At BlizzCon 2017, guests and viewers were treated to an announcement of the next World of Warcraft expansion, along with the debut of the game’s launch cinematic. Battle for Azeroth got off to a strong start in terms of hype. Fans were curious to see what happened with the Burning of Teldrassil and the Siege of Lordaeron. Alliance players knew that their new High King, Anduin Wrynn, would be tested. Horde fans got to wonder whether Sylvanas Windrunner, their Warchief, would act in their best interests. Throughout it all was that fun thread of tension that makes up the core of Battle for Azeroth: Are you Horde or Alliance?
I’ve known my answer for years. World of Warcraft launched in 2004; I had played the RTS games avidly, and had loved Sylvanas back in Warcraft 3, but ultimately I ended up choosing the Alliance as my faction. I rolled a human paladin, who I have continuously mained since her creation. (She’s old enough to be in high school at this point.) I’ve tried Horde characters over the years, but ultimately, I’ve stayed as part of the Alliance.
The factions have banded together in order to fight off greater threats before, ranging from the Burning Legion to the Iron Horde. We’ll probably ally once again when the Void Lords or Old Gods show up in force. While raiding is still a great part of the game, I’ve fallen out of the hardcore lifestyle of competing against other guilds to down bosses first and dedicating several hours a night to the game. That forces me to focus on the story the game is telling, and the obstacles in my way. Those dovetail perfectly to set me against the Horde ... but it’s my decade of hostility against the enemy faction that’s really selling me on the Battle for Azeroth expansion.
I have played on a PvP server for most of my character’s career, and the early days of World of Warcraft had plenty of opportunities for conflict. Southshore and Tarren Mill were, in-game, two humble settlements that gave our quests for players to kill Nagas and farm bear skins. The players transformed that zone into something so much more. One Alliance player would be ganked by an undead rogue, and in retaliation, they would call their guild to help them out. Before long, raids of dozens of players would be charging back and forth, trying to claim the Hillsbrad mountains.
When our guild headed into Blackrock Mountain to get into the Molten Core, we sometimes got in unimpeded. Sometimes, waves of Horde preparing for their own raid night would kill us just because we were there and they were more organized. The title I wear at the moment, Knight-Captain, was earned through the old Battlegrounds system. As our Battlegrounds group’s Holy Paladin, I would frantically save my allies while protecting myself with the classic Divine Shield. The Horde would stand there, wailing on my bubble. Sometimes, they’d switch to an Alliance alt, cursing me out in particular.
Vanilla World of Warcraft never actually set the factions against each other, but it ignited a healthy animosity for the Horde and their constant “/spit” spam in my heart.
The Burning Crusade was happy to build on this friction. The expansion begins with the blood elves joining the Horde, and the Horde gained access to the previously Alliance-exclusive class of paladins through them. How did the blood elves suddenly learn how to use the light? Oh. They captured and enslaved a Naaru, a holy being of Light, a seemingly perfect race of near-Gods who only wanted to help us.
While blood elf paladins later disavowed that whole Naaru-enslavement thing and came to the Light through better, more wholesome terms, I still had that measure of salt in my heart. That built through to Wrath of the Lich King, when the campaign through Ulduar and Icecrown Citadel was marked by Garrosh Hellscream, a new Horde up and comer, constantly starting fights.
Throughout all of these story beats, I continued to encounter Horde in the world. Despite the fact that the story dictated that we were working together against a common enemy, they delighted in stabbing me in the kidneys and propelling my character off a cliff with a gust of wind.
I finally hung up my warhammer in Cataclysm, vowing not to return. I kept an eye on events: I learned that Garrosh Hellscream had become Warchief, turned incredibly violent, and was now the end boss of the Mists of Pandaria. I followed the story’s progress from afar into Warlords of Draenor, where once again, we found a planet where orcs were engaged in active genocide and served as a primary nemesis.
By the time I returned for Legion, I kept all of this in the back of my mind. The game assured me that the Alliance and the Horde were friends this time — no, for realsies, no take backs — and we would defeat the Legion together. When Sylvanas immediately turned to march on, and then burn, Teldrassil, committing a little genocide of her own, I realized I had never really forgotten all of the animosity from those old days of Vanilla. How could a campaign that canonically lasted one year wipe out over a decade of hostility among these players? How could I forget the infuriating experience of being corpse camped? The story provides the set dressing as a justification to indulge in these grudges; PvP experiences are simply more fun on a base nature. They’re less orchestrated and prepared, but more raw and emotional.
I’m fully aware that Horde veterans have their own laundry list of grudges. I still remember disrupting a Horde guild’s attempt at a global world boss; they likely remember it too. As players, Horde and Alliance veterans are aware that the story has been carefully drawn up to give each of us ammunition. We’ve seen the other side’s cutscenes. But where’s the fun in bringing that omniscient narrator into the faction conflict?
I’ll never get to return to the days of being a teenager and rushing home from school to play more World of Warcraft. I may not even play with the game’s War Mode on, which opens me up to global PvP. I’m older now, and I have less time. But I still remember that faction conflict, and I love the idea of getting an expansion centered around it. The game is giving me a chance to relive the highlights of those old grudges and telling a story that celebrates us long-time players. If the players didn’t take such pride in whether they stood for Horde or Alliance, the expansion likely would have never come to be. But we do; we remember the old days of back and forth brawls and it’ll be nice to see the game salute that era.
Battle for Azeroth is setting the stage to vindicate the emotions that have formed and crystallized over a decade of playing the game. When the game goes live and the servers stabilize, I’ll be logging on and getting ready to stand firm for the Alliance.