Tag Archives: Wintergrasp

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.

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Filed under Battleground Strategies, Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

The Walls of Wintergrasp and Terrain Exploits

I hate to sound like all I’m thinking about these days are exploits, but I was recently shown a conversation between a player and a GM which confirmed a prediction I made back in February: that Blizzard applies the same reasoning to the walls of Wintergrasp as they do to the Stables of Arathi Basin. The conversation is between a player and a GM over attacking people near the mount vendors from the walls, something that happens all the time.

Blizzards stance, as stated in both blue posts and GM conversations, is consistent. From the blue post:

Players accessing any area of Arathi Basin in order to engage other players from a safe vantage point but avoid combat themselves is considered a reportable exploit.

From the GM, Gallordrynn:

(I)f you can attack someone from a vantage point and they have no way possible to reach you or attack back then it is clearly terrain exploitation.

(GMs) will all agree that attacking someone from a vantage point in which they cannot escape, defend themself, or reach their attacker is considered terrain exploitation and is a bannable offense.

This now seems like a clear, well-articulated policy within Blizzard. It’s no longer just a blue post, it’s part of the GM’s handbook. There is a policy that says certain activities within PvP are considered bannable offenses. The language is clear and repeated several times. (“Vantage point.”)

But what, specifically, are these activities? How do they differ from normal PvP? Even with a clear policy and message, I’m as confused as the player in the screenshot as to what Blizzard considers an exploit and what they don’t. The message may be clear, but the application of it is certainly not. How can doing PvP get me banned?

In other contexts I can agree with what Blizzard is doing with this policy. There are times and places where you can exploit the terrain to your advantage, and doing so is grossly unfair to other players. That kind of thing should be stopped.

I don’t think Blizzard has fully considered the implications of this rule in Wintergrasp. In applying it to Wintergrasp Keep they’ve classified many PvP activities as bannable offenses. Not just world PvP ganking from the tops of walls, either — normal participation in the defense of the Keep, during a battle, is now a bannable offense.

There’s a time and place for every rule. Wintergrasp is not the place for this one.

WHAT IS A TERRAIN EXPLOIT?

Based on the rulings we’ve seen so far, I think we can make a working definition of what Blizzard considers to be a terrain exploit.

To exploit the terrain in PvP, you must cause damage from a position where your opponent:

  1. Can’t escape,
  2. Can’t defend themselves, and
  3. Can’t reach you.

There are therefore two vital components to a terrain exploit: damage and position. Each of those is problematic when talking about the fairness of an exploit, but damage is at least easier to identify.

My twink has been trying to get the Arena Grand Master trinket from the Gurubashi Arena in STV lately, and I’ve gotten to watch some wicked healing exploits first hand. Basically, a group of fighters will come into the arena with their healers lining the ring around the floor and mop up. The healers are untouchable by everyone – I play on a PvE realm, and they’re not flagged for FFA combat – and the only way to take out their DPS is to get them out of range of some of the healers and burn through the healers.

Given that several of those DPS were in full Wrathful PvP gear, killing them took a lot of coordination and focus. And then they’d show up again a few seconds later. :-(

According to Blizzard’s own statements, this is not an exploit. They’re not doing any damage, just healing their friends from an unassailable position. Even though that healing is directly affecting the outcome of PvP combat, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, it’s not an exploit.

It’s clever use of the rules of the STV Arena, that’s what it is. Work that one around in your head a bit.

The great thing about the STV Arena is that things are so clear cut in a PvA environment. Either you are flagged for PvA, or you are not. If you are flagged for PvA (down on the Arena floor), everyone can attack you. If you are in the stands, you are not flagged, and therefore untouchable (unless flagged for PvP.) The game very clearly draws a line between who is accessible and who is not.

But what about those areas where the lines are not so clearly drawn?

THE UNTOUCHABLES

There

We now have two examples of what Blizzard considers to be exploits: the roof of the Arathi Basin Stables and attacking people near the vendors from the walls of Wintergrasp Keep. What do these two situations share in common?

  1. Both take place in PvP zones between PvP-flagged players. There is no PvE in the area.
  2. Both involve a difference of elevation to separate the two players. They are on different surfaces with the exploiter having the high ground. (Thus, preventing the victim from being able to jump down to the other player.)
  3. There is no clear path between the two players. Pets can’t go from one to the other, warriors can’t charge, etc..
  4. Ranged attacks, and only ranged attacks, are possible between the two players.
  5. The exploiter has a line of sight defense readily available to them due to their position. They can attack and move back out of LoS quickly. While attacking both parties have LoS on each other; but the exploiter can break LoS with a few steps.
  6. There are clear escape paths available to the victims. They can quickly run out of range of the attacker, who must abandon their unassailable position to follow.

The situations aren’t identical, however.

  1. The Wintergrasp vendors are only available when the battle is not in progress, so this is not during a timed battleground. Arathi Basin has a PvP objective and a clock running.
  2. Because there is no battle, you can bring in unlimited reinforcements into the Wintergrasp zone. Arathi Basin is limited to 15 on 15, and you can’t summon your friends.
  3. Flying is permitted in Wintergrasp when there is no active battle, but never in Arathi Basin. This means that the exploiter is accessible to anyone with a flying mount who is either currently mounted or not currently in combat. In Arathi Basin, the Stables roof is accessible to anyone who knows how to jump.
  4. There are other Wintergrasp vendors who sell most, but not all, of the items in that location. There is only one flag at the Stables, and only one roof.
  5. There is a clear escape path in both cases, but in Arathi Basin the objective you’re abandoning is mandatory, not optional. You have to fight for the right to shop at the Wintergrasp Mall; fighting through the checkout line shouldn’t surprise anyone.

How do all of these compare against the stated policy (no escape, no way to defend themselves, or can’t reach the attacker)?

In both situations players can escape their attackers. The GM makes a big deal about the inability of the non-mounted victim to escape, but most sensible people in Wintergrasp just run out into the courtyard, get out of combat, and mount up. The position of the attacker doesn’t prevent the victim from escaping. If you choose not to run away and stand and fight, that’s your choice, but if you take off when you get hit you’ll likely get away. So it’s not really escape.

Classes with ranged attacks can defend themselves, but melee cannot, if by defense we really mean counterattack. There are no LoS bugs in AB or WG that prevent players in these positions from trading ranged attacks; the only limiting factor is range, and that would be true regardless of the presence of the wall or roof. If one side has range extension talents and the other does not, well, that’s an imbalance no matter where they are. The person with longer range will usually win, which is why most PvP talent builds take the range extension talents. It may be difficult to return fire if the attacker make smart use of LoS, but that’s true of anyone using LoS intelligently. Using LoS around a pillar or doorway achieves the same effect, where you create very small windows where you can cast instant spells on your target and then hide. If your opponent is spamming instants back at you, you’ll get hit, too. (LoS doesn’t defend against smartly placed AoE, though.)

Melee classes, however, are at a disadvantage in these situations. They can’t do much to the attacker except try to get up to their position by either climbing up to the roof themselves or by getting out of combat, mounting up, and flying to the top of the wall. This makes it harder for melee to effectively counterattack, though not impossible.

Obviously, nothing the attacker does from their high vantage point prevents the other player from using their defensive abilities. Real defensive abilities (Shadow Ward, Ice Block, bubbles of all shapes and sizes, etc.) function just like as if the attacker were on the ground shooting at them.

So the salient feature out of all of this is that the player does not have a clean path to their attacker. If they are a ranged class they can return fire, but there’s nothing a melee class can do once they’re in combat in that situation. Pets cannot travel from one player to the other (though pet ranged attacks still work), Warriors cannot Charge up a wall.

Pathing appears to be the common factor in determining if a position is an exploit position or not. A Warrior can’t directly attack someone on the balcony in the WSG flag room, but a pet can find its way to that person and savage them. The same warrior could run along that same path and reach the balcony (or roof, for that matter.) The different in elevation doesn’t matter, the fact that the warrior has no real counterattacks is irrelevant – if a dumb pet can get to that attacker, then the smart melee can, too.

We then have a definition to work with: terrain exploits are when you attack from a place where no clear path exists between you and your target, best tested by pet pathing.

But there’s a problem with this definition. A big problem.

THE PLATFORM PROBLEM

Wintergrasp Walls - THESE ARE THE OK PLATFORMS GUYS

Defensive Platforms in Wintergrasp

The above picture highlights the defensive platforms along the eastern side of Wintergrasp Keep. Each section of wall has three components: two walls, a central pillar, and a gun platform accessible from inside the keep. The guns only appear during a battle, and the platforms are often used during the battle as positions where defenders can attack the offense from relative safety. Melee players on the offense can’t get to them, and ranged offense have to establish LoS to attack defenders. Smart defenders duck back off the platform and heal between sniping folks on the ground.

The lower platforms around the tower are similar, though they don’t have guns. Guns do appear on the upper tower platforms, and if you have extended range talents you can stand up there and cast on the ground. On the lower platforms you’re fairly exposed to the enemy, but you can step behind the smaller walls or back up and break LoS to heal safely.

Pets cannot reach these platforms. Warriors cannot Charge up to them. The offense cannot reach them without breaking down a wall, unless you’re a Rogue with Shadowstep, but Shadowstep breaks pretty much every rule in the game.

Yet, these platforms are obviously intended as part of the defensive fortifications of the keep. This isn’t a situation like the walls, which you couldn’t get onto before flying was introduced in Wintergrasp. This isn’t like the roof of the Stables, where you have to be a proficient jumper to get up there. There are ramps with two stairs up to those gun emplacements. The lower tower platforms have walls that are lower and higher to give you defensive options. These platforms are important parts of the defense of the keep.

But the defensive platforms allow you to attack from a place where no clear path exists between you and your opponent.

It doesn’t matter if the Battle for Wintergrasp is in progress or not, honestly. If I’m on the platform, and you’re on the ground, you can’t get to me if I attack you. The situation is exactly the same as someone taking pot shots from the wall at players at the WG vendor… except there’s no shopping going on.

So is attacking from the defensive platforms an exploit? If I want to follow what Blizzard has set forth, yes, it is. But I’m encouraged to use them in the battle! To put them in usability terms, the platforms afford this use. They suggest that you are up high and can shoot at people, so you shoot at people from them!

The only difference between the defensive platforms and tops of the walls – aside from protecting the WG shopping experience – is that you could argue that the developers intended the platforms to be used that way, but not the tops of the walls. I heard this objection a lot when discussing Arathi Basin, and I think it’s particularly troublesome. Especially here.

THE PROBLEM WITH DEVELOPER’S INTENT

Wintergrasp Walls - The Developer's Intent

Okay, so where is it okay to stand?

Where is it okay to stand and fight? That’s really what this discussion comes down to, isn’t it? As players who want to follow the rules, but also want to win, where is it okay to stand in Wintergrasp? Knowing that you can get a ban from attacking from easily accessible locations makes me very uncomfortable. This entire post is trying to determine some logical rules telling me where I should and shouldn’t stand.

I had several great commenters disagree with me on the Stables roof exploit, saying that players aren’t stupid and they know what the intent of the developers are in a given situation, and that circumventing that intent is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. There is a lot of validity to this argument. I’ve fallen through the walls of Stormwind, which is obviously not the developer’s intent (though it’s ultimately harmless.) People who exit the starting area in Arathi Basin to cap flags before the start of a match are obviously circumventing not only the developer’s intent, but the rules of the battleground. (It’s the preparation period, for crying out loud!)

But what happens when it’s not so clear cut? What about when getting to a spot is trivially easy and part of the game? I’m no longer talking about a set of jumps onto a roof, I’m talking about landing your flying mount on a platform.

Let’s look at the walls of Wintergrasp in the picture above. I’ve marked off three types of areas, all which fit the criteria of attacking players from an unreachable position. Green areas are those which afford you to stand and launch ranged attacks at your opponents – either there are ramps leading up there, or stairs, or doors, or guns – something suggests that this would be a good spot to defend the walls from. Yellow areas are questionable areas. They’re accessible on foot while the battle is raging, but the affordance is less obvious. You have to climb over a defensive wall and drop down to get onto this wall. There are similar spots in Isle of Conquest, by the way, but they’re much easier to get to – just drop down off the tower and land on the keep wall. Red areas are only accessible via flying mount or parachuting in from Icecrown, and are probably considered off-limits during the battle.

Wintergrasp is especially problematic because there were two distinct phases in its existence: pre- and post- flight. When it launched it was like an old-Azeroth zone, with the only flight possible via taxi birds across it. If you took your flying mount over WG you would get dismounted. So all of those areas marked in red were completely inaccessible until patch 3.2, when flight was enabled in the zone – but only when the battle was not in progress. So you could argue that flight was never in the developer’s original intentions, since the zone, as released, was a ground-only zone, and that the red zones were never intended to be landed upon.

But if you look at the history of Wintergrasp’s development, they fully intended to have not only flight, but aerial combat within the battle! It was on the box but never made it into the game! That’s why the upper reaches of Wintergrasp are so developed; it wasn’t just a sense of completion, but also because the developer’s intention was to have flying PvP.

If you didn’t know the history of Wintergrasp’s development, you would still be presented with features like this room, atop one of the towers in the southern courtyard:

 

Huh. I wonder what

If you haven’t been in this room, which I believe was rumored to be one of the spawn points for the defenders, you should take a look. It’s a great example of Titan interior decorating.

As a player, what should you infer about flight in this zone? There’s a lot of exploring you can do above ground on the structures, a lot of interesting details coupled with flat areas for PvP. Folks often have running battles atop the walls. There’s nothing in here to say flight isn’t allowed, or that standing on the walls is a bad thing to do. This is a World PvP zone, where even on PvE servers people explore the terrain, make use of cover, and ambush folks mercilessly.

So why is it okay to engage other players where there is no clear path between you and them in some spots and others? What makes the platforms okay but the tops of walls not?

Here’s my biggest objection with saying that players should know the developer’s intention and use their judgement to know what is right and wrong. Sometimes, the developer’s intention clear. But when it is not, it is unfair to blame the players for misunderstanding unwritten rules. Players may get mixed signals because design goals changed mid-stream, or just because of bad design – but whatever the reason, it is clear that the No Clear Path policy in Wintergrasp directly contradicts elements of the battle itself, and saying that it’s okay in some cases because the developers intended it there is tacitly admitting that the rule is arbitrary.

Holding people to an arbitrary standard is unfair. Banning them for doing something you’ve actively encouraged is inexcusable.

THERE IS A REASON BEHIND EVERY SIGN AND RULE

Every time you see a bad sign, say on a refrigerator at the office or on the notice board at school, or run into a stupid, arbitrary rule or law, you can be assured that something prompted that sign or rule. Someone did something stupid that prompted someone else to make a rule that says you shouldn’t drink whiskey from someone else’s hat, or to put up that sign reminding folks not to eat other people’s lunches.

I think that’s the case here, with the No Clear Path rule. There are legitimate exploits that prompted Blizzard to put this rule in place, just not in Wintergrasp.

  • In Goldshire, it’s possible to jump up on top of both the Inn and the Smithy, allowing players to gank lowbies with impunity. Getting to these places involves some complex jumping and there’s no clear path.
  • On the Isle of Quel’Danas, attackers could get out of reach of the guards so that they could attack other players, but any retaliation would cause the guards to attack their victim instead. (I think Silithus worked like this, too.)

I’m sure there are other examples that led to this rule. In situations like Goldshire, you can see why Blizzard might step in and take action; it’s not fun, it ruins new player’s enjoyment of the game before they have really committed to it, etc.. It’s not a bad rule, per se.

It’s just that Azeroth has changed. World PvP battlegrounds like Wintergrasp are relatively new. The game changes, and rules have to adapt to those changes.

Look at the above picture of the WG heirloom vendors. The entire area is a PvP zone, a place where players try to gain every advantage when attacking other players. This place is where the most distracted players will be, as they consider how they’re going to spend their Stone Keeper’s Shards and Wintergrasp Marks of Honor. This is a target rich environment for ganking.

But if you play a ranged DPS class, don’t stand on the wall to attack, even though that’s the most advantageous spot for you to attack from, because you’ll get banned. No, the proper tactic now is to put your healer friend up on the wall and you fly down into the thick of things, which totally plays to your strengths as a ranged DPS. Don’t worry, the healer will keep you alive!

Wintergrasp is a world PvP zone with no new players. Anyone who gets here has been playing for a while and has a character who is within spitting distance of max level. Nearly everyone here can be assumed to have flying mounts, and it’s a good bet that the zone is filled with all 80s. If there’s any place in the world where World PvP can take place on equal terms, this is the place.

And yet, Blizzard is trying to apply a rule designed for other places and times here, which reveals the flaws of that rule.

ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND WORLD PVP

Are you sure it

Here I am, atop the structure in the antechamber of VoA. The only way to get up here is to wait for a battle that destroys at least the top part of the chamber gates, fly in at full speed near the top, then pull up sharply. If you time it right, you’ll land right on this ring, which allows you to gank people below with minimal risk. You can be targeted pretty easily, and it’s easy to get flanked so there’s no LoS defenses, but you can cause a lot of havoc from up here.

I’m pretty sure that I shouldn’t attack people from up here. There are very specific conditions that have to be present to access this ring (gates must be open), and if you log out at the end of one battle and log in again after another one, you can be up there with no way for other players to reach you. So while the gates are down, this ring is like the walls of Wintergrasp Keep, albeit a little trickier to reach. But when they’re closed, you’re honestly inaccessible. It’s not fair to hit people from up there.

