Tag Archives: WSG

Sabotaging the Enemy: the Ethics of Gear

Sabotage: Level 10 PvP is my first PvP video, and I confess that I had a blast making it. I really enjoy the simplicity of low level PvP, especially on classes I don’t know all that well, and hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it.

But while making it, I found myself thinking about how I’d brought a gun to a knife fight.

Malone: You wanna know how you do it? Here’s how, they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone! Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?

Ness: I have sworn to capture this man with all legal powers at my disposal and I will do so.

Malone: Well, the Lord hates a coward.

The Untouchables, 1987

Cynchronic has 107 spellpower and a mana pool that will never run out. Darkblade Cyn has 295 attack power and 48% crit. This is how I level lowbies, sadly – geared with a combination of enchanted heirlooms and hand me downs, leveled professions, and every twink consumable in my guild bank. They’re not twinks, but they’re close to it.

Whenever I level through the lower brackets, I’m always struck by how impressed people are by heirlooms in /bg chat. Either it’s because the opponents have them (which is bad) or someone on the team has them (which is good). And inspecting most players in the 10-14 brackets shows why – while some are clad in heirlooms, some in grey or all-white gear, but most are in quest gear with a few decent greens. Heirlooms are substantially better than quest rewards at this point, and they’ll definitely give you an edge at level 10.

But enchants are like heirlooms on steroids. I try not to get baited into this argument in /bg, but sometimes I can’t keep my mouth shut – the right enchants are worth more than heirlooms.

  • Darkblade Cyn gets +15 Agility from gear (heirlooms and some greens) and +60 Agility from enchants. That’s 4x more impact.
  • Cynchronic gets +22 Intellect from gear (with Shadow Goggles), and +7 Intellect/+30 Spellpower from enchants, or 1.68x more impact. Potentially, she could have +61 Spellpower from enchants, or 2.7x more impact.

I don’t know what it says about me but looking at both of these characters, I’m positive I could squeeze out a bit more power with better enchants and gear (Healing Power on the gloves instead of Minor Haste, Intellect on the DHC instead of Spellpower on the GSJ, Agility on bracers instead of Stamina, etc.). But they’re the gear I had lying around, and there are tradeoffs I made for PvP (Stamina has value, for instance.)

So, in any given 10-14 WSG, you could have this huge disparity of gear. My rogue could have +75 more Agility than the rogue next to her.

My own perfectionist standards aside, I was a twink in a leveling bracket.

I brought a gun to a knife fight. They would send one of mine to the hospital, I would send their entire team to the morgue – and then capture their flag.

Well, I wouldn’t really cap it – I’d drop it and /afk out, because I didn’t want the XP gain.

So… is this wrong?

ON TWINKS, MUNCHKINS, AND MIN/MAXERS

There are two great truths to /bg chat in the leveling battlegrounds.

  • Everyone hates lowbie scrubs.
  • Everyone hates overpowered twinks.

Before the great PVP bracket realignment, the most common complaint people would level against their own teammates is that their level was too low. Showing up as a level 52 in Alterac Valley (formerly 51-60) meant that OMG you were solely responsible for the team’s loss. By this way of thinking, the entire battleground became a question of how many x8s and x9s you had vs the other team. (This particular behavior has lessened a lot now that brackets are only 5 levels deep, but you still see it show up with gear complaints instead of level complaints.)

Blaming others for joining the team before they were a high enough level creates an interesting juxtaposition when compared with how people treated twinks, back in the days when the battlegrounds weren’t split. I won’t sugar-coat it – twinks ruined low-level PvP for many casual players, both by being unstoppable to their opponents and being abusive to their teammates. The new system is much better.

But… doesn’t it strike you as strange to put these two attitudes together? Don’t be better than I am, but don’t be worse than I am?

It’s like some strange video game version of Harrison Bergeron. I’m sitting here, thoroughly enjoying myself dancing across a battleground with the cameras rolling, and suddenly someone bursts in and shoots me with a shotgun.

Big Bear Butt recently had a great post on the difference between MMORPGs and old school RPGs that relates very directly to my experience shooting Sabotage: Level 10 PvP. Grabbing an embedded quote from that post:

“Munchkin” is a term used to describe certain types of gamers, namely those who make use of every avenue and loophole in the game rules to maximise the stats, abilities, and power level of their character, making the character into an awesome overpowered killing machine capable of gathering more loot and experience and becoming ever more powerful, even if it means occasionally pulling a fast one or ignoring certain other rules that might provide limitations. Oh, and roleplaying an actual character concept is secondary to making the character ever buffer and the acquisition of more loot and more powerful weapons, if it’s considered at all.

One of the premises that BBB puts forth is that while traditional RPGs (tabletop, LARP, what have you) look down upon this min/max style of play, MMORPGs, by their very nature as computer games, embrace and encourage it.

As a veteran of traditional RPGs, I happen to agree with much of what BBB says; computer games encourage you to min/max because there are fixed, immutable rules about how your characters interact with their environment. You can’t look at a boss fight and go, you know, we need about 100,000 marbles – or ball bearings, small and round is all we need – to defeat this guy, let’s go to Ironforge and see if they have some. You can’t alter the flow of a quest, or argue that something should happen simply because it’s a better story – you are limited, restricted, and balanced.

I once said, in reference to making a RPG for the Star Trek universe, that you have to be able to accommodate characters as wildly diverse as Data and Troi and still make it fun for both players. In a traditional RPG this is possible, since both characters are interesting to play and have stories to tell. But in a computer game, you have to define abilities – and then balance them toward common goals. WoW does a good job of keeping the classes different and distinct while balancing them in two key areas, even if it’s sometimes at the expense of believability. To paraphrase BBB: do you really believe someone who pokes something with sticks is as powerful as a wizard who can bend and reshape reality?

The way in which the two cultures (traditional RPGs and MMORPGs) approach munchkinism and min/maxing is instructive. The attitudes are products of the game environments, and each environment rewards totally different behaviors.

Let’s leave behind lowbie PvP for a bit. This isn’t really about lowbie PvP, anyways. Let’s consider Iwillhurtyou, a mighty warrior who has reached the pinnacle of his profession. He changes race and faction as necessary to play with friends and gain the best racial abilities. He is level 85, completed all of the necessary quests to receive the mightiest enchants, and changes professions as necessary to gain the best bonuses. When he receives a legendary item, he keeps it until something better comes along.

  • In a PvE setting, you’d call him a good raider.
  • In a PvP setting, you’d call him a good gladiator.
  • In a traditional RPG, you’d throw him out of your group until he got a decent name. Then you’d throw him out again for not sticking to a single character concept.

In some aspects, these two viewpoints couldn’t be further apart. Chasing down every last advantage can be seen as laudable or as abhorrent, depending on your point of view.

But min/maxing, munchkinism, isn’t really good or bad per se. It all depends on context.

THERE’S NO EXCUSE FOR RUDE BEHAVIOR

Within the structure of a video game, it’s good to be powerful. Yet there’s a counter argument to that, something along the lines of: you can be too powerful in PvP. It’s not fair to your opponents to go in that overpowered. I’m certain that I was a nightmare for the opposing team.

But… so what?

I mean, I showed up and was better geared than the opposition. Much better geared. It wasn’t about skill – I pressed a few buttons and people died. Because I was better geared, I had to press fewer buttons, that’s all.

I brought a gun to a knife fight and people died. Bad people, people with red over their heads, died. I did the job I was supposed to do in the battleground superbly well.

Does that make the other team bad players? They didn’t bother to gear up to my standards. Does that make the other 9 people on my team bad players? They didn’t bother to gear up, either. Nothing I did is not readily available to someone with an endgame character and some gold. Find a friendly enchanter, level some professions before you queue, and BAM – you are ready to be awesome.

Let’s extrapolate this out to the endgame again. I showed up, raid and arena ready, to a pug. The person who showed up in quest whites and greens to WSG, showed up in ilvl 318s and maybe a few 333s to the endgame pug. They’re not bad at what what we’re trying to do – they’re trying, at least – but they’re just undergeared.

Why should it matter to me?

I’m going to echo another one of BBB’s sentiments – it’s not my place to start criticizing your gear, or your performance. That’s not my role in a pug; we’re effectively strangers who have just met. All I ask is that you try to win.

Just because I happen to have better pixels than you doesn’t give me the right to be rude to you. Nor does it give you the right to be rude to me. We’re people trying to have fun in a game. I don’t know anything about you, nor you about me.

  • So what if someone is at the bottom of the bracket? Maybe this is their first time in. Maybe they’re taking a break from questing. Maybe they like PvP. Shocking, I know!
  • So what if someone doesn’t know what to do? You think battlegrounds come with instruction manuals?
  • So what if someone’s gear isn’t up to your standards, (which are totally arbitrary by the way)? That’s your problem. Deal with it. Someone’s probably looking at you and thinking the same thing.
  • So what if someone outgeared you before and was rude to you? That was someone different. Get over it.

Does having everyone be exceptionally skilled and geared increase your chances of winning? You betcha. But that’s what rated BGs are for, now. That’s what your friends and guildmates are for. You absolutely should strive to be your best, and to inspire others to be the best they can be, too.

But that’s where you have to stop.

Wanting to win doesn’t excuse you for being rude to another person. It just doesn’t. Fun comes before winning. This is, all things considered, still a video game. And you are – hopefully – playing this game for fun.

Just like the 9 other strangers you just met.

PVP IS NOT FAIR

The only place where PvP is even remotely fair is at the highest levels of endgame play, where top-notch players go and get the absolute best gear available to them. Everyone is in relatively the same gear levels, the same gear sets, the same enchants. Differences between classes become highlighted at that level, in part because everyone has worked hard to get the best gear.

For the rest of the time, PvP is a street fight.

Regular battlegrounds, no matter what level, will have a wide variety of gear and enchantment levels represented within them. Even most Arena matches will have this disparity too. Sometimes, you’re just simply outgeared. It happens. Work on your gear, but get over it.

Not everyone you play with  is going to be at your gear level in this game. Sometimes, they will be far under you – sometimes, far over you. In PvP, if you’re substantially outgeared by your opponent, you’re probably going to die. In PvE, if you’re substantially outgeared by your teammate, you’re getting carried through content. It happens.

No matter which way the gear imbalance lies, remember that we’re all here to have fun. Gear doesn’t convey a position of moral superiority; it just makes tasks easier.

Be good to each other out there. Have fun. Go roll a level 10 twink today and enjoy some pwnage.

