The Raid Dropping Exploit of Tol Barad

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

The theory behind it is:

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

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

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

But is it really happening?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, lab coats don't come with Resilience.


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

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

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

The implications of these observations are interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s a good thing.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now we have this rumored exploit.

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

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


Rosasharn: Are you guys just mindlessly zerging IC?

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

Rosasharn: *pauses* Er. Why?

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

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

Ermoonia: *laughs*

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

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

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

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

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

Ermoonia: I’ve wondered the same thing.

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

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

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

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

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

Rosascharn: Er…

*awkward silence*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

And we were trying to cheat to win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No wonder people want to cheat.

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

I wish I had an answer to that.


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


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

56 responses to “The Raid Dropping Exploit of Tol Barad

  1. I agree. TB is incredibly frustrating. On my server, the alliance outnumber the horde greatly but we rarely win. And since so few horde are queing, if a whole horde guild goes together, they can easily take TB since they are working together and frankly, it feels like alliance never does. 😦

    • It’s interesting how the queue dynamics work. We recently had an influx of transfers to Durotan’s Horde side, so it’s not as imbalanced as it used to be – but the queue on the Alliance side seems to definitely be smaller than Horde. Queue dynamics are probably worth a post all their own!

      I like watching the map and wondering just what the hell we think we’re trying to do, running hither and yon, like confused little ants. 😦

  2. Bri

    We’re resigned to not having it, so even when we do take it, there’s no cultural impetus to keep it.
    It’s probably more likely that if and when it comes time to defend, so many players are resigned to never winning that they never bother to check and find out they actually won. If a player never queues to attack because their side always loses, they wouldn’t know to queue to defend either. They cease to care one way or the other.

    • That’s definitely part of it. Why bother checking if 90% of the time you don’t control it?

      At least with Wintergrasp you could look up and see if you had a buff or not.

  3. Aye. I find Tol Barad SO frustrating. I wish there was a fix. I miss the wintergrasp days of going every time to play. Now, it is just not fun nor does it seem fair.

    • I’m still having fun in Wintergrasp. 5v5 WGs are actually a lot of fun – we lost last night because we didn’t see the Horde breaking down walls – they distracted us with two rogues in the keep. It was awesome!

  4. Ralod

    Really interesting post cyn, I agree that this exploit either never worked, or was fixed. However, is it not sad that the allies on Durotan thought it worked, and only then did we see a real effort on our parts to hold the place last weekend. We only made an effort because we thought we had a chance to win even if it was by cheating. And we held it for a good 8 hours too.

    As a GM and Raid leader who wants to get into that raid(after getting the boss down to 1% only to have the battle start and us lose:( ) It is demoralizing not to have access to that raid. And to know that only by what seems sheer luck are you going to have a chance at it.

    At least wintergrasp had a mechanic that allowed the zone to change hands at least once a day if not more. Tol Barad as a whole is just poorly designed, and frankly demoralizing.

    As a PvPer, as you said cyn I really have no motivation to do Tol barad. Well Showing off on the pony in the arena’s would be mega awesome, but gearwise the honor grind gives me better rewards. I think is past time to once and for all sever PVP and PVE. Tol Barard requiring super geared pvpers to unlock a pve raid, and give pve rewards is just stupid. Yes the raid drops pvp gear, but to kill that boss you need pve geared DPS doing 11k dps or you will never kill him in the 5 min timer…

    Make Tol Barad a pvp zone, with pvp rewards. After the battle drop 5 pieces of pvp gear for the winning side allow the winning team a need greed roll, drop 2 pieces of gear for the loosing team. Make the raid boss open to all as well as the dailies, no matter who won the battle. Maybe give the winning side a 10% honor bonus in BG’s while they have control. Make a pvp zone give pvp rewards. This of course after making the battle more winable by the attacking side.

