Tag Archives: Cataclysm

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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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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Replay Value

Why do some areas of Warcraft hold our attention through repeated play, while others grow stale?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this while playing Cataclysm, because there are parts of the game which I really enjoy doing the first time, but can’t muster the interest to do them again. This isn’t new to this expansion, but it feels like it’s more prevalent now, like there’s more things to try, but that they don’t hold my interest for long.

What’s interesting is that it’s certain parts of an activity that hold (or don’t hold) my interest, not the entire activity. Leveling is kinda fun, but there are some zones which I’ve done once and have no desire to ever do again. (Worgen starting area, Vashj’ir, Hyjal.) I find most battlegrounds infinitely replayable, except Tol Barad, which I just can’t motivate myself to play anymore on offense OR defense. Raiding has zero interest for me right now, even though I really enjoyed it during ICC. I’m not even bothering with heroic dungeons at this point, choosing to spend my time in PvP or on alts.

What’s going on here?

THE RIVER IS NEVER THE SAME TWICE

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

Heraclitus

Every single BG or Arena I queue up for is different. There’s a different opponent, I have different team mates, and the battle is going to be unique. Yes, the maps are the same. Change comes very slowly to the battlegrounds, so even major changes (like the new WSG graveyard) get assimilated into the collective knowledge of the map, and you can focus on trying to win the battle.

But even more than the external factors, I can see how I’ve changed as a player inside the battlegrounds. My recent forays into the Arena have given me better skills in breaking up a defending team, of working with others, of winning the 1:1 matchups. I’m slowly learning how to predict what different classes will do, and move to counter them. While the games played in the battlegrounds are static, the participants are not, and I still find that highly engaging.

PvP has high replay value for exactly this reason – the river is never the same twice. While the surrounding framework is the same, the individual experience of that specific battle is always different. Once a player overcomes the initial challenge of learning how to play the BG (and gearing their character appropriately), the replay value stays high. And there’s enough variety between the different types of PvP that, generally speaking, you can bounce between different matches and not get bored with a single battleground. Variety seems to be key here.

I wonder about the exceptions to this rule, though. I don’t play a lot of Tol Barad anymore, and I am hard pressed to figure out why, exactly. No doubt part of it is because I hit a wall with the daily quests, so the external motivation for capturing the zone is lessened. It’s still a great source for Honor Points, but I don’t need those. And after spending a lot of time in there learning how to win, once I started winning I stopped going.

If Tol Barad was part of the random BG queue, would I play it when it came up? Possibly. I think I might play all of the World PvP zones if they were part of the random BG queue if they were adapted for it. But as a separate activity? I find myself choosing to do other things instead of Tol Barad.

I don’t think it’s just the lack of external rewards, though that no doubt contributes to it. The other battlegrounds offer similar rewards (Honor, Achievements) to battlegrounds I’ll willingly play, even when you set aside the pets and trinkets and mounts and gold from dailies and another exalted reputation and Honor Points coming out the wahzoo. (And those are a lot of things for a battleground to have – no other PvP area has come close to having this breadth of rewards.) So that leaves two other places to look – factors internal to me, and factors intrinsic to Tol Barad.

I wanted to beat Tol Barad. I remember this so clearly when I wrote a post where I basically agreed with people who said it was too hard – and my own attitude in that post royally pissed me off. It wasn’t that the battleground was too hard, it’s that we weren’t trying hard enough and blaming the battleground for it.

Anger can be a positive thing. Anger can motivate you to buckle down and solve a problem, to get over yourself and do the hard things. Winning Tol Barad with a demoralized, outgeared Alliance-Durotan team before the rules was changed was hard. Figuring out how to hold the keep was hard.

And in learning how to overcome that challenge, I think a lot of folks had a lot of fun.

But what happens when the challenge is finally overcome? What’s left? PvP isn’t like PvE, where content gets progressively easier as you gear up (and when content gets nerfed down). The difficulty of PvP is dynamic, but you never get to the point where you overgear the instance – they can have just as many, or more, ubergeared characters on their team as you have on yours.

Tol Barad never really got any easier, even when the changes to how quickly the first and last base flips went in. It’s still a pain in the ass to win on Offense, and a game of musical chairs on Defense. It’s actually kinda boring – go to Slags, okay, go to ICG, okay, go to WV, frak, losing ICG. So in comparison to some of the other battlegrounds, there’s less nuanced strategy, it’s more difficult to coordinate en masse, and parts of it are kinda boring. It’s both harder than the other battlegrounds, and lacks a lot of the fun parts of the other games.

When you take away both the internal motivation of conquering the battlefield and the external rewards for participating, it starts to become clearer why I don’t queue up for Tol Barad anymore.

WHY RAIDS GO STALE

Tol Barad provides an interesting segue into thinking about the replay value of raiding. The initial play value of raiding is really high, drawing from internal player motivations to overcome challenges, external rewards, story advancement and exploration. This is a great set of initial values to have, covering a wide variety of accomplishment, collecting, and tourism.

Consider the challenge of raiding. Raiding is hard at first. Your entire team has to learn the fight, to try different strategies to see what works. You have to get great gear. You have to execute your strategy well. Everyone has to be on the ball at first. And then after days, weeks, or even months of trying, BOOM, a boss goes down! Mission Accomplished! You have met this challenge and triumphed! But wait, there are still 12 more bosses to go, so you can keep going.  Raiding provides small victories along the way to keep you motivated, without altering the difficulty of any one of them. The difficulty of the encounter is set; your approach to it varies.

Once you get all of the bosses down on normal mode, you can go back and make them even harder with heroic modes – oh yes, raiding as an activity has the whole “challenge yourself and your team” thing down pat.

What does change the difficulty of the encounters is gear, which is a game all its own. The more bosses you down, the better gear you get, which in turn makes it easier to progress through the content. Better gear means that the execution doesn’t need to be quite as precise, random chance doesn’t have quite as much to say in the matter. In some cases (heroic modes) it’s really necessary, but the really great guilds find a way to down bosses with lesser gear.

Also, purples are shiny.

Ahem. Right. Got distracted there.

Lastly, raiding allows you to see parts of the story of Warcraft that are, frankly, not accessible to non-raiders. A lot of work goes in to each raid instance – okay, maybe not ToC – and getting to see the story unfold really does drive a lot of people forward into heroics and raiding.

There are also social motivations for raiding – which I don’t want to discount – but just by looking at these three reasons why people raid, you see how raids naturally lose their replay value over time.

  1. Eventually, your team runs out of raid bosses to kill, or you hit a wall where you can’t get past one.
  2. Your team gets all the gear that is useful to them.
  3. You see it all.

Over time, raids will grow stale, and they won’t hold the same appeal as they did when they were introduced. That’s fine! They’re hugely appealing when we first encounter them. But over time, their replay value degrades.

You’ll notice that my argument presumes that eventually the bosses go down and the raid goes on farm status, or partially on farm. This isn’t how it works for most guilds, even during long, comparably easy raid periods (like ICC at the end of Wrath.)

No, raid teams hit walls. They get to 3/13, or 9/13, and can’t get any further. Weeks on a boss turns into frustrating months on a boss, and unless there’s some other factor at play to help motivate players (title, achievement, end boss of the expansion), the replay value of raiding drops precipitously. Teams do the bosses they can do, so there’s (hopefully) still gear being acquired – but night after night of failure can really wear people down.

The effect of failure is, interestingly, the same as the effect of success: it lowers the replay value of raiding. No matter where you stop, eventually your team does have all the gear available, even if it’s from Zulroics and crafted epics and you’re 0/13, or if you’re pushing HM 13/13.

The contrast with PvP is striking. WSG is still entertaining after 6 years, but most Vanilla and BC raids are just visited for reputation, vanity items, or nostalgia. Kara and Ulduar, arguably the two best raid instances still in the game, are gorgeous – but they’re not really a challenge with max-level characters. The appeal is to story, not to conquering the challenge.

Warsong Gulch is a challenge no matter what level you visit it at.

WHEN BLIZZARD ATTACKS

On some bosses, though, better armor and weapons may not be enough because some mechanics just can’t easily be outgeared. To mitigate that problem, our tendency is to nerf content over time just to make sure a wide variety of players see it.

Ghostcrawler

Ghostcrawler is referring to what happens when the natural nerfing of raids (due to improved gear and community knowledge) isn’t sufficient to allow a majority of the player base to get past the mechanical challenges of a raid. There are some bosses which require coordination and execution that can’t be overpowered with slightly better gear, so to prevent raider frustration, Blizzard periodically nerfs raid content.

Coincidentally, Blizzard just announced a massive round of nerfs to the current tier of raiding content that will coincide with the release of the next tier, Firelands. This is certainly in line with what the company said they would do, and it makes sense when looking at the tradeoffs they have to make between initial play value and replay value.

To keep raiding going, new content has to be released. The enjoyment that raiders derive from their activity requires new challenges – precisely because of the low replay value of raiding. Static content gets boring over time. You can only do the fight so many times before you’ve got it down.

But what about raiders who are stuck? It doesn’t matter if you’re stuck at 0/13 or 9/13, the new content is going to be arguably harder than the old content, and that means you’re going to leave more and more players behind. Soon you’ll have raid groups stuck in a variety of places throughout the content – some stuck in the previous tier, some in the current tier, some in the current tier hardmodes – and some who complete it all quickly. Frustration grows and people go do other things.

The only viable solution to that problem is to change the variable difficulty of old content. Satisfy player’s motivations to see the content (which doesn’t really diminish over time, there’s a lot in this game from BC and Wrath I still want to see), help them get back on track with gearing up for the new content, and still let them achieve their goals.

Nerfing older content allows it to have more initial play value than if it remained static. If raids remained static throughout the course of an expansion, players would have to wait until an entire new level cap was introduced to see content. That’s just dumb. Players want to see things. Players want the satisfaction of accomplishment, of reaching a goal, even if it’s easier when others did it.

Raiding is all about initial play value. We should expect it to get easier all the time because it lacks replay value, not because Blizzard hates people who have already completed it.

THE ACHIEVEMENT DICHOTOMY AND CATACLYSM LEVELING

The genesis of this post was not about PvP or raiding, but a discussion on Twitter about leveling in Cataclysm. I actually have been leveling alts between bouts of PvP, and have found it to be quite enjoyable.

But I’m struggling with questing, too. Not to do it – it’s really a lot of fun – but to do it over and over again, to parcel out the experience between characters.

Questing in any of the revamped zones makes me feel like they’re a single, extended quest line, custom made for that character. They’re laid out well, the story moves along at a nice pace, and the zone can become a defining moment for a character. Cynderblock’s story is Westfall. Ashwalker came alive to me in the Plaguelands (surprisingly.)

Once a zone defines a character, though, I don’t have any desire to do it again. They have limited replay value. Not only have I seen what there is to see, I’ve satisfied my storytelling urge with the zone and revisiting it with another character feels wrong.

This tendency to only want to play through a zone once really worries me about the 80-85 zones. I did three of them on Cynwise (Vashj’ir, Twilight Highlands, then Hyjal), got midway through Deepholm, and then stopped. Cynwulf is midway through Uldum, and I’m stalled there, too – I think his story is really more suited to Hyjal, but I can’t work up the enthusiasm to do that zone again. (And he’s level 83, so no real benefit there.)

Did questing have more replay value in Wrath? Questlines were smaller units pre-Cataclysm, so it was certainly easier to pick and choose what you did. There was less a feeling you needed to do an entire zone for the story, because there were lots of little stories you could pick and choose. Now zones are one big, epic story, which makes it more fun the first time through, but introduces problems the next time around.

So in this one respect, questing was better in Wrath. It had higher replay value, though it was less attractive initially.

I think of it like the difference between a movie (or miniseries) and an episodic television program; one presents a coherent, tightly wrapped story with character arcs that change quickly, while the other allows slower exploration of characters, with gradual arcs that meander through the seasons. They both can be exciting, they both can have great moments; but one defines characters quickly, the other more slowly. If you have a bad episode the series itself can recover; if you have a bad movie, well, the whole thing is bad.

This disparity between initial play value and replay value in questing also leads to an achievement dichotomy; what if I want to get Loremaster on Cynwise, but doing so requires her to quest in a zone someone else has completed? There’s a tension there between characters that’s hard to resolve in my head.

It’s not that one can’t go back and do the zones again; obviously, it’s possible, I’m sure that I could force myself to do Westfall with an 85. I have Fel Flame now on a mouseover macro, I can zap mobs with impunity.

No, the tension is between completing a zone on an alt in a way which defines them (therefore removing the desire to do it again) versus the desire to collect achievements on a single toon. Limited replay value of a zone implies a choice between richly characterized alts (which are fun) and an accomplished main (a different kind of fun).

Do I want to do all these quests? Or do I want to do all of them on a single character? Do I do them when they can benefit the character for leveling, reputation, and gear, or do I do them on my max-level main?

I want my cake and to eat it too – or account-wide achievements.

HARDCODED FUN


A few players set their own goals, … but most are focused on getting a recognised achievement. In a massive game like WoW, a lot of players rely on hardcoded suggestions to find new content.

Tim Howgego

I remember reading WoW Insider’s interview with Tim Howgego, also known as El from El’s Extreme Angling, and his very practical attitude towards achievements. Fishing has some of the hardest, most time-consuming achievements in the game, but by in large they won’t motivate people to fish. They might motivate people to fish in certain places, or for certain things, but it won’t make them like fishing. Players either enjoy fishing or they don’t, which makes the role of WoW fishing in the larger game problematic.

I really liked how Tim described achievements as “hardcoded suggestions to find new content.” It puts achievements in the proper context of guiding players to try things they might never attempt otherwise. They’re an additional reward that helps extend the replay value of an activity, little rewards for going and doing something that players might lack motivation to attempt. Perhaps it’s a title, or a mount, or even an ability that other characters don’t have. Perhaps it’s a pet, or a discount at some vendors. Perhaps it’s just achievement points! But there’s something there that encourages players to try it.

Despite how much I dislike certain achievements in PvP – you have no idea the personal anguish getting the Double Rainbow screenshot caused me, dear readers – I think they’re by and large an effective part of the game. They extend the replay value of content, they direct you to try things you might otherwise attempt, and they provide a focused goal to work towards. I have no reason to visit Serpentshrine Cavern anymore, but I’ll go fish up the Lurker Below anyways.

There have been achievements which I’ve sought which have been entirely positive experiences – getting Ambassador on Cynderblock helped me focus my efforts on questing through the Horde starting areas before Cataclysm so that I’d have gone through them at least once – even though I had no desire to level an alt through them. It’s nice to work on something and go, hey, I got this shiny thing, and even though it doesn’t make me a better player, it was fun to do.

There are other achievements which are very negative for players – School of Hard Knocks is commonly cited here, but for me it was Sinister Calling. I was sick with the flu that week, but I doggedly logged on, hour after hour, hoping that the gorram helm would show up in the treat bag, and then running SM:GY as many times as I could manage.

