Last week I was banned from the World of Warcraft.
To be fair, after fourteen years, it was going to eventually happen. I’ve survived several of the game’s more controversial bans, especially in the early days of what we now call Classic WoW. Bans are not an uncommon thing in the game’s long history, both the temporary variety (which I received) and more permanent ones. Receiving one is as simple as using an item in a manner that was not intended, but some of the more infamous have resulted in players distinctly modifying game files to skip entire legions of raid trash.
This week I’d like to talk on the latest of these mass-bans for one of Battle for Azeroth’s simplest items. This ban, for a majority of its users, is utterly well deserved. However due to the nature of the details in this particular situation its vital to discuss, especially when it comes to the playability and enjoyment to be found in the earlier portions of Warcraft’s gameplay.
The item is one that most players starting their quest will not be aware of for quite some time. In fact, most max-level players in current content are not aware of its existence, as it was quietly added by Blizzard with the introduction of the new Service Medal Currency. The Draught of Ten Lands is a flask made available for five Service Medals, awarded through participating directly in your faction’s war effort. Binding to your Blizzard Account, this flask can be mailed to any of your characters and give them a small stat boost, as well as a 10% increase to experience.
The intent of such an item is rather clear, from first glance. In addition to heirlooms, gear which scales with a new character and grants an experience bonus, this is intended to assist in the leveling process. Many players purchased them to use for this purpose, myself included. This has been in the game since the original release of Patch 8.1 and has already seen prolific use by people wanting to level their new Mag’har or Dark Iron characters.
However with the release of both the Kul Tiran and Zandalari races, there seems to have evolved a new, far more interesting use of this rather unassuming item. To say that the Draught was bugged is a very minor understatement of the facts. On multiple occasions when mailing it to other characters, the Draught sorted itself into individual stacks in my bags. Sometimes the Draught would just completely disappear from my inventory entirely. Despite appearing to last an hour, the buff the draught gave has no form of duration tracker on it, making it seem eternal and difficult to track. This, to my knowledge and the knowledge of others, has been going on for at least a month.
All of this would combine into the now famous leveling exploit, one which neither the staff of this site or myself condone. I first discovered the exploit by accident, when all of the above bugs combined to my general confusion; thinking the timer had gone up on one of my Draughts I used an additional, separate one from my bags. And then the buffs stacked.
I first discovered this during a Stockades run with a party of newly created Zandalari Trolls. I received a whisper, “I see you’ve noticed the Draughts too.” Our tank had discovered the bug.
And he had almost forty separate buffs from the Draught of the Ten Lands.
It turns out that if your potions had individually stacked in your bags, which mine had, you could consume entire groups of them to potentially fill up all of your 250 buff slots and exponentially increase your experience gain. Cumulatively. Imagine that, a 2500% experience gain outside of the Monk leveling buff and addition 50% gain from Heirlooms.
This was a bug that Blizzard had been aware of for some time. Even searching through the World of Warcraft Customer Service accounts on Twitter you can see players general confusion on whether or not this item was working as intended. Bug reports about various features regarding the Draught can be seen as early as December of last year when it was added to the game. These issues were a widespread concern far before the addition of the new Allied Races in 8.1.5, but because of the publicity of the new leveling scale this issue became far more widespread. People began to purposefully use this to level their new characters, myself included. After all its hard not to see why this wasn’t intended, having been available for nearly four months in game with no changes or fixes.
Now to be once again transparently clear we here at MMOGames.com do not condone the use of exploiting or cheating in any game. I myself feel I was justly banned, receiving a 48 hour lockout for powerleveling roughly 40 levels with my Zandalari Monk. Others, like Warcraft Youtuber Preach were banned for their first offence for 31 days. Most people who intentionally used this flask were caught somewhere in the middle, punished for how far they had gone with their characters. However, there are some incredibly important things that should be discussed here.
The first is why is this such an issue? Most of the community is understandably upset as this was not an issue for nearly four months. These bugs have been prevalent throughout its release, and the silence was deafening from all official Blizzard communications until the eventual bug-fix of the Draught in-game. Its not hard to see why some of the more vocal playerbase feel slighted by what’s happened with this banning process, particularly with how other bans have occurred in the past.
Taking an example from more recent history, the Legion expansion saw players journeying to the far reaches of the universe to combat the Burning Legion. Aside from assaults by the demonic horde on Azeroth, players could also assault the Legion on worlds they were invading as part of end-game content. A particular account-bound toy players could receive could teleport low-level players TO these invasion sites, which allowed them to group up with other players and collect large amounts of experience very quickly.
Clearly this portal toy was not intended to be used by low-level alts. However, despite that, no one was banned for its usage. Equivalency is a hard thing to achieve in moderating anything, whether it be a Discord server, a game forum, or even an MMORPG itself. Warframe most famously has its issues where players can receive bans for using certain words which could be perceived as social slurs in the global chat, even when discussing particular colloquial abilities between Frames. Moderation is not easy, especially on a massive scale. Some of the backlash is apparent due to the timing of it; most of the bans whether they be 48 hours or 31 days fell over the free ‘Return to WoW’ weekend.
The second question we need to ask is, “Why do players care?” The reality is no one cared. Players didn’t notice the usage of the Flask until it was already incredibly widespread during the Allied Races. Those that found the bugs on the whole reported them as it came up. This was not a large-scale issue until the release of the Zandalari and Kul Tirans and the summation of widespread bans. Without any form of public correction from Blizzard through any channels, players were getting swept up simply by asking other dungeon-goers how they were leveling so quickly. Hundreds of players have been banned, from the cutting-edge Mythic raiders to the most casual of questers, the demographic is huge.
The last, and potentially most important, question is, “Why are players looking to accelerate their leveling experience?”
It is simply because World of Warcraft is boring.
This has been a problem for years and is a systemic issue with playing Warcraft. Adventuring through the world of Azeroth is a very dry experience. Some content is older than the current design of the level 1-60 experience and is wretchedly repetitious. I’m currently leveling a fresh Druid through the old world questing systems where there isn’t any of the high-scale production value found in Battle for Azeroth. Unless you read every piece of quest-text there is very little to really hook you into gameplay until you reach the later end of your journey.
There is no focus on the leveling experience for either newer or veteran players, which makes sense. World of Warcraft, unlike other MMOs, is focused on its core endgame development. That is what keeps older players returning
So where does this leave us? Players have been, rightfully, banned for exploiting game mechanics. Blizzard’s silence and the confusing stance on previous bannings, however, have left the majority of the affected playerbase wanting. There is a clear disconnect between the desires of players and the intents of the developers in regard to the playing of Warcraft with little clear sight of resolution. Even the most important things now are falling through the cracks of Azeroth’s very design for players to toy with to improve their own experience.
This situation is clearly been brought to a head from deep seated issues that have been prevalent from some time now. We’ve asked the why, but when it comes to a clear divergence on the views of Azeroth, we need to ask a far more important question:
Can players truly ever enjoy Azeroth as intended, or there a greater conversation to be had about the user experience and what really constitutes as ‘fun?’