Blizzard has announced the release date of patch 1.30.2 for December 1st.
This patch will make history as it will completely change the way we play Warcraft III on Battle.net. As excited as we are of heading closer towards Reforged, this patch is awaited with nervousness by any admin involved behind the scenes.
Custom games, FFA, 4v4 and the esports scene will all be negatively impacted. Let's explain why and try to suggest a few ways to reduce the damage for our communities.
We will not get into the balance changes here, there were a few that we can discuss in a later article.
This is a follow-up to this previous article about the Battle.net's overhaul. I suggest that you read it first for a better grasp on the subject.
PTR : Public Test Realm. This is the realm on which one can connect to test future patches concocted by Blizzard.
Hostbot : A third-party program used to extend game hosting capabilities of Warcraft III. Popular features include (1) working around the "port forwarding limitation"; (2) auto-host lobbies for popular maps, keeping player statistics and ban lists; (3) balance playing conditions in competitive play.~Niels
Melee : Warcraft III normal game mode which can be played from 1v1 to 4v4 or FFA.
Custom Game (cg) : any game which is not melee but originated from WC3 assets such as Tower Defense (TD), Vampirism, Footmen Frenzy (...) and of course Dota.
We exposed in September how strong the reaction from Custom Games managers was. The suppression of hostbots meant their own likely disappearance after 7 to 10 years of sustaining communities.
I thought the 48h strike lead by ENT Gaming would be the culmination of the conflict before more civil discussions between those managers and Blizzard could occur.
It was a wrong assumption as the tensions escalated afterwards.
I want to stop the narration and give credit to uafk.b once more. This man is just a genius. He was behind most of the hostbot system that we used for years and which pretty much saved CG and Melee communities alike. Without hostbots, we would likely have given up at a time when Blizzard was pushing its ressources towards SC2 and decided to let WC3 go.
Facing this new crisis, he just created a new hosting software named "WC3Connect" in a few days which allows custom games fans to keep playing on bots outside of battle.net.
Do not get me wrong, I do not like this scene split one bit. However I can understand the move as starting December 1st, there will not be anymore option to play a moderated custom game ladder on battle.net. You will be able to host games for fun yourself and play with a couple of friends, that's about it. I want to insist here, this is not as fun nor would this system be as active as the hostbot one used to be.
I looked at WC3Connect's activity on a European Friday night. They had 94 games either running or with players waiting in lobbies. I do not know how much it compares to their previous statistics but I would say the system is at the very least operational at peak hours.
Back to the story. On October 26th, ENT Gaming leader Hazardous made an announcement and used terms that have more to do with warfare than with gaming, asking his player base to transition towards WC3Connect.
I want to lighten the tone of the article a bit. This episode really reminded me of Medivh warning in Lordaeron urging the Humans to head West to Kalimdor. Just run the video and tell me if you see a ressemblance in both topics!
Hazardous/Medivh : your people must travel West to WC3Connect
As ENT Gaming hostbots started to promote WC3Connect on battle.net, those were all banned on October 26th. I think we can understand Blizzard's motives there to not let ENT Gaming syphon battle.net's player pool.
Hazardous was not done fighting however as he later requested all of his users to message and harass one of Blizzard's representative on his email address. This I feel, was really out of line. That is how his account was substantially banned and deleted by Discord.
This is where we stand on the CG's battlefield. The current patch notes do not mention any project to make a playable ladder for custom games. This may be in the works but if it is, there will be a long time without a decent access to this service on battle.net. Lack of information never helps to put anyone's mind at ease.
I pressed the issue of the insufficient activity on battle.net to sustain those two modes in my previous article. As of December 1st, the 4v4 and FFA ladders hosted on bots will disappear.
Players will have to rely on the regular battle.net ladders. Northrend should be active enough at peak times for FFA players, it will be harder for American ladders. I would suggest everyone to focus their activity on Northrend for now for this game mode to keep it running.
A merge of all realms would be a solution, it could be something Blizzard plans to do but here again nothing is announced in the patch notes. This only means that those communities will have to go through hard times as well. Let's just hope that the SD version will be capable to attract new players fast enough to lower the search times until Reforged comes out.
The concerns of the 4v4 community about griefers have not been addressed neither. Griefers are those players team killing or leaving at start. WC3melee.com used to put those players under control on their hostbots. Blizzard will not upon the patch's release.
I knew we would have to change our habits in term of tournament's hosting since the patch was first announced. I understood that Blizzard had to get rid of the bots for some unclear reasons then. Now we know it was about preparing the launch of Reforged.
I never signed the online petition to keep the hostbot system on change.org nor that I tried to convince anybody to maintain them. I was fine with the change as long as the chore functions of what the bots could provide were safeguarded.
Here again, Blizzard must have a timetable to follow at all costs, which could explain why I feel this critical part of the path towards Reforged is being rushed if not bulldozed through. After testing the PTR, we realized that this patch would make running a tournament a hell of a lot challenging.
This was the bad surprise in the patch notes. When one game is created, it is automatically hosted it onto the server the closest to the game creator.
So basically now if a European manager wants to host a game between two Americans, the game will be hosted in Europe giving our friends in Peru a terrible ping. This is just one example, Korea vs Europe games will be another.
I tweeted about it and received those kind of suggestions which I'd like to counter already.
Just ask someone from America to host it : we have very few managers from America and this is just a logistical nightmare to have one available at each and every tournament.
Just use a VPN : well then yes an European could host a game in America but that would just be another logistical nightmare. Buy a VPN, see how the grid evolves. To not host in Europe, start the VPN, unlog from bnet, relog, host, unlog, switch VPN off.
We are limited in numbers and doing this on our free time.
We hope we can have a drop down menu to select the game location whenever one is hosted.
The choice of servers location will be an issue as well as we will have access to less options. Basically ping conditions for players will deteriorate after December 1st whatever happens.
There will be other challenges like not being able to ban someone for good as there will be no ban list. There is also no indication of the ping in-game making it impossible for an admin to determine how fair is the situation ping wise when a game is running.
The Classic team insisted during their interviews at Blizzcon on the fact that the Warcraft 3 community was one and only. It should not be split and that was why SD and Reforged version would be compatible. I was really moved by those words showing care for the existing WC3 community.
Pete Stilwell : "Incredibly important to get it right for the existing community"
Another challenge addressed by the team was the importance of not "breaking the game" with heavy changes.
Rob Brindenbecker "Don't break the game (...) dont take for granted what made the game fun"
Pete and Rob are truly passionate about the game and meant every word they said, there is no doubt. And we are on board with this!
Classic Team really focused on the in-game mechanics, the compatibility between SD and Reforged and the art work. Those are crucial component of a game and need to be on point once Reforged comes out.
But let's not forget that the fun comes also from how we are able to play a game. How fast is it to find a game. How moderated is a ladder and how competitive is a game mode.
It's important for a game to look great. It is as important to be accessible and competitive. The incoming patch is a big letdown in those regards, especially for the custom game community.
I hope Blizzard can go ahead and disclose his projects for the future hosting wise and address those issues at least on forums. Now that Reforged has been announced, it is maybe time to give more understanding to the community of what the big plan is hosting wise. We all have the same objective of making battle.net a fun place to play in.