This little thing called patch 3.3 came out some time back, maybe you'd heard. I had planned it to be my return from an unintentionally self-imposed hiatus from hardcore play, considering that all the tools would now be in place to allow all players of all gear levels to catch up the the penultimate level of content. It was a good plan, except that a few things here and there kept me from jumping right into it when the Fall of the Lich King went live.
The new Dungeon Finder system is getting rave reviews from everyone who's tried it. I think it's an awesome tool -- quite possibly one of the best things to happen to the game. The coolest thing about it for me is that the concept stemmed from the Battlegrounds! That's right... the Battlegroup-wide grouping system is inspired by the way Battlegrounds get players from various realms from way back since Patch 1.12 in 2006. Who'd have thunk it, right? The rest of the PvE population getting something good -- something really, really good -- from the PvP aspect of the game.
Blizzard has been cleverly trying to sprinkle PvP elements into the PvE side of the game, such as the Princess Delrissa encounter in Magisters' Terrace, and its more recent, scaled-up version, the Faction Champions in the Trial of the Crusader. If the message isn't already clear, Blizzard is trying to make you like PvP. At any rate, this whole new PUG craze is a happy byproduct of the cross-realm Battleground system. The only difference is, in Battlegrounds, group composition isn't as important.
This is why I was a little apprehensive trying to play again. The thing is, I'd practically retired from raiding midway through Ulduar, sometime back in July. I stopped playing regularly and only logged in on my main for the occasional game of Wintergrasp or a string of Battleground matches. I had gone from raider to slacker over the course of a few months. Essentially, my raiding skills eroded significantly. Admittedly, my PvP game slacked off, too, and I was a little surprised to be clashing head on against players with significantly more health, a reminder of how far behind one can fall when going on a hiatus.
A lot of things can erode with a loss of playing time, and a lot of things in the game can definitely change after five months. For one thing, the DPS rotations on my death knight aren't quite how I remember them at all. The good news is that there's always WoW.com to keep me up to speed on things (it's never a bad thing to plug your blog), which is how I knew -- aside from logging in a bit of playtime on the PTR -- that the new Dungeon Finder System is the bee's knees.
Here's the dilemma: I'm rusty. And I mean so rusty that when I logged my death knight back on to unlearn my talents and get a new build, I asked a city guard to direct me to a class trainer. If you don't have a death knight, you probably won't see the problem. On the other hand, a lot of players will snicker at that display of newbness -- death knights have a lifetime membership and free pass to that exclusive club in the sky, Ebon Hold. Yup, so rusty that I forgot even that.
So rusty, in fact, that when I logged on my hunter to explore Icecrown for a little reference research, my first instinct when I got Abomination aggro was to run. Sure, I threw a trap -- a Frost Trap instead of the Freezing Trap I originally intended (they're both ice icons, cut me a little slack!) -- but I also forgot that it had been so long since I'd played that lovable troll that there was a talent reset somewhere along the way. I eventually escaped that undead monstrosity after finally figuring out what hotkey I'd bound Feign Death to, and only after my troll got dangerously close to actual death.
Now you can probably understand my apprehension. Amazing as the new LFG tool is, I'd degraded to the kind of player I would've voted to kick out of a group five months ago. From kicking pre-nerf Mimiron butt to getting my own butt kicked by slippage. So what's the solution? Blizzard designed the new LFG tool precisely for casuals like myself to be able to catch up on the newest content. I appreciate the gesture, but I'm not exactly in the best shape to socialize. And I don't think I want to spend $10 on name changes just so people don't recognize the horrendous player they'd just grouped with.
So what's the solution? Well, interestingly, it comes back to the Battlegrounds. More than any other instanced content in the game, Battlegrounds are friendly to players of all skill levels. It's also precisely why some so-called 'hardcore' PvP players hate them -- they're so accommodating to newbies.
In truth, the unrated Battlegrounds are the last bastion of true casuals. You are free from the scrutiny of the dreaded Gearscore, something that I have grumbling words for but in the same breath acknowledge as a partially useful and relevant tool (that merits a post in itself, actually, but that's for another time). So here I was, formerly hardcore raider fretting -- no, staining my shorts at the thought of being put under the microscope for having gear two patches old. Let's not even mention that I was still getting my Plague Strikes and Scourge Strikes in the wrong order sometimes (disparate opening and subsequent rotations can be a pain in the butt!).
Just as the Battlegrounds are the haven of casual players, they're the greatest training grounds for newbies and a fantastic refresher on how to play. Sure, most players will use different skill sets, but for the most part you'll be able to refresh your muscle memory and re-train your responses with very little consequence. Dying in the Battlegrounds inflict no durability loss, and failing to play things right won't result in your group wiping. You won't get pinpointed for blame half as much as you would if you were in one of those newfangled cross-realm PUGs.
The Battlegrounds are the next step after getting your rotations down pat with a training dummy. My point is that before you buckle down to abuse the new Dungeon Finder system, why don't you give the Battlegrounds a whirl? The new daily quest also awards a fairly modest 25 Arena points, too, so even the most casual of casuals will get some Arena incentives, too (we'll conveniently ignore the fact that you'll need ratings for most items).
The Battlegrounds as a training grounds for players who've just hit max level and ready to explore all that rich endgame content. It's excellent training for players who want to dust off those cobwebs. It's an excellent primer for those who are just itching to use the new Dungeon Finder but are wary (and justly so!) of getting the collective boot! It allows players to reacquaint themselves with their characters without fear of aggroing stray abominations. Heck, if all hell breaks loose, hide in some corner and look for where your keybound that PvP trinket.
I don't think I've ever appreciated the Battlegrounds more. As friendly as the new system is, you just don't go into it willy-nilly. As 20% of a group, you're accountable for a lot more than just guarding the farm flag. The Battlegrounds is an excellent place to -- I hate to say it -- be a little out of sorts. I mean, more than most content in the game (even more than soloing random mobs, which can go all sorts of wrong and cost you gold), the Battlegrounds are very forgiving.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for organized, learned play. I love hardcore PvP. And I definitely want Battleground matches to go the right way. Just like a lot of other people, I hated it when players mucked around "my" Battleground like headless chickens. But oh, how our fortunes change. I see it from the other side of the fence now. And it's not so bad. When I finally get my groove back, I think I'll just chuckle a little when players mount up while carrying the flag or stand aimlessly for a while (they might be looking for that special spell, after all). It's all good, it's all for fun. No need to pop a vein, these aren't Arenas.
Of course, I'm saying this now because of the catch-up quagmire I'm in. Check back on me in a few weeks after I've ground all my characters shiny new pieces of Tier 9 and sexy, last-season Furious Gladiator gear (which can be conveniently purchased with Emblems of Triumph)... if I've got my asshat face on, please slap me silly and remind me of my roots.