Random Battlegrounds: Blizzard’s own Stanford Experiment

Today I want to talk of many things, primarily the three Gs of PvP, gear, graveyard camping and griefing with a slight focus on community. The PvP community understandably gets a bad press a lot of the time and I want to look at why and perhaps more importantly what we can do about it.

First up,

Graveyard camping. Now Cynwise has started a great series about the maths and logic behind graveyard camping (WSG and AB) which you should definitely go and read if you haven’t already. Now in the games I play, I see three separate but common reasons for graveyard camping occur over and over again.

1. 40 man premades in AV/IoC which are designed purely for this purpose. The idea is to trap as many of the opposing team in one location and farm the reinforcements down that way. They let the other team take the mines as well as any other nodes to keep the reinforcements as high as possible and then set about farming their way to the Bloodthirsty title. Whilst these are beatable,

for the average random team there is nothing they can do but choose not to res, afk or get farmed for fifteen to twenty minutes.

2. The second type occurs primarily in the 10 or 15 mans, when one team is vastly stronger than the other. The first clash goes very one sided very fast and then the bulk of the winning team scenting blood flood towards the graveyard. Keeping them penned in or dead helps you win faster because that way they are demoralised, trapped and not beating up your flag carrier or running/destroying vehicles in SotA.

3. The third type like the first occurs primarily in the 40 mans. Perhaps the other team are doing a far better job of defending than you and so the only the way you can win is by pouring back into your own base, wiping them on the boss and then camping them at the graveyard.

Now I don’t particularly like graveyard camping in which the flag carrier sits in the camping pack nor the premades set up purely for that purpose but in general I’m fine with the concept. If the discrepancy between teams is so great that you’re being camped at your spawn point, then it’s likely you’re going to lose regardless. The opposing team showing pity and moving back thirty yards so you can try and scatter, having buffed up is not going to make much of a difference. In fact from my perspective it’s worse, I don’t want to be zerged by five well geared melee who pitied me first, I’d rather they just squished me like a bug underfoot without first pretending to offer me a chance when we all know the reality is that the only option is die or stop ressing.

I’m sure if you ask many people, graveyard camping would come under the heading of griefing but in PvP, that’s such a massive and inclusive category. I suspect if you asked fifty people for their opinions, you’d get a huge list of things, sure they would have commonalities like cheating and botting but griefing is in the eye of the beholder. For example I class people who saunter in into lev 85 wearing gear that’s two expansions out of date or do less dps than (I am a Disc Priest remember) to be griefing me and I’m sure the DK called “Your Mother” when you translated his name out of their native language felt griefed when I took out my Mummy issues by throwing him off the LM repeatedly whilst giggling at him. The same goes for the guy who hit 85 yesterday and is on the receiving end of a rant from some one in arena gear who is sick of losing. However when you delve a little deeper, the root of the vast majority of issues seems to be a common one. Frustration, anger at losing, tired of playing with randoms when the other side are premading, sick of having no healers when they have three. Rather than accepting that life isn’t unfair, some resort to cheating or botting and others yell, swear and name call.

In many regards, it’s as if Blizzard are setting us up to fail. Random battlegrounds are not just a stepping stone for many, they are something people with gear do for fun and there in lies the rub. I played six games last night, five of those were lost and won by gear and bots (the sixth was AV). When five of your team die to one Ret Paladin in the time it takes to levitate from the Lumber Mill to the Blacksmith, it causes issues. The same for the SotA in which we ended up camping the graveyard because it saved us having to chase vehicles. I wasn’t healing, I didn’t need to, I was staring at my screen pretending I was a proper dpser as these people with no resilience repeatedly splatted. Before the game even started, the result was clear. It didn’t matter how well I played in either of those games, my part didn’t matter and that is annoying. We won half but apart from the AV one side or the other ended up graveyard camping because the overall item level cap was just too big.

