When losing is winning. Or: don’t blame players for Tol Barad

Only a few weeks into the expansion, factions on many servers have started to engage into “win-trading” for the honor gains in Tol Barad, Blizzard’s latest outdoor PVP zone equivalent of Wintergrasp. To give complete newcomers some background: the theoretical aim of the zone is to conquer 3 keeps and then, to hold at least one of them as defender through the consecutive rounds (games happen every 2 hours) or re-conquer them as the attacker. Now the horde and alliance have struck a deal which is to alternate between winning and losing, or to put it briefly: never bothering to defend after a win.

– Why is that, you ask?

Simply put it’s because that strategy is the most rewarding for players. A large part of PvP, just like a large part of farming the same heroic for the 20th time, are rewards. Yeah there’s the fun of playing with a team and being successful, but erm….rewards! For many or probably most gamers epics/gear/rewards translate into win. You get loot for killing a boss, not for letting him live. In PvP winning and gaining as much honor as you can is (or should be) identical. So if you want to gain as much honor as possible, what you need to do in TB is losing on purpose, every second game. To lose is to win here.

– How can that be, you ask?

Blizzard designed the honor gains in such a way that attacking gives a lot more honor than a successful defense. So much more in fact (10 times to be exact), that there is basically no incentive at all for players to defend, except for “teh fame and glory”. We know how well that one works…
This difference in honor gain is a result of attacking (claiming 3 keeps) being a lot harder than defending just one base. And while that might contain some “realism” (besieging is harder than defending), it opens a whole can of worms in this case.

Players want to attack as often as they can, so their strategy makes a lot of sense: lose your defense, so you can win more attacks. Anyone looking to optimize and with a minimum of mathematical skills would choose this strategy. The issue are not the players: Losing should never be profitable – the system should make you want to win in every case.

I. When failed game design is an exploit

According to Blizzard such “win-trading” is of course and exploit and against the rules. Now I’m a bit of a free spirit maybe, but I don’t call taking the logic road and making a strategic decision a game offers you, an exploit. To me, abuse suggests players making use of some kind of glitch or bug in game design that is there by error. Be it that you climb up a cliff you shouldn’t be able to climb in Alterac Valley because it gives you a fatal advantage, be it that you use levitate in order to cheat the fire in Crusaders’ Coliseum. That’s cheating and doing so knowingly or unknowingly usually matters not (hai there, Ensidia).

What we basically have in Tol Barad is similar to the situation we had through almost all of WotLK: “let’s lose fast”-mentality in battlegrounds. And while I didn’t like that one bit, the truth is that Blizzard made losing too profitable. And I can see where they’re coming from: obviously a lot of BG pugs are from hell and not getting any rewards for losing would seriously put many players off. Oh the whining. We cant have that, so here’s some welfare points.
And that’s why Blizzard gave losers a bit of a reward, enough to keep them going and sadly also to make them wanna lose fast. That issue was never handled like an abuse though, in fact the whole system encouraged it. Only at the very end of WotLK did they finally make losing hurt enough for people wanting to win and not sabotaging BGs anymore (although I guess they still did, there’s no fix for stupid).

Tol Barad, while being a different case, is indirectly suffering from the same effect. Worse still: alternating between wins and losses is the most profitable way to go (because you can’t win attacks several times in a row). How much sense does that make to you? I see a football team before me that gets paid more for losing every second game than bothering to win. If losing on purpose has such clear advantages, losing becomes a legitimate choice. The big difference here is only that players aren’t deciding this in BG-chat, they’re doing so openly on the forums.

Of course you can say now “but it’s illegal, Blizzard hath spoketh” and that’s right. Works just great too, “because I said so” has always been a really powerful argument in a debate. Fear of ban makes for instant insight? Not only can you not control or prove players losing on purpose, it’s a lot of fuss over something incredibly easy to fix. And yeah I’ve read the EULA – does that mean we can’t reason anymore?

After the same logic, anyone in an Alterac Valley or any other battleground, who is standing around chatting, goes to grab a drink during respawn time or stops trying half-way through, is sabotaging the point of the game. Does that make him an exploiter, strictly speaking? What if he has a clear gain from losing? Do we have a moral obligation to win or at least try to win?

