Saturday, January 17, 2015

4.23. I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up to No Good

Kerulak wades into a world PvP battle as
the Horde lays siege to the human capital,

Killing in the Name Of

A mess of unintelligible names filled the screen. Under normal circumstances, I would've loathed being here. Buried in the dark recesses of their subconscious, all of these players did. But I had good reason to jam myself into the crowd. Never say "No" to a free lunch. Any opportunity to squelch the pain and humiliation of fruitless battlegrounds became a reasonable option. For many of us, it was our shared hatred of PvP that was the very reason we formed a unified front, fingers twitching, watching, waiting. A fleeting moment on that bridge was a shot at salvation, a chance to save ourselves from the villainy of Alterac Valley, the atrocity of Arathic Basin, the wretchedness of Warsong Gulch. No special sign-up was needed, no vetting necessary. Meet us on the bridge and stand by for the signal.


World PvP evolved significantly by year seven. In the days when Shamans ruled wide, grassy fields between Tarren Mill and Southshore, Hillsbrad was a perpetual warzone. Favored by PvPers due to the close proximity of the two opposing towns, battles erupted out of thin air, playing out for days at a time, with neither faction maintaining control for long. The warfare in this zone was not unlike early Alterac Valley. In those days, Alterac Valley was considerably epic: you could participate in a match on Tuesday afternoon, then return Saturday night to join the very same battle still in progress. "Rushing" was not an option; it was an amusing consideration at best.

Alterac Valley had structure with defined points of contention. It required tactics and coordination to successfully end a game...with PvP rewards waiting for those who did. If only there was a way to capture the intensity and incentives of Alterac Valley and instill them in the outdoor world, Blizzard thought, the resulting PvP could be elevated to something much more.

About the time that the members of Descendants of Draenor were taking their first steps into 40-Man Naxxramas, Blizzard took a stab at tackling world PvP in a more organized fashion. Control points popped up in the Eastern Plaguelands and Silithus, towers marked on our maps with icons both red and blue, indicating faction ownership. This initial implementation led to further control points revealed when we stepped through The Dark Portal into Outland. Flagpoles driven into the ground among the ruins of Hellfire Penninsula, and in ancient Draenei ruins in Zangarmarsh conveyed their same red and blue faction ownership.

Beyond these control points, Blizzard constructed an entire town around faction control: a hub in the center of Nagrand called Halaa. This town, when controlled, granted access to specific vendors, allowing us to purchase a couple of fun mounts and other miscellaneous items that a player wouldn't find elsewhere.

Response to this first attempt of world PvP was mostly apathy. Control Points held little interest for players constantly in search of bright shinies. Hey, I love killing Night Elves as much as the rest of 'em, but what's in this for me? With few explicit rewards for controlling said points, Eastern Plaguelands, Silithus, Hellfire Penninsula, and Zangarmarsh all went ignored a few short months after being introduced. And as for Halaa, it saw the highest concentration of PvP activity...but even that tapered off. You came, you killed, you collected tokens, you bought your two Talbuk mounts...and never returned.

DoD defeats Koralon the Flame Watcher, 2nd of the
four raid bosses in the Vault of Archavon,
Lake Wintergrasp

The Secret Garden

Lake Wintergrasp was Blizzard's next attempt at wrapping their arms around world PvP. In Wrath of the Lich King, an outdoor PvP zone was baked directly into the landscape. Blanketed by snow and ice, the zone served as both a questing area and a place where players could work on leveling professions. These were distractions from its true purpose. Nestled in the northernmost point of the zone, half buried into the mountains, sat Wintergrasp Fortress. Defended by cannons situated around its perimeter and in strategic points throughout its outer walls, the fortress was the goal, both for those defending and those attempting to sack. The fortress, you see, kept a secret, and it was this secret that kept players returning to the zone even as Wrath's life trickled away in the final weeks before Cataclysm. 

Controlling Wintergrasp Fortress not only granted players tangible, practical rewards (beyond the aforementioned "fun" mounts), it also opened access to a raid instance for the victors. Inside, four bosses revealed themselves over the course of Wrath's life, each one an opportunity for players to seize gear upgrades. And these weren't any old one-off pieces -- these were set pieces, pieces PvPers wouldn't normally see...if said players happened to steer clear of raids. The beauty of these bosses was that they were a two-way street: they also had a chance to drop PvP set pieces, the likes of which strict raiders might never see otherwise! Neither PvP nor PvE pieces were top-of-the-line, but they were something, and as we are prone to thinking about risk aversion in a certain way...something is always better than nothing.

