"Heroic Week" - Yay or Nay?
Historically, whenever a new raid opened its doors for the first time, players had to wait another week before being able to challenge the highest difficulty in World of Warcraft. Ever since its inception back in Warlords of Draenor, Mythic difficulty has always released with a delay that allowed players and guilds to progress through Heroic and prepare themselves for the ultimate raiding challenge.
With the launch of Dragonflight and Vault of the Incarnates, we saw all raid difficulties release at the same time for the first time in WoW raiding history. While some of the motivation for this change stemmed from the raid's close release to the Christmas Holiday season, there are other reasons and arguments for, and against, a simultaneous release of all raiding difficulties.
We have spoken to many players with all kinds of WoW backgrounds to dissect and analyze how this change has affected them, to see if this model has been well received, or if players feel like there is room for improvement - or if it should be scrapped entirely.
Special thanks to Oxi, Whispyr, Neko, Tisumi, Sebek, Please, Ashine, Unholydeathh, Andy, MakeitQuake, and Ricky for lending their time and insights towards this piece!
Table of Contents
Raid Releases in the Past
In the last few years, Raid Releases have always followed the same pattern. Whenever Blizzard announced a new content patch, this would herald a new raid as well as the accompanying Mythic+ and PvP season to release alongside it. Sometimes, the raid would open up after a week or two if there was a storytelling reason for such a delay, like the opening up for Antorus, The Burning Throne or The Eternal Palace. However, one constant has remained throughout every release cycle is that Mythic difficulty would not be available Week 1, and a Heroic-only week (“Heroic Week”) would be spent on preparing for the release of Mythic difficulty.
Replacing Heroic difficulty as the highest challenge level raids had to offer in WoW, Mythic difficulty was first introduced in 2014 with Warlords of Draenor (WoD). Back then, Blizzard decided that this new pinnacle content would release one week after players could already venture into Normal and Heroic difficulty. This allowed players to gear up for a single week before tackling the hardest content the game had to offer, and oftentimes a large amount of time was spent merely securing a first kill on the final boss of the raid.
This model continued throughout WoD and Legion, where Mythic+ and the Titanforging system complicated this release schedule, even though the idea of seasons for Mythic+ had not yet been born. In order for guilds to not be able to spam Mythic+ dungeons for gear during the first week, Blizzard had to limit the maximum item level of gear dropping from Mythic+, regardless of whether pieces Titanforged or not. While Titanforging was removed for Shadowlands, the artificial capping of item levels in Week 1 remained for the entire expansion for both Mythic+ and PvP, as it would’ve otherwise become the best way to gear up as much as possible before Mythic raiding was available.
However, everything changed when the Primalists attacked and Dragonflight was announced to release in November of 2022, with the raid opening on December 12th.
Simultaneous Release in Dragonflight
As Ion Hazzikostas explained in our recent interview, the release of Dragonflight and the planned release date for Vault of the Incarnates was an impetus for an already ongoing discussion at Blizzard. Having settled for the Dragonflight release date already, many considerations had to be taken into account, like how much time players should have to prepare for the raid opening, availability of the developers around the holidays, and whether or not the ongoing talks about a simultaneous release of all raid difficulties would finally happen.
Ultimately, we ended up having two weeks of time until the first season of Dragonflight started, and both Vault of the Incarnates and Mythic+ simultaneously opened their doors on December 12th. Early on, it was announced that all difficulties would be released at once this time around, which gave Race to World First (RWF) guilds about a week and a half of time to clear the raid before Christmas could interfere with progression.
This simultaneous raid difficulty release also allowed Blizzard to “solve” the dilemma where players knew that doing Mythic+ or PvP during the first week of a new season would cap gear at certain item levels - simply because the Mythic raid was not open yet. This created a weird environment where most gear would be capped at low challenge levels for a single week, but with the simultaneous release, the necessity of limiting Mythic+ and PvP gear during the first week was finally gone so that no one would be negatively affected by a staggered release of high-end content.
When Vault of the Incarnates opened, non-raiders were able to immediately enjoy the game’s content and progress their characters power freely without having to raid, which helped smooth out the gearing progression. Previously, “split-raids” were the main source of usable gear for raiding guilds, and the simultaneous release and the uncapping of all gear for the very first week of the season positively affected many players and guilds.
Want to learn more about Split Running? Read our breakdown here.
How Were Guilds Affected?
