Season 7 started a while back, and we've now got Colby on the team to pick up on the Arena scene with Blood Sport. He covers all the basics of the latest Arena season in his debut column, so head on over and read up on everything you need to know. That's your primer. On today's The Art of War(craft), I'm going to discuss other things not quite covered by the basics.
First of all, what does a new Arena season mean to the Battleground enthusiast? I mean, who gives a shmoo? Arenas shmarenas, right? Well... not exactly. The sad fact is that Arena players are going to be playing the Battlegrounds, anyway, since the non-set pieces are purchasable with Honor points. While these items also drop off Koralon, the Flame Watcher, the fastest, most efficient way to obtain non-set Relentless Gladiator pieces is through Honor farming in the Battlegrounds.
That means successful Arena play, or at least the most conscientious preparation, requires Battleground participation. The converse isn't necessarily true. The gear disparity in the Battlegrounds is extreme, and it isn't uncommon to find players fresh from hitting Level 80 hitting the maps to grind Honor for gear upgrades. Gear isn't as critical, but it's a definite advantage. My view on the matter is that Arenas are a necessary, but fun, evil.
Making it work
I don't think Arenas are intrinsically disdainful. They can actually be quite enjoyable under the right conditions. Some good friends of mine are actually pretty avid Arena players, although they admittedly don't break high Arena ratings. Despite sometimes having spectacular losing streaks, they take it in stride and enjoy the matches because of the company they keep. That's the caveat -- sometimes the best PvPers aren't always the most pleasant. In fact, in the highest levels of play, nerd rage isn't uncommon and some of the most (in)famous professional Arena players have reputations for finger pointing, shouting, and for unceremoniously kicking under-performing teammates off the team.
The need to win brings pressure. Some players thrive in it, while others can do without it. In the case of my dear friends, they've removed winning as a condition for enjoyment and merely participate in Arenas with no expectations, instead enjoying the company of their real life friends while picking up Arena points and moderate ratings along the way. You can go either way. It sometimes happens that your friends in real life or in-game aren't as proficient in PvP but provide good ventrilo commentary and laughter. Go with what works.
For more serious Arenas, there are more options than ever when it comes to creating suitable conditions -- for one thing, players can transfer to any Battlegroup. If you want a challenge, you can transfer to the legendary Bloodlust Battlegroup, formerly known as BG9, where competition is intense and where it will take great effort to obtain end-of-season rewards. In the EU, I believe Bloodlust's equivalent is Cyclone, previously BG3. US Stormstrike also has a good reputation.
The other route works well, too. Transferring to a smaller or less famous Battlegroup will make it easier to obtain rankings that qualify for end-of-season rewards. Emberstorm has sometimes been regarded as the weakest Battlegroup. Whether fairly or unfairly, the Battlegroup's smaller Arena pool has allowed Gladiator at lower ratings compared to other Battlegroups. But make no mistake that it will take skill and talent to obtain top ranks regardless of Battlegroup.
Also, do your research. Find out which realm on which Battlegroup will be the most suitable for you. Find a team or transfer with friends. Some Battlegroups and realms have faction imbalances, so make sure to transfer to a Battlegroup that's hospitable to your faction. Faction imbalance is more apparent in Battleground play and can ruin your Battleground experience. Then again, even that is no longer a problem...
The new faction transfer service, extremely popular since it became available, now opens up more opportunities for players to find their perfect Arena team. Faction changes also make particular racial abilities available -- for example, Horde players can switch to Alliance to free up a trinket slot with Every Man For Himself, or get an extra anti-snare with Escape Artist. Alliance players can get an extra CC-break with Will of the Forsaken. None of these are game-breaking, but can sweeten the deal when changing sides.
Faction change is only one of the many options players have in creating conditions to make Arenas -- or playing WoW in general -- more palatable. You can choose to transfer to a realm or faction to play with friends, or play with dedicated PvP players, or both. Finding an Arena team is easier (if a bit more costly) than ever.
Playing Seasons Behind
On the other hand, it's completely feasible to forego Arenas altogether and settle for playing with gear that's two seasons behind. The gear disparity in Battlegrounds is large enough that it's not as critical to play with the most current PvP gear. In fact, many casual players can view the Battlegrounds as a refuge from the PvP arms race, where it's alright to play with a smattering of Deadly Gladiator gear.
The good news is that Deadly Gladiator items, once the pinnacle of PvP gear, are available through a number of means including purchase with Emblem of Conquest raid tokens. Season 5 set pieces have moderate Resilience and should work fine for Battleground play. The good news is that Furious Gladiator or Season 6 non-set pieces such as bracers, boots and belts are available purely for Honor, as well, so Battleground-exclusive players can still obtain gear that's just one season behind.
Speaking of playing one season behind, getting moderately decent ratings in Season 7 will allow the purchase of Season 6 Furious Gladiator gear, which is rather competitive. It's not bleeding edge PvP gear, but it's more than adequate for the Honor grind. It only takes a rating of 1350 to obtain Season 6 shoulders, and if you're truly averse to Arenas, all Furious Gladiator set pieces can be purchased with Emblems of Triumph. Even without PvPing, you can pretty much pick up everything you need to PvP (I know, it's kind of dumb).
Everything except the weapon, anyway. Unfortunately, all past season weapons have been removed from vendors, making Relentless Gladiator the only PvP weapon options for latecomers. Otherwise, players will have to source their weapons from raids or other means. The good news is that the new Arena weapons only require a personal and team rating of 1800, which is fairly attainable with a decent Arena team.
Arenas and you
Ultimately, it comes down to how badly you want to be on the cutting edge. If you're after any sort of end-of-season reward, obviously you'll need to buckle down to do Arenas seriously. For most casual PvPers and Battlegrounds enthusiasts, these will probably be off the table. I personally think getting into Arenas is part of the entire PvP experience, and therefore finding or setting up the best experience is crucial. Depending on your current situation in your realm, move elsewhere if you must. Find and play with friends or hardcore Arena players.
The bottom line is that obtaining the latest PvP gear necessitates Arena play. No matter how much you cozy up to Koralon, the only way to get the best-of-the-best gear is to Arena and to Arena well. Again, the good news is that relaxed Battlegrounds play doesn't demand that. So enjoy the new Arena season and let's lap up the rainfall of last season's gear Hard Off-style.