Time to Rethink Arena?

This week ended up a lot better for Steptoe and I than our first week in Season 5 (where we ran 1-9), with a 10-6 win ratio out of 16 games. In general we felt a lot more comfortable with the new context and made up some of the ranking losses. The fact that both of us also got ourselves a Titansteel  Destroyer crafted (upgrading from the De-Raged Waraxes we had from Amphitheater of Anguish) certainly helped.

We’re still working on finding our correct skill / gear niche, and the teams we have been facing have been of very various qualities: some quite skilled people without necessarily imba gear, but also some teams which were outgearing us quite massively but showing little to justify it.

The fact that PvP gear can be easily obtained through PvE nowadays (and is much more difficult, in particular for semi-casual players, to obtain through PvP only) got me thinking back to the good old debates we had a year ago.

In practice, with the PvP gear acquisition made very easy through PvE, we suddenly find ourselves in a situation not unlike the WoW classic battleground scene, when T2 / T3 clad players would completely destroy everything in their path by the sheer superiority of their kit, skills be damned. In practice, the ease of obtaining PvP gear through PvE nullifies to quite an extent what the introduction of resilience was meant to achieve: to separate PvE and PvP gear, enclosing the latter in a relatively dedicated manner and rendering crossovers more difficult.

There’s little point in rehashing today the old disputes about the fact that S2 – S4 gear could be used a lot easier for PvE than the reverse. That was the 2007 debate. In 2009, though, the current situation (as well as Ghostcrawler’s repeatedly stated intention to make PvP more about skills, usually applied to BG) led me to rethink the arena.

Currently, until one reaches the point where he wears the entire current season PvP gear, arena matches (of course especially in the noob brackets yours truly operates) don’t just pitch opponents together to measure their respective skill. Gear remains a factor which can compensate for quite some other shortcomings, it is for instance quite a bit more challenging to burn down a DK with 28k HP than one with 20k health (the level you’d typically be at if you start out with crafted saronite sets).

So in any matches below the top and fully geared brackets, the contest isn’t currently just about skills, but the skills / gear combination (just as it was before). The PvE gearing route just adds to the issue however.

If you really wanted to make Arena just about measuring player skills, though, how would you go about that?

Perhaps it is time to rethink the whole PvP gear aspect from scratch, by actually getting rid of it entirely. A notion I used to oppose in 2007 on the reasoning that arena was a valid gear progression path. Well, there’s a saying in French, “il n’y a que les imbeciles qui ne changent jamais d’avis”: only imbeciles never change their minds.

With two more years of arena, what I’d advocate today is the following:

While we talk about rating brackets, this is quite informal. This could actually be formalized into, say, three leagues: novices, pro and champion’s league for instance. A new team starts out in the novice league and (perhaps reusing the current rating system) eventually work their way upwards to the higher leagues.

Upon entering the arena, the gear gets replaced by a standardized gladiator set with different qualities depending on the league. In order to leave some choice in building up your character’s equipment, players can select a set of tokens for each equipment slot (reusing the Gem name prefixes for instance, or the current gear names): each token gives a gear pieces with a baseline of resilience and stamina, and a variable mix of other stats, eg picking an Ornate leg token will add a bit of intel and spellpower to the baseline stats, a Savage leg token adds strength and crit and so on.

You then get the according gear set to match your token selection whenever you enter an arena match, with more powerful versions of the gear depending on the league you’re playing in. The key point is, though, that everyone playing in the same league as you will have the same level of gear.

If you want to tweak your setup, just pick a different set of tokens to emphasize eg haste or more even more defense, all within boundaries set by your league.

As the seasons turn, Blizzard can then adjust the values to adjust the gameplay. For instance Season 5 is pretty much a burst / burn season, but with tweaking baseline resilience, Season 6 (just as it is now) could become more of an outlast season, to provide gameplay variance and strategy evolution.

And how does that work for BGs? Exactly the same way. Using the same token, everyone gets handed out their customized gearsets at the beginning of a game, which could for instance match the middle arena league.

At that stage, all players being on an equal footing gear-wise, the focus will be centered on knowing your class and your adversaries, and exploiting your skills to the maximum.

As for rewards? Just grant a handful of PvE tokens every week, 0 to 1 emblems of heroism for the bottom of the novice league, a handful for emblems of valor for the top of the champion’s league. Enough to incentivize it for the good players, not so much that people would suddenly consider it better to dance in arenas instead of running their heroics.

Leaves world PvP, Wintergrasp in particular, which aren’t bound to instance doors and therefore probably more difficult to provide gear swapping upon entry. Well, if you wanted also to minimize gear impact, one of the possible ways to achieve that would be to expand and tweak the tenacity buff.