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Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Green Tinted Goggles

The School Of Hard Knocks

The [School of Hard Knocks] is a relatively straightforward Children’s Week holiday achievement: perform 4 tasks in the battlegrounds of Azeroth while your impressionable orphan ward is watching. Welcome to the World of Warcraft, kid!

This is also the holiday achievement that causes the most stress to non-PvPers. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it’s the most hated achievement in the entire What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been meta-achievement – hated more passionately than all the RNG-dependent ones, or any of the other achievements which brings players into the battlegrounds. It is hated because it’s the only achievement in the series that requires you to complete battleground objectives during a fight. You have to play the battlegrounds to complete it.

If you don’t PvP, I completely understand how intimidating this can be. The School of Hard Knocks takes you into an unfamilliar activity which you don’t like doing and asks you to compete against your fellow teammates while other players actively try to kill you. The environment is strange, your teammates may vocally resent your presence, and you are competing with other achievement seekers for the same goal.

When you put it that way, School of Hard Knocks can seem like a nightmare.

But you can do it.

I’m not going to patronize you and say “oh, this is easy!” The School of Hard Knocks is not easy if you don’t know what you’re doing. Heck, it’s not trivial even if you do know what you’re doing!  It takes a good attitude, preparation, research, and a willingness to fail. Sometimes, to fail repeatedly.

But with planning and perseverance, you can get the job done and impress the heck out of your orphan.  And yourself, too.

Ready?  Let’s begin.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING

The most important thing about this achievement is to ALWAYS have your orphan out when in the battlegrounds. Put the orphan whistle on your action bars and make sure that orphan sees everything. You don’t want to accomplish a goal and then discover you forgot to summon your orphan, and got no credit as a consequence.

BATTLEGROUND BASICS

Behind every die-hard PvPer there was once a new player who stumbled around the battlegrounds, blinking in total confusion. Don’t let any of the nerdrage you hear in /bg convince you otherwise — it’s okay to not know what you’re doing when you first zone in. It takes at least a few runs for the map and objectives to make sense, and a few more before you can really start contributing to a battleground.

So my first suggestion is to visit the battlegrounds before the Children’s Week holiday begins and scout them out. Don’t worry about accomplishing anything, don’t fight if you don’t want to, but get in there and figure out where things are. Where is the flag in Eye of the Storm? How does flag running and flag returns work in Warsong Gulch? Where are the towers and bunkers in Alterac Valley, and how do I climb up them?

If you take nothing else away from this post, please take this advice. Get familiar with the battlegrounds before you are under pressure to do something with them. While videos can help, there is no substitute for having run your virtual self over the course, so when the time comes and you are actually competing with others to finish, you will already have the edge of knowing what to do.

The second basic suggestion is to come to terms with dying in a battleground. I’ve seen some excellent PvE players really struggle with this; it can be a very personal hurdle for some to overcome. If you are used to raiding, where death means someone (sometimes you) failed to do their job correctly, the frequency of PvP death can be not only alarming, but a personal indictment of failure. It’s not.

PvP deaths aren’t personal. Sometimes – often, even – there was nothing you could do about it. Shrug it off and move on. There’s no repair bill, there’s no xp penalty, just a loss of buffs and a 30 second timeout. Learn from it, yes – but don’t let it get you down.

I’m passably good at PvP, and I die a lot. Like, an average of 12 times a day. Don’t sweat death.

My third suggestion is that you don’t need gimmicks to complete this achievement. You don’t need a premade or collusion with the opposite faction in order to do these achievements. Really, you don’t. Stories of dancing flagrooms and coordinated tower recaps are all well and good, but they’re gimmicks.

What you do need is planning and perseverance. Don’t give up. Keep trying. You can do this.

Let’s go take a look at the individual battlegrounds to show you how.

ARATHI BASIN: ASSAULT A FLAG

Arathi Basin is an easy one to start with. Each node has a clickable flag at it that represents control of the node. If the flag is gray with no logo, the node is unclaimed, gray with a logo, the node has been assaulted and will be claimed soon, and a colored flag indicates the node is controlled.

Your goal is to find either an unclaimed node, or a node that the other faction has assaulted or controls, and click on the flag. Assaulting the flag is an 8 second channel, so you can be interrupted by defenders.

The simplest way to assault a flag is to ride to the closest node – Stables for Alliance, Farm for Horde – and capture that flag. This often involves competing with several other players during a normal battle, and doubly so during Children’s Week, so it involves some fast reflexes and planning.

If the competition at the closest node is too much, ditch to one of the side nodes – Lumber Mill or Gold Mine. If you’re consistently losing at Stables/Farm, stop trying for them and go for LM/GM immediately instead. Depending on the opponent’s strategy, you may encounter no resistance at all in the first rush.

Finally, if you lose out at the two side nodes, you can ride straight to the node closest to the enemy’s base – Alliance go to Farm, Horde go to Stables – and try to capture that.

If you fail in the inital rush, don’t give up. Nodes change hands all the time in Arathi Basin, so you will have plenty of chances to assault bases. Use the map to scout out which bases are under enemy control, then look for ones that are lightly defended. (Or not defended at all!) Stick with others, don’t pick a fight in the road, stay and defend nodes that are taken.

The one place I don’t recommend you go for the achievement (at least not if you don’t like PvP) is the Blacksmith. Let me repeat that:  do not go for the Blacksmith if you are at all PvP averse. The BS is seen as the critical node for most Arathi Basin strategies, so it is usually hotly contested throughout the match.

