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Blood Sport: Hitting the brick wall of 1800

V'Ming - who thinks that gnome warlocks are travesties of nature and need to be KOSed - shares thoughts and ideas on becoming deadlier at the Arenas. He also dabbles in the dark arts in Blood Pact.

You've formed your ideal Arena team. You have great expectations and diligently put in time and effort to claw your way up the ratings. You dust yourself off after defeats and trudge on, knowing that great things will come your way if you persist.

Gradually your team rating improves, and the sweet taste of victory more than makes up for the disappointment of defeats. You move past 1600, and 1700 eventually. You notice that victories are becoming scarcer, and defeats seem a lot more painful. Your team hits 1800 - woot! - and suddenly match wins seem to all but dry up - and your weekly matches start to feel like exercises in futility.

Welcome to hardcore Arena - where your opponents are much more likely to be decked out in full Season 3 gear and less likely to give you an "easy" win. You start to run into a lot more cookie-cutter comps - you know, the ones you read about here. The queues are long but the matches are short - and you've run out of encouraging or witty things to say to your team while waiting. It's almost an awkward, seething silence between matches, and the game becomes a test of patience. "Did I sign up for this?" You ask yourself.

The "brick wall" effect is something that many players experience as they attempt to progress past the Arena rating of 1800. It is by no means a magical threshold, but it seems to be rough point where many Arena matches move from "hard" to "very hard".

Arenas are into their third season and players have had slightly more than a year (since Feb 2007) to gear up and hone their tactics. Newcomers will need to contend with the barrier to entry this year has created - unless you and your team are unnaturally gifted, lucky, or have lots of gold.

Like the high-end raiding aspect of WoW, progression can literally slow to a grind, where the distinction between "fun" and "work" blurs. Unless you are the sort who enjoys a trip to the dentist's or banging your head against the wall, frustration is part of the game at this point.

As a player, you have some options here: quit entirely, take a break, or take a hard, critical look at yourself and the team. Know that players at this level - barring a few "naturals" - devote much time and effort to excel at what they do. If you are thinking that you're doing all the right things and putting in as much effort as the other guy - you're not.

You may want to be like Mike, but can you realistically? I'm not advocating quitting but is the frustration really worthwhile for a game? Especially if it's affecting other aspects of your life.

Taking a step back from this aspect of the game is alway worthwhile: roll an alt on another server, enjoy the simpler pleasures of the game and appreciate why you're playing WoW in the first place. Or take a break from the game entirely - it's always surprising to come back with fresh eyes, especially after one or a few content patches.

If you decide to press on, go through this five-point checklist for a hard but objective look at your team:

Gear check: Go through the gear of everyone on the team with a fine-toothed comb, make sure there're no empty gem slots or missing enchantments and get the best that the game offers- drops, craftables or trades. If a teammate is pressed for gold to get them done, pool some resources to help him or her out. What benefits an individual toon will benefit the team as a whole and you want gear to not limit your Arena performance. Gems, enchantments and other enhancements are NOT niceties at this level of play, they are essentials!

Addon/Macro check: I'll be the first to admit that I'm no Mike and need all the help I can get. Is your team leveraging on all the legitimate tools available out there? Is everyone making full use of them to do better at PvP? Are you handicapping yourself by refusing to use them? As a baseline, I'll recommend these addons for every serious gladiator.

Goal check: Is everyone on the same page when it comes to the desire for progression? The levels of "hunger" might differ of course, but some realistic goals should be communicated and set for your team to achieve. Goal-setting aligns and binds the team, preventing very disruptive dropouts that could halt progression altogether, especially for teams that have been working together for a while. Work out playtimes for everyone when real life distractions are minimized - Arena IS serious business, and nursing a baby or significant other while PvPing is simply shortchanging the team.

Performance check: Evaluate your performance as a team thus far - what are your strengths and weaknesses? Are there specific comps that you have lots of trouble with? True to Murphy's Law, the team you have most trouble with WILL be the team that you'll meet most often. Walk through the "popular" comps at the moment with the entire team and talk through possible combos or set pieces to form a "playbook" of sorts for the team. Evaluate each other's performance honestly, highlighting areas for improvement and giving credit to things that your teammates do excel at. Hand out "reading assignments" so that everyone can be up to speed on tactics and the latest developments; there's a wealth of PvP information right here and elsewhere that will improve your game.

Comp check: This is probably the hardest thing to address and implement. Is your team simply gimped by its class makeup? Is there a comp out there in your bracket that consistently trumps your team, despite everyone on your team performing at their best? Are there alts that you can bring in to mix it up a little? Letting a teammate go for some other class is not an easy thing to do, but the reality is that some comps do work better than others, and not through the fault of any individual player. The real question here is: are you willing to do what it takes to progress?

The unfortunate gear-centric nature of WoW PvP gives ample room for players to blame losses on gear disparity. How many times had you thought or heard this after a defeat: "Holy cow, their gear is so much better!"? Cheating and ladder manipulation, among other things, have also cast a pall on the ideal of "fair play". From the accounts of players disillusioned with high-end Arena, there seems to be collusion going on in the top teams.

What are your experiences? Is there really a conspiracy to prevent regular joes like you and I from progressing? Or is this another case of "lrn2play, n00b"?

With that, let's look at what top teams look like:



And the most popular comps for high-ranking US teams:

5v5
Rogue-Priest-Druid-Mage-Warlock 10% (+4.1% from my last sampling)
Warrior-Paladin-Priest-Shaman-Mage 6.9% (-3.8%)
Warrior-Paladin-Priest-Shaman-Warlock 6.9% (+1%)

The three-DPS team of Rogue-Priest-Druid-Mage-Warlock has jumped strongly from third place in my last sampling to first place. Is the "warrior gib" tactic emerging as a answer to the ubiquity of MS warriors in this bracket?

3v3
Rogue-Priest-Mage 11.7% (-0.2%)
Warrior-Druid-Rogue 8.9% (-2.5%)
Warrior-Druid-Warlock 5.5% (+0.5%)

2v2
Warrior-Druid 22.1% (-1.4%)
Warlock-Druid 13.2% (+1.1%)
Rogue-Priest 10.5% (-0.6%)

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, Guides, Blood Sport (Arena PvP), Arena

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