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‘World Of Warcraft’ Players Reach New Levels Of Degeneracy, Gardening

World of Warcraft players garden in the Guardians of the Dream patch
Screenshot: World of Warcraft

Riding the hype waves emanating from the first in-person Blizzcon in four years, World of Warcraft players returned to the game en masse this week for the release of Patch 10.2, "Guardians of the Dream." The rush of new content brings with it a new zone, the long-awaited Emerald Dream, as well as a new threat, as the big, angry fire dragon Fyrakk wants to burn the new world tree, Amildrassil, to do ... something. It's not important.

I don't really keep up with modern WoW lore, but what this means to players, logistically, is that there is a new raid—the 10–25 player dungeon that serves as the main Player Versus Environment challenge for this patch—coming out next week. It also means that the most degenerate of gamers are looking for every advantage possible to clear out the new raid as quickly as they can. This time around, that means gardening.

Let me explain, as non-dorkily as I can. With the new patch comes a new faction, with whom players can earn "renown" with by doing certain activities. Some of these activities are normal. There is a new campaign, or at least the first three chapters of one. There are side quests, and treasure chests, and new rare monsters that all give renown. The problem is that players, or at least the most hardcore, top-end players, want a Dreambound Augment Rune.

This item, which unlocks for all of your characters once one gets to renown level 18, gives players a very small upgrade to their stats: 86 of their main stat (strength, agility, or intelligence), which on my best-geared character translates to about a 0.8 percent improvement. This is minor, in other words, but that hasn't stopped players from trying to figure out the fastest way to get to renown level 18 before the raid comes out on November 14. The solution, then, is to engage with the new Dreamseeds mechanic.

As players defeat monsters in the new area, they receive the seeds, which they can plant in dirt patches around the zone. Everyone can contribute to a growing seed, with the goal being 100 percent growth after three minutes. Achieving this gives everyone a chest that, among other things like cosmetic upgrades, awards 20 renown, at least in its first iteration. Going up a level takes 2500 renown, and most players will need to grind out four to five full levels to get the desired rune in time. Let's do the math: While you can plant multiple seeds at once while flying around the Emerald Dream, it would take about 15 hours of just gardening, taking into account some additional sources of renown coming next week, to get to 18 before stepping foot in the new raid.

Fifteen hours of mind-numbing grind seems right up WoW players' alleys, and so, as soon as the patch released, those players went to work. This presented a few problems for Blizzard. The developers have long attempted to curb the most perverted of gamer behaviors, a process that has made the game infinitely more casual-friendly. This has made items easier to acquire, particularly gear, but a side effect has been that Blizzard will often nuke grinds like this one to dissuade players from doing it. It's a good business philosophy, on paper: By not letting players burn themselves out doing mindless tasks like this seed nonsense, and by making sure that no item is exclusive to those with too much time on their hands, the hope is that players will remain engaged with and subscribed to WoW for longer.

It's flawed in execution, however. And so, when Blizzard decides to deploy multiple "fixes" to make this grind less appealing and less grueling, it is only delaying players, not stopping them. The first fix was the funniest one: At the onset of the patch, getting a seed to 100 percent growth was actually a bad thing, because the biggest reward chest did not include renown. (It did include extra cosmetic rewards, and some people care more about those than this augment rune, so they would blast the seeds up to 100 anyway.) That was an easy and much-needed fix.

The remaining changes were less straightforward. Players quickly figured out that they didn't need to include a seed at all to get renown; they could just use dew drops to help an existing seed grow, and dew drops were much easier to farm. This was allowing players to just fly around and get a whole lot of renown with little investment. Honestly, that would have been fine by me, because it is still super boring, but Blizzard made it that players had to actually include the rarer seeds to get the renown. The compensation was that sometimes the big chest could "superbloom" into a whopping 40 renown. Wow!

Finally, Blizzard landed on what's probably the best solution: It made it so the first five seeds planted in a given week give 250 renown (with a chance to double to 500), and subsequent seeds would only give five. A logical player, like yours truly, just planted five seeds with this new boost and called it a day, but you know where I'm going with this: The most hardcore of players have not stopped gardening! I flew around the Emerald Dream for 20 minutes while writing this blog and saw groups and groups of people just standing around these seeds, while there were listings for groups to do just that in the game's group finder tool. For five measly renown!

This is a losing battle for Blizzard, and one it has lost many times over. As recently as the first patch of Dragonflight, players were killing thousands if not hundreds of thousands of monsters in a crowded basement for the chance to get items that would be replaced a week later. In Battle for Azeroth, players abused a new system, island expeditions, for days to get minuscule power gains. There has always been a subset of WoW players that will do whatever it takes to be as strong as possible as quickly as possible, and no amount of tuning and tweaking will stop them. The only way for Blizzard to do that is to simply remove these systems, or detach them from player power. That philosophy has been mostly employed in Dragonflight, which allows players to keep multiple characters up to par without engaging in this type of behavior.

I say mostly, though, because as soon as something is added that does reward degeneracy, the players jumped on it like horny rabbits. Part of it is that there is nothing really to do in the game while waiting for the new season to start next week, but I think it goes a bit deeper. WoW players have always gravitated to grinding, whether it's for gold or for items. People used to kill monsters for hundreds of hours back in the original version of the game, in hopes of getting items that had a 0.1 percent chance to drop. This is just who WoW players are, and Blizzard should probably have seen this coming the second they made gardening a viable, if glacially slow, way of getting even a tiny bit more powerful. I just hope the monsters inside the new raid are ready for the 0.8 percent hotter hell that is coming their way.

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