Here’s a map of Arathi Basin, with your target’s priority noted for both Horde (in red) and Alliance (in blue).

So for the Horde, it’s Farm -> Lumber Mill / Gold Mine -> Stables -> Blacksmith.  For Alliance, it’s Stables -> Lumber Mill / Gold Mine -> Farm -> Blacksmith.

There are a few tricks that can help you rush a flag. Mount and start running against the gate before it opens. Aim at the flag but be near the center when the gate opens to get out quickly. When you approach the flag, have your mouse free for clicking – I switch to keyboard driving in those last few seconds. And spam your clicks until the channel starts! Don’t just click once.

Here’s a video with an example of Alliance taking Stables (the easy way) and Farm (the harder way.)

Ride hard and click fast!

ALTERAC VALLEY: ASSAULT A TOWER

So now that you know how to assault a node in Arathi Basin, it’s time to move on to the frozen battlefield of Alterac Valley.

Your job is to assault one of the four towers or bunkers before anyone else gets there first. The towers (and bunkers, I use them interchangeably) have flags at their top level that need to be clicked. The towers do not change ownership like nodes in Arathi Basin; instead, once they have spent 4 minutes being contested, the towers are destroyed. They can be defended before they are destroyed, which allows the possibility of trading assaults, but in most battles this just doesn’t happen. You should proceed with the idea that you have 4 shots to assault a tower each AV, and after that it’s time to farm honor. So be ready to run AV a few times before you get the achievement credit.

There are four towers: two on the far side of the Field of Strife (a large open plain in the center of the map), and two clustered near the enemy leader at the far end of the map.

If you are Alliance, you will start at the top of the map and need to ride south to reach Iceblood Tower (blue 1), Tower Point (2), and the two Frostwolf Towers (3). Horde start at the south end of the map and ride north to Stonehearth Bunker (red 1), Icewing Bunker (2), and the two Dun Baldar Bunkers (3).

The location of the towers dictates the three strategies you can adopt.

  1. Closest tower first, then rollover. Ride hard to the closest tower (1: Iceblood Tower/Stonehearth Bunker) and try to get it first. If it’s taken, move to the next (2), then the final two (3). This method has a lot of competition but has some resiliency built in – you give yourself 4 chances, and you might get lucky on any given one of them. The drawback is that your chances on the subsequent tries are lowered because of the time you spent at the previous towers.
  2. Ride straight to the second tower (2: Tower Point/Icewing Bunker) and capture it, ride on to the end if you fail. I like this option because it has less competition than the closest tower, but only delays you a little on your way to the final two targets. The delay is less because these two towers are along your riding path to the enemy base, while the closest ones are not.
  3. Ride straight to the enemy fortress and capture the towers (3) there. I like this option a lot, but you have to know your route well and be able to check the map to see where your competition is not. You have to choose your target as you leave the bottlenecks (3: East/West Frostwolf Towers, North/South Dun Baldar Bunkers) and you only get one shot. There is no recovery if you choose wrong; you have to try again next battle. So while it’s risky, it also has a very good chance of success.

No matter which method you choose, there are some preparations you should make.

  • First, practice getting up the tower stairs. Horde have it a little easier here, as bunkers are less dizzying than towers to climb quickly, but both sides need to practice.
  • Second, running speed is everything. Make sure you have speed enchants on your boots and Swiftness potions on hand – and practice climbing towers with both active! Unlike AB, where most movement is mounted, AV assaults have an unmounted component so speed boosts will help. (Dont forget to practice with the speed boosts active, or you will launch yourself off the stairs.)
  • Third, practice running the map. See where people go in the pack to find all the little tricks of terrain that confer an advantage, and use them! Your goal is speed, and lots of it. Every second counts.  I’ve included some videos below to show some of them, but there is nothing like practicing yourself.
  • Fourth, practice fast mounting out of the cave. Unlike AB or EotS, you can’t start mounted. You need to move slightly out of the cave and start mounting. That initial mount will either put you at the head of the pack (and in a good position for the nearest tower) or the middle (better to go longer.)  The way to do this well is run just past where the rock ends and the normal ground begins and mount up.

Alterac Valley is big.  REALLY big.  And it has an asymmetrical map — the Horde and Alliance have very different experiences in AV — so I went ahead and recorded two videos to help familiarize you with the terrain and show how this all works in practice, one from each faction’s perspective.

Here’s an Alliance-side tour:

And here’s the Horde-side tour:

Alterac Valley can be a lot of fun, but with 39 other players shooting for 4 towers, this task is a bit more challenging than Arathi Basin.  But it’s still pretty easy compared to the next two.

On to Outland and Eye of the Storm.

EYE OF THE STORM: CAPTURE THE FLAG

Eye of the Storm is a mixture of Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin, with four bases (one on each corner) and a flag in the middle. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to take that flag and capture it at one of the bases your side controls. You control a base by having enough people of your faction hang around there long enough to capture it.

If you’ve never been here before, the map is straightforward:

The black squares are the 4 nodes you can control: Mage Tower, Fel Reaver Ruin, Blood Elf Tower, and Draenei Ruins.  The white circle is the flag in the center of the battleground.

There are really only two ways to get this achievement.

