Tag Archives: Arena

Arena Season 10 Ending November 29th

Stop buying PvP gear NOW.

Start stockpiling your Honor and Justice points for characters you want to PvP with in Season 11.

Blizzard announced that the current Arena Season will be ending Soon™, and Soon™ means possibly as early as November 15th, next Tuesday November 29th. Nethaera writes:

Arena and Rated Battleground Season 10 is scheduled to end as early as November 15. At that point we will determine who is eligible for the end-of-season rewards, a process that should take approximately one week. It’s very important for players who feel that they may be eligible for Arena titles and/or the Vicious Gladiator’s Twilight Drake to refrain from transferring their characters to another realm or faction until after Season 10 ends. During the break between seasons, all Rated Battleground and Arena matches will be unavailable.

At the end of the season, Conquest Points will be converted to Honor Points, possibly exceeding the 4,000 point Honor cap. All Season 10 items will cost Honor Points (equivalent to their previous Conquest Point cost) when the season ends, with the exception of any items with rating requirements attached. These items will no longer be available for purchase.

Please be aware that higher ilvl PvP items will be introduced and available for Honor points with patch 4.3.

The next Arena and Rated Battleground season will begin for level-85 players approximately one week after the end of Season 10 and will coincide with the awarding of Season 10 titles and mounts. At that time, any Honor accrued above the 4,000-point cap will be converted into gold at a rate of 35 silver per point. In addition, Season 11 rewards will be made available for purchase with Conquest Points awarded during the new season. Matchmaking Ratings will carry over when Season 11 begins, but all Team and Personal Ratings will be wiped.

This is very much in line with what I discussed in Preparing for Patch 4.3 / Arena Season 11, which is a very good thing. It’s a good thing because Blizzard is making sure to communicate the process in advance, detailing caveats about gear level increases, point conversions, and rating changes.

Again, my advice for preparing for Season 11 is pretty straightforward:

  • Stockpile Honor and Justice Points to their cap. This will give you the maximum amount of Honor possible to carry forward into Season 11: 70006667 points.
  • Prepare for 1-2 enchanting and gemming rounds. Get your PvP enchants, Resilience gems, leg armor, and engineering tinkers in place now before prices spike. Tonight, if you can.
  • Don’t buy any PvP gear during the interseason week. Complete your Conquest set if you like for mogging, but expect to replace it once Season 11 starts.

I would plan on taking the interseason week to work on capping your Honor and Justice points, and then either take some time off before the holidays or go play with some alts. It’s a good time to audition a new PvP main, try out new partners, or practice in the BGs.

Now taking bets on if Season 10 will end on 11/15 or 11/22. :) Glad no one took me up on a bet! End date is officially the 29th.

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The Persistent Problem of PvP Rating Exploits

Velidra sent me the link to the above video of a Destruction Warlock tearing apart battlegrounds with his bare hands. The guy takes on 3 Rogues at once and walks away the sole survivor. If I walk away from an encounter with a single Rogue, I usually count myself lucky. Three of them at once? Game over, man. Game over.

But not for Adouken.

I enjoy PvP videos. They usually make me feel bad about my own UI (how do they do that with so few addons?) but they make me feel great about the potential of my class, and I try to learn from them as best I can.

Videos naturally show a skewed version of a player’s skill, but that’s doesn’t mean that players who show off their skills in them are somehow faking it. They might not be that good all the time, but damn if they weren’t that good at some point, when the cameras were rolling. Odds are pretty high that they are that good, and that they operate at a high level of play all the time.

I don’t play anywhere near as well as you see Adouken play in that video – far from it. Watch that first segment and realize that he’s casting Nether Ward inbetween the time a spell is cast at him and the time it reaches him. You notice how it looks like he reflects Death Coils back at their caster? He’s casting his own Death Coil while his opponent’s spell is in the air. That’s awesome.

There is an objective difference in skill between Adouken’s player and me. While it may not be easy, surely, we can measure it somehow, right?

That’s where PvP ratings are supposed to come in and help us know the great from the good, the poor from the mediocre. They way they work is simple, at least in concept.

  • There are two numbers used in the rating system: Matchmaking Rating (also called MMR) and your PvP Rating. You have different values for each bracket.
  • Your Matchmaking Rating changes with every win and loss, and is used by the system to try to find a level of skill where you’ll win about 50% of the time. You can think of the MMR as measuring your aptitude, your potential rating.
  • Your PvP Rating is based upon your performance over time, changes slowly, and is what PvP achievements, gear rewards, and titles are based upon. PvP Rating, in theory, measures your performance over time.

The goal of the PvP rating system is to match you up with people of equal ability, not to allow you to win all the time.

That’s kinda weird, isn’t it? From a sport perspective, it would be really strange to have a system that wasn’t based on win/loss records (performance). But you also have different leagues and ways of stratifying talent that don’t exist in computer games – local, regional, and national competitions, playoffs, major, minor, and little leagues. So instead, the goal is to put a number on you and say, this is an arbitrary level you’re performing at.

All other things being equal, you should win about 50% of your matches against teams and people of similar PvP rank.

But that’s not how it works.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MISSING MMRS

So a funny thing happened in the 4.2 Patch notes.

  • The individual Matchmaking Rating column has been removed from the Arena scoreboard.
  • The individual Matchmaking Rating column has been removed from the Rated Battleground scoreboard and replaced with a team Matchmaking Rating.

This is kind of curious, isn’t it? What’s going on here?

I’ve said several times that Blizzard is trying to encourage people to get into Rated Battlegrounds in patch 4.2, and that many of the changes are with this in mind. You might think that a change like this is just to make it so that people who join rBGs don’t see how outmatched they are and throwing the match immediately.

