Legion-daries and Burnout

The legendary system in Legion is easily one of the most controversial things about the game.

I remember being equally hyped and skeptical that it would be a positive implementation in the game, and now, with 6 months of Legion behind us, it’s probably worth a look.

Legendaries have had an odd, varying presence in the game since launch. From quest derived items requiring extraordinarily lucky drops and quests, to simple random drops, to long-term quests requiring raid drops, to expansion-spanning quests with multiple legendary rewards, to expansion-spanning quests with an upgrading epic reward that eventually goes legendary, and finally now to Legion, with random drops that encourage more gameplay and reward those that play the most content.

I’m of two minds on Legion-daries, in that as a casual player, doing Normal and Heroic raids, they don’t really matter all that much. That’s not to say they aren’t helpful, or that the effects they bring aren’t noticeable, but more to say that our guild and raid isn’t defined by needing the best legendaries. Some raiders have one, maybe 2, and a few of us that play a lot have 3. Not everyone has done the final tier class hall research to wear two of them. When they drop, everyone gets stoked, and sometimes that’s followed by the recipient saying that the item sucks, but typically, it still gets worn.

On the other hand, I see people clamoring that they are ruining the game, that getting a utility legendary means you might as well start over, and that the non-throughput increasing legendaries shouldn’t be in the game at all.

I can see that this system causes a lot of pain for players, particularly progression raiders, so I think some of the criticism of the system is warranted.

Mainly, for all the things we can know about WoW today before content even comes out, legendaries are shrouded in this weird obscurity – no one can fully say how to maximize legendary drops, short of “doing all the possible content available.” Which, I mean, yes, that is true – if you run Mythic Keystones, do at least a daily heroic, do your raids on all possible difficulties, do your emissaries, and kill your world bosses, you have the best possible chance of getting legendaries quickly. However, this is a recipe for some hardcore burnout.

I can understand why Blizzard insists on doing this, at least a little bit – if you maintain the mystery, players will increase their playtime working towards these items, particularly if they are competitive raiders. There is a clear business motive for doing so. But, I think that doing so is also increasing burnout for players at the high-end.

To be fair (and I may write about this topic separately) I think that a majority of the design decisions in Legion point very clearly to the idea that Blizzard is not really designing the game for that audience, certainly not as much as they once have done, but instead are focusing on a more casual audience – and this is the rub for legendaries just as much as Artifact Power, Titanforging and the like. For a player like me, I play enough to get a slow trickle of legendaries. I have 5 total across 3 characters, 3 of which are on my main, who has fully done the class hall research and can wear two of them normally. I’m not going to be benched for my legendaries, mainly because the guild is small, I’m an officer, and a main tank – and we wouldn’t bench anyone for legendaries anyways. We’re not in a race with anyone, and we play on a largely casual server, where only 3 guilds are really pushing mythic progression in any meaningful way.

For us, all of the RNG systems in Legion serve as pleasant surprises – if something titanforges really highly, generally, it will be an upgrade, and it feels good. If a legendary drops, even a poor one, it’s going to be equipped and it will be a power increase – which feels nice again. Artifact Power comes slowly, but most of our core are gaining 1 rank in their paragon trait per week, which means each raid week, we have more power and can down bosses more easily than we did the week before. We don’t feel compelled to play hours a day to min-max legendary drop rates, or to game out Titanforged upgrades, because we don’t play at a level that requires it.

For those high-end players, however, the things that Blizzard does in this regard hurt this player base, arguably more than any others. If you need the best gear, the best artifact weapon, the best legendaries, then you will be logging in daily, doing hours of Mythic Keystone dungeons, maybe even heroics (at least 1 for the AP), running all of the emissary world quests, doing raids at every level possible, and perhaps even PvPing for AP and lockboxes for legendary drops. You might even be doing this on multiple characters.

