WoW Factor: Where WoW Vanilla’s and WoW Classic’s communities diverge

WoW Factor: Where WoW Vanilla’s and WoW Classic’s communities diverge

I want to talk about the community in WoW Classic because I think it’s interesting and it’s been on my mind ever since the story we ran recently about one PvP server apparently going full Horde. This also means talking about the community in World of Warcraft from back in the day, which is… well, tricky. Yes, I was there, as were a lot of other people; unfortunately, that also means challenging what some people are pretty sure was going on with those communities based chiefly on memory.

But the thing is that in this case, one of the interesting things going on with memory is actually at the root of most (if not all) discontent with the community in WoW Classic. That’s not to say that everyone in the Classic version of the game is bemoaning the community as being just bad, but I have noticed a fairly persistent strain of “this isn’t how the community was back in the day.” And to some extent, that’s right… but not really for the reasons that a lot of people seem to think.

The reason I point to that whole story about the whole “no more Alliance” server is that it’s a primary example of both issues colliding with one another. In its totality, the endpoint where Alliance players are just leaving a server en masse because the game isn’t playable based on constant ganking is, well… unsurprising. This is the failed end state of most forced open-world PvP games; it usually just takes a lot longer. Lord of the Flies condensed into a single afternoon, by way of analogy.

Among the players distressed by this turn of events are people who are claiming that Vanilla’s PvP servers were not constant messes of ganking, which is… well, it’s just wrong. Vanilla servers were smaller and didn’t benefit from being a finished product wherein everyone knew all about the game and could look up detailed information, but gank squads absolutely existed just the same. Most of the people remembering otherwise were either on the dominant faction (and thus not victim to as many), not playing on open PvP servers (and thus not remembering it accurately), or later additions to the game who are mostly remembering what they heard about the earliest days of Vanilla.

But there is another set of players who don’t contest that these things always existed (which they did), but are quick to point out that the community in vanilla didn’t feel like this does. And that’s a group of people that expands outward to many areas of the game, and far from being blinded by nostalgia, they are absolutely right insofar as the community is very different on Classic.

To understand that, of course, we have to go back to the thing that WoW did that managed to really put itself on the map: mainstreaming the shared solo experience.

We should also point out how this is all the fault of Kevin. Yes, Kevin, I'm talking about you. You specifically, Kevin. You're dumb and I don't like you.

It’d be just plain wrong to say that WoW was the only game to do this in the same basic time period, but for a variety of reasons WoW was the one where this took off. The shared solo experience is kind of hard to articulate to anyone who’s more accustomed to the modern crop of MMOs, but the reality is that for a long time MMOs were built on a level of social dependency that would seem unplayable by modern sensibilities.

You do see traces of it at endgame in WoW Classic, but the smaller server sizes of Vanilla meant that it was overall a very different experience. Generally, you had one, maybe two serious raiding guilds on your server. Anyone else was playing catch-up at best. Either you’re in the group doing this content, or you’re trying to be good enough to get into these groups… or you’re running out of content.

The thing is, though, that WoW’s embrace of the shared solo experience meant that it attracted a lot of players who weren’t actually interested in serious raiding in the first place. Your open PvP server had a good chance of containing the person who wanted to gank low-level players… but also the guy who wanted the extra sting of risk while mostly questing. Or the guy who really wanted that high-end PvP rush with like-minded players. Or the person mostly interested in crafting, or raiding, but all of your friends are on the PvP server so you go there. It was a blend of different people.

And there had to be a blend of people because if you wanted precisely what WoW offered in terms of a play experience, well… WoW was it. That was the extent of your options to play.

That was also 15 years ago. At this point, if you want to go out and quest with the chance of some more duel-oriented PvP while you’re out in the world, you can just go play Black Desert Online. Or you can play retail WoW with War Mode turned on. Or Albion Online. Heck, there are probably more options than even that for games that still allow you to play mostly solo in a shared space without turning off PvP.

