Going in Blind: Raid Bosses and the PTR
The Public Test Realm (PTR) has been an invaluable tool in World of Warcraft for a long time, allowing players to act as an ancillary part of the game’s development process. Since its inception, PTRs have been implemented in nearly every MMO to date and can be attributed as the source of numerous game improvements throughout the years.
Today, I’m going to be arguing against the PTR in a very specific set of circumstances, as the upcoming raid of Patch 9.2, Sepulcher of the First Ones, is offering a unique opportunity for some real excitement in the Race to World First (RWF)!
The Sepulcher of the First Ones looks to have a very different first week than all other raids so far. In fact, its 8th boss, Anduin Wrynn, will be the end boss for the first week of the raid. Then, the final three bosses will only be available starting on the second week, otherwise known as “Mythic week” and the commencement of the RWF. This presents the perfect chance for some truly fresh and unseen bosses during the Race to World First...if Blizzard can simply refrain from testing these three bosses on the PTR prior to the release of Sepulcher. This is a golden opportunity for the RWF, and I’m going to delve into why Blizzard should give blind raids a shot.
Table of Contents
Raid PTR: Origin of Good or Evil?
I initially caught wind of this idea from Complexity-Limit’s GM Max on Twitter when he mentioned how great it would be if the final bosses of Sepulcher of the First Ones remain untested prior to the raid release.
This thought immediately transported me back to 2007 when I stood before the Reliquary of Souls in Black Temple, an incredibly buggy, laggy, yet awesome boss. This was the first time the PTR was ever used to test raid encounters.
At the time, I was still raiding in Nihilum. We were currently ranked as the World-First guild, and Blizzard had decided to hold testing for raid bosses in Black Temple. I can’t say my memory is quite 100% on this (and Google hasn’t helped much), but I do know we went through most of the raid and, at some point, we tested the Reliquary of Souls encounter. I can’t remember the specifics on whether it was the first boss tested or exactly how many bosses were tested, but one particular detail has been seared into my memory forever: The feeling that this was somehow wrong.
The excitement of entering a brand new raid was a driving motive for me and the rest of my guild as World-First raiders. Aside from the expected technical difficulties with Black Temple being the first-ever raid PTR, entering it in this environment was vastly different — it had a clearly incomplete zone and skipped sections of the instance entirely. The experience felt empty. And you know what? When we eventually did score the world-first kill of the Reliquary of Souls, the accomplishment somehow did feel “lesser”. It was still a pretty challenging boss; the fight was solid and we didn’t really spend that much time on it on the PTR. But in the end, it just didn’t produce the same thrill as previous World Firsts and new boss kills.
With the PTR becoming much more prevalent since then, I wonder how current-day top raiders feel when they go into all but the final boss knowing pretty much everything. Even on final bosses, it’s not a clean slate; raiders already know how the fight goes, with the exception of some hotfixes and/or secret phases. Because of this, the final boss is the most exciting part of a new raid. Even from the sidelines, watching the top guilds test out bosses in advance, prepare strategies, and basically go into the race with massive amounts of prior knowledge and tactics makes me sad.
A Ray of Hope
The general benefits of PTR raid testing certainly outweigh the cons since a well-tested and balanced raid for all WoW players is definitely worth a worse experience for the top raiders (and RWF watchers). However, now with Patch 9.2 and the Sepulcher, there is a real possibility where we can have our cake and eat it too! And the best part? Blizzard is already considering it!
An important thing to note is that the fights for the Sepulcher of the First ones have been datamined and we know the phases and abilities of all the bosses. Regardless, this doesn’t mean that the raiders know everything already. Execution and witnessing the abilities in action are far more important than seeing them on paper. So while raiders aren’t going into Sepulcher fully blind, the Sepulcher can be a good experimental ground for Blizzard to see if they can handle the testing themselves without public PTR testing. In the next raid, maybe there won’t be any information to datamine for the final three bosses at all and we can restore the mystery that new raids once held.
