Have You Ever Stepped Foot in an Arena? A Look at PvP Participation Over WoW's History
Shadowlands is almost upon us, and with it come many changes that will define how people participate in PvP. In this article, Vultz analyzes the history of the community's interaction with PvP and how we have defined this unique part of the game.
Player versus Player in World of Warcraft has been a staple of the game since its inception in Vanilla and has seen frequent ups and downs throughout its life cycle. At the forefront of PvP has been obtaining and using gear in a way that allowed you to showcase your greatest accomplishments in the game. Building on this is the way classes are designed and their ability to give the player a feeling of control and satisfaction. Since Vanilla, the game has offered multiple PvP activities to obtain these moments of control and satisfaction that have changed and been viewed differently over the years.
In this article I will cover the history of the communities participation with these activities and the subsequent role of gearing and class design.
The Types of PvP Players
The different ways players interact with PvP and gearing can be broken down into four types of people.
The Player Who Wants to One-Shot You
Since the early days of WoW, a driving force of player interaction was obtaining the best gear possible and using it to strike down the opposing faction. A common interest in WoW was always doing any necessary content in order to gain even the slightest advantage against your fellow player. Be it the hardest raid difficulty, the most challenging dungeons, obtaining the highest PvP rank, or even an arduous seemingly pointless grind.
This player wants to have the absolute best gear, and usually wants the easiest (or quickest) path to victory over other players. An example clear in all of our minds could be a melee class obtaining a Legendary item in Classic and gaining the ability to quite literally one-shot most players who do not boast equally powerful gear.
This type of playstyle in the game has seen its ups and downs. It started very strong with Legendary items and PvE trinkets being very powerful in all PvP content up until Mists of Pandaria, then saw a fall with PvP-specific gear ruling dominantly in Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor.
The Player Who Wants that 0.1% Upgrade for Parsing
Over the years there have been occasional instances of PvP rewarding the best in slot items for PvE players. In recent history, items such as
for Fire Mages in Battle for Azeroth and Retribution Paladins in Legion have been the strongest option for PvE players and has driven them to participate in PvP.
A similar situation resulted in an interesting phenomena in the Dread Gladiator’s season of Battle for Azeroth, where the gear rewarded from PvP was of very strong item level especially from the weekly PvP box which did not exist previously. This caused a large influx of PvE players to participate in PvP (specifically Arena) in the first season of BfA and resulted in a very inflated season. This inflated season ended up being one of the healthiest in recent history purely due to the participation we saw from so many corners of the playerbase.
The Player Who Just Wants to PvP
A large majority of the people who exist purely in the world of PvP like to get the gear they use solely from said PvP. Many of these players like to simply log in to the game, queue up for an Arena or Battleground and sit in a capital city their entire play session. Hardcore and casual alike, they simply get their fix of the game through PvP gameplay and do not wish to participate outside of that bubble.
In the history of the game, this playstyle has been largely unsupported. Up until Mists of Pandaria we saw Legendary items and Trinkets having significant impact on PvP, albeit with PvP-specific stats. In Warlords of Draenor we had PvP-specific scaling forcing PvP-only gearing, but unfortunately Legion departed from this with PvP templates. While templates did support PvP-only gearing, they also made gearing irrelevant. Battle for Azeroth took us in a completely different direction introducing a very inclusive gearing system.
The Battle for Azeroth Born Player
Blizzard saw a new future for gearing in Battle for Azeroth. They envisioned a player who might participate in the occasional Mythic Keystone, Heroic Raid, Rated Battleground, or even Rated Arenas. An idea that a player could partake in multiple parts of the game, be rewarded from all, and build a gearset that worked specifically for their needs. In the WoW community this is likely the least popular mindset - that you can actively participate in all facets of the game and enjoy gearing for all, from all.
This idea functions effectively for players of all skill backgrounds. The top 0.1% who are at the top of the Arena ladder, but also enjoy Mythic raiding and pushing Keystones, are able to earn gear from so many different sources and benefit from doing so. The casual player who has at maximum one or two hours per week to play can log in to the game, do a single Keystone, attempt to kill a Raid boss, participate in a Battleground or do a few Arenas and earn some gear that they are able to use for everything. In theory this type of gearing could be very effective, and I can speak from experience that the players who would benefit from this do exist. Unfortunately, the mark with the idea was missed and left a sour taste in many players mouths in regards to gearing in Battle for Azeroth.
The History of Class Design and Having Fun
At the core of the game is class design. Participation in any given activity is heavily influenced by how satisfying it is to simply press your buttons, and often many other factors become secondary in the face of this.
Vanilla → Mists of Pandaria
It all started in Vanilla, with class philosophy and talents designed to build on itself every expansion and enhance the capabilities of any given class. Drastic changes occurred, but classes throughout this time generally built on the same chassis created in Vanilla. In Mists of Pandaria we reached the peak, with the phenomena described as 'button bloat', essentially leading to a feeling of having an excessive amount of abilities at your disposal. This led to a lengthy gameplay loop of taking time to learn and master even one specialization, meaning the average player would be satisfied playing one class for an extended period of time.
Frequently this class design led to oversight of the actual content players partook in, or at the very least a decreased focus. The focus became on how much enjoyment one was having pressing the buttons they had available to them versus the drawbacks of the content they were participating in. This lent itself nicely to specific systems with extensive drawbacks or balance issues, such as Rated Battlegrounds.
