I transferred my 85 rogue to Illidan because I was taken aback at the massive disparity between the Alliance and Horde as illustrated on the WoWProgress and US Server Population websites, and I wanted to experience first-hand what this felt like. I've always believed that ganking in WoW is a manageable and often overrated threat based on my own experience on Frostmourne and Garithos. I'm willing to concede that I may be wrong, because it was only recently that I found out that the Alliance outnumber the Horde on Frostmourne 2 to 1. If I can level a non-stealth toon from 1 to 90 on the most (or second most, depending on what stats you use) populated realm in the US and where the disparity between the Horde and Alliance is at its starkest (4500+ to 1, according to WoWProgress), then it will confirm to my own satisfaction that ganking in WoW is no impediment to attaining the power cap (i.e. currently at 90 with full Conquest gear) and thus fulfils the criteria for equal opportunity in asymmetrical worlds. Plus I like the idea of being vastly outnumbered and surrounded by a sea of enemies. It appeals to my role-playing sensibilities.
Ganking on Illidan
For now though, I am planning to level my 85 rogue to 90, gear her up in full Honor and then full Conquest, and embark on a ganking campaign while doing so. My goal is 1000 ganks, which is a completely arbitrary number I made up. I was originally going to transfer my feral druid, who is already 90 and in full Tyrannical, but the rogue was a better choice because having to level her from 85 to 90 will require me to engage in the world by questing. In either case I was always going to bring a stealth toon (I also considered taking my hunter) to offset the massive population balance I was expecting. Rogues can engage anyone on their own terms, and so the population doesn't even matter. Anytime things look grim, just Vanish, Cloak off any debuffs and wait for a better opportunity. Even if you have Bleeds on you, Vanish will still work for three seconds, which is more than enough time to Sprint away and escape. Couple that with Gouge, Blind and Kidney Shot, and a rogue has enough tools to control a fight so even if you can't win, you can still escape.
Another factor to my advantage is that I'm not interested in PvE content at all, which means I can be completely flexible as to how I level up my toon (levelling in dungeons is cheating, however, because it's not part of the world). In his post on Sacred Duty Theck complains about world PvP because it prevents him from enjoying the content on the Timeless Isle on Tichondrius. I'm not interested in the Timeless Isle, and I have no intention of gathering Timeless coins or killing the mobs/bosses on the island. The Timeless Isle's sole interest to me is the fact that it is a locus point around which Horde and Alliance gather around. In better OWPvP games locations have an intrinsic value because they either produce resources, or confer strategic benefits. In WoW one place is as good as another, and where the players congregate is where the gankers go, too.
I did set some ground rules for myself though:
i) No sitting duck stuff - I'm not going to attack anyone below 85. I was going to limit myself to equivalent levels, but there is still value in attacking players lower than you because it makes them call for help in the world and brings on the defenders of the faction to the area. Especially in Illidan where there will no shortage of Horde. Ratio of 4500+ to 1, remember?
ii) Limit ganks to three maximum. This might even be too much, because you pretty much know the quality of your opponent after the first engagement by the CDs they use (or misuse). I've ganked about 30 people now since transferring here the Monday before last, but I've only "camped" one person and killed them three times. The fights were close though, so perhaps that was a motivator to keep on fighting. Plus he was doing rude emotes. Bastard.
I share Theck's outrage at the existing population imbalance on some of the WoW servers, and the fact that Blizzard have decided not to do anything about it at all. I have argued that asymmetry is fine in persistent worlds of equal opportunity, but it's clear that for both him and I we draw the line at such skewed faction asymmetry. It's completely ridiculous, it goes against the philosophy of equal opportunity, and in any MMO other than WoW which had higher OWPvP stakes it would be a game-breaker. If the upcoming TESO game allowed such disparities between the three factions in their upcoming Alliance versus Alliance gameplay, there would be a tremendous outcry, and rightfully so. But oddly enough because WoW OWPvP is so meaningless, the population imbalance doesn't actually stop you from getting to the power cap (90, with full Conquest gear). Some people might dispute this, but if I can level a non-stealth toon from 1 to 90 (a future project of mine) and get them fully capped out with Conquest on Illidan of all places, then you can bloody well do it anywhere. Levelling from 1 to 85 appears easy. The levelling zones are deserted. I made sure to visit these zones during US peak times to get a better idea of population distribution, and even during these times I was lucky to see more than 2-3 Horde in a single zone. I have yet to see a single Alliance player in the world in Illidan, but they are present in very small numbers in the capital cities. 85 to 90 would be a little more difficult because the population is a little more concentrated, but there are many places you can go in the world where you will be able to level in relative peace and quiet. Of course if you draw near population centres and/or major quest hubs your chances of getting ganked grow exponentially, but staying away from these places when you are heavily outnumbered is just common sense. So my preliminary conclusion based on my own observations is that the threat of being ganked is overstated, and is easily shaken off by simply being aware of your surroundings, moving off when threatened, being flexible about where you level, and/or taking a time out when you are being camped. It is not an impediment to attaining the power cap. It IS an impediment if you want to do world PvE content, but you do know that you are on a PvP server, right? Right?
Theck implicitly argues that he would not be complaining about world PvP if faction population were better balanced. I argue that even if population dynamics were more or less equal he would still find his PvE experience completely disrupted given the distribution of players on his server (he also alludes to this on his post). Almost two-thirds of the top 100 US Arena players in the 3v3 bracket (which is the tournament standard) reside in Tichondrius, and they are predominantly Horde. Ranked PvP in WoW is a team e-sport which requires good team mates you can "synergize" with in order to succeed, and therefore aspiring players (prior to cross-realm Arenas in 5.4) used to move to servers with high ranked players and high PvP populations. Even if the Horde and the Alliance were roughly equal in size, the preponderance of PvPers on the Horde side would make it more than likely that disruptions on the Timeless Isle would continue unabated even if there was parity between faction population. This alludes back to points I have made in other posts, namely that asymmetry is a systemic part of open world PvP in persistent worlds. It's interesting to see where the limits of tolerance lie, and how it varies wildly from player to player. Seriously, though, if Theck's primary agenda is to enjoy the content on the Timeless Isle then he should transfer to a PvE server. I know he has his reason to stay, in which case I'm afraid that he is stuck in a quandary. Blizzard is not going to do anything because i) they make money from server transfers; and ii) OWPvP in WoW means nothing at all.
The Evils of Ganking
I finally realised why gankers are so hated in WoW, and it ties in again with the fact that world PvP is meaningless. Gankers are not fighting for resources, or trying to take or defend territory. It's not EVE, Darkfall or Planetside 2, where sovereignty, income and/or player-built structures are at stake. They're not doing it for Honor or for Conquest Points. In WoW, gankers are essentially doing it just to mess with you, and perhaps people react to that on a visceral level. The obvious counter-argument again is that if you dislike having your play-style interrupted in such a fashion then you shouldn't be on a PvP server. There are benefits to gankers. Gankers are a player-driven hazard which adds layers to the world. They encourage grouping and socialisation. I just wish that open world PvPers had something more to fight for than just fighting for its own sake in WoW. I have no illusions about what I am doing. I can write pages and pages of fluff as to why my rogue is fighting in Illidan, but when it comes down to it all I am doing is ganking and disrupting people as they go about their business. I have no external motivations for doing this, except for the fact that the enemy is Horde and I am Alliance. For this reason I made ground rules for myself because picking on lower levels seems akin to beating up little children, despite my standpoint that in PvP worlds all things are fair in love and war. Imagine an alternative scenario, however, like in DAOC (Dark Age of Camelot), where the enemy player is a scout and is trying to ascertain faction numbers in a town/keep. In this case I would have no compunctions about obliterating the scout regardless of how weak they were because I would have done it for strategic reasons. This type of scenario would appear to be more "morally" palatable because players can appreciate the reasons for why the lower level player was attacked. Soldiers can respect soldiers on opposing sides. Everyone despises thieves and murderers. Context is everything, and WoW OWPvP has very little. In the end though, it might be enough that you chose red, I chose blue, we both entered into this type of game of our own free will, therefore as per the rules of the game we will try to kill each other.
Incidentally that is why I am so excited about TESO. I'm hoping that the battle for Cyrodiil will become what null-sec is to EVE. It's still not going to be as good as EVE's null sec, because it artificially divides players into three factions rather than allow them to organically develop their own (there are upsides to this however). I can live with that though, because now the throne of Tamriel is at stake and our factions have something to fight for. How cool is that?!? CONTEXT, BABY! Plus it seems like that we are going to able to interact with members of the other factions to create temporary alliances and the like, which will be excellent. There will be player-owned keeps, with player-owned shops in the keeps. Finally, it's Elder Scrolls and I look forward to sharing my love of the Elder Scrolls universe with my gaming circle, who only came into computer games via WoW. I'm going to try to gently nudge them into rolling characters on the Ebonheart Alliance, but sadly it's not going to be up to me. I have a bad feeling that I'm going to end up as an alien-looking elf or a furry humanoid thing in the Altmer Dominion. Although, playing a drugged up Khajit assassin high on moon sugar and skooma might be interesting.
In the meantime, I'm going to go gank some Horde.