But this is world PvP. Just because you win Wintergrasp doesn’t mean you can walk in and out of it unmolested. I have heard of servers where one faction loses Wintergrasp only to successfully deny the other side access to VoA through PvP domination of the entrance. That’s pretty cool, actually; just because you lose a battle doesn’t mean you have to lose the war.

I confess, I was really disappointed when I saw the screenshot that started this post. I had hoped that Blizzard was not going to apply the same conditions to Wintergrasp that they’d imposed on Arathi Basin, that they’d recognize that part of the mechanics of the battle is making yourself unassailable on defense.

But they didn’t.

FIXING IT

I admit, I’d rather see this rule just go away than try to salvage it. But since it does serve a purpose in other contexts, perhaps Blizzard could make some changes to take Wintergrasp into consideration.

  • Don’t design new battlegrounds to use terrain exploits as part of their mechanics. Wintergrasp is now old content, but having the same behavior be okay in one place and time, and bannable in another, is confusing and demoralizing to players. Don’t give the defense this advantage in the new battlegrounds.
  • Don’t enforce terrain exploitation bans in battlegrounds which do have it as part of their mechanics. Save time and money by ignoring tickets of people attacking on the walls so you can focus on other, more serious problems with your staff, like hackers using programs to automatically gather resources.
  • Consider giving players more abilities to reach attackers in unusual locations. Rocket packs would be a good place to start. As used in the Gunship Battle, rocket packs give players the ability to move to unusual places while in combat. If this kind of item were made available for general use, this kind of exploit would be nearly impossible because players could always reach their attackers. Plus, rocket bears!
  • Treat healing and damage the same way. Exceptions like that make no sense and lead to further exploits, like in the Gurubashi Arena.

Rewriting the policy would be another obvious step, but to be honest I don’t know how you could do it to be effective in the places you need it (Goldshire) and not where you don’t (Wintergrasp, BGs).

TL;DR

Blizzard considers attacking other players from a vantage point where your opponent cannot easily reach you terrain exploitation, which is a bannable offense. This rule was applied in Arathi Basin to players accessing the Stables roof, and is now being applied to players attacking other players near the Wintergrasp vendors from the top of the wall.

This rule should not apply to players in Wintergrasp for several reasons.

  1. Mounted players can immediately escape. Unmounted players can run back out of range of their wall-bound attacker, get out of combat, and mount a flying mount. If a player is on a flying mount, the attacker is not inaccessible.
  2. Wintergrasp Keep has many vantage points where opponents cannot reach defending players that are integral parts of the Battle for Wintergrasp. The gun platforms on the walls and towers, as well as the platforms surrounding the towers, give defenders the same advantage as being on top of a wall.
  3. Taking advantage of these terrain exploits is encouraged by the design of the Keep, as well as the tactical necessities of the battle.
  4. The introduction of flight back into Wintergrasp only adds to the number of vantage points where players can exploit the terrain. It does not change that terrain exploitation, as defined by this rule, is both possible and encouraged by the design of the battleground.
  5. If there are differences between the vantage points that make some permissible but others not, they are not obvious to players, nor are they reflected in the rules as currently understood.

While it is almost certainly impossible to change Wintergrasp so that the rule can be fairly applied at this point, I hope that Blizzard will stop enforcing it in Wintergrasp and design their future battlegrounds to not encourage behavior that can get players unwittingly banned.

I love Wintergrasp. It pains me to have to choose between playing it with all my creativity and cunning and risking a ban, or playing it safe while my opponents do not.

But banning people for playing the way the game teaches them to play is not fair.

 

 

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On Marks of Honor

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

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

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

THE OLD WORLD BATTLEGROUNDS

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

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

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

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

EXPANSION BATTLEGROUNDS

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

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

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

WINTERGRASP

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

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

THE VALUE OF A MARK

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

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

Apparently not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCENARIO 1: WINNING ALTERAC VALLEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s half a piece of Wrathful gear.

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

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

SCENARIO 2: LOSING ARATHI BASIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh. I feel dirty writing that.

KNOW WHEN TO HOLD ‘EM

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

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

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

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

WHY WE FIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surrender should never be a viable strategy for victory.

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Battleground Exploits

I remember riding back to the Stables at Arathi Basin and finding an Undead Mage on top of the roof, running around and slaughtering the Alliance troops underneath him. It was a mad run to try to DoT him up before he could kill me with massive amounts of fire or dive to the other side of the roof to heal. The stalemate was only broken when a Night Elf Death Knight also climbed up on the roof and killed the Mage.

It took me a while, but eventually I learned how to get up on that roof myself.  I’ve seen dozens of people do it, but it always seemed a tough climb for me, much like getting to the top of the Blacksmith in Goldshire.  I could never do it reliably, but if I’ve got nothing else to do while guarding the Stables I would give it a try.  When I could do it, defending became much easier.

Blizzard considers climbing onto the Stables roof to be an exploit. It doesn’t matter if you climb up via the outhouse, jump the side building, or float down via parachute cloak from the Lumber Mill — if you engage in combat from that roof, they consider it an exploit.

Yet… it’s something that is possible within the confines of rules of the game.  There’s no software being hacked, no mods being used to change any code — just some creative jumping and use of terrain to let you target opponents without them easily able to engage you in return.  Not that it’s impossible — just difficult.

I play a battleground to win.  I might play it for other reasons, but almost always, my goal is to win.  It is my duty to use every bit of my grey matter to outplan, outthink, and outfight my opponents to reach that goal.  I use potions and flasks to expand my abilities.  I use Frostweave Nets like nobody’s business.  And you better believe I will climb up on that roof to defend the Stables if need be.  Every advantage will be pursued.

Does this attitude surprise you?  It shouldn’t, and I suspect you share it.

