldn’t expect that Blizzard does the right thing (we should), but that it’s one of the first times I’ve seen an item nerfed in PvP in such a way to take into account its impact in multiple brackets.

The problem with items with fixed stats is that their value increases the earlier you get them. Cataclysm introduced stat inflation into not just the endgame, but up through level 65. The inflation is really unbalancing. It doesn’t take a scientist to notice that if you increase health pools five times between level 80 and 85 that maybe, just maybe, items that are scaled for 85 shouldn’t be used at lower levels.

But hopefully, we can start seeing more fixes like the Big Daddy nerf, which address this inflation in multiple brackets.

Fixing leveling PvP is not simple. Little things add up. I’ll wager you didn’t even realize there was an explosive that could 1-shot you from level 65 to 80 until this post. The fact that it was fixed without your knowledge is a good thing. There are a lot of small, unbalanced items which good PvP players seek out and use against their opponents, and they add up. Not all of them are as big as this one, but hey – this is the Big Daddy we’re talking about.

Smart fixes like this raise the possibility of other items using smart scaling, which would be a good start towards equalizing the brackets. Heirlooms already do this; having normal items start adhering to this rule would help bring leveling PvP back into a more balanced state.

Bravo, Blizzard. Well played.

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Blizzcon 2011: PvP Changes in Mists of Pandaria

In the course of Blizzcon 2011, Blizzard announced several changes to the PvP system, as well as planned additions to the Battleground and Arena system. It is worth noting that none of this is set in stone; Blizzcon announcements are more akin to ideas presented at a product planning meeting than actual release notes. I’ll try to keep the speculation to a minimum.

NEW BATTLEGROUNDS AND ARENA

Three new battlegrounds and one new Arena map were announced as potential additions to the PvP system.

The following are the proposed BGs:

  • Stranglethorn Diamond Mines: “Payload” gameplay
  • Valley of Power: “Murderball” gameplay
  • Azshara Crater: DOTA-style gameplay

And a new Arena map:

  • The Tol’vir Proving Grounds will utilize the sweeping vistas of Uldum and the Tol’vir art style with a simple layout based on Nagrand Arena.

Some of the terms describing the battlegrounds might be unfamiliar to you – I know they were to me, because I’ve never played Warcraft III.

  • Payload games are generally when the teams are split into offense and defense, with a moving objective – the payload – that needs to be protected. Generally, there are multiple checkpoints that need to be captured, and the teams are competing to move the payload along to the final checkpoint. One team will protect the payload as long as they can, then the other.
  • Murderball games (and there are several kinds) involve trying to get a ball or flag over the key or goal line of the opposing team. In some variations it’s anything goes; in others there are rules about who “anything goes” applies to. It looks like this one will have a ball that you carry that scores points, but also does damage.
  • DOTA (Defense of the Ancients) is a popular custom scenario for Warcraft III, where players control powerful units (heroes) to destroy the Ancients in the middle of their opponent’s bases.

For screenshots from the presentation, let me direct you over to the Hunstman’s Lodge. They have some nice screenshots from the livestream.

I wouldn’t count on all of these making it in to the final release of Mists, or of making them in with their current forms, but it’s nice to see some really interesting new ideas out there. While I like that Twin Peaks and Battle For Gilneas are variations on two very good existing battlegrounds, it would be nice to see something new.

Of course, vehicle combat was new, but it didn’t make for more compelling games. I’m interested to see how the DOTA game, in particular, shapes up – will players control avatars that give roughly equal abilities, removing class and gear inequalities? Some people would love that (skill > balance!), others would hate it (I didn’t level a Demolisher 85 levels.)

We’ll have to wait and see.

As far as the new Arena map? It’s about time. Getting the Ring of Valor back during this expansion wasn’t exactly an improvement. There was a great lack of anything Cataclysm-themed in Arena. Getting a Cata map an expansion later isn’t great, but it’s a sign that Blizzard is showing some attention to Arenas again and could indicate a Pandaren-styled map later in the expansion.

WORLD PVP ZONE

From the Q&A:

You did not mention a world PvP zone for MoP, maybe that could be the World PvP area for MoP?
The war between the Horde and Alliance will really heat up in Pandaria every patch, so we are looking forward to integrating that.

Cataclysm had a certain amount of “the war heats up” feel to it in the Blizzcon previews too, but World PvP took a hit on most realms. The biggest success for World PvP wasn’t the zone designed for it – Tol Barad – but rather Firelands on a PvP server. That’s where the real PvP has been happening, not in the island of musical chairs.

So it’s interesting when Blizzard doesn’t announce a featured world PvP zone after two expansions with a PvP zone as the PvP centerpiece of the expansion.

I think it’s incorrect to say that the idea of a world PvP zone is a failure just because Mists doesn’t have one at this time.

What I do think this implies is that world PvP zones are expensive to create, and that Tol Barad consumed far more development resources than it saw playtime.

I have in the back of my head that there’s a KPI Blizzard uses to evaluate the success of a development effort – player time over development cost. The idea is that something that is cheap/easy to implement and draws medium interest is better than something that costs 50% of your development resources but draws in the same interest. The ratio of player participation to development effort would seem to be a key success metric in any subscription model-based business that wanted to optimize development priorities.

And that’s what I think happened here. Wintergrasp was ambitious and brought in the players, but incurred major costs down the road when it couldn’t scale. Tol Barad cost too much to build relative to the number of players playing it, so Blizzard is going to try something else.

The other problem I see about prioritizing World PvP zones like Wintergrasp and Tol Barad is that they are effectively throwaway code with a limited lifespan. Unlike regular BG development, where you develop a map which will see use through future expansions, World PvP zones have a lifespan limited to their expansion. Halaa is deserted. Wintergrasp is deserted. Tol Barad will become deserted.

All that development effort for naught.

I don’t blame Blizzard for axing the idea of a World PvP zone. Tol Barad cut short development on both Twin Peaks and Battle for Gilneas – dramatically on BfG, as they had to scrap their original plans for a battle within the city and reskin Arathi Basin to get something shipped in time for Cata’s launch. Having development resources focused on Battlegrounds and Arenas is actually a good thing.

ACCOUNT-WIDE ACHIEVEMENTS

  • Achievements will now become available at the Battle.net account level. Many achievements will be shared among characters, including those for raiding and maxing out professions.

If you’re working on Battlemaster, you might have cried a little bit upon hearing this. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tough achievements on alts, but not on my main.

There are a lot of questions to be answered about how this is going to work; if your total number of victories will count for Veteran achievements, if your meta-achievements will include the prerequisites on multiple characters.

But it’s a step in the right direction.

RESILIENCE AS A BASE STATISTIC

Big, major changes ahead for PvP gearing. Resilience will become a base statistic.

  • Devs like the way Resilience works in PvP, and how it gives a nice goal for players looking to progress/upgrade their gear in PvP
  • Resilience is a pretty huge barrier for people who want to start PvPing.
  • Resilience will become a base stat, and will increase a little every time you level.

I think it’s honestly easier to tell you what we don’t know about this change than what we do know right now.

Making Resilience a base statistic is a neat twist to the Valor and Vengeance system used by Rift – it allows the PvE and PvP systems to have effectively different damage systems regardless of the gear worn by players. That’s pretty neat! If damage gets out of control in PvP, they can either add more Resilience, or change how it scales so everyone takes a bit less.

The problem is that we don’t know how PvP gear will look in Mists. Will players still progress from about 25-30% damage reduction to 45-50% over the course of the expansion? What will the baseline reduction be with no PvP gear? Will there even be any more PvP gear?

I hesitate to even say that this is a good solution to the problems of low level PvP, because I don’t know how the scaling is going to work. Right now, Resilience has a flat application (10.74 points per % reduction) until level 35, when it starts to increase on a curve to hit a degree of normalcy at level 70. If this scale remains the same, then low level characters will start off with weak damage reduction that increases as they level. Unfortunately, burst damage is highest in the lower levels, and damage reduction is more necessary at 10-25 than it is at 50-80. So maybe they’ll start off with a good chunk of Resilience to help with lowbie PvP, or the scale will be changed…

… we just don’t know enough to say how it’s going to help certain areas of the game. It has the potential to be a good improvement to PvP at all levels, but we have to wait and see.

That said, I am cautiously optimistic that this is going to be a very good change, both for leveling PvP and endgame PvP.

NEW RACE: PANDAREN

Pandaren racial abilities are:

  • Racial – Epicurean – Increase the stat benefits from food by 100%
  • Racial – Gourmand – Cooking skill increased by 15.
  • Racial – Inner Peace – Your rested experience bonus lasts twice as long.
  • Racial – Bouncy – You take 50% less falling damage.
  • Racial – Quaking Palm – You touch a secret pressure point on an enemy target, putting it to sleep for 3 sec.

Okay, food, ok, more food, ok, XP, no biggie, bouncy, ok, nothing here to see for PvP…

… wait, was that a 3 second CC/interrupt I just saw?

… off the DR of many, many other CCs in the game?

/jawdrop

(Keep an eye on this racial and consider it a viable option for many classes.)

NEW CLASS: MONK

Wears leather, tanks, heals, melee DPS, has cool moves… it looks great!

I saw earlier today in one of the panels (and I’ve lost the reference now, sorry) that Monk healers will have non-targeted heals and need to be in melee combat to heal. That’s potentially very useful in PvP, particularly Arena combat. We may see a lot of Monk comps in Season 12 based solely upon this mechanic.

I expect Monks will be very potent in the early stages of Mists PvP, and that you would not be amiss in trying one out. If the Death Knights were any indication, it will take an expansion to really get them balanced out.

If Pandas aren’t your thing, all races can be Monks except for Goblins and Worgen.

LOOKING AHEAD

The situation for PvP is going to change a lot between now and the release of Mists of Pandaria. While many of the changes announced this weekend are exciting, there’s a lack of a single, defining PvP centerpiece for this expansion. Instead of Arenas (Burning Crusade), Wintergrasp (Wrath of the Lich King), or Rated Battlegrounds (Cataclysm), the focus is on an “increased conflict between the Alliance and the Horde.” We don’t know yet if that means World PvP is going to make a comeback.

We shall have to see what this diffused focus means for Warcraft PvP.

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Cyn’s Guide to Holiday Macros

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Cyn’s Holiday Guide. Sometimes, it’s good to step back from PvP and enjoy the other parts of the game. No, really!

One of the tiresome things about most of the holidays in Azeroth is the number of repetitive actions you’re going to do, especially if you do them across many characters. With Brewfest you might have had to dig in your bags for a Complimentary Brewfest Sampler or Ram Racing Reins; with Hallow’s End, you’re constantly getting Handfuls of Treats and using Water Buckets.

You can drag most of the holiday items onto your action bars, but that takes up space, and has to be done on all of your characters. It’s a minor hassle, but still – it’s a hassle.

Holiday macros are the answer. Make a single macro for all the items, and it will choose the right one for the task at hand.

If you don’t know how to make a macro, don’t be scared – they’re easier than they look! I have some macro resources on this site, including an Intro to Macros which shows you how to make them from scratch.

For a holiday macro, you’ll want to make a new Macro in your General Macros tab. This will make the macro usable for all of your characters, which is what you want.

The basic idea is that as you go through a holiday and use items, you add those items to the holiday macro. Pretty soon you’ll have all the items needed for the event in your macro.

No more opening your bags, looking for where the Handful of Treats has gone off to this time! Click the pumpkin, click your macro, auto loot, and you’re done!

Start with a basic macro setup.

  1. Open the macro pane by typing /m or /macro.
  2. In your General Macro pane, select New.
  3. Leave the icon as a ?, and call it “Holiday Macro.” Click Okay.
  4. In the Enter Macro Commands field, type in “/use ” and then Shift-click on the item you want to use. Or, enter in the commands discussed below.

Let’s start with the current holiday, Hallow’s End.

/use Handful of Treats
/use Dousing Agent
/use Arcane Cleanser
/use Water Bucket

This opens the treats you get from the treat baskets, douse the wickerman, clean up your home city, and put out fires, all with the same button.

You may get an error if you have the Dousing Agent in your inventory but aren’t by the wickerman. If so, you can add the following at the bottom:

/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()

Here’s what I used for Brewfest:

/use Ram Racing Reins
/use Complimentary Brewfest Sampler
/use Elekk Dispersion Ray
/use Wolpertinger Net

The Ram Racing Reins are tricky, since they can disappear if you click on them with the Complimentary Brewfest Sampler in inventory and they’re not listed first. So make sure they’re first.

You can combine several different holidays in one, but one danger of that is that you’ll eventually bump into the 255 character limit. One way around that limit is to use the item ID, instead of the name. You can find the item ID by looking it up on Wowhead – the item ID is the unique part of the URL (wowhead.com/item=…).

The tricky part about using item ID instead of the name is that there might be different items used in quests between factions – Horde and Alliance often have slightly different versions of holiday quests, which usually results in different item IDs.

So, if you use item ID instead of item name, your Hallow’s End macro then starts looking like:

/use 37586
/use 68648
/use 68647
/use 69191
/use 70727
/use 32971

The other drawback of using IDs is that the code isn’t self-documenting – you can’t look at that and immediately see the macro does. I don’t recommend this unless you really are hurting on space.

I’ve gone ahead and added a Holiday page to the Macros section of this site, and will try to update throughout the year. Feel free to share your own holiday macros below!

(I just love the closing lines from the Orphan Matron; how will the kids ever fall asleep with all these heroes farming candy for them?)

Happy Hallow’s End!

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Corpse Running in Battlegrounds

Base running – knowing how to get from base to base, knowing how to reach, steal, how to tag up on a fly ball – is a baseball skill that is essential for winning games. If you’re on second and the ball pops up, you need to know if it’s going right or left to make a decision about stealing third (or home). (goes right, steal and evaluate home, goes left, third is probably all you can do.)

Knowing the situation with the bases isn’t rocket science – it’s a set of decisions based on a set number of variables – but it can be very challenging. Making cool decisions under fire is the mark of a good player, both on offense and defense.

Corpse running in PvP is similar to base running.

You die. You’re at the Spirit Healer. The resurrection timer is ticking, and you have to make a decision.

  • Do you stay and rez where you’re at?
  • Do you run back to your corpse?
  • Do you run to a different graveyard?

Most players will just resurrect at the spirit healer they wind up at. I know I do, most times. The GY is a good chance to catch one’s breath and evaluate the battleground as a whole – how are we doing? What did I lose track of when I was busy getting killed?

But it’s important to remember that you always have a choice about how you resurrect.

I use the term resurrection vector to describe how forces move en masse across a BG when killed. You killed someone; where does the game say they will resurrect? Now, how do you use that to your advantage?

In terms of strategy, it’s safe to assume that people will pop where their resurrection vector sends them. Most people don’t think about running to their corpse in PvP. (Many don’t think about it in PvE, either, lazy folks.)

Corpse running screws up resurrection vectors. It’s unpredictable, risky, and can lead to huge payoffs when done right. It can be used to bypass choke points and launch surprise attacks. It can be used to recap nodes, steal flags, and move across the map unhindered.

RUN BACK, NOOB

I was in Arathi Basin on my Horde Hunter tonight when we got overrun at the Farm. I started calling out the rez timer when I realized that my insignia hadn’t been taken yet. My corpse was right next to the flag.

Then the flag got capped, and I was sent back to the Defiler’s Den.

It’s easy to just go ahead and rez where you are. But as I checked to be sure that my insignia was still there (it was, this was a lowbie bracket) I realized I had a chance to get back into the battle very quickly.

Furthermore, the Alliance was already riding away.

So I ran back to my corpse, rezzed, and defended the Farm. Lok’tar Ogar!

Arathi Basin has two places where running back makes a lot of sense when your nearest base is assaulted – the spawn points. Battle For Gilneas has two, as well. But even when you’re not in a good position, take a moment to think about where your corpse is and what you’d gain by running back to it.

There are some risks.

Your insignia could be taken, leaving you stuck far away from the Graveyard with no body for your spirit to inhabit. While legend has it that this is how ghosts enter our world, in Warcraft all you’re risking is time away from the battle. This used to be a highly risky option, but the addition of the Return to Graveyard button negates the chance that you spend 2 minutes getting to your corpse, only to find there’s no way to rez.