So why should Blizzard go through with blind raids or specific bosses? Let’s take a closer look.
Pros and Cons
Not only is Sepulcher of the First Ones the perfect time to implement blind bosses, but it also might change or massively improve high-end raiding and the RWF forever, as well as significantly improve the overall raiding experience for the general playerbase.
This is the part where I put on my cheerleader dress and explain why this is the best possible thing that could happen to the RWF. The benefits would be massive. The excitement and potential of seeing a guild go into a boss encounter they’ve never seen before and having to develop their strategy in front of a live audience is just so compelling, though it wouldn’t be fully blind in today’s landscape. Guilds would still most likely head to the Heroic version of the bosses first to see how the encounters work and, in the worst case scenario, they might even resort to off-stream attempts as they iron out their strategies. Nonetheless, there hasn’t been much off-stream action for top guilds in recent races, so it’s possible that we could still end up seeing a pure, unlimited view of the action and innovation.
As someone who has experienced blind raids many times back in Vanilla and TBC, there really is no feeling quite like seeing a top guild go into a raid boss for the very first time with high stakes, and I’m positive that this would translate really well to the modern-day RWF. Viewers and the RWF casters would get to watch everything unfold in real-time as we watch the discovery process from start to finish. Think about it — there would be NO addons to rely on in the start, no custom WeakAuras, no boss mods...nothing! The top players would be flying truly blind.
The RWF has rapidly become WoW’s biggest event, with over 315,000 live viewers and 8 million hours watched over just one week. It’s the focal point of WoW’s Twitch presence and can bring in new players and new raiders, so it’s much more than just an esports event — but that’s not even the best part.
That feeling of discovery, of seeing a boss for the first time and not knowing anything that’s going to be coming at you — that wouldn’t be limited to the top guilds! If these final three bosses just come out fresh on week 2 of the Sepulcher raid, everyone going at them within the first day or so will have the exact same amazing fresh experience the top raiders will have regardless of whether they watch the RWF on Twitch. Sure, the vast majority of raiders don’t test the bosses on the PTR, but there are plenty of guides and addons already based on those tests prior to a raid release. Unless you’re in a very specific type of old-school guild, you are probably expected to know the bosses before you ever step into the raid and have your boss addons ready.
In fact, this has had some negative effects on many players’ experience of raiding in general; they are expected to know the boss abilities in advance, have the correct addons set up, and basically just execute someone else’s strategy the instant they first enter a raid. Due to the way raids are now prescribed, this immediately transforms the original experience of a new raid from one of exploration and wonder into, well, a chore. When a player dies to an ability for the first time on a new raid boss, the guild’s reaction is usually that of disappointment since the person clearly “didn’t do their homework” or “didn’t learn the boss well enough ahead of time”. This morphs the experience of discovery and real-time adjustments into an elaborate homework assignment.
And yes, if blind raid bosses get implemented, some guilds will just choose to skip those un-tested bosses until the guides and addons are ready. However, many guilds will get the “fresh” experience. I genuinely think this culture of “don’t learn by doing, just watch someone else do it and then execute their plan” has been harmful to the spirit of raiding. As someone who has experienced the “pure” way raids used to be, it’s a huge turn-off just having to go into a brand new raid that you’ve waited months for only to learn everything from a guide before you even see any boss for yourself. Obviously, the suggestion of blind raids isn’t an all-encompassing instant fix for this issue, but it’s a step in the right direction.
And what are these problems? Well it’s pretty simple and comes down to just two things: bugs and balance. We know both of these are still present in the boss encounters even after they’ve been tested on the PTR, so if we remove the PTR part, they will presumably worsen. The degree as to “how much worse” the bugs and balance would be in the absence of PTR testing remains uncertain, but my stance is firm. Hell, even the bugs themselves would provide a lot of entertainment and as guilds are forced to constantly shift their tactics. This already happens to a lesser extent anyway for many bosses in each new race.