Within the confines of Warcraft there are strict, specific limits on the things I can do and cannot do.  I cannot blow up the tunnel in WSG, even though I have charges that can blow apart a wall in the Strand of the Ancients.  I cannot use grappling hooks or ziplines to get from the Lumber Mill to Blacksmith to Mine quickly.  I am completely limited to those things that the developers allow my character to do.

How is jumping on to the Stables roof — something any character can do, though perhaps not easily — an exploit, if I’m able to do it in the game?  If hundreds of players can do it?  Through jumping?

Let’s take another battleground example: getting on top of a wall or pillar in Wintergrasp Keep by flying into position before the game starts.  Trivially easy to do, and you can take out defensive cannons and defenders with ease up there while exposing yourself to minimal risk. Smart use of the roofline and LoS, just like on the Arathi Basin Stables roof, allows you to be effectively unreachable by other players on the ground.

Is that an exploit?

The blue post says,

Players accessing any area of Arathi Basin in order to engage other players from a safe vantage point but avoid combat themselves is considered a reportable exploit.

If we use that definition, this is the very essence of an exploit.  But yet — it’s allowed to happen.  You don’t get kicked off the top of a wall when you land there, you get to stand and kill cannons with impunity.  Interestingly, if you’re on a tower you do get kicked to the ground — but only when the battle first begins.

So what gives?  Is this an exploit, or not?  I’m not trying to deliberately break the rules here, but if I can do it in the game… why shouldn’t I?  Why shouldn’t you?  How are you, someone whom I assume is not a Blizzard developer, to know if this is right or not?

I find myself in complete agreement with Cassandri when she says there’s no such thing as an exploit, at least not in the context of in-game mechanics.  There might be bugs, but bugs are not the fault of the user.  We cannot be expected to know the intent of the developers.  Quoting from that excellent article:

…(B)ecause they exist unchanged in the game, that implicitly confirms that they must be working as intended – otherwise they would be changed. We accept them and the best of us turn them to our advantage.

You don’t question whether it’s intentional or not. It’s not your place to question what is and isn’t a mistake in the game. You are a gamer. It’s your job to win.

Cass is writing about PvE in general, and the banning of Ensidia for the use of Saronite Bombs in the 25-man Lich King world first kill.  I’m staying away from discussing that specific topic because it is a charged, emotional debate about ego and bragging rights.  There  is the additional component of whether Ensidia, or Exodus, or any of the other guilds who have been taken to task for exploits in PvE, “should have known” that the encounter was not working as designed.  That’s the whole crux of the debate, actually, which is why it’s so complicated.

PvP is simpler.  If you don’t pursue every advantage — be it in gear, skill, level, consumables, positioning, macros, addons, communications, whatever — someone else will.  If you don’t send people on the walls and towers of Wintergrasp, the other side will.

And if they have an advantage that you choose not to take, you will probably lose.

I don’t want to get banned by Blizzard.  I enjoy playing their game and try to follow all the rules they set forth in their ToS.  I’m not trying to cause problems with their code or servers, or gain an unfair advantage in their economy.  I don’t want god mode cheats.  I don’t want world first titles.  I just want to play their game and enjoy it.

But when I play, I also want to win.

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The Christmas Truce

This game continues to surprise me.

I was playing Wintergrasp tonight, Christmas Eve, while waiting for my young son to fall asleep. The Horde was putting up great resistance down south, and I was outnumbered at Westspark, which meant I was dying.  A lot.  Two pallys and two rogues against a warlock and a death knight?  Yeah.  We lost Westspark, but we won the battle — while we were contesting the workshops, a catapult zerg managed to take down the walls and breach the inner keep.  I was flying off to collect some embers from the Cauldron of Flames when I got a whisper from a level 1 gnome, thanking me for a good game but lamenting that it was over so soon.

I admit, this took me by surprise.

It took me even more by surprise that I actually knew the Horde rogue in question, since she had killed me several times in that battle — and in earlier ones, too.  I don’t know all the Horde players on Durotan, but I know a few, and Rokasa was one of them.  We had a great conversation about PvP and Wintergrasp and how excited we both are to play goblins in Cataclysm, and after a few minutes she excused herself to go back to playing in Wintergrasp.

I couldn’t help but think of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when German and British troops set aside their differences and celebrated Christmas together, an event which happened repeatedly throughout World War I.

I know why Blizzard set up the factions of Warcraft the way they did, and why inter-faction communication will likely never be possible.  Being able to talk to people means you can find common ground with them, and common ground between the Horde and Alliance isn’t in the best interests of the Warcraft game.

But it’s Christmas.  And where there’s a will, there’s a way.

It was really nice to have a conversation with an opponent and be reminded about how we’re all just people who enjoy playing this crazy game.  We may represent the Alliance or the Horde, but we’re all people.

So if you find yourself PvPing this Christmas Day, consider observing a Christmas Truce of your own.  Roll a level 1 alt and talk to the people you fight across the trenches, the ones you normally see with red over their heads.

You just might find you have more in common than you think.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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A Little Bit Easier

MMO Champion has new details about some upcoming Battleground changes in the latest 3.3 PTR build:

  • The achievements to get exalted with the Warsong Gulch, Arathi Basin, and Alterac Valley factions have been removed from their respective “Master of” meta-achievements. Special titles will be offered to those who reach exalted with these factions.

  • Wintergrasp: You must now have the following ranks to build or pilot siege vehicles:
    • Rank 1: Build/pilot Catapults.
    • Rank 2: Build/pilot Demolishers.
    • Rank 3: Build/pilot Siege Engines.

Both of these changes are interesting in their own right.

The Achievements change is an interesting way to address the difficulty of reaching Battlemaster, and not the way I thought that Blizzard would go. Restoring the reputation turn-in system that Warsong Gulch used to have would have made it fairer for those who started playing later. This change makes Battlemaster much easier to get, and therefore cheapens it a bit. That makes me sad. I liked having an absurdly hard goal. The Justicar title gains a little luster with this change, but still — nerfing a difficult achievement is never cool.