I was as sick as a dog, pushing myself to play a video game for a fast purple dragon.

That was probably a low point.

I deliberately left achievements out when talking about PvP and raiding because they work differently than other rewards. They are suggestions, nothing more, about what your characters can experience in game. You can choose to do them, or not, as you please. They don’t modify how your character plays in any in-game capacity – given equal spec and gear, it doesn’t matter if you have 1000 achievement points or 13,000 when it comes to PvP, raiding, or whatever. At best, achievements show player experience with that character – nothing more.

That lack of real difference is one of the reasons I have difficulty reconciling my feelings about the new zones in Cataclysm. Experiencing them at the appropriate level means the time is spent well, leveling an alt, gearing them up, enjoying the story the way it was meant to be told. But I also want to be able to do them on Cynwise, to say, hey, look, this girl and I, we’ve DONE things together. There’s no real practical value to that desire – it’s entirely social – but it’s there, nonetheless.

Achievements are highly personal affairs.

CYN Y U NO RAID

I haven’t raided in 4.1 because I find the replay value of PvP to outweigh the initial play value of raiding. I’ve also found that leveling, in general, has been more fun than raiding.

So when I sit down at night and log in, I’ll either PvP or level an alt, or maybe PvP on an alt.

As players, we make choices every time we log in about what we’re going to do. And, when Cataclysm launched, I made the choice to solely focus on PvP with my endgame character, instead of splitting my attention between PvE and PvP (like I did in Wrath), or focusing on getting ready for raids. Could the alts turn into raiding toons? Could I go raid on Cynwise? Maybe. None of this is set in stone. But I didn’t want to raid.

The easy explanation for why I felt this way is that I was burned out on raiding due to spending far, far too long farming ICC. I kept running it on Cynwise long after I should have stopped or switched to an alt, but the worth of a well-geared DPS on an alt run is actually pretty high. You have to pack a lot of the raid DPS into a few characters in order to beat the enrage timers, even on farm bosses. We spent a long, long time in that place. “Burned Out Raider Takes A Break, Film At 11” is not really news.

But that’s not really it. Plenty of people got tired of ICC, yet returned to Cataclysm raiding in force. Something drew them back in, something that didn’t draw me in.

No. I looked at the known value of raiding in Wrath – with its known highs and lows – and the perceived difficulty of raiding in Cataclysm – with the reputed difficulties of Heroics, not even talking about raids – and said, this does not sound as much fun as PvP, or even leveling. One or two hours to complete a heroic dungeon, with no guarantee of success? Weeks of wiping on the same boss? Are you kidding me?

I was willing to spend months wiping on the Lich King. There’s a sense of completion there, a huge amount of motivation there, to do it at least once. But wiping for months on a raid at the beginning of an expansion? Really? Shit, I’d rather go play some Arenas, run some battlegrounds, heck, go level an alt. I don’t get enough personal satisfaction from raiding as an activity to even make it worth the attempt.

Acknowledging the constraints on your time is important. I’ve said it before: if I had unlimited time I’m sure that I’d be able to excel in all the areas of this game. But time is limited, and we have to make choices about what we work on.

So where’s the failure, here? Is it that Blizzard failed to make something appealing to me? Is it that I’m just lazy, and that I’d rather wait to faceroll it later than spend my nights being the first to punch through?

I look at the failure of Tol Barad to capture my attention and idly wonder why I don’t play it more, but I don’t think I’m a bad person for not doing it. Raiding feels a little different. My friends, my guild, could use a solid DPS. They could use my DK or Warrior, leveled up, as tanks. They wouldn’t want me healing on my Druid (OMG, trust me), but they could use me as a Priest. There’s a direct social component to raiding that Tol Barad just hasn’t captured – I don’t feel strong loyalty to my faction, but I sure as hell do towards my guild.

My guild needing me was the reason I went Demonology in ICC – to help the guild with the best raid spellcaster buff in the game. That’s why I farmed that first wing for months – to help friends gear up, even if it was gearing up alts. I got to kill Arthas and see the place, which is what I wanted.

But it always bothered me, just a little bit, that the majority of my friends in game knew me a Demo raider, not as an Aff/Destro PvPer. The closest they came was on Faction Champs, which is very much not a PvP fight, no matter how superficially it resembles one. I was the purple fuzzy demon pulling aggro instead of the dot-slinger with the Felpup, and I was okay with that, because we were raiding on our own terms.

Things are different in Cataclysm. The guild system now encourages guilds to try PvP, so that’s what I’m doing. Instead of raiding I’m helping to get my guildmates involved in Arenas and Rated Battlegrounds. Instead of farming bosses I’m running battlegrounds with folks. I’m not worried about my rating or my comp, I just like to PvP. There are more things for a guild to do than just level and raid, and I’m enjoying contributing to the guild in those things.

Raids? I can see those later. I can satisfy my curiosity some other time about all the fights. I’m sure I’ll get a PvE gearset together at some point and go run with the rest of the raiders.

Battlegrounds and Arenas are fun every time I queue for them. They are as enjoyable at level 10 as they are at level 85, and every time I queue up I get a different challenge handed to me.

(Sometimes, I get my ass handed to me, too. It’s still fun!)

Replay value matters.

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Battleground Changes in 4.1

Patch 4.1 is going to bring some substantial changes to battlegrounds. The patch notes are up in a relatively final format, so I finally feel comfortable talking about them.
Let’s take a look.

HONOR GAINS DOUBLED

The rate at which Honor Points are earned has been doubled.

Thank goodness for this change. When the new system debuted at in 4.0.1, we assumed that the reason Honor was so hard to grind was because we weren’t at 85. Once we hit 85, it became clear that no, it just took a lot of time to get gear.

Then Tol Barad happened, and … well… let’s just say that if you got gear during that week, your grind was short, and if not, it was long. It felt about as tough as the grind in mid-Wrath, before Blizzard adjusted it to take as much time as gearing up for Heroics.

This will be good for PvPers gearing up. It may have unintended side effects when combined with the new Justice Point conversions, however. We’ll have to see how it works.

Speaking of conversions…

PvP AND PvE POINT CONVERSIONS

Conquest Points are now purchasable from the Valor Quartermasters at 250 Conquest Points per 250 Valor Points.

Honor Points are now purchasable from the Justice Trade Goods vendors at 250 Honor Points per 375 Justice Points.

Justice Points are now purchasable from the Honor Trade Goods vendors at 250 Justice Points per 375 Honor Points.

I’ve written about this change at some length before. Good? Bad? Tough to say until we see how the Honor and Justice gains pan out; my guess is that regular Battlegrounds will be a great way to get DPS into Justice Gear.

FOCUSED/BRUTAL ASSAULT

This change is aimed at Flag Carriers in WSG and Twin Peaks, and is going to make their jobs more difficult with the aim of shortening games.

After 3 minutes of both teams having the flag, both flag carriers will get Focused Assault, which increases damage taken by 10%.

Every minute afterward, an additional stack will be applied to increase damage taken by an additional 10%.

After 7 minutes, Brutal Assault will be applied in place of Focused Assault. In additional to the damage debuff, this debuff also caps the player’s movement speed at 100%. The damage taken debuff works the same and will add 10% to the debuff up to a maximum of 100% damage taken.