While this makes a limited amount of sense, it’s not what’s going on. Yes, this is to try to make Rated Battlegrounds more fair, and therefore more attractive. But hiding the personal MMR is aimed at stopping a series of exploits people are using to get titles in both Arena and Rated Battlegrounds, exploits which are running rampant right now. The most common exploit involves using alts to boost the main characters’s MMR, then winning enough games at the various high levels to get the desired titles.

If you’ve been comfortably playing in a lower Arena bracket, you may have noticed that the last 2 weeks have been rather… more painful than before.

You’re not imagining things.

THE PROBLEM WITH MMR, OR WHY THAT TEAM JUST STOMPED US

[Player]: How about a joke before you go?
[GM]: Your Arena rating.
[Player]: /facepalm

Consider the following facts about how MMR works.

  • Your team MMR (different from your rating, mind you) is equal to the average individual MMR of all the players on the team.
  • In the event of a win, individual MMR should go up, thereby raising the team MMR. Losses reduce MMR, but not as much as wins do.
  • Players on new teams start out with 1500 MMR.

Let’s look at how this works out.

You start the season out with your two friends and start playing 3v3 on your mains. You win some, you lose some, but your individual MMR rises and falls together. If your MMR hits 1800, your teammates are also at 1800. Your MMR, and eventually your PvP rating, accurately reflect your team’s performance to date. Everything is rosy.

Now let’s say one of you has an alt you want to bring in. Maybe it’s because it’s a better comp, maybe it’s just time for a change. Now you’ve got two people at 1800 MMR and one person at 1500 MMR, so your team has a MMR of 1700. You’re facing teams which are a little worse than you were doing before, but maybe the alt is undergeared, so it balances out.

What’s interesting is that it might balance out to fair matches in the 1700-1800 bracket, your individual MMRs are now going to be out of sync. The alt will always have a lower MMR than the other two main characters, and can never catch up.

Now let’s take a step back and change the conditions a little bit. You have a 3v3 team, starts fresh at 1500 and goes to 1800. Two of you drop your mains and swap to alts. Your team’s MMR is now 1600. You’re facing easier teams than you did at the 1800 bracket, so you win, even though the alts might be a little undergeared. They gain +200 MMR, you gain +200 MMR, you’re now at 2000 MMR, they’re at 1700 MMR – and your team is back at 1800 MMR.

With me so far? You’re still playing at 1800 MMR teams, but your personal MMR is 2000, your team’s alts are at 1700.

Now, you swap to to one of your alts, and one of your teammates swaps to their mains. 1500 alt, 1700 alt, and 1800 main are now on a 1666 team. You play until your teammate’s main is at 2000. (You’d be at 1700, the second alt would be at 1900.)

You see where this is going, right?

By cycling through alts, teams are able to artificially boost the individual MMR of their main characters.

Now let’s take this a step further. The team cycles through once or twice, everyone’s mains are sitting around 2000 MMR. The alts are all around 1800, which is really where people’s skills are at.

So the team hops on their alts and loses every single match. Their MMR tanks. They go from an 1800 MMR team to a 500 MMR team in a night. Those characters have terrible MMR now, which is exactly what they want.

Because now, you have a crop of alts at 500 MMR to swap into a team with a 2000 MMR main. The team’s matchmaking rating is 1000, so they’re going to be facing significantly easier opponents. But they’re capable of playing at 1800 MMR, so they dominate. The main’s MMR shoots up to 3000+ while the alts are climbing back up to 1800.

And then once everyone’s mains have an MMR of 4000+, they all rejoin the team and play enough matches to bring their team rating – and therefore their PvP rating, which gives the Gladiator titles – up to the desired level. Yes, their MMR will fall from the heights it reached, but the PvP Rating will rise to meet it somewhere in the middle.

When that team comes and stomps your 1000-rated group you and your friends put together to screw around on with perfect CC chains, huge burst damage and flawless target switching… they should never have been playing you in the first place.

BUT WAIT, RATED BATTLEGROUNDS ARE EVEN WORSE

You know why MMR boosting is an even bigger problem in Rated Battlegrounds? It’s not because they’re BGs, and it’s not because I am trying to pick a fight with rBGs this week.

No, it’s because:

  1. There are 10 people on your team, and
  2. Rewards are based on your individual MMR, not your team MMR.

Nice, huh?

Swapping alts (or even players who don’t care) in and out of BGs can be done like in Arenas, but it’s a little easier to boost MMR due to the number of low rated alts you can bring to the team. If you have 2 players at 1800 and 8 players at 1000, your team will be at 1160 MMR and (hopefully) get matched accordingly.

The coordination required to alt swap and lose MMRs is harder to do with 10 people than with 3. There’s a lot more time involved with Rated Battlegrounds, and the effort put forth by a low-rated character is often the same (or more) than a high-rated one, but the high rated one will get rewarded disproportionately to their efforts. While there is some alt-swapping going on, it’s not as easy as some other methods of boosting your MMR.

No, the best thing to do is to work with a strong group until you’re all up to a decent level – say 1800-2000 – and then PuG like crazy. Get into the worst groups you can find who still have a chance of winning, and play with them. This has the same effect as the alt-swapping MMR boost – when you win, you win big, when you lose, you don’t lose that much – with none of the headaches of having to swap alts yourself. You can go from PuG to PuG, increasing your MMR with each win. You may not win as consistently as you do with your set group, but you will get a great rating, which in turn gives you access to the PvP titles. You don’t even have to win any matches at your new MMR to get the titles, because nothing is based on your team’s MMR or rating – just your individual rating.

Remember back when you thought people’s rating really measured their skill?

/AFK FTW

At some point above, you probably wondered how people can preserve their ratings while losing.

Well, if you leave a match before it finishes, it doesn’t count. This is how win-trading works – people queue in off-hours, trying to get specific teams to match up against, and leave the match if it’s not them. When people leave the match as soon as things start going a little wrong? They’re leaving to preserve their MMR, which gets modified at the end of the match.