At the moment, random battlegrounds are the Azerothian equivalent of the Stanford Prison Experiment staring the geared as the Prison guards, the bullies and the aggressors and those without as the Prisoners. Even with the patience of a saint, it’s hard to keep your tongue when for the fifth or sixth time in a row you end up with people who haven’t gemmed, enchanted or bought any PvP gear at all. Who flop over dead the second someone glares at them and then blame you for not keeping them alive even though according to the combat log that Mage did 120k damage to them in 2 spell rotates. In that AB I referenced earlier, just like Prisoners in that experiment, they turned  on each other in an attempt to prove to the “guards” that they, unlike the others had value. Under pressure, the community devolves at a frightening rate earning us a horrible hateful reputation. In many cases, they don’t even have to be losing to attack others, even a slight setback can cause an outburst. The current battleground system with it’s random teams, premades and gear differences is set up to turn people against each other.

Now I normally try and play the peacekeeper, amongst my own team at any rate. I’m sure the Horde who see a pint sized green haired thing charging at them would find that hard to believe but having done my own fair share of bullying as a bitchy teenager, I grew up into a woman who full well understands the harm that words thrown out so casually can wreck on those they’re aimed at.  Last night however, I found myself close to breaking point. Words of contempt bubbling up like bile in my mouth, I wanted to tell them why we were losing, that no it wasn’t because the Alliance sucked, no it wasn’t because we were facing a German team, it was because we were infested by bots, lazy players and idiots. People who seemed incapable of taking responsibility for themselves, who were too mean to buy gems, enchants and the basic blue pvp set. Who would rather cheat or bot because it’s easier than spending your own time but who find it acceptable to waste the time of others. I ended that game, not only annoyed with them but mad at myself because I’d come close to slipping, to losing my temper.

Now I’m not laying the blame for the toxic community solely on Blizzard’s shoulders but there are a few quick fixes which  go a long way to removing some of the ignition points.

  • Come down on the botters and the cheaters like a ton of bricks. Ban their accounts permanently or at least remove all the honour/conquest points they’ve accrued plus the gear they’ve spent it on.  The punishment for this has to be something which makes doing these things pointless.
  • Improve the matchmaking system so that premades meet premades rather than randoms. I.e. if I queue as part of a 5 man premade, I’ll be matched against a team compromising another premade.
  • Ban the AV preformer, scripts shouldn’t be able to access the battleground queuing system. Not only would you stop teams coming together with Real ID specifically to farm randoms but this would also cut off  one avenue for the bots to exploit.
  • From the second arena season of an expansion onwards, divide the end-game random battlegrounds into two dynamic brackets based on gear. That way you have the first bracket where 100k health meets 100k and a second one where gear beats up gear.

It’s rare in winning games or even closely fought games for one team to turn on each other and this little list would help make all games that little bit more even. Of course we’d still have to deal with bad language, lev 1 whispers from the opposing faction and emotes but it would definitely be a step in the right direction to ironing out some of the issues.

As for what we can do, well next time you hit the level cap on a character please put a bit of effort into a character before setting foot in a battleground. For the rest of us, yes it’s frustrating but it’s hard to fight properly when you’re spamming chat with expletives. At the end of the day, we reap what we sow and one way or another, we’re all in this together. You might not say a word in battleground chat but that still makes you apart of the problem, just as you’re a part of the issue if you turn up naked or sit afk in a corner for the entire duration. Take advantage of that Stanford herd mentality, call the bullies and the bots and cheaters out and more often that not, the majority will support you.

Seven things I’d fix in random PvP

I’ve been doing a lot of pvp recently. As the embers of one expansion die down, I always seem to drift into doing more battlegrounds than normal. As with anything you do regularly, you find yourself noticing the flaws and wondering how you would have done it better. These are a few of the things which really bother me in random battlegrounds these days and my solutions to the problems because without solutions it’s just whining.

