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?


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.


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.


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.


Filed under Cynwise's Battlefield Manual, Green Tinted Goggles

26 responses to “Sabotaging the Enemy: the Ethics of Gear

  1. Good lord, you were eating the Horde.

    Enchants make that much a difference at that level?!

    • Yeah, enchants are huge. Especially for Agility-based classes. The combination of the +15 glove enchant, +8 cloak enchant, and the ability to dual wield +15 weapon enchants is just sick. Int and Str based classes just don’t have that devastating combo.

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

    Well, snap, no wonder I don’t-suck only every once in a while. Street fighting was never my thing; words were my thing, though that hardly worked either. Though, I do love the antagonistic glee I get out of trolling nerdrage in /bg. Guilty pleasure?

    • Never underestimate the value of a good one-liner. It’s as essential to playing a Warlock well (i.e. with style) as the giggle or cackle you use when running away. 🙂

  5. Talessina

    I came to WoW from Anarchy Online, another MMO game which allowed you to seriously twink gear on a toon – not just using enchants for better stats, but if you could collect the right buffs and items, you could toss iLvl 300 gear on a lvl10 toon. That was the sort of challenge you faced if you took your game seriously. I ended up loving to twink more than I enjoyed PvP. So I really aim to max out any toon I play, no matter the level or role the toon has.

    What I wanted to say, is that I totally agree with your comments concerning rude behaviour. I play on a EU German server even though I don’t speak the language (I followed German mates to WoW from AO). I spam my Heroic PUGs with a text macro, asking for understanding cause I don’t speak German. Only once has it had a negative response, but that person was so rude, without any foundation or basis to his arguments, that I really considered quitting.

    What right do people have to be rude to another player? Unless someone is cheating, we have no right to judge others on their gear, performance, or abilities, and so on.

    I don’t expect people to “be good to others”. I’m a realist. But I certainly agree with your sentiments, and hope others do too. I certainly enjoy playing with others who are also generously and selflessly favourable towards others.

    • Thank you! I can only imagine that the language barrier is both a blessing and a curse – there are times when I know I need to intervene in /bg chat, but maybe I’d be better off not knowing. 🙂

      It’s a pity that we can’t have a politeness rating to compliment our gear score. I’d rather have a pleasant night wiping with friendly people than mowing down opponents with people I detest.

  6. shawn

    Awesome video. If you don’t mind, could you please tell me what’s the addon that gives the opponent’s class beside their health bar ? Also I noticed a red cross above a player’s head, which addon is that ?

    • Thank you!

      Tidy Plates/Threat Plates is the bar mod that can display the class icon (as well as turn their bar the class color, which is what I really key off of.)

      The red cross is the handiwork of Healers Have To Die, a great addon that tags anyone using a healing spell. It’s not foolproof, but it’s pretty good.

  7. Very enjoyable article! It got me thinking about stuff.

    In tabletop RPGs Munchkins are laughable because the environment isn’t fixed. The challenge gets adapted on the fly whatever the numbers on a player’s sheet might say, so a focus on the numbers is meaningless except in so far as they guide the shared narrative. A munchkin is like someone learning to drive a car who concentrates so much on the controls and mechanics that he never once looks out of the windscreen.

    In computer RPGs, the environment is fixed but runs through a spectrum from super-easy to super-hard. The hardest content expects (and might even require) a high degree of munchkinism to be beatable at all. In a fixed environment the numbers matter a lot.

    PvP is different, though, as the environment isn’t “fixed” in the same sence that PvE is. I agree with your comment that at the highest levels (populated only by munchkins) there’s a degree of balance, and the numbers become sort-of-fixed as they reach their current upper limits. Most pure-pvp oriented computer games (FPS, RTS, beat-em-ups, etc) normalise the “gear” element or provide a choice of gear setup that is designed with balance in mind, and this includes top level PvP. That normalisation removes the importance of the numbers and makes the focus of the test more oriented towards player skill. But as you point out, at lower levels of PvP the numbers become overwhelmingly important. So what’s low level PvP a test of?