My take on this is that it is directed entirely at rated battleground matches, in an attempt to make the matches move faster. A good FC/2-healer team can keep themselves alive for some time, which prolongs the match. Most of the changes we’ll see to battlegrounds have this theme – make it easier to attack, harder to defend. This will have interesting implications in all brackets.

It also is a direct blow to Druid FCs, as their speed in Travel Form helps them be superior flag carriers compared to other classes. Damage Avoidance will now be key, so expect to see Blood DKs and Prot Warriors as FCs even more often.

10 v 10 ARATHI BASIN

Arathi Basin is now available as a 10v10-player rated Battleground.

While this is going to be weird, it’s necessary to add some variety to rated play. Right now there are two CTF maps and one Resource map; this adds in a second Resource map.  With the loss of the 15s, there needs to be more variety in Rated Battlegrounds, and this helps quickly add AB back into play.

FASTER FLAG CAPS IN AB/BfG

Flags should now cap in 7 seconds, down from 8.

This is another rated change. By taking a second off of the cap timer, bases should flip a little more often, which would invoke new graveyard conditions and resurrection vectors, making for a more dynamic game.

GRAVEYARD CHANGES: BATTLE FOR GILNEAS

Players who die at a control point that they own will now be teleported to the next closest graveyard, instead of the one at which they died.

If a player’s team owns the Mine and Waterworks, and dies at Waterworks, they will be teleported to the Mine.

If an Alliance player’s team only owns Lighthouse, and dies at Lighthouse, they will respawn at their base.

If a Horde player’s team owns Waterworks and Mine, and dies at Lighthouse, they will respawn at Waterworks.

The simple summary is: you will always be sent away from the base you die at, no matter if you control it.

This is a substantial change to make this battleground more dynamic, designed to make node defense more difficult by sending the defenders away from the node (just like the attackers), allowing a larger attacking force to actually overwhelm a node, instead of having the resurrection wave of the defenders keep them up.

Look at the example they used above:

This is a departure from the Arathi Basin paradigm, where you resurrect near the node you are defending. Attackers will still need to fight at the flag, but defenders will need to coordinate reinforcements between nodes. Instead of stationary teams, you’ll have to constantly replenish each base’s forces.

In some ways, this is an anti-healer change. Stationing a dedicated healer at each node in the current design allows a defending force to keep the base. This change will send the healer away from the base, allowing the attackers more time to kill the defending DPS. Right now killing a healer only gives them a window of about 15-45 seconds to burn as many people down as they can, and that’s not much of a window.

I have a few questions about how the resurrection vectors will work in certain cases (what if Alliance controls Mine but not LH or WW, for instance? Do they go back to the spawn point?) but will have to see how this shakes out.

Keep in mind non-rated play will be affected, just like rated matches, so coordination of team strength in a PuG will be key to success.

GRAVEYARD CHANGES: TWIN PEAKS

More changes to the graveyards and resurrection vectors, courtesy of rated battlegrounds:

Players will now only spawn at their base graveyard when they die in the enemy base.

Defending players will respawn at the middle graveyard.

Midfield players will respawn at the middle graveyard.

Attacking players will respawn at their base graveyard.

This is an interesting change.

First, it’s interesting because it reminds me that I still haven’t finished my guide to Twin Peaks, but I’m seriously lacking the motivation to do WSG 2.0 when WSG 1.0 is still so interesting!

Also, it’s interesting because it’s very deliberately making it harder to defend your base and the FC. No longer do defenders go back to the base graveyard, instead they move up to midfield. Balancing that change, however, is a huge penalty to attackers – getting sent entirely across the map, instead of rezzing at midfield.

Here’s a quick and dirty diagram of how it will work:

There are two problems these changes are trying to solve.

  1. Defenders, and by defenders I mean defending healers, currently can get back into the base, and back to the FC, very quickly. This change will make it easier to take down the FC.
  2. Sending attackers back to midfield was an insufficient penalty, allowing a team that focused heavily on offense to weight the field towards the enemy base, causing a turtle. (Defenders would rez by base, offense maintains pressure to keep them there.) This change makes the field more dynamic.

Frankly, this is going to mean more fights in midfield, which given some of the TP turtles I’ve seen, might not be a bad thing. This fits in very strongly with the anti-defense theme we’re seeing in this patch, which might make rated battlegrounds more exciting – but it also might be like introducing nets to football.

One item of note – I don’t see anything about fixes to the Leap of Faith exploit some people have reported in Twin Peaks. (Priest dies, rezzes, pulls FC up to GY, FC can’t be killed.) Hopefully that will be addressed in this patch, too.

GRAVEYARD CHANGES: WARSONG GULCH

This is the graveyard change that will have the greatest impact on players, as WSG is available at level 10, while Twin Peaks and Battle For Gilneas only open up at 85.

The graveyards outside both bases have been lowered in elevation and are no longer on the same plane as the main flag room entrances to either respective base.

When this change was originally announced, there was uproar because of the context in which it was presented – as an anti-camping change. It’s not. If anything, it will make graveyard camping easier, not harder.

No, this is purely a change for rated battleground play, and it’s the first change where rated play is going to dramatically impact non-rated play, including leveling characters. Let’s take a look.

This is how the Warsong Gulch graveyard currently operates.

The GY is on the same level as the main structure, which allows for numerous vectors when characters resurrect. They can rush to the flag room to assist with defense (about 15 seconds), they can assist with graveyard defense (immediate), they can go to the balcony (about 18 seconds), or they can leap down to midfield.

The proposed changes moves the GY down onto its own level, like so:

This change eliminates a number of options from the GY, most notably going directly back to the flag room. Resurrecting characters will be unable to get back into the base without going down to midfield and then running around to the tunnel or ramp entrances.

I hate to say it, but this change is really targeted at healers in rated battlegrounds. Rated BGs should have 2-3 healers, and with the current layout, healers are only out of a FR defense for about 30-45 seconds. This change is to open the window of opportunity for the attackers to take down the FC once the healers are gone.

As for ganking? Well, this change actually makes it easier to camp the enemy graveyard, especially with multiple healers:

Place your ranged up top, your melee down below, and your healers out of range of the GY. Once in position, your healers are essentially untouchable, and your DPS can grind the opposing team until they give up. Contrast that with the current layout, where you can directly engage your attackers if they are on the same level, or retreat out of range of ranged attackers firing through the hill below you.

Don’t believe the hype. This change is not about graveyard camping.

This is the first change made for Rated PvP where I think it’s going to have a negative effect upon the non-rated battlegrounds, especially leveling battlegrounds. It takes away the strategic depth of the Graveyard and limits player choices to essentially two routes – back up the tunnel, or out into midfield on offense. The lowest, non-mounted brackets will find this a real challenge to get back to the flag room, which can often mean the difference between a cap and no cap when everyone runs at the same speed (except Druids and Shamans.)

I’m not saying this change shouldn’t be made; I don’t play enough rated battlegrounds to know if they’re too defensive right now or not.

But this is going to have impacts on lowbie PvP that might – and I stress might – make WSG a lot less fun to play. We’ll have to see.

RESILIENCE SCALING CHANGES

Resilience scaling has been modified for linear returns, as opposed to increasing returns. Under the new formula, going from 30 resilience to 40 resilience gives players the same increase to survivability as going from 0 to 10. Resilience now scales in the same way armor and magic resistances do. A player with 32.5% damage reduction from resilience in 4.0.6 should see their damage reduction unchanged in 4.1. Those with less than 32.5% will gain slightly. Those with more will lose some damage reduction, increasingly so as their resilience climbs.