  1. Grab the flag yourself and run it to the base. This is pretty straightforward, if somewhat hectic.
  2. Guard a base, have someone else on your team grab the flag and run it to you, but you capture the flag. This requires you to communicate with your teammates, and for them to cooperate with you. The runner takes the flag almost to the base you control and drops it; you pick it up and capture it.

The first method is relatively straightforward. Go to the middle of the map, fight off the enemy, and grab the flag as soon as it spawns. Then run like the wind to the nearest friendly base you control.

The second method relies more upon your powers of persuasion. Let people know in BG chat that you are here for the achievement, and that you want to cap the flag but would rather defend a base. Ask if flag runners will let you cap it. Many will. Whisper them when they pick it up where you are at and let them know if your base is clear.

Here’s where working together with other people will really pay off. Guildmates, server mates, friends you quested with back in the day — if you can go in as a group you can focus on spreading around the flag captures until everyone has one.

The biggest problem with this achievement is that the flag is noob bait. It can help you win Eye of the Storm, but the better strategy is to take 3 of the 4 bases and hold them while letting your opponents run the flag to try to catch up. (Hint: it doesn’t work.)

What often happens, as Ihra describes so eloquently, is that the battle sometimes settles into each side holding 2 bases and fighting in a swirling fight over the flag in the center of the map. If you’re PvP averse, your best bet at that point is to hold one of the bases and adopt the second strategy (asking someone else to let you cap it.)

Here’s how it looks in practice:

There’s really no secret recipe for this task, just persistence, perseverance, and tenacity. Keep at it until you get the flag, and then run like the wind.  Your orphan will keep up!

WARSONG GULCH: RETURN A DROPPED FLAG

The Warsong Gulch achievement sounds quite hard, but is easy if you play the battle as intended. Your task is simple — return your flag to your base once an enemy has dropped it. Normally, this is done by killing the enemy flag carrier (EFC), which makes them drop it. But there are all sorts of gimmicky plans to let the enemy take the flag, point to your orphan, and have them drop it repeatedly, and you know what?

I hate to say it, but sometimes those gimmicks work.  Because Warsong Gulch is the smallest battleground, with only 10 players per side, your chance of getting a premade like that is actually pretty high.

I try to always talk about the battlegrounds as they are, not as I’d like them to be. And the likelihood of you finding an easy WSG during Children’s Week is good. But if you don’t, and you find yourself chasing the EFC all over the map, let me give you some tips on how to get that flag back.

The first is that you have to know where they are going before you can catch them. Your map helps immensely here, since your flag will show up on it. By watching it you can learn where they have gone.

There are three common escape patterns for the EFC — the roof, the flag room (FR), and the graveyard (GY). Each has characteristics you can pick up on the map with a little bit of practice.

First, the roof:

The roof is the best initial defensive position for the EFC. From the roof there is only one entrance and two very large escape paths, as well as a quick route to a flag capture. Most EFCs go to the roof first.

There are two ways to spot a roof runner: the little bend they make as they run up the hill to the roof (which looks like a ? or a shepherd’s crook) and that they tend to hug the front side of the base. The bend is the easiest to spot, since the only time someone runs in that area they are going up to the roof. There is no other reason to go there.

Second up is the flag room, or the FR. Some runners like to hide in the little room in the corner for protection, others like to be ready for an instant cap by standing on the flag spawn point. There are three ways into the FR, as so:

As they approach their base, they will either go straight up the tunnel (the entrance is that funny structure in the middle of the map) or up the ramp on the side, which means they will pass in a wide curve in front of the structure. These are called out as “EFC going tun” and “EFC going ramp.”

The tunnel is a straight shot into the flag room — just watch and make sure they don’t peel off to go up to the roof. The ramp offers two entrances, one to the second level, and one to the ground level. The quickest way is to turn immediately up to the second level entrance, which has a very straight pattern when you’re watching it on the map. If they veer off to the side, they’re going onto the ground floor.

No matter which level they’re on, the EFC in the FR usually hugs the back wall. If they’re along the edge of the map in their base, they’re probably in the FR.

Experienced flag carriers will often retreat to the Graveyard when trouble strikes. This puts them right in the resurrection vector of all their team’s reinforcements, as well as being defensible with a good escape route down to midfield. The resurrection vectors favor the defense here; your casualties will be sent across the map, while theirs from all over the map will be sent in as reinforcements.

If that’s not bad enough, there are three ways the EFC can escape: out to midfield, out the ramp, and out along the fence. Midfield runners can be especially dangerous if they can get back to the tunnel, or meet up with other forces down at midfield. Ramp runners are usually the easiest to kill, since they chose a bottleneck where your midfield reinforcements can trap them. Fence runners are experienced and you’re going to have to chase them down before they either run out to midfield, drop into the tunnel, or climb out on the tunnel roof and heal.

Here’s a video giving a tour of the battleground, showing the layout of the map, how to find the EFC, how to return a flag, and (as a special bonus) how to capture the flag.

Okay, is your mind spinning yet? Because now that you’ve found the EFC, you have to kill them.

The best way to kill an EFC is to bring a lot of your friends and gang up on ‘em. The problem is that those friends are likely going to be trying to return the flag too (unless they’re really your friends, and they know you’re there for the achievement.) So there’s competition, but just watch the EFC’s health, and be ready to click on the flag when it drops. Eventually you’ll get it.