    Sorry I got off on a tangent there a bit. The place is just a sore spot for us all I think:)

    • “Make Tol Barad a pvp zone, with pvp rewards. After the battle drop 5 pieces of pvp gear for the winning side allow the winning team a need greed roll, drop 2 pieces of gear for the loosing team. Make the raid boss open to all as well as the dailies, no matter who won the battle. Maybe give the winning side a 10% honor bonus in BG’s while they have control. Make a pvp zone give pvp rewards. This of course after making the battle more winable by the attacking side.”

      I dig it, love the idea of loot dropping following a battle with the raid able to roll on it.

    • Since I’m being personally honest here, I confess: the only reason I want to win Tol Barad is so that you and the rest of Amicus Fidelis can down that boss.

      I can’t down him in my PvP gear, but at least I can help my guild out, dammit.

    • battlechicken

      While I actually don’t hate doing the dailies and grinding the rep (finally hit exalted today!), this baffled me too. WG appealed to ALL players. The PvEers among us (myself included) came to get access to the raid bosses and their chance to drop tier pieces. The PvP-inclined were after the PvP rewards and craptons of honor that came with winning.

      We’re missing the PvP element here. Where is the incentive for a PvPer to come in, especially if they expect to lose? The honor is trivial and, though I haven’t actually looked, I’ll bet BGs are providing way more honor than a losing TB.

      Apathy has gotten me, too. My goals revolve around raiding and leveling my alts. I have roughly 2 hours in the day to play (which is pretty generous; those at work in an environment where they can’t play–like my husband–get less) and sometimes a few hours at night. My time is better spent running that random heroic to get Valor Points than losing yet another Tol Barad, when even winning only guarantees a chance at a boss who might drop something useful and rep, which I now already have.

      Right now, finding out we’ve won Tol Barad is like finding an onion ring in the french fries you ordered–unexpected, unrequested, but delicious.

      • The Honor per Minute for Tol Barad depends on when you join. If you’re there for the towers falling, you get a nice little boost. But then it’s 15 minutes of HK farming before you get another boost of 75 HP when it ends.

        A victory in any other random BG, except WSG, will generally award more Honor Points than a loss in TB. So the key is to come in right at the end of the battle, to minimize your downtime in TB, and collect the prize at the end.

        It’s ridiculously easy to game, sadly. 😦

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

    I have a low tolerance for cheating – I’d rather play fair and lose to exploiters than degrade myself by following suit.

    I love the new gear system – if I lose to opponents, it’s because they are more skilled or playing classes that have a mechanics advantage, not because they simply outgear me.

    There is nothing at all wrong with grinding out set of 85 PVP gear, or using terrain to your advantage. That’s simply playing smart IMO.

    This leaves you a PvP zone with PvE rewards, which baffles me as to how it’s supposed to motivate the right people to come in to make it a good battle

    You hit the nail on the head.

    That’s the reason I haven’t bothered to queue for TB for weeks. There is no incentive, and if I want PVP action with better rewards, I’ll run in Arena/BGs/Rated.

    Even with Wintergrasp, which was flawed because the population imbalance mechanic didn’t work, there were incentives for a faction to try to capture and hold Wintergrasp related to PVP.

    That being said, I heard that PVP enchants for helm and shoulders are coming in 4.0.6 – I’m not clear how TB factors into that.

    • I also love the new gear system. I love it! Having only a few pieces require rating has made PvP vastly more accessible to players. It’s a great equalizer, and I am really enjoying PvP right now.

      Well, all PvP except for Tol Barad. :-/

      I found the only time I queue for Tol Barad right now is if I am 1) grinding Honor and 2) see that there’s a match in progress and it’s probably gone on for a little bit. I zone in, rack up some HKs, collect my 75 Honor Points, and then get out. Or, for research.

      I don’t have any info on the upcoming PvP enchants, but am hoping that they don’t put them into Tol Barad. I’m happier just ignoring the place at this point.

  6. For further non-blue post analysis regarding the exploit our server (Bleeding Hollow) was up in arms about this the second week after it opened and a lot of people were doing similar to what you’ve hashed out here.