I’ve posted on this before, as well – the stat will change so that the effect of the stat becomes linear, instead of the stat. Oh, just go read the post. :-)

Overall this is a positive change. This will improve the survivability of people with lower Resilience ratings. That first piece of PvP gear should feel like it matters. Improving survivability early on while gearing will be a very good thing.

The higher levels of Resilience will be less effective, though, but again – that’s probably a good thing. Too much Resilience can go to your head.

UNDOCUMENTED ENCHANTMENT CHANGES

These aren’t from the patch release notes, but rather a compilation of changes discovered on the PTR at TwinkInfo. To sum up:

  • BC enchants which require an item level of 35 will now also require a character level of 25. (This removes the +15 Resilience, +6 Stats and +150 Health enchants from the 10-24 brackets.)
  • Several items, like the Haliscan Jacket, have had their item levels lowered, so they can’t take BC enchants anymore.
  • Wrath enchants will now require a minimum level of 50. This impacts the 49 bracket significantly.
  • Netherweave bandages and higher will have level requirements.
  • MP5 enchants have been converted into Spirit enchants.
  • HP5 enchants have been converted into Stamina enchants.

Most of these changes will actually make it a little easier to make a new twink, removing the effectiveness of some of the grandfathered items. While I’m a little disappointed I can’t bust out my Inferno Robe with +150 Health on Cynderblock anymore, I’ll get over it.

(Thanks to Psynister for the tip on this one.)

OTHER CHANGES

There are a host of achievement changes in 4.1, mostly tuning and bugfixes. PvP trinkets and Every Man For Himself will get a new spell effect, Escape Artist is no longer sharing a cooldown.

But the changes above are substantial enough. The smaller battlegrounds are starting to feel the effects of rated play, and we may see more changes coming to other old favorites soon because of it. This is new territory for battlegrounds, which means it’s a little scary and exciting all mixed together.

Let’s see how it all works out.

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The Currency Conversions of Warcraft Patch 4.1

World of Warcraft patch 4.1 brings with it an interesting change: conversions between PvP and PvE currencies. From the latest PTR notes:

  • Honor is now purchasable from the Justice Commodities Vendor at 250 Honor per 375 Justice.
  • Justice is now purchasable from the Honor Commodities Vendor at 250 Justice per 375 Honor.
  • Conquest is now purchasable from the Valor vendor at 250 Conquest per 250 Valor.

You could summarize this as the lower tier has a bidirectional exchange rate of 3:2 between PvP and PvE, and the higher tier has a 1:1 exchange rate from PvE to PvP, with no corresponding exchange between PvP to PvE.

These proposed changes are quite interesting. These four currencies are some of the primary rewards for endgame player, and as the different currencies have become increasingly unified over the course of the game, changes in one area of the game can increasingly impact others. There are both good and bad things about having a more simplified currency system, one that allows people to switch between different spheres of the game without necessarily participating in them. The rewards continue to have meaning and power once they’ve served their primary purpose.

What’s even more interesting is what activities the currencies don’t reward, where the walls of separation are maintained, where there are holes in the logical, perfect system.

Let’s take a look.

DUDE, WHERE ARE MY MARKS OF HONOR?

Do you remember battleground Marks of Honor? Marks of Honor were tokens that were awarded for completing a battleground, with different types awarded by different battlegrounds. You needed these Marks to get leveling PvP gear, accessories, mounts, and endgame gear (from Wintergrasp, for instance.)

There were other types of PvP currencies, too: Honor Points (gotten from HKs and accomplishing battleground objectives) and Arena Points (from playing Arenas.) Marks, Honor Points, and Arena Points all existed in a chaotic soup which made gearing up an interesting exercise. Depending on what you wanted, you might need to run EotS a bunch of times, or the original three (WSG, AB, AV) over and over to get the prizes you wanted. Mount collectors will probably remember this as a bad thing.

Oh yes, and there was a direct conversion between Marks to Honor Points (remember Concerted Efforts / For Great Honor?), and a conversion between Honor and Gold, so just showing up to a battleground could be profitable – but only if you had a balanced set of Marks for your level. If you just played WSG or AV (*cough cough*), you were stuck with a lot of unusable Marks.

Marks served a good purpose – they kept people going back to different battlegrounds. Without Marks, entire factions would have deserted battlegrounds in certain brackets – Horde would have ditched Alterac Valley in favor of Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin, Alliance would have ditched WSG/AB in favor of Alterac Valley – which would have led to hugely long queue times. Horde players would queue for AV in the Ruin battlegroup in the 51-60 bracket solely to get AV Marks – they had no chance of winning a 10v40 battle.

Marks kept the system running for a while. They weren’t great – they were pretty bad, in hindsight – but they provided incentive for people to show up for the fights, which was all they were supposed to do.

All Marks of Honor (except Wintergrasp) went away in 3.3.3, a change which coincided with the Random Battleground Finder. Blizzard introduced a tool which allowed people to queue for random battlegrounds, instead of specific ones. To avoid creating a conflict of interest with players, they removed the rewards which previously encouraged queuing for separate BGs and replaced them with the Daily Random Battleground quests we’re used to today.

It’s easy to forget how big of a change this was for PvP. We went from 10 kinds of currency to 4. Wintergrasp Marks still existed, as did Stone Keeper’s Shards for PvP Heirlooms, but suddenly it was either Honor Points or Arena Points, and that daily could get you great rewards if you didn’t do Arena.

In unifying the PvP currency, however, the differences in the average Honor Points between each battleground became a larger driver of player behavior. Alterac Valley had the highest Honor per Minute rates of any battleground, especially on it’s holiday weekends, so players flocked there to grind honor. Warsong Gulch had the lowest HPM, so it became the refuge of the randoms and the die-hard. Nothing sucked more than getting stuck in a hour-long WSG and losing. (There was no timer to end the match in the old days.) Players sought out the highest rewards, instead of spending their time grinding out each individual battleground for Marks, which meant the random feature was used a lot, and Alterac Valley, Strand of the Ancients, and Isle of Conquest got to see a lot of activity.

Marks were an artificial way to encourage players to play battlegrounds they didn’t like. It’s funny to put it that way now, but it’s really true. The balancing requirements of the Concerted Efforts repeatable quest (which converted 1 of each available Mark into Honor) kept people going back once all the mounts and gear were there, but it was a clunky system, designed to balance things out. Pushing people into a tool that randomly distributes their placement was a better idea, because all you had to do was reward people for using the random tool, and the unified currency works.

Except, of course, when those people have other ways to get the rewards they want.

THE PROBLEM OF LINKED CURRENCIES

The PvE Emblem currencies in Wrath were almost as confusing to new players as the PvP currencies. With a series of Emblems you could buy progressively more powerful gear. It works much like the Cataclysm setup, only the different tiers had different Emblems, which made it somewhat dizzying when you wanted to buy Heirlooms.

Points are better. Let me leave it at that.

There were two ways in which the PvE Emblems were linked to PvP.

  1. You could purchase PvP gear with Emblems directly
  2. You could convert Stone Keeper’s Shards/Wintergrasp Marks to Honor, which purchased PvP gear

The first method was in place to allow players who primarily raided or ran dungeons to do something with their Emblems once they had stopped being useful for PvE. You could assemble a good PvP set, not quite Arena quality, but certainly Battleground quality, with your PvE rewards. It allowed players to keep getting some rewards out of the Emblems, even if it wasn’t in the sphere that they originated from.

The second method was to let people who didn’t want Heirlooms to do something with those Stone Keeper’s Shards.

In theory, this was great.