Now, at worst, you can get back in the game 30 seconds after your insignia is taken.

You could hit a resurrection timer when you get to your body. I think this depends upon the number of times killed in the BG, but I don’t know the specific algorithm – but I do know that sometimes, I’ll show up at the corpse and be told I have to wait.

I hate waiting to resurrect.

There are a lot of situations where it’s smarter to run back to your corpse and rez than to accept the Spirit Healer’s guidance. Keep in mind that this is an option, and you’ll start to see them open up.

HEALS REZ ME PLS?

In multi-graveyard battlegrounds (everything but WSG), you can go run to another Spirit Healer and let them raise you from the dead instead of the one your resurrection vector sends you to.

Why would you do it? Consider the following situations:

  • You’re at Trollbane hall and the Horde is strongly holding Stables, pushing up the hill to hold you in place. (You’re getting farmed.) Step out, go to a base you still control before it slips away.
  • You’re encountering stiff resistance moving past Icewing Bunker… but you were able to cap Dun Baldar Aid Station. Instead of going back to Stonehearth, start having people race north to get in position to pull Van.

There are judgement calls you’ll need to make – let’s say you’re in EotS, and the base directly across from yours is getting attacked, or will be attacked soon from opponents spilling off the flag bridge. Corpse running allows undetectable movement between the two nodes… but it is going to be slower. Should you do it? *shrug*

Getting around choke points is important. Sometimes (like in AV), you just can’t get around a point, and you need to – they’re waiting on tank and heals down at Drek! – run to the Relief Hut. Wintergasp allowed you to choose your Spirit Healer, which is a feature I’d love to see in more battlegrounds.

The biggest drawback of running to another node is the time it takes to get there. You might head out for a graveyard, only to have it captured before you arrive. Even if it’s still there, you are out of the battle for longer than following your default resurrection vectors.

STOPPING THE RUNNERS

Stopping your opponent from corpse running is impossible, but you can frustrate and stymie them. If you make them waste their time being unproductive in the BG, you win. The best way to do this is to not immediately collect their insignia, but let them get a little ways out before yanking it. (Shaman and Warlocks are the exception – take their insignias as quickly as possible to prevent self-rezzes.)

Generally speaking, you don’t have to worry so much about corpse running or graveyard switching in PvP. Most people don’t do it. I don’t do it often enough; I kick myself every time I spent an entire AV cursing out how I couldn’t get around Tower Point when we held the Relief Hut.

But, when done well, corpse running can be highly disruptive.

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Graveyard Camping

Graveyard camping is a controversial tactic used to corral and demoralize opponents in PvP. By killing opponents as they resurrect at the spirit healers, teams can control the flow of the game, achieve battleground objectives unimpeded, and undermine the spirit of the enemy. It is an effective tactic to farm honorable kills and killing blows, though it is less effective at farming honor when compared to quickly achieving the goals of the battleground.

It is controversial because many players maintain that it is fundamentally unfair, that it is the mark of bad players, and that it is morally objectionable to camp the graveyard. You have your enemy at a disadvantage and continue to press it, sometimes past the point where it serves any good game-related purpose, and instead are just farming HKs/KBs. In most brackets with a strong community, players and guilds who regularly camp the GY are called out on their behavior for public shaming. Screenshots are often provided.

When one team is able to sit on the other team’s GY and kill them as they resurrect until time runs out, it’s hard to sit there and say that this is a fair practice.

But things are rarely that simple in PvP.

WHY IT WORKS

Graveyard camping is effective because of three factors: positioning, preparedness, and the timing of rez waves.

Take a look at the above diagram, which I originally drew to explain why the changes to the WSG graveyard in 4.1 were going to encourage camping, and pay attention to how the opponents are arranged. Melee gets right up into the GY (Rogues and Warriors will literally get up the hill), ranged and healers stay at a distance. Meanwhile, the defenders are reviving all in a small, confined area, with few escape routes.

  • Rezzers are positioned poorly to defend healers and ranged when they return to the battle. Opponents can focus on them first, which eliminates a key element of the defense, because…
  • The camping healers are untouchable without focused ranged attacks. While some healers may move in a bit closer (especially if melee Shadowsteps/Charges into the GY), they aren’t in range of melee classes, and often ranged DPS will stay by the healers, peeling off any attempts to take them out.
  • Rezzers are susceptible to AoE attacks. When they come back, defenders are all within range of a good Pestilence, Howling Blast, Shockwave, Soulburned Seed of Corruption, etc.. While some of the attackers will be focusing on the healers, others can spread the damage around with ease. Death Knights are especially good at causing incidental AoE damage while DPSing down a target, but really any class can do it.
  • Rezzers often have no escape. Stealth is nullified, you can’t slip around to a better position. Open graveyards (like those in Arathi Basin) are much harder to camp than closed ones (WSG, AV, E/W GYs in SotA), so the defenders have no chance to reposition the fight for their advantage. The changes to the WSG GY encouraged camping precisely because they limited the number of escapes from the GY; now the prey has no where to run.
  • Campers often have multiple avenues of attack. Every time I get fired upon by ranged Horde on the ridge above Stormpike GY in AV, I curse out the GY design. Narrow canyon where I can get strafed by ranged but can’t get back at them? The terrain of many GYs allows campers several different positions, while defenders are stuck with one way out.
  • Rezzers can’t (easily) choose to go somewhere else. The only BG I can think of that allows you to really choose where you resurrect is Wintergrasp; WSG has no choice at all (only one GY), making it the most prone to camping. Yes, you can run to another GY, and that is sometimes the best option.

The campers are in a strong tactical position; the rezzers are in no tactical position at all. A group has to be disciplined and communicate how they are going to break the camp in order to make this work – usually a coordinated assault on the enemy healers – and many random groups can’t manage this. Even vent-coordinated groups can’t always manage something so simple as “kill the healers,” especially if there are multiple healers present. (Smart campers will get out of combat and resurrect fallen opponents, or have people run back to their corpses.)

Exacerbating the tactical weakness of positioning is that the defenders are unprepared. I don’t mean mentally unprepared, though there’s usually a second or two of absolute confusion when you come back to the BG. No, I’m talking about buffs – most buffs fall off with death and need to be reapplied. Melee may only have one or two buffs they want to apply (shouts, Horn of Winter, etc.) but casters often need 2-3 GCDs to get back up and running – GCDs which are spent getting attacked or, more often, not breaking the camp.

Buffs matter. A warlock going in without Demon or Fel Armor is weaker than one who has it up. Inner Fire is pretty important for Priests. The camping team will have full buffs; the defending team will be lucky to get even a few buffs on them. These little things add up. It’s personal weakness on top of tactical weakness, which doesn’t help matters. At all.

Not only is one team organized in good tactical position while the other side is disorganized, disoriented, clustered together with few avenues of escape, not only is one side better buffed than the other, to make it even worse, the camping team’s job gets progressively easier due to the timing of the resurrection waves. Every 30 seconds the defense starts off as strong as they’re going to get, but through focus and AoE, the defenders will quickly get outnumbered. Every 30 seconds they get reset into the same bad tactical position; only through killing the opponents heals and attrition will they be able to break it.

Oh yeah, but they have to break it before the reinforcements arrive from the enemy GY, which is usually only a minute or so away. Defenders generally have to break a camp within 2 rez cycles or it’s all for naught.

IS IT WRONG TO CAMP A GRAVEYARD?

I admit it; I’m a little perverse when it comes to finding things in PvP which are obviously wrong and only baddies do this and shaking them around in my head, trying to apply morality and ethics and tactics and strategy to them to see what happens.

I don’t think there’s much doubt that graveyard camping sucks when it’s being done to you. It does suck. I hate it. I hate feeling like there’s nothing I can do – especially in WSG – and that I’m just beating my head against a brick wall trying to get out. (Best tactic if you can’t break free after 1-2 minutes? Stop rezzing. You’re getting farmed, just refuse to play along and they’ll give up eventually.)

But just because something sucks and is personally frustrating, is it wrong?

It would be one thing if the tactic wasn’t effective at helping to win battlegrounds; it unquestionably is. There are valid strategic reasons for assaulting the enemy’s graveyard in every single battleground.