In summary, despite the potential issues to the approach of blind raids, I believe that these three reasons are compelling enough for Blizzard to see this through:
- The top raiders regain the rush of fighting a completely unknown boss on live servers
- The RWF viewers will get a much more exciting show
- A larger part of the regular raider base will have a potentially amazing, fresh experience
Perspectives: Raiders & RWF Community
Hey, you don’t have to take my word for it; this is one of the most popular ideas circulating amongst top end raiders and everyone related to the RWF.
Complexity-Limit GM Max approves of blind raiding and adds an extra hardcore bonus idea:
Echo co-CEO Scripe also agrees, but adds some additional concerns and opens a whole new can of worms:
Naguura (Echo and Pieces RWF event caster) approves:
Fleks of Echo points out that the testing doesn’t quite turn out useful for some bosses already:
And finally, our own resident expert and RWF caster, Dratnos, weighs in. Here is Dratnos’ examination of the upsides and potential pitfalls of blind raids:
The idea of not testing the last three bosses, combined with releasing them on Mythic week rather than Heroic week, is inherently very exciting. For high-end raiders, story-oriented people, and followers of the RWF, there are some cool upsides, and those groups are not always on the same side of things. High-end raiders like the idea of discovering the boss fights on the live servers rather than beginning the process months in advance on the PTR. People who are interested in the story and the RWF also like the idea of moving the discovery back into when the content is released and the race is on rather than in the PTR period.
However, for anyone that is actually interested in fighting those three bosses on any difficulty in the first month or so of the patch, it's worth cautioning that these upsides don't come without risk. Historically, of the last three bosses in the raid, Blizzard has publicly tested all three on all difficulties except for the very last boss on Mythic, which is kept secret. Counting LFR, Normal, and Heroic difficulties, that's 12 combinations of which Blizzard tests 11. Going from 11/12 to 0/12 being publicly tested might have disastrous bug implications, and for average Normal/Heroic raiders that aren't as interested in the lore or the RWF, are the benefits really worth the chance of ruining several raid nights due to bugs that could have been caught in PTR testing? I think if Blizzard is confident that they can avoid these potential pitfalls, then they should go for it. If not, I don't think it's a sacrifice worth making, and Blizzard should scale back their plans to however many bosses and difficulties that they can confidently deliver without public testing.
Despite the potential consequences, my mind is made up. Given my personal experiences with pre-PTR raiding (both top-level and casual) and witnessing the very beginning of the PTR firsthand, I can directly compare the before and after products. This will always put me on the “for” side of this argument. I hope that I managed to convey that here, at least for those that still want that excitement from WoW raids who aren’t satisfied with approaching pre-learned bosses from videos and guides instead. I really cannot overstate the ways in which this now-standard way of approaching raids has harmed the overall WoW raiding experience for almost every player.
Additionally, while the PTR is far from the only issue that’s causing this issue, it could be the tool that brings these issues to light for the larger community. The benefits to the RWF specifically could be astronomical, but in the end, it really is all up to whether Blizzard can get the bosses into working order without PTR testing. If Blizzard actually does decide to try this with Sepulcher, let’s all just give this one some latitude and accept that there will be more bugs. Regardless, we can hope for improvement in the future and perhaps even accept the bugs as a worthwhile trade-off for a more exciting raid experience overall.
Even if you disagree with everything said here, it’s difficult to deny that blind raids would be a very interesting experiment. I think Blizzard should take some chances and make bold choices now so that we all might benefit from them!
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About the Author
Starym is an old-school raider with a wide history of World Firsts under his belt. He is a long-time news writer and interviewer for Icy Veins and formerly Manaflask. Having raided in the Race to World First (RWF) until the end of The Burning Crusade, he has been covering the events since Cataclysm and the RWF has become his greatest passion in WoW. A (Tauren, obviously) Warrior main at heart, when pushed, he will admit to loving Diablo more than WoW and, thus, should be punished.