1. Gear Discrepancy

  • The Problem: Quite often when I zone in to a battleground, I have one of the highest health pools. Now as a Disc Priest, that shouldn’t be the case. You look around and see the obligatory melee with 110k health  (usually a plate wearer but can also be a feral druid) and your heart sinks. Unless the enemy team have the same, you’re basically playing one person down. In SotA yesterday for example I had four Horde on me, they were interrupting and basically doing everything right but they just didn’t output enough damage to put pressure on me. Now I realise that Blizzard are taking steps to deal with this in MoP but I don’t think their steps go far enough. Everyone having basic resilience will help but in the scenario I described, it wasn’t their survival which was an issue, it was their damage or lack of it.
  • My Solutions: Split the endgame random battlegrounds into two categories. Group 1 would be everyone who just hit level, the people with no gear whatsoever. This group would get more honour per game but zero conquest points for winning. On reaching a certain item level (a level which would move up with the start of each new season), you would be moved into the second pool and would start earning less honour (still the same amount we currently get) but getting conquest points too. The benefits of this would be twofold, less complaining on the part of both the geared and the undergeared. Also games would be more interesting because the playing field would be reasonably level. This would only apply in the 10 and 15s, i.e. the games where gear matters. So if you queue to random with a well-geared friend, it would automatically put you into the queue for 40 mans. A second and certainly simpler solution would be to re-visit the Burning Crusade method of adding basic PvP gear to the reputation vendors.
  • Possible negatives: People trying to stay in the bottom category until they have a full set of gear or to farm undergeared players. That’s partly why I don’t think conquest should be available in this category, it’s meant to be transient not somewhere you set up home and attempt to specialise at. Another potential negative would be the risk of running of new players increasing wait times in the first category but since there seems to be a neverending supply of them in the current system, I’m sure that wouldn’t be an issue.

2. Perceptions

  • The Problem: The scoreboard shows names and specs, mindvision works from every start zone apart from AV, SotA and Isle of Conquest and addons like Battleground Spy exist. Before the gates even open people have compared their team to the enemy team and often decided there is no chance. We had a Twin Peaks the other day in which we were one and a half healers (the other half was a Holy Priest with 100k health) versus a team with four well geared healers. Before we started our dps were complaining that it was a loss because of perception. As it turned out, it wasn’t because the majority of our dps could cc and kick but at least one person afked before we started because of that belief. We got lucky in that our team decided to actually try before giving up and sitting in the graveyard.
  • My Solution: Don’t populate the scoreboard before the game starts. Let people figure out who the low geared players and healers are on the battlefield, not in advance. If half the team comes from the same server, we shouldn’t know that until we get out on the field.

3. Premades in General

  • The Problem: Beating organised groups with randoms is harder, yes it’s doable if the premade is bad or your team also has a premade component but to tie into the previous issue, perception plays a part. I might be willing to go 1 v 5 but a lot of my team aren’t. They see the same server name or the same guildtag and lose some of their will to fight. You start getting people saying “Oh it’s a premade…. lose fast”.
  • My Solution: If 5 people queue up together then match them with 5 people who are also queuing up together. Don’t put them with a mix of randoms. Now don’t take this the wrong way, I can’t remember the last time I got farmed at the graveyard but in the run up to Cataclysm, I premaded a lot and yes, playing with friends is always fun but you should be facing other people who are also playing with friends not Scrubby McGraw the Dwarf Mage who queued solo and who just wants some honour points so he can buy his first bit of proper PvP gear.
  • Possible Negatives: This is a multi-player game and we are meant to be playing with other people, friends, guildmates, the guy we met ganking in Tol Barad. However, I’m not sure that the queue times would radically increase if 5 man group met 5 man group and so on. It might also lead to a better quality of game.