(What does make me happy, though, is the introduction of titles for exalted BG reputation. This is cosmetic, but VERY welcome. It would be nice to see in other battlegrounds, if a bit impractical since they have no reputations to grind.)

The Wintergrasp change is complicated. First, let me draw attention to the non-obvious — there’s going to be an additional rank added. Depending on how this rank is implemented, it will likely make getting Siege Engines more difficult than it is at present, which will slow down their production. The other change, limiting the ability to operate a vehicle to those with rank, is a direct answer to the strategy covered in an earlier post, which will definitely slow down the mass production of heavy vehicles, especially at the game start. Both of these changes will have the effect of making Wintergrasp longer, which will result in more honor for everyone.

But it’s also a direct response to the complaints by those who couldn’t defend against the tactic. I’m disappointed to see it happen, but not really surprised. Battlegrounds aren’t any different from any other part of the game, and subject to the same changes. Bosses get nerfed after people have downed them, too. Things get a little bit easier all the time.

I may not have the Battlemaster title, but at least I’ll have the memory of having successfully defended Wintergrasp against a charge of 12 heavy vehicles, of frantically trying to throw enough people at the onslaught to slow it down as it charges up the hill, of holding the line at the walls to the inner keep as the last few Siege Engines explode.

We won’t see the likes of those rushes again.

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How DID They Win That Wintergrasp?

WG-Fail-Train.jpg

Anyone who spends a lot of time in Durotan’s Wintergrasp is familiar with the above sight. Sometimes, no matter what you do, the Horde is able to launch a massive assault on the west wall of Wintergrasp Fortress with 8-12 Siege Engines in the first 2 minutes of the game. If all Alliance defenders, and I mean ALL defenders, don’t rush out to the west and try to stop them, the mass of siege will break through and capture the fortress in under 6 minutes.

At that point, the QQ starts. “Cheaters!” “Hax!” are some of the kinder words thrown at the Horde. But, unlike exploiting the old bug that let you drive siege through walls, this is just smart thinking by the outnumbered side, using the mechanics of the game to fight an opponent who outnumbers them 2:1 (on a good day.) The Horde groups up their siege for one massive push that the defense cannot stop.

The key is a tactic that both sides should use, no matter who has numeric superiority.

  1. Focus your kills to rank a few players up to First Lieutenant.
  2. Have those players create Demolishers and Siege Engines at the Workshop, and then abandon them to go create more.
  3. Other players without rank man the abandoned vehicles and wait.
  4. Once all vehicle slots are filled, everyone goes together.

That’s it. That’s how you win an offensive Wintergrasp battle. Group all your siege together and shove it through the walls. Organization and discipline will win you Wintergrasp.

This tactic works nearly every time; the only counter is for a very strong defense to start attacking the group as it leaves the Workshop and keep going until it stops — if the defense waits for them to hit the first wall, it’s over.

Now, there’s a legitimate question of how can a side start creating Demolishers and Siege Engines within the first 15 seconds of the game. It’s tough to rank up to First Lieutenant — my personal best is after about 45 seconds, which meant I was creating Siege Engines at 1:30 into the game. But sides with Tenacity have it a little easier.

Tenacity increases the “kill value” of NPCs, making it easier to rank up. On an imbalanced server like Durotan, where 20 stacks of Tenacity are pretty much the norm, a single NPC kill will grant First Lieutenant rank. This gives your side heavy vehicles right away, and if you are organized and disciplined at the Workshop, you can create your Siege mass within a minute.

The more commonly QQed tactic, sometimes called the Wintergrasp Logout Exploit, is to have characters log out during an active Wintergrasp battle so they can log back in to another battle in progress with their previous rank. But with the advent of queuing for Wintergrasp, this exploit just doesn’t work. The buff is removed when you queue for the battle and your status is reset. This was never really the primary reason sides massed siege — consider the logistics between this and the Tenacity option — but it was possible, so people latched on to it.

So how did the other team get 12 heavy vehicles and take Wintergrasp in under 5 minutes? It wasn’t by cheating, or using exploits, or because Blizzard hates your faction. It was because the other side had Tenacity and was organized, disciplined, and executed a massive offensive push that your side didn’t defend adequately against.

It’s okay. Don’t take it too hard. The next battle, you’re on offense. Show ‘em what you’ve got.

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Why I Love Fishing In Wintergrasp

Big Bear Butt has a great interview with a PvP hunter in his guild who love to PvP and fish.

As someone who loves to PvP and fish, I especially enjoyed the following bit:

“What I do”, Ruuaarr said, “Is go fishing in Wintergrasp, and I’m the bait. Rogues can’t resist trying to kill someone just standing there fishing. So, they stealth in to take me down, and that’s when I destroy them.”

Great article, and one that makes me glad to be a PvP Angler.

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An Introduction To Wintergrasp

Can Catapults Get Up There?.png
I still don’t know how that catapult got up there.

I love Wintergrasp. It’s a fight over a resource-rich zone, and unlike some other zones that get called that, this is not just flavor text. The winning side gains tangible benefits both for combatants and non-combatants alike. There’s real value in victory. Stone Keeper’s Shards and Wintergrasp Marks offer attractive gear for both you and your alts at the vendors who spawn when you control Wintergrasp Fortress, the Vault of Archavon becomes available, and the Essence of Wintergrasp is applied across all of Northrend, helping your entire faction.

The goal is simple: take control of Wintergrasp Fortress, or defend it until time expires.

But Wintergrasp is big, and confusing, and how you do this simple goal is not apparent. Your first few matches are often spent with very little idea how you can contribute. There are no obvious markers to guide you, no mad scramble or charge you can join in that says this is the right thing to do.

THE MAP

First, let’s get familiar with the zone.