In speaking to some players from different guilds, it has become quite clear that, depending on each guild’s ranking and their ambition/goals, the ramifications of the simultaneous difficulty release has affected everyone in different ways. While some guilds and players were almost entirely unaffected or only benefited from the upsides, others had their raid preparation and scheduling thrown into chaos as the traditional, tried-and-true ways of planning the raid were no longer the most efficient for Vault of the Incarnates. Let’s take a look at some of the consequences that the simultaneous raid difficulty release had for different types of raiding guilds.
RWF AND HARDCORE GUILDS
For the most hardcore of guilds, the ones that raid almost every day of the week until the content is cleared, not much seems to have changed since Sepulcher of the First Ones. However, this is not a good thing, as this meant that, once again, no one even attempted going into Mythic difficulty for multiple days. Doing split-raids and gearing up characters as much as possible was the name of the game, and most 7-day guilds spent approximately 3 days clearing both Normal and Heroic difficulty (and running Mythic+) to obtain gear before setting foot into Mythic difficulty.
In previous raid tiers, most of these gearing efforts happened during the Heroic-only week, which gave guilds a whole week to deal with any gearing concerns. Split raids could be spread over an entire week instead of having to be condensed into as little time as possible. Meanwhile Mythic+ grinding was not nearly as important, as the gear was too low item-level to be all that useful. While players maxed out their Great Vaults for as many loot options as possible, and doing Mythic+ and PvP was part of that process, it could be done on the players own time without compromising Mythic progression. “Heroic Week” also allowed those who did not participate in any Beta or PTR raid-testing to familiarize themselves with the encounters, while analysts, Weakaura writers and Add-On developers could test their creations.
“We do not have mandatory PTR or Beta raid-testing, so only a handful of people played the bosses before the raid came out. As it is not expected from raiders to research Heroic bosses that extensively, wipes happen, and with the simultaneous difficulty release, that cost a lot of time.” –Ashine, FatSharkYes
The overall progression structure for most Hardcore and RWF guilds has not changed in Dragonflight. Before progression starts, whether it is limited to the second week or not, gear must be acquired. However, what used to be a relaxed (and at least somewhat chill) pre-Mythic process must now happen in as little time as possible. With a Heroic-only week, by the time the servers came back online for Week 2, most characters had already been decided upon, loot was allocated, and many guilds jumped into Mythic progression the moment the servers went live. Additional splits or gear-farming sessions were delayed until a particular boss would actually require additional gear to be slain. With the new simultaneous difficulty release, most of the gear grinding is done before Mythic will be started, and once a boss proves too tough to crack, there is a lot less room for further improvement unless a nerf comes to the “rescue” or the weekly reset happens.
Another concern with the simultaneous raid release of Vault of the Incarnates was that the time that players take off work and IRL responsibilities for the RWF was not actually spent progressing into the tier. Many players competing for a spot in the Top 20 of the RWF only had about 10 days until their real-life responsibilities caught up to them. This meant that, once the RWF bled over into the second Monday, day-raiding became out of the question for many guilds. Spending any of those 10 short days of the RWF just to farm gear is far from a perfect scenario, and a Heroic-only week typically helped people take off less time from work and their outside lives.
For Vault of the Incarnates, much of the first ~3 days of the race were spent grinding out the gearing process. Spending this many days of the RWF solely on farming gear generated significant frustration for players and viewers alike, and the looming holidays did not help either. The initial hype for Mythic difficulty and the RWF livestreamed events died quickly when the viewer experience consisted of watching guilds run countless splits and Mythic+. By the time Liquid finally challenged Eranog on Mythic, many viewers had (presumably) already lost interest in the race itself.
HALL OF FAME AND CE GUILDS
Although numerous guilds invest significant time on Mythic progression every tier even if they are not competing for World First (who are instead striving for Hall of Fame), they tend to do so on a much more relaxed schedule. While many of them are still very much Hardcore in their approach to the game, the limited raiding hours make it more difficult to finish the raid tier as quickly as possible. Few of these guilds have mandatory PTR or Beta raid-testing, and without the grace period of a “Heroic Week”, many guilds fell further behind their competitors who spent additional time on Beta.
“Wanting to compete already felt like an impossible challenge before, as anybody raiding more would snowball with more gear, better Great Vaults and there is no way to catch up to that initial advantage. The lack of a Heroic Week only exacerbates this problem.” –Neko, Innominatum
These hardcore/semi-hardcore guilds still aim for a Top 100-200 ranking, and the changes to the difficulty release schedule seem to have affected them the most out of any of the various types of raiding guilds. Many of these guilds have expressed concerns about feeling a “need” to run additional raids, farm a lot of Mythic+ or simply accept the fact that progression will be impossible during the first week.
