Listening Music: Kay Pettigrew's beautiful cover of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It's two years old, but still awesome nonetheless.
Recently, players have started asking me, "Where should I transfer before Cataclysm hits?"
There are so many variables involved in that question, it's hard to know where to start. After all, it's difficult to say a single realm name when I know very little about the inquiring individual. Most people like different things in different realms.
I assume the people asking me where to transfer to are probably inquiring about PvP. After I give a few tried-and-true strategies, I usually get asked about arena teams and battleground imbalances. To tell you the truth, I'm not exceptionally knowledgeable about whether Horde wins more Alterac Valleys on Emberstorm/Whirlwind than Alliance. Unless you play on that battlegroup, you probably don't know much about that, either.
Whenever I choose a new realm for one of my PvP alts, I systematically go through a series of checklists. This article is that checklist. If you're wondering about where to transfer for Cataclysm because you have battlegrounds or arena in mind, this article is for you.
Choose a data center
In my humble opinion, choosing a data center is the most important choice you should make when deciding where to PvP. Data centers are battlegroup clusters that are located geographically. For example, the Nightfall, Retaliation, and Stormstrike battlegroups are located in New York, while the Emberstorm and Whirlwind battlegroups are located in Phoenix.
The reason this matters at all is because of latency. If you live close to a data center, you will experience very little latency if you are on a battlegroup that is connected to that data center.
I'm in central Pennsylvania right now (shout out to Harrisburg / Hershey), so I play on New York data center battlegroups exclusively. I used to play on a Los Angeles battlegroup; the shift has improved my latency by over 200 MS. It can often be the difference between a Counterspell locking an opposing healer out of his spell school or just blanket silencing him for 4 seconds.
If you are geographically located in between two data centers, you have a very mixed blessing. If you're located in eastern Ohio, for instance, the New York and Chicago data centers will probably be able to accommodate you with very little change in latency between the two -- more options to choose from! Instead of being able to choose from three battlegroups with a good conscience, you're up to seven!
However, while you have more battlegroups to choose from with similar latency, your latency will unfortunately not be as awesome as it could be. Oh well -- we play the hands we are dealt to the best of our ability. Rejoice in your many "optimal" choices of battlegroups! A complete list of the data centers and their geographical location can be found here.
Arenajunkies has an awesome recruitment page. If you have a gladiator title or some awesome PvP cred, you'll want to head there after figuring out what data center is best for you. If you don't have any cool PvP titles but you're looking to improve your game, you can still find valuable information on guilds and what most PvPers look for in a partner or guildmate. You can also find similar-minded individuals and have a blast playing with them. I use the AJ recruitment tool every single time I change realms.
Choose a battlegroup
PvPers have already started a noticeable focus shift from arenas to battlegrounds. We're starting to care more and more about if Horde or Alliance is the correct choice on a particular battlegroup.
In the past, some battlegroups like Nightfall were completely dominated by one faction (in this case, Kel'thuzad Alliance). Bloodlust has had a similar reputation with Blackrock Horde. If you like being a particular faction because of a racial you've grown accustomed to (or a major city; I love Orgrimmar so much, no sarcasm), be sure to pick a battlegroup that has a faction imbalance in your favor.
Like many of you, I am concerned with how my chances fare at playing on an impressive rated battleground team. Yes, those concerns are there even for multi-gladiators (perhaps even more so, as we rank PvP prestige a bit higher). I'm currently shopping Stormstrike Horde (Mal'ganis to be exact) for my main PvP character, as it's the most active and arguably competitive battlegroup and realm. Plus, it has a Horde imbalance, which I am biased toward.
Here are some tips to finding out battleground information:
- Check out faction imbalances in battlegrounds (queue times and win ratios) by asking around on high-population realms. Trade chat is usually perfectly fine for this kind of thing.
- Be sure to check both Alliance and Horde. I've found Alliance usually gives more accurate information on trade chat, but that's just personal experience.
- Ask top players about arena at the high level, and be sure to ask multiple teams. They (like most players) will usually be happy to chat.
After shopping around battlegroups, try to narrow down a realm that you'd like to play on. Try to find out if the realm lines up with your secondary goals. For me, it's important that I'm able to have an important role in the realm's economy. Before I hit the gold cap, I was a prolific scribe. I didn't want to transfer anywhere where I would face stiff competition, especially from a gold-capped competitor. I would be lying if I said I didn't turn down a few offers because the auction house wasn't what I was looking for.
I also like high-population realms, as PUGs and arena teammates are easiest to find when you have a large pool of players to work with. Some people feel anonymous among a large group of players, and that doesn't sit well with them. That's cool -- go with what you want in a realm!
If you can't find an adequate home, try a different battlegroup. Keep your options open and keep doing your research. It will pay off, I assure you!
Sometimes, arena ladders on a battlegroup will be dominated by a single realm.
Mal'Ganis on Stormstrike, Kel'Thuzad on Nightfall, Rivendare on Emberstorm, Blackrock on Bloodlust -- these are just four examples of "PvP hubs" on particular battlegroups. It's not rare to see 10+ teams out of the top 20 on an arena ladder page from each of these realms.
The most active PvP players usually flock to high-population realms to play with other skilled and active players; this is nothing new. PvP hubs are fairly well known on nearly each battlegroup and it doesn't take that much time to do some research to figure out where they are. Go to your battlegroup's arena ladder page and start looking at the realm column; you'll probably notice a trend.
There are some exceptions in certain seasons. Occasionally, two or three realms will have an equal share of the top 20 or 40 teams. On these types of battlegroups, it's important to try to figure out why the top teams are successful. Is it because they just had an influx of recruits to that realm? If so, you might want to place that realm higher on your priority list, as those teams have likely not hit their plateau. Checking out how many teams are inactive or are incapable of ladder ascension is also important -- six to seven of the top 20 teams might only have one eligible player on them.
I have to admit, I love the "PvP hub" realm. I love being able to play with 20 different gladiators in the spam of a week. Not only does it make me a better player (as everyone has a different perspective to see my mistakes and critique me on them), but it allows me the best shot of a cool title that season. Often times, it's not the most skilled PvPer who achieves a nifty title, but individuals with the best connections (and there's nothing wrong with that). This is an article by itself, and one that I'd be happy to write sometime soon. Maybe I'll wait until Cataclysm is out.
Want to ascend the arena ladders faster than a fireman playing Donkey Kong? Read Blood Sport for pointers on arena play. Don't miss our interviews with successful arena PvPers, and see The Art of War(craft) for the inside line on battlegrounds and world PvP.