This Fight’s On Fire: Brawler’s Guild in 5.1

The Brawler's Pit in Deep Run Tram, Stormwind When Blizzard first announced this feature, I was excited. I loved soloing things! I really enjoyed being able to outlive and survive something incredibly big. Even though I was slightly squishy on my mage, I was a pretty veteran player and could keep up. I even had entire alts developed towards being able to solo stuff as well. The idea of being a non-traditional (see: Not a Death Knight) soloer is something I’ve always enjoyed.

Then all the drawbacks came in – invites would be sold via the Black Market Auction House. It would be open to a very select group of people at first. It was difficult in nature. It would be a queued line. And originally, that it had spectators and they were allowed to toss buffs or debuffs at you. This made me lose all interest in competing at first. The idea that your skill mattered very little if you were someone that would earn a lot of buffs or debuffs galled me in terms of having it be pure display of your ability to solo stuff. Having spectators made me a little queasy in terms of possible jeering as well. Thankfully, they removed the buffs/debuffs thing early on, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth. This wasn’t necessarily the soloing challenge I had in mind, and it seemed to me that it was geared towards a different sort of people. An affluent, fairly well-geared person that enjoyed putting on a show. It was very gladiatorial in that aspect and I never considered myself as such. So in my mind, it would attract at first just the top-end raider types on my server who made most of their gold selling heroic Deathwing mount runs or something of that nature. I’d never be able to afford an invite, I’d never get in, and if I did, I’d be boo’ed to hell and back.

Curiously, I found myself sitting at the Black Market Auction House even still, chasing around bids as they spiraled up and up. I managed to scoot away with one for 60k, very pricey for the privilege of getting in on this on the first day, but with the same feeling of excitement nonetheless. What was wrong with me? Didn’t I already eschew the idea of the people getting into the Brawler’s Guild? I pushed the feeling aside and made my way to where-ever this guild might actually be. There was no note in the mail and no real indication other than the achievement.

The bar where the matches are held (Alliance-side, at least. Horde is actually held in Orgrimmar proper and is something akin to a tennis match with more spiked fencing) lives up to the hype: it’s tucked away in the tracks of the Deeprun Tram, far away from the civilized Stormwind. It’s full of NPCs who drink, fight, spectate and make bets. There’s shady vendors at every turn, dimly lit booths for people to drink and make deals. It’s modern, industrial and if the game were in real life, undoubtably would flirt with no smoking laws. You walk past the bouncers and definitely get the feeling that you’re in someone’s exclusive and dirty club.

Strangely, I didn’t really see all the high-end people (what ones my server actually has) I expected to be there on the first night; the same people who I saw with Cloud Serpents first after they had spend their first 24 hours of being 90 grinding out eggs without competition. No, it was a lot of people like me – somewhat casual, decently geared but not in full heroic kit. Players with some non-trivial amount of money but not a ton of obvious AH barons. Regular folk who obviously had the passion and the interest and who, it seemed to me, really wanted to be there. This is where my expectations and my reality met head-on and collided.

Everyone was really having a good time.

The stuffy elitism and stand-offishness that I had imagined in my head was replaced with a sense of camaraderie as I started to crank over matches. Maybe it was by the dint of our server designation (RP-PVE) but even the people piped in from other RP realms by CRZ were enthusiastically cheering and commentating matches. No one was behaving badly or being rude. I only had to snark one person for using crappy language. Overall, I felt pretty welcomed. Despite a fairly solid queue over the first day and the next, people started to recognize me really quickly. Friendships and alliances formed up even with other server folk; we gave out tips on fights, grouped together for buffs and shared feasts for optimal stat bonuses. Spectators and competitors alike would help resurrect the dead. I looked forward to going and seeing the same people being around. I even added a couple people to

If Blizzard had intended the small gateway growth to be a hidden social mechanic, then I think they are pretty genius in that respect. I’ve already made a friend or two and we’ve done stuff outside of Brawler’s Guild even. It’s fun seeing them succeed at matches or try out new things, and the banter between matches when you’re waiting on a deep queue keeps things from getting boring.

Murderaffes, Bombs and the Impending Enrage

Socializing and atmosphere aside, Blizzard did a decently good job creating and implementing the fights and queue mechanics themselves. For people who are not in the guild, it goes something like this:

  • A competitor talks to a bouncer standing at the match pit and gets in line. This queue is a buff that’s cast on you. You are alerted in-game when you next in line so you can prepare, and you can check your place in line with the bouncers as well. Leaving the Brawler’s Guild arena area will drop the buff from you.
  • You are ported into the arena when your fight is ready.
  • All fights are capped with a 3-minute enrage timer that lights up the floor nearing the 3-minute mark and then pelts you with fireballs until you die. Dying at the enrage even if boss also goes down results in a Brawler’s reward but no win to push you up in rank. This is so that tanks and healers can’t queue and elongate a fight to infinity. It also keeps queues moving decently fast though the expected time Blizzard wants you to spend in a queue is 15-30 minutes.

This process, via earned victories against bosses, moves you up from rank to rank. There are 8 ranks so far and most of the ranks have 3-4 bosses. The bosses are in a set order so that everyone fights the same mobs. A person in their first match of rank 5 will fight the same boss someone else at the same spot will. It makes things like watching others beneficial as it can give you ideas about how to approach a fight. The fights themselves are a mixture of all sorts of mechanics — council fights, environmental damage, kiting/facetanking, high DPS/burn fights, and using particular fight mechanics to debuff the boss. No one spec or class is ultimately suited better for all of the fights. Some classes that can kite effectively are good, but other classes that can self-heal are better on others. Some are tough for melee, some are tough for ranged. Most of the fights are memorable, either for being a smaller version of a more well-known fight, a famous NPC (which happens more in higher ranks) or a particularly amusing opponent. (Bruce, the first fight in Rank 1, is such an elegantly named croc that most people cheer him on instead of the player.) Some people will breeze through a string of fights and then get completely stuck on another. I’ve not really seen anyone approach the same fight quite the same way.