You didn’t think people were /afking because they were scared of you, right? :-)

WIN TRADING

Another reason why people /afk out of an Arena (or Rated Battlegrounds, though I think this is less common) match is because they’re trying to trade wins with another team.

This often happens late at night, when there aren’t a lot of teams playing in the different brackets, and it’s been a problem since Arenas started, but obviously if you can find a team who will throw the match for you, it’s a great way to get your PvP Rating to match your possibly inflated MMR.

I don’t have a lot to say about win trading. Don’t think it doesn’t happen, because it does.

WHY BLIZZARD IS HIDING INDIVIDUAL MMRS

Given that there are two different types of MMR inflation going on in both types of Rated PvP, you can start to see why Blizzard is trying to hide that value. It’s not going to prevent the problem from happening, especially not in Rated Battlegrounds, but it can reduce the precision with which people are doing it now. There will be more guesswork when exploiting, both in boosting and tanking individual MMRs.

There’s a concept in security circles called “Security through Obscurity,” which is a way of describing any security system that relies upon something being hidden for it to be secure. It’s usually treated as a bad thing, because once something is found that relies on it, it’s completely insecure. In cryptography, if your sophisticated code algorithm uses a single seed to generate codes, once the seed is known your code is useless. In piracy, if you bury your gold but don’t put a lock on it, anyone who finds the gold can take it.

In other words, security through obscurity is generally not very secure.

There’s a temptation to say that hiding the MMRs is just that – not making the system any less susceptible to exploitation, just hiding the problem. People can still do the things they’re doing now. You are going to face teams who are boosting themselves, who have great gear and skilled players but are playing with an MMR well below their real skill, and you won’t be able to tell anymore.

But, removing the data points does make it more difficult on the exploiters. Not a lot – not like a complete revamp of the MMR system would – but a bit. It’s a relatively simple change in terms of development time which will have some impact. That’s why it’s happening now.

I don’t really like this change, but I see that Blizzard has to do something.

Will teams still be able to boost their MMR into the stratosphere? You bet. As far as I can see, as long as the three conditions I laid out about the MMR system hold true, boosting is possible. You can’t have flexible teams and not have this kind of potential abuse. Will it be harder for other players to find out who is boosting? Yes, it will.

It’s not great. But it’s a start.

IT’S ALL RELATIVE

Man is the measure of all things.

-Protagoras

The interesting thing about the PvP Rating system, at least the Platonic ideal of the PvP rating system, is that it provides a way to compare people with very different character types. No matter what you play, or what your team is like, it should provide a relative measure against other players. The values are arbitrary and entirely dependent upon the actions of other players, as well as your own.

I think about other rating systems that assign a numeric value to your ability – college aptitude tests like the SAT/ACT, IQ tests, even professional placement exams – and they all measure ability based upon fixed criteria. Here is a test, there are right and wrong answers, how did you do? (Please note, I am an old fart, and I still think of the SAT as having all multiple-choice questions, none of this fancy writing stuff.)

Both types of test assign numeric values, which of course makes them more scientific.

But more than that, both purport to measure aptitude, but one is easy to game for your advantage, while the other is not. Why is that?

Take a look at the exploits again. Each one of them involves using other people. The system isn’t the problem, the people are. The system relies upon measuring you and your teammates, and your performance against other teams, which provides two places where it can be exploited.

Your opponents can really only modify your rating through throwing a match and win-trading, which is one kind of problem. You and your teammates can modify it through careful manipulation, boosting some characters, tanking the ratings of others, and preserving gains through /afking.

If these ratings were static and based upon some kind of objective performance, this kind of exploitation would not be possible. You can’t cheat an aptitude test by trying to throw off the bell curve and flooding the test pool with people who are going to score 0. You can’t get a 1600 on the SATs by being better than everyone else in your testing pool – you have to get every question right.

There are objective measurements of player skill, even in an environment soaked in relativity like PvP. Go back to the video at the top of the page. The player’s reaction time is faster than many others. They choose the right spells and abilities to succeed. They position themselves well, they use their abilities in the correct order. There is a measurable difference between that kind of play and my own, and that means we could construct a static test to measure it.

But static tests are hard. They have to be randomized, administered sparingly, maintained and updated. I don’t know how it would capture performance in the field fairly. I have only the vaguest ideas how a static PvP test would work. Perhaps like kata in martial arts, where mastery of a ritualized set of moves – perhaps a scripted PvP encounter for each class – is required to move to the next level?

That doesn’t feel much like PvP to me. PvP requires other players, living, breathing, thinking teammates and opponents.

And yet, as soon as we bring other people into our measure, we open the door for manipulating that rating.

SKILL > RATING

PvP Rating is not equal to skill. As much as we would like to have a system that really represents skill, the PvP Rating system is not it.

The more I look at how the PvP Rating system is being manipulated, the less I respect it. There are a lot of highly skilled players with high ratings, where ability and performance are in sync. But there are plenty of other teams that are taking shortcuts, who are going for the quickest way to their desired goal. They’ll stomp through the lower brackets while boosting a friend’s toon. The only incentives that aren’t about gaining the coveted rating are designed to get people into Rated Battlegrounds – everything else is about getting your numbers up.

Players who deliberately game the rating system sadly affect other players. A 2500 player playing in the 1250 range artificially depresses the ratings of people who would naturally be in the lower brackets. The upper brackets, in turn, get filled with people who have artificially inflated their ratings, giving the people who actually perform at that level easy opponents, inflating their ratings in turn.

The more players who game the system, the more imbalanced the brackets get.

And none of this is a reason to not play Arenas or Rated Battlegrounds.

  • Arenas remains the best place to learn how to win fights in PvP, period. (The only other activity that even comes close is dueling, which is really 1:1 Arena.) Yes, it’s a death match. Yes, there are strict limits about what you can and can’t use. Yes, you’re going to have unbalanced matches. Try to win them anyway. Learn from your losses.
  • Rated Battlegrounds delivered on their promise – they let you play BGs with the team composition you want against really good opponents. You have to win the individual fights, you have to execute a strategy, you have to do it against an organized opponent. Yes, you’re going to have unbalanced matches. So what? Get stronger.