    That thread killed the constant “DROP RAID IF YOU HAVE 1 HK” shouts that filled the event every time TB went active and I haven’t seen it since. After playing this event and being on both sides of getting dominated and dominating them I can say that rational thought on “if they’re taking here and just took there, then that has next to nothing defending” works flawlessly which further lends credibility to the equal numbers argument.

    I realize you’ve ventured far beyond the exploit fact you set out to discuss, but just wanted to contribute one server’s struggle with the same thing.

    Also, hopefully arguments like yours in regarding the PvE gains for TB are taken seriously enough that in future seasons better items are added as rewards. I have already purchased the drake and wolf mount and am now in a situation where I can begin banking my commendations or buying the other vanity items, so it would be nice to see them continuing to try for a Wintergrasp-clone where gear is updated each season and my inability to swear off a World PvP zone pays off in some fashion.

    • Thank you for that link – it’s interesting to read about another server’s struggles with Tol Barad. I don’t know if I’ll kill it on other servers or not – but if I can at least make people think about it, then I’m good.

      I hate to sound like I’m stuck in the past, but Wintergrasp hit the PvP rewards right. You had PvP heirlooms to let you level alts through battlegrounds. You had alternate PvP gear that gave you different secondary stats than the regular Gladiator’s gear. You had a good selection of PvP trinkets, enchants, and offset pieces. It made sense to play. (It also made sense to have it flip often, so everyone had a shot at accessing the vendors.)

      I’m doing Tol Barad dailies for the drake and the horse. I should get them in about … 2 months. 😦

  7. I’ve written three post-length replies now, but all them turned out to be long rants no matter how I sliced it.

    So to summarize – Tol Barad sucks. And so does the general attitude of Durotan’s Alliance in relation to it.

    I’ve won TBad three times, all three using the exploit; once attacking, twice defending. All three matches we also had outstanding leadership.

    I don’t think it was the exploit, whether it’s real or not, that won those three for us though, I think it was the leadership and the fact that people actually followed them. We’ve tried the exploit after, and we still lost.

    I think what we’re seeing on Durotan, besides the suck that is TBad, is the same thing that we saw in WG at the end of Wrath – Horde stepped up their game and actually started working together to achieve something, and Alliance is still stuck in the mindset of entitlement where we think we’ll get the rewards even if we don’t do anything at all to earn them. Alliance expects to win while Horde strive to do so.

    Right now we’re kind of sucking as a faction, but when coupled with the extra suck that is Tol Barad it multiplies into more suck than one reply or even a whole post can handle.

    • I was worried that this was nothing more than a long rant. You have nothing to apologize for, my friend!

      “(s)till stuck in the mindset of entitlement where we think we’ll get the rewards even if we don’t do anything at all to earn them.”

      That’s it, perfectly. It’s one thing to be demoralized in the face of a hard fight with little or no reward. It’s another to assume that you don’t have to fight at all.

      This whole thing sucks, exponentially. 😦

    • battlechicken

      “TBad” made me lawl.

    • Great post as usual Cyn – I can really see what you’re saying in terms of the psychology coming across on our server too.

      Our server (Saurfang US) has seen much the same change. Before 4.0.1 dropped Alliance would hold WG almost all the time. Once 4.0.1 dropped this changed and I think we held WG maybe once more that I remember. What changed? Two things:
      1. With the impending cataclysm people weren’t so concerned with the gear from WG (also added by the fact that the arena gear was now available for HP)
      2. An infamous player on our realm (Shorttemper) faction changed to the Horde. This player was infamous for two reasons… he/she would always announce and recruit people to come and play WG and then would give some instructions in the battle, all the while being pretty terrible at pve (and arguably pvp too).

      People laugh about Shorttemper however he/she played a vital role in encouraging and giving some coordination to the otherwise disorganised and disinterested Alliance players – that like Psyn said is expecting to hold TB without trying. I would be interesting in seeing is Shorttemper is filling the same role on the horde side now.