The fights I’ve managed to get stuck on were the fights with a very tight enrage timer with high execution needs. These are fights that require staying alive or kiting but also having to put out 60k DPS, somehow. All in all, even the fights I’ve gotten stuck on, I’ve had a decent enough time just trying over and over again to get it right and feeling that rush of adrenaline when I barely eek out a win while outrunning some raining fire.

The Downswing of Brawler’s Guild

My initial feelings on Brawler’s Guild were ultimately positive, but nothing gold can stay.

The first three or four days of the guild were really the pinnacle of the experience. I hadn’t expected Brawler’s Guild to be perfect forever, but I hadn’t foreseen that the good times would change so quickly.

Firstly, CRZ can be both a burden and blessing. CRZ is enabled for the zone provided that your server has not enough people queuing or participating on the server. I’m not sure how this works entirely, but the first couple of days were awesome, at least for me: RPers had flocked to spectate and made it definitely feel like a seedy fight club. It made the queues a bit unbearable at prime time and nights before midnight, but the spirit of socializing was fun. I can understand that this “benefit” can vary wildly depending on server designation and populations. Not every server is quite as quirky or polite as mine it seems.

However, CRZ has already been disabled on my server. That means that the place is back to being empty, with the same competitors queuing until the new people show up every day at 1 AM or so. This means watching the same matches but missing a lot of the patter and banter that made them a bit more theatrical.

Secondly, a lot of people are finding out that there is a hidden wall implemented that is beyond skill and that is gear. You will not be successful past rank 4 fights and every rank thereafter without increasingly decent gear, even if you are a burst class. If you aren’t? Good luck getting past certain fights. I wouldn’t say the mixture of mechanics are friendly in general, but there is definitely a need for a minimum level of gear to be able to DPS enough to not die to the enrage. What I had thought initially needed was just skill, but ultimately because it is a PVE competition, gear will always be a factor. I found this out the hard way – I was constantly dying to Akama in Rank 6 just due to not doing enough DPS on my most successful attempts when I wasn’t dying all the other attempts to being eaten alive. It seemed so hard to me that I couldn’t burst him down before getting overwhelmed by adds, and I couldn’t pull off him enough to DPS down adds without losing DPS time on him. Being a mage, I had very little in the way of survivability, so I was getting increasingly frustrated. I figured it might be a spec issue and went not only arcane but frost at one point, only to realize that it might be a gear thing. People who were progressing past me onto Rank 7 all had full 496 and above gear. Whispers were going around that some fights people were getting stuck on up there were needing 80k DPS! I got some upgrades and while the fight didn’t become magically easier, I did beat it the first time around with the new gear and as fire. This was the proof I needed for my point and I felt rather disappointed about it.

The problem is that one of the reasons I got into solo PVE stuff was because a lot of it just came down to skill or spec and being creative. Gear isn’t creative, it is merely a tool to future success but needing group PVE content gear for solo PVE content is a little bit disappointing because it brings that elitism I had been wary of at first back into play. You’re not going to see someone who casually raids at Rank 8 any time soon. I’m sure there’s a couple people who might, but for most of us, we’re not acquiring gear fast enough doing 3 normal bosses a week (even with LFR) to break required DPS checks even with perfect execution in Brawler’s Guild. We’re just not. I would like to reach rank 7 for the once-a-day invites I can sell or hand out to guilds mates, but I know Rank 8 is a little out of my reach.

Thirdly, there’s also problems with people. I know that this is probably just me being a whiny baby given that my server is downright docile in comparison to others like Illidan or Kel’thuzad or Mal’ganis but it seems to have opened up enough so that people who legitimately aren’t concerned with having fun or behaving or treating others well are there. I was doing dailies last night when I see two people from a notoriously vulgar guild talking in General about how they got the invites dropped off rares. Against my better judgement, I go to take a swing at Akama later and see them there, only to have to ask them to not talk about “raping a boss.” What ensued was a genuinely upsetting and creepy convo wherein I had to report both for language and felt myself pretty badly shaken for the entire interaction.

Could this have happened on Day 1? Oh absolutely. But the less effort, time or gold/resources something takes, the less people feel invested in being decent. It’s like Trade Chat – anyone can talk, so everyone, even the shitty people, feel like they can and should contribute. If this is elitism, then I’m okay with being called that. I’m not talking about people who lose fights regularly or whathaveyou, I’m talking about people who want to do nothing but show up and drag the same shitty language and shitty attitudes with them because they are narrow-minded gamers and they don’t have to care about anyone else. It’s like a battleground except you’re forced to be in the same room with them at all times due to the nature of Brawler’s Guild. It made me not want to go back honestly.

So despite my honeymoon period at the beginning, I can definitely see that my time spent at Brawler’s Guild will not be quite the same as when I had first stepped in. However, was it money well spent? Oh absolutely. I really like the idea of competing in solo PVE situations and the added social layer has been pretty fun. However, unfortunately like everything in WoW, if I want to participate, I have to put up with the fact that there are assholes. They might not be able to debuff me during a fight, but they’ve managed to debuff me a bit emotionally.

Blizzard hit on a good thing here, so I do hope they expand it. However, as the difficulty scales up and up, I wonder if the rest of us can keep up with the ever-increasing gear demands and the longer wait as more people jump into the fray.