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


I love the Battlegrounds. In my mind, it's the halfway point between general world PvP (no objectives), which is a free-for-all, anything goes brawl and Arenas, which is a tightly controlled deathmatch environment. The former epitomizes war in its absolute sense -- no controls or limits for balance in terms of numbers or levels or gear, there are no match start times, and there is no set ending. Think of old school Hillsbrad PvP or run-of-the-mill gankage. It's pure conflict with no constraints. The flip side is Arenas, which is as close as the game can get to a sport, as much as possible trying to pit evenly matched teams against each other.

Battlegrounds are the compromise. The format tries (admittedly sometimes unsuccessfully) to control numbers as well as limit the instances where organized teams are matched against a rabble of random players. Brackets limit level disparity and map objectives give direction to the encounters. Battleground objectives give a little flavor to the PvP, although players can treat it like a deathmatch, too, sometimes at the expense of prolonging or losing the game. Solo players -- playing any class of any spec -- can have a go at it and come away with a good experience, as Battlegrounds aren't as harsh as Arenas in terms of team composition. In Patch 3.2, Blizzard plans to introduce a new Battleground, which should be pretty exciting. The fun doesn't stop there, either, as it looks like developers are at work on even cooler things for this aspect of the game.

Leveling through PvP
At some point, it was quite possible to level through PvP by turning in Battleground Marks of Honor for some reputation and experience. Many PvP players have quietly asked for a way to level through PvP but instead, Blizzard has been pushing players towards a softer leveling curve through PvE -- more quests, lower xp required for the next level, faster xp gains, and even a Refer-a-Friend program that grants triple xp and free levels. It didn't adress the concern that a small portion of players had: the desire to level through PvP. Warhammer did it. Now Zarhym is hinting that something is in the works for World of Warcraft, too.

He notes in the forums that it's something Blizzard is "very interested in doing," and that we'll "find out more soon." This raised alarm bells with the twink community who feared xp gains in Battlegrounds, but Zarhym was quick to bring out the fire extinguisher, saying "we don't plan to force experience gains on players. More on this later... "

This actually means that Blizzard isn't just interested in doing it -- they're already up to something. In fact, it's a certainty that Blizzard is going to introduce xp gain through PvP in some future patch. Given the pace of their development lately, I would say that's sooner rather than later. Not even in the trademark soon® that we're familiar with, either. There's a good bet it'll be one of the core features of Patch 3.2 considering that Zarhym has also said that "working on other ways of improving battleground participation as well right now." (emphasis mine)

What better way to increase participation than by allowing leveling players to gain xp from it? Playing Battlegrounds while leveling has traditionally proven counterproductive (unless you're a twink) because time spent in PvP is time spent away from leveling. Given that optimal Honor gain as well as the best rewards are all at max level, a lot of players forego the Battlegrounds in lieu of leveling up. A lot of newer players get their first taste of a Battleground at Level 80. Enable a way for players to gain xp through PvP and it's guaranteed that Battleground representation will shoot up.

Because Blizzard doesn't want to "force" xp gain on players, they can easily make it feature that can be toggled on and off. More interestingly, they can work it into the game by creating an item or implementing a quest that allows xp gain through player kills and achieving Battleground objectives. That would be an elegant and lore-worthy way of going about it rather than a simple toggle switch. Whatever it may be, expect to learn more when Blizzard unveils the details of Patch 3.2.

Rated Battlegrounds
Here's an idea that Battleground enthusiasts have tried to suggest but know would be tricky to implement. Although Blizzard has thrown around the idea of premades going up against premades in some sort of guild one-upmanship, the reality is that it will be a nightmare to pull off. The reason why the 2v2 bracket is the most popular is because it's the easiest to organize. Getting 5 people to do games on a regular schedule or even whenever there's free time is extremely tedious. A 5v5 team is, as some would joke, srs bsns. Now imagine having to organize 10, 15, or heaven forbid, 40 players.

Suffice it to say, ranked matches between teams of 10 to 40 are highly unlikely. It's an organizational nightmare. Unlike raids where raiders can be replaced with backup players or even PUGs, a Battleground team -- even a guild one -- will have to keep the same players on rotation. From experience, that's hard enough to do with a team of 5. Unless you enjoy tremendous success, there are motivational issues aside from scheduling conflicts that need to be dealt with. It also creates the additional pressure of competitiveness that's generally absent in Battlegrounds because let's face it, Battlegrounds are casual PvP.

That's the beauty of it. Players can start and stop playing Battlegrounds at their leisure, much like questing or simply grinding mobs. It's one of the elegantly simple things in the game that cater to a lot of players because it doesn't demand much of the player in terms of time or organization. Players get other players from different realms to complete their team, which is one of the best moves Blizzard ever did. In PvE terms, think of it as being able to queue up for any 5-man dungeon and magically find yourself grouped with four other people from different servers. It's like a cross-server LFG tool (which would be awesome, by the way). Fortunately, it's easier for Battlegrounds because there aren't specific class roles that need to be filled.

The best solution to gauge performance, then, would be through individual tracking which, as Blizzard has explained in so many words, can be a real pain. How do you gauge individual performance in a Battleground? By simple wins and losses as with Arenas? It's not as simple as that. Specially when it's not a premade. How do you gauge accomplishing Battleground objectives? Is it as simple as capturing the flag? What about healers who heal flag carriers or heal those attacking a flag carrier? When you break down the roles in a Battleground, attempting to rate player performance gets a whole lot more complicated.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, PvP, The Art of War(craft) (PvP), Battlegrounds

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