(click to embiggen)

The northern part of Wintergrasp is dominated by Wintergrasp Fortress and the Temple Workshops. This is where much of the heavy fighting will rage during a battle. There are some subtle terrain differences on each side, but you should find the Flight Points for each side (Horde is west, Alliance is east) because this is where the offenses will zone in.

The southern part is less populated during a battle, but is where you’ll find the Towers and Southern Workshops. Not everyone goes here during a battle, but it’s an important part of the defense, so we’ll talk about it more in a minute.

The quest zones to the east and west are not tactically important during a battle. You can ignore them for now.

I really recommend you ride around the zone before a battle begins to get an idea of where everything is located.

GOALS

Next up are the goals in Wintergrasp.

Wintergrasp Goals
(click to enlarge)

On offense, you have one goal: get inside the inner fortress and click the Titan Relic in the center. This involves knocking down at least 3 fortress walls with vehicles: an outer wall, an inner wall, and the door to the relic chamber. Walls are knocked down by vehicles — siege engines are optimal for this task. A mass of 4-6 siege can often destroy a wall before the defense can stop them.

On defense, you have a primary and secondary goal. Your primary goal is to keep the offense away from the Titan Relic for 30 minutes. Your secondary goal is to destroy the three southern towers, which takes 10 minutes off your defensive clock. Destroying the southern towers therefore means that you only have to defend for 15 minutes. Towers are destroyed with vehicles, too, often with a combination of fast-moving catapults and slow, lumbering siege.

You no doubt noticed that each team needs vehicles to accomplish their victory goals. You can have 4 vehicles for every workshop you control, so the more workshops you control, the more vehicles you can field — and the fewer your opponent can have. So controlling the workshops is a shared goal for each side.

VEHICLES AND CANNONS

One of the defining features of Wintergrasp are the vehicles. Once you have reached the rank of Recruit (5 kills) you can create fast, lightweight catapults, and Lieutenant (10 kills) gives you access to antipersonnel Demolishers and heavy, slow Siege Engines. You can only create vehicles if your side has available slots — check the battle status in the upper part of your screen for this information. You can create a vehicle by going inside a workshop you control and speaking to the gnome or goblin manning the controls. They’ll give you a choice of what you can build.

Catapults are fast vehicles that are excellent for both taking down the southern towers quickly, as well as supporting larger vehicles during an assault. Catapults get a bad rap because they are easy to make, but that’s another advantage; if your side can field a lot of catapults early on, they can make a significant difference. However, cats take up slots that can also be filled by heavier vehicles, so as the battle progresses you should be swapping out catapults for siege engines.

Siege Engines are heavy, lumbering rams that are essential to both offense and defense. They have a gun turret which should be manned if at all possible. They are hard for defenders to take down quickly, so a very good strategy is to mass siege at one of the workshops and then send 4-10 of them in a single group to overwhelm the defense. Most defenders can stop 1 or 2, but a concentrated mass of siege is usually too much to stop, especially if it is protected.

Demolishers combine the good traits of both catapults and siege engines without excelling in either role. They are good support units for the southern tower offensive, as they are quick enough to move from tower to tower, but they are not as fast as a pack of catapults. They can stop other vehicles and take down walls, but don’t pack quite the punch of a siege engine. Demolishers are useful to have in your mix, but shouldn’t be your primary units.

The vehicles take some getting used to. If you’re new I wouldn’t recommend piloting one right away, but instead watch and see how they are used in different situations.

While they’re not vehicles per se, the defensive Cannons on the towers are worth a final word before moving on. The cannons are an integral part of defending any structure, be it the Fortress or the southern Towers. Cannons provide great ranged AoE DPS and having them manned in the right places is crucial to defending the walls. Conversely, knocking out any manned cannons is essential to the attackers to protect your siege. Cannons are easy to use, and for most characters, manning a cannon is a better contribution to your side than running around outside the walls.

I say most characters, because there comes a point where either your crowd control or healing abilities are more needed out in the thick of battle than any contribution you can make from a cannon. If you’re a new 80 (or sub 80), new to PvP, or a tank, though: consider manning any empty cannon you find.

TENACITY

Depending on which side of the Tenacity buff you’re on, Tenacity is either the best or worst thing about Wintergrasp. Tenacity is a stacking buff applied to the outnumbered side and increases both health and damage dealt. It can be very, very potent when used properly. But it’s also relatively simple to overcome, because it has no effect upon crowd control.

The best way to overcome Tenacity is strong crowd control and group tactics. Fear, stun, disarm, silence all still work, and ganging up on the opponent will usually overcome anyone with Tenacity. So the key to using it well is to play smart — don’t engage 20 opponents by yourself. Stick to the basics and let it work for you.

One last note about Tenacity: complaining about it is worthless, and usually marks you as a bad player to the other players. It is an integral part of Wintergrasp, and you must learn to deal with it. Stick together and use your crowd control.

BASIC STRATEGIES

There are many ways to win Wintergrasp. It’s not as straightforward a battleground as some of the more traditional ones – not only is each server’s composition different, but each battle has different conditions because of Tenacity. There are some general battle strategies that you will see repeatedly that are worth some discussion. Here are two of the most common.

The Quick Punch involves the offense grouping many siege engines at a nearby workshop and making a single, huge push into the Fortress. If the defense doesn’t repel this first push, the offense wins very quickly.

The terrain generally forces The Quick Punch to follow the paths outlined below:

Wintergrasp Zergs
The Quick Punch: Watch out for big arrows, they’ll hurt!

The key to making this push work is to make sure the defense is distracted and pulled away where you are actually going. Drawing the Alliance out front, or the Horde to the side, or either side to the south, will often make taking the Relic easy. Defending against the Quick Punch is simple in concept but hard in execution; everyone has to throw themselves at the mass of siege and stop them at all costs, or the rest of the battle will not happen. Calling out incomings is essential — if you don’t talk on defense, you will lose.

This is what it looks like when the Quick Punch wins:

WG Fail Train.jpg
Yes, I had red hair during this battle.  It was weird.

