When I resubscribed to WoW, shortly after the 1.12 patch, it seemed like many of the problems with battlegrounds had been fixed. “Battlemasters” in the capital cities allowed you to join the battleground queues without trekking off to the middle of nowhere; cross-server battlegrounds in the 1.12 patch went some way to shortening queues. I joined up for a quick look at the new Arathi Basin battleground, got in without too much of a queue, and… was butchered in seconds. Battlegrounds still had a fundamental problem: the honour system.
The pre-2.01 honour system was a terrible thing. As brokentoys says, it puts all the players on the server in competition with each other. To get near the top, you had to kill. And kill. And kill. And kill. All day, every day. I’ve called it “laughably mis-named” before; while browsing around the forums, I found a Rogue’s guide to gaining “honour” on a PvP server, and it was… enlightening. It basically contained every underhanded, low-down dirty (but not explicitly banned) trick in the book; hunting people waiting for boats, lurking by hearthstone points to catch people returning from instances, pretending to be AFK to lure people in, all entirely legitimate techniques, but not by any stretch of the definition honourable. Aside from the semantic quibble, if you weren’t on a PvP server, there was really only one place to go for your honour points: battlegrounds. And because you’re in competition with the entire rest of your faction, you need to optimise the amount of honour you gain in the battlegrounds. And the way you do that is by organising your pre-made group, and crushing pick-up groups in the shortest time possible to win a battleground. I’m working from hearsay here, not having been a heavy battleground participant in the period involved, but I gather it wasn’t uncommon that if two pre-made groups found themselves opposed in a battlefield, they’d simply leave or go AFK, as the “honour” gained over the half hour or more of an evenly matched fight wasn’t as great as the “honour” gained from abandoning the battle and crushing a PUG in a couple of minutes in the next fight. The only chance a PUG had was meeting another PUG, but a lot of casual players were frightened off by the scary pre-mades, reducing those chances.
Better still, honour decayed over time, so if you stopped killing, you slipped back down the rankings. It really was a treadmill, stop running, and twang! Off the back you get flung. Now, I don’t have anything against people who can play WoW for eighteen hours every day. OK, that’s not strictly true, I begrudge them every single moment they spend in game while I’m working, or clearing leaves out of gutters, or trying to arrange a plumber to come around because the boiler is making funny noises, and they’re probably students anyway, why aren’t they at lectures? Those are my taxes, you know, funding their grants (which don’t actually exist any more, but never mind), here’s me, working my fingers to the bone, and those slackers are spending my hard earned wages on booze and WoW subscriptions and what’s the government doing about it, eh? Eh? [This rant brought to you by a Grumpy Old Man. And I seem to have slightly strayed from the point.] So! I don’t begrudge (much) the fact that other people can devote more time to the game than me, unless the game puts me in direct competition with them. And more than that, makes me the fodder that needs to be trampled in their mad dash for PvP ranks (and consequently EPIC LEWT). There doubtless were teams who relished the actual fight, cared more about a knife-edge struggle against comparable opponents than just steamrollering a disorganised mob, but at the end of the week they’d be Middle Ranking Officers who’d qualify for a commemorative tea towel, and the PUG-trashing mass-slaughterers would be the Grand High Lords Of The World, dripping in jewelled finery. All in all, not much fun for the casual player.