State of the Game: PvP, High Risk, and Participation.
I realize this post will probably get a lot of downvotes from the same people claiming that there is no issue with the state of the game, but I wanted to take a look at how things work and the PvP scene over all. For some background I have been playing the game since before the official release, The first time I played was a pre-alpha? I think but you needed an email invite to get access to the game and all players were confined to a simple gray box where we could only queue BGs and there were gear vendors with an altar in the middle of the room. I played for that test and then another one which I think was open beta before release and then left and came back for official release. In the beginning, fire hybrids using TG/Maelstrom wep were one of the most dominant builds in PvP along with Eviscerate rogues and "retail" hunter builds. There were some Booming Thunder builds as well as Holy Ascension but a majority of the BGs were made up of that Fire hybrid build. I left the game again and came back at the end of Season 2 and beginning of Season 3 but only played on Laughing Skull as it was the only high risk pvp server and I didnt want to play wildcard mode. I played for a bit and then left and came back for seasons 4 and 5 when draft mode and bloodforged gear came out. Ended up leaving the game again because free pick still had no players and came back at the very end of Season 7 and have been playing since. For my entire time playing Ascension up until I stopped in Season 5, you couldn't really get a BG queue to pop on the free pick realms unless you were playing at peak hours and even then you would get maybe 3 or 4 BGs before everyone stopped queueing and the timer went back to being 1 hour if not longer. The arena population is unchanged since Season 5, and High Risk PvP has never had very much participation either- even with all the new High Risk systems in place today barely anyone utilizes this game mode and the rewards you get from it are next to worthless.
You might be wondering why I bring up PvP participation throughout the history of the server and that is because while the amount of people playing PvP has gone up relative to numbers at official release, growth has pretty much stagnated since the release of Season 5. I see the same ~20-40 people queueing BGs as I did a year ago and despite the server's overall population still growing- the arena ladder is still as dead as it's ever been. My goal with this post is to take a look at what might be causing this lack of participation throughout all forms of PvP, including High Risk.
Taking a look at the state of the game
Project Ascension, since its inception, has always been focused on being a classless version of WoW where you can design your perfect fantasy for whichever character you want to play. I think this is a great idea with loads of potential for customization.
However, the promise of classless is nothing more than an illusion. You simply cannot make whatever fantasy of character that you want and have it perform decently in PvP. This is because the gap in power between one build to the next could be (and often times is) gargantuan. Here on ascension we have a plethora of ways to increase our characters damage; be it through getting better gear, the use of random enchants, or picking certain talents. All of these modifiers scale multiplicatively of eachother which is important to understand when considering the scaling of damage/healing.
Just for a second, lets take a look at how much stronger you can make an ability through the use of talents which increase the effectiveness of said ability. For this example I will be using the ability Starfire, HOWEVER, I will not be including the base damage of Starfire in my calculations- I will instead assume a spellpower coefficient of 100% so that we don't need to account for variations in base damage and can JUST look at the modifiers being applied. I will also be assuming a base spellpower of 1000 as it is an easy number to work with.
With all that said, lets do some math. We have a base spell power of 1000 with Intellect Main Stat and a spellpower coefficient of 100%, meaning with no talents invested our Starfire will hit for 1000 damage. The first talents we will take are [Lunar Guidance], [Mind Mastery], and Flametongue Weapon (dual wielding) with [Elemental Weapons] talent. LG and MM will each give you ~100 SP while Flametongue will give you 152 SP per weapon all while considering the bonus given by INT main stat. In total, we are gaining 504 SP or a 50.4% damage increase. It is important to note that the SP gained from LG and MM will scale with gear as they benefit from intellect, a stat that we will have more of if we get better gear. This means that as we get more gear, the value of those talents will also go up which provides for a higher % damage increase.
We now have 1504 SP and since our coefficient is 100% our Starfire is going to deal 1504 damage.
Now we will invest in every effectiveness talent for Starfire. These include: Moonfury (10%), Starlight Wrath (6%), Earth and Moon (6% Arcane + 10% Magic), Wrath of Cenarius (+20% SP Coefficient). This will give us 32% increased damage and an extra 300.8 damage from SP bringing our total Starfire damage to 2,286.08 (1985 + 300.8 from SP). This is already a 128.6% increase but we still aren't done yet- we can still take talents that increase not only Arcane damage but also Magic damage in general.
For our next talents we will be taking: Furor (6%), Master Shapeshifter (4%), Arcane Instability (3%), Intensity (3%), Malediction (3%), and Magic Absorption (3%). This will give us a further 22% damage increase and bring our Starfire damage up to 2,789. This is a 178.9% damage increase when comparing two players in equal gear with no cooldowns or beserker buffs. This is already an ABSURD increase in power and a player who chose to invest in only one thing will be nearly 3 times stronger than a player who chose to play the game how it was intended and be classless rather than playing the Starfire Class. The only other time you see damage increase this much in WoW is at the very beginning of an expansion vs the very end of an expansion. In other words, the player who chose to play a Starfire Class is an entire expansion stronger than someone who opted to be unique and classless. Once again, THIS IS WITHOUT CONSIDERING GEAR which we will naturally acquire throughout the expansion and COMPLETELY IGNORES Legendary REs or other REs which might increase Starfire's damage even further.
