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The Art of War(craft): PvP in BlizzCon 2008

Zach Yonzon

I said it before and I'll say it again. I'm not a huge fan of the new gimmicky mechanics of the new Dalaran and Orgrimmar Arenas. Blizzard highlighted these features in the PvP panel earlier today. There really isn't anything new, as most of these features were touted at the Worldwide Invitational, except that this time there are now textures for the maps.

I'll concur that the new dynamic elements add a bit of fun and another layer of strategy to Arena matches. That said, it also brings in an unnecessary factor of RNG. If Arenas are to be truly a barometer of professional and competitive play, it should have as little gimmick elements as possible. In Arena terms, it should be something uncomplicated like a boxing ring or martial arts mat. The new maps are more like American Gladiators or Takeshi's Castle. On the other hand, that kind of format has higher entertainment value.

The good news is that the best players will know the timing of the moving pillars, flames, and water spouts and use it to their advantage. The bad news is that those elements will save a lot of lesser skilled players' lives and sometimes break heals or worse, land accidental killing blows. Being at 1% health and dying to a flame spout while trying to get away from an opponent would suck big time, especially in pro competition.

They talked a little more about Lake Wintergrasp, and I've detailed a few things we know about the zone. This is a huge project for Blizzard. It can't be underestimated just how important the zone is to the game. The place simply needs to be compelling enough for people to go there and duke it out, even in Normal or RP servers, otherwise Blizzard will have a dead zone the size of Westfall smack in the middle of the new continent. That's going to be very, very bad. What does this mean? This means that you can sure as hell bet that Blizzard will be pouring massive effort into getting this thing to work.

There's also the Strand of the Ancients, the new Battleground which is also an attack and defend scenario similar to Lake Wintergrasp. They're increasing the player limit from 10 to 15, which was somewhat expected considering how huge the map feels. In the Beta with only ten players per side, it felt empty and it was possible to mill about a lot without getting into combat. But there's combat, alright. Siege vehicles, stationary cannons, and if you have a penchant for blowing things up, bombs. It's seriously cool. You pick one up, you plop it down. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Boom. Bombs are the reason I pursued Engineering in the first place.

I haven't played the Battleground in a while, but what would be cool is persistent explosions as an ambient sound. Right now, the only explosions are the ones made by players in vehicles or with bombs. Having persistent bombs and mortar sounds will make it feel more like a D-Day scenario. If there's one major gripe I have about Strand of the Ancients, it's that it has even less personality than Eye of the Storm. I already hated the fact that Eye of the Storm is a fight for nothing. Draenei and Blood Elves send you to fight over some floating real estate and for what? Nothing.

Strand of the Ancients is even worse than that. There aren't even any factions associated with the thing. It's just some weird Titans-style buildings in an island in the middle of nowhere (there's no physical location for the Battleground, just like Eye of the Storm) and you start fighting over it. For what, exactly? I don't know. Nothing. It's just blowing things up. Attacking and defending for no rhyme or reason. I know some of you people think we PvP addicts are bloodthirsty barbarians who just like to kill stuff, but that's not true at all. We're bloodthirsty barbarians who like to kill stuff with meaning.

The true gem of the panel, of course, was a peek into the future of World of Warcraft PvP. Blizzard will be revisiting PvP itemization and assess how to properly distribute it. Right now the best PvP gear comes from the Arena format, which -- as Blizzard implicitly admitted -- wasn't popular with everyone. They realize that PvP enthusiasts come in different forms. Some like the Battlegrounds, others love Arenas, while some will gravitate towards Lake Wintergrasp while dislking the other forms of PvP. I actually enjoy all forms of PvP, so that wasn't really a concern for me.

But it is a real concern for many players and Blizzard promised (in a Blizzard sort of way) to find a way to award high end PvP gear through the Battlegrounds and not just through Arenas. This is awesome. The only barrier to this is being able to implement a system that tracks Battleground performance accurately, otherwise those lazy AFKing bums will be sitting their way to epics they don't deserve. A lot of factors come into play here... tracking performance in a pre-made, whether it's a full one or just a couple of players, as well as tracking PUG play. I like to PUG Battlegrounds most of the time, so I am thrilled at the thought of a system that will gauge my performance under those circumstances.

Go for flags? Deal lots of damage? Heal friends? Deal killing blows and rack up Honorable Kills? Check, check, check, and check. I want Blizzard to keep track of all that and credit me accordingly. As you can imagine, such a system would have to be massive and complex. The Arena format's ELO ratings system is retardedly simple by comparison. Tigole has already said that it won't be easy, but I'm thrilled -- ecstatic, actually -- that they're looking into it.

Guild or competitive Battlegrounds are also on the table, which should be awesome. This turns Battlegrounds into a fun activity for guilds almost at par with raiding. I know the slide says TBD (To Be Determined), which in Blizzard's glossary could mean a very, very long time, but the possibility is there and it's the first time they've acknowledged actively exploring it.

They also mentioned gaining experience in the Battlegrounds, which would be mind-blowingly cool. With the promise (there's that word again) of more Battlegrounds in the future, it would be possible to level up almost exclusively through PvP in the future. With Warhammer offering that feature, I'm more than open to the idea. It will probably enrage the twink community, but for someone who intends to spend more than half his time in the new Battleground and Wintergrasp in Wrath of the Lich King, leveling through PvP is an idea that couldn't come sooner.

Another idea that should be implemented as soon as possible is the ability to queue from anywhere in the world, because waiting times between queues are dead time. The only thing that saves PvP players from long queues now is Bejeweled. I mean, I love the Battlemasters and all -- I never could resist chatting up Yula -- but being able to queue for the Battlegrounds while doing dailies or farming is going to be so wicked that I might actually do dailies or farm.

More Battlegrounds. It just needs to be said one more time. Blizzard has largely ignored that aspect of the game because they believed that "players are the content". But as much as I love Warsong Gulch, I can only take so much of the map. I don't mind similar mechanics on a different map, for example. But for the love of the Light, I hope they put some effort into the Battleground's backstory. I'm not a huge lore nerd, but I do love a good story. I know Blizzard's concentrating on making all the cool stuff like buildings that blow up and stuff, but just how hard is it to give the Battleground some associated lore?

Arathi Basin, Alterac Valley, and Warsong Gulch were great Battlegrounds because they made you feel like a part of a story. You were fighting for something. Sure, most of the time when I'm in one, all I really want to do is mash some heads in... but you know what I mean. Bring back Battlegrounds reputation. Seriously. I have these Blood Elves reaping the benefits from my face-bashing in Netherstorm, but they don't ever give me any love (I'm looking at you, Yula)! What gives? Strand of the Ancients is cool and all, but it's an empty mini-game.

That's really part of why Arenas have bored me lately. Sure, I get my gear, I get an adrenaline rush (and some nerd rage), but at the end of the day it's some bloody cockfight for some Goblins' amusement. It's hollow. Alright, so maybe I'm more of a lore nerd that I'd like to admit, but the beautiful thing about World of Warcraft -- more than anything -- is the attention to detail. The little things. I like my PvP just fine, thank you, but I certainly wouldn't mind it fitting into my world a little more.

Zach Yonzon writes the weekly PvP column The Art of War(craft) in between rounds of Philippine poker with his buddies Lieutenant Murp and Yula the Fair. He's excited to log in on Tuesday and bash more heads in with his hammer.

Check out The Art of War(craft) and prep yourself for all the glorious PvP Achievements, since Patch 3.0.2 is right around the corner. You might also want to read all about PvP 3.0 and the long thoughts of Kalgan on the state of the game's PvP.

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