As long as PvP Ratings are a relative measure, players will work together to game the system and artificially inflate their ratings. The exploits I’ve discussed are just some of the ways that players are trying to get around the system.

Is this cheating? Yep, you better believe it. Creative use of game mechanics, my foot.

But while it unbalances PvP, it’s not a reason to abandon Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds.

Skill is not equal to rating. Skill can’t be gamed, it can only be acquired through work and talent.

Screw your PvP Rating. Focus on improving your skill instead.

If you do that, all the exploits in the world won’t matter one bit.

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Disguising Sticks as Carrots: the 6/16 Conquest Point Cap Update

The 4.2 Patch notes have been updated last night (6/16) with a dramatic shift from punishment to reward regarding the Conquest Point cap changes of 4.2.

The entire set of patch notes are below, with my comments following. Updated information is in red.

  • The minimum cap on Conquest Points earned per week from Arenas is now 1500 1350 at 1500 or less Battleground Arena rating. The maximum cap remains is now 3000 2700 at 3000 or more Battleground Arena rating. The cap continues to scale non-linearly between those two points. For comparison, during season 9 the cap ranged between 1343 and 3000.
  • The game now separately tracks different Conquest Point caps for Battlegrounds and Arenas. The cap for Arena rating will always be 2/3 of the cap for Rated Battleground rating at any given Arena rating. Battleground ratings receive a bonus of 22.2% to the cap they generate, meaning the cap from Battleground rating now ranges between 1650 and 3300. Players may earn a total number of Conquest Points per week equal to the higher of these two caps, but once players have reached the cap for either Arenas or Battlegrounds, they can no longer earn Conquest Points from that source. Conquest Points from Battleground holidays only count toward the total Conquest Point cap.
    • Example: During the first week of Season 10 everyone starts with a rating below 1500. Therefore, the cap from Rated Battlegrounds will be 1500 1650 and the cap from Arena rating will be 1000 1350. In the first week, the character wins enough Arena matches to reach the 1000 1350 point cap. After that point, Arena wins will no longer grant Conquest points for the week. However, the character can still earn up to 500 300 additional points, but can only earn those points from either Rated Battlegrounds, or from the Conquest Point bonus for holiday and/or daily random Battlegrounds. The following week the cap will be recalculated based on the character’s ratings, and it is possible Arena rating could now generate the higher cap. The second week, the character’s cap from Arena rating is 1600 1800, and the cap from Rated Battlegrounds is 1500 1650. The character has a total cap of 1600 1800 Conquest points for the week. Up to 1500 1650 points can be earned from Rated Battlegrounds, but the last 100 150 must come from a different source.

The situation remains essentially the same, with sticks replaced by carrots. The ratio is slightly different, the math is more complicated, but the design goals are identical to last week’s version.

Players are being encouraged to go to Rated Battlegrounds, and it has nothing to do with slowing down the rate of acquisition of gear.

Take a look at the changes.

  • The gap between Arena and RBG caps has been reduced from 33.3% to 22.2% across the board.
    • The gap for the lowest-rated players is now 300 Conquest Points, down from 500.
    • The gap for the highest-rated players is now 600 Conquest Points, down from 1000 points.
  • The Arena cap for high rated players has been increased 700 points.
  • Instead of phrasing the change as a penalty to the Arena cap, the change is now phrased as a bonus to the Rated Battleground Cap.

High-ranked Arena players now continue with a majority of their play in Arena matches, but will need to do some Rated Battlegrounds, Zulroics, or raids to get their remaining 600 Conquest Points.

Since there haven’t been any changes to the Arena Conquest Point per hour rate on the PTR, low-ranked Arena players are now able to gain gear at the exact same rate that they got it in 4.1. Unless the prices for Ruthless Gladiator’s Gear go up, there is no change to the absolute rate of acquisition.

If this was PvE, then this would all be a moot point. Gear increases are relative to a static encounter difficulty, so you can make the argument that you can choose to do, or not do, Rated Battlegrounds, based on the desires of your raid group.

But this is PvP. The encounter difficulty of PvP is entirely relative to other players. Players who play Rated Battlegrounds, even who play them poorly, will gear up faster than players who do not. 

Rated Battlegrounds are not giving out more Conquest Points relative to their current version. Rated Battlegrounds are not being made a more attractive investment of one’s time – but they are being made into a requirement to stay competitive.

The only substantial change in this update is psychological. The stick has been replaced with a carrot, but there’s still a stick there. Cutaia pointed out this morning that this kind of change worked well before with Rested XP – changing the model from “Tired = XP Penalty” to “Rested = XP Bonus” made it vastly more attractive to players. That the time spent leveling didn’t change wasn’t important - giving players a bonus instead of a penalty changed their behavior. Rested XP is a bonus!

But it’s also the speed at which you were expected to level with originally. Whoops.

Ignore the hands, people!

The challenges of moving players away from Arenas into Rated Battlegrounds are substantial. It’s hard getting 10 people together when you’re used to only getting 2-5. It’s hard when rBGs don’t have enough players to offer newbies a fighting chance. It’s hard when the coding has been broken, when the maps aren’t tuned well, when you need a very specific comp to be successful. It’s hard.

I appreciate that Blizzard is at least looking at the way in which this change is presented. I really do. It didn’t go down well when it was announced, Blizzard is obviously trying their best to fix the the queue problems in Rated Battlegrounds, and they have to do something.

But no matter how these changes to the Conquest Point changes get spun, their purpose remains the same:

Get players into Rated Battlegrounds at any cost.

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The Carrot and the Stick: Rated Battlegrounds and the Conquest Point Cap of 4.2

Ed: Please see my next post for the PTR changes of 6/16/11.