WoW Classic, as a product, is more niche than the game’s original incarnation. It’s no longer providing something that the majority of other titles on the market are not. Heck, it’s not even providing the only throwback server on the market (Blizzard is one of the last MMO developers to offer that option). This means that rather than being the cool new bar everyone wants to check out, the game is selecting from a rather limited pool of people.

Take with one hand and give with the other hand.

You’ve got people who are genuinely nostalgic for the way things used to be and want to take a trip back to the game for a while. You have people who never saw the content at the time and are curious about what the game looked like, or just want to see how it feels to play Classic again. And… then you have the people who really, really liked the way that vanilla divided players starkly into “have” or “have nots,” a point when the game required a bulky friend list and an active guild if you wanted to be playing past a certain point.

More to the point, curiosity and nostalgia alone are kind of time-limited. The first time you wait for half an hour for someone to show up to the dungeon because the only tank you could find was in Stranglethorn Vale and you’re trying to do Maraudon, it’s a neat experience. The fifth time it happens, though, you start to remember how much you like being able to just queue up and go. Unless, of course, the fact that you can’t just queue up and go is the entire point.

Add to that in-group out-group mentality the fact that you have larger servers (meaning you can effectively cover more territory) and a thorough knowledge of how the game works, and yes, you can very effectively create a situation where playing the game becomes impossible for one faction. And the players of that faction are going to leave because the game just isn’t fun any more.

It’s not really something Blizzard can mitigate because the studio is essentially presenting players with exactly the toy chest they wanted. You can’t ask someone to give you the option to make this happen and then get mad when the same person doesn’t stop you from doing it.

Ultimately, it’s a problem where the community now isn’t going to be the community that was because that time has passed. The world has changed. And when you advertise a version of the game that specifically gates out a lot of people, it’s not surprising when a lot of people stay away to begin with… and others just decide to leave when it becomes clear that they are now in the out group as well.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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My problem isn’t necessarily the community aspect. To be honest I haven’t had any real problems with it.

Im 32. Most of my friends and I played Classic when it was the Vanilla experience and we did it.

That was it.

The issue is for me is how much people currently know about the current game. There is no mystery anymore. Everyone knows everything about it. Especially with how a large chunk of the population on the official Classic servers played on private servers.

Every chunk of healing and dps has been analyzed to the point where if you aren’t playing a certain spec on a certain character within a certain race. You are shunned.

For example, you can down any dungeon boss in the game with a priest healer, 3 shadow priests and a tank. However it isn’t the most efficent so people wont do it.

What I personally was most excited for and this is one of the reasons i quit playing Classic was the only thing I wanted to do was run BRD. A full BRD run. That is how dungeons across all MMOs should still be made. This dungeon was a full living city with tons of bosses, optional events, quests throughout (one of which you had to die just to get!) and an entrance to a raid within it! It felt like part of the living world.

Then in trade chat what is it i see? “LFM for arena runs”. No one wanted to do a full BRD run. Everyone found the most efficent way to do things. A full run wasn’t it. Yes this was a thing in original content but it wasn’t widespread knowledge. You could still get tons of people doing it.

Another big problem is I know exactly how my priest was going to play now and going into the future. It will never change. No raid group will take more than one shadow priest. The dps numbers will never change. Some specs like a mage will have to change from Frost to Fire because of the going to Nax, but thats really it…..If I am a priest I am stuck healing the entire life cycle of the game itself. It wouldn’t be an issue if the game was a mystery. But its not. I know that Shadow will never be at the fore front.

Overall, its the knowledge that I have and the knowledge that other people have that ruin the experience for me…..I know where each class is going. What specs will never be accepted into raids. I know where in the future which bosses i have to grind to get BIS all the way to the end of the classic experience. Its a game I have already played that requires too much of my time for what it is.


This isn’t just a problem with Classic. It’s been a problem with WoW in general for a while. Everything is known before it goes live due to test shards. I absolutely hate this aspect of modern MMORPG’s.

