Most of my fondest memories of World of Warcraft involve killing other players. I’m not alone in this. Many other players opted in for the same reason, but we’ve been sharing Azeroth with the other segment of the fanbase that despises any form of player-vs-player gaming, and perhaps its time we parted ways for good.
In 2009, Blizzard’s then vice president of game design Rob Pardo shocked WoW players when he said that the game’s arena mode was a mistake. At that point, the game’s fan base was split between PvP players and PvE (player-vs-environment) players who viewed each other bitterly because of Blizzard’s ongoing attempt to balance the two wildly different aspects of the game. Class changes done in the name of PvP balance could compromise PvE performance and vice versa.
That enmity continues to this day. The game is poised to enter its seventh expansion, Battle for Azeroth, with an extremely controversial change to global cooldown. This tweak essentially makes many classes play slower, which some players claim is being done in the name of PvP balance.
During the game’s heyday, WoW’s arena mode was a big spectator attraction in the budding esports scene with dozens of players signed to major sponsors. Today, most of those players have quit and disappeared. World of Warcraft celebrities like Serennia, Neilyo, Swarm, and Orangemarmalade are gone. Only a handful of players from those days such as Swifty and Cdew remain.
The truth is, WoW was never designed to be a small scale PvP game, and unless the series does a hard reboot, arena will always be a mess. It’s a rude awakening that every generation of WoW PvPers slowly arrive to, which is why so many have left to play other games. But there is a certain appeal to WoW which has encouraged many to stick it out despite these flaws. So the solution seems obvious: Just make another game.
Clearly, there’s a niche to be serviced here. Blizzard technically gave birth to the entire MOBA genre when Eul, Steve Feak, and IceFrog used the WarCraft III map maker to create Defense of the Ancients. Dota ended up being the original MOBA in what’s since become a billion dollar industry. Very little of that money is going to Blizzard, which continued to sleep on gold as other developers cashed in.
With the right studios and the right angle, the same could happen with WoW. Battlerite from Stunlock Studios is currently leading this charge, taking and improving upon all the mechanics in WoW’s PvP system while getting rid of the PvE aspects like leveling up and randomized damage. The battles are done in either 2v2 or 3v3 (the most popular brackets in WoW arena). Even Stunlock Studios’ name is a cheeky reference to the WoW’s rogue class.
Maybe WoW has become too big for Blizzard to split and cordon off into two separate games. But if a newcomer with a refined formula comes along and siphons off a big chunk of WoW players, Blizzard shouldn’t be surprised.
It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened. As we’ve seen before, other developers are more than happy to take Blizzard’s blueprints and use them to forge their own empire.