  • Warsong Gulch, Twin Peaks: Keep opponents away from your FC and reinforcing the EFC.
  • Arathi Basin, Eye of the Storm, Battle for Gilneas, Tol Barad: Hit the GY to keep defenders away from the node while you capture it.
  • Strand of the Ancients: Keep defenders away from your Demolishers, keep attackers away from the demos and walls.
  • Alterac Valley, Isle of Conquest: Bottle up defenders in non-essential graveyards (or the Caves) to allow your team to capture important objectives.

Each and every one of these is a valid strategy to use in battlegrounds. Occupy the enemy in once place while you win the battleground in another – that’s an elementary tactic. If you distracted them outside of the graveyards, it would be a valid tactic – get them to commit to a battle in Stonehearth while you take Dun Baldar, for instances. Camping a graveyard is even more effective than a mere distraction – you are forcing the enemy forces to stay in a single spot while your team roams free.

But … it lacks honor, doesn’t it? It lacks chivalry, and fairness. It’s not nice. It’s exploiting a weakness in your opponent. It’s hitting them when they’re down.

That’s … wrong.

/SMACK

What the fuck is wrong with you?

This is Warcraft PvP. This is a street fight. There is nothing fair about this game at all.

This game is about finding every single advantage you can use against your opponents and using them to win.

Every. Single. Advantage.

You have terrain that can be used to your advantage? Use it.

You have better gear than they do? Great. Use it.

You have better positioning? You’re using your healers effectively? You’re using the terrain of the game against your opponents? You’re creating a numeric advantage in other parts of the map because a few of your team are holding up a bunch of their team?

Great. G-fucking-G, as the kids say. You have done your job correctly.

This isn’t warfare in the 18th century, with lines of riflemen lining up in a broad field, standing shoulder to shoulder, allowing themselves to be mown down. You’re not a redcoat; you’re a skirmisher.

If camping the graveyard helps you win, do it. 

This game isn’t about playing fair. It’s about winning.

Snap out of it!

ALL IS NOT FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR

Battlegrounds are about winning… except when they aren’t.

Camping a graveyard is, in many circles, one of the most dishonorable things you can do. My previous bravado is to make a point – that winning is the goal of each battleground, and working within the set rules of the battleground and the game (no exploits, for instance) there isn’t much that’s off-limits.

There are some things I don’t personally like. I don’t like insulting opponents with /rofl, /chicken, or /spit (/spit especially gets my goat). I think taunting is unsportsmanlike in real life, and it’s unsportsmanlike in a game. But I realize it serves a purpose – to get under your opponent’s skin, to make them come after you and not your FC, to goad them into a fury so they make mistakes.

Taunting isn’t my style. I think you’re a punk if you choose to taunt, to be honest – but I get that it has a place, that it’s a valid tactic. I rarely think it’s worth doing to win, and that the world is a better place if we keep games civil.

But smack talk has its place in games, and that the best thing you can do is rise above it. They’re just words.

Graveyard camping is a bit different from taunting. I’ve seen it called “disrespecting your opponent,” which it isn’t, really – teabagging is disrespecting your opponent, taunting them is disrespecting them, because that’s the intention behind the action. The intentions behind camping a graveyard are less clear, though. Is the team doing it to help win? That’s not disrespect, that’s just playing smart. Respect (or lack thereof) isn’t part of the action or intention – it’s a strategy, nothing more, nothing less.

What if they’re doing it to farm honor/HKs? It’s not a terribly effective way to farm honor, to be honest – you get many more Honor Points from a quick win and requeue than you do from farming a GY. Honorable Kills are a different matter – you can argue that it’s not really that great, you’re better off getting into a AV turtle, but it’s still pretty decent as long as the opponents keep rezzing. (Hint: STOP REZZING.)

People don’t like being turned into a number. People don’t like being put into a hopeless situation, which is what graveyard camping does. It’s most definitely not a nice thing to do to someone, but if you’re doing it in support of winning the game, your intentions are not to torment the other players.

What if you’re just doing it because you can, though? What if you’re doing it to farm honor, to farm HKs? What if you’re doing it to be a jerk?

Whenever I see the FC farming the GY I’m like… this isn’t helpful, guys. Just cap the damn flag already, put the other team out of the misery. The other team can’t break the siege.

When you camp the graveyard to secure a victory, you’re doing what’s necessary to win, and it’s a morally neutral action. When you camp the graveyard to prevent a win, though, when you prolong it longer than necessary, your intentions are now front and center, and they’re a little unsavory.

See, the discussion about right or wrong isn’t really about graveyard camping – camping the GY is just the means to the end, not the end. The debate is really about what happens when you (or your team) achieves an overwhelming position of strength.

What happens when you can’t be beaten? What happens when you’re level 85 facing flagged level 20s? What happens when you’re a skilled Arena player facing freshly-dinged 85s? What happens when you’re a team of twinks facing a undergeared pug?

  • Do you hold your fire?
  • Do you kill quickly, win, and move on?
  • Do you kill slowly, draw out the inevitable?
  • Do you outright torment your opponents before killing them?

How you behave in a video game says a lot about you in real life. Graveyard camping is a window into how you think about a lot of things, big things – honor, compassion – but the biggest of which is mercy.

Do you feel pity for your opponent? Can you show them mercy, to inflict only as much suffering as you need and no more? Or are you caught up in the bloodlust, desiring to not just win, but to demonstrate your dominance?

See, graveyard camping isn’t really the problem. It’s a valid, effective tactic to use in every single battleground.

The problem is when players can’t take pity on their beaten opponents.

And the problem is when beaten players can’t tell the difference between camping to win, and camping to be cruel.

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Preparing for Patch 4.3 / Arena Season 11 PvP Gear

Patch 4.3 has hit the test servers, and with it information about the next PvP season, Season 11. We don’t have a lot of information about the new tier yet – not even a name for it yet – but Wowhead News and MMO-C both have nice galleries of the new gear.

While 4.3 isn’t imminent, it is coming, and based on the rocky transition between Seasons 9 and 10 I think there are some prudent steps PvP players can start taking now to prepare for Season 11. The current model completely resets gear from one season to the next, and every indication we’re seeing on the PTR is that this will continue.

Crafters will have all their PvP recipes updated to new ilvl 377 Vicious gear, replacing the Bloodthirsty patterns currently known. This means there will be three different levels of Vicious gear in the game:

  • ilvl 365: Arena Season 9 Vicious
  • ilvl 371: Battleground Season 10 Vicious (currently purchased with Honor)
  • ilvl 377: Crafted Season 11 Vicious (coming in 4.3)

While a half of a tier doesn’t seem like a lot, it adds up. You can check the season of each item by looking for the green text under the name of the item in the tooltip.

Following the tier model we saw introduced in Cataclysm, this means that PvP gear in Season 11 should have the following item levels:

  • Crafted: Vicious (ilvl 377)
  • Honor: Ruthless (ilvl 390)
  • Conquest: ? (ilvl 403)

Keeping in mind that the best gear you could have right now is Ruthless-384, I think it’s safe to say that you will be replacing all of your PvP gear at the start of Season 11. Honor gear jumps a full 1.5 tiers (19 ilevels), which means you should just replace the whole thing. Even S10 Ruthless (Conquest) gear should be replaced with S11 Ruthless (Honor) gear – a half tier is noticable.

My other recommendations?

  • Stockpile Honor Points and Justice Points. You will want as many Honor Points as you can at the start of the season to upgrade your basic gear and reduce your Honor grind. Justice Points can be converted to Honor Points, so they can function like a reserve Honor bank, giving you effectively 70006667 Honor Points to start off with. Consider capping both as 4.3 draws near.
  • Prepare for 1-2 enchanting and gemming rounds. Prices on many enchants and gems will drop as Patch 4.3 approaches. Take advantage of price fluctuations and have at least one extra set of enchants and gems on hand and ready to go. If you are planning on doing Rated PvP, get a second set. Current gems may be replaced by epic gems once 4.3 is out, but you can’t stockpile those yet.
  • Don’t expect anything from the interseason period. Last time, a series of miscommunications from Blizzard led to a lot of players grinding out complete PvP sets in the week between Seasons 9 and 10, only to have that Season 9 gear become obsolete the minute Season 10 launched. Plan to use the time either for a PvP break, or for a chance to cap your Honor and Justice points. Don’t buy anything that doesn’t say Season 11 on it.
  • Consider your current purchases wisely. If you’re still gearing up a toon, you may want to consider the benefits and drawbacks to continuing to purchase gear that can be replaced by crafted gear in the next patch. This is really a quality of life decision you’ll have to make for yourself.