II. Blame not – fix! Possible solutions for the unholy alliance

Just so I’ve clarified my personal view: I’m no fan of win-trading and I’ve detested BG sabotage with a passion for years. I want to play PvP properly and get rewards for winning and playing cooperatively (with my own faction), not for losing. I have in fact not had time to partake in more than a single TB game so far which lasted 3 minutes before it was lost. I also don’t condone deliberate exploiting in MMOs.

In Tol Barad’s case however, players are making the most practical choice in order to optimize honor gains and that choice is there by design. Blaming players to play a system that makes no sense to their advantage, makes no sense. If you design a game that nobody wants to win, you fail at designing. Nobody wants to win a TB defense game, only an attack game. So for me, the responsibility lies with Blizzard here: they need to fix this non-sense. I am frankly also a little baffled that they wouldn’t have foreseen this during the months of Cataclysm testing, but maybe they have simply under-estimated the level of cooperation servers are capable of, which Spinks so aptly calls the “miracle of Tol Barad”.

So, how to fix this? Few ideas:

  • Harmonize the required effort of attacking and defending. Why does the defender only need to defend one base when attacking requires three? 
  • Harmonize the honor gains alongside with the requirements; attack and defense should both be profitable. If anything, make the reward for a successful defense slightly higher in order to encourage players to keep ownership. This would make thoughts of win-trading obsolete.
  • Abandon the whole re-claiming concept and reset status before every new game. Maybe a more extreme change, but why does there always need to be the defense part? Make both factions go for the same attack game each round.

In a way, all of this reminds me oddly of Ghostcrawler’s commentary on abandoning the 5-second-rule for mana regen in Cataclysm, which can be roughly summarized as: “it makes no sense to reward and motivate healers to stand around and do nothing”. Exactly! There should be no reward for not playing!

Tol Barad, even if not designed to be played that way, indirectly encourages doing nothing. Or rather: Tol Barad rewards cross-faction cooperation more than conflict at the moment. All it takes for this to change are a few small fixes. We’ll see what happens next.


  1. I agree completely. I only won my first Tol Barad battle this afternoon (and got in about a minute before the fight ended, so I didn’t actually do much) but I’ve been following this discussion and I agree that the system is just ridiculous. Yes, win trading is a bad thing, but with the current system you don’t even need to organise anything because the motivation to alternate winning and losing works on an individual level, even without making any plans!

  2. Excellent post.

    I too am no fan of win-trading and want to play PvP properly. As long at that’s not happening, I’m simply boycotting TB defence. I refuse to go in there and let them win, and staying out means one less enemy gets through the queue, which means one less welfare PvP item for their faction.

    I’ll stop boycotting defence when Blizzard fix the incentives and people actually start contesting again.

  3. I think that Tol Barad would be awesome if it were an assault type game like Strand of the Ancients. That would make it fair (up to a point). Unfortunately none of this will work until blizzard sort out faction imbalance on servers.

    That was the issue with WG where it would be owned by one faction for too long so the other faction couldn’t play with Archavon. I think Blizzard needs to man-up and stick a flag in it and either do away with contested PvP zones for competitive PVE reasons or just accept the fact that it won’t work on all realms and sort out the imbalance. Now they can’t do anything stupid or inept players, sadly, but if 20% of the alliance went over to the horde and that balance has never been sorted out, that IS their problem.

    I’ve not seen the loot table for the new TB raid boss – but going on what VoA was, I think they should do away with the PvE loot that is dropped from the bosses and just have it as a PvP thing, that would make the actual TB battle fairer, obviously they would have to alter the boss fight to pitch it at pvp gear and not pve raid gear – but that’s the only thing I can think of to make the actual taking of TB more even

  4. Well, as it looks Blizzard have hotfixed the honor gains in Tol Barad and nerfed the attack wins from 1800 honor down to 360. This giant leap shows just how wrong the number was before.
    360 is now exactly 50% of the defense gain, so defending twice or attacking once come down to the same. even if you still lose on purpose now, you end up with the same number over the course of 3 games (and only if you’re going to win the next attack).

    and while I’m happy this was fixed as it was obviously never meant to be played that way, I am still a little miffed at the fact that it will take me weeks to collect the honor now that others got in the very first one – and for standing on a stupid bridge… -.-


    indeed, de-motivation alone was enough to lose these games. I guess there’s a fine line, but you could hardly call that intentional win-trading.


