Tag Archives: IoC

On Faction Imbalance in Random Battleground Populations

Cynewise - Arathi Basin Farm

The fantasy of Warcraft battlegrounds is that there are two relatively equal sides to the conflict. This isn’t just a fantasy that is pushed thematically, through lore and storytelling. This is an idea that is promulgated through the structure of random battlegrounds themselves, through the random queue mechanism that promises a similar experience to all players, no matter what faction their characters are.

However, this fantasy is false. It’s not false because of story or lore, but rather because of the interplay between three factors: 1) experience and gear providing advantages in PvP, 2) the random matchmaking mechanic itself, and 3) the separation of the pool of players into two teams.

Under the current system, faction imbalance in random battlegrounds is inevitable and leads to negative player experiences on both sides.

Let’s look at why.


The core idea of random matchmaking for games is: given a large enough pool of players and a large enough number of games, any given match will be equal. You should have approximately the same ratio of inexperienced to experienced players on each team, an equal distribution of gear. The goal is to allow individual performance to dictate the outcome.

In an ideal world, it looks like this:

Faction Imbalance - Figure 1

The above picture represents the overall pool of players for random matches.

The first factor that we have to account for is that gear (on a character) and experience (of a player) both influence the success of a game. Gear is a fundamental aspect of World of Warcraft that affects a character’s ability, and in PvP it is acquired through experience. I’ve represented the combination of player experience and character gear through the relative size of the dots above – the larger the dot, the more influence that player can exert through a combination of experience and gear.

Faction Imbalance - Figure 2.png

The random battleground mechanic is the next component to consider. At any given time, a group will be drawn from these pools of potential players.

When the system is at equilibrium, the queue times on both sides will be the same and the total area of all dots selected will be equal. Some flux is expected due to random selection of players, but over time the result should be solid queues and a 50/50 split in wins.

At this point we have the ideal state of random matchmaking.

Now let’s introduce faction into the population.

Faction Imbalance - Figure 3

Now there are two pools. There’s limited fluidity between the pool – a player can choose to take their dot and go to the other side, either by rerolling (with a smaller dot) or faction changing (with the same size dot) – but that’s limited by the barriers of time (leveling) or money (faction change fees). So we’ll assume resistance to change within the pools unless there’s a reason to change.

Ideally, faction shouldn’t matter. But by splitting the source population in two, it creates a situation where not only is equilibrium impossible to achieve, it becomes something players rationally choose to avoid, creating bad experiences on both teams.


The key to making the above system work is that the two pools that feed the teams in matches need to be equal. Any imbalance between the two affects the teams in a match, which in turn introduces a feedback loop into the population pools. Over time, small imbalances become magnified until the system stops working.

I’m going to assume just two things here.

1) The perception of an imbalance is more influential than the actual imbalance. Players only respond to imbalances that they perceive, through experience or communication with other players.

2) Experienced players are more likely to respond to imbalances than novice players. New players have not yet been exposed to the imbalance, and the chance that a player will respond to an imbalance increases over time.

Let’s start off with a simple case: the perception that one faction is better at PvP.


It doesn’t matter how this idea originates. This could be through an early legitimate imbalance in a smaller population. It could be through a bad sample. It could be through some vocal members of the community repeating it. It doesn’t matter if the seed is real or not – all that matters is that players believe it.

If one faction is perceived to be better than the other, we should observe a slight shift of experienced players to that side.

Faction Imbalance - Figure 4

Once this happens, a feedback loop starts with the matchmaking algorithm.

Faction Imbalance - Figure 5

What might have started as a rumor now has evidence behind it, as the matches skew slightly in one team’s favor. As players grow in experience, they slowly react to this imbalance rationally.

Faction Imbalance - Figure 6

The players on the losing team evaluate their performance over time and consider that maybe the other faction is better. Their experience is that they lose more than normal, that the other team just does a better job. The pressure to investigate the other side increases.

The players on the winning team feel far less pressure to change sides. Matches become progressively easier as more and more big dots join their pool. Why stop when you’re winning?

Queue times are also affected in this scenario. One side will have a larger pool of interested players than the other, resulting in long wait times for the perceived ‘better’ faction, and nearly instant queues for the ‘weaker’ faction. This amplifies the feedback loop and introduces the negative experience to the stronger faction.

Long wait times but higher chance to win, or fast queues for a probable defeat? Those are the choices you have when one faction is perceived to be better than the other.


Let’s go back to our original state of equilibrium and look at a different variable – new players.

Player population is never static over time – people pick up and put down Warcraft all the time. A certain amount of churn – loss of experienced players – is expected within the pools as players either stop participating in PvP or stop playing Warcraft entirely. Churn is offset by new players joining the pool, either new subscribers or experienced players who are trying PvP for the first time.

So here’s another assumption: dots of all sizes can drop out of the pool, but only small dots join the pool.

Because of the gear structure and scaling present in instanced PvP, no player can start out as a really big dot. They might be a great player with experience in the class, but even with the best heroic raid gear the character will be undergeared for PvP. Best case: an experienced player with great PvE gear tries PVP and enters as a medium dot. That’s pretty rare, so we’ll assume only small dots enter the pool.

In a state of equilibrium each faction will have equivalent churn and growth rates, resulting in equal-sized pools. If one side churns or grows faster, imbalance will be introduced.

Let’s say that one side is slightly more popular than the other. Not popular in PvP, but overall more popular with the entire player base.

Faction Imbalance - Figure 7

Over time, one pool will get bigger than the other – but not necessarily any better. The ratio of small dots to big dots is maintained over time as players improve and gear up. As long as the flow is consistent, equilibrium is not disturbed by overall faction imbalance. That’s great!

