One of the coolest new features in Cataclysm PvP is how players can now scrimmage against one another in non-rated, no-bearing battleground matches by participating in war games. In order to play war games, two group leaders -- presumably having identical-sized teams -- first agree upon a battleground. One group leader will then select the other and press the War Game button in the Honor tab of the PvP interface. These skirmishes are great for testing out strategies and getting players familiar with the battlefield, especially with new maps such as Twin Peaks and the Battle for Gilneas.
Practice, practice, practice. Sure, rated battlegrounds are casual. Sure, they're made to be enjoyed by PUGs. But there's nothing like the joy of having a well-oiled battleground kill crew to win games with. Use the War Game feature to try out new ideas or even new player abilities. You can work together with the opposing team to explore strategies or duke it out in earnest. War games are excellent opportunities to time certain things, such as how fast players can get to certain nodes. It's also an excellent opportunity for you to see how your group performs and how well it can respond to instructions.
With the distinct possibility of new maps being added throughout the expansion, this is an amazing feature to have. Players won't have any excuse for not knowing how to play a particular map, because they can participate in war games. Presumably, you can also run war games with fewer players than are actually required for a rated match, which makes them a good way to kill time while waiting for groups to complete. They're such a great feature that I can see groups of people just playing battlegrounds against other groups for the sheer fun of it.
Get your guild in on the action. While rated battlegrounds will be open to PUGs and other casual groups, your best bet for getting a regular crew is to get your guild to participate. As I'd mentioned, achievements and leveling are great incentives for guilds to participate in battlegrounds play. It's also a great way to earn recognition as a guild -- battegroups will be meshed in Cataclysm for battlegrounds, which means all players in a particular region will have the opportunity to clash with other players from all battlegroups. This means that there will be virtually no more wait time for rated games because of the sheer number of players involved.
Rated battlegrounds also bring back some realm recognition as each battleground group is comprised of players from one realm. This should be pretty exciting because it quite literally opens up whole new worlds of PvP. Faction dominance in a battlegroup will be irrelevant, as will reputations for poor performance and vice versa. Battleground groups will be matched up against equally skilled opponents from across the entire region! That's just plain cool. As I mentioned last week, there are few things more badass than an entire guild riding into battle on the same mount with their guild banners flying high. You're very likely to encounter these guilds, too, simply because a cross-battlegroup is just too huge. Imagine 10 or 15 armored scorpions cresting over a hill!
You are ... prepared!
Patch 4.0 is right around the corner, which means Cataclysm can't be very far behind. It's a good bet that Blizzard will announce the release date of Cataclysm during BlizzCon, which I'm guessing means we probably have little over a month or so before all this takes place. That's exciting as all heck. The next PvP season will probably begin a month or so into the launch of Cataclysm, after a good number of people have hit level 85. This means you've got to get ready to jump in as soon as the season begins in order to get ahead on gear acquisition.
Get to max level. Needless to say, the first thing to do is to get to level 85. Although you can opt to reroll from scratch, it's extremely likely that Blizzard will allow conversion to the new races at launch, so unless you plan to level a character class you don't already have, you're probably better off ponying up for character re-customization if you want to play one of the new races. Getting a character or two to max level before the new PvP season starts should allow you to participate in rated battlegrounds as soon as they become available.
Invest in your gear. In order to get optimum performance in PvP, you'll have to invest in gear -- and I mean both in game and in your gaming hardware. I've stressed the importance of having a good gaming machine, but more than anything, if you want to run your own battleground group, you'll need to invest in a good headset. Ventrilo or some other VoIP program should be required to orchestrate a proper battleground match and all members of a group should have it. For members of a group who won't need to issue orders, a headset is optional. But for battleground leaders and their lieutenants, good headsets or at least a decent noise-canceling mic is mandatory.
As far as in-game gear is concerned, Blizzard has always made good on its promise to make gear accessible to players. This indicates that there'll be a good bunch of craftable items with resilience that players can obtain prior to hitting max level, similar to the blue crafted sets in Wrath of the Lich King. While you don't necessarily have to get this starter PvP gear -- especially in light of the changes to resilience -- it won't hurt to have a completely PvP mindset heading in. By the time Cataclysm is out, you should already have stockpiled honor points to spend for whatever max-level gear will be available. At the very least, if it's available for honor, purchase the level 85 version of the PvP trinket.
If you're slacking off in the game right now, get back into the game and get a move on. The new patch will drop on our heads like a bomb when we least expect it, so don't say I didn't warn you. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get some battlegrounds time on my shaman ...
Zach delivers your weekly dose of battlegrounds and world PvP in one crazy column. Find out how the Cataclysm talent tree redesign affects PvP, how sub-speccing will work at higher levels in the expansion, and how the new Azeroth will affect world PvP. Visit Blood Sport for the inside line on arena PvP.