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The Art of War(craft): The future of Battlegrounds II

Why bother?
Why is it so important that Battlegrounds have some form of rating? Isn't Honor gain enough? Well, yes and no. Honor is a great, if grind-heavy system for acquiring gear. But as many players have pointed out, no amount of Honor will grant access to higher tier gear, which require Arena ratings to obtain. Not all players appreciate being "forced" to play Arenas just to get the best PvP gear, but Blizzard's stance on the matter is rather unassailable: dislike it as some may, Arenas give the most accurate barometer of PvP skill in the game right now.

The Battlegrounds can be abused by unscrupulous players who sit through matches while AFK, soaking up Honor they don't deserve. The reporting system in place helps alleviate the problem but doesn't eliminate it, as it's all too easy to get into combat and continue being AFK. As I mentioned, because Battlegrounds are the domain of casual PvP, a rating system might not be entirely welcome, either. When playing in a Battleground, I could, for example, leave my computer for a short while to change my daughter's diapers and return to the game without missing a beat. If everything I do is rated, time away from a match will likely impact my rating negatively.

This was part of the reason I couldn't devote as much time to Arenas as I wanted to. Aside from finding teammates on the same page and relative schedule, I have to be on call to help out with my daughter. As you can imagine, this disrupts momentum and can put my team out of sync with potential farmable opponents. Ratings puts a certain kind of pressure and seriousness in Battleground play that won't necessarily improve the experience.

What's certain is this: Battlegrounds as they stand now cannot be made to give access to the current PvP season's best gear. There just aren't any controls to ensure that the players deserve it. From experience, most players I've talked to either love or hate Arenas. Some play it only because it's necessary to gain access to better gear, while others don't play it at all. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are players who thrive in Arenas and abhor Battlegrounds, playing it only to grind the Honor necessary to purchase non-set items.

What then?

Will some form of rating system inside the Battlegrounds be in place for Patch 3.2? I'm certain the boys at Blizzard are working on it. But the undertaking is just too big and I can't begin to imagine how they can implement proper gauges. If their Children's Week Achievement is any indication, Blizzard doesn't even seem to have a proper grasp of Battleground dynamics quite yet. I mean, if ratings were awarded to a person who caps the flag in Eye of the Storm, for example, it will disrupt the game dynamic because players will be focused on trying to capture the flag instead of holding on to towers (a higher priority).

Likewise, their change to Strand of the Ancients indicated that the developers might not even play the Battlegrounds. The difference between Battlegrounds and Arenas is that the map objectives change the dynamic of the game more than a deathmatch format ever will. This is why I think organized Battleground groups would be phenomenally fun, but I fear that the numbers -- specially for the larger maps -- will simply be too unwieldy to guarantee success. It's a good bet that any system that rates Battleground performance will measure individual players rather than simply by teams.

Trust Blizzard.

Kalgan has already stated that Blizzard "would love for players to be able to get high-end gear from the Battlegrounds," and that it's "something that will definitely factor into our plans for the future." He said this back in October 2008. Blizzard has said that Patch 3.2 will bring the focus back to the Battlegrounds, which means that the future in question could very well be in the upcoming patch. He reminds players that "Arenas were never really meant to become quite as much of a focal point for the overall pvp game as they have."

There's no question that it feels like PvP balance revolves around Arena representation, and Blizzard knows it. But making rated Battlegrounds is a simplistic solution that just isn't the right answer. Not entirely, anyway. Kalgan explains that it would take an inordinate number of games in order to determine an individual player's skill or contribution in a Battleground environment. Compare this to the minimum 10 games to qualify for Arena points. It's going to be tricky, but trust Blizzard to be up to the task of coming up with a solution.

The exciting thing? The Argent Coliseum promises something entirely new in terms of 5-mans and raids. Ring of Blood-style event-driven instances and raids? That's a pretty neat idea. What does this have to do with Battlegrounds, you ask? Well, if Blizzard is trying to shake up the PvE experience, it's not much of a stretch to imagine them doing the same with Battlegrounds. I know all they said about Patch 3.2 was that Season 7 would pave the way for all-new items and challenges, but the optimist in me takes that as a hint of an entire tier dedicated to Battleground rewards.

Patch 3.2

Whatever happens with Battleground barometers, the good news is that Blizzard has gotten an insight into what makes a Battleground fun. After all, their success with Wintergrasp is what ultimately crippled it. This makes me extremely positive about the Isle of Conquest. Signs point to it being a large scale Battleground, as Zarhym described it as "Wintergrasp combined with Alterac Valley with a few more twists." It will be a blast, I'm absolutely positive of it. It's going to be the biggest instanced Battleground since Alterac Valley, and by all indications will be reminiscent of the epic scale of Wintergrasp but without the lag. Lag-free Wintergrasp is a recipe for pure win.

The Isle of Conquest is only what we know so far, as well as Zarhym noting that Blizzard wants "all of the Battlegrounds to be as close as possible with regards to Honor gains," and that they are going to tweak "the length of individual matches in every Battleground to be roughly the same." Aside from those, I'm also hopeful that Patch 3.2 will introduce some landmark changes and mechanics to the Battlegrounds. My best guess would be that the next major content patch will allow leveling through PvP (if not necessarily the Battlegrounds), introduce a rating system that rewards good Battleground participation, and a whole tier of gear associated with the Battlegrounds (perhaps even the return of faction-specific gear!). Am I being too optimistic? Absolutely. It never hurts to be hopeful.

Zach attempts weekly to write about Arenas, Battlegrounds, and world PvP in one column. He asked if Wintergrasp was doomed by its own success and talked about how Season 6 is the best season for casual PvP.

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