David Bowers wrote an excellent, thoroughly analyzed article about the map imbalance in Alterac Valley. His point is relatively simple: under the new Reinforcement mechanics, the map favors the Horde. He posits that, should the Horde play their best game, the Alliance will not be able to win in Alterac Valley. In fact, according to reports, Alliance in some Battlegroups have boycotted AV altogether. When I first read David's article -- a great read I highly recommend to anyone, by the way -- my initial response was a slight befuddlement. You see, in my Battlegroup, the Alliance win their fair share of Alterac Valley.
In fact, if we go over to Warcraft Realms, we'll see that the Alliance win quite a good number of AV games, too. Furthermore, in some Battlegroups, they completely dominate Alterac Valley. Maybe the Horde of those Battlegroups should read David's article. In it, David outlines how the new Reinforcement mechanic favors the Horde because the map design allows Horde players to reach Stonehearth Bunker, a key objective that awards +63 Honor when burned and eliminates 75 Reinforcements, before the Alliance can reach Iceblood Tower. The new Reinforcement mechanic also makes Iceblood Graveyard a critical defensive bastion that, if defended fully, supposedly prevents the Alliance from getting any Honor from Alterac Valley.
What QQ Can Get You
The situation became so bad for some Battlegroups such as Stormstrike and Bloodlust (the vaunted BG9) that Alliance stopped queuing for Alterac Valley altogether. With so much Alliance QQ, Blizzard quickly hotfixed Balinda and Vanndar and went to work on more fixes for Alterac Valley. It's a considerably rapid response by Blizzard's standards. This bothers me on several levels. First of all, Alterac Valley has geographically favored the Alliance ever since its inception. This is just a fact. Stormpike Graveyard is the most fortified objective in the game as it is uphill and flanked by ridges from which Alliance can situate themselves to snipe assaulting Horde. It is followed by the Dun Baldar bridge, which is a true bottleneck as opposed to the Iceblood pass because it's a bridge. You can't go around it. You will fall. In fact, it's such a notorious imbalance that Wing Commander Ichman references it in the quest he gives out in Shadowmoon Valley. He states, "War isn't fair! To hell with 'em all!"
That pretty much summed up how Blizzard treated the AV map imbalance for quite some time. It was only in Patch 2.3, over two years after Alterac Valley was released, that drastic balance changes were made. Before the changes, Kalgan went on the record to state that Alliance won as much as 75% to 80% of AV games while win-loss ratios in other BGs were just about even, indicating that the problem was with the map. A few changes were made in Patch 2.2, which Kalgan reported drew the gap closer to Alliance winning about 60% of AV matches. On the horizon, however, looms more changes to Alterac Valley, mere months after Patch 2.3 and the Alliance boycotts. Blizzard moving at blazing speed? Uncanny!
Without Even Trying
The good news is, Blizzard seems to be quick about addressing the issue. The bad news is, it seems like the only way to get Blizzard's attention is to QQ. Loudly. Or more succinctly, to not play at all and make a huge stink about it. As statistics indicate, the Alliance can and do still win AV under the new mechanics. In fact, in many Battlegroups, the Alliance dominate. One argument that the boycotting Alliance point out is that under the new mechanics, losing nets them 0 Honor. This prompted one blogger to post his thoughts on the matter, calling out what he calls the "Zero Honor Fallacy".
In his post, he outlines what he thinks is the best way the Alliance can eke out Honor from the new mechanics... even if it turns out to be a loss. It's a bit superfluous if you consider that according to statistics, the Alliance continue to dominate AV in some Battlegroups, and the vaunted boycott was more the exception than the rule. What he says, essentially, is that the Alliance should "play the new AV instead of the old one", and he's absolutely right. He echoes a sentiment that ran through my head when I first read about the supposed widespread boycotts -- people aren't even trying. He writes, "the current belief (that AV is broken) prevails so much people don't even put a honest effort into the game anymore."