Sure you can choose to ignore the info out there but it’s just not the same as when everyone goes in blind, having to figure things out on the fly.

Vinnie travi

While everything you say is true. I feel like the vast majority of groups don’t care about the perfect make up. The Raids are not that difficult so people will take Shadow priests and Balance Druids. Also I would guess 50% of the player base didn’t play Vanilla (like Myself), so there is a little bit of mystery even though we know how things turn out.

Going forward I would love to see Classic+ instead of TBC but I highly doubt that will happen. It would be nice to see new material that people don’t know

Daniel Reasor

Say what you will about WoW Classic, but I haven’t heard of a single funeral getting raided since it launched.


Classic community, at least on the server I play on, appears vastly more helpful, patient and welcoming than I remember it at any time during vanilla. It was a completely mind blowing surprise to me.


100% agreed!

We all know what makes any mmorpg a great mmorpg, your guild, and finding an amazing guild in classic is easy.

The game is packed with amazing people to play with.

Finding peeps to run dungeon’s with is faster than using the finder from retail (i’m in a huge guild others mileage may vary). Playing with people you know is so much more superior than using a finder.

Classic is miles better than welfare WoW, loot is meaningful again, focus is required at all times even for regular overland mobs during questing and is why “drive by grouping” is so common and fun, it’s also the real BfA as in it’s a real battle between Alliance and the Horde, for realz.

I play on a pvp server, and i admit, there are times the always on pvp gets tiring, but not in the way you might think, there is so much world pvp activities, and groups that i can’t resist, lol, there are times i miss straight up questing, and lucky enough the guild i’m in has that covered too. They have a very strong pve guild as well, which i’ve been playing on a lot lately with some people i hang with on the pvp server.

It’s a refreshing change tbh, but there is a huge difference in the feel and not knocking pve as yes i play there too, but nowhere near the excitement level as a pvp server. Hard to explain, i’m liking the pve but, pvp just feels more alive!

Welfare wow just seems like such a massive waste of someone’s time, it’s not a game with any real challenge, for those whom forgot “challenge” is what gaming is all about, so why bother you know, you’re literally just blowing time you could use elsewhere far more constructively. I dunno, classic is a game, welfare wow isn’t, it’s just a time waster.

Sure you could say all games are, but when i’m curling my toes in a raid, and laser focused during massive world pvp raids, and excited when i get an amazing drop, and absolutely PO’d at times, laughing with the guild, intrigued with the world i play in, huge in depth conversations on anything and everything, immensely enjoying RP event get togethers, having to make split second decisions while in combat as the situation can change in an instance and the joy and relief when you pull out all the stops and win, I guess the nutshell is: feeling alive while gaming, then that’s time well spent. Getting as much done in as little time as possible isn’t gaming, it’s being gamed by the corporation, literally a waste of time.

Anyway, was playing equal amounts of SWG:Legends and Classic, but seems i’m about 20% swg atm and 80% classic.

Anthony Clark

I’m on a PvE server in WoW Classic. I love it.

I didn’t like the changes that all the expansions made, so I’m loving the game being more like the original game that got me hooked.

Just like I don’t play GW2 because I don’t like how the expansions changed what the classes actually are now and not what they were originally. I would love a GW2 classic too.


I sorta get the gist of Classic, but it really felt like it’s a Westworld version of Vanilla to me. That is, I could see it was a version of the original game I had played and earned my stripes on…but something wasn’t quite real about it. :(

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I am currently in Classic on a PvE server, but world PvP does happen. Mostly it is ganking. Currently on our server, there is a Horde player that insists on killing a certain NPC during an escort quest. It is low level quest (15-18), so he was managing to kill the NPC and the players.

Here’s what is cool, though. Level 60 players have started hanging out there to help lower levels get the quest done. The Horde player gets as much as he gives nowadays. Most of the time, the quest can be completed within 2 tries; maybe even one try.