Am I completely off my rockers? You tell me.

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3 Responses to Time to Rethink Arena?

  1. Drotara (1 comments) says:

    You are missing one major thing here. This is an MMO. Many many people want to play to upgrade their characters. And people want to be seen. If people were in it for nothing but lore, a single player RPG might fit the bill better.

    Of course someone could say that they just want to play with their friends. But if that was the case, they could easily run instances, be it lowbie or heroics, or even raids. But raiding and competitive PvP is about the enjoying fighting other people and obtaining gear.

    No person that raids or even runs heroics on a regular basis is going to care in the slightest if Emblems are given out each week. I know personally don’t. Plenty of folks already are out of things to purchase. There isn’t anything for a lot of people to buy with 25-man badges either.

    And if you are not one of them, you will be eventually if you run heroics in any frequency. Badges won’t keep people playing Arena.

    You would be surprised how much PvE gear is worn during high-rated Arena matches as well. Not every class has to stack resilience. And that is also part of the strategy. Gear, spec, class compositions are all part of the Arena game.

    I am sure this will come out rude but know it’s not meant to be. But if you want a game where everything is perfectly even, a FPS that shares the same classes on both sides might be better. And that is not WoW.

    RPGs, specially WoW have and almost guaranteed, always will be about gear. Sure some players are better than others. Not all Ret/DK teams are created equal. Not all Hunter/Paladins are created equal. Gear is one method Blizzard keeps people playing. Take away the obtaining gear through Arena and lots of people stop playing Arena.

    It will become very apparent which teams are capable of winning. So those teams who know they are not going to get anything but a few badges stop playing. Now the teams that used to beat them but lost to the better teams also stop playing. The gear drive is why people keep going to Arena. Even if you lost, you gained something from Arena. There was still a goal to save up for or to shoot for.

    And that kind of drive for “it” keeps people paying Blizz 15 bucks a month. Doesn’t make sense for them to take away a whole way for people to wear shiny things in a major city.

  2. Gwaendar (217 comments) says:

    The thing is, as Megan pointed out recently, that arena not only is no longer a good gearing path, but also that it is nowadays much easier to gear up for PvP through PvE than strictly through PvP. The raiders had the reverse complaint throughout 2007, if you remember.

    And while gear is important in the big picture, Blizzard keep bringing up measuring skill in PvP, which the current system doesn’t really favour.

    Last but not least, with all the hollering about the ease of raiding by the hardcore, we’re no longer in 2005 or 2006 – when you could walk around in IF and Org and hear many people /s something about T2 / T3 clad players near them. The “wow, cool gear” expressions of admiration is something which I haven’t witnessed, on more than one server, for at least a year and a half.

    Bragging rights in WoW 3 is no longer about your kit, it’s about the achievements you have and when you got them.

    But if you want a game where everything is perfectly even, a FPS that shares the same classes on both sides might be better. And that is not WoW.

    Come on, Arena (and the dedicated tournament servers – do they even exist anymore?) is a special beast already. And indeed, if I wanted to play a game with a single class, I’d pick an FPS. I however want to play a paladin in the arena, not a shooter. Completely different mindset.

    Not all Ret/DK teams are created equal. Not all Hunter/Paladins are created equal. Gear is one method Blizzard keeps people playing. Take away the obtaining gear through Arena and lots of people stop playing Arena.

    So what? Part of the welfare epics debate centered around the fact that people stopped raiding to play arenas instead because raiding wasn’t fun enough anymore to keep doing it instead of arenas to gear up. PvP however is no longer a real efficient way to gear up in wow 3.0. Would it be a real disaster if people who don’t find arenas fun stop playing them? I don’t think so. If you actually remove special incentives from particular activities, and people keep doing them, you will know that you have a relatively solid design. If you remove the gear incentives and people stop playing that, it’s probably a pretty clear indication that your design needs a lot of work.

    I can fully see that the marketroids would rather keep players tied to unfun activities artificially subsidized through tasty incentives, but I don’t think I could think of a single instance in gaming history where Marketing has actually been able to design a fun game. If you remove an incentive and people stop doing something, fix your game. People will continue paying 15 bucks a month for a fun game for a long time. They’ll eventually tire of paying for unfun things under the pretense of improving their toons, and once they leave because of that, they’re not likely to come back ever.

  3. Green Armadillo (15 comments) says:

    I guess it’s a question of perspective – is the purpose of the arenas to provide a standalone game that anyone can play and enjoy, or to serve as a continuation of the game of World of Warcraft? This system would effectively make non-Arena gear progression irrelevant to the arenas. That’s the opposite of every other portion of endgame WoW, which focuses on gear progression intended to advance your character.