      In terms of leading TB myself – I’ve always been reluctant because I’ve never been in a successful attacking battle, so I’m not sure of the method. I’ve seen us come close when there has been coordination, but not enough to tip it over the edge. But I seem to keep going back to it despite always losing for the following reasons:
      1. I’m one of those infinitely and overly hopeful and optimistic people…
      2. The rewards are there for me – in terms of the raid boss (and if we hold TB tomorrow I’ll hit exalted after doing the dailies) – as someone with 3 possible specs (I play a paladin) there are trinket options where I haven’t managed to find a drop. Also given time constraints I haven’t had the chance to run as many heroics as I would like and so reputation rewards have held more value for me.
      3. As a primarily PvE player that has taken the gear reset to enter the pvp field in my spare time with crafted gear (and now a few HP purchases) the attraction to the PvP is there in and of itself. Yes I’ll have better rewards/fun from BGs – but TB is working towards both goals at the same time.

      I must say I’m really enjoying my PvP in Cataclysm (bar when I get SotA… Alliance in my battlegroup doesn’t seem to have a hope in there). I’m really enjoying prot paladin pvp – the healing, cooldowns and some resilience mean I feel I can actually contribute before dying! Also the time requirements for a single battle are much more conducive to my play schedule at present compared to the 1.5+ hours heroics are turning into. Once I get my reputation dailies grind out of the way I can see myself spending most of my ‘spare’ time doing pvp.

  8. Fidjit

    Fantastic and insightful post as usual, Cyn. I particularly liked the section on faction culture and how our perceptions/expectations influence outcomes. This is a very real phenomenon that I think has a hugely negative impact on the game, particularly PvP.

    For example, at some point early in WoW some players had the impression that Horde are better at PvP than Alliance. Was this true? I don’t know. I suspect not. Now that BGs are region wide data seems to suggest about 50/50 wins overall. Doesn’t change that perception though, and now almost all PvP realms are horribly unbalanced favouring Horde, and Horde have bloated BG queues while the Alliance’s are instant.

    This happened with Wintergrasp on my server as well. The Alliance could win if people showed up, but some people stopped caring and stopped queuing. This started a vicious cycle where less Alliance queued because they expected to lose, and then they’d lose because no one showed up, and so on. Then faction transfers hit and the people who still really passionately cared about WG transferred over to “the winning side”.

    Player culture and expectations an extraordinarily difficult problem to solve, if you can at all.

    • Or Alterac Valley being biased against the Horde! That caused entire battlegroups to have the Horde abandon AV entirely (except for the marks), even once the problems were fixed! It was only the advent of XP in battlegrounds that fixed that problem (if it was ever truly fixed.)

      • Restodrood

        oh AV IS still biased against the Horde, I played Alliance until i hit 60, 1 to 2 years ago and all I did was play AV as Alliance we never lost an AV as Horde we lose almost every AV, the only way for us as Horde to win is wiping Alliance at Galv and taking the GY near Balinda and taking Snowfall causing a turtle and even like that is technically not a win because we almost never get to kill the Dwarf.

        • Interesting how perspectives differ. I’ve played AV in the 50s, 60s, 80-84 and 85 brackets recently. The Horde wins roughly half of those games, sometimes on Van, sometimes on reinforcements. (The strategy you note works well both ways, just put a strong defense at Balinda while taking IBGY as Alliance.)

          What I saw happen about a year ago, though, was similar to what you said – the Horde perception of AV’s imbalance caused it to be a reality in the leveling brackets in the Ruin battlegroup. 50-59 AV was totally Alliance dominated because the games would be 40:10 A:H; all the good Horde players would go queue for AB and WSG instead, which they dominated. There would be nights, though, when the Horde players would decide to come fill an AV with level 59s and 60s, and it would be a real lesson for the Alliance.

  9. Piratenami

    I was waiting on the bridge while queued for a battle to start yesterday, but there were so many in the queue that I did not get placed in the raid, but instead got a message that I would be ported out of the zone and wound up back at our base camp on the peninsula. I wonder if anyone who drops raid is ported out after a short delay? That might explain how the numbers are kept even.