I remember back in the day, Horde coming into Stormwind or Ironforge on an almost constant basis to kill NPCs. We knew his name, and some folks would make it their job to hunt him down. There would always be a yell put out when someone spotted him.

To me it seems not much has changed. I try to be nice to the Horde, but some people just like to have their version of “fun.” To each his own, and to me, WoW has always been that way.

David Blair

As someone on Argent Dawn in the beginning, the RP-PVE server, the PvP scene was pretty non-existent. You’d have closed skirmishes, mostly less than 15 on each side, focused around a small outpost. It would always start with an NPC’s death, and then break out into a game of hunt the stun lock rogues. Crossroads and Tarren Mills mostly. These would never last long as player’s attention spans gave out.

I remember early battlegrounds having a scenario where players would create a “twink” with the best blues and trinkets from around the game, and stop leveling those characters so that they would become a nightmare force in the different level brackets of each battleground. These crashed and burned as soon as battlegrounds began rewarding XP.

I remember two large guilds battling it out for unlocking Ahn Qiraj, that no one else could compete with, but not many were interested in due to the bug carcass grind (or whatever it was at the end) where only one member could ring the gong and was rewarded with a scarab mount that could leave the raid zone, or a staff that became useless once the expansion dropped… the rewards did not justify the grind. For everyone else there were PUGs, lots and lots of late night hook ups with others on Teamspeak to run everything from Molten Core to Zul’Gurub.

The only content I did not get to experience was original Naxxramas. I was able to grind the event and get the tabard, but at the time I was burned out on large group raiding.

Roleplaying fell apart pretty quick on that server since there were no good tools in-game to facilitate. Hell, guilds were barely implemented back then…

I remember anyone that fell into a niche of wanting more PvP or more raiding ended up leaving the server.

I also remember skinning duskbats alive and in mid-flight, having zeppelins disappear out from under me, and a ridiculous mining bug that made your character lose his movement animation in favor of a permanent Linebacker stance.


Great, insightful article.
I entirely agree that anyone claiming PvP wow vanilla wasn’t a gankfest in the world is full of baloney. Phht.

Moreover, my main fear for Classic was exactly as you present (TBH, I didn’t think it would ultimately release, so that shows how much I know) – people thinking that going back and playing that game from 15 years ago will somehow put them back in the same headspace they were in 2004.

It’s impossible to become the person you were 15 years ago.

Our expectations have changed radically over the subsequent years, and given the age-brackets we’re mostly talking about, we’re also talking about people who have significantly matured over that span as well.
(I’m unsurprised that it seems older people are less hit by the rose-glasses gap in expectation…there’s still a difference but less between a 37yr old and their 52yr old versions, than say between a 10yr old and 25 yr old.)


I started in EverQuest, and tried EverQuest 2, World of Warcraft, and Guild Wars (the beta) in quick succession in late 2004/early 2005. And I definitely remember how different WoW seemed, which is why almost all my EQ guild went there instead of to EQ2 (although there was a small, solid contingent that went there). WoW really let you do 95% of quests solo; EQ2 was slightly less punishing than EQ but once you were out in the world it was essentially assumed you were in a group. And of course early on Guild Wars required grouping for the instances, and the open world was kind of a scary place. By the time EQ2 in particular loosened up, it was too late.


I took EQ2 over wow back then, was to me a far superior mmorpg in every sense, too bad they sent it down the shitter, they could have been the classic of today had they stayed true.

Nathan Aldana

Given how even most retail servers, even with the boost of war mode, are back to pvp-less because people stopped bothering to pvp even in war mode, its surprising classic players got it in their heads classic would be any different.

Most people dont really seem to enjoy always-on pvp.

Bruno Brito

To be fair, world pvp in Classic tends to thrive because the game is a unmitigated ganky mess that requires you to travel where you wanna go.

It’s not quality PvP for sure, and a lot of it dies with Battlegrounds, but it happens.