If it ain't broke... don't break it
That's what's most irksome about the boycotts. People aren't even trying. The fact is, an Iceblood chokepoint defense is not insurmountable. Because it is highly defensible if the Horde put an effort into it, don't attempt to take Iceblood! Use it as a feint, a distraction, and instead go after Frostwolf Graveyard, the most open objective in the game. In the Battlegroups where Alliance win their fair share and even dominate, the Alliance have learned to adapt to the new game and go past the Iceblood barrier and head straight South to FWGY and the easy-to-ninja Relief Hut. The Iceblood pass, unlike the bridge at Dun Baldar, is not a true chokepoint. It can be skipped with a bit of focus. Sticking to the west, offense that remain mounted can bypass most defenses because the chokepoint is a fair distance from the Iceblood Graveyard flag, which the Horde should theoretically defend.
What this does is force the defenders of Iceblood to fall back or face the consequences. Alliance should capitalize on the weaknesses of the Horde and actually play the game. It's counter-intuitive, but it works. Tagging the Southern Graveyards will do one of two things: 1) lessen the defense at Iceblood, or 2) allow the Alliance to capture them and consequently toss rezzers to the North. It becomes a relatively easy matter to capture any untagged Northern towers after that. Again, this strategy is counter-intuitive, but it's adaptive to an Iceblood chokepoint defense.
One thing that most people don't take into account is that game outcomes are never set. But it seems that some people simply don't bother to make the effort to actually fight in the Battleground. You're never assured that you opponents will do exactly the same thing battle after battle. War is fluid, and players should learn to adapt. What the boycotts demonstrate is a refusal to adapt to the situation and simply cry foul. They look at the imbalance and accept defeat as a foregone conclusion.
Is the map imbalanced under the new mechanics? Yes, definitely. There's a clear advantage that the Horde enjoys because they reach a critical objective ahead of the Alliance. With the Reinforcement and Honor implications that come with a Captain, the weakness of Balinda Stonehearth was a disadvantage, as well. But the map was not unwinnable. Neither was the Honor gain insignificant. Surely, it could happen that the Horde play the game well enough to prevent the Alliance from capturing any objectives, but played right, the Alliance could throw counters as long as they played adaptively.
But playing adaptively takes effort, and it appears that some people won't make that effort. If the Horde defense is focused on Galvangar, skip him. If they're heavy at Iceblood Graveyard, focus on heading straight for the Southern targets. If they don't defend at all -- which happens on more than a few Battlegroups -- then it's all fair game. Focus defense on Stonehearth Bunker -- a defensive-minded Horde crew won't be sending more than a handful of people to cap it, if even that. Sadly, as blogger Altitis mentions, the Alliance should write Balinda off. Interestingly enough, in the games that the Alliance do win, Galvangar is dead long before the Horde are able to take down Balinda, possibly as a result of the hotfix that Blizzard did.
Getting your fix
Let's make one thing clear: fixing Alterac Valley is a good thing. What isn't so cool is how the World of Warcraft community seems to have gotten Blizzard's attention. David Bowers said, "Assuming a relative equality of gear, player skill and morale (and of course AFKers), the Horde can decide to make AV a slow but certain victory," under the new mechanics. But given how Stormpike Graveyard and the bridge at Dun Baldar are far easier to defend than their Horde counterparts -- Frostwolf Graveyard is on an open plain, for example, as opposed to SPGY which is ensconced within ridges on an uphill path -- the same exact statement was true for the old Alterac Valley where the goal was to reach the General at the end. So true, in fact, that the Alliance won a up to a whopping 80% of the games.
Despite the statistics showing how imbalanced the map was, despite the number of posts asking for fixes, and despite Blizzard making jokes about it on their quest texts, the map imbalance stayed that way for over two years. On the other hand, the changes announced for 2.4 come very swiftly. Was it a response to the boycotts? Because it certainly seems that way. If this is what it takes for Blizzard to listen to its customers, then it sets a bad precedent for the game and the community at large.