My earnest hope is that we’ve already gotten through the rocky parts of the new system and will have a smoother transition than the last one. If everything stays the same, capping HP (and JP if you can) will be the smart way to end Season 10.

Just be sure to wait for Season 11 to start before purchasing any PvP gear. Let’s not all make the same mistake twice.

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Grinding Calories: Standing Desks, Treadmills, and WoW

I’ve mentioned a few times that I mine while walking on a treadmill. I grind out ore and volatiles (my DK is a Engineer/Miner, thank you, Electrostatic Condenser) in Warcraft while also grinding out serotonin and calories IRL. It takes a little bit of work to set up, but once you get your workspace arranged properly it’s easy to turn farming into an authentically healthy activity.

I’m not really big on spending a lot of time gathering in WoW, even though there have been times during Cataclysm that it’s been really profitable (especially early on, when raw mats were so expensive.) I enjoy gathering professions while leveling, but that’s because I gather while I’m doing something else – leveling – and not just going out and spending hours chasing yellow nodes.

(Coincidentally, I really start to struggle with keeping my professions up when I start hitting PvP and LFD for leveling in the mid 50s. I don’t really quest through Outland or Northrend.)

I’m also not really a big fan of just walking on a treadmill. At the very least, I need some music to keep me going. I really prefer going outside for a walk, but I have the treadmill because there are lots of times when I just can’t get out for a walk – too hot, too sunny, need to be near the computer for work, etc. – so I figured I’d try setting up my treadmill so I could use my computer, and see how it all worked.

Other WoW players before me figured out a long time ago that these two activities can go well together. So, I thought, hey, let’s give it a try.

Let’s take a look at my setup.

STAND IN THE PLACE WHERE YOU ARE (NOW FACE LEFT)

Before we talk about the treadmill, let me talk about my desk first. I work at a standing desk. A few months ago, I switched from sitting on an exercise ball to a standing desk. There are numerous health benefits to standing instead of sitting all day long, and as someone who is susceptible to both back problems and cardiovascular disease I decided to give it a try.

I love standing while I work. My back is better, I’m more alert throughout the day, and I move around a lot more. My biggest challenge has been learning to wear shoes again – I worked barefoot for many years before this – and that’s not been that bad. (I may still get an anti-fatigue mat, because even though I’m through those brutal first few days of standing, there are still days where I get tired of it.)

I’m not trying to convince people of the merits of a standing desk here, though, but rather to point out that because my monitor is at eye level already. Getting the monitor up to your eye level is the biggest problem you’ll have with playing WoW on a treadmill. Before I had the standing desk, I mounted a smaller monitor on the wall with a VESA swing-arm mount and put the laptop on the floor. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. (You could put a small compact-footprint computer on the wall and use that with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, or run a long monitor cable to your existing computer with a KVM switch – lots of options here.

The desk is essentially a buildup resting on top of my normal desk. It’s made out of 4×1 pine boards that my son and father-in-law put together in his workshop. I work on the black MacBook, which is connected to both the large monitor and various virtual machines (including one below, in the desk). The monitor hutch serves to both put the monitor at eye level and clean up cable clutter around the laptop. The large open panels down below are for electronic device storage; I have a Time Capsule under there, and will probably be moving more hard drives down there once I get my act together.

The key here was to experiment with the heights of the various components before setting in on a design. My first iteration of this desk was done with bankers boxes, shelves, and a laptop box for the monitor. The bankers boxes were cheap and surprisingly sturdy, but I could have used plastic milk crates or book boxes stuffed with newsprint to hold the shelf up. I added and subtracted until I got a feel for what was a decent height, then I measured where an ergonomic placement of the keyboard should be.

For me, it was 12.5″ above the desk surface while standing. I’m 6′ tall with long arms; your mileage will no doubt vary.

The design is really simple – two boards across, one board high, a support in the middle, a backing piece with cable cutouts – but getting the monitor up is the most important thing for this exercise.

Now, let’s talk about the treadmill.

RUNNING TO STAND STILL

Above, you can see what the setup looks like with the treadmill deployed. I use a manual treadmill (something like this one) that is powered by walking – no electricity. That’s both good – because it’s much, much cheaper than an electric one – and bad, because it’s a bit noisier, and I end up stacking reams of paper underneath the bottom to change the angle to make it easy to maintain a slow walk. (Yes, as I print out documents I have to walk harder while mining.)  I got mine for about $175, and I don’t have any major complaints yet.

The treadmill raises you up several inches off the ground, so if your monitor was at eye level while standing, it’ll be slightly below eye level when you get up on the ramp to walk. My trick was to put my monitor slightly higher than eye level while standing to help correct my slouchy posture, which works out well with the treadmill. If you’re mounting it on the wall you’ll want to measure from the treadmill height, not from the floor. (And wear your shoes, too!)

I bolted a platform desk onto the handle bars of the treadmill. This is a piece of MDF with some U-brackets holding it steady on the bars by going around the foam and steel pipe. These brackets are normally used in plumbing, but they had the angle I wanted, so, whatever. I then covered the MDF with black webbed kitchen shelf liner to provide a solid grip for my keyboard and mousepad.

This entire contraption can then be moved in place to where I normally stand in front of the computer, providing a higher platform over the normal desk area, where my laptop sits. This is necessary because the normal desk is too low, since I’m now standing 5″ higher!

This kind of setup can work no matter if you’ve standing or sitting – as long as you can get some kind of platform bolted on to the treadmill, you can put your keyboard and mouse on it.

And once you have your keyboard and mouse on it, you can play WoW while walking.

FINAL ADJUSTMENTS

So here’s the thing. When I first put the platform on the treadmill, I didn’t realize how low it would be. The handlebars are generally made for you to grab with your arms down somewhat, while typing you want your forearms to be almost perpendicular to the ground. So when I put my laptop or keyboard on it, it’s really awkward to use while standing still, let alone while moving.

So I, uh, improvised to get them a little higher.

(I’ll settle on a height I like eventually. For now, LotR and a tissue box will have to serve.)

Walking while controlling a character in WoW is challenging. I don’t think I should do any activity involving other players while doing it – grinding honor in BGs is right out. You have to make adjustments to your actions to accommodate the balance issues you’re going to have. Your reactions will be slowed a bit, and it takes you very much out of the walking zone. So I personally stick to mining or herbing while doing it.

I exercise not to lose weight, but for mood control. I have found that it’s one of the few things that can reliably improve my outlook, settle my nerves, relieve stress, and help keep me positive. While this setup has taken a bit of time and effort to put together, I’m glad that I can now go take a walk without ever leaving my desk. Walking regularly is important to me.

And I have a lot of Engineers to level, so mining is pretty important to me in WoW, too. :)

Enjoy the walk!

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The 20 v. 24 War

When the battleground brackets were split in two – from x0-x9 to x0-x4 and x5-x9 – several other changes were made which were to have a dramatic impact that wasn’t apparent at the time.

  • Characters who had reached the maximum level of their account type (trial accounts to 20, vanilla accounts to 60, BC accounts to 70, Wrath accounts to 80) were now placed in the XP-off brackets, aka the twink brackets.
  • Brackets were standardized so the highest level of an account type (60, 70, 80) were no longer the highest level within the bracket for some battlegrounds.

These changes were made, in part, to remove expansion twinks from the leveling XP brackets. A known problem with level 60 AV would be “Molten Core guilds” – guilds of characters on accounts which never upgraded to Burning Crusade, who raided the old instances for the best gear possible, and who would show up and DESTROY the opposition in the 51-60 Alterac Valley bracket.

(Oh god. Those guys were so good, you have no idea unless you saw them in action. It was hopeless fighting them with a pug. Even my twinked Death Knight got steamrolled.)