The danger of a unified currency, however, is that it links seemingly unrelated activities, and that if one area is unbalanced, it will unbalance the other.

When Northrend Heroics became trivial to run, they became a better place to gear up for PvP than PvP itself. If a Heroic took 10 minutes, and a Battleground took 15-20, people start looking at those Heroic rewards really hard. I remember Ihra’s post when it came out, and my reaction was first of disbelief – then I looked at what I had, and what I could do, and he was absolutely right. I could burn through a Heroic in 10 minutes.

The majority of my PvP gear in the latter part of Wrath came not from battlegrounds, but from unused Emblems of Frost I got in ICC. It was easier than grinding it out or getting into Arenas!

But here’s the thing. You’re thinking, Cyn, that was all well and good, but that was at the end of an expansion, everything was out of whack, purpz were handed out by vendors in Dalaran like candy. That won’t happen again for a good long while! And it was just PvP gear, it didn’t affect Arena balance, it didn’t affect PvE balance! This is Cataclysm! Stuff is hard!

There’s nothing to worry about!

Oh, crap.

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT OF TOL BARAD

For a week, Tol Barad was given an insane boost in rewards -1800 Honor Points per successful attack – which caused a domino effect of win-trading that crippled the spirit of the zone. This allowed people who participated to gear up their Bloodthirsty PvP gear quickly, and with little effort, given that 1800 Honor Points is normally 12-15 battlegrounds of work. After this week, it was fixed so that it awarded less honor on offense (360 per win, plus a daily quest for 200), balancing the rewards somewhat in favor of the attackers, but still rewarding a failed defense. The rewards are now 180 Honor Points for a win, 180 for a loss, and the daily quest for 200.

The Tol Barad example is a shocking one which helps illustrate the challenge of an unified currency – if you are to have an easy, cheap source of one kind of reward, and that reward can be converted into another kind of reward, you may devalue the activities leading up to that reward. One activity can be the butterfly which spawns a hurricane in another part of the game.

In Tol Barad’s case, the explosive increase in honor devalued all other PvP activities. There was no reason to run battlegrounds during that week, unless you were really bored. Tol Barad was better than the random BG finder, which was better than selecting specific BGs, which in turn was better than doing PvP quests.

Now, consider what would have happened if the currency conversion of 4.1 was in place when this happened –  players would get 1200 Justice Points for winning Tol Barad. That’s an offset piece or so.

Thankfully, this inflated reward situation is not the case anymore, though winning Tol Barad remains the highest Honor Per Minute activity you can do in the game (380 Honor Points for about 20 minutes of work). That’s still pretty good. And if you’re grinding Justice Points, it might be a pretty good strategy, too – 253 Justice Points for 20 minutes? That’s 12.7 JP/M, which seems pretty good to my eye. At previous, post-win trading values (560 Honor Points) it was 18.6 JP/M, which would be insanely good. But 12.7 is pretty darn good.

Compare this to the time it takes to run a heroic. Easy Heroics run what, 20-30 minutes with a good group? 210-280 Justice Points per dungeon run? 350 for the first one? That’s 11 JP/M, about two-thirds your TB earnings. So winning your first Tol Barad of the day is a slightly better way to get Justice Points than a good Heroic run.

What about if you are having a bad Heroic run, though? Say you’re pugging as a DPS, so those 350 Justice points take 45 minutes to get – and an additional 45 minutes in queue. That drops your JP/M down to 3.8. Even a loss at Tol Barad, with no quest reward, still gives you 3 JP/M!

What about daily battleground quests? I’ve had some really good nights in the BGs of late, where we get 400 Honor Points or so in the first hour. (It tapers off due to the inital pop of the daily quest.) That’s 4.4 JP/M for an hour of BGs where you win. Still better for DPS without guild support!

Now, 4.1 has some hope for better rewards – the new troll-themed Heroics are supposed to award double the Justice Points that the current instances do, as well as drop better loot. That would bring them well ahead of Tol Barad’s awards for winning on offense, which should keep players doing PvE for PvE rewards and PvP for PvP rewards. (That’s 373 Honor Points per Troll Heroic, to keep ourselves honest – a very good return, but only if you can do them quickly.)

But … Honor is going to be increased in battlegrounds across the board, too, which means all these calculations will probably be moot. Open combat areas like Tol Barad could see considerable increases. AV might reclaim its place as the king of honor farming. Those Troll instances might be hugely hard to complete. There’s a lot up in the air that we won’t know until 4.1 hits.

I expect that we will see some interesting things come out of this. If you are not in a position to get ready access to quick runs of a Heroic, Tol Barad may be an easier way to gear up on Justice gear than running dungeons. The key here is that you don’t have to succeed at Tol Barad to get rewarded for it, unlike a dungeon which you actually have to complete.

So I hope you know how to win Tol Barad, because its going to be a good place for both Honor and Justice Points.

WHY CONQUEST POINTS DON’T CONVERT

There’s a glaring omission in the conversion schema – Conquest to Valor. You can take Valor points and turn them into PvP epics, but not vice versa. I strongly, strongly support this omission.

Unlike Justice and Honor, which you can grind as long as you can sit in front of a keyboard (and even if you’re not there, thanks, afkers), there’s a weekly cap to both Valor and Conquest Points. You can store as many as you want, but once you’ve reached that cap for the week, you’re done. Can’t get any more, don’t even try until next Tuesday.

Because these caps are weekly caps, the key is time and relative difficulty. Players reach these two caps in very different ways, and that difference is why there should be no Conquest to Valor conversion.

  • Valor Points are capped at 1250 per week. To reach cap takes all raid bosses and a few heroic bosses, depending on if you run 10- or 25-man raids.
  • Conquest Points are capped at 1340 or more per week, depending on your PvP rating. The higher your rating, the higher your cap. Hitting the cap takes 5 Arena matches.

Now, consider those two caps in terms of time and effort to reach.

  • Valor Cap: complete ALL raids with 9 or 24 other people, then run a few heroics with 4 other people, against a set level of difficulty. Several nights of work.
  • Conquest Cap: Win 5 rated PvP matches against a variable level of difficulty that adjusts to your skill level. Get a friend and play 2v2s for 2-3 hours.

It’s easy to cap Conquest points, and hard to cap Valor points. I know experienced raiders who didn’t even realize there was a weekly cap until recently!

If there was a 1:1 transfer of Conquest points to Valor points, raiders would rightly look at the situation and say: I will raid, but I must do Rated PvP to make sure I hit my Valor Point cap for the week, every week, every raiding alt. It doesn’t require a raid team, it doesn’t require an entire night – compared to raiding, it’s trivial to get a few wins at any rating, no matter how bad.

(I mean, come on. I’m no Arena wizard and I manage to cap each week. The system is designed to match you up against people with equal gear and skill; once you find equilibrium with your rating, you’ll win about half the time.)

This would be a bad situation, for both PvP and PvE.

Why is the current conversion (Valor to Conquest) okay?

