The removal of Skirmishes was a mistake. The feature was both fun and provided the PvP community with a myriad of benefits. Blizzards reasoning for removing Skirmishes in Cataclysm and their subsequent failure to bring back and polish the feature are poor, don’t live up to scrutiny and at worst outright contradictory.
Two of the main philosophies of Mists of Pandaria is firstly allowing players to play the game how they want to and, secondly, giving the player base more to do outside of raiding and rated PvP. From Challenge Modes, Battlegrounds, Pet Battles to Farms, Skirmishes would slide in perfectly and provide more ammo to achieve these two central aims. However, Skirmishes were not perfect and far from it. There were numerous flaws, but Blizzard has the technology to vastly improve the system, eradicate these flaws and deliver a much more refined and polished version of Skirmishes in Mists of Pandaria. They just need to be willing to do so.
Today we’ll be discussing why Blizzard should bring back Skirmishes and how to vastly improve them to increase usage and give the PvP community something else to celebrate come Mists of Pandaria.
Skirmishes were removed in the Cataclysm conversion patch and there was no mention as to why. In fact, we didn’t receive an official response on the matter until the PvP edition of Ask the Devs in March 2011:
We just thought we’d get more bang for the buck out of Wargames. While some players enjoyed Skirmishes, we can tell you that overall they were used very rarely. We would have kept them if it had been relatively easy to do so, and we may add them back someday, but it’s just not a huge priority based on their previous popularity.
They stated in another thread that only “an extremely fractional percentage” of the WoW player base actively used skirmishes and with the implementation of “BG War Games” as well as other changes in Cataclysm, the decision was made “not to polish skirmishes and keep them in”.
The idea we’d get more bang for the buck out of War Games is a flawed one. This isn’t to knock War Games mind. Indeed, along with cross realm queues, War Games are the reason tournaments like NAO and Prestige Gaming are actually possible. The feature has also provided a fantastic practice tool against specific comps, a means to test potential recruits and as another means to just have fun. War Games are a fantastic feature in those regards and were very much welcomed, but War Games were not an adequate replacement for Skirmishes, the feature is something entirely different and should have been developed in addition to and not in replacement of Skirmishes.
Throughout the history of WoW Blizzard has strived to remove the leg work from certain tasks. The most prominent example of this was back in Wrath of the Lich King with the implementation of the Dungeon Finder. It was no longer necessary to search for a group via trade chat and travel to five man instances. The new system did all the leg work for you and made dungeons much more accessible—it improved the game. The Raid finder has done the same in terms of raid groups albeit with lesser gear for the privilege.
Now consider Skirmishes which found you random partners and found you random opponents. In fact, in terms of 2v2 it did this faster than both the Dungeon and Raid finder. It did all the leg work for you. Now with Skirmishes gone, War Games are the only option. You have to find team mates willing to participate and also opponents willing to participate as well. Instead of continuing this strive to remove leg work, Blizzard has done the reverse here and increased the leg work necessary to jump into a rating risk free arena matchup. As great as War Games are as a standalone feature, they’re not an adequate feature replacement for Skirmishes.
Consider Battlegrounds—you can join a random Battleground, queue up via War Games with and against your friends or even join rated Battlegrounds. On the other hand, the option to queue random arena is missing and that’s a real shame.
Now as to the “fractional percentage” of the WoW player base who actually utilised Skirmishes. This is probably true in terms of the 3v3 and 5v5 brackets where people would attempt to queue into one another—War Games been a great replacement for this particular usage. In terms of the 2v2 bracket, this statement is questionable and, while this is just anecdotal evidence from my perspective, 2v2 skirmishes seemed insanely active. From time to time you’d come across the same people, but it didn’t happen often. You’d join the queue and it’d often pop up in a matter of seconds afterwards.
Yet, even if just a “fractional percentage” of the player base utilised Skirmishes, so what? Did Blizzard even consider the other features they’ve kept, continue to developer or are currently developing which will fall into the same “fractional percentage” category as Skirmishes?
They spent a hefty amount of the Cataclysm development time re-doing the 1-60 levelling experience. They continue to keep every previous raid instance available in the game despite just a “fractional percentage” making use of them and, therefore, drawing on instance server resources. They spent time developing Peacebloom vs. Ghouls—a mini game imitation of Pants vs. Zombies. It’s highly questionable that the percentage of people who play this mini game outnumbers those who used Skirmishes.
In fact, look at heroic modes. The percentage of guilds that killed the 25 man heroic version of the Lich King (when relevant) is 1.85%. This has barely improved in Cataclysm with Sinestra been killed by only 2.84% of guilds and Ragnaros by 7% of guilds. These “fractional percentages” of guilds isn’t a reason to cease development of this content and rightly so.
In Mists of Pandaria they plan to implement Pet Battles, Farms and solo instances called Proving Grounds.
Now it’s highly probable most of these features are or will be utilised by more people then Skirmishes, but it’s also true a number of the features mentioned above won’t be or aren’t currently. This doesn’t mean their development should be scrapped or previous features should be removed. However, Blizzard cannot claim this “fractional percentage” as justification for their failure to bring back Skirmishes—it’s contradictory and makes no sense in light of these other features. Indeed, even War Games themselves are likely utilised far less then Skirmishes were and it’s no reason to scrap them. The reason can’t be applied to skirmishes while been relevant to numerous other features in WoW.
Blizzard has so far failed to present an adequate and consistent reason for why Skirmishes were removed. This should be reason enough to bring them back, but let’s take a look at why they’re such a great feature and what Blizzard could do to improve them and increase their usage.
Firstly here’s an incomplete list of the benefits of Skirmishes:
Testing Macros, testing a new add-on, learning what to do against other classes, mastering your key binds, learning a new spec, warming up for rated arena, finding partners, cooldown management, practicing positioning, testing new ideas, learning to identify your enemy, mastering your spell usage, handicap matches, no risk of rating loss, automatically finds you a partner, better training ground then battlegrounds, queue with friends who are on different teams…
However, ignore that list because there’s only reason needed as to why Skirmishes should be brought back:
They were fun! You could mess around without risking rating or when your team mates weren’t on or had gone AFK.
This is the only reason Blizzard should need to bring them back.
In fact, Blizzards reasoning for implementing Skirmishes in TBC was this:
For Fun and Practice
They went on to state:
This is about giving choices to players that like one type of PvP over another or that want to shake up their routine to include a nice variety… Some people find practice to be fun.
When your partners aren’t online, there are only really random Battlegrounds to mess around in PvP wise. Personally these get on my nerves, especially Alterac, Strand of the Ancients and Isle of Conquest, but that’s a rant for another time. Indeed, as a healer they can become even more irritating and dull. On the other hand, Skirmishes were an extremely fun way to pass the time for me and many others. Also battlegrounds pale in comparison to Skirmishes as a training tool for arena.
Skirmishes lived up to those initial aims.
Blizzard has claimed two of the central aims behind Mists of Pandaria are to allow the player base to” approach the content they want to, how they want to, and are able to work toward meaningful player progression”. Random Battlegrounds rewarding conquest points is one example of this aim in practice and daily quests rewarding valour points in Mists of Pandaria is another. The second aim is to give the player base more to do outside of rated PvP and raiding. This is the reason they’re implementing farms, pet battles, challenge modes, scenarios, world PvP objectives and proving grounds.
As stated above, one of the original aims of skirmishes was about giving choices to players that like one type of PvP over another or that want to shake up their routine to include a nice variety. It’s exactly the same concept of playing the game how you want to and having extra activities to participate in. Mists of Pandaria are the perfect time to bring back Skirmishes!
In my previous post Blizzards intent to reduce the barrier to entry in PvP was discussed in regards to resilience. Skirmishes arguably lowered the barrier to entry in terms of arena. To succeed in rated arena you need a good composition, you need good partners, and you need a feel for arena. The frustration grows before you even step foot into arena and it pushes people away. Skirmishes remove the hurdle of finding partners and allow people to test the water and get a better feel for arena. In that regard and with the improvements suggested below, Blizzard could lower the barrier to entry in PvP and entice individuals to participate if they re-implement skirmishes.
Skirmishes were not perfect and had a number of flaws that turned people off or at least irritated people from time to time. The main flaws included been teamed with the same class, been teamed as a healer with another healer or going against comps of this nature as well as having to queue via an NPC. Another issue was no means of encouraging players to participate in Skirmishes due to no rewards been attached.
The Dungeon finder and Raid finder have somewhat decent group composition facilities. You select your role and queue for either a dungeon or raid. This technology could easily be utilised in a revamped Skirmishes system. You’d select either damage dealer or healer when queuing and be matched appropriately. For example, in 2v2 a healer would always be paired with a DPS and a DPS would be paired with either a healer or another DPS. The system should also attempt to avoid matching the participant with the same class. This type of revamp would remove the frustrating part of Skirmishes and improve the overall usage.
The sky’s the limit here. 3v3 could attempt to match melee/castor/healer or even match based on gear. These features might be too much to ask, but are just examples of what Blizzard could do should they improve the queuing system for Skirmishes.
It used to be the case that you had to go to an NPC to queue for a Battleground, rated Arena or a Skirmish. This is no longer the case and the same would be true of Skirmishes if they were brought back. This ability to queue from anywhere would increase the usage of Skirmishes by its self without any subsequent improvements. Waiting for a raid? Jump in and enjoy a Skirmish instead of standing about.
The ability to queue cross realm would also suit Skirmishes particularly well. It’d allow you to play arena with friends on other servers without having to go through the hassle of finding opponents as you do with War Games. It’d also allow you to test new partners and learn to co-ordinate with one another—allowing you to see if transferring to their realm would really be worth your time and money.
Blizzard could give incentives to participate. An easy start would be to reward a small amount of honour for victories and perhaps even losses. This could increase based on bracket to encourage 3v3 and 5v5. This would be open to abuse, but so are random Battlegrounds. You shouldn’t punish the legitimate player base to spite those who would abuse, target them specifically. They could even implement a daily quest to win X amount of Skirmishes for Conquest points. Battlegrounds would still be a superior way to farm honour due to taking more time, but Skirmishes would provide an alternative source for those who aren’t particularly fond of queuing random and getting bloody Alterac as a healer.
These ideas are just off the top of my head and would vastly improve the system and increase the usage of Skirmishes. However, none of these changes are necessary right now—Blizzard need only bring them back as they were and the move would still be applauded.
Skirmishes are severely missed by a portion of the PvP community. There are constantly threads on the WoW forums demanding they be reinstated, but all attempts have fallen on deaf ears. With Mists of Pandaria on the horizon this is the perfect time for Blizzard to announce their re-implementation in the forthcoming expansion. The reasoning for their removal and continued absence makes little to no sense in light of the current game and actions by Blizzard in regard to other features. War Games were a fantastic addition in Cataclysm, but are not an adequate replacement or stand in for Skirmishes. The feature was fun to use and provided a myriad of benefits, this and the initial aims of Skirmishes been closely linked to the Mists of Pandaria philosophy of play the game how you want to should give Blizzard clear reason to bring back Skirmishes.