No more gear parity
Previously, the penalty for not doing very well in the Arena system was merely a slow acquisition of Arena points. This meant that players who didn't perform too well would get gear at an extremely slow pace, and teams averaging 1500-1600 only get current season upgrades from Arenas every 5 to 6 weeks -- 9 to 11 weeks for the weapons -- which isn't an easy grind by any means. In practical terms, the delay in acquisition should be enough of a penalty for low ranking teams. With a long enough season and with prudent points banking, eventually most players will be identically geared. In theory, this should be a good thing. This is what the Tournament Realm attempts to achieve -- gear parity. With the introduction of the new PvP gear system, gear parity will be impossible to achieve, no matter how long the Arena season runs.
In many ways, this caters to the philosophy that PvP gear is peacock gear. Blizzard made clear that the introduction of the 2000 personal ratings requirement for the shoulder was because they were, "in (Blizzard's) opinion, the most visually impacting item and we wanted something visual that can distinguish those who are performing well in the arenas." Salthem continues in the same thread that the shoulders are "not substantial stat-wise, and for those without the shoulders the set bonuses can still be achieved." It's no longer as easy to achieve with Season 4 gear, however. But because Gladiator armor pieces from all seasons are considered to be part of the same set, it's possible to get the set bonuses using pieces from past seasons.
The good will only get better
What Blizzard isn't saying out loud, however, is that Season 4 items are significant upgrades from all other Arena seasons. If the leaked items make it to live, these will be Sunwell Plataeu-class Level 159 gear, with massive statistical improvements over their predecessors. In particular, if one of the leaked items -- the Brutal Gladiator's Greatsword -- makes it to live in its current iteration, we'll see a 10.4 DPS increase over the Vengeful Gladiator's Greatsword. A top end damage of 624 is also an incredible upgrade over the previous season's 580. Under Season 4's new rating scheme, only players -- and teams -- with a rating of 2050 will be eligible to purchase the weapon. Although only one example, it stands to reason that this will apply to other Season 4 Arena (Brutal Gladiator) and Honor (Guardian) items.
What does this mean? Because weapons are integral to many classes as part of their damage-dealing ability, it means that players who achieve a high enough rating to purchase Season 4 weapons will see a significant upgrade to their DPS that even players decked in Season 3 items simply won't be able to match. Players who are unable to advance through the Arena system will not only gear up slower, they will possibly not even be able to gear up at all.
With the advent of Season 4 and the new ratings requirements, Blizzard is creating a true barrier of entry for all players whereby obtaining the new items are extremely prohibitive. Average players will be able to obtain 3-4 pieces of Season 4 items at best throughout the season, with most players never reaching past 1700 personal and team ratings.
The new rules were intended to curb arena point selling as players who have ratings 150 points below the team's ratings will earn Arena points based on their personal ratings. This prevents high rated teams from opening up spots on their roster for point buyers who will enter the team with a 1500 rating. This slows legitimate roster replacements, but those players who stay with one team will eventually close the ratings gap with enough games.
Settling for less
With the new system, Blizzard is essentially forcing a majority of players to purchase last season's gear. Although with some focus, it is relatively easy to obtain a 1700 personal and team rating, most players will be completely shut out from obtaining the best gear possible. The logical reasoning for this is because Season 4 is an on-level equivalent for Sunwell Plateau or the unofficial Tier 7 gear. As far as gear progression is concerned, most players in the world will never get to see Sunwell Plateau content, and consequently never obtain Level 159 gear.
Placing ratings requirements for Season 4 items will severely limit gear distribution among players, elevating the difficulty of obtaining (a full set of) Season 4 gear to be on par with progressing in PvE. This is a good thing. This rewards efforts for hardcore PvP and PvE players. The continued availability of last season's gear will enable a majority of players to stay competitive even if not completely bleeding edge. PvP is still a completely viable means of obtaining excellent gear, but Blizzard has imposed a clear delineation for gear progression based on performance.
As Season 2 Merciless Gladiator gear becomes available for Honor and Season 1 phased out forever, players will still have the option and opportunity to upgrade their existing gear. Despite the stringent new rules, the only gear that will be truly out of reach for a majority of players are the "visually impacting" shoulders and to a lesser degree the weapons. It seems to be a step backwards from Blizzard's recent trend of catering to the casual game. More than anything, the change is intended for the hardcore.
Forced to Arena
The one unsettling bit of information with Drysc's announcement is the addition of personal and team ratings requirements for Honor-purchasable gear. This means that the lines between Battlegrounds and Arenas have begun to blur. It will no longer be possible for players to grind through the Battlegrounds without stepping into Arenas in order to get the best non-set pieces of PvP gear. This has caused a stir among the player community for a number of reasons.
First of all, not everyone is interested in Arenas. Some players feel that they don't enjoy the competitive environment of Arenas but thrive on the more casual environment of the Battlegrounds and are rewarded with decent gear. With the introduction of ratings requirements, players have no choice but to participate -- and succeed -- in Arenas, in order to avail of the equipment.
The real problem is that not all classes are viable for Arenas while all classes can perform in Battlegrounds, even in varying degrees, where performance isn't as measured or important. This devalues Honor points and forces players to compete in a group environment whereas Battlegrounds can be queued into solo. Arenas are an organized game, requiring scheduled play time, coordination, and -- often -- voice communication, in addition the the requisite skill and gear.
Battlegrounds and Honor are now a mere accessory to the completion of Arena-viable gear. With the latest change, Blizzard is sending a message about their new infatuation. Ironically, by making the best Arena gear restrictive, they run the risk of alienating a larger, casual audience that has been, by their own admission, participating in Arenas (with little to moderate success) in order to get gear. Ratings requirements for most gear can prove to be a disincentive for many players from even participating in Arenas.
Will Arena Season 4 prove to be as successful as the past seasons? Despite true competitive Arena play formally available through the Tournament Realm, Blizzard seems intent on making the Arena scene on the live realms as formal and hardcore. If this proposed change makes it live, it remains to be seen whether it will create more demand for Arenas or if it will drive people away.