Sometimes, the opposing side will show up with a half-dozen Siege Engines within 30 seconds.  This is possible for at least two reasons:  Tenacity increasing the kill value of NPCs, and people logging out with the First Lieutenant rank and logging back in at the start of the value.  It doesn’t matter how it happens; just be ready for it.  QQing does nothing to help.

The Long Siege is a more traditional battle for Wintergrasp. Pressure is applied to the Fortress to keep the defenders occupied while the southern workshops are taken. The defenders, in turn, repel assaults while destroying the southern towers.

I’ll present this from the Alliance side on offense because that’s what I’m most familiar with, but the Horde strategy is very similar.

Alliance Offensive Phase 1
Phase 1: Secure the Workshops

The offense begins by capturing the nearest workshop (Sunken Temple) and moving people to the walls of the Fortress to get HKs and create siege. Staying behind the walls is actually a good idea at this point for the defenders, since it takes time off the clock while the offense racks up kills on NPCs.

The offense should also send out squads to capture other workshops to increase the vehicle slots available to their side.

Wintergrasp Alliance Phase 2
Phase 2: Taking Down the Walls

After the initial assault on the walls, the offense should look to secure the remaining southern workshops and establish a modest southern defense, while building up their forces in the north. Holding the southern workshops will become more difficult as the defense starts to send groups south to the towers, so keeping a strong threat on the walls of the keep is important.

Wintergrasp Alliance Phase 3
Phase 3: Endgame

Once enough forces have been build up in the northern workshops, waves of siege should be sent against the walls with the intent of punching through and creating multiple breaches for the defenders to have to deal with. Generally, if the offense can split the defense inside the keep, any one wave should be enough to overwhelm one wall and courtyard. But once the offense has access to the inner keep, the siege needs to pour at the Fortress door until the Relic is taken, or the wave is dead.

At the same time this is happening, the defense should be mounting a concerted effort to get the southern towers down. The offense should make sure that they have enough defenders down at the workshops to keep at least one tower up, as futile a goal as that may be. If the defense strikes strongly enough at the south, the offense should immediately abandon all but the workshops and instead focus on getting in the Fortress as fast as possible. Most offenses should assume they only have 20 minutes, not 30.

ALL WINTERGRASP, ALL THE TIME

Wintergrasp is not a simple battleground to master. The epic battles make it hard to figure out what you should be doing at any moment in time. Hopefully this introduction will help you better visualize the ebb and flow of each battle and react appropriately — because of all the resource-rich zones in Azeroth, this is the one you want to control.

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The Death and Life of Wintergrasp

Wintergrasp Keep.png

So the new, instanced Wintergrasp has been here for a few weeks. Everyone should have updated their mount macros to let them fly when appropriate and not spam general chat with raid invite requests.

But how have the changes actually worked out for Wintergrasp?

I don’t know about you, but I still have terrible lag during Keep battles. There are still times I cannot cast any spell with a cast time, and we can still win or lose before the interface gives us a chance to react. What’s worse is that the lag can still hit you when you’re NOT in the Fortress. Throwing more than a hundred players together with vehicles without lag is a tough situation to solve; but instancing doesn’t seem to be the fix. Wintergrasp is still a lagfest.

Flying has been a mixed blessing. It’s wonderful for collecting resources when the battles are not going on, though aerial combat is somewhat challenging. Living on a PvE server, this is the one zone where you have to watch the skies while fishing… or just accept that you’ll get ganked occasionally. It’s the price for really great fishing.

Unlike some of the other BGs that received attention in patch 3.2, the gameplay and strategies in WG are essentially unchanged. I’m not seeing as many matches with huge population imbalances, but that hasn’t changed the strategies.

What has changed is how quiet WG has become. WG raids were large social events before the change, with people gathering, talking, joking, buffing, all to get ready to storm the walls. Trade and Dalaran general chat would get spammed; each battle for Wintergrasp was a server EVENT.

No more. While you are at least still teamed up with others from your server, the automatic queing has turned Wintergrasp into far less social affair. Organizing and participating in raids required human interaction, which in turn usually led to chatter, jokes, demands for buffs… and actual conversation. I got to know a lot of people on my server from those raids.

Now? The pre-battle buffs are gone. No more Mage tables, fish feasts, KINGS PLZ! – none of that. You go in self-buffed like any other battleground. There’s no gathering at the portal, since people queue up and go about their business waiting for it to start. The automatic queuing has really hurt Wintergrasp.

I have thought a lot about this phenomenon since 3.2 hit. At first I thought it might be due to lower participation overall, but even full raids are ghosts of the parties they used to be. Yes, players are mercenaries and go where the loot is, and the Argent Tournament offers loot that directly competes with Wintergrasp’s main draws. There are fewer incentives to Wintergrasp all the time, but that doesn’t explain why it isn’t a social event anymore.

To explain it, I turned to one of the key concepts of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which is that urban design that brings a variety of people into physical proximity – squares, short blocks, street-level businesses – creates thriving, safe neighborhoods, while long blocks, highways, and insular housing projects do not. The portal room served as a central square which brought everyone physically together. From there you had access to the Trade and Dalaran General chat channels to organize your raid, while also having a steady stream of /says, /whispers, and /yells to draw from. You buffed people because they were right there; to not do so was to be rude, in public, and because the habitual buffers were noticed and praised. There were always people you could count on to organize a new raid when one filled up. Knowing the people around you is what a community is all about.

The steps and inner courtyard served a similar purpose as the portal room for defensive battles. People congregated there for mutual benefit, dueling, and shopping. Wintergrasp was vibrant and alive.

Now these spaces are silent, ghosts of their former raucous selves.

I’m not complaining about the changes to Wintergrasp — honestly, I’m not. I’m not asking to roll back the patch and go back to the way things were before.

I just wish that those changes had actually solved Wintergrasp’s original problems in return for giving up those things I really liked about it.

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