There has been a conflict brewing in the Arena community over the last few weeks over an upcoming change to the way Conquest Points will be awarded starting in 4.2. From the PTR notes:

The game now separately tracks different Conquest Point caps for Battlegrounds and Arenas. The cap for Arena rating will always be 2/3 of the cap for Battleground rating at any given Arena rating. Players may earn a total number of Conquest Points per week equal to the higher of these two caps, but once players have reached the cap for either Arenas or Battlegrounds, they can no longer earn Conquest Points from that source. Conquest Points from Battleground holidays only count toward the total Conquest Point cap.

This is a somewhat confusingly-worded note, but the intent is that there will be a fundamental change in the way Conquest Points are earned. The only way to reach the weekly Conquest Point cap will be through doing Rated Battlegrounds, not Arenas. You can get 2/3rds of your weekly CP through Arenas, then the remainder have to come from Rated Battlegrounds.

If you want to be competitive in higher-end PvP, you must play Rated Battlegrounds in 4.2. That’s the intent behind this change. All rated PvP is not equal. Zarhym writes:

So, as many of you are interpreting this change, it is to encourage more participation in Rated Battlegrounds. We see the fact that participating in Arenas is by far the superior way of obtaining top-notch PvP gear, in terms of time investment, as a problem. If you want to maximize your Conquest Point gains in patch 4.2, you’ll need to participate at least a little bit in Rated Battlegrounds.

We know this may not sound very appealing to those of you who have grown accustomed to spending as little as an hour a week getting the top PvP currency in the game via Arenas over the last couple of expansions. To put things in perspective though, the total number of items that can be purchased with Conquest Points today is much larger than what you used to be able to buy with Arena Points pre-Deathwing world explosion. And there is no longer a requirement to “grind” unrated BGs for Honor each season, so the real time investment isn’t changing as much as some players are perceiving it to be.

On top of that, the frank reality is that the total time investment required in season 9 to get all your points has been much, much too low, as you could do that from a few 2v2 Arena games each week completed in less than an hour’s time. It shows that Rated Battlegrounds are currently sub-par in terms of the rate at which points can be accumulated.

We do feel this change is necessary to keep the time investment vs. high-quality item accumulation in check, even if it doesn’t read well on paper. However, as always, your constructive feedback is welcomed. :)

This is an interesting response, because there are two reasons given for why this change is being made, not one.

  • First, to encourage participation in Rated Battlegrounds.
  • Second, to require more time playing to get high-end PvP gear.

The first one is obvious, but what’s interesting is that it’s not the focus of Zarhym’s post. Of course this is being done to motivate players into playing Rated Battlegrounds. But why? After the first sentence, it’s not mentioned again and the entire response is about the problem of time investment versus gear acquisition.

Doesn’t this strike anyone else as being a little odd? Give one reason, then talk about another one that’s not really related to the first?

Let’s say that the problem is that Conquest PvP gear is too easy to get – a problem that I’m not sure is a real problem, but I can accept it for now. It’s not even that it’s too easy, it’s that it doesn’t take enough time each week if you do Arenas. Put the problem another way: too many Conquest Points are awarded per hour in Arenas.

Okay! That’s a solvable problem!

When we’ve seen similar problems with Battlegrounds and Honor Points in the past, you know what Blizzard has done? They adjust the rate of points gained in a battleground. This is not rocket science – we’ve had several Honor Point adjustments when developers felt that it took too much time to gear up via Battlegrounds versus Heroics (patches 3.3.3 and 4.1 most recently, if my memory serves me correctly.)

The logical response to Arenas giving too many Conquest Points per hour is to reduce the number of CP awarded per match, not to send players into a different activity. I’ve seen many good, creative suggestions about how to handle this on the official forums and Arena Junkies. Any of a number of solutions could be implemented to increase the time per piece. In fact, Blizzard has already done this once before in Cataclysm, normalizing the CP per Arena win in 4.1 so it took at least 7-8 victories, regardless of bracket, to reach the minimum cap instead of 5.

First I’m asked to believe that the graveyard changes of 4.1 were an anti-camping measure, and now I’m being asked to believe that these changes are to solve the problem of Arenas awarding too many Conquest Points per hour?

I… I actually feel kinda insulted by this post. I never thought I’d say that about a Blizzard blue post, but … there it is. I know I’m supposed to take a page from the Vulcans on just about everything, but… really? Really?

You really expect me to believe this is about CP/hour?

THE PROBLEM OF RATING

I think there are numerous problems affecting Rated Battlegrounds right now. These problems drive players to disproportionately avoid rBGs and favor Arenas, which in turn causes problems since Blizzard must justify the development cost of Rated Battlegrounds. My hunch is that, much like in Tol Barad, Blizzard feels that the solution to these problems is one of scale, not design, and that by adding more people the problems will resolve themselves.

They might even be right.

Gevlon describes the underlying problem with Rated Battlegrounds when he writes:

Rated games have about 50% win rate. A bit more when you are underrated and a bit less when overrated, but after you reached your “real” rating, it’s 50%.

If you played rated BGs, you know it’s absolutely not true.

The objective of rated play is to determine ratings. That sounds silly to say, but I think it’s important to come out and say it. It’s not about being “better” or “harder” – it’s about putting quantitative measurements on people’s play, which in turn can elevate the level play with good matching. Ultimately, though, it’s all about assigning numbers.

In theory, every team (and player within that team) has a equilibrium that they’re moving towards, a rating that represents their true ability demonstrated over time. Players should converge on their real rating as they play, and – in theory – they should have a roughly even chance of winning against someone with the same rating. Through the crucible of rated play, your team’s measure is taken.

When it works, ratings can be a hugely compelling incentive towards playing Arena because they guarantee that you’ll win some of the time. You can pick up a new partner and after a few hours of play your rating will settle to that point of equilibrium. Once you’re through that initial period – and it’s often surprisingly fast – things will settle down and you’ll start winning about half of the time.