Placing expansion twinks in the XP-off bracket (which, logically, is where they belonged in the first place) would have probably not caused much of an uproar without the reorganization of the brackets. PvPing at the top of the bracket almost always guarantees that characters will be as powerful as they can possibly become. The only exception to this was the 10-19 bracket, where level 10s gain a huge benefit to their stats due to favorable combat statistic scaling. Everywhere else, the 9-level gap was just too much.

Expansion twinks found themselves flipped from the top of most of the brackets to the bottom, suddenly faced with level 64 or 74 or 84 opponents. Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds were still open to them, but battlegrounds suddenly presented a very new challenge. No longer was it level 70s beating up on each other, everyone equal – now players had to figure out if it was better to stay where they were and enjoy beneficial scaling, or level 4 levels and get additional gear, talents, abilities, and health.

Surprisingly, most twinks stayed put. You lose a huge amount of effectiveness by leveling from one expansion pack to another, and the gear generally doesn’t catch up until you reach the endgame of the next expansion. The gear available at 64 and 74 isn’t that much better than the best epics of vanilla and BC. In a lot of cases, it’s still not beating the best epics. So there’s a compelling argument to stay an expansion twink, and the x4 twinks never really unbalanced the brackets. They adapted to their new situation.

Then Blizzard lifted the time restrictions on trial accounts, and the F2P deluge began.

CASUS BELLI

In Patch 4.2, Blizzard revised trial accounts to become Starter Edition accounts, allowing people to play up to level 20 for free. No longer restricted to 10 days, players could now take their time and gather the best gear possible, work on professions within the strict SE account limits (no primary profession over 100), and participate in PvP.

Level 20 Starter Edition twinks were born.

Due to the changes introduced above, trial account twinks were placed into the nascent 20-24 bracket, a quiet bracket that was populated by Cataclysm toons who liked the feel of lowbie PvP but who lacked many of the grandfathered BiS gear that dominated the 19s and 29s. The 24s weren’t wildly popular, but it wasn’t completely desolate.

That all changed with the F2P movement picked up steam. The population swelled with level 20 twinks, games became more regular, and a new culture came into the bracket, sweeping out the old.

But unlike the other, higher level expansion twink brackets, the 20-24 bracket has several key differences.

  • Combat ratings are more potent at low levels. Small differences in gear and enchants are magnified because each point matters more.
  • There is no expansion-induced power inflation at level 21. It’s not at the end of an expansion. While stats get less effective as you level through the 20s, there is no sharp decline like you see at level 10, 60, 70, or 80, so a level 24 character retains more effectiveness from level 20 than a level 74, or god forbid a level 84. Levels 83-84 are just brutal.
  • Starter edition accounts are substantially limited when compared to paid accounts. There are few enchants available for them to use. They can’t use the Auction House or mail, so BoE gear is practically impossible to get. Professions are limited. Guild heirlooms, like the head and shoulder slot items, are unobtainable. (Regular heirlooms are available, they just take time to get.) Faction changes are impossible, and quest rewards are distributed unequally between factions, preventing characters from getting the best gear. All of these restrictions add up to a sizable disadvantage in PvP.
  • Not every person in the XP-off battleground is a twink. These are Starter Editions, after all, and many of them are actually people trying the game for the first time. Shocking, I know! But unlike other XP-off battlegrounds, the players here didn’t select to be in the elite bracket – they just wanted to PvP. So there’s a wide variety of gear and player experience.

So here you have a sizable population of players joining a fledgling bracket at a disadvantage. They create their own community, they have their own sense of shared triumph over difficult odds – and having worked a bit myself on a trial edition twink, it’s hard work – but it’s fragile. F2P accounts want to play against other F2P accounts. They want to have that work be rewarded with a fair PvP experience.

But this is where the 24s come in.

THE VIEW FROM THE TOP (OF THE BRACKET)

How big of an advantage does a level 24 twink have in this bracket?

It’s one thing to run some simulations, to build out some test profiles on Wowhead and make educated guesses, but it’s another thing to see how it plays in the field. If you were to look at my level 19 Warrior twink, you might think she’s a real badass in the field. She’s not. No matter how good I make her, she’s still going to suffer in any DPS role because she can’t maintain time on target in the bracket.

Experience in the field matters more than numbers, so I rolled a hunter, leveled her up to 24 and twinked her out, and queued up to see how it played out.

Dear God.

I felt bad for what I was doing to the other team. I actually felt remorse for dominating the battlefield, which … I don’t think that’s ever happened. I’m not built that way.

Solo assault the Blacksmith with three defenders? No sweat. Kite one, pet on the healer, run away, use line of sight with the building to block fire, disengage down the hill, shoot through the hill… done. Base is mine, let’s find another one to cap.

Solo grab the flag, kill my way through midfield, destroy their offense playing cat and mouse in our base, get the winning cap? Exciting stuff. You start to feel like a big damn hero, gun firing rapidly as you strafe away from the pack of attackers, cutting them down one at a time.

I was a hawk among doves. I could get pulled down by a mob, or by the ever-present threat of a twink rogue ambush, but I would be sure to take a few of them with me, every single time.

Exciting? Yes. But – and I’m not joking here – it’s so easy to be good at level 24. I’ve never played a hunter before in PvP and I’m suddenly this titan of the battleground, FC and super-DPS all in one. I know they’re good at low levels, but not this good.

Properly played, level 24 twinks have a serious advantage to level 20s in the bracket. It’s not like the 70s, where 74s are common enough sights but rarely OP. (The OP distinction goes to level 70 mages.) It’s not like the 80s, where 84s are limited to a few select classes who benefit from insane stat inflation on Cata gear, above and beyond what is possible with level 80 Wrathful. No, there is a substantial, significant advantage being at the top of this bracket.

This could very quickly devolve into battles being decided by which side can field more 24 twinks, not about the contributions of the level 20 masses. After playing just a few games at 24, I can see that this is a very real concern.

The game is coded a certain way: level 24 twinks will hold every advantage in this bracket, should they choose to pursue them. The law of the game is silent in this time of war; there is nothing to prevent paid 24 accounts from stomping out the F2P PvP community.

BELLUM VICENI

One of the first interactions with the F2P viewpoint came on my first game after faction changing from Alliance to Horde. I went Worgen to get the Top Hat, but I rolled Alliance first because they have better Agility quest rewards, and I wanted to make sure I had them. I didn’t want to stay Alliance though – the queue times are too long (more Ally F2P than Horde) and I had friends on the Horde side of that server.

This tauren Sunwalker sized me up. “Looks like we have a traitor in our midst,” he bellowed. “Aluwyn’s Legguards? Ashen Gloves? Discyngage here is an Ally!”

I shrugged my shapely elven shoulders. “I wanted the top hat,” I said nonchalantly, fingering my rifle, crafted many years ago in Ironforge.

The tauren leaned in close as the timer counted out the final seconds. “I don’t heal Ally,” he hissed. “And no one else here will, either.”

Okay, I muttered to myself, loading my rifle.

Looks like we’re doing this the hard way.

The F2P community is openly hostile to level 24 twinks. The general opinion of 24s is that they are bad players looking to beat up on the weak, avoiding a fair fight to test their skills and learn from other players. There are shame lists on twinkinfo’s F2P forums, lists of 24s who are to be ridiculed on sight and avoided. There’s praise heaped on paid accounts who adhere to the F2P rules, letting fair matches continue  but allowing the F2P community to group up and circumvent some of Blizzard’s tighter restrictions.

Social pressure is the strongest weapon the 20s have, and they are using it in spades. If you’re 24, you’re bad. That’s a constant message that I hear in forum posts and in-game. 24s don’t want fair fights, they’re bad players who couldn’t manage to win any other way, who get their rocks off by beating up the weak. I hear that too.

I don’t blame them one bit for using this tactic. There’s a very real danger here of them losing the bracket they helped create. The more attention F2P PvP gets, the more people will look at it and go… hey, those F2P accounts are pretty weak, they look like … prey. And if enough 24s show up, not just bad players but good ones, experienced twinks, in sufficient numbers, then their games will die. They’ll either have to upgrade their accounts and roll 24s, or find something else to do.

