The dust has settled over the World First race to kill Gul’dan, but all is not well in the land of hardcore raiding in Warcraft. In the last 48 hours, a number of high-end Guilds have decided that they won’t be pursuing progression content going forward, or are actively discussing a downgrade to casual play. This includes the winners of the Nighthold race, Russian guild Exorsus, From Scratch (World 4th) SNF (World 25th) and Midwinter.
Many casual raiders will be wondering what happened to cause such a fracture of the high-end progression landscape; well, I may have some theories on that. Settle back as we consider how this last race has exposed what might be fatal flaws in this whole ‘competition’, yet importantly not in the UI itself.
The first issue, undoubtedly, is are the type of people choosing to play this game at the bleeding edge.
People Are the Problem
It has been noticeably apparent this time around, even from where I stand (a long way from progression anything) that the amount of effort required to complete the Nighthold has been a step up from anything that has preceded it for many years.
After The Emerald Nightmare was cleared in a day, it became clear that the raiding community didn’t just need new encounters that challenged, but mechanics that were a step up from what had previously been provided. Suramar’s capital is a real considered development in terms of mechanics and thought process, even in the shallow end of LFR, as has been witnessed by many, many people failing to rofflestomp their way to the end on their first try.
It isn’t just the speed of the upcoming content that’s an issue with the Tomb of Sargeras, which is already in early testing. If I believe a Tweet I read in the week, I’ll require 4 BILLION Artifact Power to cap out my weapon come that patch’s arrival, and that’s before there’s any real indicator of how easy or hard that will be to accumulate in the time required before new raiding is opened.
For a raiding guild that will require dozens of players and multiple toons ready to hit the Broken Shore entrance as soon as possible, that translates to tons of players who will have to drop everything in their real lives to prepare for this… and as it comes so soon after the Nighthold has finished, I’ve seen top 10 raiders complain in public that nope, this isn’t fair. Even they need some time off.
A Product of Your Own Desires
However, this speed of progression in content terms is what has been asked of Blizzard for years. All those people who had nothing to do for months on end and patches that dragged on for over a year were systematically complained about as being unreasonable.
Now that this has been addressed, it becomes clear that the problem isn’t the content so much as the speed at which a very small proportion decide it must be consumed because they need to be first to beat it.
Competition is all well and good, but I don’t think anybody expected the speed at which some people would run particular instances (Maw of Souls Mythic, looking at you) in order to max out weapons as fast as possible. Yes, it is one way of playing the game, but it is not necessarily designed for you to do so.
I’ve seen already a number of people complaining that Blizzard is killing end game raiding by promoting unreasonable grinds. I think you’ll find the only people creating these expectations are other players, and the company probably wishes you didn’t do this.
Of course, they can’t stop anyone from speed running anything, but it would not be unreasonable to suggest that with the new traits and abilities coming in 7.2 that they know full well that content is being designed to be anything but academic for most players over many, many months.
Warcraft is not manufactured simply for the top 100 Guilds to consume in a month, and as long as people continue to do this, there will be casualties. I’m sorry, it’s also both arrogant and churlish to blame the company when the real competition should not be who gets there first, but who evolves most as players.
Your Competition May Vary
The real reason why raiding works as well as it does, and has done for so long, has nothing to do with who cracks it before anybody else. This is never about just beating a boss, the process should really involve players developing as a team, learning things together, and then emerging triumphant as a unit.
The reason why contests on servers was the be all and end all in the early days boiled down to these people being the Community you knew. It was like local league sports, and the top dogs would be appreciated as being undoubted experts in all they completed, for good reason. They’d managed to complete what was asked of them, and truly earned and deserved the accolade of Server First.
Now, the grass roots players are still fighting, but with eSports and commercial sponsors afforded to a select few with no commitments other than playing 24/7, these players can blow through everything in ten days, whilst most other Guilds are only starting the first boss on Mythic, if they managed to clear Heroic at all.
The disparity between lowest and highest is the biggest it has ever been and somewhere along the way more lucrative distractions appeared. Money-making tournaments for other franchises are rapidly becoming far more worthwhile practicing for and spending time on. If there were a cash prize for World First-to-Third this would be a pointless article because no-one would ever need to make a choice as to what they spent their time doing.
Making This a Larger Race
Here is where time and evolution has caught up with top end raiders. Once, World First was a way to maintain interest in the game but now more people play casually than ever before. If you want fame and glory, it makes far more sense to play titles such as CS: GO or Overwatch; why play World of Warcraft when there’s no cash at any point in the equation?
Effectively, World First has now become PTR Raid testing for everybody else, with no reward save the kudos and no end in sight because with the speed of development as it is, all you’ll ever do is keep playing stuff ahead of everybody else.
I can see why some players might consider a knife in the back but the reality is that wound is entirely self-inflicted. Nobody expects anyone to do this, there are no guarantees from Blizzard that you’ll earn anything except that all important exposure, and here’s where eSports can and undoubtedly will pick up the slack.
Ex-hardcore players whose task it was to keep burning through competitive content that’s never been play to win but simply play to finish will look for a way to financially continue their journeys with other titles, or they’ll simply move on. Individuals who grasp that it doesn’t matter who comes first but that the journey matters more than getting there fastest might yet find peace with the MMO and may perhaps rediscover a sense of fun along the way.
That 4 billion AP grind won’t be so oppressive for the AVERAGE raider but rather a slow, manageable grind that will keep them engaged for months and if this is where Blizzard have decided they want their audience, it provides Legion with longevity and ensures player retention in the places where people have traditionally complained there was no new content. The casualties then become the players who cap out instantly because if you decide that’s not the game to play, you’ll leave regardless.
@AlternativeChat wouldn't it be lovely if guilds could create their own formal events in world – races, dungeon and raid challenges etc
— Duncan Botwood (@OldWulf) February 14, 2017
End of an Era
There’s also a group of new Guilds and willing players waiting in the wings who will be happy to grind all day and night if it gets them a chance to be seen as hardcore. There’s no way you’ll ever be able to eliminate that element from a game which now sells itself on providing content data months before the product even goes live.
In fact, this approach has redefined how other titles present themselves, and I doubt that is ever going to radically change. If you give an MMO player a chance to beat his peers, they’re going to take it, and that’s not going to change. However, there are possibilities on the table for making competition within the Community continue to matter, but at a pace of pursuit that is far more in keeping with the busy lifestyles of those playing.
A return to grass roots competition would be a sound first step, but with everybody and their grandma deciding that they can make a name (and maybe a living) from their time in the game, inevitably someone is going to try and make this about being first for as long as the Community promotes the desire to take part.
After years of asking for longevity, the game is now being created and designed with exactly that in mind, and those who keep choosing to consume this at a vastly accelerated rate will only find themselves further disappointed as time goes on. Perhaps it’s time that those at the top quit while they’re ahead and everybody else makes their peace with competition and redefines their relationship with playing in Azeroth.
If it wasn’t about being first and more about simply beating what you’re given, a lot could change for the better. Competition would be reserved for PvP, and PvE would become less drama and anger and more reliant on team mechanics, not as a means to prove superiority, but as a way of bringing people closer together.
Sure, there’s always a winner, but for the all Deaf Guild or the All Gnome Guild or even the people who only play three hours a week, it might give their notion of success the true significance it deserves. We get how good you are, and hooray you’re first but you’re not playing the same version of the game that everybody else does.
World of Warcraft is about so many things, not simply those who decide they won.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Legion, MMORPG, PvE, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday