How to Fix Rated Battlegrounds

Rated Battlegrounds. Chances are you’ve heard of them. You might’ve even joined a few. But by and large, nobody seems to be running them. For a system that Blizzard put a lot of time and thought into introducing, that’s very troubling. In this week’s Developer Q&A, Blizzard had this to say about the current state of Rated Battlegrounds (emphasis mine):

Q: Would you tell me your thoughts about the recent PvP balance? I’m wondering about the future plans that Devs has on PvP balance change. For example, only a few number of Hunter are found in the Arena and this has not been changed for years. – Stormnreaker (Korea) 

A: We are pretty happy with PvP balance overall. We think this season may be the best overall in terms of balance. There are definitely some areas where we can improve. Remember that part of our goal with Cataclysm was to encourage more players to try Rated Battlegrounds as an alternative to Arenas. Some classes that struggle in Arena, like hunters and Balance druids, perform very well in Battlegrounds. We recognize that Rated Battlegrounds haven’t yet caught on with players, especially more casual PvP players, as much as we’d like.

Q: Daily Battlegrounds only reward 25 conquest points, which is really low (considering the fact that daily heroic dungeon rewards 70 valor points). Would you consider to adjust that, as Battlegrounds attracts PvP beginner more than Arena does. –賽君 (Taiwan)

A: I think it’s fair to say that Rated Battlegrounds aren’t yet offering rewards commensurate with the logistical and time commitments that they ask. We really wanted Rated Battlegrounds to be attractive to players who loved PvP but weren’t huge fans of Arenas. We don’t think we’re quite there yet and Arenas continue to be very popular just because they take fewer players and can be completed quickly. If you love Arenas, great. But we want there to bealternatives.

In the beginning, there were Battlegrounds. They were limited to your own server (faction vs. faction), had queue times as long as 12 hours, lasted forever (week-long Alterac Valleys, anyone?), and were piddly for honor. Despite this, they endeared players to each other and made factions on each server band together. Those days are long gone. In the expansions that followed Battlegrounds went cross-server, had resources/timers added (to keep them from being endless), and became efficient PvP gear farming systems through honor points.

Without these, we'd still be in WSGs from 4 years ago.

Cataclysm brought Rated Battlegrounds, which shared the same ranking system as Arenas, and thus began rewarding currency for more than just lower-tier honor gear. You could finally get the best PvP gear in the game without ever stepping foot in an Arena.

A Battleground map- objectives and all.

Nagrand Arena. Some posts, and not much else.

This was great news for those who endeared themselves to Battlegrounds. Battlegrounds are strategic battles with objectives, whereas Arenas pit players against each other in large-scale duels. Arenas focused on testing players’ fighting abilities and environmental manipulation (if you’ve never heard of “line of sight”, you’ll learn it quick). Battlegrounds focused on objective-capturing (and defending) strategy. Each appealed to different sets of players, and demanded very different skill sets at high levels of play.

But per Blizzard’s own words (which I take with a hearty dose of public relations sugarcoating), Rated Battlegrounds just aren’t catching on. And that’s because, much like 5v5 Arenas before them, they’re nightmares to coordinate. It was hard enough finding 5 competent PvPers to fill your 5v5’s team, so it doesn’t take a genius to see what would happen when you’re forced to fill a 10-person team. (For reference, there used to be 15v15 and 40v40 Rated Battlegrounds. They’ve since been removed.)

So what’s the solution? Well, the fact you didn’t need to form a static team for Rated Battlegrounds brought me back to Blizzard’s newest tools: the Random Dungeon Finder (RDF) / Looking for Group (LFG) interface! The RDF pairs you with players across your entire Battlegroup (or multiple Battlegroups!) and teleports you to the dungeon. The LFG tool lets you post a tiny advertisement about yourself to raids looking to fill their groups. There were grand visions of these tools working in tandem to improve the group-play side of WoW, but Blizzard held back due to potential exploits. Right now, only RFD seems to be getting any use. But Rated Battlegrounds seem like the perfect opportunity to put these technologies to use in a good way and steer clear of all the things Blizzard worried about with raids. Here’s why:

  • Rated Battlegrounds award no loot (only Conquest Points) and have no lockouts. Long ago, when people were begging for the Random Dungeon Finder to also include raids, Blizzard said they held back due to the potential for looting exploitation and people being harassed by evil cross-server raid leaders who would kick them after they were locked to a raid. None of this exists in Rated Battlegrounds.
  • Unlike Arenas, you don’t need a team charter- just join a party and queue! Since there’s no team to join and you won’t get locked into a roster, it’s perfect for pick-up-and-go play.
  • There’s already a built-in scoring system to punish bad and exploiting players. The MMR (matchmaking rating) and team ranking systems are already instituted. They mirror Arena’s system. If you have players that are terribad, disconnect often, exploit objectives, or do anything contrary to what the team wants, they’ll get booted from the game and reported. The team won’t abuse it, since they’ll lose a capable body if they do. The slacking player will lose rank for being booted or reported, making them look worse and worse until they give up altogether.
  • The participant pool will be massively expanded. Right now, forming an Arena or Rated Battleground group is limited to your own server. If you’re on a low-population server or one that lacks PvP hopefuls, you’ll be scraping the bottom of the barrel to get any kind of team assembled. The RDF/LFG cross-realm interface would let players pick their players and form up for coordinated PvP content, even if they’re at a disadvantage relative to full premades.
  • The logistical demands- also known as “barrier to entry”- will decrease significantly. Instead of relying on people who “know people” or the sun and stars aligning and finding a giant pool of interested PvPers for Rated Battlegrounds, you can pop open an interface and recruit. What used to be a lottery (“Am I on a high-pop server?” “Do my teammates know any other PvPers?” “Am I in a guild that has any interest in PvP?” “Do the people I play with even have any experience?”) can now be fixed through a simple interface.

Rated Battlegrounds give you a rating (seen towards the right).

Of course, for this to work as seamlessly as Blizzard would hope, a few other things need fixing.

  • In-game voice chat needs an overhaul so it’s actually usable. In a PUG scenario where you don’t know the people you’re grouping with, it’s unrealistic to expect players to hand out private Ventrilo / voice chat server information. And it’s even less likely to expect people to get server information in and join the right channel in the 1-minute pre-fight preparation period.
  • The current LFG interface needs to be expanded to include other information such as MMR, wins-losses, class, primary spec, an in-game scan of the player’s PvP gear set, % of matches reported/kicked/disconnected, etc. You’re chancing your time and rating, so you want as much information as possible to ensure you’re not playing with someone who’s brain-dead.
  • There needs to be an improved reporting system with selections (a’la a more sophisticated version of the RDF vote-kick system) for exploiters or leechers.

There’s honestly not much that needs fixing. And improving the systems above would carry over into almost every other aspect of the game- raids, Arenas, dungeon-finding, and more. There’s no question these would be worthy time investments for Blizzard’s developers if they hope to make playing with random people more viable.

I have hope Rated Battlegrounds will see mass acceptance, but it’s going to require active promotion and improvement on Blizzard’s part. What Blizzard has implemented now isn’t enough to make Rated Battlegrounds succeed. It’s too new, too unknown, and too organizationally complicated for anyone short of PvP-focused guilds to put up with. But with some accessibility improvements and polish, Rated Battlegrounds can be salvaged. Let’s hope Blizzard’s listening.

An ancient Battleground. Relatively speaking.

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