Saturday, September 1, 2018

Resurrection Shuffle : GW2

Last night was re-linking in World vs World. It happens on the last Friday of every even-numbered month. The link system began in the Spring of 2016.

For North America that meant the elision of two dozen servers, then competing in eight tiers, into a dozen, fighting in four. The twelve most populated servers became "Hosts" while the rest became "Guests". All servers kept their names and behind the scenes the Glicko score of the guests continued to tick over but from then on Hosts got top billing and guests got to see their names in small print.

As with anything ANet has a hand in, the system has undergone numerous iterations since then. The way population is calculated has changed. We now use a two-hour Skirmish system with points to keep score rather than raw Glicko as we used to do. We also currently labor under a "one up, one down" promotion mechanic that makes everything a lot more predictable and a lot less volatile than it used to be.

For a long time the whole enterprise was wildly controversial. Prior to the linkings "Server Pride", while not as strong as it once was, still meant a good deal to many. For months after the change, the forums dripped with anguished threads about loss of identity, while more pragmatic players created server guilds to keep the flag flying.

At the time, many people - probably most people - felt it was the end for the dozen servers that had lost their ability to headline a match. The feeling was that after a decent interval those names would be quietly expunged and we'd have de-facto server merges.

Didn't happen. Instead the guest servers carried on, sometimes in more than just name. Crystal Desert, which missed the original cut, even managed to claw back Host status, replacing Darkhaven. That resurrection appeared to be the exception, however. Until recently.

Here I am this morning, thirty seconds after logging in, on my way to retake Hills. It never stops.

WvW has always been prone to bandwagons. Sometimes it happens when self-appointed Community leaders decide to rah-rah for a specific project, as when the attempt was made to drag the eternal bottom server, Kaineng, all the way to Tier One. Mostly it's more a form of self-interest as people try to attach themselves to a rising star.

With the announcement that WvW would be receiving a top to bottom revamp in which all existing worlds would be removed and replaced with a system of Alliances, a number of high net-worth individuals (aka Guild Leaders aka Wrecking Balls) took it upon themselves to game the existing system while it lasts, partly for profit but mostly out of pure devilment.

In addition, as Server Loyalty and identity continues to fragment and both guilds and individuals seek to ask not what they can do for their World but what they can do for themselves, the game mode moved into a period of high volatility, with guilds transferring at an ever-increasing frequency, often fracturing and splitting communities in the process.

The results have been spectacular. In the last round of links at the end of June, Kaineng returned from link purgatory to Host status, displacing Crystal Desert. Yesterday saw that process accelerate, with two switches as Anvil Rock and Sanctum of Rall regained their independence after two years in the shadowlands.

If that wasn't surprising enough (and it surprised the heck out of me when I logged in this morning and read the new linkings) then the Worlds that went grey most certainly were. Out of the Hosting business go Dragonbrand and... Jade Quarry!

Dragonbrand has always been a strong server, largely due to having the word "Dragon" in its name. Certain demographics have very strong affiliations to certain images and ideas and the mere use of a word that brings those to mind will strongly influence server choice.

I felt sufficiently motivated to put my Charr Warrior into full exotics. She's been in a rag-bag of Rares for the best part of six years.

Many Eastern players, as I understand it, find the Dragon an appealing banner to fight under. The same reason led to Jade Quarry attracting a large number of players from outside of the Americas. (This, incidentally, is why I replied to Keen's post on choosing a server with the opinion that the name of the server is the most important indication of its likely community, outside of the ruleset itself).

Jade must have been even more magnetic a draw than Dragon because Jade Quarry dominated the WvW rankings for years. For the first three years the server never fell out of the top three and it has remained a major force and title contender throughout the life of the game. Until now.

To see JQ drop to link status is akin to seeing Manchester United relegated to the National League (formerly The Conference). It's something that just can't happen. Only, in GW2, it just did.

In some ways this is good. I have a soft spot for Anvil Rock, who were Yak's Bend's very first link and who have partnered with us several times. They had great spirit, some strong commanders and were always good company.

One of the nicest commanders I ever ran with, Frozen, formed a server guild called Anvil Resistance to keep that spirit going. They're still around. I often see the tag. I hope Frozen is still playing and glorying in the well-deserved resurgence of his World, even though I imagine it's a very different place right now, stuffed to the gills with carpet-baggers.

Sanctum of Rall, which was famously named after a player who died before GW2 began, owes its resurgence to a campaign started by Foghladha to see out the final days of the old matchmaking system in some kind of glory. There were some doubts expressed as to the motives behind the move but the results are plain for all to see. Sanctum of Rall has its name back.

It all comes down to this in the end.

It's also good to see the whole bag of marbles shaken up once in a while. Earlier in the year WvW felt very stale. Now it feels unpredictable and chaotic. That suits me fine.

On the other side of the argument I can see some serious problems. The matchmaking system and scoring are already in disrepute. Many players don't see the point of keeping score at all when we know the whole system is going away and even those who do feel the current scoring method is deeply flawed.

Add instability on this level to the mix and you risk WvW turning into nothing much more than a free-for-all where everyone fights for the sake of fighting. Some people like that but I'm not one of them.

On balance, though, I like where we are now better than where we were a few months ago. No-one expects the proposed revamp to happen this year. I wouldn't be surprised to see it attached to the third expansion as some kind of feature, which would mean mid-late 2019 at the very earliest. Until it gets here we need some motivation and the current resurgence of certain World identities adds that.

It also puts the fear of Zhaitan into the rest of us. If Jade Quarry can fall, no-one's safe, not even mighty Blackgate, currently, unthinkably, languishing in Tier Three.

Yak's Bend is enjoying a mini-renaissance of its own right now. Half a dozen medium to large guilds left last month, which you might think would be bad news. As it happens, they were mostly "fight" guilds. They and a few others had had a fairly long run on YB, changing the culture from our longstanding siege meme to something less hated but also less interesting.  I was happy to see them go.

Superstar Commander says "Look into my eyes..." Also "Get that cat out of the way"
Even before they left things were starting to change back. Not only did our own King over the Water return from another of his sabbaticals but he somehow persuaded his long-lost helpmeet and ally, thought gone forever by most, to return as well.

Those two, along with a number of others, some of whom have also re-appeared, were the foundations of Yak's Bend's infamous Golden Age of Arrow Carts. ACs themselves have been heavily nerfed and things right now do feel a little more like a re-union tour, where everyone just wants to hear the hits, but it's a huge improvement on what we had to put up with under the previous so-called leadership.

In a final twist, the other World I play on, Ehmry Bay, was linked with Yak's Bend for (I think...) the first time ever. For the next two months I have all my characters not just in the same match but on the same side! Seeing as how I chose EBay for my third account because of the famous alliance between YB and EB against SBI in the first WvW tournament Season, it feels like we've come full circle at last.

It's astonishing how WvW still manages to dominate my GW2 gameplay six years on, despite all its manifold faults and shortcomings. It's ridiculously addictive. I hate to think what it would be like if ANet ever managed to balance the combat and come up with a meanigful scoring system too...

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