4. Achievements

  • The Problem: I’m fine with the concept of achievements in PvP but what I hate are the ones which aren’t focused on the objectives. Things like “take 50 graveyards in AV” and “Get 20 killing blows without dying” spring to mind. I have actually lost games because a small percentage of our team were too focused on getting certain achievements and not playing the actual game.
  • My solution: From this point forward, all the PvP achievements should be designed around the objectives or things which don’t actively hinder those objectives. If we take “take 50 graveyards in AV” as an example, because games are fairly short unless you run into a hk farming premade, people who are after this achievement often try and tag graveyards that don’t help you win. Iceblood for example when you’ve already got Frostwolf and could really do without everyone you just killed ressing in the base, the one place you’re trying to get to. I’m also iffy about achievements which favour dps classes like the killing blow one. We shouldn’t have to either get creative (Sprout got hers at lev 82 courtesy of a siege engine in IoC) or play a role we don’t like in order to get an achievement (yes I realise that achievements aren’t mandatory but I’m not convinced the vast majority of the player base does).
5. Bots
  • The Problem: Winning when half your team aren’t actually playing is tricky.
  • My Solution: Harsh penalties for those caught botting. Because this is a multi-player game, cheating shouldn’t be tolerated. Also I don’t see why anyone should profit from such behaviour. I’d take away every single piece of pvp gear, regardless of whether they were botting or not when they got it. However, I’d also take a look at the way the game allows certain scripts to be used. At the moment you can enter  battlegrounds using a script and I believe this is how a lot of bot programs work. Removing this loophole would also stop the AV pre-former working which would get rid of the 40 man hk farming groups which are fairly common at the moment, at least in the EU.

6. “Killing blow stealers” – Those that Complain

  • The Problem: This ties in with the previous issue. Every battleground seems to have at least one, usually either a rogue or a ret paladin who seems to assume that everyone they hit will provide them with a killing blow. They have their addon installed to track said killing blows and believe that their prowess in this field demonstrates how super awesome they are. If anyone else happens to accidentally “steal” said killing blow, they stop whatever they are doing, even if it results in their death to complain vocally about how unfair and pathetic you are and that you should “get your own killing blows mate”.
  • My solution: Sort the scoreboard by something other than killing blows as default. It’s the least important feature on there. What it should do is read your spec when you enter and sort by damage for everyone who isn’t a healer and healing for all those that are.
  • Possible negatives: This wouldn’t make the annoying KB hunters go away but at least it would make pointing out they’re doing the same dps as a wet paper bag whilst you’re trying to defend a node solo a lot easier.

7. Absorbs not showing on the scoreboard

  • The Problem: As a Disc Priest around 50 percent of my contribution in a battleground doesn’t show on the scoreboard. Now I can live without my dispels turning up and the same for my cc but it annoys me on so many levels that all my pretty shiny absorbs that save lives are missing.
  • My Solution: If addons like recount can correctly figure out the absorbs from the combat log I see no reason other than laziness as to why this hasn’t been fixed already. If something is going to be displayed for public consumption, I’d like it to be accurate. Explaining class mechanics to idiots whilst trying to play properly is a little frustrating.

The full list of things which annoy me in PvP is actually considerably longer but is comprised of things could only be fixed by not letting half the player base play battlegrounds. So have I missed anything? What would you like to see changed about the way we battleground going into MoP?

Random Battleground Ranting

One of my favourite pieces of MoP information is the potential blacklisting of up to two different battleground maps.

I hate the “randomness” of random Battlegrounds. Now I fell down the stairs last night and sprained my ankle so I’m not in the best of tempers but I defy anyone to like a system which thinks five Strand of the Ancients in a row can possibly be ok. My foot is slowly turning that lovely shade of deep purple which looks gorgeous on plants (thinking violets and pansies here) but not so hot on feet. The random Battleground finder is turning my mood the same colour considerably faster.

Why the loathing?

