On the morning of Tuesday 25th January 2017, the mythic difficulty version of World of Warcraft's latest raid tier, Nighthold, opened. This date marked the beginning of a race to clear the hardest content in the game. High-profile guilds in Europe, the US and Asia compete in this race every time a new raid tier is launched.
Despite the fact that the reward for winning is nothing more than bragging rights, plenty of guilds take this challenge seriously. As you can imagine, these guilds attract many applicants. The requirements to join a hardcore mythic progression guild are extremely steep. Let's take a look at some of these requirements.
Serenity (EU), a top European mythic guild has a list of bullet point requirements that include the following:
"At least five alts at max level, knowledge of how to play them and the willingness to re-roll to another class for the good of progression."
Method, another top guild lists similar requirements:
"Commitment: All applicants should have a good attitude towards raiding. You will be required to dedicate yourself to min/maxing not only your main character, but also maintain and prepare multiple (5+) alts. Applicants must also have the time and drive to raid the amount needed for achieving World First."
The "alt" (alternate character) requirement represents a substantial investment in the game. High-end guilds require their members to participate in group content (that can take several hours to complete) on multiple characters weekly. In the above cases, that's a minimum of six separate characters. And that's in addition to solo content that must be completed on a daily basis, again, on all six characters. These activities alone can easily take more than eight hours per day, every day. Some estimate the time commitment to be as high as 12 hours per day.
What about the investment required once a new raid tier is released? Let's take a look.
"For each raid tier, the ability to take off up to two or three weeks off of your work, school or daily routine to commit 100% of this time to Mythic progression."
"Attendance: During progress raids our schedule is really demanding: we raid 12-15 h/day and it's really important you understand this before even thinking about applying or poaching an officer in-game in order for us not to waste yours/our time."
New raid tiers launch roughly every six months. In both of the above guilds, you're expected to take enough time off work in order to be able to put in 15 hour sessions (normally with just a few short breaks) every day, until you've beaten the content.
These competitions don't happen without a requisite amount of drama. Over the years, several guilds have been disqualified from their world first title for exploiting game bugs to their advantage. There are regular rumours that competitive guilds sell services in game for real money, account share (let other people log into their accounts), buy and sell accounts for real money, and organise "DDoS" attacks against competing groups. All of which are against Blizzard's terms of service, and can lead to account suspensions or bans.
During the Nighthold race, "denial of service" attacks were reportedly carried out against two of the competing guilds. Both Serenity and Method lost valuable progression time due to these attacks. In Method's case, their realm was rendered unstable for a few hours early in the race. The following day, a player rooting for Method locked Serenity out of their dungeon using crafty in-game mechanics. An interview with that player can be found here.
The controversy around the lockout attack on Serenity was complicated further when evidence came to light that a member of Method's team knew about the attack, while it was in progress, and kept quiet. This, in turn, caused fans to frown on Method's unsportsmanlike conduct. The offending player was subsequently kicked from his guild. It was further suggested that more of Method's players were aware of the situation, including a guild officer, but the evidence turned out, in a rather 4chan fashion (an unmoderated discussion forum on the internet), to be photo-shopped.
What's still unclear is how Method's server was rendered unstable the previous day, who performed the attack, and why. In the old days of World of Warcraft, players occasionally protested Blizzard's design decisions (nerfs) by creating hundreds of characters on a single realm, causing it to crash. It is speculated that this tactic may have been used against Method.
The race was finally won by the Russian guild Exorsus. Serenity took second place, and Method took third. Given that the race to world first lasted two weeks, with each of the top three guilds finishing a day apart, it's unlikely that the drama had a large effect on the outcome. If you're interested, a few members of Exorsus were recently interviewed about their world first achievement, and what it took to get it. You can find the video here.
I previously wrote about how things like cheating and botting are leading some gamers down a dark path to DDoS attacks. In fact, it's common knowledge that some World of Warcraft players DDoS the IP addresses of competing teams in player-versus-player matches. Brian Krebs conducted an investigation revealing that many of the high-profile late 2016 DDoS attacks (such as the one that crippled Dyn) were, in fact, run by gamers and designed to target Minecraft servers. Nothing more insidious than that.
And although the Mirai-based DDoS attacks against Minecraft servers differ in motivation to the small-scale denial tactics used in World of Warcraft, it's interesting to note the overlap. I'm at least left wondering what new and interesting stuff we might see down the road.
For now, I'm waiting for the opening of the Tomb of Sargeras, which will start the next exciting, possibly drama-filled race for world first!