I think the roughest thing for these guilds is that many of them attempt to field sponsorships and monetary compensation for playing, much like an eSport. Some succeed – Method has branded gear, chairs, and sponsored streams and videos that bring in some income. Others, well…not so much. Unlike the high-end of a competitive eSport like League of Legends, DOTA2, or Heroes of the Storm – WoW PvE doesn’t have payouts or anything. The competitive race is a bunch of guilds fighting for front page posts on MMO-Champion and WoWHead, with the hopes that this attention will bring a sponsor to their door allowing them to play for a living. Many guilds still race and have jobs, having to burn through paid vacation time and PTO to down new content. If the new content was all there was, that might work – but with the RNG systems in play, you are often relegated to farming far more than ever before, even moreso than in Vanilla, just to keep your stable of raiding characters up to par.

There are balance problems that exacerbate this (the DPS checks in Mythic Nighthold are notoriously bad for this, often requiring 54 point artifacts from an entire raid!), but by and large, it is strictly the nature of competitive play. If you are trying to get sponsored or stay sponsored, you need a killshot front and center on the big community sites, so you farm for gear, you farm for legendaries, you put in time on PTR, time farming AP, and then you spend hours in the raid. Sure, Blizzard is correct when they say this is not “required” but that doesn’t mean your group won’t require it. Your group requiring it isn’t inherently poor leadership either, as Blizzard has implied or outright said during their most recent Q&A cycle. It is simply the nature of the beast. Put a power increase in front of a progression guild, and their only choice is to take it or risk losing all of their footing. – the sponsorships, stream viewership, and support that allows them to play at that level.

Perhaps it would be great if there was a sort of Blizzard-supported eSports scene around competitive raiding – maybe even specific races with locked gear levels and such. I don’t pretend to know how feasible this is, but I would enjoy watching a bunch of guilds obsessed with winning, play on equal footing to see who is the best. Weighted points per kill for a total perhaps, or a time-trial? Maybe both? I think it would be difficult to find the right balance, but perhaps, similar to Legion PvP, it is time to bring competitive raiding and the world-first race up to eSport standards, not just by building the rules and standard to which it should be played, but also bringing the financial support and viewership to it. This is something laden with challenges, but maybe it would be worth it.

I think, short of something like that, however, you’re going to keep seeing the current cycle as Legion continues – casual player engagement higher than usual, while top-end raiders burnout due to legendaries and other RNG mechanics.

This may not seem so bad, and in my most selfish moments I say to myself, “I’m enjoying the game, so who cares that some Mythic top end guild dies off?” But the truth is, this may prove to be a larger problem than most would imagine. Top-end progression raiders are the most likely and often participants in PTR boss testing for new raids and dungeons, and the players most able to analyze and determine where a boss design might be failing or functioning outside of expectations. Feedback from these raiders, doing the new fights before they are fully realized on live servers, is what enables Blizzard to roll out their new content and have it be relatively well-polished. Internal QA is good, no doubt, but PTR testing is where a large amount of feedback is gathered. And while there are lots of people that play on PTR, casual and less hardcore mythic raiders included, a large amount of the playtime and actionable feedback comes from the very audience being burned out hardest by the RNG.

That is the main reason I think that, even though personally I am satisfied with the game at the moment, that these problems and concerns matter. There exists a potential future with the current state of the game where raid bosses and other new content simply is not tested at the same level it currently is – that not nearly as many bugs and issues are discovered, resulting it content being made live that would clearly not be ready for it. Blizzard benefits a lot from having these guilds and groups there to test content, and we benefit from it as a result. If that support network were to suddenly evaporate, it could damage the game quite a bit. Sure, Blizzard would find more ways to QA content. The other people who hop onto PTR and try things out would still do so. But it’s not as though chopping off the top end of the game means that everyone else underneath suddenly becomes interested in PTR testing and balance tuning.

It just means the game suffers a bit.

In the end, I don’t really like gambling that much. It’s the only reason I can live where casinos are everywhere and not be broke, after all.

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