  • PvP gear is better for PvP than PvE gear. Resilience is scaling well this season – too well, some would argue – and combined with the lack of overpowered legendaries like Shadowmourne, makes raiding gear unattractive for PvP. (Keep in mind that the PvP weapons were held back to allow raiding to catch up.)
  • PvP gear can be used in PvE, but PvE gear lacks critical PvP stats. You can raid in PvP gear – it’s not optimal, but the gear has all the right stats. Swap out your Spell Pen cloak, reforge for Hit, and you still have a lot of your primary stat budget. PvE gear, however, cannot be turned into PvP gear, and if you don’t have any Resilience, you will die very fast in PvP.
  • Time is money. The Conquest Cap requires far less time to reach than the Valor Cap, so PvPers will not look at raiding as an quicker option for them to get top-tier PvP gear.
  • High PvP Ratings raise the cap. The better you perform in rated PvP, the higher your cap is raised. This encourages players to try for better ratings, as the gear will come faster.
  • PvPers need more many more points to gear up. Excepting BH, there is only one way to get the good PvP gear – points. This is in stark contrast to PvE, where much of your gear will come from boss drops, and a smaller percentage will come from crafted epics. The absolute best raid gear doesn’t cost points at all – it’s all boss tokens and heroic drops. You can put this another way: Raiders run out of things to buy faster than Gladiators because raiding generates gear.

This is really an argument based upon ease of acquisition, not about balancing between PvP and PvE equipment. The best PvP weapons (requiring 2200 rating) were held back weeks because raiding hadn’t progressed to the point where people would flood Arenas to get gear for PvE. Now, this can happen a lot anyways – people will always go and get the regular PvP weapons, because they’re just plain good gear, and relatively easy to get.  But if you’re raiding and spending your Valor Points on PvP weapons instead of on Tier gear?

You’re doing it wrong.

WHEN POINTS BECOME USELESS

This happens every patch, every season – there comes a point where you buy everything you need. Your gear gets to the point where Justice and Honor points just don’t matter anymore, because there are no upgrades available to you with them. Surprisingly, this happens with Valor and Conquest points, too – at some point you are like, okay, that’s it, nothing else left in the store, why should I bother?

Getting your character to this point always feels strange. I am there with Honor Points on Cynwise – which was a long grind, but that’s a different post – and there’s always a sudden emptiness of purpose, a void where before you knew what you had to do. For nights you log in and say “tonight, I grind Honor! I will not stop until my fingers bleed!”

And then you wake up and go, huh, I really don’t need any more Honor. Now what do I do?

Providing currency conversions helps players overcome this problem. It extends the useful life of the reward for an activity which we (hopefully) enjoyed, so that we can feel that it’s still worth doing, if perhaps with less urgency than before.

If you look at the chart at the head of this post, I tried to break down what you can buy with each kind of currency. There are some anomalies (you can still buy old Wrath-era level 80 PvP gear in Dalaran for Justice Points, if I’m not mistaken) but by and large things have become much simpler than in previous patches and expansions. What do you do, right now, if you don’t need points to gear your character anymore?

  • Buy heirlooms, but that’s for other characters we’re not playing now
  • Buy old sets for RP, but that’s not everyone’s thing
  • Buy accessories, mounts, and consumables, but eventually you have them all
  • Buy trade goods that aren’t worth very much

None of these are really an incentive to keep doing what you’re doing. Patch 4.1 is going to bring something new, something that’s been missing since Wrath:

  • Buy decent gear for the other part of the game you’ve been neglecting

which is, all problems aside, a pretty nice change.

Keeping rewards relevant is important. That’s why I like this change.

THE LURKING BUTTERFLIES OF 4.1

I hesitate to do any serious analysis of HPM and JPM at this point until 4.1 is live. Not only will the new troll dungeons will have different rewards (and difficulty levels), Honor is getting buffed across the board. These are both good changes – the Honor grind was especially long this time if you never held Tol Barad – but they are both potentially disruptive. It might be that at low gear levels, battlegrounds and Tol Barad give better return on Justice points than the corresponding heroics, due to the length of time it takes to get through a dungeon. And perhaps at higher gear levels, the troll instances become the fastest way to complete a set of PvE gear – and of getting the mid-level PvP gear, especially if you’re losing a lot.

See? The mind starts to boggle when you think about this too much. There are a lot of possibilities when currency conversion becomes a reality and all of these activities get linked.

The upside of this change is that players will be able to do more stuff with the points they’ve accumulated. Right now I’m siting on a pile of Justice Points with nothing to do with them.

The downside is that there are hurricane-spawning butterflies lurking everywhere, ready to disrupt the balance of one side or the other. The old, confusing systems were not friendly, but they provided barriers between activities so that imbalances in one area didn’t affect the other.

We’ll have to see how it all shakes out.

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Warlock CC and You: How to Crowd Control Like a Pro in Cataclysm

I love Fear.

Let’s get that out of the way right now. There are a lot of things about playing a warlock that I like, and near the top of my list is Fear. That spell is bound to the 4 button in every spec I play.

I am going to quote from the great “How To Battleground” thread by Dusk:

These people want to kill you. You are a warlock. They all hate you.

They are going to go out of their way to harm you as deeply and as earnestly as they can, and then they are going to /spit and /lol at your corpse, because everybody hates warlocks.

They hate fear, they despise dots, your felhunter is a rage magnet and deathcoil once made the entire wow population cry floods of bitter tears for over a year.

You want to know why I quote from that thread so much? Not because it’s about Warlock PvP – though it is – but because it’s about what it is to be a great Warlock, a complete Warlock, a master of this crazy class.

And in PvP, that means you are a master of Fear. You rip control of other characters away from their characters, and then you kill them. And they can’t do anything about it.

But in PvE, Fear didn’t have the best reputation. It tended to send mobs scurrying hither and yon, sending them screaming into packs of their friends that the tank wasn’t quite ready to pull just yet.

That changed dramatically in Cataclysm.

CROWD CONTROL IS A REQUIREMENT IN CATACLYSM

I have been told that the new dungeons of Cataclysm are hard. That they are punishing. That they are not facerolls, where you can press your AoE spell of choice and go check Twitter!

I have also been told that there are damage dealers out there who have forgotten that when the going gets tough on the tank and healers, their job is to make it easier on those tanks and healers! That these people, playing DPS classes, are refusing to use crowd control! That they don’t even know what that is!

I have even been told that there are WARLOCKS out there who are refusing to use crowd control!

This cannot stand. Do you hear me? THE LINE MUST BE DRAWN HERE.

THIS FAR! NO FURTHER.

You bring shame upon this great class if you refuse to CC.

If you are a warlock, you have the best PvP CC in the game. Do you hear me? IN THE ENTIRE GAME. You have the biggest damn CC toolbox of any class. You have Fear, which when glyphed freezes the mob in place instead of running to bring their friends. You have Banish and are fighting an invasion of Elementals. You have slows, and stuns, and an instant terror that damages your opponent while healing you.

You have no excuses left, Warlocks. You are going to CC like a fucking pro, because Fearing things while killing them is what you do.

DO ONE THING WELL, NOT TWO THINGS POORLY

You want to know why CC looks hard in PvE? It’s not because people can’t open up their spellbook and drag Fear to their damn action bar. No, it’s because it involves multitasking. Instead of tracking one target, you have to track two. You have to watch your normal rotation as well as make sure CC doesn’t fall off.

The key is to not treat them as two targets.

Wait, what?

You heard me.

Don’t multitask – integrate your CC with your normal priority rotation instead. Monitor the CC just as you would any other DoT or CD. Do it in the same place on the screen, in the same mental space.

To do this you’ll need two things – a decent macro and a decent debuff tracker. Let’s start with the macro.

CC FOCUS MACRO

The Warcraft UI has a handy feature in it that allows you to track two targets at once – a Focus. Focus are an advanced kind of Target and is only available via macros and slash commands. Your Focus persists until you change it and is independent of your active Target.

If that’s confusing, think of it this way.

  • Your Target is set by tabbing or clicking on things. It shows up next to your character portrait.
  • Your Focus is set by macros, doesn’t care what you click on, and is separate from your Target. It shows up near the middle of the screen.