The 20-24 bracket, as it exists today, is very much the result of Blizzard removing the 10-day limit off trial accounts. I think both sides realize and admit that. Starter edition toons are the reason it’s so popular now, and there’s real truth behind the statement that if it weren’t for F2P, few people would be interested in this bracket. The bracket was developing in a different way before the F2P accounts swarmed it, and while you could argue that they’re now the interlopers, F2P is here to stay in 20-24.

This particular fact is brought up usually to support Starter Editions getting their own, separate bracket, away from the 24s, because the disparity between the two sides is so very great. The 20s are waging a social campaign of shaming 24s, because the game itself is stacked against them.

THE MORALITY OF WAR

The 20-24 War is a battle of two opposing viewpoints of PvP combat.

  • PvP should be a fair contest. The true test of a player’s skill is in a fair fight; by making the playing field as even as possible, player skill and ability becomes paramount.
  • PvP should be unfair; victory goes to those who pursue every advantage over their opponents. If you put in the effort to increase your character’s abilities (through gear, professions, etc.), you should perform better than those who do not. Player skill is important, but that includes their skill in creating their character.

These two viewpoints are in opposition, but are not mutually exclusive. Warcraft PvP is inherently unfair; players enter battlegrounds at all levels with different gear, different enchants. This is how the game is coded, how it is designed, and the players have to adapt to it. But there’s still a desire for fairness, especially at the endgame, of having gear be roughly equal, classes be roughly equal, of performance being roughly equal, of player skill being the determining factor.

Twinks and full-time endgame PvPers both chase the best gear and enchants possible, not just for fairness, but so that they can perform as well as they can versus their opponents. If they come up against a lesser-geared opponent, they’ll beat them and move on. If they come up against someone with better gear, they do their best, but realize that they have to gear up and do better next time.

The ethics of gear are complicated. Is it fair to enter a battleground knowing that you’ve geared enough to make combat trivially easy in your favor? Is that your sin, or is it your opponent’s fault for not going to the same lengths you did? If someone queues up for PvP in broken gray gear, and you’re in enchanted heirlooms, are you morally obligated to hold your fire? Or do you kill them and move on? It’s not fair, to be sure – I don’t think anyone disputes that.

But is it wrong?

What if someone chooses to enter combat at a disadvantage? Do their opponents need to abstain from combat with them, or deliberately cripple themselves?

This is not just semantics for the 20-24 bracket. The core problem is one of perspective, and while the unfairness of 24 vs. 20 combat isn’t in dispute, the morality of it is.

Does the F2P movement have a right to exist? Are the 24s in it wrong for even being there?

That’s what this comes down to.

GRATIS VERSUS LIBRE: FREE AS IN BEER, NOT FREE AS IN SPEECH

The 20-24 bracket is unique in all the PvP brackets because of the presence of Starter Edition accounts. Unlike the other expansion twink brackets (70-74, 80-84), the choice between 20 and 24 is not one where there are advantages to both the low and high ends of the bracket that should be considered. Level 70 and 80 characters receive significantly better return on combat statistics, including Resilience, Haste, and Crit. But 74 and 84 have access to better gear, talents, and abilities. There are real choices here. A level 70 or 80 character has chosen one over the other.

And, most importantly, everyone in those brackets are paying customers.

I’ve been treating the level 20 community as equivalent to other expansion twinks up to this point, but that’s ignoring the very real difference between 20s and 24s: the 20s are there because they don’t – for a variety of reasons – want to pay World of Warcraft’s monthly subscription fee. Because of this, the 20-24 bracket is one of the only places where money provides a real advantage to gameplay in WoW. Fifteen dollars a month buys you the ability to pwn the bracket.

It gets you a lot more than that, of course, but it also gets you this advantage.

This debate is really about establishing a norm around the value of money and subscription services. Warcraft has been a subscription-based game for the entirety of its existence, which strongly implies that Starter Edition accounts are guests within the game; to be welcomed, but not to be considered the norm. If that’s the case, then the 20-24 bracket should be treated like any other PvP bracket – get yourself up to the top, gear up, and go to town. Players who choose to come into the battleground with trial accounts are just like any other undergeared, underleveled toon who enters a PvP bracket; a weakness to be exploited on the other team.

But, through sheer numbers, the F2P community makes up the majority of this specific bracket, so the social norm is different. The normal value of a subscription is inverted by the majority. Instead of “it’s your $15 a month, play what you want to play,” it’s now “this game is free, you’re playing $15/month to dominate it.” The normal ability level is the F2P level, not the paid level.

You can’t ignore the money on this one. You just can’t.

Should a player who pays nothing still have a good experience in WoW? I think most of us, with an eye towards the health of the game as a whole, would say – yes, if it convinces them to purchase the game. That’s a reasonable standpoint both from a commercial and personal point of view – the purpose of Starter Editions is to make money for Blizzard.

A smaller subset of people would say, yes, they should have a good experience no matter if they buy it or not. Often this opinion is based on self-interest – it’s nice to participate in WoW on a limited basis without incurring any costs – but sometimes it’s based on the idea that WoW should cultivate a good reputation within the F2P game community, that it’s something you can pick up every so often without paying for it.

And other folks would say: it doesn’t matter if they have a good time or not. They’re not paying customers.

Does the F2P 20 bracket have a right to exist? Do players who pay nothing have the right to dictate the norms and values of a bracket over those who do?

Does paying money confer rights? Should not paying money be seen as somehow morally superior?

The problem with saying the money doesn’t matter is that you’re then left with a case of people choosing disadvantage over advantage, and 20-24 isn’t as simple as that. F2P players want to have a game where they’re playing a fairly matched game, but the game isn’t set up to be fair.

The social pressure exerted by the F2P community is to ridicule the 24s, to accuse them of bullying and of being bad players, is entirely to maintain this fragile sense of fairness within the bracket. There’s an absolute need to demonize the opposition here, to make people look askance at even thinking of rolling 24s, because if too many paying customers do it, they can’t have their fun.

I think if you look at the situation closely, you’ll start to see that this is really an appeal to emotion, to the inherent moral superiority of the F2P twink – they have to overcome serious challenges to reach their maximum potential.

But all twinks have to overcome limits like F2P twinks.

ON TWINKING AND BULLYING

Are level 24 twinks bullying other players?

It’s a fair question to ask. Would someone have rolled a level 24 twink if it wasn’t for the purpose of playing PvP in a known lopsided bracket? Maybe. Probably not, but maybe. I think before the Starter Edition deluge, the 24 bracket was a nice compromise between 19 and 29 with a gear reset.

But now… ?

It’s very interesting playing 24 – for a while. It’s a challenge taking on multiple opponents at once, of figuring out how to make the most of your abilities to win, to be the decisive player on the battlefield.

But it’s very much like playing in the old 10-19 bracket, where twinks and levelers mingled freely. You have a few 24s, a bunch of 20 twinks, and a bunch of 20s who are not twinks by any means. Three tiers of players there – this isn’t a twink bracket, it’s effectively a leveling bracket that awards no XP.

Three tiers of toons, and two of them are twinks. Not one, two.

While writing The Challenge of Fixing Low Level PvP, I realized that the old-school twinks left the lowbie brackets, but new ones moved in in the form of geared levelers. Just because it’s a leveling bracket doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a strata of twinks, of min-maxed toons, in it.

The 20-24 bracket is unique in that it’s a locked bracket which should be given over entirely to the twinks, but isn’t. It has new players, really new, trying out the game mixed throughout. The legitimate Starter Edition accounts – those of new players trying out WoW to see if they’re going to buy it – are competing against both paid 24 twinks and F2P 20 twinks. F2P twinks with really good gear – BiS dungeon gear, BoAs, fishing hats, the best enchants they can get – are going to outclass those new players, by quite a bit. You only have to see players running around with 500-600 health at level 20 to realize that this is not a pure twink bracket.

If, in defense of the F2P movement, you have to be very careful if you’re going to accuse the level 24 twinks of bullying because they outgear the opposition. Are they rolling just because there are weaker players in the bracket? Almost certainly.

But that’s true of the F2P twinks, too.

PEACE TREATY

There isn’t really a level 24 twink culture anymore; it’s been subsumed into the F2P community, which is actively combating it for their own survival. I think the dynamic of the bracket is really interesting, and that my past few weeks of getting to know it have been enlightening.