But what about when you have events which disrupt that flow?

Faction Imbalance - Figure 8

The more popular side finds itself at a temporary disadvantage. More small dots entered their pool than the the other side, yet there hasn’t been any time for them to mature into big dots. The numerator of big dots hasn’t changed, while the denominator of little dots has gotten bigger.

Faction Imbalance - Figure 9

Ironically, an influx of undergeared toons affects the more popular faction more adversely than the unpopular faction. Team quality declines on the popular faction, causing more losses. More losses means more churn as new and old players alike get frustrated.

Conversely, the unpopular faction weathers the influx better and their small dots grow and mature in a victorious environment. The popular side has a double whammy of initial frustration with their teammates followed by better-geared opponents.

Faction Imbalance - Figure 10

And that brings us back to Case 1’s feedback loop.

Faction Imbalance - Realmpop, US Faction BalanceI’ll just leave this here with a note that undergeared, inexperienced boosted level 90s are about the smallest dots you can represent on these graphs.


World of Warcraft is a game of gear acquisition. Even with the experiments with uniform gear scaling in Mists of Pandaria (Challenge Modes, Proving Grounds), there’s no indication that random PvP will move to an entirely uniform set of gear across players.

So what happens when one side has an advantage in gear acquisition?

PvP gear is generally acquired through three methods: crafting, honor points, and conquest points. Everyone has access to crafted gear, honor gear is available through both random and non-random BGs, and conquest is available from random BGs and rated PvP play.

There’s no immediate faction advantage with the above gearing strategy, especially not from a state of equilibrium. If everyone starts off equal, with the same access to gearing opportunities, there won’t be a problem. But as soon as a problem is introduced, the gear system throws another wrench into the works.

The key is the rewards for winning a random battleground.

Over time, the faction which dominates the random BG queue will acquire more Honor and Conquest than the side which does not. Rated play is essentially factionless, as is crafting – so those two methods are effectively a wash. But control of the random BG reward allows that subset of players who don’t do much rated play to gear up faster than their opponents.

In the dot model I’m working with here, the really big dots get big at the same rate no matter what, but the small and medium dots grow into bigger dots at a faster rate, causing a feedback loop independent of faction changes.

In the North American servers, we see an additional layer of complexity to this problem. Alliance PvPers dominate only the two largest BGs – AV and IoC. Horde dominates the random queues. Alliance PvPers therefore queue specifically for those two BGs (and ONLY those two) so they can gain some honor with a victory, and those BGs reward a lot of honor anyways. The Horde is able to queue for random BGs specifically excluding those two maps, therefore ensuring both that they’ll both gain better gear faster and that the Alliance will continue to dominate those maps. The only reason to venture into AV or IoC as NA Horde is for achievements.

My understanding is that the situation is reversed in the EU, but ultimately it doesn’t matter which side is on top. Both sides suffer because of the feedback loops introduced by gearing strategies.

I should note that the current PvP gear system at endgame is an improvement over previous seasons and twink brackets, when individual items could enter imperfectly into a faction and tip the balance quickly. The level 85 twink bracket experienced an influx of 3 Lute of the Sun-Kings from the BMAH in 5.2, causing a dramatic increase in the relative power of the side which possessed them. This, in turn, caused the opposing team’s twinks to abandon the bracket, which destroyed the competitiveness of the bracket.

I mention the fate of that bracket only as a cautionary tale.

The Hooded Monk - Cynwiser - S14


There are a few different ways to address the imbalances caused by faction in random BG matchmaking. Some work better than others.

1) Remove gear as a factor entirely. This leaves experience as the only determining factor between teams. It reduces the impact of new players joining, but doesn’t address the perceived imbalance between factions, which is the more pernicious long-term problem. Also it runs completely counter to the core idea of Warcraft.

Since this is offered as a solution a lot, I think it’s worth pointing out that while eliminating gear as a factor in PvP would fix some problems (mostly with class balance), it won’t address faction imbalance. Players will still gravitate to the perceived better faction.

2) Remove the bonus for random battleground wins. This has several drawbacks, most notably that it reduces the overall pool of players for BGs. It also only stops the gearing feedback loop (case 3), and doesn’t address anything about cases 1 or 2. Ineffective and possibly counterproductive.

3) Allow players to group cross-faction. I’ve been a strong advocate of this for rated play – let me do Arenas and RBGs with my opposite faction friends, already, no one cares about faction in rated play! – but for unrated random battlegrounds, it’s actually counterproductive to solving faction imbalance! This removes the obstacles for faction switching AND puts you in a premade group within a match, further skewing the results. Experienced players on the weaker side would just jump into groups on the stronger side, resulting in further domination.

(I still think this needs to happen for rated play, but that’s a different discussion.)

4) Eliminate factions entirely from the matchmaking algorithm. The implementation of this could include giving players the appearance of the opposite faction or not, but completely removing faction from random selection solves the problem completely. With no perceived faction advantage, players will no longer migrate. Queues become optimized and extremely fast. Best of all, matches become random again. You can enforce rules like role selection (X number of healers per side) and gear logic because your pool is doubled in size.

This is a massive paradigm shift and runs counter to the idea that Warcraft is a game of factional combat. Adding options like “queue as mercenary” help address this somewhat, but not completely, since the population will still be segregated into non-random sets.

5) Rig the system. Give the weaker side a behind-the-scenes buff to their abilities. Use real-time data to see what a faction’s overall performance has been and calculate buffs to tip the scales back to equal. Perhaps this is dynamic scaling instead of flat scaling – one side might scale up to 510 while the other scales up to 504.