This is not the situation in Rated Battlegrounds. Team MMRs – the measurement of the overall team’s ability – are often wildly mismatched. And I’m not talking about 100-200 points difference – we’re talking 1000-1500 points variance. That’s just ridiculously unfair matching.

If we assume that the same matching programs are in use between Arenas and rBGs, then the problem isn’t that there’s buggy code – it’s that the finder slowly relaxes its standards until it finds a suitable match. Let that sink in for a minute. Assuming that it’s working correctly, the hugely imbalanced match was the best match it could find.

Which, in turn, means that there aren’t enough teams in the system, period.

At best, there are clusters of teams in the queue, grouped around certain rating points. At worst, the queue is empty enough that the clusters don’t exist, and it’s all about finding any match.

I expect that the truth is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes – the few teams that survive the initial beatdown get established, allowing them to rise a bit, which in turn lets them win against the hapless newbies. It’s a vicious cycle where the strong thrive and the weak are pushed out, causing fair competition to cease at the lower skill levels. (Oh, hi, Warsong Gulch 10-19 bracket before the twinks left. It’s nice to see you again.)

Cross-battlegroup queues was the first step towards solving this problem. Making same-faction matches possible was the next step towards solving this problem, as it effectively doubles the size of the matchmaking pool. Requiring Rated Battlegrounds to cap Conquest Points is a logical step in this progression.

As long as Rated Battlegrounds require a full raid group to enter the queue, this problem will bedevil the system. Twink battlegrounds have similar problems with population, but can draw from individuals queueing in addition to guild groups. Arena 2s and 3s will enjoy fairer matching (and more accurate ratings) than 5s or rBGs due to larger populations to draw from, which in turn is due to the relative ease of coordinating smaller groups.

Much like Tol Barad, Blizzard needs to do something to get people to play Rated Battlegrounds. If the problems are not simply technical, but rather one of scale and player distribution, then driving PvPers into rBGs is the logical solution.

Much like awarding 1800 Honor to the attackers for a victory in Tol Barad, I expect that this will work… in much the same way, sadly.

THE CARROT AND THE STICK

I think we’ll look back fondly on the problems we had with Tol Barad during the first few months of Cataclysm, because this change to Arenas is going to make the TB debacle look like child’s play.

I confess, I was nervous when Rated Battlegrounds were announced as part of Cataclysm. The idea sounded all well and good, but the devil is in the details of implementation. How would ratings be assigned? How would losses be handled? What would this mean for the current setup? I had dozens of questions without any answers.

- “Preparing for Rated Battlegrounds,” June 2010

I wrote that a year ago. Let’s take a look at some of the problems Rated Battlegrounds have had since launch.

  • Having both 10-man and 15-man rBGs proved to be very difficult to staff for, causing 15s to be underplayed.
  • 15s were cut to drive players into 10s, which removed half of the battlegrounds from rated play. This left only two types of games – Capture the Flag and Resource/Node Control – on 3 maps. (10-man Arathi Basin was added later to compensate.)
  • Compositions which dominated these two games – especially the 4-healer/1-tank teams in CTF – caused a very defensive type of game, necessitating major changes to all rated maps, which in turn affected non-rated play.
  • Wins were often not recorded properly, sometimes causing teams to lose MMR for a victory. Can you imagine going through the effort of putting together a 10-man raid, downing a boss, and getting penalized for it?

On top of that:

  • Due to a lack of players, inexperienced teams will usually find themselves facing far superior opponents. This demoralizes the new players while boring the experienced ones.

The devil is in the details. Any one of these problems might not be enough to cause a mass exodus from rBGs, but over time, they’ve whittled down people’s desire to play them. Looking at the list above, as well as the cross-battlegroup and inter-faction changes designed to bring more people in to Rated Battlegrounds, paints a rather gloomy picture of this part of PvP.

In Tol Barad, Blizzard used a carrot to get people to fix the problem of people not playing it anymore. By offering massive Honor Point rewards for winning on offense, they caused rational win-trading by masses of their playerbase, completely undermining the zone. They made 2 more changes to the reward structure before finally implementing the solution that actually “fixed” Tol Barad – change the game mechanics to allow for an easier final base cap.

The carrot got people back into Tol Barad, but it didn’t solve the problem.

It backfired pretty badly, to be honest. I’d be shy of offering carrots after that week, too.

So, instead of a carrot to draw people in to Rated Battlegrounds, Blizzard now offers us a stick. And make no mistake about it – this is a stick. If you don’t do Rated Battlegrounds, you will fall behind in Arenas. Instead of offering better rewards from rBGs – or poorer rewards from Arenas, which works out to the same thing – we get an ultimatum. Instead of making Rated Battlegrounds more fun than Arenas, we get handed a chore that must be done.

You will do Rated Battlegrounds if you want to cap Conquest Points each week.

Period.

THERE’S ALWAYS A BIGGER CARROT

Tol Barad has more incentives to play than Wintergrasp, but players are less enthusiastic about it. Rated Battlegrounds have more rewards than Arenas and normal battlegrounds, but participation is low. Conquest Gear is too easy to get, while Honor Gear is too hard.

What the hell is going on with PvP in Cataclysm, anyways?

It’s so strange to be writing about the problems with Rated Battlegrounds when, for me personally, Season 9 has been a blast. I have had so much fun screwing around in Arenas it’s not even funny. This is, admittedly, a very personal perspective – we finally have enough folks interested in Arenas in my guild that we have a definite PvP subculture growing. Some weeks are bad, but most are good, and the time spent in the Arena has been rewarding on a lot of levels.

I still think a lot about my motivations that led me to write Replay Value, and why it is I’d rather PvP than raid. Arenas play a large part of that right now; it’s more appealing to me, with a somewhat fractured schedule, to know that I can bang out my weekly cap in a night or two of play, no matter the comp I choose to go with. I hang out with my friends, we have fun, we win some, we lose some, we have fun. Bring the player, not the class, right?