Warlords of Draenor, the Prune
Warlords of Draenor was the start of the so-called 'pruning', the act on Blizzard's behalf of intentionally removing abilities from classes and specializations in an attempt to reduce the unnecessary bloat when deemed necessary. Due to the nature of this subjective bloat removal, it led to a lot of complicated gameplay issues across the features of the game. Most importantly, the 'pruning' attempt bothered many PvP players, as it in almost every case resulted in something lost. An ability with a very niche use in this singular scenario of an Arena match for example, never used in any other aspect of the game but something that they may have occasionally relied upon for a decade, was suddenly gone overnight.
Forward from this point in the history of the game started a downward trend in class design for PvP players, patches and expansions became a matter of what they would not lose versus what they could potentially gain. Participation saw a similar downward trend, understandably, as players simply enjoyed the time they spent playing their classes less.
Legion and Battle for Azeroth
Legion changed everything. Blizzard wanted to continue their efforts of pruning classes, as well as de-homogenizing specializations so that everything felt unique. This effort ultimately meant a complete overhaul and re-design of everything we had come to know and love as players over the past decade. For some this was an ultimately positive outcome; for others, destruction.
It immediately resulted in a large pruning of a number of class abilities that left much to be desired, but has been slowly tweaked throughout Legion and Battle for Azeroth, supplemented by a number of borrowed power systems in both expansions. Class design has been tough on the playerbase since the drastic changes we saw in Legion, and has yet to recover. Shadowlands is looking to change this.
Shadowlands, the Unprune?
A major goal of Shadowlands has been to give players back “meaningful” abilities they had previously in an attempt to regain some of this lost identity. Unfortunately, this goal has once again fallen short from what we have seen on the Beta, as most returned spells offer very little real functionality. For example, Elemental Shamans have the ability
with 10x the mana cost dealing 1/10th the damage of
that can only be used in melee range. It will never see any use in its current iteration, but we can clearly see they are trying to move in the right direction.
Hopefully as time goes on we will see a return to classes delivering control, flavor, and enjoyment to the players and as a result an increase to the participation of these lost PvP activities in the game.
Lost Forms of PvP
Player versus Player used to mean a lot of different things in the World of Warcraft, but the last 5 years has left many wanting. With Arena standing still as the last bastion of PvP this diminished mini-game is but a shell of its former self.
With a small nod to casual Battlegrounds, Arena is really the last form of PvP standing in WoW. Blizzard is trying to keep the Arena World Championship along with the Mythic Dungeon International alive but with dwindling participation, that is becoming more and more difficult. There is a strong group of passionate individuals that will likely always participate in Arenas, but the reality is that Arenas are heavily influenced by many other parts of the game, unfortunately dooming them to constant balance and design struggles. As mentioned previously there are outliers like the first season of Battle for Azeroth that saw many PvE players participating in Arena for the lucrative item level rewards, with a hard drop off the rest of the expansion.
In Shadowlands, the improvements to the gearing and class design issues outlined above will hopefully lead to a surge in participation. It is yet to be determined if this surge will last; if it does it could potentially leak into other aspects of PvP.
Rated Battlegrounds, Do Those Still Exist?
Rated Battlegrounds are an interesting form of PvP that involve gathering nine fellow players to combat an enemy team of 10. A format that saw a lot of popularity in Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor, Rated Battlegrounds have all but completely died out at this point in WoW. Queuing for a match at any matchmaking rating will guarantee you a long wait and Looking for Group is a barren wasteland.
The death of this format can be largely attributed to nonexistent rewards as well as unfavorable gameplay due to a lack of attention from Blizzard. Largely overlooked as a PvP activity, Rated Battlegrounds have completely slipped under their radar. The potential of classes returning to their former design glory could have grand ramifications for this long forgotten niche of the game.
World PvP, War Mode, Dueling
From the very beginning of the game, simply finding another player in the open world and engaging in combat with them was a staple of the World of Warcraft. Due to design changes and the implementation of War Mode, this organic meeting of souls has all but faded away. Many classes suffer from incredibly one-sided design flaws that cause interactions in the open world to be all but fruitless regardless of gear, ability, etc.
Dueling became popular instantly in the game's inception but similarly fell apart over the years, falling to these unfortunate consequences of gear and ability. Players in these situations often find themselves with no way out, no path to move forward and prevent the inevitable from occurring. When faced with this grim outlook of continuing to play and suffering for it or to simply stop and attempt to move on, regardless of how much they love the game, one of these options leads to significantly less frustration.
Onwards to Shadowlands
The systems exist for PvP to thrive in Shadowlands, but currently suffer too much from outside influence and the gradual decay of classes and gearing.
Blizzard has taken numerous steps to address PvP gearing in Shadowlands, and with a little more attention could be onto something great. Ultimately, players that get involved with PvP regardless of backgrounds and skill levels are going to want different things from the gearing experience. The one thing everyone can agree on, however, is wanting to have fun while playing their class.
What has been lost can always be recovered, especially when it comes to how passionate the people who play this game can be. I haven’t lost faith in Blizzard’s, and the community's, ability to once again feel rewarded and enjoy participating in PvP. Forward to Shadowlands.
About the Author
Vultz has achieved Rank 1 Arcane Mage for four consecutive seasons. He is a streamer who provides assistance with Arcane/Frost in particular and Mage in general. He is also the author of our
PvP guides. Find him here:
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