This is hard to implement right. It adds in another level of variability and addresses some of the weaknesses of case 1, all of the issues of cases 2 and 3, but it’s a tremendous amount of effort to get in place and will require maintenance and constant tweaking. The best system is one that self-adjusts, but that requires time and development resources which could be spent on new content.

6) Bribe players on the weaker side. A CTA-style bribe bag (like is offered to tanks and healers to queue for heroics) doesn’t incent good players to queue on the weaker side – and the weaker side already has a surplus of players. Any solution needs to get the good players off of one side and onto the other in a completely random fashion, and bribe bags actively work against that.

Faction Imbalance - Figure 2.png

My personal opinion is that the correct solution is to get rid of factions entirely from the random matchmaker. Every other solution keeps some type of imbalance which will inevitably cause a feedback loop to skew the balance one way or the other. Eliminating factions brings queue times back down while equalizing opportunity for victory. It solves the major complaints of both sides of the faction divide.

This solution will not be popular with many parts of the playerbase, entirely for thematic reasons. I get that. For the NA region it means Horde players win less often (but have shorter queues) and Alliance players win more (but give up dominance of the PvEvP battlegrounds.)

Making the game more fair isn’t going to make everyone happy – everyone loses something.

But until the mechanics of random battlegrounds change, dramatic faction imbalance is not just a possibility – it’s inevitable.


If you like this kind of analysis and think you could use someone like me on your team, drop me a line. I am a kickass IT professional with an emotional need for thorough analysis, and I’m recently unemployed. My brain is for hire. :)


Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

The Isle of Conquest is REALLY Broken

First off, did you know you could repair cannons in the Isle of Conquest now? I think this is new. I don’t know if this is something only Engineers can do, but it’s kinda cool to be able to revive cannons.

Repairing cannons is about the only good thing I can say about the Isle of Conquest right now. It’s broken in so many ways that puts every other time I’ve said it’s broken to shame. This isn’t about having the terrain favor one side or another.  Oh, I long for those days now!

No, instead we have:

  • Trying to get to the Airship from the Hangar kills you instantly, sending you 8 miles off the coast of the Isle to drown in deep water.
  • Huge pink blocks of doom that appear when the Alliance breaches the gates of the Horde Keep.

Think I’m kidding about the Big Pink Blocks of Doom?  Vikt (from Of the Horde) sent me this great screenshot:

… which kinda demonstrates the futility of Alliance breaking down the gate.

Let’s look at what these bugs do to each side’s strategy.  For Alliance:

  • Avoid the Hangar, it’s a death trap.  So no parachuting into the keep.
  • The Workshops are mostly useless to you on Offense, since the siege can’t break through the pink blocks once the gates are down.
  • Take the Docks, ignore the Glaives, and use Catapults to get inside the keep.

For the Horde:

  • Avoid the Hangar.
  • Take the Workshops, since the Alliance aren’t going to contest it anyways (as it’s useless to them).
  • Let the Alliance take the Docks, then station a defensive force to kill the Catapults just around the bend in the road, where they’ll be strung out and poorly defended.
  • Used the vehicles from the Workshop to take the keep and win.

As a Horde player, you absolutely want to be queuing for Isle of Conquest right now.  You are going to win. Seriously, you are going to win. The odds are stacked so high right now in the Horde’s favor, you’d be dumb not to queue for this one and rack up some wins.

As an Alliance player, you’re going to get IoC in your random queue more often than you like precisely because the Horde are queuing for it. And that means you’re going to lose. (Sorry about that, I’m just keeping it real, yo.) The best way to try to win is to send a small force to the Docks, with a larger force to contest the Workshops. I have yet to see this work, but it seems like the only viable strategy is to disrupt the Horde assault.

The important thing to keep, if Isle of Conquest comes up as your random BG, is your sense of humor. This battleground has BIG PINK BLOCKS that completely negate whatever skill advantages your side might have (or lack). This BG is broken.

Don’t sweat it. Laugh, and move on.

P.S. The scoreboards are broken, too:

Although, I suppose it’s possible that those two REALLY know how to heal…


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

On Marks of Honor

Marks of Honor are one of several types of PvP currency in the game. They are awarded from the various battlegrounds for participation: 3 for winning, 2 for a tie, and 1 for a loss. You can have up to 100 of each; check your currency tab to see them.

Wowhead has a great feature allowing you to view what a given object is currency for, so below are the types of Marks you can get and what you can buy with them.

Some of these rewards are quite good, depending on your level.


The first three battlegrounds in Azeroth (Warsong Gulch, Arathi Basin, and Alterac Valley) all have similar types of rewards that are available for a combination of honor and marks.. You can purchase specific types of gear from either vendors at the site of the battleground, or from your faction PvP quartermasters in Stormwind or Orgrimmar.

The Warsong Gulch rewards are actually quite good for their level, if you can get them early enough. Several WSG pieces (the necklaces, rings, cloaks and staffs) are best in slot or near-best in slot items for 19 twinks, which means they’re good for leveling, too. The Arathi Basin rewards are also outstanding, especially the boots. I’ve written about them before, but I love them primarily because you can have both a riding and walking speed enchant on them.

The gear you get from Alterac Valley marks used to be great, but since it’s available at level 55, Outland greens that outclass them in every way are right around the corner at 58. AV marks can get you a very sweet mount and cool Battle Standard, which is always nice.

Combinations of these marks can buy very nice rewards from the faction quartermasters. Of particular value to collectors are the PvP mounts (Alliance, Horde) that used to be a cheap way to get an epic mount when such things were expensive, and tabards, which can be gotten either through marks (WSG, AV) or reputation (AB). You can also get some great looking level 60 PvP sets for RP, though again — anything that’s level 60 from the Old World is outclassed by equivalent level items in Outland.


The battlegrounds from Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King are fundamentally different from the previous ones because they don’t have a physical location or gateway you can visit in the world. They might have a place in lore, but they don’t exist within the World of Warcraft. So there aren’t battleground-specific vendors, and with that lack comes a corresponding lack of cool gear and neat toys.

Eye of the Storm marks can at least give you access to some level 70 PvP gear, which can serve you well as you level through Northrend. Not that it’s great leveling gear per se, but it has good PvP itemization and is some of the first resilience pieces you can get, which does make a difference in a battleground.

Strand of the Ancients and Isle of Conquest marks can’t buy you anything. Perhaps in the next expansion you’ll be able to purchase the current PvP gear with them, but for now they are almost worthless. Keep in mind I said almost worthless. We’ll get to that in a bit.


Wintergrasp marks are different than the other Northrend marks of honor, perhaps because Wintergrasp is itself different. It exists on the map. There are multiple vendors who sell great PvP gear for level 80 characters that can only be purchased with Wintergrasp Marks. This gear is valuable not only because it’s an alternate currency for getting endgame PvP gear, but because the gear is itemized differently than the standard Gladiator gear, allowing you to balance out Crit and Haste and not be overly gimped in one direction or another.

I’ve written a lot about the gear you can get in Wintergrasp, because it’s the one battleground for level 80 characters where the marks really get you gear you can and should use. But it’s not the only reason Wintergrasp Marks are valuable.


This post was prompted by several terrible battles where people were yelling to either zerg Drek and ignore all the towers in Alterac Valley (“for quick marks! so we can get honor for gear!”), or forfeiting the fight in Arathi Basin to “collect their Mark and get out.”

Both of these actions confuse me a bit, because those marks are less valuable than the honor you get from fighting a good fight. They’re nice to have for later, but a good fight where you meet more of the objectives will yield more honor, and isn’t that why you’re in Alterac Valley at level 80?

Apparently not.

Determining the value of a battleground Mark of Honor lies entirely upon your character’s goals. While leveling, the marks have value for the gear and stuff they can get you. At level 29, the WSG and AB rewards are pretty darn good, and you need marks to buy them!

But marks lose this particular value as you level, because the gear they purchase loses value. My boots from Arathi Basin served me well, but they now collect dust in my bank. So while there’s real value associated with the gear you can get from marks, it decays over time and expansions.

(You can argue that some of this gear has great RP value, which is absolutely true. The level 60 PvP sets look fantastic. But fashion has a variable value because it is so highly subjective.)

The Old World marks definitely have value if you are a mount or tabard collector. The 6 epic mounts and 4 tabards you can buy with them go a long way towards some of those achievements and there are people (myself included) who have ground out battlegrounds solely for this reason. But, much like RP PvP gear sets, this value is subjective. Not everyone needs dozens of epic mounts. And with prices and level requirements slashed on epic mounts, the gold value we could have assigned to these Marks (90 total marks = 60 AV marks = 1 epic mount) has decreased considerably.

The New World marks have even less value than the Old World ones in terms of purchasing power. Eye of the Storm marks at least can help get you some PvP gear, but Strand and Isle marks buy you nothing. So as you level up, one set of marks is losing the value it once had, and the other set starts out with little value and doesn’t gain anything as you go.

So what’s left to do with these marks at level 80?

The good old standby, convert them to honor. Honor is a universal currency amongst PvP, and can be converted directly to gold. So honor it is.

Concerted Efforts / For Great Honor are repeatable quests that allow you to convert 1 mark from each battleground available to your level (except Wintergrasp) into honor. With each new battleground’s release, new marks have been added and the honor rewards increased. Currently, there are 6 marks required for 1489 honor, so any given mark is worth 248 honor. If you figure that each battleground takes an average of 20 minutes — you have to do Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin, don’t forget — then we can start really assigning value not only to the marks themselves, but also to the methods used to getting them.

Six marks from six battlegrounds, each lasting 20 minutes each… that’s 1489 honor divided by 120 minutes, or 12.4 honor per minute. It’s really bonus honor per minute, because you’re already accumulating honor by being in a battleground, which can vary wildly from battleground to battleground. Let’s look at the two scenarios that drove me up a wall last night, running the AV Blitz and giving up in Arathi Basin.


I’ve been in Alterac Valley battles that netted over 3000 honor for the game. Sure, they have been 45-minute long slugfests, with half of our towers down and honorable kills in the thousands, but Alterac Valley is like that sometimes!

Alterac Valley rewards bonus honor based upon objectives, which you can see on the official AV page:

  • 1*20.9 honor for every wing commander (3) that returns to base
  • 2*20.9 honor for every tower/bunker you still have
  • 2*20.9 honor for your Captain surviving
  • 3*20.9 honor for every tower/bunker you destroy
  • 3*20.9 honor for the captain you killed
  • 4*20.9 honor for winning

So, if all your towers and captain are up while all the enemy’s towers and captain is down when you win, you get (62.7+167.2+41.8+250.8+62.7+83.6) = 668.1 bonus honor for the match.

Now, compare this to the Alterac Blitz, where you take nothing, tank the adds, and kill the general in under 6 minutes. You get 83.6 bonus honor for each match because you win, a difference of 584.5 honor.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you’ve got optimal conditions in both cases and are pretty much facerolling the opposition. Waiting for all the towers to go down adds another 4-5 minutes or so to the standard Blitz, which itself takes about 5-6 minutes. So let’s call it 5 minutes for the Blitz and 10 minutes for the Stormpike/Frostwolf Perfection win to make it easy. We should also add 1 minute at the start of each game in the cave, and another minute for the queue. So 7 minutes per Blitz, and 12 minutes per Perfection.

  • The Blitz’s strength is in the number of marks it generates — twice as much as for the Perfection win if we look at the time fighting, and almost twice as much with the queue and start times.
  • Over the course of an hour, you could conceivably run 8.57 AV Blitzes, giving you 25.74 AV Marks for a conceptual value of 6337.14 honor (or 105.6 honor per minute).
  • During that same hour, you could run only 5 Perfection AVs, giving you 15 AV Marks for 3720 honor.
  • However, those 5 Perfection AVs grant 3340.5 honor from reaching all the conditions described above, for a total of 7060.5 honor , or 732.36 honor more than the Blitzes. That’s 117.67 honor per minute.

This also doesn’t take into account the increased number of HKs a Perfection AV generates over a Blitz, since people are actually defending nodes, capping graveyards, things like that. So that will need to be factored into the model somehow, but it just strengthens the point. Perfection gives you an edge in honor versus the Blitz — not a big one, but there

Now here’s the kicker — this direct comparison assumes that you are running not only AV, but all the other battlegrounds too to generate marks for turn-ins. So the more marks you generate, the more time you need to spend in other battlegrounds — battlegrounds that reward less honor per minute.

Consider it this way: for every AV marks you generate, you will have to win 5 other battlegrounds to realize the value of that honor. So the fewer marks you generate, the more honor you get overall. Using Ihra’s holiday HPM results:

  • AB: 79.19
  • WSG: 83.92
  • IOC: 86.44
  • EOTS: 88.56
  • SOTA: 97.59
  • AV: 146.42

… you will have to spend your time in battlegrounds that yield 56.6% – 66.6% less honor per minute than Alterac Valley. Now, some of the bonus honor from objectives is already baked into Ihra’s AV value, so we can’t distinguish between the Blitz and the Perfection values. But we don’t have to! Look at it this way: Perfection generates 15 marks per hour, while Blitz generates 25.74 marks per hour (1.716 times more).

So, assuming all other things in those other battlegrounds are equal, you will need to spend 1.716 more time in those battlegrounds to convert those marks to honor. If it takes you 10 hours to match all the marks you get from Perfection, it takes 17 hours to match the marks from the Blitz. That’s seven more hours at 2/3rds honor.

In that 7 hours, you could run Alterac Valley for 61496.4 honor, or those other 5 for 35700 honor, for a net gain of 25796 honor.

That’s half a piece of Wrathful gear.

To sum up: not only is blitzing AV for marks bad because you aren’t getting the bonus honor for reaching the objectives, it’s doubly bad because you end up spending less time in Alterac Valley.

And no matter how you value honor (gear or gold), that’s a bad thing.


Having laid out why it’s bad to value marks over achieving all the victory conditions in a high HPM environment, what about deliberately losing Arathi Basin to get it over with, collect their marks, and move on.

The competitor in me hates these people. I’ll come right out and say it — I hate people who consider it okay to lose. But do they have a point? Is it logical to adopt this strategy?

The reason I was in Arathi Basin last night was because it was the daily BG quest for me. So to me, the marks had no importance — only victory. Victory meant 1489 honor and 25 Arena points, which for a 20 minute battle is +74.45 honor per minute. The marks — at best — were 248 honor apiece, but I was really there for the Arena points. So a win would get me +2233 honor over whatever I got out of the battleground, while a loss… well, a loss gets me +248 honor. Yikes.

I have to assume the people clamoring for us to lose quickly so they can claim their marks, though, were not there for the daily battleground quest. Why were they there? I’m not honestly sure. Perhaps they were grinding out a few marks for some old gear or some mounts, but I have a tough time thinking that’s the primary motivation behind their desire for a quick mark.

What I’m left with is that they are looking for marks for the turn-in quests, which means that perhaps a loss really is the best use of their time. Giving up certainly requires the least amount of effort! If you aren’t trying to reach any of the goals of the battleground, or even engage in combat to get honorable kills, then you’re basically discounting all the potential honor you could get from fighting.

In a high HPM battleground like Alterac Valley, that attitude is crazy. Even a loss gives you a chance to get good honor, which is one of the reasons why it’s such a good battleground to farm honor in. And fighting back to take objectives gives you honor no matter what. But Arathi Basin doesn’t give nearly as much total honor, and since the resource accumulation scales non-linearly, a side with 4 or 5 bases is going to win in a very, very short period of time. How short?

  • If you control 1 base, you gain 10 resources every 12 seconds. 32 minutes to get to 1600.
  • If you control 2 bases, you gain 10 resources every 9 seconds. 24 minutes to get to 1600.
  • If you control 3 bases, you gain 10 resources every 6 seconds. 16 minutes to get to 1600.
  • If you control 4 bases, you gain 10 resources every 3 seconds. 8 minutes to get to 1600.
  • If you control 5 bases, you gain 30 resources every 1 second. 53.3 seconds to get to 1600.

Resources control bonus honor — I think it’s 20.9 honor for every 260 resources gained, or 160 on a holiday weekend. (Some sources say it’s every 330, but more say 260.) The winning side will therefore get 128 honor from resources, and then another 20.9 on top of that for winning, for a total of 149 bonus honor. (Holiday increases that to 209 and 230, respectively).

Let’s put that into the perspective of Alterac Valley: if you do nothing other than kill the enemy captain and general, you get 146.3 honor, about the same as winning Arathi Basin. Every tower you take down is additional 62.7 honor, so the conservative strategy of taking out the captain, towers, and general will net you +250 honor more than winning Arathi Basin. All in about 8-12 minutes, a time which could only be met by controlling 4 bases. The only conditions when winning Arathi Basin is more profitable than Alterac Valley is when you can control all 5 bases, making it an extremely quick small burst of honor.

Compare that to the established value of a Mark of Honor: 248 honor. If you win, you get three, or 744 honor, on top of the 149 bonus honor from the objectives for a grand total of 893 honor when all is said and done. If you lose having gotten to, say, 800 resources, you’ll get one mark worth 248 and 64.3 bonus honor from objectives, but at the cost of prolonging the match at least 15 minutes for that additional 64 honor. (I am ignoring the honor you can get from HKs during that time.)

So staying and fighting for that additional 800 resources nets me +4.28 bonus honor per minute. Which is terrible. I mean, that’s an awful return on your time.

Assuming that it is not your daily battleground, and you’re there just for honor, giving up when you start getting behind starts looking like a valid strategy. Allowing the enemy to 5-cap ends the battle quickly without materially changing your outcome. You are still going to walk away with 250-500 honor, tops. Staying and fighting might give you some HKs and associated honor, but it’s going to be tough going. Whereas if it is your daily battleground, the stakes for winning are much higher, so gritting it out actually makes sense. If you’re getting an additional 2000 honor out of a win, spending 20 minutes getting it is still +100 honor per minute. You can afford to slug it out.

But if you’re just playing for marks to balance out all those sweet AV marks in your bank? Letting them 5-cap actually makes sense, because the single AB mark you get has more value than fighting back for a win. Surrender is a viable option.

Ugh. I feel dirty writing that.


The biggest problem with Marks of Honor in level 80 battlegrounds is that they have no intrinsic value outside of the honor they confer. And while I’m generally a fan of having a few, universal currencies, in this case the mechanism of the turn-in quest means that a mark from a high HPM battleground is equivalent to the mark from a low HPM battleground in terms of opportunity cost. To realize the value of an AV mark means you have to spend the time in WSG and AB getting their counterparts; but spending time in WSG and AB means you are getting less honor for your time spent playing than simply going back and playing more AV. Which is madness!

This is one of the flaws of the current PvP reward system. While it’s great to have a unified set of currencies, and the three-tiered model works well in PvE and PvP, the incentives for winning need to be better for the worse-off battlegrounds. It’s like if when running heroics through the Dungeon Finder you had heroics with wildly different numbers of bosses and times to complete, and worse, the ones with the fewest bosses (and therefore the fewest Emblems) took the longest to do, while the ones with more bosses were faster and dropped better loot. No matter how enticing you made the daily quest reward in this instance, players would still look at those hard ones and either take the debuff and bail, figuring they could do something better with their time and try a different one later, or grit your teeth and smash through it as quickly as possible to get it over with.

Replace Emblems with honor and you have the state of battlegrounds and the daily bg quests today. Even having a Battleground Finder to randomize the quest location wouldn’t overcome the discrepancy between battlegrounds in the amount of common currency they reward.

Arathi Basin is one of my favorite battlegrounds. It’s one that uses the most small unit tactics, requires great communication and teamwork, has interesting, challenging terrain, and allows for many, many ways to win. It is wrong on so many levels to have to look at the incentives for playing it and conclude that if you’re not in it for achievements or reputation, you’re sometimes better off forfeiting, losing quickly, and taking your mark than sticking it out.


When you zone into Alterac Valley, you’re surrounded by people with a lot of different reasons for being there. There’s a lot of incentive for people to fight well, and while the strategy for optimal gains can be debated, all the incentive is to fight the whole way through. Even a turtle in AV can be profitable (and a hell of a lot of fun.)

When you zone into Warsong Gulch or Arathi Basin, though, you have to wonder: why are these people here? This isn’t the best place for me to grind honor for good gear (or money), so why are people there? Are they trying to realize the honor they have stored up in other marks? Are they grinding reputation, or achievements? Are they completely lost?

Or, are they there to have fun, and maybe, just maybe, win?

The key difference between PvP and PvE is that the opponents have to be motivated in PvP. Winning in a raid means downing the bosses and collecting the loot; your incentives are clear. But you never have to consider the incentives of the trash mobs or bosses; they’ll be there, giving their all, no matter what. In PvP, you have to give players on both sides a reason to show up, a reason to compete, and a reason to win.

More than anything else, this is the problem facing endgame battlegrounds today. How do you motivate the losing side? These battlegrounds are still exhilarating places to spend an evening; simple to learn the basics, but hard to master. Competing in them is fun, and can be rewarding in and of itself.

But when the tangible rewards for doing other, somewhat similar activities are far superior, you have a conflict between doing what is right — fighting hard until the end — and doing what is best for you.

Surrender should never be a viable strategy for victory.


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

The Imperfect Isle

Alliance Keep on the Isle of Conquest

I tried Isle of Conquest again this weekend, and lost. Not a lot, because I know when it’s just not working and quit while I was ahead… but I didn’t win any of the battles. The Alliance would mostly rush Docks, but every time we would get outnumbered and eventually get overwhelmed. Once the Docks were gone it would take maybe 10 minutes before the Horde stormed the Keep and won the match.

It’s a pretty consistent story now on the Alliance side.


Cassandri at Hots & Dots has a short but sweet look at the Isle of Conquest, and why the Alliance has such a tough time winning it.

It comes down to the Snipe Spot described by Rubymelon in his great post, The Secret to Winning Isle of Conquest and also discussed in this comment on WoW Insider. The secret, such as it is, is that the Glaives have a longer range than the defensive cannons on the keep. Their longer range exploits the strong-side/weak-side asymmetry Ihra noticed while looking at win/loss data, where the Docks’ western placement puts them on the Alliance Keep’s weak side (and the Horde Keep’s strong side.)

So the strategy that results in a Horde win every single time is for them to rush the Docks, take the Glaives, knock down the Alliance Keep’s west wall with impunity, and then kill the boss. The corresponding strategy on the Alliance side is to take the Hangar, but it is a weaker strategy because the Horde Keep walls are not destroyed, nor is there a disparity in the offensive/defensive weapon ranges.

Don’t mistake this for QQ. Fighting a battle means exploiting every asymmetrical advantage you can, and I’m really quite impressed at the players who figured this out. I’m not asking for any changes. The map is laid out in a way that favors certain tactics from certain sides, and there’s no way around that. Alterac Valley is the same way. I don’t think normalizing the ranges between the glaives and cannons will fix this; this is a map problem, too.

It’s no excuse; the Alliance should be able to find a counterstrategy that works:  destroy the Glaives at all cost, for instance.  But I think the damage has already been done to this battleground.


Let me switch to Alterac Valley for a little bit. The 50s bracket of AV in Ruin was (before the sweeping PvP changes of 3.2) completely Alliance dominated. The matches would start 40 Alliance : 10 Horde, and the Horde would get slaughtered on the rush to Drek. Half of the Alliance team would get Drek, the rest would push them into the cave, and the matches didn’t take very long.

The Horde didn’t lose because of a map imbalance, though the AV map does favor the Alliance. (The bridge at Dun Baldar is a great defensive structure that when properly manned cannot be bypassed; the path into Frostwolf Village is not at good because the line of sight is broken, limiting many player abilities.) They lost because they didn’t show up. No matter how good you are, you can’t win a battleground against 3-4 times your number.

But you have to dig deeper? Why didn’t the Horde show up in that bracket, while the Alliance turned out in droves?

Because once upon a time, when it was equal, the Horde lost more games than they won due to a map imbalance. So they did what any rational player would do: either afk in the cave for marks and get honor elsewhere, or play something else entirely. There’s no reason to fight a losing battle when you can fight a winning one elsewhere.

But a funny thing started happening late nights while I was playing AV. The Horde showed up. And they showed up big time, with level 60s who knew what they were doing, and even though the matches started out 20:40, they soon filled up. Premades or not, if you have 40 on 40, it’s a real battle.

Yes, the Horde won most of those matches. They came in and played smart, with a good mix of offense and defense. They capped and recapped and defended and fought at the flag and took down Van in no time flat. They slaughtered the unprepared Alliance forces.

It was glorious, even from the losing side.

Those were the matches that taught me how to play AV, not the facerolls. /bg chat may have been filled with cries of “OMG WE CAN’T LOSE” and other QQery, but enough of us fought through to figure out how to win in the face of an actual opponent. Some of the best AV matches I played were those late-night AVs where the Horde showed up. Losing 0-10 on resources is heartbreaking, but also a hell of a game. We won some. We lost some.

When I got to the 71-80 bracket, I found where all the Horde really were. They were up at the level cap fighting normal AVs, and winning some of them. Not all, but they weren’t fighting a population disparity right away. The lessons learned in the earlier brackets came in handy as the strategies were the same, just the 80s hit much, much harder.

This old war story has a point. The Isle of Conquest has a balance problem that will drive players either to it, or away from it, just like Alterac Valley. Battlegrounds PuGs are good randomizers, so all other things being equal, an advantage in one side will cause that side to win more often statistically than the other. A rational player will look at this and say either this is to my benefit or disadvantage, and participate accordingly. Now that there are so many battlegrounds to choose from, players will go to where they feel they can get the best reward for their playtime.

I worry that Alliance participation is going to plummet in the Isle of Conquest, just like Horde participation did in Alterac Valley. Perhaps it will happen even faster, or has already happened — I have no way of knowing. But I have a hunch people will act in their own self-interest and the Alliance will stop showing up.

Which is really too bad, because the example the Horde set in Alterac Valley is the right one Alliance players should draw from. Don’t give up hope. Find a better way to fight, and exploit advantages that you do have. If that means making a premade, or only letting 60 twinks into the battleground, so be it. Perhaps the advent of rated battlegrounds will give the Alliance the organization it needs to overcome the Snipe Spot strategy. Perhaps not; the advantage will not be asymmetric. I think a more traditional strategy is necessary: yield the Docks, but kill the Glaives at all costs while pursuing a Hangar seems to be a good start.

But I do know that the imbalance in the Isle of Conquest map is already affecting people’s decisions about where to spend their time. Time will tell if this will turn the Isle into an Alliance ghost town or not.


After writing the original post above, I logged in to the Isle to get some screenshots. I had been there for no more than 20 seconds when the Alliance won.

Sure enough, the player count helped explain why: Alliance: 40, Horde: 35.

I then won 3 in a row.

Moral of the story: You have to show up to win.


Filed under Battleground Strategies, Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Links

Something is Rotten in the Isle of Conquest


Ihrayeep writes:

(A)lliance has a 37% win ratio here, which is drastically less than all the others. I’m used to losing slightly more (anywhere from 45-49 win, usually) but this is abnormal enough to raise an eyebrow. My initial response is the default one, to claim that alliance sucks, because that’s usually as good a fallback reason as any…except I can’t see why they would suck so much MORE in this bg than the other ones. It’s the same people playing. And it’s not like IoC has any “new” concepts — it’s recycled different things from AV, AB, and SotA, all of which alliance does significantly better in. So what gives here?

This matches my own experience in the Alliance side of the Ruin battlegroup.  My record in IoC is dismal: 2 wins out of 8 played.  25%.  Yikes.

Ihra’s theory about the elevation asymmetry of the map is a good one.  While the layout is symmetric, the addition of arial combat makes elevation matter in a way it doesn’t in, say, Arathi Basin.  The Lumber Mill affords you better visibility and one less way in to defend than the Gold Mine, but both sides can reach it equally without a “weak” or “strong” side.  That’s not the case in the IoC because there are cannons and vehicles involved.  If there were cannons on the Lumber Mill you better believe it would be the single most important node in Arathi Basin.

I haven’t seen the Hangar Blitz in my recent ventures into the Isle of Conquest; it’s all Docks, all the time.  And when the Alliance loses the Docks, sure enough the Ally Keep falls shortly thereafter.   So while the Docks convey an offensive tactical advantage to the Horde, they convey no corresponding advantage to the Alliance — except to deny them to the Horde.

The whole article is worth reading, as well as the other Honor per Minute analysis Ihra has done.  I’d be lying to say that I’m not pleased my initial hunch that Strand of the Ancients is the best might be right, after all.  :-)


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Links

More Isle of Conquest Info

Arrens has another great post up on his site on The Isle of Conquest. The whole thing is worth a read, but I especially liked:

If your team is able to control the docks and the workshop or the hangar, achieving an IoC victory is a simple matter.

This is very, very true.  Hold 2 of the 3 middle bases, and you can win.  Hold only one, and you won’t.

(Alliance on Ruin, you paying attention?  My win rate is terrible.  Help a warlock out.)

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Links

The Hangar Blitz

The Hangar Blitz.png

I’ve noticed a change in the Isle of Conquest in the few short days it’s been open. There’s now a vocal minority advocating a full assault on the hangar, storming the keep, and killing the General. This same group complains vociferously when the other players don’t follow this advice.

In other words: full-on nerd rage that everyone else screwed up their quick win.

I’m sad to see this appear so soon in the Isle.

The proposed strategy is relatively simple: attack the Hangar in force to control the Airship, use the Airship to parachute in force into the enemy keep, and kill the enemy general for a quick win.

The problem is, I’ve yet to see it work.

I think the Hangar-only strategy can work, if all of the steps above are followed and nothing goes wrong. Attacking with a sizable chunk of your force is essential to winning with it, though, and it can be stopped by a strong keep defense.

There are flaws with the Hangar-only strategy, though.

First, it’s not flexible in the face of failure. If you don’t win on the first try, you’re out of position for the rest of the map, and your keep defense is vulnerable. You might hang on to the airship, but at the cost of the Docks and Workshop. I have already seen a lot of nerd rage about how the failure to rush and hold the Hangar resulted in an automatic loss. I think that’s a problem with the strategy, not the execution.

This is because of my second objection, the extremely fragile supply line. You must hold the hangar to reinforce your assault, because the walls have been bypassed, not opened. You have no close graveyards to rez at, and if you lose one node the forces inside the keep are isolated.

My third objection us that it’s not a good maximizing strategy. Even if the Rube Goldberg-like steps are followed, you’ve traded a quick win for a lot of honor. Taking and holding the Quarry and Derrick yields a constant flow of honor. If you’re not in it for the honor, okay, I get that – but don’t tell me you’re in it for the marks. (Can you buy ANYTHING with Isle marks?)

This last part touches on what I think is the source of the Hangar-only strategy: Alterac Valley. The accepted AV strat is to kill Bal/Galv, take the towers, kill for 4 minutes, then kill Drek/Van. Because the map is asymmetric, the Horde have to also recapture TP or IBT to slow the Alliance zerg. But either way, this maximizes the honor you get from the battleground objectives while keeping the games short. There are some nuances to the order graveyards should be capped (skip FWGY or risk a lot of QQ), but this is pretty much the game plan.

The Alterac Blitz, though, forgoes every single objective but one: kill the boss at the end. Take at least half your force with 2 tanks and 4 healers and ride without stopping to the end of the map; do not engage the enemy at any cost, abandon everyone along the way, then MT on boss, OT on everyone else, and bring the heat. It’s a ludicrously simple plan to beat; put a quarter of your force to defend the chokepoint into your base, kill half as they ride by, the other half as they reach the boss. Without a nearby GY the attackers are sent to the other end of the map.

The way I see it, the Hangar-only strategy is a bad variant of the Alterac Blitz. It ignores all battleground objectives but one, it is fragile, and easily countered. I’m worried that the Hangar will become like the Stables are in Arathi Basin for Alliance, or the Blacksmith is for just about everyone – a node with more psychological than tactical advantage.

I don’t have a good counterstrategy to propose yet. I would think a balanced offense focusing on one node to bypass the walls (Hangar/Docks) to soften the defenses, and another to destroy the walls with siege from the Workshop is necessary. This needs to be coupled with roving packs to take the honor-producing nodes and interrupt the enemy, and a good, solid Keep defense.

Sadly, it’s much easier to yell “everyone to the hangar!” in /bg.


Filed under Battleground Strategies, Cynwise's Battlefield Manual