    I know that it’s broken, but I must admit the Horde always having TB on my main server is a nice change from us never ever having Wintergrasp during the heyday of Wrath.

    • I tested it. You stay in the zone after you drop raid if you’ve been accepted into the battle.

    • If you’ve been in the raid since it started you will not get ported out. If you’re there when it starts and you do not join, or if you try to enter after it’s started, then it will port you if you don’t get into the raid, but you can turn around and leave the raid if you do get in with no problem.

  10. Ermoonia

    Thanks for the great write up on this! Frankly, after our data gathering, I just wasn’t sure what conclusions we could draw from it since our tools were flawed. I think you did some great analysis anyways. Plus, gathering the data was just downright fun.

    • I had a great time, and was surprised at the conclusions I was able to draw, too! I am having a hard time convincing the Alliance on Durotan that the exploit doesn’t work, but… well, there you have it.

      Thanks again!

  11. Angry Gamer

    Cyn, good post One issue I have with Bizzard right now is
    the lack of “clue” on what is broken with TB. They talk about
    “better coordination” “teamwork” etc etc. What they seem to not
    realize is the great disparity of strategic difficulty for either
    side. For Defense: Simple Mass Assaults on weaker defended areas.
    Oh we have 3 to choose from… niffty one will be weak. AND they
    are geographically dispersed so no mutual support by attackers
    YUMMY. Oh and what’s this my reinforcements spawn in ONE place so
    mass attacks are easily marshaled? YIPPEE! For Attacker: Gee you
    guys need a Patton or something to coordinate a multi-prong attack
    on dispersed targets and hold them SIMULTANEOUSLY to win. Any
    strategy requires second by second timing and you are punished for
    massing superior forces to win objectives. You don’t spawn after
    death in the same place so rally points are not obvious. Oh and you
    are completely bereft of any tactical surprise since if you own 2
    OF COURSE you will attempt to take the 3rd. Leading to an immediate
    counter attack of course. Blizzard made this BG and just completely
    missed the boat on what would happen after people started playing
    it. THEN they are proposing fixes that will only cause more
    problems for the Attackers strategy. Make it easier to take the 3rd
    if you have 2. Gee would that prompt the Horde to attack your 2
    FASTER? Yep. Prevent “Turtles” oh and is this really a problem…
    no the musical chairs defensive strategy IS the problem. These
    posts by Blues about Tol Barad just make me want to scream. They
    really think that a few tweaks will fix this. TB is SO Bad I really
    think they should scrap TB and just revamp WG and change the NPCs.
    THAT would be more possible.

  12. Somantin

    If you think the Alliance on Durotan feel defeated regarding TB, you should check out Dentarg. If I’m on when TB is in progress, I queue into it. Not only have I never had to wait or been denied entrance, but for the past week or so the Alliance side has only had between five and ten players in the evening. When your raid group shows five players and you hit one of the flags only to find ten Horde there, then the wheels start turning that maybe something is not right here. When our raid shows ten Alliance and I see two flags being major battles and the third flag where we have no attackers being camped by five Horde defenders, it’s pretty obvious we’re outnumbered. I was thinking that it would need somebody to join as an Alliance and then zone out after seeing that we’re defending for this to happen. It never occurred to me that it would be as easy as dropping group to free up your spot but staying in the zone. The exploit in itself is a massive oversight, but using it on defence when the other side can’t even muster half a raid just seems needlessly brutal.

    Now, I have played on defence in TB exactly twice, and both were very easy wins. It was as simple as fighting at a given location until you die. As soon as you die, pop the map; the Horde always fully held one area. Everyone who dies zergs that area. Repeat for half an hour. I don’t think the Horde ever fully held an objective as the time expired either time I played on defence. Granted, this was in the earlier days, right after win trading ended. Maybe the exploit wasn’t as known then.

    I’m honestly not sure why I keep going in there. It’s not that I think that if I keep hitting my head on the brick wall, the wall will eventually fall down. Maybe I’ve just banged my head against it enough that I finally have brain damage.