The other way to kill an EFC is to take them out on your own.  Make sure to disable any healers who could be healing the EFC, and then focus on countering their moves while burning down their health.  I’m unqualified to give class-specific PvP advice for the majority of the classes in Warcraft, so I won’t even try. If you are having trouble with this task, try dueling with some friends to get used to individual combat.  But keep in mind some EFCs are practically unkillable without help.

As for the rest of the strategy? I will point you to Gnomeaggedon’s great WSG guide, Midfield is Not An Objective.

BE A GOOD GUEST

One of the biggest problems with the School of Hard Knocks and other achievements like it is that they bring people into battlegrounds with goals wildly different from the primary goal of the match – namely, winning. Be it honor farming or achievement chasing, players actively working at cross-purposes to winning is the bane of battleground players everywhere.  This strife between those who are there for the PvP versus those who are there for the achievements can be a large contributor to the stress around this holiday (on both sides).

It’s odd, because the School of Hard Knocks is actually not that bad for winning battlegrounds, as achievements go. While running the flag in Eye of the Storm is not an ideal strategy, it’s at least actively contributing to victory, and all the other tasks are helpful to any strategy.  There are other holiday achievements where you do nothing to help win (I Pitied The Fool) or have bad strategy (With a Little Helper from My Friends). Heck, there are plenty of PvP achievements guilty of that sin! (Hint: anything that requires you to fire a turret gun in Strand of the Ancients is bad strategy.)

So listen:  you don’t have anything to apologize for by queueing for a battleground for this achievement. It’s a valid part of the game.

But in return, I’d like to appeal to you: be a good guest.  Don’t leave once you’ve capped your flag, or when you think you can’t complete it. It’s equivalent to leaving an instance midway through because you didn’t get the drop you wanted.  Seriously, have you ever had a tank drop in the middle of a fight because they didn’t get the loot from a boss, leaving you to deal with the adds they pulled?  Don’t be that guy.

No matter your feelings on PvP or abilities in the battleground, you still have something to contribute. You’ve taken a role in a raid group, put yourself in a position where you can do some good and contribute – no matter how good or bad you think you are at PvP. Stay and defend that node you just captured. Go protect your flag carrier.  Heal like you’ve never healed before.

But please, don’t leave your teammates in the lurch and drop group.

PERSISTENCE > TALENT

There’s a famous quote from Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”  Keep that wisdom in mind as you work on the School of Hard Knocks.  Not only do you not have to be superbly talented in PvP to accomplish these tasks, you don’t even have to be very good at PvP at all.  Seriously.  Watch the videos above and you’ll see success is putting yourself in the right place at the right time.  Well, and clicking on the right thing.   But you get the idea.

What you do have to have to succeed is persistence.  Tenacity.  Stick-to-it-ivness.  Don’t give up.  You are going to have to make multiple attempts to succeed — don’t fool yourself that it’s going to be as simple as visiting each battleground once.  Give yourself plenty of time to work on this, and keep going.  Keep going! A positive attitude will get you though this.  Don’t give up.

A FINAL WORD

Don’t forget to have your orphan out at all times in the battleground. Nothing sucks worse than finally capping that tower in AV and discovering no one was there to watch you do it.  (Trust me, I’ve done this.)

Okay, that’s all I’ve got on the School of Hard Knocks. Good luck!  Go forth and achieve!

The kids are counting on you!

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Healers and Battleground Roles

If you can heal, you should be healing in a battleground. That is the rule. No matter how unfair it is to the players involved, no matter the other strengths of the class or player involved, if you can heal, you should.

Forget about the awesome PvP abilities of some of these hybrid classes. Who needs Enhancement Shamans powering a node’s defense, Retribution Paladins dominating front-line combat, or Shadow Priests destroying swaths of the enemy? Never mind that Feral Druids are some of the best flag runners and node cappers in the game!  If those players want us to win they should be healing!

Do you see how silly this attitude is?

This ridiculous strawman what happens when you take an observation – healers win battlegrounds – and turn it into a prescription – everyone who can heal, should. Carried to this extreme it becomes patently absurd.

Yet, even though it is absurd, you’ll hear well-meaning people say it. I’ve probably even said it once or twice.  But the scarcity of healers is no excuse for pigeonholing players into roles they either choose not to play, or frankly aren’t very good at.

The source of the problem lies in the lack of defined roles in a battleground. You don’t select Healer, Damage, or Crowd Control when queuing for a battleground – you just show up. Random chance governs your healing team, if you get one at all. So when you look around at the class compostion of your team, you see the potential healer pool. The actual team is far smaller.

Good healers win battlegrounds. That statement carries with it a terrible burden of responsibility that no player should be saddled with, especially because it is only part of the whole truth.  I propose a new axiom: Good players win battlegrounds. Players who know how to lead, players who know how to fight, players who know how to control the enemy, and yes – players who know how to heal.

Battleground raid roles are not as simple as PvE raid roles.  The Tank-Healer-Damage trinity simply doesn’t apply to PvP, and is instead replaced by situational roles for each battleground.  Within the smallest battleground, Warsong Gulch, I can think of a dozen roles in two different configurations.  Zone coverage would be broken down into Flagroom Defense, Midfield / Offensive Support, and then Offense / Flag Carriers, each subdivided into Control, Damage, and Healing.  Or you could abandon zones and go with task-based role assignment: Flag Carrier, FC Support, Midfield Control, EFC Hunters.

However, trying to communicate these kinds of complex role assignments to a random PuG before a battle is madness.  The reason Simple Battleground Strategies work is because they present a way for your team to work together quickly, easily, and independent of raid composition.  Unfortunately, that simple way of thinking bleeds into how we consider healers and healing-capable classes because there is no refinement within them to consider the other roles a hybrid class can play in the battleground.  Good hybrid players go and perform those roles within the structure of the simple strategies anyways, but it would be nice if we started seeing more refined roles that didn’t just go “Healer / Not Healer.”

I think that the introduction of Rated Battlegrounds in Cataclysm will have a dramatic impact of how we think about our strategies.  PuGs are still going to happen, but I really expect to see more battlefield organization through guilds and general PvP alliances.  The incentive to organize is going to be there, so people will be thinking deeper and longer about how their players should work together and the roles they fill. This is really exciting.  We could be on the cusp of a renaissance of battleground strategies as more players get involved.

We could also be on the verge of losing one of the great charms of battlegrounds, namely the casual, laid-back nature that appeals to many busy players now.  PuGs facing premades can be very frustrating for those on the disorganized side.  Sometimes, you don’t want something serious, you just want to go pwn some Horde or Alliance, and having to execute a complex strategy is not how you want to unwind.  My biggest fear with the introduction of Rated Battlegrounds is that the casual aspect of bgs will be lost.  I am holding judgement until we see more about the implementation, and see how that implementation changes people’s playstyle.  It has tremendous potential both for good and ill.

There’s an unfair expectation on hybrid classes to heal in battlegrounds right now.  My hope is that Rated Battlegrounds will bring about a greater recognition and respect for the other specs those hybrids bring to your team, and that those healers who are there are playing because they enjoy it, not out of some sense of obligation or guilt.

Only time will tell if that hope will bear fruit.

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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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Green Tinted Giggles

Twinks.

For as long as I have played World of Warcraft, “twink” has been a dirty word. Conventional wisdom held that twinks were the reason low-level PvP was inaccessible to normal players, that those toons with their Green Tinted Goggles and their Lucky Fishing Hats –the most visible sign of a level 19 twink — had ruined casual battleground play.

Prior to the great Battleground Experience Patch of 2009, I think the conventional wisdom had identified the symptoms correctly while missing the real problem. A new player venturing into Warsong Gulch, clad in a few quest greens and whites, with untrained skills and professions and only a few hours of /played under their belt, would (and did) get slaughtered at the hands of players with a deep understanding of their abilities and the battleground, best-in-slot gear, maxed skills and professions, and weeks of /played time. Couple that disparity with the nerdrage prevalent in so many battlegrounds and the 10-19 WSG bracket was hellish for casual players.

Setting aside the nerdrage, which is its own independent problem, the ability disparity is neither unique to WSG nor the fault of twinking players. With but one exception, this is the almost the exact same problem experienced at the level cap: a freshly-dinged 80 is nothing like the main of a hardcore raider or arena gladiator with maxed skills and ilevel 245 gear, except in level only. If we ignore the character levels, the attitudes of hardcore raiders and twinks are identical: pursue excellence in your character’s chosen activity and seize every advantage possible. What would you call a raider without maxed professions, who refuses to ever flask before a run or get the Hodir shoulder enchants?

Benched.

The exception I mentioned above is that hardcore raiders and gladiators get to select both their teammates and their opponents, while WSG twinks could not. Raiders can be as picky as they want about who is in the raid, and run content appropriate to their ability. Gladiators have opponents chosen for them based on a complicated evaluation of gear and performance, and while the system has some flaws, it does prevent teams in crafted blues going up against teams in Relentless gear.

Battlegrounds can be joined by anyone who could find the appropriate Battlemaster and met the level requirements. I think this is why the conventional wisdom about twinks in Warsong Gulch was right, though it was for all the wrong reasons. It was never the twink’s fault. Warsong Gulch sucked for casual players because they weren’t fighting other casual players, and it sucked for twinks because they would get non-twinks assigned to their team, with no corresponding weakness on the other side. In other words, the content was too hard for some characters to handle, and those players with characters who could handle the content grew frustrated at their inability to choose teammates who took it as seriously as they did.

But since there is an order of magnitude more casual players than there are twinks, twinking became the dirty word.

BATTLEGROUND EXPERIENCE


This situation changed with patch 3.2 and the introduction of XP to battlegrounds. In one fell swoop, Blizzard both opened up the low-level battlegrounds back to casual players, and gave twinks their own battlegrounds. The decision to let experience-frozen characters only play their own kind divided each bracket in two: a leveling bracket and a twink bracket. It was a good move, though it had devastating effects on some of the brackets. My level 59 Death Knight Cynwulf couldn’t find a match in his twink brackets for weeks after 3.2 hit, while the leveling bracket exploded with players flocking to the rich XP rewards. Alterac Valley became a place for lightning-fast leveling through difficult stretches, with people leveling alts all the way to 80 within its frosty confines. It changed the dynamic of the game, opening up a new way for players to level. Quest for a while, then take a break and play battlegrounds for a night without falling behind!

I have heard that a similar phenomenon took place in the 19 twink bracket as the 59; very long queue times for infrequent matches. Some twinks resorted to playing in the leveling brackets and leaving the matches before they finished to avoid too much experience gain. But many twinks just had a hard time finding games after 3.2 dropped.