My personal feeling is that the F2P PvP community that has sprung up deserves to survive. It represents people embracing serious constraints to create characters who are fun to play. It represents a nice option for veteran players who are just looking for a break from the game. If spinning it into its own bracket does that, great. If not, it will survive or perish on its own merits.

I think that’s an important point to make: a bracket, a community, needs to survive on its own merits. If it’s fun, it will draw people to it and resist attacks. If it’s not fun, people will drift away. It shouldn’t need developer assistance to do it.

But I also think that there’s a real conflict here between the F2P community and the normal PvP community, and that you have to stop and think about the arguments being presented that one takes precedence over the other. Things aren’t as simple as they seem. Don’t buy into the propaganda.

No matter which side of the war you end up on.

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Green Tinted Goggles

Using Healers Have To Die to Protect Friendly Healers

(This post is a continuation of Healers Have To Die and the PvP Addon Arms Race, my defense of the controversial PvP addon Healers Have To Die (HHTD). You may want to revisit my arguments in that post before reading.)

Despite my best efforts to get healers to take the initiative, I don’t see many yells for assistance in the battlegrounds. And leveling two healers through PvP right now, I understand why – when I’m getting focus fired, I have about 1 second to switch over and start spamming heals onto myself before I’m dead. The last thing I want to do is to bang the Help Me! macro, which is kinda out of the way, when I really want to cast Nature’s Swiftness or Power Word: Shield to buy myself time.

It’s okay. I should probably macro yells for help into my panic button; I’m still amazed at how effective SaySapped is at telling other players what’s going on. But I keep forgetting to do this because I have a much better personal solution: Healers Have to Die.

Healers Have to Die is the single best addon I have used to protect friendly healers in a battleground, bar none. I am not kidding here. It may be a valuable tool for DPS in PvP to help identify enemy healers, but where I’m discovering it really shines is by identifying friendly healers, marking them, and – most important of all – notifying you when they are under attack.

I wished for another addon called Healers Have To Live. I got it in Healers Have To Die.

HOW HHTD PROTECTS HEALERS

Take a look at the screen at the top of this post. This is my level 70 warrior twink, Ashwalker, fighting at Iceblood Graveyard in Alterac Valley. The camera is zoomed way out so I can see everything around me, but I can’t see details like what kind of clothes people are wearing or even really casting without UI assistance.

You’ll hopefully notice the large blue cross in the screen. This is a friendly healer that HHTD has detected. HHTD looks for specific spells that are usually only cast by healing specs, so it doesn’t get fooled by a Feral Druid casting Rejuvenation – it picks up the real healers.

When a healer shows up in a scrum, I know it now. Enemy healers, friendly healers – they’re all visually represented in a way which makes me know who to protect at all costs – no guesswork.

But that’s just the first part of HHTD’s defense.

When HHTD detects that a friendly healer is getting attacked, it lets you know in BIG HUGE LETTERS across your screen. It tells you which healer is getting attacked, and by whom.

Oh yeah, it spits out warnings in your chat window, too, in case you aren’t looking at the top of your screen.

And it does all this by default.

If there is one addon I absolutely want my BG team to be running, it’s HHTD. Not only for finding opposing healers – I want it for that – but also because it increases everyone’s situational awareness to come to the defense of friendly healers.

How would you not want that?

POP QUIZ: WHERE’S WALDO?

Let’s try a little test. Click on the picture above to view it at a bigger size, look at it for 2 seconds – be honest here – and then close it and come back to reading. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

All done? Good. Pop quiz time, then. Without looking, which healer was being attacked, the top one or the bottom one?

I’ll wager that a good number of you actually will get this right, and pick the healer near the bottom of the screen. But it’s not easy; Beamz’s nameplate is obscured, while Ranting’s is not.

Now, let’s be really honest here – how many of you would have known that Beamz was getting attacked at all, had it not been for the HHTD warning?

I know I wouldn’t have. Unless I saw a mob right on his face, I’d assume that he was fine and dandy, surrounded by people who could take care of him.

To be honest, if I didn’t have HHTD, I wouldn’t have known he was even there, let alone that he needed help. There are 12 friendly players and 3 friendly pets on the screen. HHTD makes my own healers stand out.

HOW TO MAKE HHTD WORK FOR DPS

One of the biggest challenges in getting people to use HHTD to its full potential is that DPS generally don’t run with friendly nameplates on, therefore they’ll never see that a healer is in trouble.

I use Tidy Plates, combined with Threat Plates for PvE, to help manage my friendly nameplates.

Tidy Plates allows you to automate the display of your nameplates based on your combat state, so you don’t have to walk around Stormwind or Orgrimmar with huge crowds of glowing nameplates blocking your view. By selecting the “Show during Combat, Hide when Combat ends” option, friendly plates smoothy come up in combat, and disappear when I leave. It’s really slick.

The second part of my setup is HHTD itself:

Here is the HHTD basic configuration tab. The configuration is relatively straightforward, but you’ll want to make sure that:

  • Protect friendly healers is On. Seriously, why would you have this off?
  • Set friendly healer’s role is On. If you’re the BG leader and you spot a healer who didn’t mark themselves as such, this sets it for you.
  • Announcer and Name Plate Hooker are both On.

These are the default settings. I can’t emphasize that enough, you don’t have to do anything but install HHTD to get it to start working to protect healers.

Healers are your friends. It doesn’t matter if they have a funny name, or are from a different server – all healers are your friends. Don’t abandon them to the rogues.

Get HHTD so your friends can live.

CLARIFICATIONS AND FINAL WORDS

I see a lot of assumptions made in the forums when HHTD comes up, usually made by people who haven’t really looked into the addon, let alone tried it to see how it works. But even when you try it out, you might have some misconceptions about how it works.

  • HHTD only modifies name plates; it doesn’t set raid markers or share information with other players. HHTD’s crosses are only visible to those people running the addon. It’s not like AVR, which shared information with other clients to modify the game world. It’s not setting BG-wide markings on your healers. It is hooking into nameplates and modifying them if someone casts a specific type of spell, NOT communicating that info across clients.
  • HHTD doesn’t target other players or cast any spells. Whenever I see an argument saying that HHTD does this, I wonder what addon they tried out, because that addon sounds much better than the one I’m using.
  • HHTD is pretty tough to fool. This is one I’m guilty of believing wasn’t true – thinking that I could get a cross over my head as a Feral Druid casting some healing spells. It’s wrong. The lua code looks for spells that only healing-spec healers use, or a certain amount of healing from the base spells. It’s actually easier to fool people than it is the addon, just because if you have a big mana pool and are standing in the back casting sparkly healing spells, folks probably aren’t going to check to make sure that it’s Resto, not Elemental.
  • HHTD detects friendly healers. Now you know just how good of a job it does.

I wrote my original defense of HHTD still struggling with the Healers Have to Live concept. At the time, I thought its absence was a weakness in the addon, but it really was a deficiency in my understanding of it. In the subsequent months, I’ve come to explore and appreciate how much better I can be as a PvPer by understanding where my own healers are, no matter how crazy things are getting.

Healers Have to Die is an excellent PvP addon, and I fully recommend it. Not only will it help you find enemy healers, it will help you defend your own teammates better.

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Warlock (and other) Class Feedback

Blizzard has opened up threads on their forums asking for player feedback on how specific classes are playing.

We’re looking for feedback on your class as we work on changes and adjustments for a future game update. While we may be making some specific class changes in 4.3, what we’re looking for in this thread is overall feeling on the class as a whole for more long term changes in the future.

Here’s the Warlock Feedback thread. Each class has their own sticky thread right now.

Here’s my response. If you agree with it, I’d appreciate if you’d hit the Like button. If you just like the instant cast flying demon form idea for warlocks – and who doesn’t? – be sure to mention it in your own response.

I think it’s important that if you have an opinion on a class, any class, you take a few minutes to put down your thoughts. It’s rare that a company openly solicits feedback like this, and while it’s being presented in a format which makes me think it’s effectively going to be treated like a survey, it’s a survey which is going to be read.

If you’re playing a few hours a night, it’s worth taking 5 minutes to let Blizzard know how you feel about the class you’re playing.

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery