Tag Archives: Tol Barad

Infographic: How To Win Tol Barad

At the beginning of Cataclysm, Tol Barad dominated the PvP scene. It was a tough battleground – hard to capture, easy to defend and dominate, and with rewards which were needed for both PvE and PvP.  It was the source of a lot of balancing issues, rumored exploits, and a win-trading debacle all in the first few months of this sad island’s existence. Factions could, and did, hold the fortress for weeks at a time, giving raiding guilds a significant advantage over their competition on that server. It was a contentious place.

I wrote a guide to it – How To Win Tol Barad - which, in retrospect, I think is the best battleground analysis I did in Cataclysm. Writing it represented a turning point for me, personally. I set aside all the complaints I’d heard, all the frustrations I had with losing it repeatedly, and all the scandals around this battleground. They didn’t matter anymore. They were excuses standing in the way of a basic, unshakable truth - there is a way to win this. Yes, it is hard. Yes, the odds are against the attackers. But it can be done.

I stopped making excuses and got down to work.

The opening paragraphs of that guide were directly inspired by JFK’s speech where he declared we would go to the moon. I’d heard recordings of it as a child, and I watched it again when working on that guide. It’s stuck with me with its simple message about why we strive to do the impossible:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

In the face of failure, in the face of impossible odds – we persevere and strive to overcome any challenge. Even if it’s just in a video game.

You can imagine my astonishment when I discovered that Lilpeanut from Heal Over Time had gone and captured not only the strategic points of that guide, but also that all-important attitude of indomitability, with a Visual Guide to How to Win Tol Barad:

Visual Notes: How To Win Tol Barad from Cynwise's Blog

The Godmother from ALT:ernative had suggested that Lilpeanut tackle my Tol Barad guide as part of her series of infographics, and I’m really glad that she did. I love it. (“I’m not leaving!”)

Check out more of Lilpeanut’s Visual Guides (including some great ones on being an Arena Priest, oh, I love those!) on her flickr photo stream.

Thank you both so much!

8 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Warcraft Manual

Battleground PvP Gear in Cataclysm Patch 4.0.6


Another patch has come and gone, and we continue to fight the good fight. Cataclysm patch 4.0.6 has brought a few new items to consider while gearing up for PvP, but nothing that changes the tiers of gear outlined in my Season 9 PvP Gear post.

Of note:

  • Glorious Conquest weapons – the upgraded versions of the Vicious weapons which require 2200 rating to acquire – are still unavailable. They will only become available when PvE progression gets to a point where they will not be substantial upgrades for raiders.
  • Tol Barad rewards have changed to make it worth your time to participate for Honor Points. Losing the battle awards 75 Honor Points, not zero, making it now worth participating in even if you lose.
  • New PvP enchants are now available.

Let’s take each of these in a little more detail.

UPGRADED CONQUEST WEAPONS

They’re on hold. The upgraded weapons you could get with a 2200 rating were first made unavailable due to some problems with the Conquest Point cap early in the season, then delayed further because they are better than most raiders could get at this time. The previous date of January 25th has been pushed back indefinitely, until progression raiding catches up.

This is really a minor inconvenience, especially for the tradeoff of not making raiders feel like they need to PvP to a 2200 rating to get decent weapons. Not having the upgraded PvP weapons isn’t sending Arena players into raids to try to get better stuff – it’s just not there yet. Parity between the two worlds is hard to achieve, and this delay is an interesting way to handle it.

TOL BARAD IS A NOW GOOD PLACE TO GEAR UP FOR PVP

Finally. When I first wrote my Season 9 PvP Gear guide, Tol Barad didn’t have much to offer over grinding regular battlegrounds. The honor return was good if you won, but lackluster if you lost, and there was no reason to collect commendations from the victory or the dailies.

No longer.

After some major flip flops in Tol Barad’s rewards, the battle has now settled in to:

  • 360 Honor Points for an offensive victory,
  • 180 Honor Points for a defensive victory, and
  • 75 Honor Points for a loss.

This is  actually a pretty good return on your time if you’re grinding Honor Points. A loss will usually net you around 100-125 honor for 25 minutes, about as much as a good AV or IoC victory. If you sneak in near the end of the battle, your Honor Per Minute goes way up, but it’s hard to gauge when it’s going to end, and it’s best to just queue for it when you see it’s up.

Furthermore, 4.0.6 has added new PvP enchants, available at both the Tol Barad quartermasters – Quartermaster Brazie for Alliance, Pogg for Horde – as well as the Honor Quartermasters in your capital city.

  • Head enchants give you 60 of a primary statand 35 Resilience. They cost 1000 Honor Points or 40 Tol Barad Commendations.
  • Shoulder enchants give you 50 of a primary stat and 25 Resilience. They cost 2000 Honor Points or 80 Tol Barad Commendations.

The naming convention is also somewhat clearer than previous versions of these enchants, with the Arcaniums of Vicious Agility, Intellect, and Strength for the head enchants, and the Greater Inscriptions of Vicious Agility, Intellect, and Strength for the shoulders. Having the season name in their titles leads me to believe that these enchants may be upgraded over different seasons, but that’s just a hunch. It certainly is nice to keep them all straight!

Finally, there have been some changes to the victory conditions in Tol Barad – it’s easier for Defenders to keep 0/3, easier for Attackers to take the last base at 2/3 – until we’ve seen them in action. It’s not going to change the fundamental structure of the battleground, but it is at least going to – perhaps – make it less frustrating overall.

GEARING STRATEGIES

I like having alternate currencies to play with when talking about how to gear up a character. They make it interesting – it’s not just all about how many points you can grind out.

So, I’ve slightly modified my own recommendations from the original guide:

  1. Get the crafted pieces made as soon as you can.
  2. Supplement with good items gained from PvE.
  3. Participate in Tol Barad whenever possible, win or lose. Do dailies for Commendations for PvP enchants.
  4. PvP in regular BGs to grind as much Honor Points as you can to get Bloodthirsty gear, focusing on offset pieces and the 2-pc set bonus.
  5. Participate in as many rated PvP matches as you can, up to the limit of Conquest Points you can gain this week.  Focus on gaining Vicious set pieces and weapons first. (As Taugrim points out in the comments below, if your class depends on their weapon, get the weapons first, before anything else.)
  6. Once your Vicious set is complete, start replacing Bloodthirsty offset pieces with Vicious.
  7. Once you’ve upgraded your offset, upgrade your weapons to the Glorious versions.
  8. Skip upgrading the Conquest armor unless you have points to burn at the end of a season (and even then, just consider stockpiling them at the cap.)

It’s nice that with a few changes of gear and reward, Tol Barad has become a place that is at least worth a PvPer’s time to visit.

Good changes, overall. I’m glad to see some PvP enchants in the mix finally.

13 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

How To Win Tol Barad

Let us not mince words; Tol Barad is a brutal battleground. It’s not just that the fights are intense – they are – and it’s not just that it heavily favors the defense – it does. No, Tol Barad’s brutality is that it can and will break your faction’s spirit.

We know that attacking Tol Barad is difficult. Truly difficult. The odds are against your assault team. You need more leadership, more communication, and more willpower to take this island than any other PvP objective in the game. Taking Tol Barad is really hard. Keeping it is hard, too.

The obstacles in our way are not trivial, but nor will they stop us. Why do we try to become Kingslayers or reach the gold cap? Why do we chase Insane titles or try for achievements at absurdly low levels?

We do them because they focus our attention, sharpen our effort, and make us better players. We do these things not because they are easy, but rather because they are hard.

We choose to win Tol Barad.

Above is the logical map of the Tol Barad battleground. The objectives for each team are relatively straightforward.

  • Attackers: Control all three bases (ICG, WV, Slag) at the same time before time runs out.
  • Defenders: Prevent this from happening.

Tol Barad is a battleground of motion and flow. A base is yours when you have more people inside its walls for longer than the opponent. Controlling bases is not about stealth or individual heroics, of elite groups going to capture flags. Defensive control is achieved by letting your troops flow like water from one objective to the next, of overwhelming each node with volume. Offensive control is gained through striking quickly at the right time to disrupt the defensive flow, of seizing the initiative, and of timing the capture of bases just right.

To understand Tol Barad, you must understand how troops will flow. Your troops, your opponent’s troops; in life, and in death. You have to understand both the terrain and the resurrection vectors of where you fight.

If you stand your ground, stubbornly holding onto one node above the others, the battle will flow around you and wear you down until you lose. If you scatter like the wind across the map, you will not have the focus to take any base; disperse, and you will lose.

At any individual base, the attackers have the advantage over time. Attackers who die will respawn close to the base every 30 seconds, about 5 seconds away from reentering the base. Defenders who die will rez back in Baradin Hold, about 15 seconds away from the base.

As a battleground as a whole, however, the defenders have the advantage over time. Defenders who die will respawn 15 seconds away from any given base (the purple lines), allowing them easy access from node to node. Attackers are forced to go around the triangle (the green lines), which takes 35 seconds to go from the front gate of one node to the front gate of another node.  If Attackers die and go counterclockwise around the map, the time is reduced to about 25-28 seconds.  If they go clockwise, it is increased to almost 45 seconds per move.

The key to winning Tol Barad is understanding the tension between these two fundamental truths of the battleground.

Defenders need to:

  • Move as a cohesive unit to establish numeric superiority at a single location.
  • Flow troops away from that location when it is attacked to strengthen the next location.
  • Delay the attackers as long as possible at each node without reinforcing it.

Attackers need to:

  • Move as 2-3 cohesive units to establish numeric superiority at each base.
  • Flow troops away from a winning battle to counter the flow of the defense.
  • Delay the defenders when they are not at a node; distract and scatter them so they cannot congregate.

If the Defenders can stay together and flow from base to base, they will win.

If the Attackers can disrupt the Defender’s flow and scatter them, while not themselves dispersing, they will win.

DEFENDING TOL BARAD: FLOW LIKE WATER

Tol Barad is heavily weighted towards defense. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to try on defense, but rather that if you put forth the same effort as the offense, you’ll likely still win. Nothing in life or PvP is guaranteed. This game doesn’t hand you Tol Barad just for showing up.

The simplest form of the strategy is:

  • Begin by defending a single base with every person on your team. Everyone on your side goes to that one point until it is attacked.
  • When your troops die, you do not reinforce your current base; start moving everyone to the next base instead. Chose the emptiest base to move into. While clockwise motion is slightly more advantageous than counterclockwise (the latter favors the attackers), to you all bases are equal. You can, and should go, counterclockwise if necessary.

That’s it. Flow around the triangle to where your enemy is not, and you will win.

The only people who should not be in the main group are your reconnaissance units: leave one stealther at each base with strict orders to NOT ENGAGE. They are there to count heads, report enemy movements, and nothing more.

You do not need to stay at one base on defense. You can move around the triangle and overwhelm the forces holding each base. As long as you attack with more people – hopefully your entire group – then you will take the base back under your control quickly.

Pay attention to where your dead teammates should be going next. Give clear instructions to dead players so that every 30 seconds you can send a new wave of troops to the correct destination.

  • If you are overwhelming a base, have the rezzers rejoin the main force.
  • If you are encountering stiff resistance at a base, have the rezzers move against an empty one.

If you are in the graveyard and are not sure where you should go next, ask.

The Defenders should never actively assault 3 bases at the same time. If you leave token forces at 1 or 2 bases, but strongly fortify a 3rd, you cannot be beaten when the weak sites are lost. If you divide your forces equally between all bases, you’ll lose. But you can certainly keep moving forces around and prevent the attackers from capturing any bases – it’s actually quite trivial to shift your forces to make the battleground a 0/3 match if your troops are good at assaulting positions.

Sometimes, you will find yourself down 2/3 bases. The temptation will be to go to the empty base, to reinforce your last stronghold. Resist.

Open your map, and look where all your people are. If they’re already at the last base, then go there. If they’re not, go to where your troops are. The more troops you throw at a different base, the faster you can take it. If the empty base is going down, take a different one.

The attackers want you to overcommit to the wrong base, to confuse you, to scatter your forces.

You have to act like a single unit on defense. If everyone is going to WV, everyone goes to WV and does not stop. No exceptions.

  • If you lose focus, you will lose.
  • If you lose discipline, you will lose.
  • If you stop outside a base, you will lose.
  • If you are alone on defense, you are doing it wrong.
  • If all you do is sit in a base and wait for 25 minutes, then you will win.

Your defense must flow. It must be unified. It must be reactive.

If you do those things, you will win.

ATTACKING TOL BARAD: JUGGLING FIRE

Assaulting Tol Barad is hard. It’s quite possibly the hardest PvP objective in the game right now. It is easy to give up, to complain it is too hard, to try to cheat the system. This is a place where despair is the greatest enemy your team will face. You can play very well and still lose. You can win every single engagement and still lose the battleground.

You cannot give up.

Taking Tol Barad requires attackers to win the last base faster than they lose another. You must take the final objective quickly, and your defenders must concentrate on holding the falling base tenaciously, to give you as much time as possible to succeed.

This sounds like a simple truism, but in practice it is quite complex. It is akin to describing juggling or riding a bike with words; how hard could it be to keep three objects in the air at the same time, or of falling in two directions at once while pushing yourself forward? These skills are easy to describe, but difficult to achieve the first time.

You will need to win one base faster than you lose another. That’s it. That means:

  • You must strike hard and fast as a group. You must surprise the defense and subject nodes to massive attacks, not slow sieges. Trickling troops into a base allows the defense time to adapt and flow; you cannot allow this. It is better to pull back and mass your forces outside a base rather than send individuals to be slaughtered. Waiting the extra 30-60 seconds for a larger group is almost always worth it.
  • You must get as many people into a base as possible on the first try. Do not get caught outside, or allow yourself to be drawn out. Do not give chase to defenders fleeing en masse; stay and cap the base quickly while adjusting your forces elsewhere for the incoming assault.
  • When defending the base you’re going to lose, stay alive as long as you can. Run away. Go to the back side, don’t stand in front. Use the features of the base to give you line of sight advantages. The longer you survive, the more time you have given your teammates to take the final base. Standing at the front gate and getting mowed down by the zerg might be noble and brave, but it serves no purpose aside from losing the base quicker. Every person in the base slows down the timer. Stay alive.
  • Spies are not just for the defense; taking Tol Barad requires knowing where the defenders are going, where they are strong, where they are weak. Defensive behavior is somewhat easier to predict than offense, so spies placed by the central graveyard can indicate where the next resurrection wave is going, while those near the front of the bases can see the approaching troops.

Speed is both your friend and your enemy. You can beat the Defenders back to any given node, but you cannot beat the Defenders to the next node. You cannot circle around counterclockwise in one large group and expect to win. You have to make them go where you want them to go, lead them astray, scatter them, break their zerg. And to do that, sometimes you will have to go fast, and sometimes you have to go slow.

When you hold no bases, taking the first one is your priority. You can feint against all three bases equally to determine where the defense is weak and then shift your forces to taking that base, or pressure on three fronts and see which one you can grind out. The former option gives you a choice to go against a strong target instead of a weak one, which can scatter the defense as they determine where to go next. The latter can be used to gauge enemy strength, as well as your own.

Once you have the first base, you’ve given the defenders a target, which gives you some control over their actions. Be willing to sacrifice that first base if you can take the other two. If the defense is a unified zerg and comes after it, abandon it, split your forces, and take the other two bases. Get out before you are trapped. If the defense is split with some defending and some attacking, split your forces in return and overwhelm their defenses.

The only time you should commit to holding a base is when you are buying your team time to capture other bases. This is one of the paradoxes of attacking Tol Barad; your nominal advantage is in taking a base and keeping it, but since you need to diffuse your forces to hold the captured bases, staying to hold a base can be detrimental to winning the battle. Do not let your forces get trapped defending a base they cannot retake. Move to somewhere useful instead.

Skilled defenders will take advantage of player’s stubbornness and unwillingness to abandon a task to trap your forces in a location they have no hope of taking. If you have 1/3 of your force at ICG, fighting 1/3 of their force but not taking it, or taking it very slowly? The rest of the battleground is still even, but ICG is out of play (and not yours.)

If you are slowly taking bases while attacking Tol Barad, you’re doing it wrong. You have 2 minutes, maybe 3, to take each base. If you can’t, then you need to fall back, regroup, and try again. Try the same place, or a different base – but don’t keep running in from the graveyard to die.

You may need to reset your offensive several times throughout the battle. That’s fine. Don’t panic, maintain the spirits of your team when you fall back to 0/3, and start over again. Resetting the fight is necessary so that your offense doesn’t get scattered. You have to be mindful of falling into several traps:

  • Are you chasing the zerg around in a circle?
  • Are you hammering on all three nodes with no success at any of them?
  • Are the majority of your forces at a single node, yet are not taking it?
  • Are your forces all over the map, with very small groups going from place to place?

If so, you need to stop and reset your offense. You cannot win the battle unless you do.

The key to offense is striking hard while juggling fire. You want to strike hard so the defense doesn’t have time to shift and flow around you. You are trying to achieve victory during a fleeting moment in the battle – when the defenders have finally grown weak in their last base, but have not yet taken another one. You need to toss that last torch into the air just before the next one comes down.

Attitude is important. Spirit might (or might not) be useless on your gear, but it’s essential to winning Tol Barad. People all over will have to step up and be leaders. You will have to vocally combat negative feelings and sagging morale when things go against you. Do not let the complainers demoralize your side. You will lose, but when you lose, you will not give up.

You cannot expect to win. You are not entitled to win. The game does not owe you a win. Repeat that several times until it sinks in. Get rid of the idea that you should win. Those thoughts are immaterial to the task at hand. You can play excellently and still lose, just like real life. Get over it. Try harder next time. Grow stronger! The game doesn’t owe you a win.

You must work as a team. Offense requires more coordination than defense. If people on your faction are not participating – afking, gathering, etc. – call them on it. If people are not following with the group – if they’re randomly running around the map – call them on it. If they are dropping raid (and therefore splitting your groups up) – call them on it. Post the afkers in the forums, if you have to, to try to shame them into helping out.

Taking Tol Barad away from the defenders is hard. Really hard. No one is arguing that now.

But that is why we do it.

TAKING A BASE IN TOL BARAD

The best strategy in the world cannot win the battle for you if your troops cannot execute their mission on the ground. Great leadership and communication is all for naught if you cannot do the one thing that Tol Barad absolutely requires: take control of a base away from the opposing team.

Each base has unique interior features, but the layout is basically the same:

While I can’t comment on what the builders of these bases were thinking, having three gates – maybe they were taking notes from the High Clerist’s Tower – the three gates dominate your strategy in each base, and you can use various tactics to turn them to your advantage.

Let’s look at how Defenders can use the proximity of the Attacker’s GY against them.

The above map depicts the attackers trying to come in through the front gate. The defense is spread throughout the base but sends some strong DPS classes out to meet the rush, maintaining line of sight with the healers. By stunning, slowing, or CCing the incoming attack outside of the base, the attacking players never count towards moving the slider bar. The few attackers who get inside are isolated from their teammates, and while they can cause damage, the attacks are unfocused, unfiltered. At best you might be able to get a few healers down before the attack starts to falter.

The second stage of this defense is to separate the initial assault from the rez waves that will spawn. The attack has been split in two, with a strong central defense between the two.

The assault might have a chance, except that the defense is doing the right thing again; forcing the attackers to fight outside the base by engaging them there. Over time, the attackers might be able to mount a good push through the GY gate, but it’s going to take some time – time which favors the defenders.

  • When attacking a base, get inside.
  • When defending a base, draw the attackers outside.

Let’s look at a different way this base assault could have gone.

By feinting to the front with a decoy, the attackers are able to draw some of the defenders away and out, while drawing everyone’s attention forward, towards the front gate, while they mass at the far gate for a massed charge inside the base.

While it’s tempting to go after the main group of defenders, it’s better to instead establish a presence in the rear of the base. Get everyone inside before the shooting starts, that way you can’t be drawn outside. It also forces the defenders to shift their forces, like so:

Now, while the attackers are still spit, they’ve changed the position of the defenders so that they will have to move away from the GY gate to fight one force, while the rez waves hit them from behind.

The drawback to this kind of assault – besides needing coordination and planning – is that the attackers do not have any way to intercept the defensive rez waves, coming from Baradin Hold. This usually shouldn’t be an issue except during the final battle.

Now let’s look at it from the attackers holding the base.

In many ways, this is a similar layout to the previous example, but the roles are reversed and the sides are switched. It is generally impractical for Defenders to attack from either of the side gates at first, as the front gate is the closest to Baradin Hold’s graveyard. Instead of defending towards the GY gate, attackers should shift their forces to cover an attack from the far gate instead, as their own rez waves will be there later on to intercept the incoming attackers (and keep them out of the base).

What’s interesting is that the same rules apply – if you want to attack a base, do the unexpected:

Charge the flanks instead of the front, go through the graveyard, and hit the base’s defenders from behind. Reinforcements can then flow in through the front gate, and you turn around and establish a new front at the graveyard gate.

The supposed advantage of the attacker’s graveyard is only one in terms of time: the attacking force will return to battle faster than defenders. But because that advantage of time requires them to use a set path, it can be turned against them.

This set path is why attackers need to take a base quickly. Drawn out conflicts mean that the majority of the attacker’s force will be coming in from the graveyard, where they can be stopped and overwhelmed.

To sum up:

  • Causing distractions at the front gate is good. Assaulting it in force is not.
  • Attacking in force on the side away from your graveyard lets you establish better positioning within the base. Within the base means you count.
  • Defending a base requires you to meet the opponent outside the base and keep them there. Melee DPS should go out to meet them, ranged DPS should stop them at a distance, and healers should bring up the rear.
  • If you get stopped outside the base, getting inside is your priority.

One final word about taking bases: sometimes, your team can’t do it. They may outnumber the defenders but are outgeared; they may be primarily clad in PvE gear against PvP gear; they may just not be very good at PvP. It happens.

What you need to do when your team is outmatched and can’t win the 1:1 matchups is try to reset. Move those people to defense on another node, or have them join a larger assault. Reset the fight and pull them out. You don’t have any real control over who does and doesn’t get into Tol Barad, but you can move them around as needed. If ICG is stuck, have everyone at ICG go to WV – and have Slags go to ICG.

Taking that final base on offense is going to require your best effort. If the team sent in to do the job can’t do it, shift quickly and try something different. You don’t want to get stuck having the same people futilely grind against a base for 15 minutes when it’s the last one to fall.

If you’re defense, though, that suits you just fine.

GENERAL TACTICS

As opposed to strategy, there are some tactical things you can do to help your success in Tol Barad. These apply to both attackers and defenders alike.

Form your raid groups before the battle and assign tasks. Tol Barad can be taken very quickly by a coordinated offense that starts immediately towards their goals. Remember forming the Wintergrasp raids before each battle? Well, there is no reason you shouldn’t be doing that right now. This is something the offense should certainly do, as it gives them the ability to try for a quick win when the battle starts. Send half to Slag and half to WV, and let the stragglers get ICG, and the game is over.

Use guilds to help coordinate team assignments. A guild should be a unit that is already used to working together, and it’s easier to dispatch a guild to do a task than try to assign arbitrary units. Telling the Knights Who Say Ni to go reinforce Slags is more efficient than saying “we need some more over here at Slags!”

Get your side to use PvP addons. Addons like Healers Have To Die, when used by a lot of your team, can help focus your attacks on the primary targets (sorry, healers) and take them down first. Talk up the utility of your favorite PvP addon in Tol Barad general chat.

Use magic to help you move. I’m not just talking about Life Grip (back in base, silly!), Death Grip (out of the base!), and various forms of knockback to bounce people out of the base. I’m also not talking about various creative uses of your warlock teleport circle, or Blink. No, I’m also talking about using the demon TIVO itself – Ritual of Summoning – to move your forces around. Especially in coordination with guilds and preformed raids, this can help move your healers around to get them to the next hotspot before the invasion happens.

You have spies; use them. You should be using spies; stealthed units with the ability to report what they see. Spies in each base can give you troop counts and positioning, as well as join in to take out scouts or healers when your assault comes. Defenders should park someone in each base; attackers might be able to get away with stationing someone in Baradin Hold, but it’s better if the bases are monitored, too.

LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES

I spend a lot of time in Tol Barad looking at the above map. What’s going on? Why are we winning? Why are we losing? Where do we need people? Where are we strong, where are we weak?

This is a hard battleground to win as the attackers. The defenders have a somewhat simpler strategy to follow, one that is also more forgiving of individual errors and weaknesses. Go here, now go here. But just because it’s simple for the defenders and complex for the attackers doesn’t mean that the battleground is responsible for your particular loss. Did you have a plan? Did you execute on that plan? Were you able to take the bases you needed to take? Did you stay together, or did you get scattered?

In a normal, balanced battleground, a loss comes down to one team playing better than the other. Maybe you played poorly, maybe they played well – but whatever it was, one team played better than the other.

Tol Barad is different. Tol Barad is biased, heavily, towards the defenders. Winning as an attacker should feel big, because it is big. But it’s not going to happen every time.

Sometimes, you will do everything right and still lose Tol Barad. That’s okay. Don’t beat yourself, or your teammates, up about it. Get over it, learn what you can from it, and try again in two hours.

WINNING AND LOSING

You’re not going to win Tol Barad all the time.

I think that’s the thing that I have learned the most over the last few weeks in Tol Barad – it’s not a no-win situation. This is not the Kobyashi Maru test, a true scenario with no possible way to win.

It’s just hard. Really hard at times, but hard.

At some point, someone on your server will do it. They’ll flip Tol Barad to the other faction. Perhaps they lead a brilliant assault. Perhaps they queue in the late night hours and stay up until the morning making sure it doesn’t switch hands.

Tol Barad is neither fair nor balanced. It is a rock that you can dash your faction against and lose repeatedly. It is a place you can hold for a week and then wonder how you lost in a matter of minutes.

It is not always fun. It is not always rewarding. It is a hard battleground.

But you can win it.

Good luck.

30 Comments

Filed under Battleground Strategies, Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

The Raid Dropping Exploit of Tol Barad

I heard about a putative exploit in Tol Barad earlier this week, one that would potentially allow you to break the 1:1 ratio of the zone and let you stack players on your side to overwhelm the opposition.

The theory behind it is:

  1. People enter Tol Barad via the queuing system which should try to slot for an equal number of players of both factions. If one side has fewer people than the other, then people on the more populated faction will not be allowed in until the levels are equal again.
  2. Once in Tol Barad, players are automatically placed into 40-man raid groups.
  3. If you drop the raid group, the queuing system thinks that the raid groups are not equal, taking a person from your side’s queue and porting them into the zone without triggering a corresponding add from the other faction.
  4. If enough players on your side do this, you will stack the zone in your favor.

Step 3 is where the exploit supposedly lies. It’s possible that the zone works this way – that raid groups are used to calculate the current population, and therefore could be fooled by removing players from the raid.

That’s the theory. If it’s happening, then this is game-changing – it’s no longer about which side can win this broken battleground, it’s about which side can get more people in through this exploit.

But is it really happening?

STAND BACK, I’M GOING TO TRY SCIENCE

I can talk until I’m blue in the face about how the victory condition of the battleground coupled with a broken capture mechanic all combine to make Tol Barad very hard to win (say that three times fast), but perhaps it’s possible that there is an exploit in progress. Perhaps the Alliance on Durotan did use it to win Tol Barad last weekend. Perhaps the Horde does use it on a regular basis to keep control.

At some point, you have to stop speculating and start experimenting. So let’s test it out.

If the exploit works, then you should be able to observe several behaviors during the battle.

  1. Players should be asking for invites into the raid. This would be due to their dropping the raid that they were originally invited into in an attempt to stack their side.
  2. The number of players in raids should be fewer than the number of players in the zone for any given side. This is also due to the attempted exploit.
  3. The number of players in the zone for one faction should exceed the number of players on the other faction over the course of the battle. This would be the result of the exploit working.

The first is easy to observe by zoning in to the battle and watching general chat. The second is a little more challenging to measure, as you only have visibility into your own raid, but you should be able to measure this through watching the first raid fill up and a combination of /who and counting the people in the /1 General chat channel.

The final criteria, however, requires cross-faction cooperation. Trying to take an accurate tally of people in a crowd is hard enough, but virtual people, engaged in a battle, where they don’t have collision detection, and might be sporting pets, demons, totems, or companions? Nearly impossible to do by observation.

But it’s not impossible if you use /who and the general chat channels on each side. At least, that’s the hope.

But how could I measure the Horde numbers without transferring or leveling an alt?

Unfortunately, lab coats don't come with Resilience.

THE EXPERIMENT

Enter Ermoonia and Rosasharn of <Tech Savvy At Risk Youth> to help with data collection. Ermoonia is a reader of this weblog and killed me the other day in Tol Barad – an action, by the way, which I highly encourage, getting killed by readers honestly makes my day – who also happened to transfer over to Durotan’s Horde side a short time ago. I proposed my experiment to her, and she agreed to help out in this unnatural cross-faction analysis of Tol Barad. (“For SCIENCE!” was our rallying call.)

About two minutes before the battle, I logged in to their Vent server, where I was treated to the most entertaining Tol Barad I think I’ve ever gotten to run. I’ll get to why it was so entertaining in a bit, but here’s what we observed.

  • Alliance players were both leaving the raid without leaving the zone, and then asking a few minutes later to be re-invited back into the raid. Horde players, conversely, were not asking for raid invites.
  • The /who tool proved to be highly unreliable. It seems to max out at 49 results, and also includes people in the Tol Barad Peninsula zone, confusing the count further.
  • We changed over to counting people in General – Tol Barad chat as an alternate benchmark, which seemed to be more accurate.
  • The Alliance started out with 24 players and maxed out somewhere around 46.
  • The Horde started out with around 30 players and maxed out somewhere around 47. Horde generally had 1-2 more players in the zone than Alliance, but the numbers were sometimes equal.
  • At no time, at counts below 40, did the count of people in the General – Tol Barad exceed the raid browser count, on either side.
  • The count between sides would sometimes vary by a few people, usually when Alliance players would leave. Rosasharn mentioned that there was usually a lot of Horde players queuing for Tol Barad, and that not getting in was a sadly common occurrence.
  • The Alliance lost badly. Again.

The implications of these observations are interesting.

  1. It appears that Alliance players (attacking force) were trying to use the exploit, while the Horde players (defense) were not.
  2. Getting accurate counts is much more difficult than it seems. I thought that /who would be the easiest way to provide a running count, but since it counted both Tol Barad zones (combat and non combat) the total it provides is worthless, and the cap on display made it even more worthless.
  3. The faction which was supposedly committing the exploit (Alliance) never outnumbered the faction which was not (Horde), as measured by General – Tol Barad chat.

My conclusion after watching the battle for a while was that if this exploit exists, it doesn’t work very well.

In talking to Ermoonia and Rosasharn, I realized there was an additional factor we couldn’t ignore in all this – the queue size for each faction.

  • The Horde of Durotan regularly queue for Tol Barad and do not get in. As the usual defenders and victors, they have a pool of players for the battle larger than Tol Barad will hold, guaranteeing that any slot that opens up will be filled. The rewards of the battle and access to the raid are such that players look at is as a good investment of their time to queue.
  • The Alliance of Durotan, as the losers, do not regularly queue for Tol Barad. Even though Alliance dominates the server (1.6:1, last time I checked), the player base doesn’t feel that queueing is worth their time, so Tol Barad is filled according to the Alliance queue.
  • It is possible that the Alliance exploit worked, but failed to make any measurable impact due to the lack of people in queue. If someone drops raid and the system can’t replace them, it’s possible that the exploit is working – just not having any effect.

Despite this, I’m don’t think that exploit was working, however. At the earliest stages of the battle – when both sides were around 30-35 players – not once did the Alliance outnumber the Horde. Not once. Even when I saw several people begging for raid invites all at once, the Alliance remained outnumbered or almost evenly matched.

I know that this isn’t conclusive proof. There are several problems with the methodology I can’t deny:

  1. If the faction with the stronger queue was exploiting, then you would see it work in action better than the weaker queue. We observed the weaker queue exploiting, not the stronger.
  2. The measuring methods are not to be trusted. You can only count the raid you are in. /who does not work. General chat may be accurate, but counting manually in a battle is fraught with the potential for error.
  3. The exploit could remove people from the count of General chat as well as the raid browser, rendering them invisible to detection.

But even with these exceptions, this experiment left me concluding that the exploit does not work.

And that’s a good thing.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF DEFEAT, QQ, AND EXPLOITS

How you react to failure is at least as important as how you react to success.

It’s not easy to admit failure. It’s not easy to admit that you just weren’t good enough in a contest, to accept defeat gracefully. The whole idea of good sportsmanship – y’all remember that one, right? – is to counter the very natural feelings of anger, despair, and frustration you feel when you lose a competition. It’s okay to feel depressed, angry, apathetic, or even relieved when you lose. Culturally, we mask all of those emotions with small rituals designed to keep the competition civil – the handshake after a match, the concession speech by a political candidate, the salute after a surrender – but civility is for the playing ground, not the locker room. Emotions are emotions, after all, and denying them just makes them stronger – and uglier.

Warcraft PvP lacks the post-game handshake. There’s nothing to humanize your opponents, to force you to look them in the eye and say, good job, you outplayed me today. So whatever emotions you feel at losing are yours to deal with, and yours alone.

You can look back on your defeat and say, I was not good enough today, but I will get better. There is always another fight.

You can look back on your defeat and say, the contest wasn’t fair, it wasn’t my fault. It had nothing to do with my skill or ability, or my opponent’s skill – it was a no-win situation. Move on.

Or you can look back at your defeat and say, they cheated. The dirty, stinking bastards cheated.

This is the white elephant in the room when discussing any type of exploit in a group PvP environment. Is the exploit really happening, or is it fulfilling the desires of those who have lost to explain their defeat? Software bug or rationalization? Did your opponent cheat to win, or were you just not good enough? Sometimes it’s easy to see a bug in action, but often, it’s not.

The psychological problem is compounded by a very real fact: we are playing a computer program with known bugs. Stuff doesn’t work right all the time. (Heck, sometimes, it barely works at all!) And unlike a real-life sporting event, where you can assume things like, oh, the laws of physics apply, and if there are 11 people on the field then it means there are 11 people on the field – in computer games weird shit can and does happen.

When I wrote How DID They Win That Wintergrasp?, I was acutely aware that there were legitimate bugs affecting Wintergrasp. Driving vehicles through the walls was bad enough, but worse was that that bug lent legitimacy to the idea that the weaker faction could glitch out the system into an instant-siege scenario. Even after the weighting structures of the zone were confirmed by blue posts, players still complained about the other side cheating to get a mass of siege engines at the start of the game.

Well, there are legitimate bugs that have affected Tol Barad. It was possible to gain massive amounts of honor without ever participating in the battle by walking across the bridge at a certain time. I’m sure we’ll find more bugs as time goes on.

And now we have this rumored exploit.

The presence of one bug lends credence to the idea that there may be others. The bugs of Cataclysm gnaw at our psyches, making us doubt if the world is really working as intended or not. Maybe the other side is cheating. Maybe we should cheat to win, too, because they’re obviously doing it.

This rationalization is the path to the dark side of ourselves. Tread carefully.

THE MANY FAILURES OF TOL BARAD

Rosasharn: Are you guys just mindlessly zerging IC?

Cynwise: Uh, hang on. *checks map* Yes, yes we are.

Rosasharn: *pauses* Er. Why?

Cynwise: *scrolls back through general chat* No one’s running the show. We’re completely leaderless right now.

Cynwise: *pauses* It’s working out well for us, isn’t it?

Ermoonia: *laughs*

The Alliance on Durotan-US has gotten its ass kicked in Tol Barad pretty much since it opened. Excepting the Win-Trading Week, we’ve held it for about a day, maybe two, since Cataclysm launched. I’ve been in well-led offenses that can’t crack the 2/3 barrier, and been in total clusters of fun that barely manage to cap 1/3.

So, yeah. I lose Tol Barad every single time I play it. Haven’t won it yet.

I’m pretty firmly convinced that the design of the battleground is the biggest problem Blizzard should address, and that the Horde on Durotan don’t need to do anything but show up and execute a simple defense strategy to hold Tol Barad against the Alliance. The incentives are all there for the Horde to show up – plenty of honor, access to the dailies – and winning has created a culture of success, where they expect to win, they know how to win, they’ll field enough people to win, and if they lose they’ll make it a priority to take it back.

The Alliance, on the other hand, has accepted defeat in Tol Barad.

Rosascharn: How are you guys getting to exalted? That must be a painful grind.

Ermoonia: I’ve wondered the same thing.

Cynwise: *thinks for a minute* I don’t think I know anyone who’s exalted yet. Most people assume it will happen, eventually, but they’re not pushing to get it done.

The mentality of defeat is hard to admit, but honesty compels me to admit it – I don’t see taking Tol Barad as being worth my effort. Will I get all the rewards from there that I want? Sure, with time and some patience. It’s not worth my time and energy to bang up against a really tough battle for some extra gold and a little more progress towards a goal I don’t care all that much about. The gold from the dailies is worthless as a motivator; I make more farming in 10 minutes than those quests reward. The trinket? I’m focused on PvP right now, it’s not the trinket I want. The raid? Hmm. Not raiding right now, and PuGs have always been iffy. The mounts and pets? I’ll get there eventually.

The problem is when individual apathy becomes cultural. The Horde care about holding Tol Barad – they are used to doing it, they have a lot of people interested in the rewards, they have more spirit and enthusiasm for the place than the Alliance. The Alliance doesn’t seem to care. We’re resigned to not having it, so even when we do take it, there’s no cultural impetus to keep it. It’s not a habit Alliance players have formed. Rousing people to keep control of the zone is more work than actually taking it – when we get it, I get texts and twitters from guildmates telling me to get my ass into TB so we can hold it, but it rarely works.

And then there is the problem, clearly demonstrated in watching the Alliance play, that most of the time, we’re not even trying anymore.

Cynwise: Warden’s just fell, so you’re going to Slag next, right?

Rosascharn: Er…

*awkward silence*

Cynwise: *laughs* It’s the logical place to go, you’re going Slag. It doesn’t matter, we’re all still zerging Ironclad.

Of the Tol Barad battles I’ve witnessed, some have been good attempts with strong leadership, but many have been rudderless zergs, with AFKers leeching honor while other players raced randomly over the map, each according to their individual whim.

The Horde comes in, they know their plan, they execute it. IC is falling, go WV. WV is falling, go Slag. Slag is falling, go IC. They know that if they execute that plan, they win.

The Alliance doesn’t know how to win, and when it has a plan, it doesn’t execute it properly. The strong leadership isn’t there, because most players have quit Tol Barad out of frustration.

The most sobering finding of my experiment was discovering that Horde on Durotan don’t need to cheat to win. The Alliance simply isn’t playing well enough, and doesn’t care enough as a server faction to hold it for any length of time.

Player frustration is one thing; at least they’re trying to participate in the game. Player apathy is another matter entirely, and far more dangerous to a game developer. I think this was the problem Blizzard was really trying to fix when they increased the Honor Point gain for offensive wins in Tol Barad – they wanted to interrupt this culture of losing before it began.

But here it is. That people have come up with this exploit, real or imagined, is a symptom of that culture.

Players want to play a fair game. They want to think there is a good chance of their winning if their skill and ability is good enough. It doesn’t matter if you look at a game and go, wow, the odds are really in the house’s favor on this one, people can and will convince themselves that they have a good shot of winning. That delusion is normal human psychology at work. We adapt our model of reality to fit our desires, not to fit reality.

If we don’t win a fair game, then the other side must have cheated.

Yet, we delude ourselves – this game was never fair to begin with.

Do not mistake me: I consider this exploit to be a cheat on the level of the Arathi Basin Fast Start exploit. It is deliberately trying to circumvent the rules of the game to achieve victory, and – if I thought it was really happening – I’d agree that this is a bad, bad thing.

But Tol Barad’s problems are deeper and more fundamental than just the rumor of an exploit. The incentives for participating but losing are too low. The rewards are geared wrongly. The capture mechanic, combined with the victory condition, is broken. Something needs to be changed to make it feel more fair. It doesn’t need to be more fair, just give the impression that it’s that way.

CONFRONTING YOUR OWN BIAS

I’m grateful that <Tech Savvy At Risk Youth> let me crash their vent server for this experiment. It was a nice reminder that we’re all playing the same game, no matter what faction we might be representing at the time. It was funny trying to get together for a post-battle screenshot – I kept getting killed by other Horde players, they nearly ran into the Alliance guards – but it offered a sense of completeness to the evening, that post-game handshake that this game lacks.

But I was also struck by how personal an experience these world PvP zones are, how difficult it is to really form an unbiased opinion of them. So much depends on your server dynamics; intra-faction, inter-faction, if guilds are working together to take the zone for the raid boss or not, PvP experience on each side. I am a player in these games, just like you, and I’m acutely uncomfortable crying too loud about how hard Tol Barad is, precisely because my side happens to lose a lot. I worry about that white elephant in the room named QQ a lot whenever I complain publicly.