It’s difficult for me to reconcile those reports with the current situation, three months after battleground XP was implemented, because both the 10-19 leveling bracket and 19 twink bracket are thriving now on the Ruin battlegroup. I suspect that what happened was that since 3.2 contained so many changes (Argent Coliseum raids, new tier sets, new heirloom items, a new battleground, and mounts at lower levels) that twink players found other things to occupy their time. I know that 3.2 is when I threw myself out of the battlegrounds and into raiding. I leveled my few alts with their new mounts. I played some Isle of Conquest. I ran the new Argent Crusade dailies every single day and became an heirloom item junkie.

But mostly, I ran the Trial of the Champion and heroics until my eyes bled.

A FRESH START

I don’t know what it was, specifically, that caused me to roll a new alt. I’m a slow leveler, and I have tried to focus my attention on as few characters as possible to achieve as much as I can with them. Perhaps it was the mount changes, or all the pretty heirlooms I was getting, but something caused me to roll a paladin just to see what it was like. I outfitted her with some nice heirlooms, leveled her up to level 12 or so, and then took her into Warsong Gulch to see if things had changed since my last ill-fated visit.

Oh. My.

Warsong Gulch at 10-19 is completely different now. The leveling bracket is filled with toons of all different levels, gear, and player skill. Interestingly, level seems to be a poor predictor of performance, which is counter to what you might expect. The matches are short but not frenetic. Best of all, you get to see how your class plays in PvP before a lot of complications are added – there just aren’t as many things to keep track of as with an endgame character. Your opponents lack a lot of counters that they get later on, so you can learn how your abilities are really supposed to work.

It’s really a great experience. I recommend at least trying WSG again if you’re starting a new alt. It is a great training ground and helps you understand the core of your new class much better than solo questing does. (Running Deadmines is the other part of learning a new alt that I find really valuable.)

The leveling bracket of WSG is also ridiculously low-stress. I jokingly call it the Come-As-You-Are bracket, because you will find such a wide variety of gear, skill, and ability spread throughout both teams. Compared to the intensity of endgame PvP, this bracket is like a pickup flag football game. Sure, you want to win, but having fun is just as important.

THE HARDCORE ATTITUDE

If the matches in the 10-19 leveling bracket are afternoon pickup games, the level 19 twink matches are decidedly professional affairs. The expectation is that you’re geared, skilled, stocked, and prepared. You need to know your role in the fight, or learn it quickly.

The item levels are different, but the hardcore attitude is just the same as the endgame: be the absolute best you can be.  If you’re not there yet, you better be working on it.

Seeing this attitude applied to level 19 characters is really amazing. The potential abilities are astonishing, if you are willing to pursue them. Bandages that heal you to full in two ticks? Food buffs that give 10-20% more health?

I don’t know about you, but I had no idea any of these things were possible when I first leveled up through Westfall and Loch Modan.

The experience cap has made twinking much easier; no longer do you need to plan out every step from level 10 on. You can quest all the way to 19 and then get your gear, if you choose. Faction changes allow players to get the best of both worlds now, eliminating the problem of faction-only BiS gear. Yes, that’s how hardcore twinks can be – faction changes for a BiS ring.

Having a separate bracket for these characters is a very good thing, for everyone involved. Twinks fighting twinks is a completely different kind of game, with a slower pace and more emphasis on control. There are no facerolls in the twink games.

And when you beat a premade, the taste of victory is very, very sweet.

IN PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE

You don’t have to be as hardcore as the most hardcore twink to take away some very good lessons from their approach.

First, train your professions to max level as early as possible. You can pick them up at level 5 and reach 150 skill by level 10 – do it. This gives you access to all the benefits at a time where they are completely OP. You will also have a viable income if you are rolling on a new server. Don’t forget that many of the best endgame professions are not very good at lower levels, and vice versa. Herbalism, Mining, Skinning, and Engineering all have excellent benefits while leveling.

Second, max out your First Aid. At level 10 you can reach 225 skill, which let’s you use (but not make) Heavy Runecloth Bandages. So you can use any old-world bandage you can get your hands on. Bandaging can be done in combat and is a cheap, easy way to reduce downtime.

Third, get good gear. Heirlooms are great if you have access to them, but crafted gear is really good at low levels, too. Seriously, crafted gear. Check it out. Enchant it if you can afford it.

I’ve started doing these things on my alts and it’s remarkable what a difference it makes. A level 10 dwarf warrior with Green Tinted Goggles and fully-enchanted heirlooms makes leveling a joy, not a grind.

I admit – I giggle a lot going into WSG and beating people 5-9 levels higher than me in 1:1 combat.

It’s funny; I didn’t originally associate these tips or attitude with twinking; I considered it part of learning how to play well, especially for a part of the game I struggle with. Let me be honest — I made just about every mistake you could make while leveling, No, really, I’m terrible at it. But I got to the endgame, I learned how to play, and now I’m learning again by watching the twinks.

Twink.  It isn’t a dirty word anymore.

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Absolute Beginner’s Guide To Battlegrounds

I’m not sure how I missed linking this earlier, but WoW Insider had a good beginner’s guide to the Battlegrounds of Warcraft late last week.

Zach Yonzon does an excellent job of not assuming you know anything about BGs, and is worth a read if you have never queued for Warsong Gulch.

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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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