But what does it all mean? What are the ramifications of these changes? Let's take a look at the pros and cons, and what the developers are trying to achieve.
The good things should be pretty obvious here. The developers' aim is to get more people doing arenas. The changes during Mists of Pandaria, since Brian Holinka came on board have been bold and exciting, and have all pushed towards a common goal of making rated PvP more accessible. The changes to resilience, and now the simplification of the rating system and the inclusion of cross-realm parties are all heading in that direction.
If you aren't aware, the current arena system is restricted by teams and battlegroups. Teams merit little explanation, but it's worth noting that with the current system players are tied to one team at a time, which can include double the number of players in the composition. So a 2v2 team can have four players, a 3v3 team can have six, a 5v5 team can have ten on the roster. Nonetheless, if players wanted to switch teams to play with friends, they would have to abandon one team to join another, and worse, risk losing rating. This is no longer a concern.
Instead of teams, players now have groups. So if you want to queue for 2v2, you simply create a group of 2 players, and queue up. Similarly, 3v3 simply requires a group of 3, and 5v5 a group of 5. There is no restriction other than that, no need to name a team, no need to queue with the same people every time, or indeed ever again, and no need to worry about rating reductions on team-swapping.
Rating is one of the big changes coming with this new system, with a shift away from the complex system we're in now. This fits neatly, in my opinion, into both the good and bad sections of the changes. Firstly, with the disappearance of teams, team rating has gone the way of the dodo. This used to be how your conquest cap was calculated each week, with a rating over around 1600 awarding an inflated cap. This will now change to be based on your personal rating. Personal rating always existed, too, particularly in the context of rated battlegrounds, but will now be the main way that points and the like are calculated. This is quite a simplification, and the removal of parallel systems is a good thing for the overall state of the game and the ease of comprehension.
However, MMR remains in place. This is a constant cause of confusion, but cannot really be removed, as it is a pretty necessary method for putting together bouts. MMR stands for matchmaking rating, and is the rating attached to both players and teams in the current system to match you against similarly skilled players. Players currently have a "hidden" personal MMR, which is calculated based on their personal win-loss against other players, and this MMR will replace team MMRs in patch 5.4, becoming the only way in which matches are made. But what about team matches? They will be based off an average of the MMR of all the players in the group. This means that player MMR is the key to matchmaking.
So, what are the pros and cons of the new rating system? Essentially, a big concern here is exploitation. Exploitation via boosting, particularly, is likely to increase, simply because it is that much easier to do it now. Previously, a player would have to create a team, and ensure that the people being boosted had 25% of the games in that team under their belt before their rating and resultant reward was established. Now, all boosters have to do is carry the relevant client up to a high enough rating, then leave that character there and move on.
The arena ladder will also become subject to the same issues as the RBG ladder, and while arenas have been far from exploit-free, the RBG ladder appears to have greater vulnerabilities. But, the question is, is the perceived threat of exploitation sufficient to prevent the developers from taking steps that open up the PvP game to new players? The answer appears to be an emphatic no.
I don't want to be overly negative about the changes. Overall, I think they're great, but there are some troublesome niggles that I just can't quite get out of my head. The first is the removal of teams. I will miss teams terribly come patch 5.4, I will miss the camaraderie and the friendship and the feeling of being in something together. Notice how these are all subjective, personal notions, but they are real nonetheless. It seems to me that a better solution might have been to have players able to join several different teams, up to five for example, and run the team rating off the average MMR of its members. While such a system might have presented some difficulty in calculating MMR and rating, it might nonetheless have offered the best of both worlds.
I am disappointed that there is not a solo queue or unrated skirmish system in place yet. It seems fairly logical that the very best way to get players into starting PvP is not to make rated arena access easier, but to make a less pressured environment for players to learn in that doesn't require pre-made groups. The War Game system never filled the gap that skirmishes left, but it seems from Holinka's twitter activity that a skirmish-type system may well still be in the works.
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