So what we’re going to do is use a macro to set your CC target as your Focus, while the thing you’re supposed to kill remains your Target.

Let’s take a look at a Fear Focus macro.

#showtooltip
/focus [target=focus, noexists][target=focus, dead] mouseover
/cast [target=focus, exists] Fear; Fear
/stopmacro [nomodifier]
/clearfocus [modifier:ctrl]

This macro is straight off of WowWiki. It’s simple and does the job. (If you haven’t used macros before, here’s a brief tutorial.) Make one for Fear and one for Banish.

Here’s what it does when you press the button.

  • Sets your mouseover target – whatever your mouse is pointing at – to be your Focus, if you don’t have one. Then it casts Fear at it.
  • If you aren’t pointing your mouse at anything, it will cast Fear at your normal target.
  • If you press Ctrl while clicking the button it will clear your Focus.
  • It also clears your Focus when your Focus dies.

Here’s how you use it.

You’re in a dungeon, and the tank has marked the mobs Skull, X, and Moon.

  • You target Skull.
  • Put your mouse over Moon.
  • Press your CC button. Moon will become your Focus. You’ll cast Fear at it.
  • Cast your normal DPS spells against Skull.
  • When Fear is about to fade from Moon, refresh it by pressing the CC button again. Do not retarget.  CC will go to Moon, everything else goes to Skull.
  • When it is time to kill Moon, just shift your target to it. Don’t bother with your CC button or clearing the Focus.

The reason to use a Focus macro is so that you do not have to shift your targets back and forth. Your CC goes to one mob, everything else goes to the other mob.

If you’re having trouble understanding this, go to the nearest set of target dummies and try this macro out on two separate targets.

NEVER DROP A BEAT

The Focus macro is only the first part of becoming an awesome Crowd Controller. The next step is making sure that your CC is always up, and that the mob you’re assigned to tank stays tanked. That mob is going nowhere while you are on duty. If it gets hit by an AoE attack, or someone tab-targets a DoT on to them, it does not matter.

They are going to stay put until you are damn well ready to kill them!

Remember that crazy thing I said about not multitasking? Well, the one thing you don’t want to do is have to track DoTs on two different mobs in two different places on your screen. Don’t focus solely on your target, because then you won’t see that your CC victim got hit with an AoE attack and is running loose. Don’t focus solely on your CC, or your DPS will suffer.

No, what you need is to unify your interface. Track your Focus CC alongside all of your other important DoTs and CD tracking.

I recommend the addon Need To Know for this.

I’ve covered my personal setup of Need To Know in more detail elsewhere, but the basic idea is to take only those the buffs, debuffs, and cooldowns you need to track and put them all into one central location, like so:

Here I’ve called out the essential things I need to track as a Destruction Warlock for DPS – Improved Soul Fire buff, Immolate duration on my target, Conflagrate CD – but I’ve added in a line for my CC, above my cast bar space.

But it’s important to note something – NTK isn’t monitoring CC on my target, it’s monitoring CC on my Focus. Once I start CCing that mob with the macro above, all I have to do is make sure that that bar stays up. If it breaks, the bar disappears and I recast. If it’s about to run out, I hit my CC button and recast Fear or Banish.

I don’t have to multitask to keep a mob under control. And neither do you. It is awesome when you don’t have to split your attention – just watch the NTK bars.

You set up your CC bar like other NTK bars, but with one key difference:

Instead of monitoring your Target, you monitor your Focus instead.

Also, since you will probably need to switch between Fear and Banish on different mobs, you can make NTK look for both in the same bar. I put all my CC into a single line – just separate them with commas.

These two things in combination make CC a breeze in dungeons. Do them, and Crowd Control becomes trivial. You will make it look easy, which is as it should be.

You’re a Warlock. You are the best damn CC class in the game.

WARLOCK TIPS AND TRICKS

The Glyph of Fear is what makes this all work, of course. It’s one thing to have a great CC toolkit for PvP, but the biggest problem with Fear before Cataclysm was how it sent mobs running all over tarnation, where they’d pull packs of their friends and make you less than popular among your PvE group. But you’re not limited to Fear.

Choose the right tool for the job. Fear is your default, but Banish is useful against Demons and Elementals. There are subtle differences between the two – Fear breaks on damage, Banish does not, but Banish is harder to chain – but they also give you the option of CCing two mobs at once (though you shouldn’t try DPSing the third.) Your Succubus’s Seduction ability is yet another CC option against Humanoid opponents, if you already have her out for her knockback.

You are the tank for your target and responsible for positioning; move them as necessary. You are not helpless in the face of AoE damage to your CC target. Many melee DPS classes rely upon area of effect spells as part of an effective rotation, and they sometimes errantly hit the CC target. Or, the tank might start AoE tanking and nick your mob – perhaps they didn’t pull the main pack far enough away, or things just aren’t going right. If this happens, you are not helpless.

  • Death Coil will break Fear and send the mob fleeing for a short burst of time, letting you reposition them away from the main fight. Reapply Fear when you get them where you want.
  • Searing Pain can be used to break Fear and draw the mob towards you. Position yourself in the direction you need the mob to go and use Demonic Circle to get out of harm’s way while you reapply CC.
  • Your Succubus has a knockback effect – Whiplash – and you can get your controlled mob out of the way of AoE with it. Blow a shard, summon the Succy instantly, then move the mob.
  • If your mob is Banished, casting Banish will break the banishment and move them towards you again. You can apply DoTs to make sure you have the mob’s attention, then reposition them as they come after you.

Howl of Terror and Death Coil are in case of emergency. These two spells are both very powerful when used correctly. If the tank totally loses aggro on a pack of mobs and they are all going towards the healer, Howl at them. Tanks don’t like gathering up fleeing mobs, but at least they’re not eating the healer. Death Coil is a similar tool; it can be used to peel a mob off a healer, but you aren’t in control with it. Use it as a way to seize control, since it’s an instant cast on a CD.

I personally also recommend that you glyph Shadowflame, as that will give you an awesome slow for PvP and PvE alike. It is a huge, huge slow – 70%! – but not everyone will want to spare the glyph slot. Consider it, at least.

THROWING DOWN THE GAUNTLET

I know that I can be… uh… enthusiastic? about Warlocks. But if you’re another DPS class with CC, you can absolutely take this approach and use it to become awesome Crowd Controllers, too.

Mages, if you can’t see that this works perfectly with Polymorph, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s bad enough you have Frost Nova, but there is no reason you can’t be sheeping and pigging and lord knows what else to mobs! Seriously, you have a rep to protect here! Are you going to let Warlocks show you up? Again?

(Also, buy my Tomes of Polymorph: Turtle off the AH. I have alts to support.)

And all the rest of you! Every DPS class with CC, no matter how good or how poor, can use focus macros and a good debuff tracker to ensure that they are controlling their assigned mob. Rogues have Sap. Ele Shammies have Hex. Druids have Hibernate and Entangling Roots. Hunters can trap and kite like no one’s business.

Every DPS needs to look at their bag of tricks and figure out what they can do. If you can’t CC, you can interrupt. Everyone has something. If you aren’t CCing, you should be on Interrupt duty. Period. End of story.

But this is what Cataclysm PvE is like; DPS needs to look at CC as something they have to do, and take pride in doing well.

And to my fellow Warlocks: I expect you to be among the best in the game. Show those Mages what we’ve got.

When everyone competes to be the best CCers, we ALL win.

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Warlockery