Monday, April 30, 2012

School of Hard Knocks

     I'm betting the average reader doesn't have School of Hard Knocks, the achievement inside the Children's Week Meta that is inside the What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been.  Judging by the various and sundry forum posts (of which there are probably a billion by now), this is the one achievement that stands between many players and the Violet Proto Drake, the mount granted for completing WALSTIB, the mount that grants Master Flying (310% speed) without the 5000g cost, the mount that says "I did it!"
     However, let's take a look at the achievement as it is and try to figure out why it's so difficult for people to accomplish.

     There are four parts to it.
  •      Capture the flag in Eye of the Storm
  •      Assault a flag in Arathi Basin
  •      Assault a Tower in Alterac Valley
  •      Return a flag in Warsong Gulch
     Why are these so hard?  Each of them are things that should be happening in every one of these Battlegrounds anyways.  Let's start at the top

     Capture the flag in Eye of the Storm
     This, in reality, should not affect the outcome of the battleground that much.  If the team is playing normally and capturing towers like they should, the flag capture will mean very little.  After all, if your team has 3 towers and the enemy only has 1, they can capture flags until they're blue in the face and they still won't keep up with the point gains your team is getting.  Conversely, if you're the ones with one tower while your enemy has the other three, you'll want to be grabbing that flag and holding it for dear life to ensure that your opponents don't get a huge burst of points with a 3-tower capture.
     The reason this one causes so many problems is simple.  Nobody's focused on the towers at all during Children's Week.  You might have a few people who actually PvP just to PvP, but a larger majority of players in EotS are there to cap a flag with an orphan out.
     Thus, the battleground is not being played normally, and both teams are in a giant bloodbath at the center, each player hoping to avoid a stun or slow long enough to be the first one to successfully click the damned flag and bail out to one of their towers.

     Assault a flag in Arathi Basin
     This one should be a simple cakewalk.  I mean, ideally, everyone should be attempting to assault flags they don't hold while they're in this Battleground.  Pull out your orphan and then play normally.  I can't see where the gameplay here is any problem.
     But upon reflection, specifically bringing up my own memories of doing this back in 2009, I can recall exactly why this piece of the achievement causes such drama.  People join the battle, asssault a tower, and then leave the battle.  At any given time, there could be a very heavy imbalance in the battleground.  The ABs I ran during Children's week were terrifying.  At the time, I was Alliance.  Imagine my horror when I'd see "JimBob has assaulted the Stables" followed almost immediately by "JimBob has left the battle".  Now imagine that you're seeing that five to seven times in the first few minutes of the battle, and somehow, the Horde has not lost a single player.  At this point, it's a matter of 8 Alliance versus the full 15 Horde.  Not fun.
     So the problem with this piece of the achievement is not the gameplay itself or the objectives, but rather the fact that the players who don't want to PvP in the first place are going to leave the battle.  For many players, a 15 minute Deserter Debuff is far less irritating than a 30 minute killfest.

     Assault a Tower in Alterac Valley
     This one is pretty obvious.  Alterac Valley was always meant to be a coordinate strike with multiple objectives being accomplished by multiple smaller teams.  Some people should assault towers, while others should attack captains, and still others should attempt to take forward graveyards to speed up the return of falling players to the battle.  This is a very military battleground.  When you've got 30 of the 40 players all rushing to assault the same bloody tower while the other 10 are sighing hopelessly at their computer screens, you're going to have a bad time.  The thing is, there are only four towers that can be assaulted per game.  Thus, unless both sides are actively helping each other (committing treason) by recapping flags back for the next assaults, there's really only about a 10% chance that a particular player will get the assault (4 towers divided by 40 players). 
     This one is often mitigated by the fact that many PvPers who aren't specifically going for the Children's Week stuff will hang around some of the battlegrounds and attempt to speed up the process by recapping towers after they've been assaulted.  In this way, they're not only helping people get their achievements, but they're also helping themselves by clearing out as many potential non-PvPers from the BG queues as possible.  A bit self-serving in their benevolence, but it works out well for all parties involved.

     Return a flag in Warsong Gulch
     Kill me now.
     Now, ideally, this one should be straightforward.  After all, if the opponent grabs your flag from the base, you should kill them and take it back (this advice only applies to World of Warcraft and should not be used in the real world where there's oxygen and sunlight).  However, Warsong Gulch tends to have a problem called "Fighting-at-mid-itis".  It's a real condition, check it out.  Most BGs suffer this to some extent, but in Warsong, it's the worst.  Perhaps it's because there are only 10 players per side.  Perhaps it's because it's such a small map compared to the others.  Whatever the reason, when you've already got that problem in a BG, adding in the idea that everyone must return the flag is going to cause some serious tension in the pool of blood in the middle.
     See, you need to have some people hanging back in the flag room to protect your own flag while another group goes to grab the enemy flag.  The trouble is, nobody wants to grab your flag because they'd rather be killing the guy carrying their flag and returning it.  The same is true of your own teammates.  They're not going to risk being the one getting killed so others can get their achievement when they could instead be working on their own progress.

     So how does Blizzard make it better?  I realize that the idea of changing the achievement to suit the QQ is very against what Blizzard does (or at least what I want them to do).  However, this achievement doesn't seem to bring anyone any amount of fun.  The PvE players don't want to be forced to PvP, certainly not in such an individualist manner.  The PvP players don't want their battlegrounds to be so completely messed up for a whole week at a time.
    Perhaps, then, instead of making these objectives so very specific, they were broadened.  Take the following as an example.
  • Win a Warsong Gulch after killing or assisting in the killing of a flag carrier.
  • Win an Eye of the Storm with after assisting in capturing a tower.
  • Win an Arathi Basin after getting an honorable kill at a node.
  • Win an Alterac Valley after helping to kill a captain, assaulting a tower, or the enemy's general.

     Those four, I think, will still require people to PvP, but they'll be required to do it right.  In this way, you're promoting proper play of the battlegrounds.  Especially AB.  No matter what you do, you can't get people to figure out that road-fighting is wasted time.  Fight on the nodes, people...

     Having said all this, I know the achievement probably won't change.  But I can always hope.  Not for me, mind you.  I've already done it, and having done it, I can say that it's doable.  Just not particularly pleasant.  And hey, instead of the emotional screamfest that is the forums during this time of the year, I've allowed myself to offer a calm and collected analysis of the achievement and what needs to change about it.

     Feel free to offer your own thoughts on the acheivement and what, if any, changes should be made to it.


  1. [sarcasm]But that change would mean people have to play the battleground as intended, what kind of fun or achievement is that.[/sarcasm]

    I suggested something similar myself in a recent post. I've seen 100s, perhaps even 1000s of people on the forums suggest something similar.

    So many people on both sides of the coin want it changed which means it will never be changed.

    Why take the chance at doing something that will be unilaterally accepted? We might end up expecting them to do the right thing more often and that sets a bad precedent for them.

    1. Sadly, your words are true. If Blizzard made this universally desired change, it would show the players that we can make demands, and that simply would not do for a business model.

      Except where the business model is based entirely on your customers desire to pay money for fun. Then, making a change to the system that would convert pain and rage across the playerbase into fun and happy times is exactly what the business needs.

      C'est la vie, though. Part of me is really just fine if they don't change it. After all, I don't really PvP much anymore, and I've already done the achievement. This doesn't affect me at all. But when it drives the rest of the players into a foul mood, it can affect me.
      Especially when that foul mood player decides to take out his frustration in a random dungeon by pulling a swarm and leaving group.