Seeing your team’s efforts through your opponent’s eyes is a wonderful thing. We sucked as a team during this particular battle. There’s no way to sugar coat it – our side had absolutely no business winning. We lacked the coordination, strategy, and ability to execute.

And we were trying to cheat to win.

Instead working harder, communicating better, and outplaying our opponent – people on my team were trying to cheat the god damn system to win.

That makes me feel pretty damn awful, truth be told.

It’s pretty disappointing to have to face that your teammates are willing to cheat. I don’t want to cheat to win. I want to beat people on fair, even terms. Yes, I advocate using the absolute best gear you can afford when going into a battleground and training your skills to absurd heights for your level. Yes, I advocate using terrain to your advantage.

But I can not condone breaking the rules of the game.

It’s even worse to think that this isn’t unique to Durotan, but is becoming more widespread as the rumor of it spreads. Players are desperate to win, and they will convince themselves that this works. Maybe it does, and I didn’t test it correctly. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s been hotfixed, and it did work before, but not since I tested it. I personally don’t think it ever worked, but it’s not really the point anymore.

We have a PvP encounter which is tuned to be hard for the attacking side. With the introduction of rated Battlegrounds, perhaps Blizzard was expecting more coordinated groups to be fighting in Tol Barad. Ultimately, that’s the kind of discipline and communication you need to win as an attacker! Trying to take the zone in a PuG is the real nightmare.

Perhaps that’s the right analogy to cleave to: just as raids are tuned towards challenging even great raid guilds right now, Tol Barad is oriented towards the rated Battleground groups, where discipline and communication are the norm, and PuGs will, by necessity, suffer.

Or perhaps, that’s how I see it – because I’m losing all the time.

THE TRAGEDY OF TOL BARAD

I looked at Tol Barad when Cataclysm launched, when I was putting together my PvP gear list, and I dismissed it. I was polite about it, but let’s face it – I dismissed it as a source of PvP gear or points.

The Week of Win Trading did nothing to change my mind: the gear is not worth getting for PvP. Period. In an area where Resilience is king, none of those items are good enough to waste your time grinding.

This leaves you a PvP zone with PvE rewards, which baffles me as to how it’s supposed to motivate the right people to come in to make it a good battle. The motivation is for raiders to go and try to get the shiny trinkets and gear; but the raiders are not necessarily the ones who are running rated BGs now. Perhaps that’s it; this is a test of coordination for a raid group, to show them how running a rated battleground would work, to show players that yes, you can do this if you work together. It’s the carrot to get people into battlegrounds.

But it’s frustrating enough that people want to believe the other side cheats, which is not normally the case in normal battlegrounds. (There, people blame their own team for sucking.)

You want to know why you lose a given battleground? 99% of the time, it’s because you were outplayed. Maybe your opponents were better geared. Maybe they stuck to their strategy. Maybe they had a better class composition during the individual engagements. Maybe they used vent or /bg chat. Maybe they were just better players than you were. Whatever it was, you got outplayed. Get over it.

Most of the time, when you lose in PvP, you get over it. You learn what you can from the loss and move on. So you got outplayed in a video game! Big fucking deal. Boo fucking hoo. Get over it.

This started off as a discussion about a simple question – is the raid dropping exploit of Tol Barad real? – but in trying to answer that question, it’s become a discussion of personal motivation and bias, of the desire to win at all costs, of what makes something QQ versus raising legitimate problems with a battleground. The exploit itself is not as important as the fact that people believe it works, that they want it to work.

I think the real tragedy of Tol Barad is not that it’s unbalanced, not that it’s too hard to assault, not that Blizzard turned it into a loot pinata for a week and screwed over the idea of fairness.

No, the real tragedy of Tol Barad is that it’s giving people the wrong idea about what PvP should be like. Winning is not about skill in PvP, or of choosing the right battle at the right time and winning it – no, in Tol Barad, PvP is about working together to cram as many people as possible into a node, and then play musical chairs until someone falls out of a chair.

No wonder people want to cheat.

I find Tol Barad hugely frustrating. I don’t want to write about it too much, because I see that my biases are affecting my judgement on it. There are problems there; lots of problems. But I’m also left wondering: why should I, as a player, even care about the problems anymore?

I wish I had an answer to that.

 

Update 1/27/2011: Blue post confirms this exploit doesn’t work. Hooray for science!

56 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

A Price For Everything

Blizzard responded to the problems plaguing Tol Barad with an unexpected and interesting change:

Tol Barad: Winning as an attacker now rewards players with 1800 Honor Points, up from 180. Winning as a defender still rewards players with 180 Honor Points.

It’s interesting because while it doesn’t address any of the problems with the mechanics and rules of the battleground, it directly addresses the problem of motivation. Winning Tol Barad on offense is now the single highest Honor Point per minute activity in the game, bar none. Winning it on defense is as good as it was before, and losing it from either position still nets you nothing.

From a software developer’s point of view, I totally get this change. Compared to fixing the code around capture mechanics or victory conditions, a quick change to the reward structure is easy to implement, test, and deploy. It doesn’t preclude further work on the code to address the fundamental problems with the mechanics of the battleground.

But messing around with player motivations is a tricky, tricky thing.

If you’re gearing up for PvP and I offer you a choice between grinding out a dozen battlegrounds for a piece of gear (random BG finder), or a single one with some conditions (Tol Barad), you’re going to go for the single one. Would you rather spend 4 hours getting that gear, or 20-30 minutes?

The rational answer is, of course, the latter. But – and here’s the kicker – it’s only a rational choice if you meet all the conditions. And the conditions now include which side you’re on, not just if you win or lose.

Consider how you can spend those 30 minutes:

  • You can attack Tol Barad and take it, hitting the jackpot and getting 1800+ Honor.
  • You can defend Tol Barad successfully and get 180 Honor.
  • You can run maybe 2 random battlegrounds. Let’s say you win one for 120 Honor and lose one for 40? So there’s 160 Honor.
  • You could fight and lose the battle for Tol Barad, gaining nothing.
  • You could go do something else and come back later.

If you zone in to Tol Barad on offense, the decision is dead simple: fight. Fight for all you’re worth!

But if you zone into Tol Barad on defense, you’re now facing an interesting choice. It’s because you aren’t considering just this battle, but the next one too.

  • If you stay and fight hard and win, you get 180 Honor this battle. You’ll also be able to get 180 Honor the next battle, too, if you hold it.
  • If you stay and fight, but lose, you get no Honor, but you get a chance to get 1800 Honor the next battle. But you wasted 20-30 minutes of your time now in doing so.
  • If you throw the fight, surrender Tol Barad quickly, you have a good chance to get 1800 Honor the next battle, while spending none of your time now. You can go run some random BGs in the meanwhile.

If you only look at this battle, staying to defend makes sense. If you look at your overall Honor gain, though, throwing the battle and surrendering on defense is the absolute best strategy. It’s an interesting twist in that it benefits both sides to pursue this tactic, allowing Tol Barad to change hands every single battle, giving everyone equal access to the zone. The rewards for winning when attacking are so unbelievably good that both sides can see the obvious advantage to this arrangement.

By motivating attackers to win, this fix has also motivated defenders to lose. Tol Barad should no longer be held by one faction exclusively, which is a good thing. A very good thing, even!

But it’s at the cost of the heart and soul of the zone: the battle itself. When a game is set up so that one team should throw it in order to maximize their returns, they will do so, and it will cease being a game. There’s no competition, no struggle, no motivation to win. It becomes a meaningless, empty, and brutal ritual.

I think we’ve just found the price at which a battleground can be bought.

UPDATES

January 4th, 2011: The attacking side now gets 360 Honor Points, down from 1800. From Zahrym’s post:

While the goal with that change was to provide more incentive for the attacking forces to claim victory, it ultimately led to an undermining of the spirit of competition in Tol Barad. We’ve just applied a hotfix which has lowered the attacking faction’s gain to 360 Honor Points for a victory. The defending faction will still earn 180 Honor Points for a victory.

This is about as good of a change as Tol Barad could hope for at this point. It still convinces people that there is some value in attacking, without giving people a reason to trade wins.

I don’t think this is the final state of Tol Barad. There are numerous problems with the structure of the battleground that keeps it from changing hands very often in a balanced environment. But those will take time to fix.

In the meanwhile, I’ll go back to ignoring this island a little while longer.

31 Comments

Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

Tol Barad and the Ghosts of Wintergrasp

Wintergrasp was one of the great success stories of Wrath – a PvP zone with epic battles between hundreds of opposing players. Hundreds. The Battle for Wintergrasp unified factions on servers like no event before or since. The call would go out in Dalaran that the battle was starting. “Please start a new raid, this one is full!” people would cry out in the prep rooms, and if you were smart, you used addons to create those raids. Every two and a half hours servers would come together to beat the crap out of each other on the frozen fields of Wintergrasp.

And it was glorious.

This is not to say Wintergrasp was not without its problems in the beginning – do you remember driving siege engines through the walls? – but it was an immediate success on a scale that Blizzard was not prepared to handle. Wintergrasp caused Northrend servers to crawl during good battles, and crash during the really big ones. The lag during larger battles never really went away, even when WG went to an instanced battleground.

Wintergrasp was an immediate success, and somewhat unexpectedly, it stayed successful for the entirety of Wrath of the Lich King. Tenacity and the self-righting mechanics allowed outnumbered factions to compete. The map is interesting and requires players to make choices about what to attack and what to defend. The southern towers required attackers to make choices about how much strength to commit to offense versus defending the towers, while giving the defenders a reason to leave the safety of the Keep. The Keep itself is large enough to prevent a concentrated buildup of defensive forces, requiring defenders to make positioning choices.

But most important of all, Wintergrasp gave players an incentive to participate.

There’s a fundamental difference between PvE and PvP encounters: motivation. A PvE encounter has to offer a reward for the players to make them want to do it. Justice Points, badges, gear, achievements – whatever it is – all these things are offered as incentives for players to engage in, and defeat, the PvE encounter. In PvP, however, you have to motivate both sides to play, winners and losers alike.

Think of it as having to pay raid bosses to show up to be loot pinatas. You can’t have PvP without the other players, and they have to have a reason to show up.

Wintergrasp did this extremely well. Not only did it reward victory extremely well – a zone-wide XP buff, Stone Keepers Shards for heirlooms, and tokens that let you get great gear – it rewarded failure, too. People wanted to win, but even if they lost, they still got both honor and tokens. Victory was rewarded well, but failure wasn’t a complete waste of time.

This brings us to Tol Barad, Cataclysm’s PvP centerpiece.

TOL BARAD

Tol Barad is, ultimately, a simple battleground. It’s smaller than Wintergrasp, with somewhat simpler objectives. Looking at it topologically:

The goal is simple. The attackers (who use the green graveyards) need to take and hold the three outer nodes (Warden’s Vigil, Slagworks, and Ironclad Garrison), while the defenders (who use the purple one in the center) need to prevent this. The 3 towers (Spires) can be destroyed to add time to the clock, but they’re not really important.

To capture one of the outer nodes, you need to have more players in that area. You don’t have to be winning, you just have to have more players around it. The more players you have, the faster the bar swings to your side.

Sounds simple, right?

There’s only one problem: Tol Barad is broken. Gevlon warned folks 10 days ago to stay away until it’s fixed. Mat McCurley over at WoW Insider has an excellent analysis of the six problems affecting Tol Barad, as well as solutions to fixing each one of them. Both of these posts are worth your time to read, especially Mat’s WI post.

Look at that map again. The defensive strategy is simple – send all of your forces along a purple line to the node where the attackers are weakest. The attackers, in turn, will have to keep circling around on the green lines, trying to outnumber the defenders at any one point. But the defenders will always be able to get to a new node first. The attackers have the tactical advantage at the node due to the nearby graveyard, but the defenders have the strategic advantage for the battle.

“I don’t believe in no-win scenarios,” a famous starship captain once said, and I don’t either. Attackers can win Tol Barad, in theory. It’s just really, really, really hard. It involves subterfuge, deceit, spying, and being as underhanded as you can manage, but you can do it.

But even though it’s possible, it’s just not worth it.

THE GHOSTS OF WINTERGRASP

I remember looking over the gear I could get from Tol Barad and wondering where all the PvP equipment was. I mean, for a place that you have to fight tooth and nail for, why would I want to even bother? Some daily quests? The incentives are all wrong. I would rather spend my time in battlegrounds grinding out Honor and Conquest points than fighting for Tol Barad.

I should not be ambivalent that the opposite faction controls Tol Barad all the time on my server. But I am. What is in it for me that I can’t get elsewhere?

Wintergrasp hit the rewards perfectly. Not only did you get access to a raid boss for winning, but you got heirlooms for the PvE crowd and good offset pieces for the PvPers. And the losers had a reason to participate – even if you lost, you edged closer to that gear, and eventually you’d win and be able to buy it.

Tol Barad, frankly, doesn’t offer me enough to make it worth the effort.

I was having a good night in the battlegrounds earlier this week, so on a lark, I queued up for Wintergrasp again, and joined into a 5v5 running battle across the entire zone. Wintergrasp doesn’t really work as a 5v5 Arena, but I saw a few familiar faces in there (mostly on the other side) and enjoyed securing workshops, building catapults (hey, it’s all we could afford), and trying to survive long enough to get some damage done on the walls. It was fun, but not very good. Small WGs favor the defenders, heavily.

But I knew that if we put enough people in, on both sides, it would have been a fair fight. You may not be able to do as much with only 5-10 people per side in Wintergrasp, but you certainly could take the keep with a little bit of work.

Not so for Tol Barad. The strategic problems are such that if you have 1 person, or 80, the results will be the same.

I love the idea of Tol Barad. I want to see it flourish, to thrive, to be the reason I log in at specific times each day. I want it to put Wintergrasp to shame, because Wintergrasp’s time is gone.

But for now, Tol Barad is just a pale ghost of Wintergrasp.

30 Comments

Filed under Battleground Strategies, Cynwise's Battlefield Manual