Fighting in Wintergrasp was also loads of fun due to varied and unique tasks. Attack the towers, crippling the defense. Gain control of the workshops, to man a vehicle and lay siege to the fortress. Hunker down behind the castle walls, shutting down any attempts to infiltrate the base. Engage in the all out assault on the fortress walls. I didn't often enjoy PvP as much as those early days where Kerulak stormed a battle at Tarren Mill, but for a non-PvPer, I had to admit that Wintergrasp was enjoyable. Upon reflection, those Tarren Mill/Southshore battles typically ended when one side put more skin into the game. So, how was it that Wintergrasp, an outdoor zone, was able to maintain the balance between both sides, keeping the battle fair, but fun?

A very simple mechanism monitored the battle of Lake Wintergrasp. Since it was outdoors, players could potentially come and go as they pleased. Each time a player entered or left the zone, the balancing mechanism monitored both sides. If one side was too deficient in manpower, that faction was granted a bonus to health and strength. Individual players on a lopsided team carried the strength of 10, 20 or 50 players; watching a single player waste an entire warfront was hilarious and cool. But this balancing mechanism went both ways. If a player entered the zone and their faction was already at full strength, a warning popped up: Warning! Battle in Progress! You will be Teleported Out in 10 Seconds! Lake Wintergrasp not only kept the weak from being overwhelmed, it kept the strong from getting stronger...

...and it was this mechanism that brought us here today, waiting to exploit it, by any means possible.

A massive gathering of the Horde march
across the bridge in the final moments of battle,
Tol Barad

The Bridge Exploit

Tol Barad was the culmination of all that Blizzard had learned in their quest to polish world PvP. An island off the coast of Khaz Modan provided to the setting of a former stronghold, now converted to a prison. Baradin Hold, like the Vault of Archavon, granted secret raid bosses to the faction capable of capturing the island. Additionally, those in control would gain additional daily quests, which they could use to stockpile a special currency for Tol Barad-specific rewards.

Tol Barad was popular. It was new; it was accessible. And, just like Wintergrasp, if one side was deficient, they gained strength. Conversely, attempting to join when your faction dominated the roster ended with a 10-second warning, alerting you to the impending ejection you were about to receive. We understood the ejection, but I can't say with certainty that all of us understood the ramifications of attempting to side-step it. At the very least, I can promise you that I did.

Word traveled quickly of this exploit. All that was required was a player on the inside to count down the final moments of the battle over Vent. As the remaining few seconds ticked away, those waiting on the boundary burst forward, unfairly forcing their way into a battle they had no business being in.

You will be teleported out in 10 seconds.

It counted down. Six. Five. Four. Another message flashed up on our screens. 

The Horde has claimed Tol Barad!

VoilĂ . Honor points for the Horde on the island. Not the just Horde that participated in battle. All the Horde on the island.



Anyone who claimed this wasn't an exploit is a liar. Everything about it screamed violation of the rules. Yet for some strange reason, Blizzard hadn't officially gone on record to condemn the behavior. Exactly why this was is unknown, but the problem remains: the absence of clarification acts like a "Get Out of Jail Free" card to many. The first half of my WoW career as guild leader to DoD can attest to this. If I didn't explicitly say it was a rule...someone...somewhere...would pitch me this line:

"You didn't say I couldn't do this."

Whatever helps you sleep at night.

Not everyone in DoD participated. Goldenrod, for one, felt uncomfortable about the entire situation, choosing to step away from the bridge entirely. But there were others bearing the Descendants of Draenor tag that joined the well-orchestrated march across the bridge.

I was one of them.

I did it knowing full well that, eventually, something was going to happen. I accepted the responsibility of that decision, but never once tried to claim that it wasn't an exploit. Most likely, Blizzard would return from Christmas holidays, fix the exploit, and all the honor / Tol Barad tokens earned as a result would be rolled back.

Blizzard closed up the exploit on January 6th, but never actually rolled back the honor accrued during its presence. That was surprising; a bullet dodged. I would have accepted the loss if it had been stripped from me; I have a feeling few others shared my point of view.

...but it didn't make them right.