    For players signing up for random BGs, they become a test of RNG as to which team has the most or best munchkins. In terms of what that player can bring to contribute, the test leans towards being reducible to the question “are you a munchkin?”. For munchkins, this kind of test is undoubledly fun (“why, yes I am! I win!”) while for non-munchkins, it’s decidedly not fun (“huh? wut? oh, I lose”). Twink BGs are a way to ensure all participants have the same answer to that question, and success or failure is decided by other factors like player skill and class choice (low-level balance being what it is).

    For those that prefer to stick to the simple test of “are you a munchkin” by doing the munchkin thing in XP-unlocked BGs, that represents a deliberate choice to avoid a test where everyone responds yes to the question (as they would in a XP-locked BG). Its therefore relying on the presence of folks not being munchkins. It’s therefore all about having fun at other people’s expense, and that’s the root of the unpopularity of the twink in a non-twink BG.

    Personally I think they made a minor mistake with the implementation of twink BGs. I’d prefer to see two types of BG – normalised and non-normalised for each bracket, with people being able to lock or unlock XP as they wish within either. It’s a small difference, but at the moment twink BGs are not doing their job of keeping the normal BGs free from folks who seek to use massive stat superiorty to bully everyone else.

    • This was a really thoughtful comment, thank you for it!

      You used a term – bullying – which gave me some pause (and is one of the reasons my response is delayed). Bullying is very real in PvP – graveyard camping, midfield camping, corpse camping, overnight camping – but defining it, in a combat environment, is difficult. I’ve been noodling on this and am still struggling to say: it’s wrong to substantially outgear your opponent. It is wrong to behave rudely, but that’s a different matter entirely. In a competition, it has to be okay to be bigger, stronger, faster.

      The difficulty of PvP floats compared to the fixed difficulty of PvE. Your abilities versus your opponent’s abilities determines how easy (or hard) it will be. I think your suggestion of normalization is a good one, a really good one, because it’s saying that the BGs aren’t doing this right now. There’s a wide range of “power” that’s available within a given range of levels – power that comes from gear, from professions, from player skill. But the current brackets fail to match up power.

      Battlegrounds brackets are divided by level, with the assumption that levels are a good way to group people of relative power together. And at higher levels, that works… kinda. At lower levels this falls apart a bit, mostly due to how heavily stats are weighted early on.

      But what if we did it based on power instead of level? What if we took a combination of attack power, spellpower, stamina whatever – and made that the deciding factor in who groups with whom? You wouldn’t be able to do what I did in this video, but – setting aside class balance issues – you would probably have a more fair fight, in every BG.

      This is an interesting idea. I don’t know if I like it, and I don’t know how it could be implemented fairly – but in theory, it would create fairer battlegrounds through the leveling bracket.

      But would it take away the desire to gear up, to try to *get* better? My level 10s are now in BGs with moderately-geared 18s and poorly-geared 25s. Why bother gearing up at all? Why not just show up in quest gear and go against similarly geared level 10s?

      It feels like we’re back in that Vonnegut story again.

      I took a bunch of guildmates into WSG the other night, in varying states of gear. There was a twinked priest on the other side who was brutally hard to take down. (Talk about class balance issues, lets talk about Power Word: Shield!) He ripped through me and my friends several times before we got our act together, double-teamed him, and found ways to beat him.

      Just because someone outgears you, and outplays you, doesn’t mean that they’ve ruined your fun. Sometimes, they’ve just upped the challenge to you, and facing that challenge is fun. We have to get better to meet it.

      Like I said – thank you for the comment. It really made me think.

  8. dakotarick

    I really enjoyed the video. You did a great job of capturing the feel of the original video from a WOW perspective. I believe that the original was done without getting any permits so they would set up, make the shot and move on to the next very quickly.

    I have been using the Healers Have to Die addon for a week or so and I really like it. Thanks for recommending it. People underestimate what a game changer a decent healer can be in a BG.

    • Thanks! I didn’t know that about the original video! That’s pretty cool. The more I learn about that video, the more I like it.

      Healers Have to Die is one of the most controversial addons I’ve ever used. I love it, but there are a lot of healers who hate it. It’s funny, because I can have raid frames that track everything about you – is your PvP trinket up, what is your current DR to Fear, etc. – but HHTD is a game changer, precisely because healers are game changers in BGs.

  9. I want to delete and re-roll my rogue to level 10. Mind you she’s only level 15 now. Love that video, that’s what I aspire to in PvP. I’m such a noob though it’s unlikely I’ll ever replicate that.

    • I mean… You know how many characters I’ve deleted below level 15. Level 10 PvP *is* that fun. I should have a guide up in the next few weeks on how I built these two. You can check out Darkblade Cyn’s armory page if you need any inspiration.

      I’m not helping, am I? 🙂

  10. skinnemuva

    Three friends and I all decided to roll hunters together and level them through BGs. We all have heirlooms and enchants but a few of us are newer to the game and/or pvp so the skill levels vary. Hunters are overpowered in the lower brackets as it is, but I can only imagine the anger and frustration the alliance has when they come into a BG and have four semi-twinked out hunters on the horde team to play against. Yes, it is fun for us, but at what point does it go too far? Do you think that this is taking it too far? I know that in the past I have gone against just one twinked out hunter in a low level bracket and been frustrated by the OP, but four at once, all together?

    Anyway, we are all currently level 13 and we play Monday nights at 9 PSTif you want to join us. We would be hard to miss as our names are Speaknoevil, Seenoevil, Hearnoevil and Benoevil.

    • I looked for y’all this Monday night, but didn’t see you (sadly). I have run across some games with 4-5 Hunters, and that’s basically game over in WSG, twinked or not. Psynister and I just went to farm kills and try to break the turtle (which failed, repeatedly), because… I mean, come on. That many hunters at low levels is game over.

      I think my point is that it’s not taking it too far if you’re doing your best. If you go ahead and get great gear and great enchants, you’re doing what you can to win. That’s different from going to camp the opponent’s graveyard, taunting them, spitting on them, etc..

      I will keep looking for y’all! These are Horde hunters, right?

  11. neutrallo

    I’ll be upfront. I despise twinks in all levelling battlegrounds except AV.

    Why? Because I don’t like having any one person determine the course of a BG (even though there have been many times that person was me). The smaller the BG, the more impact a twink has on the outcome… with that in mind, is it really a surprise that WSG is the twink wonderland? (Even in higher level brackets.) They probably should have just made the battlemap in the form of a phallus.

    Since AV has such a large pool of players on such a large map, before “account capping” came around, twinks were almost non-existent there… it was wonderful. Even after account capping, AV played far more balanced than any other BG with twinks in it. You could go there knowing that the outcome would NOT be determined by which side had the most twinks queue.

    With that said, I believe there are some big misconceptions about twinks and power levels. First, the BOA stuff, while very nice, is not the unfair imbalance that makes a twink (and if you haven’t read the Bliz forums, you can’t believe how many make that claim).

    Actually, you hit the big imbalance on the head… enchants. Enchants have MUCH more impact then the BOA gear. I had hoped that with Cata, they would divide the vanilla enchants into two gear brackets (can’t have everything I guess).

    With all that said, PvP in the lower brackets is a much better place to be than 2 years ago. And with the levelling and truly massive battlegroup pools in effect now, I just don’t encounter any perpetual enemies that I used to. Each game is a game where I recognize no one, play, and win or lose… it’s all good.

    • For a while last year, the Ruin AV in the 51-60 bracket was completely dominated by level capped twink guilds. They would come out in MC epics and totally dominate the entire battleground. It got so bad my guildmates avoided AV at all costs. The other leveling battlegrounds were just fine, it was only AV that was a problem.

      I can appreciate your position on twinks, having held it myself once upon a time. But hopefully this post and video made you think about your position some, even if it didn’t change it.

      • neutrallo

        Sorry to hear that about your AVs. My battlegroup was no so strongly affected. There were always a few twinks in mine, but the impact was mild. It was common to see 2 or 3 players with astronomical numbers… but still on the losing side.

        As long as the impact on wins/losses aren’t horribly affected, I am generally okay with twinks (but that only really happened in AV). What a twink generally does is robs everyone elses contribution, not to mention the handfulls of extremely rude twinks that I encountered.

        I don’t blame twinks for doing it. I really just blame Bliz for making it possible… it should have all been addressed years ago. The fixes in place now make it a lot better.

        As a side note: I find it curious that so many people are so irritated with the “dumbing down” of the game… yet packs of people also feel that the low level pvp (which is hugely dumbed down) is fantastic.

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