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In the Trenches: The Draw of the World of Warcraft Arena

Posted Fri, Jan 23, 2009 by Cody Bye

Team-based competitions, at least in the mind of this editor, are some of the most heated events I’ve ever been a part of. Rather than simply relying on your own skills and abilities to defeat your opponents, you’re also at the mercy of your teammates and their weaknesses. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the football field or in a Knowledge Bowl round; if you have one person that isn’t pulling their weight the rest of the team will suffer because of it. 

The PvP Arena system was introduced in WoW's Burning Crusade expansion.

And the same holds true in World of Warcraft’s Arena PvP system as well. For those of you that haven’t had the opportunity to try your hand at Arena PvP, here’s a brief breakdown of what it’s all about. With the release of The Burning Crusade back in the early 2007, the developers at Blizzard introduced the Arena PvP system, which allows players to fight in 2 vs. 2, 3 vs. 3 and 5 vs. 5 skirmishes. Players come together to form their teams and, if all members of a team are level 80, they can participate in rated matches with the possibility of earning an epic flying mount and a special title for their character.

The competitive spirit in these battles is obvious. Players want to prove that they’ve created the best build for Arena PvP and no one, not even the guy with the immense flaming sword, can prove otherwise. If you’re not prepared to cycle through your opponents faster than you can think, you’d better hang up your boots because you’re going to get punched in the nose so hard you’ll have snot bubbles coming out your butthole.  

Although many MMO gamers would state otherwise, the World of Warcraft Arena system (which is very similar to what ArenaNet originally introduced to the MMO scene with Guild Wars) is the bread and butter of team-based competition in MMOs. While many individuals can point to their piles of l33t l00t or hoard of purple items, nothing states “I’m better than you” more than a unique title like “Gladiator” or “Duelist.” That said, gamers still need to be competent in other areas of World of Warcraft besides PvP to be able to stand a chance in the Arena. Most skilled combatants use a combination of gear earned from raiding, faction grinding, battleground combat, and other sources to create the perfect set of Arena gear.     

A number of players complain about how PvP affects their PvE stats.

Despite the complaints that adjustments to player versus player combat often causes issues with players in PvE battles, I would argue that the Arena system in World of Warcraft has done nothing but help the game collect more subscribers and continue to pull players into the MMO market. While there are literally millions of players in WoW that enjoy the game simply because of the incredibly polished PvE experience, there’s something inherently addictive about wanting to go into an enclosed space and show another player that you’re the better gamer. That your team has a better strategy, and that you can win despite the odds.

Seeing the popularity of the Arena system, Blizzard decided to leverage their experience in the realm of e-sports to create the ultimate level playing field. Last year, Blizzard announced that WoW players could spend $20 to be entered into the ultimate Arena tournament, where players are all given the same assortment of gear and talent points and the winning team actually takes home a nice cash prize. While Blizzard didn’t give out any numbers, I’m sure we can safely assume that thousands of players entered and took part in this epic contest. The finale, which was broadcast live from BlizzCon 2008, featured Nihilum Plasma facing off against the selective queuers and the team from across the Altantic Ocean pulled off the victory.

Perhaps the most fascinating prospect about the World of Warcraft Arena system is the fact that gamers who actually succeed and continually win in these virtual cage matches actually garner a degree of popularity. Players who are heralded as being "the best of the best" often get a variety of sponsorships from gaming hardware companies, energy drink manufacturers, and humorous t-shirt vendors. Anyone that takes a quick look at the Nihilum website quickly notices the branding by Dell, Razer, Intel, and the huge amount of merchandise that's available in the guild's web shop. 

Nihilum Plasma won the BlizzCon 2008 Arena tournament.

But, as all of us know, success in anything doesn't come overnight. The Nihilum gamers have shown time and time again that they are the high overlords of WoW, and until someone successfully dethrones the reigning champions, they will continue to soak in their success. If any of the Nihilum competitors are reading this, feel free to get in touch with me via email. I'd love to hear about your experiences in the WoW Arena and how you've come to be so dominant in the online gaming sphere. Although I can't personally claim any sort of achievements in the WoW Arena, I have dabbled in the newer maps and I'll continue to try to get my feet wet so I can really give the Ten Ton Hammer readers a thorough taste of what it takes to be a extreme combatant in the WoW Arena.

Next week, I'm going to be taking a look at some of the online games and development companies that aren't necessarily MMO-focused but are being absorbed by some of the bigger MMO networks (see NCsoft and SOE). As always, thanks for reading In the Trenches, and if you ever have any questions, comments or have an idea for an article, shoot me an email or post on the forums. Until next week, dig deep, fight hard, and kick 'em where it hurts.
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