“Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”
Sorry, Maximus: If we’re talking about the gladiatorial games of Arena in World of Warcraft then nope, we aren’t. Not nearly as much as we could be anyways.
Problems with Arena? What do you mean?
What’s so bad, you ask? Let’s go straight to the mouth of Blizzard themselves, who said way back in 2009 that implementing Arena was one of the biggest mistakes they’ve ever made. Rob Pardo, Blizzard’s VP of Game Design said in the interview:
We didn’t engineer the game and classes and balance around it, we just added it on, so it continues to be very difficult to balance.
Is WoW a PvE cooperative game, or a competitive PvP game? There’s constant pressure on the class balance team, there’s pressure on the game itself, and a lot of times players who don’t PvP don’t understand why their classes are changing. I don’t think we ever foresaw how much tuning and tweaking we’d have to do to balance it in that direction.
To paraphrase Sgt. Lincoln Osiris from Tropic Thunder: “They can’t go full retard.” Er… full PvP. Which is understandable: PvE is the house which WoW was built on. It’s actually surprising Arena has done as well as it has up to this point.
On the one hand pressing buttons on your keyboard and watching player controlled characters blow the fuck up on your monitor will always be fun; names like Reckful and Athene have been embedded into the psyches of aspiring e-combatants the world round; the game has been featured at Major League of Gaming (MLG) tournaments complete with comically oversized checks made out to the winners and for a while there Arena nearly had the proportionately “impressive” moniker of e-sport attached to it.
On the other hand, we’re thirteen seasons into Arena and still facing down the same, tired old problems: Namely, the PvP system is still imbalanced as shit.
That was fine say, back in 2007 when Arena was brand spanking new and still finding its footing; it was even begrudgingly “alright” two years and six seasons later in 2009 when ensconced in the middle of Wrath of the Lich King where the motto was, “Well, we’re in a new expansion now. Of course there are going to be some hiccups and changes to PvP because the entire game is much different.” Like zealous fans of the Boston Red Sox before they won the World Series in 2004, the perennial motto became “Well, there’s always next season.” In WoW’s case: “There’s always next expansion. Cata will fix it. Everyone’s getting way more HP and they’re actually fixing CC. Just wait.”
And wait we did. We waited through Wrath of the Lich King. Cataclysm. Mists of Pandaria. And then all that waiting around got real damn old. Instead of actually learning from their mistakes, Blizzard would address some of the problems from one or two seasons, finally get around to fixing them, and then do an inexplicable 180 by reintroducing them a season later.
“Alright we admit, Mace Stun was a little OP. You won’t be seeing that anymore in Arena.”
“By the way, hunters have TNT stun now. Which is basically Mace Stun under a different name. P.S. Roll a hunter everyone.”
“So why keep playing Arena if you thought it was imba?”
Because I genuinely enjoyed PvPing at a competitive level. Because I enjoyed playing with the friends I had made through Arena and otherwise. But mostly because of the hope that Arena would return to the way I enjoyed playing it most: even though what Arena had actually become was the equivalent of some shady ass milk bottle throw game at the carnival — only with the jerry-rigged bottles that kept people stubbornly throwing replaced by the revolving door method of buffing certain classes one season and then nerfing them in favor of a different one the next. Instead of impressing my date by winning her a stuffed animal, in Arena I had to prove to myself and my e-peers that I still had what it took despite playing a “non-viable” class.
What can be done to “fix” Arena?
“My bad, that one-shot hurt? Don’t worry: next expansion will fix it.”
So what can be done? A warrior named Rasen made this post on the official WoW forums about a year ago that still holds plenty of water today. Some of the finer points include:
- Abilities having different effects in PvE and PvP:
“You’ve done it before with Colossus Smash, which has a 50% effect in PvP and a 100% effect in PvE.
Why not do this for more abilities? Or make abilities do more damage in PvE so that they have the DPS to take down bosses with 100million HP but then don’t have the same DPS vs players with 150k HP.”
- PvE gear in Arena has to go:
“What’s the point in balancing something only to ruin it with trinkets or weapons that are just insane? A good example is the Dragon Soul trinkets which you had to nerf because they were too good in PvP, you made both communities unhappy because you had to change this when nobody who does PvP wanted them in the first place, the nerf didn’t make us happy because they shouldn’t be there in the first place.”
- Certain abilities need to be greatly reduced in effectiveness:
“Specifically I’m talking about instant abilities. Instant CC, Instant damage and Instant healing have gotten out of control, and is making it more and more difficult for better players to separate.”
Most important however, is Razen’s belief that Blizzard needs to change its philosophy on PvP balance. Blizzard believes that the appeal of getting epics and new gear is the food dispenser in the Skinner box that keeps people in the Arena grind, when the complete opposite is true:
What Arena players want above anything else is a competitive and balanced PvP system. We want the thrill that comes from victory achieved through skill and cunning, not because our trinket sprouted Hentai-rape tentacles or because an instant cast maneuver crit the other player for sixty-nine million damage.
There’s one problem with Razen’s points. They ultimately won’t mean shit. Whoa, whoa: Put down your Tyrannical Gladiator’s Pitchforks and hear me out.
It’s not that Razen is wrong. It’s just that they’ll remain ultimately meaningless until Blizzard takes the daring step of shedding its cumbersome chains: the chains of trying to cram both PvE and PvP under one all encompassing roof. The way things are now, Blizzard is at an impasse where nothing for PvP can really be improved. It has its foot firmly entrenched in one door and kind of half-assed toe tapping in the other — and as the Dragon Soul trinket nerf from above proves, this is beginning to diminish the quality of both.
If PvE is the big bro and PvP the baby, then clearly baby Huey has outgrown its Huggies and needs its own room in which to flourish.
Let’s make Arena its own separate entity. Boom. No longer will the devs need to brainstorm moves or specs with two completely two different beasts in mind. Or design moves that were a hell of a good time in PvE only to radically alter them because they were too imba for PvP. They can, get this: design moves that make the most sense for PvP because that’s exactly what the hell they’ll be for. And only that.
Of course, the more overarching issue for Blizzard and Activision here isn’t “Would that make the most sense,” or “Is this what will make players happiest in Arena?” It’s more like: “Can we make Arena its own separate game and still turn a profit or will the juggernaut that is WoW fold because of it?”
By now you’ve probably heard of the upcoming Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a strategy card game featuring lore icons such as Thrall, Jaina Proudmoore, and Uther the Lightbringer. Sounds like a fun little diversion, don’t it?
If they can make Hearthstone a financial success then why not a standalone Arena game? As Patrick said in his last WoW article concerning the Warcraft community, League of Legends, a game whose crux is ranked PvP, is now more popular than WoW.
In an article on the life of gladiators written by Franz Lidz in a 2001 issue of Sports Illustrated, Terry Jones, “an Oxford University history don” said, “A gladiator fight was something between a modern bullfight and a prizefight. It was like bullfighting in that the spectators appreciated the competitors’ technique and applauded their skill and courage. It was like boxing in that you went to see people mashing each other into the ground.”
There’s plenty of mashing going on in Arena right now. Of the keyboard variety, that is. Let’s take Arena from the carnival sideshow of WoW to one that pays more proper homage to the gladiatorial games from which they are influenced. A lurid and exciting spectacle that had Roman amphitheatres teeming with 50,000 spectators cheering the name of those who stood tall atop blood-soaked sand and vanquished foes.
Remember, we’re not in it for the epics: We’re in it to feel epic.