    • Wenchmagnet

      Great post as always. Thanks!

      Somantin, isn’t there a minimum capacity of 25? The 1:1 matching does not kick in until there are 25 on each side. So if 100 horde queue, 25 will get in. And if only 10 alliance queued, you’ll end up with a 10:25 game. Apparently this was designed to prevent the less dominant faction from griefing the more dominant faction by refusing to queue.

      I remember reading a blue post somewhere on this when fixes to Wintergrasp were being proposed but I do not have a link to it now.

      • Somantin

        Aha. That may well be. I’d not seen anything about a minimum allowed in, regardless of the opposite faction numbers. If it works similar to the re-designed Wintergrasp, though, I don’t think so. You hear about 3v3 and 5v5 WG a lot now, and it seems strange that those battles would always work out even. I’d have to do some more research. I’ve still only seen a full raid on the Alliance side on our server a few times. Once for defence and twice for wholly ineffectual running around randomly on offence. I know I’ve mentally given up on an attack group having a chance to succeed when I divert from my plan just to mine ore veins.

      • The reason you see 5v5 WGs is that it’s probably not 5v5 at all, it’s 5v2 or 5v8 – all you can really tell is that there are only a few of them versus an exact count. Both sides are failing to meet the minimum, so whoever wants to queue gets in.

        I’ve been in several 5vN Wintergrasps, and they are a heck of a lot of fun.

  13. Pingback: The Sad Case Of Tol Barad And Exploit Mindset | MMO Melting Pot

  14. This is an incredible, eloquent post, Cyn. I was expecting a quick little bit on what was going on with the exploit, but found instead a complex, and fascinating look at the human psyche. Colour me impressed!

    With regards to TB, I think I can sum up my feeling about it with this. One day I queued for it, and jumped in, only to find my side was attacking. This was an upsetting moment, as although alliance on my server controlled TB initially, lately the Horde (my side) had been holding it consistantly. But, I swallowed my complaints, and went on to step up as a leader for the attacking Horde side.

    I did everything in my power to win that thing. I poured ever ounce of my ability as a player into winning. We got 2/3 several times, and were seconds from the winning, but got stopped by an alliance zerg. It wasn’t a question of people not listening to me, which is often the case with PuGs. People DID listen, and they followed instructions as well as you could expect. We were organized, well-played, and working together as a team.

    And we lost.

    That shouldn’t happen. When you play a game as well as we played, you shouldn’t lose anyways. That’s the difference blizzard needs to make. It needs to be tuned down just enough, that when a team plays as well as they can, and clearly outplays the other side they win. Winning should not be a matter of knowing how to run around a map in a circle.

    • Thank you! I didn’t know where this post was going, and nearly deleted the second half of it. I’m glad I didn’t now.

      That’s an excellent way to put it. Finding the balance between the quality of play on both sides is what Blizzard is trying to find. If both teams play excellently as a team, then it should come down to something else to decide who wins – even RNG – but not always coming down to one side every time.

      Right now it’s probably better to say that it’s the defender’s zone to lose, not the attacker’s zone to take. Attackers have to play well AND defenders need to play poorly for it to change hands.

  15. I agree that TB doesn’t really work and you have described in detail the most important factor: Psychology.

    On my server, I think, it is also about different equip and different skill at PvP. Horde – even if it zergs is simply better than Alliance. If we make the error to just hold one base and zerg, the game mechanics should punish us with a lose (our graveyard is farther away than theirs). But nothing like this happens. We still win!

    I feel sorry for Blizzard, because they really tried somthing very innovative here: To make TB meaningful by gameplay mechanics.

    TB is unfair at a 1:1 scale. The defenders are at a strong disadvatage at holding any individual base.
    TB is unfair at a higher level: The attackers are at a strong disadvatage, because a winning offensive strategy is much harder to communicate than a winning defensive strategy.
    But TB is fair on a server level, because everybody eventually holds it and has the chance to defend it.

    It was a great try to move the game away form 1:1 balance to a more tactical balance that creates meaning by the way. Psychology made it fail. That is unfortunate.

    • I agree, the idea that Tol Barad is about one side winning the battles but losing the war is intriguing. It could be very, very interesting, if there wasn’t so many other things at stake which caused us to overthink it.

      Imagine starting the battle with a random faction in possession. That would change everyone’s perceptions about how the zone worked and the fairness of it all. It would disrupt the psychology of losing and instead focus people on winning it every time, no matter which side they were on. You wouldn’t know until the battle started if you were on offense or defense, so complacency wouldn’t take root.

  16. K

    I’ve been thinking this over, and trying to articulate
    exactly what contributes to the feeling of futility in TB. I don’t
    think it’s just the loss. We lose BG’s; it happens. I think the
    problem is also that there is a lack of small vistories in this BG.
    Consider WG. On our server, you could easily get a small team of
    5-10 together and try to take out the soutehern towers. You could
    take a workshop as a small group that would help your cause. Even
    on your own you could man a cannon and feel like you are making a
    difference – someone has to do it. You might win, you might lose,
    but at least you fought the good fight! TB seems to have none of
    those objectives. You join a zerg and typically win, only to look
    at the map and realize you’ve lost somewhere else. Sure there are
    towers, but they usually fall early leaving you with 20-25 minutes
    of the same tactic. Losing fells like you spent a half hour getting
    crushed. Typically, because you did. Sure I realized that a
    coordinated and skilled offense can win. Unless there is a
    coordinated and skilled defense. Regarding motivation, there is
    also the opportunity cost of playing. With the larger battlegroups,
    BG queues are generaly very fast. Why play an imbalanced map if I
    can play a balanced one?

    • These are some really good points. I especially agree that there aren’t small victories along the way to make it feel like you accomplished something. The towers going down in TB feels like an afterthought, not an accomplishment.

  17. Matt

    While not on topic, the readers of this blog always have great insight, I thought I would ask. Does anyone know of a good blog focused on healing priest pvp? I plan to level my gnome priest and focus on BGs, both leveling and endgame. However, I can’t seem to locate too much information or any pvp focused blogs. Any tips or directions are appreciated.


  18. Winning is not about skill in PvP, or of choosing the right battle at the right time and winning it – no, in Tol Barad, PvP is about working together to cram as many people as possible into a node, and then play musical chairs until someone falls out of a chair.

    I disagree. Defending Tol Barad is musical chairs. Trying to assault it by that method never, ever works that I have ever seen. The only way you win as the attackers is exactly about choosing the right battle at the right time and winning it. You have to either split your force perfectly for the initial battle, and get just enough to all three nodes to get them all at once before the defense sees what’s going on, or you have to perfectly predict your opponents’ rotating zerg, and cleverly disrupt it.

    On my server (Maelstrom-US), it’s working pretty close to as intended: a battle ever 3 or so hours, the defense almost always wins, but not quite always, and the place changes hands 1-4 times a week. You go into Defense knowing you’re going to win, and into Offense knowing you’re going to lose, but every couple days, there’s an epic upset and it changes hands, which keeps you coming back, even for the losses. Or at least, keeps enough people coming back that it can still happen.

    But your greater point stands. Mass psychology is the single most disruptive factor in trying to balance battlegrounds.

    I made an argument a while back that Alterac Valley was fundamentally unbalanceable, because the terrain would always be different for the two sides, and even if Blizzard managed to somehow perfectly balance the effects of the terrain (probably impossible), the perception would still exist that it favored one side or the other, which leads to the “disfavored” side developing that culture of loss, they don’t queue, and they don’t care, and a quick loss is better than a slow one.

    I was really impressed that Blizzard has learned that lesson as well as they have demonstrated: SotA, WG, and TB all avoid the unbalanced terrain issue by trading off sides. Most of the new battlegrounds have been brought back down to small sides, where the effects of mass psychology are weakened, because you can directly observe the majority of the battle, and see that you’re getting crushed one-on-one, or that the other side is grouped up and you’re scattered, or whatever.

    But Blizzard is still trying to put together those epic pvp battle, too, despite all the lessons that it is really really difficult, because it’s part of their artistic vision. Tol Barad is an impressively good try at defeating the positive feedback loop of mass psychology that is so disruptive. On some servers, it’s even more or less working.

    Great post, thanks for the discussion 🙂

    • My apologies for the late response, but you made some great points here. I agree that I overgeneralized the problems here, but hopefully rectified that in my next post.

      Thanks for the comment!

  19. TreeGirl

    I didn’t start playing any PvP until just before the end of Wrath. I play Horde, and on our server we were all resigned to the fact that the Alliance would hold Wintergrasp. The only day that Horde had Wintergrasp was Tuesday, because we would all band together, take it, and do our VoA for the week. After that, why bother? We were hopelessly outnumbered, so it felt like there was no point in trying.

    Then the queuing system changed to try to create even numbers of people on both sides. It was like a bright light from heaven shone down upon the Horde side and offered us a chance at victory. After that point, we held Wintergrasp more often than not, and we have continued to hold Tol Barad more often than not in Cataclysm. I’m actually enjoying the PvP I do now, and though I will probably never be a serious PvPer I’m glad that the queuing system is more fair than it was. Therefore, I’m relieved that this exploit doesn’t seem to actually work, as I would hate to go back to the old days of fighting 5 Allies to 1 Horde.

    However, I’ve now seen PvP imbalances from both sides. Before it used to be that our Horde players didn’t care and didn’t bother about Wintergrasp because trying to win felt like an exercise in futility. Now we mostly win with ease because we’re defending and it’s so much easier to defend Tol Barad than to attack it. Although in some ways it feels good to be dealing out a little revenge, I wish it were possible to know we were winning because of our skill than because of imbalanced battleground mechanics. I hope that Blizzard addresses the issues soon.

    On the other hand, it is possible to put up a good offense in Tol Barad. Yesterday we were attacking and managed to cap all three bases before the first towers fell. Quickest. Tol Barad. Ever. And I think we Hordies can be justifiably proud of THAT win. Overcoming the odds tastes like victory. 🙂

  20. Pingback: How To Win Tol Barad | Cynwise's Battlefield Manual

  21. Suirus


    Normally I am not one of those that buy the conspiracy theories. Even with this theory I thought it was typical QQ coming from our Alliance forces. I am sure Taugrim of Wildhammer will attest, the Horde have dominated the PVP market on our realm since faction changes were implemented.

    I would continually point out this post and the Blue post you mention in your comments. However, in early morning Tol Barad I have seen overwhelming evidence of something not working. In the mornings we will typically have 5-7 people max to start the BG. When I /who the zone, I can separate the number of people on the peninsula, and I can count the number of Horde in the keep.

    Today, the number was 5 Alliance in ICG and 11 Horde in ICG. My map shows no other Alliance in TB and the /who shows that we have just 5 Alliance.

    Maybe you can team up with your research assistant and do a BG at a time when you can run the experiment with lower numbers in the BG.

    Keep up the great guides. I wish that I could get more people to read them before Queuing, then QQing!

    Suirus of Wildhammer

    • If I understand how the queue balancing works, it does not attempt to do 1:1 matching until 25 people queue on each side. This is to prevent one faction from griefing the other and boycotting the battleground entirely. Everyone who queues up to 25 will get in, and then the matching kicks in. If 10 Ally and 30 Horde queue, the match will be 10:25 with 5 Horde remaining in queue. The Horde should stay steady at 25 until 15 more Alliance players join the battle.

      Do you think this could be responsible for the behavior you saw?

      • Suirus

        That sounds very resonable. Now that you mention it, I think I remember something from the beta days saying the same thing. I will look it up so that I know exactly what it says.

        I think this would be good to point out to others as well. I will share the news on my server!

        Keep up the great guides.


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  24. mb

    Tol Barad is simple to win. Horde defends and attacks with relative ease every time I’m in the zone. It’s all about reading chat and being where you need to be.