Because there is no choice at all. It’s either use the random queue or don’t PvP. The queue times are considerably longer when you queue to a specific battleground and unreliable too, you may get one in a few minutes and then have to wait hours for the next one or you might just have to wait hours. Compare that to getting a random battleground within 2 minutes of queuing up even at weird times in the middle of the night. Then there is the honour or rather lack of it. For winning a random we get an extra 270 per game winning game, not to mention the conquest points but when you queue for a specific battleground, guess what… no bonus. Now since the honour is an incentive to queue up for randoms, that might seem fair enough until you consider the fact that the bonus honour was implemented to replace the tokens that we used to get.

Now I might be a special little snowflake but there are times when I want to chill out in 40 mans, bullying Horde in Stonehearth bunker or seeing just how many people  I can kill whilst they are attacking Balinda. At those times, the random Battleground finder throws me into WSG or Strand of the Ancients. Then there are times when I just want to work on my Arathi Basin rep, of course then I get everything and anything but Arathi Basin. Sometimes, sure I really don’t mind which battleground I end up in, I just want to kill people. Then of course I wind up in the Isle of Conquest, the blink and you’ll miss it game where tracking down the enemy faction is akin to finding the fox cub mini-pet, i.e. the odds are not in your favour.

Why can’t winning a battleground reward the same honour regardless of how you got there? That way I wouldn’t keep ending up in Strand of the Ancients with a bunch of people who don’t know what they are doing. Blacklisting isn’t necessarily the fix I would have gone for (a system a bit like my old cd player in which it never plays the same song twice in a row would have been my first choice I think) but I have to admit I intend welcoming it with open arms.

The only bit I find a bit odd is the caveat about the battleground weekends.

So If I exclude the Strand of the Ancients when SotA weekend rolls around, it will unblacklist itself and when I queue to random, there is a chance I’ll still wind up on the beach. On their respective weekends, the smaller maps are often crawling with premades so the sensible solo player wants to avoid them more than ever but as things stand when you queue to random at those times, you still find yourself thrown into the weekend battleground. I was hoping that this change would go a long way towards fixing that issue but it seems not. I understand that Blizzard want their Battleground weekends to be a success even when it’s SotA but I do think this devalues the whole point of the blacklisting to a degree. Yes, we’re getting more new maps so the gap between SotA weekends will be increasing but I’d still like to never ever go there again.

So which maps will I be avoiding?

Whilst I think it will vary on a character by character basis, SotA is definitely on the list (no surprise there!). Games of two halves don’t work under Blizzard’s model of Player versus Player. If the team who attacks first doesn’t break through the final wall, more often than not they don’t fight in the second half. They want to obtain their losing honor quickly, after all the best possible outcome at that point is to lose fast. Even if you hold the game to a draw, it’s counted as a loss in your statistics because the armoury doesn’t recognise draws (another reason why I dislike the armoury), so you might as well lose fast and hope you get better luck next time around.

My Druid and my Shaman like it a lot more than my Priest as both have ways of slowing vehicles down or bringing them to halt outside tailoring nets but despite my good win rate in there, I’d be happy never to have to get sand in my shoes ever again.

As for my second choice, I think I’ll wait until I’ve fully tested out all the new maps before committing but Isle of Conquest is a contender. The map is too big for the number of players on it. You can easily go all game without seeing any red name plates and if you do decide to defend in order to get some actual PvP, more often than not it’s you versus 40.

In conclusion.

On the plus side though, outside of the SotA weekends, everyone who ends up there should be there because they want to be. AV will be full of people who want a proper AV game not a quick rush with zero pvp. Hopefully this change will improve the quality of pvp for all of us because each game is full of players who want to be in that map, who aren’t shuddering behind their screen, who aren’t planning on afking half way through but who are actually there to play and to win.

I am curious to see what everyone else goes for avoiding. I know quite a few Horde players who don’t intend ever doing AV or Isle of Conquest again, as well as a few people who hate the two flag carrying 10 mans. Mushan posted about his choices here as well. I think given the size of the pool, this shouldn’t effect queue time apart from perhaps the 40 mans late at night but it will be interesting to see how it all balances out.