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The case for catch-up loot

Matthew Rossi
I talked a while back about catch-up dungeons. Now, we'll talk about the more basic issue - why have 'catch up' mechanisms at all? Why have gear that exists so you can skip content? Recently Celestalon responded to this question on twitter and his answers are very, very interesting to me.
This idea of playerbase consolidation reminds me, as it always does whenever anyone brings it up, of the old days of Vanilla and BC raiding. That's how you can tell I'm crazy old - everything reminds me of something that happened years ago. But in this case it's apt. Back in Vanilla, there basically weren't any catch-up mechanisms. If you wanted to join a raiding guild that was clearing Blackwing Lair, if you hadn't set foot in Molten Core yet, you probably simply weren't getting in, and if you did, you'd likely end up being dragged through several MC and Onyxia runs (assuming you didn't have to get attuned) to get you caught up on gear. Often guilds didn't really want to do that, so if they didn't, you were basically out of luck. The 20 man raids Zul'Gurub and AQ20 served as stopgaps, with gear that could help, but it wasn't enough in many cases.

BC improved this to a degree. There were still attunements for a while, but guilds could at least rely on the Badge of Justice mechanic and get newer players geared up faster. I actually took some time off playing WoW after Vanilla ended and didn't start raiding in BC until my then-guild was working on the Tier 5 raids (Tempest Keep and Serpentshrine Cavern) and so, in order to get ready to join them, I ran a ton of Karazhan and heroic dungeons and bought tanking gear off of the Justice vendors - I ended up still having to tank in Zul'Aman with a green tanking ring and belt and a bunch of dungeon blues on, but at least I had some gear by that point.

Since those days, we've seen various mechanisms (Wrath and Cataclysm's patch five mans, Mists with justice and honor gear and the Timeless Isle) to allow players to get caught up to current content. And to my mind, while I'm not always on board with the specific way it's implemented, it's the best change imaginable for a variety of reasons.

So what are my reasons for enthusiastically supporting catch-up loot? Here's a few:
  • It's good for guild recruitment. Yes, you want people to have raiding experience (an applicant with current experience matching your guild's is a godsend) but sometimes you get an app who is returning to the game and simply hasn't been playing recently, but has the kind of resume that says "get this person" - maybe it's a returning player you know rocked it, or a person with a ton of realm firsts who raid led the hardest Cataclysm content, or just an all-around great player you want to play with. Having loot that gets them into the same general ballpark as everyone else is very, very helpful here.
  • It fills gearing holes. I was a main spec tank back in Wrath - my tank set was as current and well maintained as I could get it, but my DPS set was 'catch as catch can'. Having a place to get better catch up pieces, especially things like trinkets, made a huge difference on nights I went offspec for whatever reason.
  • It reduces guild tensions. People don't want to go back and run old content as a guild to catch up one new person. In some cases it wastes guild progression time - no one wants to spend one raid night out of three, when new bosses are being worked on, and go back to content the guild as a whole has defeated just to get New Mage up to speed. But getting a couple of people together to run five mans, or allowing New Mage the option to farm some gear somewhere else? It's almost always easier to get a smaller group together for that.
  • It lets players demonstrate initiative. Players who haven't done much raiding in current content who app to raid with the best possible gear they can, even if it isn't raid gear, show that they're serious about their app. It shows that they will put the time in, and that they have an idea what they should be doing.
  • Catch-up loot lets new players progress. Some players will never raid. Having gear options outside of raiding - be they dungeons, Justice/Valor vendors, or grinds like the Timeless Isle - lets them progress without forcing them to raid. And even non-raiders like to feel progressively stronger as an expansion unfolds - why not let them have a way to achieve that?
There are more reasons, these are just a few I thought of. The point is, catch up gear is a benefit to the game as a whole. Yes, it does mean a lot less of having to run Karazhan to run Tempest Keep and SSC to run ZA to run Black Temple - there were guilds on my server in the BC days that were clearing Sunwell and other guilds that were still working on Gruul's Lair. But the Sunwell clearing guilds always ended up with huge recruitment holes, while the guilds back at Gruul wanted to progress, but had to keep plugging away at outdated content because they'd started up later or lost players to those desperate guilds on later content - an unpleasant situation for all.

Having been the undergeared player a guild took a chance on, I know I appreciated being able to do something to get my gear up to the level needed for the content they were on. Catch up gear simply works.

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