    Thanks! and good point: one less person in, is one less person on the other side. but I guess you can re-join the defense games now that they finally fixed this. 🙂


    I find the entire connection of the zone conquest and the instance within and also the ability to do the southern dailies or not, highly unfortunate. while in theory it’s a cool idea to make conflict more meaningful this way, it simply doesn’t work in WoW for reasons you already mentioned.

  5. I’m rather unhappy with the entire Tol Barad debacle. The 1800 honor for a win as an attacker was insane and nothing more than a band-aid on an already broken battleground.

    I don’t believe in win-trading either, and I suspect that the nerf to the honor gained now will put us back to square one where the defense will actually defend.

    The problem of course then going back to the original problem as well, of Tol Barad being almost impossible to gain as an attacker while defending it when owning it is much to easy.

    I really wish that Blizzard would look at a solution that doesn’t encourage win-trading in any way, but rather make Tol Barad more balaned so that you have equal opportunity to win when attacking as when defending (whilst now defending definitely have the upper hand).

  6. @Saga

    Indeed, I was wondering that too. I think the fix helps, but with the points for winning 1 attack or 2 defenses being equal now, while the difficultay of both is STILL so unlike, won’t people cling to their defense now and make it very hard for an attacker to ever get it back?

    I think it should be a challenge to attack surely, but from what I’ve seen and heard so far, the discrepancy between the two is simply too big.
    so, there’s a chance that this fix is now pushing players from one extreme to the other.

    it’s quite nasty too in regards of BH and the dailies.

  7. personally i think they will do away with the dailies on the Mainland for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are too many dailies around as it is. If people want to do 25 dailies, it is very easy. In some cases i’ve hit the cap if i haven’t planned properly (and this is without going out of my way).

    Secondly, there are far too many ways of getting rep with your TB factions. The peninsula dailies themselves offer the same rep a day as Therazane or Wildhammer/Dragonmaw – if they removed those dum tokens from TB then everything would be fine. Right now, you do all the dailies and get to Exalted without the tokens to get what you want – why have a PvE vendor do something differently than the rest? just give them a tabard if you want players to get extra rep.

    Thirdly – with the respawn rate of mobs in TB for the dailies set to INSANE, it’s not fun, just mind-numbingly frustrating. Even if you go in a group, you still get snared with all of the mobs around.

    I just don’t get why they would make TB so broken. Sure had some ideas, some very good – but if you’ve got the Peninsula to daily in, you don’t ALSO need dailies in TB itself – they may THINK it gives more of an incentive to hold/take TB but it’s just another punishment for previously stated imbalance – ho hum.

  8. It really looks like we’re back where we were two weeks ago; defending is too easy compared to attacking, the rewards are insufficient to get players (PvP and PvE alike) to engage in the battle for the fun of it, and the design of the battleground is still fundamentally broken.

    The policy of Blizzard has been remarkably consistent in how they treat exploits. It doesn’t matter if the game design leads you to do it, if it’s strategic thinking, if it’s good use of positioning (fighting atop walls in WG in between battles, for instance) – if it meets their definition of an exploit, they do not bend.

    Pity that being consistent doesn’t allow them to be fair, too.

  9. @Cynwise

    Blizzard has indeed always held that very self-righteous stance, I can’t remember that they ever took any responsibility for design-created issues like that. but then I’m sure any large enterprise such as theirs, acts from this very superior standpoint, they can simply never be at fault. while there are reasons for this ‘strategy’ probably, I must say that I personally always have an issue hearing about player bans related to exploits that are far from any common sense; ignorance might be no excuse in law, but very strictly speaking a lot of so-called ‘exploits’ would be hard to perceive for most of us.

  10. This thread (which I’m finding really interesting, btw) made me dig through my archives to find some of my posts on exploits. This feels just like the Wintergrasp walls “terrain exploit,” which was nothing of the kind:


    and compared to other behavior which clearly is an exploit – teleporting, movement hax, going under the terrain – calling Tol Barad’s last week an exploit is really unfair.

    Blizzard actually enforcing this rule would be one of the worst moves they could make to keep their legitimate players.

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