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Blood Sport: Arena-weary

Zach Yonzon

It happens from time to time. Players get tired. Whether it's from raiding or PvP or just playing the game in general, there comes a low point where you just feel like taking a break. Right now, I'm just about tired of Arenas. This comes after a long wait for Season 4 to start. It just doesn't feel as fun anymore and even a little stale. Nothing significant has changed from the last Season, with the biggest -- if it can be called that -- class balance change coming in the form of a nerf to Cheat Death. Class representation hasn't changed, with Druids, Rogues, and Warriors still generally on top of the 2v2 and 3v3 food chain.

I write this knowing that two classes I play -- Paladin and Shaman -- are bottom-feeders in the 2000+ range in 2v2 and 3v3 brackets (along with, you guessed it, Hunters). That's fine. I know my classes' places in the hierarchy of Arena viability. Pro player Serennia's poor and embarrassing use of the Paladin at MLG Orlando only further exposed the problems of the class in the 3v3 format. That's the reality, and I've dealt with it for the past seasons. I concentrate on our 5v5 where those classes are more viable, get my points, get my gear, and that's that. But therein lies the problem -- that's that. Nothing more.

With Wrath of the Lich King looming on the horizon, Blizzard looks content with balancing PvP and Arenas (they're not always mutually inclusive...) when the expansion comes. For example, their fix to Shadow Priests comes in the form of Dispersion, a 51-point talent in Wrath, while Hunters will get a lot more peeling options with various pet abilities. And guess what Blizzard's answer is to Line-of-Sight issues -- gimmick Arena maps with moving pillars. Ugh. This means that the status quo will remain in place for a few more months, at least, and likely all throughout the remainder of Season 4.

This means that Arena gameplay has plateaued. Aside from slightly softer Rogues, there's nothing new about the Arena experience. Blizzard has had knee-jerk reactions to Arena performance, as when they nerfed Blessing of Freedom and Sacrifice after Paladins (partnered with Warriors) dominated Season 1. They even nerfed water as a response to burst drinking. Blizzard has made little tweaks and changes to address class balance over the course of four seasons, but with no major content patches in the works, it seems like Arena play has finally settled in its final, pre-Wrath form.

Blizzard has announced that there will be no new rewards for the Level 70 Arena bracket, and that the Brutal Gladiator and Guardian sets are the final wave of PvP gear we'll see before Wrath of the Lich King. Rated matches will only happen at Levels 70 and 80, with only skirmishes allowed for Level 71-79 (much like it was early on during The Burning Crusade).

In a way it's anti-climactic. Disappointing, even. With the release of Wrath likely to coincide with the end of Season 4, this season's crop of Gladiators won't even get to enjoy their armored nether drakes for another seven levels. The way Arena progression is designed, players gear up through one season to prepare for the next. However, with Season 4 being the last Level 70 season, all Brutal Gladiator gear is merely a means to prevent clownage. In fact, with the unattractiveness of Season 4 gear, I'm not even sure that's a good motivator.

The fact is, I'm quite happy with Season 3 armor. The Shaman's red version of the Skyshatter looks so awesome I'm not entirely sold on replacing any of the visible parts. The weapons are definitely worth the purchase, but other than that, there's no longer anything truly compelling about playing Arenas for me. It's actually become a chore to have to log in at a specific time, play games, and collect points and push up ratings. It's become like a job. The last thing I want about the game I play is for it to feel like work. Right now I'm just not enjoying myself in Arenas the same way I have been these past few seasons.

A big reason for this is probably Wrath of the Lich King. With so many interesting and promising changes in the works, it's really no wonder I'm feeling so much ennui. I plodded through some Battlegrounds over the weekend and all I could think of during the times I had a full-duration Hamstring on me was, "where's my new Divine Purpose?" All I could think about was the future, which is a terrible mindset to have as a competitor. It should always be one match at a time. In sports, the moment you think about the next season, you lose focus on the current game and you will most likely lose.

Beyond gearing up for Northrend, is there anything really compelling about Arena Season 4? The Gladiator title will merely be a reminder of a legacy Arena system that was unfriendly to so many specs and classes. For many serious PvP players, the true goal is to master the Arenas at Level 80, where it should -- if Blizzard does their job right -- be a better representation of skill and not greatly affected by class and spec viability. I mean, it probably shouldn't surprise anyone that the most number of Season 4 shoulders belong to... you guessed it, Druids.

In some ways, this is why the Battlegrounds are so refreshing. Hunters perform reasonably well in them. It brings a smile to my face whenever I read "I <insert expletive here> HATE Hunters!" in /bg chat. I enjoy seeing Shadow Priests and Feral Druids wreak havoc in the Battlegrounds because it's such an uncommon sight in high level Arena play. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, it just doesn't happen as often.

There's more to this sense of boredom than dissatisfaction over class balance and representation in the Arena format. I started playing Arenas knowing all this and kept a close eye on spec viability. I swallowed that pill a long time ago. Right now, however, it's just gotten to the point that there's nothing truly attractive about Arena play, not even the gear. If Achievements were in the game, we would've unlocked more than a few like Brutally Dedicated or Hot Hot Hot Streaks. But they're not, and none of these games we're playing now amount to anything more than a point grind. A routine. A job.

In the end, Season 4 feels like the most hollow Arena season because it's a transitional one. The next important Arena Season is for Level 80 players, and all the gear I get from this season will be used in a leveling rush to 80 and not mostly for PvP. Sure, it will help make the grind easier, but the point is that I'm accumulating PvP gear because I want to PvP. When this season ends and Wrath breaks, I'll be using this gear to level up instead, which is nice and all, but defeats the true purpose of the gear. Using Brutal Gladiator gear to PvP while the whole world is rushing to Level 80 is counterproductive, specially when the most complete experience of PvP is at max level. Of course, even after writing this, I'll probably still play Arenas because, after all, what else is there to do until the system changes?

Are you a fan of Arenas and not quite as tired of it as Zach is right now? Check out Blood Sport, WoW Insider's guide to Arena PvP. Read Michael Gray's guide to gear decisions in Season 4, or Amanda Dean's examination of the drain team.

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