One of the upsides to the new raid release schedule in Dragonflight is that many players in these guilds are avid enjoyers of Mythic+, and the best possible loot from Mythic+ being available at the beginning of a season was a nice change of pace for many. Gear upgrades could be gained without needing 19 other players around. Additionally, players could gear up through high Mythic+ keystones before their raids started. Although it took a few days to gear up with loot from Mythic+, the gear obtained was comparable to Heroic loot in many ways…except for Tier sets.
Whether it is guilds that still raid almost every day during the first two weeks, or those who try to make due with a very limited number of raiding-hours, gear is a main concern – and getting gear while trying to spend as much time as possible progressing Mythic is nigh impossible without adding more raiding hours.
AOTC GUILDS AND BEYOND
While we have discussed the effects the simultaneous difficulty release had on those who wish to progress into Mythic as soon as possible, many guilds were completely unaffected by all the raid difficulties releasing at once. Guilds that already did not step into Mythic difficulty when it came out won’t suddenly start worrying about it – in fact, they could benefit from one or two very easy Mythic bosses and unlock a Mythic item-level slot in their Great Vault even if the final few Heroic bosses proved to be too difficult to beat just yet.
With no cap on gear drops from Mythic+ and PvP, gearing outside of raid hours has been undeniably faster this tier. Although not everyone is proficient at different types of content across the board to obtain meaningful rewards, the players that are completing alternative content outside of raid have certainly helped their raid through some of the tougher DPS checks on Normal and Heroic.
“The only thing that changed for us is that we are religiously running a third (very optional) raid a week. In combination with Group Loot, this has been more than beneficial for us, as it allowed us to acquire gear a lot faster and we could focus on progress much sooner than usual.”
–MakeitQuake, House Arthas
With professions being another great source of powerful equipment and Mythic+ providing higher quality gear this tier/season (as long as players are able to push the appropriate key levels), it can be argued that Mythic raiding is more accessible than ever for those who typically do not worry about entering Mythic difficulty of the raid for several weeks.
According to all the information gathered on the topic, it seems that the simultaneous release of all raid difficulties has had widely varying effects on different types of guilds. The guilds who challenged one another in the RWF still saw plenty of Mythic progression and spent significant time preparing for progress by acquiring and allocating as much gear as possible. The only difference in Vault of the Incarnates compared to previous tiers is that the majority of the gearing used to happen in a vacuum since Mythic was still unavailable to everyone during “Heroic Week.” However, managing the time required to acquire loot from Normal and Heroic difficulties as well as Mythic+ must now be weighed against starting progression and competing in the RWF. This is a very frustrating environment for players, analysts and viewers of the RWF, and while some of these worries are quickly forgotten once Mythic progression has started, the viewership and engagement have suffered already. As the RWF is a community event, these are important metrics that allow guilds to reach for excellence, and a fall in viewership might cause sponsors to drop and lower the morale of the raiders and staff members as well.
“It felt awful for both players and viewers. Despite the release schedule changes, participating in the RWF was still similar to Sepulcher because, even in Mythic week, we had multiple days of Heroic splits before we would finally start progressing.”
The guilds that were hit the hardest by the simultaneous release are those who raid on a limited schedule but want to still achieve great results. The simultaneous raid release seemed to “require" guilds to add extra raiding days, as major DPS or HPS checks are difficult to overcome without spending more time on gearing up first. With Tier-sets being as important as they are, decking out the entire raid requires people to either do voluntary forays into LFR, or have guilds spend time that was usually allotted to progressing Mythic to do another week of Normal or Heroic clears. With many of the later encounters being designed around the gear that RWF raiders have after a mountain of splits and Mythic+ farming, achieving the same level of gear is an arms race that directly opposes the idea of a limited raiding schedule.
As most of the Mythic bosses are tuned to be somewhat challenging for the RWF contenders and other hardcore guilds, a simultaneous difficulty release has to make a base assumption on what gear the RWF guilds will obtain. A “Heroic Week” gave the developers more time to balance bosses and do some last-minute class tuning, which now had to happen mid-progress instead – with varying results. It also served as a great way opportunity for those who did not do any PTR or Beta raid testing, to familiarize themselves with the encounters. Any wipes during “Heroic Week” splits could be laughed off, but now it cuts into your progression time.
Beyond the scope of the RWF, guilds that do not spend as much time gearing up will be unable to reach similar item levels for the first few days (if not weeks) of a new raid opening up, which makes progressing very challenging for guilds that are approaching every new raid release on a limited schedule.