All of these little carrots that Blizzard manipulates in-game help us justify our specific choice of activity – in-game. They guide us towards certain things that we want. If we want to be a respected PvPer, we’ll probably want a PvP title, so we’ll work towards it. Perhaps we want a cool mount to show off our raiding skills, or a title that shows how much we like Fishing.

But there are bigger carrots out there, motivations that have nothing to do with in-game bling.

  • Am I having fun?
  • Am I enjoying spending time with the people I interact with?
  • Do I have a sense of accomplishment for the work that I’ve done?

Sure, the loot is nice. Shiny purples make you feel like, damn, I done good. Having a character with accomplishments makes you feel better.

But what happens when something in game simply isn’t fun for people?

This is the biggest carrot of all that a game, any game, can offer – this is more fun than the other things you could be doing right now. Why are mobile games so popular? Because they’re more fun than just waiting around in line somewhere. You can play Angry Birds on your phone for a few minutes while waiting in line at the DMV. You can play Words with Friends while killing time at the coffee shop. You can play World of Warcraft instead of watching TV, to unwind at the end of a busy day.

Why are Arenas popular right now? Is it the easy loot? Sure, that’s part of it. But they’re also more fun than Rated Battlegrounds for a lot of players. When I took my casual PvE-oriented guild into rBGs for a night, we got matched up with teams way beyond our rating – and we got stomped. The next rBG night we begged and pleaded for people to give it another try – and got stomped again.

We haven’t been able to fill out a rBG team since. Arena teams? Yes. Regular battleground groups? All the time. But no more Rated Battlegrounds.

This is not an easy problem to fix. Rated Battlegrounds aren’t fun for those who aren’t already good at them, so inexperienced teams find themselves matched up against good teams who destroy them, which drives the inexperienced teams away, perpetuating the imbalance.

I find myself thinking about the bigger carrots more and more these days. Why did I find Wintergrasp so much more fun than Tol Barad? Why do I prefer Arena to rBGs? Are these little carrots even worth it anymore?

Having little carrots replaced with a little sticks makes me wonder about the bigger carrots.

THE PROBLEM OF MINIMUM COMPETENCE

I witnessed a fascinating exchange over Twitter a few weeks ago between members of a highly progressed raiding guild about Rated Battlegrounds. It went something like this.

  • GM: I’d like to put together a Rated BG team.
  • PvPer: Please make sure that the people on it are good, or we’ll get destroyed.
  • GM: Well, this is something that I think a lot of people are interested in.
  • PvPer: Seriously, people need a 1900 Arena rating, or this is a waste of my time.
  • PvEer: I was leveling a priest specifically to help fill out our PvP team, but since I don’t Arena I’m not sure why I’m bothering if that’s your attitude.
  • PvPer: I appreciate what you’re doing, but I’m also being realistic here. It’s not enough to have a priest. We need good players in every position or it’s not worth our time.
  • PvEer: Thanks for demeaning my contribution before I’ve even made it.
  • GM: I just wanted to have us run some rBGs, people.

Rated Battlegrounds are like raids in organization, time investment, and composition. You need to have certain roles filled, players need to invest time in getting appropriate gear, and players need to be able to execute their roles correctly.

They are unlike raids in that the difficulty of the activity will vary from encounter to encounter, and will never get easier – at least if the rating system is working correctly. You will go from getting your ass kicked all the time, to getting your ass kicked some of the time, to getting your ass kicked occasionally but still losing roughly half of the time. Raiding generally doesn’t work like that – you get your ass handed to you for a while, then you make progress, then eventually the boss goes on farm status and you move on.

The conversation I watched unfold on Twitter had two people arguing two very valid, but conflicting, points of view.

The first point of view is that you need to be good enough to play with us. Raiders already know this, and many raid teams enforce strict rules about who can raid or who cannot. If you ignore the labels, the PvPer was actually espousing a philosophy of minimum demonstrated competence – you have to put in the time to show that you can perform up to a certain standard before you get the job. You have to be able to run Heroics before you raid. You have to be able to play in the Arenas before you rBG.

The other point of view is that you need to value the contributions of the members of your team, no matter the level of competence. Dismissing someone’s effort of leveling another character to 85 and gearing it up for rated PvP play based on an arbitrary qualification absolutely destroys their motivation. The PvEer in question is an excellent raider with strong loyalty towards their guild, but without a lot of PvP experience on that character. By adopting the attitude that it’s a waste of his time if people aren’t already really good, the PvPer made his participation conditional on the PvEer’s performance – which is not good for building a team.

(As an aside, flip the roles around and see how this conversation applies to raiding. It’s a fascinating exercise.)

The problem here is that the bar for minimum competence in Rated Battlegrounds is high, because mediocre and fair teams don’t keep playing.

Guilds are in an awkward position here; many have preexisting raid teams of skilled PvE players who would like to try rBGs, but don’t have the same level of experience or commitment to PvP yet. They can’t even practice in regular battlegrounds to help gear everyone up – they can only hope to find a like minded group to war-game with, which is time fighting without improving even basic gear. PvPers in non-PvP guilds are in a similarly awkward situation, having to mentor and assist their guild in preparing for an activity not everyone signed up for.

The new guild system only exacerbates this problem. Guilds are tempted by the new achievement structure to expand their normal spheres of activity. Players are encouraged to do things in guild groups, further increasing the temptation to have guilds just try out things like Rated Battlegrounds – even if there’s not a solid PvP core. Players who want to both raid and PvP either have to find a guild which is a good fit on both, or consider splitting their time between guilds by having a PvP toon in one and a raiding toon in another – a hugely awkward solution.