We can see just how bad this gap in power really is by taking a look at in-game screenshots from Recount/Details to compare damage dealt.
Again, My calculations with Starfire assumed everything was taking place in a vacuum and didn't account for gear or RE differences. The screenshots posted above were taken live, and thus, they DO account for gear/RE differences. You can see that my estimate of a 178.9% damage increase was FAR on the conservative side because of this and in reality you will see players doing much more than 2-3x higher damage than the average for any given battleground. Looking at my screenshot where Nezz is top damage we can calculate that he is doing 448.3% more damage than the average of the other 9 players combined. The other 9 players in that BG did a total of 376,835 damage or an average of 41,870, Meanwhile Nezz was able to do 229,581 damage in the same amount of time.
Another thing you'll notice is that the first two screenshots were taken over 1 year ago. This means that in the past 12 months the state of PvP has not improved at all. I think this is due to the way that the balance team is trying to solve the issue. As you can see here The balance team's answer is almost always to apply a flat nerf to an entire spell. While this is great for bringing down the top performers, it also negatively impacts anyone who ISN'T fully invested in said ability just as much. In other words, their approach to balancing the game does nothing to reduce the gap in power between builds and if anything, makes true classless builds even less viable in PvP.
I think everything that I just mentioned plays the largest role in deterring players from participating in PvP. They cannot fulfill their fantasy and still have fun, They have to either conform to the meta which is stacking all your points into one thing or simply not play PvP. I think all forms of PvP whether its BGs, High Risk, or ranked Arena are suffering from these balance decisions equally and I also think that High Risk and Arena both have minor problems of their own contributing to the lack of participation in those game modes.
For High Risk the problem is not only a lack of participation, but a lack of meaningful rewards. Me and some friends farmed High Risk for an entire day about two weeks ago and even though I'm undercutting the market on the prices for all my bloodforged gear and high risk crafting materials they still havent sold- The demand just isn't there. This is simply because the bloodforged gear is straight up not good compared to even just the Honor gear so there's no reason beyond transmog to buy it and the profession items crafted with High Risk materials don't offer enough benefit to go out and farm them. We also have the problem of gear/enchants/gems being too permanent and thus players have no need to go out and re-farm or re-buy them. I think a better way to handle High Risk rewards would be to make the game more like Albion Online, gear on that game is extremely temporary because you're most likely going to lose it anyways and not only that but the rewards for participating in High Risk on Albion are much better. On Albion you can farm upgraded crafting materials which are used to make upgraded versions of the gear you use (Think titanforging but less RNG). I think Leatherworkers should be able to farm an increasing amount of materials to create "upgrade kits" for any piece of leather gear that increases its stats by 5% each upgrade with a maximum of 3 upgrades. I think that this should apply to all 3 of the major crafting professions as well (LW, BS, Tailoring).
As for Arena, it too has a small pool of participants which again I think is due mainly to balance but also because of the fact that we have a spectator NPC which can be abused to see who is queueing at any given time and then taken advantage of so that you queue snipe players you know you can beat while avoiding players you know you cant beat. You can also abuse this NPC to see what type of build someone is playing and then load up a build that theirs cant do anything against before you queue.
Offering a Solution
In order to fix these problems I think that the balance team needs to take a completely different approach to how they handle the game. I think instead of applying blanket nerfs to any given ability like they've been doing, they should rather be tuning abilities through the addition or reduction of available damage/healing talents. The reason I think this is because the problem doesn't lie in the fact that some builds can hit for absurd numbers but in the fact that there is such a gap in power between any given builds. The only way to reduce the gap is by addressing the thing creating said gap- which is the exploitation of the abundance of damage talents.
For Arena specifically, I would remove the spectator NPC and for High Risk I would strive to make the game more similar to Albion as mentioned above.
Whilst not really a comment on your Discussion, when I play BGs its because I enjoy match based PvP & im farming the Mystic Orbs I require to mess about with different REs which ive discovered I enjoy. I dont really High-Risk or Arena , as they hold little interest for me as im mostly a solo player without any realy "friends" or Guildies to play with.
What I do find puts me off any sort of PvP is the incredible amount of CC availible for any one player to take into a Bg/Arena. It makes play very infuriating for newcomers & casuals. This needs to be much closer to how it is in retail, so you can actually play your build, rather than spending all your time in the graveyard. Ive always preffered games where skill not gear is what defines the outcome & was never really a fan when Blizz put PvP into the game in the first place but I recognise that it is there for a reason.