“On our limited schedule we had to ask ourselves early on if progressing Mythic was the right choice. After watching the RWF guilds on Terros and Sennarth, we decided that instead of over-optimizing our own play, we should just spend more time farming gear to kill the gear-check bosses in a lot less pulls the following week. Making this call felt very unnatural and did not feel 'right'.” –Unholydeathh, Arctic Avengers
Some raiders have expressed a feeling of futility when progressing on heavy DPS and HPS check fights like Terros or Kurog Grimtotem without first acquiring enough gear from Normal and Heroic. With raiding schedules on limited hours, it made more sense for many guilds to run Heroic and Normal (ideally in splits), or even organize LFR runs for additional Tier sets. As such, Mythic progression was pushed to the backburner.
The return of Tier sets changed the approach to gearing up and split-raiding, and with alternatives like the Revival Catalyst being unavailable during early progression, a major power-increase was out of reach for anyone who did not run multiple splits. We have already seen similar issues in Sepulcher of the First Ones, as 2 of the 5 tier-token were unavailable during Heroic week, which resulted in a similar display of split raids and not stepping into Mythic.
While thousands of players in these top-end guilds have been heavily impacted by the raid difficulty release changes, the vast majority of the player base has not felt these negative effects. A significant portion of the player base either does not raid at all, or at least does not push for Mythic progression during the first few weeks of a new raid opening up. However, some players prefer the simultaneous release regardless.
The benefits of uncapped gearing opportunities in non-raid content was enjoyed by many players, which was one of the main goals Blizzard was hoping to achieve with the change to the raid difficulty release schedule. However, the system is not perfect, and re-iterating and improving the model further could be beneficial to all players.
Whether or not the release of all difficulties at once remains in the game is of course up to Blizzard to decide. While the majority of players have been unaffected or enjoy the benefits of no longer worrying about arbitrary limitations to their characters progression (i.e. because “Mythic difficulty is not out yet”), the few thousand raiders that play at a level where this change makes a meaningful difference have been negatively affected. If one group of players is affected in a bad way and the vast majority of players are unaffected, I would argue that this calls for another thorough evaluation of the benefits of the change, and perhaps figuring out how to improve and iterate upon the model.
Theoretically, there is likely a solution that allows the season to start properly the moment the raid opens while still alleviating some of the gear-related issues and concerns that lead to RWF guilds not spending any time in Mythic difficulty for several days. The Revival Catalyst releasing six weeks into the season is a major concern, with Tier sets being the last bastion of raid-only loot (and of course some unique weapons and trinkets). Easier acquisition of tier-items during the first few day or weeks of a tier would help many guilds that currently feel the need to do content that they have long moved past, like farming Normal or even LFR for Tier tokens in the third week of a new raid, and that time save is very valuable when you compete against others who decide to spend more time playing the game.
Part of the fun for many guilds, beyond the personal accomplishment of beating the hardest bosses of each raid-tier, is winning against fellow competitors. While there are many logistical and analytical challenges to overcome, and doing so efficiently should definitely have an impact on the final result, the question remains whether gearing, split-raiding and simply spending more time than somebody else should have as big an impact on the final result.
As someone who has spent over a decade raiding only 3-4 days a week while maintaining a Top 100 finish in many of the raid-tiers I’ve experienced, I’d certainly like to see guilds challenging themselves and each other on a more even footing. Gear matters, as it should for an MMORPG, but when multiple days of a new tier are spent farming gear, things have gotten a bit excessive. Tier sets in particular, and the difficulty and RNG in acquiring it, are a major concern that should be reevaluated. Realistically, fitting out an entire raid group with 4-set bonuses as quickly as possible can only be accomplished with numerous split-raids. Requiring multiple alts or waiting six weeks for the Revival Catalyst is a much higher time investment, and splits are not an amenable solution for many players.
Although adding more time to a guild’s raid schedule would help maximize these efforts, the meaning of “voluntary” and “optional” days get worn down for many. When additional hours or days are added, frustration settles in when players feel like they are expected to do more than they signed up for – not because they want to, but because they want to stay competitive with others and may have other IRL priorities they are managing. While this is a community-driven issue, Blizzard has the ability to affect these developments to improve player satisfaction and quality of life. The simultaneous difficulty release is a model Blizzard seems to like so far, and the benefits are felt and enjoyed by many players, but I genuinely hope that some of the issues we have seen throughout the Vault of the Incarnates progression will be addressed and iterated upon if this is the new path forward.
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About the Author
Seliathan has been playing Rogue for over half his life, since the initial release of WoW over 16 years ago. After a long career of Raid Leading, Theorycrafting, and pushing Mythic+, Seliathan enjoys creating all kinds of PvE content on Twitch, co-hosting the Tricks of the Trade Rogue podcast, contributing to the Raider.IO RWF Coverage, and writing guides for Icy Veins.