I brought up this conversation because it reflects a real problem with Rated Battlegrounds – there’s not really any way to do them causally, unlike raiding. You can’t bang your head against them and make some progress. The content doesn’t get nerfed over time, things won’t get easier naturally. You never outgear your opponents, and the way things are structured now, you must have a good level of gear and competency across the team to have a chance. The similarities to the heyday of 10-19 Warsong Gulch twinking are apt.

The only way to make rBGs more accessible to casual PvPers is to lower the overall minimum competence required by flooding the system with weaker teams. Otherwise, the pool will remain populated by dedicated PvP teams who will crush aspiring teams as a matter of course.

I’ll let you try to find a good way to spin that inconvenient fact into a press release.

TAKE IT TO THE MATTRESSES

I keep coming back to that blue post about this change and wondering what the behind-the-scenes discussions are like at Blizzard regarding Rated Battlegrounds. Only they have the real numbers behind participation – only they can really tell if the amount of developer time spent on the key PvP feature of this expansion has been worth it. Are enough players playing rBGs to justify their cost?

The change to how Conquest Points are being awarded in 4.2 isn’t about slowing down gear acquisition; it’s an effort by Blizzard to get players back into Rated Battlegrounds to solve a number of problems that, upon due consideration, stem from not having enough teams distributed throughout the rBG system.

That’s okay. I can understand it. This is their business, and ultimately this is about their bottom line, not mine. I can be curious, I can have opinions about it, but let’s face it – my criteria for the success of a game (is it fun?) is different from theirs (is it profitable?). I can enjoy an activity that isn’t making the developer any money and call it a success. The popularity of Rated Battlegrounds, and therefore their profitability, is not really my concern.

At least it wasn’t, until Blizzard just made it my concern by affecting the fun I was having elsewhere.

There are things I care about as a customer of any product or service, and there are things that I decidedly don’t. I care about the product I get, the service I receive, and the price I pay. If you fail to deliver what I paid you for, here are some things I really don’t care about:

  • Your other customers.
  • Your internal problems.
  • Your bottom line.

This is just business; it’s not personal. I don’t care about your other customers if they’re taking away development resources on things I’ve paid for. I don’t care about your process problems which cause you to be 6 weeks late in installing a circuit, and then cause you to do it wrong. I don’t even care if you’re going to take a loss on the transaction. None of those are my problem.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand that problems happen, I provide goods and services too. I value long-term partnerships, and don’t throw them away because of isolated issues. I want us both to be successful. I want my partners to make money and have a profitable relationship with me.

But when someone says the reason they failed to deliver something they promised due to an internal problem, or due to other customers, I remind them that I don’t care about their problems. I care about my problem, which is that you failed to deliver on a promise!

And if you can’t fix it and make it right, then I will start looking to take my business elsewhere. It’s just business; it’s not personal. You screwed up, which I can forgive, but then you tried to make your problem into my problem, and I don’t forgive that easily.

It took me several days to realize that my reaction to Zarhym’s post was exactly the same reaction I have to someone telling me they’re going to have to limit services I receive due to process problems that resulted from, say, a reorganization, or a new product launch. And hey, prices are going up, too!

I was actually quite relieved when I realized this. Like, okay, I get why I’m pissed about this. Got it.

Why should I care that Rated Battlegrounds need more teams playing it? I enjoy playing PvP with the people I play with. We tried Rated Battlegrounds, didn’t enjoy the experience, so went off to play Arenas instead. It’s not a judgement call on the Rated Battleground product as a whole – it’s just that it wasn’t fun for me and the people I wanted to play with. Other people love them, which is great! But not us, not right now.

I like Product A, and have liked it for a while. But now, in order to enjoy Product A, I have to also buy Product RBG, which is more expensive, is more of a hassle to assemble, and takes longer to deal with. I can get Product A on its own, but I get less than I used to without Product RBG.

And this change is because sales of Product RBG are low. It’s a quirk of the product that if more people had Product RBG, it would probably be easier to use, which is arguably a good thing for the vendor.

But how is it good for me, exactly?

Other people’s problems are not my problems, and I don’t appreciate it when they try to make them mine.

THE PROBLEM OF SHUT UP AND DEAL WITH IT

I don’t think it’s my place to say if Rated Battlegrounds are a success or a failure. In my world, that’s a business evaluation that only Blizzard can really perform, because it really only matters to their bottom line.

As a player, however, I have to look at it and ask why I’m being asked to change my behavior. Why am I being asked to stop having the fun I’ve been having in Arenas and start having less fun in Rated Battlegrounds? Does it add up that this is really about slowing down gear acquisition?

I think that’s what bugs me the most about this change. I understand corporate logic; you can’t come out and admit that a game is not attracting players, because that’s a tacit admission of failure in the marketplace. That’s not going to happen. It’s dumb of me to rationally expect Blizzard to come out and say, “Rated Battlegrounds are not doing as well as we would like; not enough teams are participating, so we’re going to force our PvP players to participate – despite their unwillingness to do so to date.”

Yeah. Not going to see that in a press release.

But this is the second time that major changes have been introduced to PvP due to Rated Battlegrounds that affect other parts of PvP, and the second time that such changes have come out with misleading explanations. And much like saying that the graveyard changes were to prevent camping (when they obviously were not), saying that the changes to Arena Conquest Points are to slow down CP/hour is simply … wrong. Dishonest. It doesn’t hold up.

Come right out and say it: we need more teams participating in the lower rating levels of Rated Battlegrounds. That is the fix that’s needed. If rBGs are to have a chance at being successful in this expansion, more people absolutely need to be convinced to put forth the effort to give them a try, casually, to give the matching algorithm a chance to work.

There’s a little carrot called gear that’s being held out to PvPers to get them to play Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds. The stick is now there, too – if you want to stay competitive in Arenas, you’ll do your rBGs and like them.

I don’t expect this to change, and I don’t expect Blizzard to say anything more on the matter.

All I ask is that that we be honest about why this change is happening, and make our choices accordingly.

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