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The Art of War(craft): DotA-style Battleground in WotLK?

Zach Yonzon

My brothers are addicts. Actually, make that my brothers, my best friend, my brother-in-law, and more than a handful of other friends. Although most of them have played World of Warcraft at some point or the other, circumstances ranging from subscription fees and schedules have prohibited them from playing the game regularly. Instead, they get their Warcraft fix by playing DotA. A lot. For those unfamiliar with the term, DotA means Defense of the Ancients, a highly popular Warcraft III scenario developed by various independent authors. In the scenario, players control a single unit, a Hero -- one of about ninety as of version 6.52c -- that they use to combat waves of NPCs and take down enemy Heroes. They play DotA for hours on end every day, and if the rumors are true, it just might happen that their addiction just might become mine, as well.

Through one of the most thorough tips WoW Insider's ever gotten, reader Kevin breaks down some speculation that the new Battleground in Wrath of the Lich King will be DotA-inspired. In the slew of interviews that Blizzard granted in early May about the next expansion, Tom Chilton and Jeffrey Kaplan confirmed that they would be introducing a new Battleground in WotLK which "(is) set up as sort of an attack-defend scenario; features siege vehicles, and (has) destructible building components." Those nebulous answers are wide open for interpretation, but if I allow my Battleground-hungry self to dream, all those features can translate into a World of Warcraft DotA map.

All the necessary elements
Thinking about it, a DotA-style map has all the requisite elements for a perfectly balanced Battleground. For PvP addicts such as myself, a new Battleground is something we players have been clamoring for for a long time. To be quite honest, I would have been happy in the interim with new maps using the same mechanics as Arathi Basin or Warsong Gulch. But Blizzard was never a company to do anything half-heartedly, so a new Battleground would have to be something fresh, exciting, and -- more importantly -- balanced.

It took Blizzard years to come anywhere near balancing the ambitious Alterac Valley, and even now the map is still plagued with geographical balance pitfalls. Despite the numerous fixes, the company has come to realize that all Battlegrounds should be symmetrical to remove map imbalance from the equation. The DotA map -- a square zone with three pathways leading to and from opposing bases -- certainly fits this bill. DotA Allstars allows for up to ten players facing off against each other in teams of five where the objective is to destroy a building, or an "Ancient", in the center of the starting bases. A supposedly leaked picture of the new Battleground has three paths, too, similar to the DotA map. If the pic is real, then that's no coincidence.

Here's the kicker: a DotA-style Battleground is primed for eSport play. We all know how enamored Blizzard is with Arenas and how they've been hard at work trying to balance everything for eSport viability, even setting up dedicated realms for an Arena tournament. Well, DotA Allstars has been part of the World Cyber Games Asia since 2006. It's also in the line-up of the Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC) 2008, as well as recognized by several electronic sports leagues worldwide. An eSport-viable Battleground? I think I need to change my underpants now.

Similar to Arenas, DotA requires a lot of teamwork in order to win. The difference is that the game is won not necessarily (or merely) through combat -- though that's obviously part of the equation -- but achieving the map's objectives through strategy and teamwork. The map is the game, not just a scenario for a deathmatch. Despite some old protestations, I'm sure Battlegrounds fans everywhere are stoked at the possibilities. Is it even possible, though? Can a popular RTS map translate into an MMO Battleground? It certainly seems that way.

An easy jump to make
It's relatively easy for Blizzard to adapt what makes DotA Allstars work into a World of Warcraft Battleground. They've made symmetrical maps for Warsong Gulch and Eye of the Storm, so a new map that mimics DotA should be a simple thing. In fact, even the towers in DotA can be replicated through the new 'destructible buildings' feature that Blizzard plans to introduce in the new expansion. Our insightful tipster also pointed out that even the NPC armies that are so integral to DotA can be mimicked in World of Warcraft. Blizzard has gotten more and more creative with NPCs, creating armies that fight one another -- from the forces in Shadowmoon Valley, the heroes in Mount Hyjal, and even those poor murlocs who turn on their masters on the Isle of Quel'danas.