My reasons are my own, but for you, dear reader, I'm happy to share. I exploited this bug with other players because PvP didn't really matter to me in the grand scheme of things. PvP is an afterthought, an appetizer, a side-dish that plays a very small roll in a much larger feast. It was easy for me to justify breaking the rules (whether unofficial or not).

Therein lies the rub, for this is a point of contention that permeates my entire experience in World of Warcraft. When players so easily defend their actions by saying "Calm down nerd, it's just a game," they give themselves a free pass to misbehave -- they justify their actions to themselves because nothing is in writing. One thing, however, was very clear about the Tol Barad exploit, regardless which direction each player's moral compass happened to point...

...if players can take the easy way out, they will.


Fredrick said...

That was the brief period where the winning team in TB got about 1500 honor? Remember trying to get in a few times, but it was so darn packed with people then.

André said...

A question: Did DoD award DKP/Ep/whatever points towards people that where standby, that is showing up on time, but being benched?

Most guild do, it is a little reward for at least being there. That is how I saw that exploit. I was more than ready to go in, and fight the Horde, but I was benched, but I still got a little reward for being there.

Shawn Holmes said...


Traditionally, we did not reward DKP to players on standby -- instead, we made it clear that standby ended immediately upon the start of the raid, freeing them from hanging around.

In extremely rare cases where people had to be switched out mid-raid, we would ensure they earned DKP if they had remained for the duration.

I did everything I could to keep the guild from treating DKP as currency.

Kelden said...

Boss I never knew you did this. I must say I'm surprised at you.

If there was ever a player I would have put money on never breaking a rule, written or otherwise, it would have been you.

Nathaniel Minton said...

I always found about things like this the moment it was too late and Blizzard was implementing a hotfix already. Not that it really mattered when this was going on because it was well enough into the season that I had been fully geared with honor pcs. I remember a lot of DoD being really excited though and I couldn't say I blamed them. It was a brief relief from a time/energy sap that a lot of them didn't enjoy experiencing in the first place.

Anonymous said...

2 weeks ago, I had been farming Tol Borad and noticed a glitch with PvP items iLvL bonuses activating in PvE zones. It hadn't been the case the day before. I reported 7 times in-game, each time adding more detail as to how it worked. After several days and no posts on the forum about it, I posted the exploit publicly on the bug page on a Sunday I think. (Put their feet to the fire.) It's still an active bug, and I'm still farming honor points for purchasing mounts. It's really easy to forget to log out to clear the glitch, or at other times just not bother to.

Zanshin said...

Wow, those zones sound awesome! I used to enjoy controlling Hellfire Peninsula back in BC, this would have been right up my alley.

On-topic, I remember an exploit that was discovered during the brief window between the final patch in classic WoW before BC: shamans using Farsight totem could cap points in Alterac Valley from anywhere within "sight" of the point.

Now, my server, Kil'Jaeden, was one of the original pvp servers, and generally speaking, Horde had what felt to be about a 4-to-1 win record in WSG and AB. But we had a miserable record for Horde in AV. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy where once a minority were convinced we could never win in AV, they would simply AFK instead of trying, and thereby ensuring that we never would. As a result, getting AV gear was a painful, 1-mark-at-a-time process, desperately manning a doomed 25-man defense time after time. But once word of this bug got out, Horde players hit AV in a torrent, releasing years of pent-up frustration in an instant onslaught.

One of my close friends, Fruitwar, had gotten to High Warlord through endless hours of AV losses. His reward for his rank was the best gear in the game, allowing him to pvp as enhancement spec when few except hardcore raiders could possibly meet the gear to make the spec work. He took me along on my resto shaman to AV matches, and for a few glorious days, as soon as the opening bell rang out, we would race deep within Alliance territory, and cap points while battling 2v3 or 2v4 at a time, him mowing down less-geared and less-skilled players while I frantically healed him. It was absolutely an exploit, but it was also some of the most fun pvp I've ever had in WoW, and it felt like sweet, sweet vengeance for endless AV rofl-stomps up to that point.

And the best part? Once the bug was fixed, KJ's Horde pvpers kept on trying in AV, and kept on winning. Without the excuse that we always failed holding them back, it turned out we COULD actually win at AV. All it took was a change in attitude. (well, and perhaps balance changes in BC as well, but I feel it was 95% attitude).

Zanshin, Kil'Jaeden