Tag Archives: PvP

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 IDEAL SYSTEM

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.

INTRODUCING IMBALANCE TO THE SYSTEM

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.

CASE 1: THEY’RE THE BETTER TEAM

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.

CASE 2: THE STREAMS THAT FEED THE POOL

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.

CASE 3: BETTER GEAR

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

SOLVING THE PROBLEM

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. :)

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Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

The Few Versus The Many

Cynli - Eye of the Storm - Fel Reaver Ruins Hordeside - Black Leather

I really enjoy battleground healing on my Druid, Cynli.

She spent most of Cataclysm as a level 70 twink, and while she was effectively my main in 4.2, I haven’t played her much of late. That’s okay. We can go through cycles with our toons, hopefully they’ll forgive us.

The changes to BG scaling in 5.2 made me return my attention to my wayward druid, unlock her, and set out leveling her though PvP with a vague goal of either 80 for Herald or 85-89 for even more Mists-level PvP fun. Picking her up again has been a genuine pleasure. She’s the only toon, and I mean this very seriously, she’s the only toon which I feel completely comfortable displaying the Battlemaster title on in BGs aside from Cynwise. On everyone else I’m keenly aware of my limitations as a player playing below my potential; with these two, I feel like yes, I am as good as this title proclaims me to be.

Druid PvP healing is fun, hugely mobile, more than a little overpowered in the 70s, and gives me a different perspective on the game. I do things I wouldn’t ever dream of doing on a DPS character with Cynli – take the flag and go over to a Horde-controlled base, just to taunt the 4-6 DPS there with their inability to take down a single healer – but ultimately there’s still a sense of fun that comes from playing a character that I’m good at playing. Even though I know that I have a lot of room for improvement, the convergence of competence, confidence and cool toys makes for a character I love to play.

We’ve come a long way from the Druid which I deleted twice out of frustration.

I have an alt of every class. I didn’t use to – I used to delete alts whenever they bored me – but I’ve tried to stick with ones that I find boring, give them great outfits, learn the basics, and then put them in a corner where they don’t bother me too much. When I want to dabble with leveling they’re there, waiting. I might not be Great with them, but I can be Fair to Good, and that’s almost always more than enough for PvE leveling content. It irks me when I can’t perform up to the level I’m accustomed to in PvP, though. It really irks me. I know it’s a matter of getting fluent with a class, of having the muscle memory down for what buttons to press when you want something to happen, and that fluency takes time. When I’ve switched PvP specs on Cynwise, I usually need 2-3 weeks to get back up to speed so I don’t feel like I’m flailing and letting everyone in the battlegroup down.  Weeks! The first few days are terrible, I hate it, it’s one reason I stopped switching specs in PvP so often (and why I’ve never really gotten good a Demo PvP) – I hate feeling like my primary avatar is incompetent, because my skills are lacking. Dismissing that feeling of incompetence on an alt is far easier than on a main. You have to focus to be good, and you can’t focus on mastering 11 classes at the same time.

Well, I can’t. Maybe you can.

Cynwise - Binan Village Fishing

THE COMPETENCE TRAP

This story is from a while ago, so my apologies if you’ve heard it before.

I had someone roll an alt and whisper me a pretty standard question – what class should they play for PvP?

I answered their question with a question in return: what do you like to play?

“I like playing all of them.”

“Okay, what class do you feel you’re good at playing?”

“All of them. I’m equally good with all of them.”

Now, because I’m polite, I didn’t respond with what I really thought at that moment. But if you say that you’re equally good with all classes, you’re saying that you’re equally bad with all of them. (The personnel manager in me also says that you lack self-awareness and don’t know your strengths and flaws, and to expect overinflated evaluations of your own performance. But I digress.) There are 11 classes with 34 specs in World of Warcraft now, and you’re going to find that some are better suited to you than others. Classes appeal because of the playstyle, the mechanics, the function and power of the class. Maybe it’s the fantasy of the class which appeals, or the role, or the character. Maybe it’s the outfits.

But soon, competence appeals. As you learn to play it, becoming good at playing it is its own reward. You become good with the class and spec, and then great with it, and then you log over to another alt and … aren’t.

So now the other class is at a natural disadvantage because of your own competence with another class. There have to be reasons for flailing around on an undergeared alt, struggling through the initial learning curve, gearing up, making things click in your head, that makes the effort worth overcoming the skill gap. Sometimes it’s because of social pressures – your raid needs an X to fill a different role, too much competition on certain rolls, missing buffs. Sometimes it’s because you just don’t like the old class anymore because you or it changed. Sometimes it’s just to see how other classes play.

I have 1 main and 11 alts, one of each class, and I do not play them all equally well.

The ones I play well make me want to play them more, and playing them more makes me play them better, which widens the gap.

Cynwise - Setting the Shrine on Fire

THE LEVEL OF PLAY TO WHICH WE ARE ACCUSTOMED

I have friends who have lots of alts, and I have friends who have a few alts, and friends who have no alts, and it all seems to work out pretty well for them. Some folks can hop on a new class and be brilliant in no time flat. (Rades is particularly good at this, by the way. Little known fact about him.) Others stick with the tried and true and add alts very slowly, carefully, keeping their rosters pruned like a well-tended garden. Some are like me, and it bugs them when they can’t be good on an alt. Others aren’t fazed at all and just soldier right on through, leveling them up and getting the job done until they are good with them.

(I admire those folks. Wish I could take a page from their book.)

I personally can only be really good – really really good – with one spec at a time. I should probably amend that to one spec per role at a time, because I’m able to compartmentalize things like “this is how you tank” and “this is how you heal” and “this is how you ranged DPS” pretty well since they’re different activities. But even with that amendment, there’s a level of play within a given role that I’m accustomed to. There’s a class, a spec, where I feel like yep, this is as good as I play. Sometimes that changes – I used to feel really confident tanking on my Death Knight, but that was as a Frost tank back in Wrath – but as the years go on, I get settled in and never seem to achieve the fluency with a new spec as I do with an old one.

(I think it’s also probably still fair to say that even between roles, there’s only one spec that I’m best at at a single time. I am not nearly as good of a tank as I am a ranged pvp dps.)

That idea of the level of play to which I am accustomed really strikes me when I’m playing PvP. I don’t like being bad at a class in a BG. I really don’t. I can play all of my alts relatively competently in a PvE environment – in 5 years I’ve learned how to quest on pretty much anybody with an attack button, how to tank an instance or heal the tank through an instance. (My struggles with leveling in PvE are far more attention and interest-related than skill.) But I queue up for a BG and weaknesses come out. Sometimes I get through it, figure out ways to make it work. I know how to play the BGs and can (usually) contribute.

But on some alts, I just … flounder. Knowing how to heal a 5-man doesn’t always translate into knowing how to heal a BG. Being able to DPS through a pack of mobs doesn’t mean that I can win a 1:1 against anyone but a really weak opponent.

Those alts depress me.

Other alts surprise me. Folks told me to keep going with my Resto Shaman, switch to Enhance for a while but that Resto didn’t really get going until the mid-60s. You know what? They were right. Much happier with my performance as a Resto Shaman at 70 than at 50. I’m not great with her in PvP, but I’m not floundering anymore. There were definite toolkit problems there that got fixed later on. It’s tough sometimes as a novice to really identify those times when it’s you, and your lack of skill, versus the spec not working right. When you’re an expert, sure, those problems are apparent. But learning? Maybe it’s me.

My Shaman and my Mage are illustrative examples. I rolled a shaman because I sucked at them and wanted to not suck anymore. After about 2 years of dinking about on her, I’m no longer terrible and wondering when I can delete her. I’m slowly climbing that competency curve. My mage, on the other hand, started off strong – PvP on a low level twinked out mage is a lot of fun – but has gotten progressively weaker as I’ve leveled her. Is that me? Is it the class? I assume they’re fine, or reasonably fine, at the higher levels – so why does she suck to play so much in the 50s-60s? Is this just something to get through?

It’s tough to look at an alt and just say, you know, I could probably quest on you, and maybe do some dungeons, but the content I can do competently at  your level is just painful.

I’d rather log on to someone I could be a rock star with.

Cynxi - Pandaren Rogue - SW - II

ALTERNATE WAYS TO LEVEL

My Rogue is level 85 now. I don’t play a Rogue well at all, but she’s level 85 through a lot of pet battles. My Death Knight went from 80-85 solely through mining. My Paladin, Mage and Shaman have more than their share of levels solely from cooking dailies. These are, perhaps unsurprisingly, alts that I don’t feel all that great about playing. There are other ways to level aside from questing, dungeons, and battlegrounds, and I’ve tried out a lot of them.

I have really mixed feelings about using alternate ways to level. Part of me likes it, because I can skip over those parts of the content where I have trouble retaining any interest at all. Oh boy, time to get lost in Blackrock Mountain. Oh boy, Hellfire Ramparts with a fresh DK tank, yay. Oh boy, Utgarde Keep. Again. Doing pet battles or archeology or gathering at least lets me feel like I’m getting something out of the deal, be it a stash of gold from gathered materials or a leveled profession in addition to a leveled character.

But I’m also reminded that I’m using those alternate means of leveling because I don’t like playing the character. If I choose to level with something that could be done on any character on that specific alt solely for the experience gain, I’ve fundamentally said that playing the other parts of WoW don’t appeal to me with that toon.

Oh, if I do them as part of the leveling process those alternate means of experience gain are great. Pet battle and gather while questing? Perfect XP boosts. Grinding out a bunch of mobs for professions? Hey, at least you’re in combat and learning how the class works. Leveling by mining and hunting rare mobs in Pandaria on my DK has been the opposite experience I had in Cataclysm because I have had to learn how to play her to do it. I don’t have to quest, I hunt Karasang rares for their BOE drops and sweet XP. The rares are all challenging encounters, but not impossible, so I’ve actually watched my DK fluency rise again while leveling. I even felt confident enough to take her into BGs last night! I felt the competency gap, I was squishy as all getout, but I didn’t feel like I was floundering and a failure.

But I don’t know any more about playing a Rogue than I did when she was 70 now, because she’s the product of pet battles. I leveled her for her crafting skills and that was really about it.

When I find myself leveling solely through alternate means, I should probably take a long look at that alt.

Cynwii - Gnome Monk Training

THE FEW VERSUS THE MANY

This post started out with me realizing how much I really enjoy playing my Druid. I might have a lot of alts, and a lot of healers even, but when push comes to shove I know who I want to be playing in a battleground.

There’s a dynamic tension within a computer game like Warcraft that just doesn’t exist in a traditional RPG between multiple characters. In a tabletop or live-action RPG you’re pretty much expected to play one character per session, and probably only 1-2 characters over the course of a campaign. I played V:MET for 12 years and only played 5 characters total. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything by not playing a Nosferatu or Malkavian. When I played AD&D, I didn’t ever feel like I should play a Barbarian just to experience everything. If I wanted a Barbarian, I switched to one – but there was no need to have a Barbarian rolled up so I could have a crafter or fill another role. If I played a Ranger, I played a Ranger and worked within the limits of that class.

MMOs have concepts of roles and factions. There are in-game abilities which are restricted to certain classes. There are limits on professions which require multiple characters to learn. Even your social circles are limited – you can only be on one server and one guild and one faction at a time. You might still only play one character at a given moment, but you’re able to have a whole roster of characters to work around game-imposed limits. You don’t have to have additional characters, but if you want to bypass those limits an alt is the way to do it. Hybrids have an advantage here in that they can change roles in a single character, but it’s not a fix to profession, server, guild or faction restrictions. You also don’t really know how another class plays until you play it.

I have 11 alts, one of each class, and it kinda stresses me out. I’m trying to embrace having what – to me – is a lot of alts, because it seems like a good way to experience the whole game of Warcraft. But those classes I struggle on sit there on my screen, reminding me that there’s work to be done, a project which is not finished, and it’s not a fun project. There are times I want fewer projects, to just have the ones left which I really love. Then there are times I try to convince myself maybe just 4 characters would be enough, one for each role. Then it’s 5, because I need someone to play on the other faction with. Then it’s 8, because why not have the 4 armor types represented on each faction? And then once you have 8 you might as well have 11. But I don’t love playing all 11 of those alts. I like them well enough, but I don’t love them. I have them to cover my bases.

Do what you love. It’s hard for me to log in to a toon I don’t love playing when there are options which I do love playing.

And yet I do.

This game is weird.

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Children’s Week 2013 and the School of Hard Knocks

Cynxi - Halfhill - Rainstorm

 

Children’s Week 2013 has begun, and with it is everyone’s favorite holiday PvP achievement – The School of Hard Knocks. And by favorite I mean “slightly above a root canal,” since for the past 4 years there’s been more anguish over this one achievement than … well… okay, there was a lot of anguish over the Battlegrounds in the Legendary quests too.

But I guarantee you that SoHK is hated more.

Anyhow, what the past 4 years has shown me is that you can do this achievement. No matter how much you dread it because you don’t PvP – you can do it.

In 2010 I wrote and recorded my Guide to the School of Hard Knocks. It’s aged a bit, but is still accurate and I hope you find it helpful. It has maps and video walkthroughs for each step of the achievement (hah, early Cyn videos! oh god my UI, I am so sorry).

The key is still practice and perseverance – you can do this!

Good luck out there!

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

On Rejoining the Leveling Brackets

Cynwise unlocks her experience gains in Stormwind Keep.

Cynwise unlocks her experience gains in Stormwind Keep.

I’ve had some time for the 5.2 battleground scaling changes to sink in, and it’s pretty clear that for a twink, the best place to be is at the top of a bracket. If you’re going to be level 89 when you zone in, you might as well have level 89 gear and abilities, right?

For low skew brackets this is really unfortunate. Before it was pretty clear that staying low was the right choice for both PvP and PvE – secondary stat scaling worked in your favor in all environments. Now twinks have to choose between awesomeness in PvP and PvE – for one you go high, the other goes low. You can’t be great at both anymore – it’s one or the other.

(The only exception is Arenas. Arenas are unaffected by the new scaling. So if you’re an Arena junkie, staying low is the way to go.)

I’m not an arena junkie. I locked XP because I like to unwind with battlegrounds but don’t like grinding out sets of gear. I’ve enjoyed being a Big Gun in PvE – bringing 200k DPS to ICC, regularly putting out 100k+ DPS at level 85, of beating the pants off of level 90 DPS in Dragon Soul – but the real reason I locked was to PvP.

So after a week or two of reflection, I unlocked Cynwise and started queueing up for the leveling brackets with my healer partner and guildmate Rezznul. If I was going to have to level to 89 to be BiS anyways, why not just do it in the BGs? Each level brings a little improvement, but when you’re in average ilvl 439 gear at level 85 it’s not like you’re hurting for that extra gear. It’s just icing on top.

Consider that for a minute – one effect of scaling has been to return xp-off twinks back into the leveling brackets. Superbly geared level 70, 80, 85 toons are leaving the xp-off brackets in droves and hitting up the greener pastures of leveling brackets. I outgear everyone. It’s ridiculous.

Oh. And I have a pocket healer.

I’m not going to gloss over it – I absolutely love it. We absolutely love it. Why shouldn’t we? It’s ridiculous. And now we can do it without the guilt of weakening ourselves by leveling.

When my only regret is leaving behind being a star on Retro Raid Night? That’s not really much of a regret.

I do find it interesting that the unlocked 85 bracket is such a more pleasant experience than the locked 85 bracket right now. Most of the Alliance xp-off twinks quit and leveled out after 5.2. The xp-off bracket shifted from a slight Alliance advantage to a dominant Horde one, as teams of Horde healers with competent DPS just ravaged the remaining blue teams with 1-2 twinks. The majority of the Alliance players now seem to be expansion twinks, those returning players who haven’t bought Mists of Pandaria and show up in terrible Cataclysm gear. Those players are on the Horde, too, but not as many.

It’s a great time to be a level 85 Horde twink. Seriously. I see some great play and coordinated efforts to protect healers. Alliance healers have vanished and twinks are few and far between. The matches have gone from relatively equal contests to hoping that you don’t get steamrolled. I have still won the occasional locked game as Alliance – but it’s a frustrating experience, without the teamwork and competence which made even the losses fulfilling experiences.

This is a strange time to be PvPing. I’m locking and unlocking with abandon. It’s not that I’ve given up on the locked brackets, it’s that I’m leveling at the same time.

I don’t think bringing twinks back into the leveling brackets was a deliberate effect. I honestly don’t think twinks commonly enter in to any design decisions in PvP, with the exception of getting them out of low-level PvP with their separate brackets in 3.2. Removing characters with exceptionally great gear steered by veteran PvPers from the leveling brackets was generally seen as a good thing. Having us return, giving us incentives to play in the leveling brackets … well, it remains to be seen if it’s a good thing.

I know I’m having fun. I don’t know if my opponents are – but I sure am.

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Battlemaster

Cynwise - Shrine - Battlemaster Close Crop

My battleground diploma is done.

I locked at 85 to avoid the gear grind, focused on it for 6 months, and got it done.

I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of Mists of Pandaria, but I have no max level alts. I amuse myself hunting rares wearing the best gear possible. I take advantage of long BG queue times by going back to finish those old things I never did before.

I like how the Warlock class is playing in Mists; it’s so very different from Cataclysm. We are far removed from the class which inspired Decline. I really don’t have much to say about it aside from that it’s fun again.

Having a fun class again is a pretty big deal, come to think of it. Don’t take it for granted.

I don’t think I’ll unlock Cynwise anytime soon. I absolutely do not miss grinding gear to remain competitive in PvP. Having to work each and every week to keep up with my opponents isn’t for me anymore, and from the looks of things there’s going a lot of work ahead for endgame characters who want to PvP.

So.

I’d rather just play BGs and have fun with a video game.

cropped-cynwise-warsong-gulch-flag-room-persistent-ultimate-defender.png

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PvP Playbook: Portrait Psychology

Your character portrait conveys useful information about your character to opponents in PvP. You can’t prevent this exchange of information – but you can use your portrait to wage psychological warfare on your enemies.

WHAT YOUR HELM SAYS ABOUT YOU

Consider what information is given when you target someone in the default UI: race, gender, resource type.

Human, female, uses mana.

Most players will turn on either numbers (my personal preference) or percentages:

The portrait also conveys one really important piece of information: gear level.

Your helm gives your opponents a clue about your overall gear level in PvP.

See, PvP gear in Cataclysm was standardized so you can approximate a character’s gear level by their health, regardless of class. (It’s been a good change, honestly.) So if you have numbers on, you can tell at a glance how geared they are.

It’s important to note that not everyone has numbers turned on, and those who do may not know what the levels are. In the heat of battle they may not bother to look at all. The character portrait, though, is a big tell about gear – if they are showing a Conquest PvP helm, their gear is likely at least decent if not great. If they’re showing a crafted PvP helm, or a PvE helm, chances are pretty good that they’re undergeared or not fully geared for PvP.

Now that we have Transmogrification, we can use this to our advantage.

MAKE THEM UNDERESTIMATE YOU

One of my favorite psychological games to play with portraits is to dress so I look weaker than I really am.

Looking weaker than you are won’t fake out experienced PvPers (who will look at your health, not your helm), but mogging your PvP gear to the distinctive crafted starter sets can cause many opponents to initially underestimate you.

While the visual appearance of gear isn’t everything, force opponents to look closer to see your gear level! Giving the wrong initial impression is tactically sound. If they think that you’re poorly geared and an easy kill when you’re not – great! If they think you’re geared improperly – like a Warlock in Spirit gear, or in PvE gear – even better.

The helm is just the start of your deception, of course. Mog your whole PvP set to a distinctive yet plausible lower tier to give the wrong impression.  (I’m lucky that I play a cloth-wearer, because the crafted PvP sets look pretty good.)

This option works best when your gear is good to great. If your gear really is bad, though, you’ll want the next option.

GIVE NOTHING AWAY

This is my default mode of operation – hide your helm in PvP. Doing so means my portrait doesn’t give away anything about my gear, which is good.

It also allows me to show off my character’s hair, which is a plus. And it tells nothing about my gear.

But it’s also wasting an opportunity to deceive opponents. When I started out my PvP gear grind this season this probably wasn’t a bad thing – hide your weakness – but now that I’m respectably geared I don’t know that I need to maintain a blank slate with my portrait.

Extending this to the whole body, I try to transmog my starter PvP gear and Honor PvP gear into something else entirely different – an old vanilla set of greens, crafted Mageweave or Netherweave sets, old Northrend PvP tiers – anything to hide that you’re not quite as geared as you’re going to be.

This tactic is best used while gearing up.

CONFUSE THEM

Noggenfogger Elixir has been a PvP standby for years. Furbolg form, Gnome/troll forms, Iron Dwarfs, Wolvar – whatever kind of disguise you’ve got, you can use. This isn’t about mogging your helm so much as it is completely confusing opponents with your portrait and silhouette. The best disguise conceals not only your gear, but your race and even your class. (Name plates will reveal your class, though, and everyone should have name plates on in PvP. No exceptions.)

I think the cross-faction disguises are honestly the best. I remember targeting Horde who looked like night elves in early Cataclysm – or goblins before goblins were a playable race – and wondering how the hell they had done it. It was a great tactic, because every time I targeted a night elf I thought I’d misclicked and gotten a friendly unit.

BE DISTINCTIVE

Sometimes you want to intimidate your opponents. You’re in full Conquest gear and rolling with your arena team mates? Show it. Don’t mind being singled out in the battleground? Wear something distinctive on your head. Engineering is great for this, with Deep Dive Helmets and goggles galore, but there are plenty of distinctive helms which will let people know that yes, they’ve got YOU in their sights.

Intimidation isn’t a bad thing in PvP. If you look at someone and immediately identify that they’re in a full set of Conquest gear while your team is a mix of crafted and Honor, you’re going to treat that player with wary respect. (Hopefully, you’ll also focus fire them; even more hopefully, you’ll focus fire them only when appropriate, and not while allowing their teammates to win the BG.)

I’ve recently hit a PvP gear level where I feel comfortable adopting this tactic again. The warlock Conquest helm is really great looking – first PvP one I can say that about since the Wrathful helm – and the outfit is killer. I don’t mind advertising that my warlock is in a lot of Cataclysmic gear, since if I get focused that usually means a healer or FC isn’t.

Adopting a unique, distinctive look can have its drawbacks, though. I’m using the Flying Tiger Goggles, an early engineering schematic, which not only helps opponents quickly identify me, but also gives away my profession. You can use this to your advantage, of course – there are non-Engineer goggles out there to fake out your opponents – but it is a tell that I’ve got bombs available to me.

BE MINDFUL OF YOUR APPEARANCE

I think it’s important to consider how you look to your opponents in PvP. Appearance isn’t anywhere near as important as, say, proper gearing and good solid play, but it’s a detail that you shouldn’t overlook. Much like which title you display, your portrait conveys information about your character and their gear.

Take a few moments to think about how you’ll look to your opponent across the battlefield. Make sure that it matches the impression you want to give.

Little details add up.

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