I don't want to get my hopes up -- I think it would be a truly awesome Battleground -- but all the tools are there to make it happen. If Blizzard does incorporate NPC armies, it has the potential to feel epic, and perhaps even succeed where Alterac Valley had failed. NPC armies will allow players to feel like heroes, and it will be rush-oriented. It will be the first Battleground driven by an NPC rush or assault. We've seen a similar mechanic at work in the fast-paced Caverns of Time instances, so it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to convert that to a PvP scenario.

A few hitches
Of course, it's not a completely faithful translation. In DotA, Heroes level up from Level 1 up to 25, and leveling faster than your opponents is part of the challenge. There are creeps all around the DotA Allstars map, and looting or earning Gold contributes to a player's strength in the game. In a Battleground, I'm not quite convinced that non-aligned mobs are a sensible thing. Remember Korrak the Bloodrager? I'm sure Blizzard could find a way to make it work if they needed to, though.

One of the coolest things in DotA which I think will be difficult to translate are the items that players purchase to give their Heroes an edge. An item called the Refresher Orb, for example, acts like Readiness or Cold Snap. Wouldn't you want to wield a weapon called Guinsoo's Scythe of Vyse? Even if you didn't, maybe you'd change your mind if you found out it turned opponents into Sheep. Getting these items is a bit like crafting those epic BoP Blacksmithing recipes, and part of the game's strategy is rushing up DotA's version of a tech tree and getting enough Gold to get specific items.

But haven't we already seen temporary items in the fight against Kael'thas? Blizzard can easily make items that despawn when you leave the Battleground. Even if the items weren't weapons, some cool Battleground-only consumables might spice things up. Blizzard has admitted that "gimmicks" don't work as well in balanced Arena matches. But in a Battleground with NPCs, towers, and hopefully siege weapons, it might not be a bad idea. Come to think of it, the siege vehicles that Blizzard teased us about could stand in place of those game-breaking items in DotA.

Battle ready
The more I think about it, the more excited I get. I've never been a huge fan of DotA, even when virtually all the LAN rooms in my country are filled with them -- more than Counter-Strike. I always preferred my RTS to have more micro-management and more units (Warcraft III), and I wanted more involvement in my Hero than just resetting it every game (World of Warcraft). But if the rumors are true and our tipster is on to something, I just might be able to get my friends and family back into WoW, subscription fees and hectic schedules be damned. Playing hours upon hours of a game that mixes all our favorite elements in a world setting we all love would be truly incredible.

Destructible buildings, siege tanks, assaulting armies, and Heroes -- that's you and me -- in the midst of it all. A DotA-style Battleground has the potential to be truly epic. How big will the Battleground be? 10 players? 15 as some reports have it? Or maybe even 25 or 40? If Blizzard manages to pull of the NPCs correctly, the game can be scaled up or down so smoothly it's not even funny. An assault-style Battleground with NPCs on the constant offensive can speed up gameplay the way the static armies in Alterac Valley slowed it down.

I was looking forward to Lake Wintergrasp, but this new Battleground looks more and more promising. There hasn't quite been any Alpha info about it yet, but considering that not all classes have been revamped, it's probable that there's little work done. But the groundwork is sure to be there. With Chilton and Kaplan teasing about an "attack and defend" scenario, we can only keep our fingers crossed!

Zach Yonzon writes the crazily irregular but full of PvP goodness column The Art of War(craft) in between feverish dreams of new Battlegrounds and mashing faces in with big hammers. He plans to make Lake Wintergrasp his new haunt and the new Battleground -- hopefully DotA-inspired -- his new grinding spot.
Interested in reading more about Zach's disordering of the senses or PvP rants? Check out The Art of War(craft), where he talks about choosing the right targets (hint: it's the squishy one) in PvP or how to prepare for the not-coming soon Arena Season 4.

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