When people think of World of Warcraft, there is a tendency to think of those who practically (and, to many, unfathomably) dedicate their lives to the game. I’ve always felt that there are two types of WoW player, the casual and the serious, and that there’s a giant gap between them.

The serious WoW players will call the casuals “noobs”. The casuals will accuse the serious of having no life or sense of empathy. Party chat tends to get very unfriendly when these two groups collide.

The problem is this: because World of Warcraft is such an old game, such a big game, and has been through so many changes, it takes a lot of research and experimentation to go from new at something to extremely good at it.

Often, the casual player who decides to try out tanking finds himself kicked from dungeon group after dungeon group, and for good reason. The player who thinks her DPS rotation is good discovers it’s missing something, and seems just unable to get perfecting it right. The players all decked out in Looking for Raid gear can’t even think of becoming serious raiders before they’ve been able to tag along in a year’s worth of frustratingly difficult pugs. [Translation: pickup group. I think. I don’t speak WoWenese. Either that, or Laura’s had some particularly scarring experiences with wrinkly-faced dogs– Ed.]

Occasionally, Blizzard tries to reach out to this casual player by making things easier. This upsets the serious player to no end. Few people are more nostalgic than a World of Warcraft player who remembers “Vanilla”.

Enter Patch 5.4

There are so many reasons to love Patch 5.4. We finally get to see the end of Garrosh Hellscream, the most universally hated leader since George Bush. The new area, Timeless Isle, is not a place of soul-crushing dailies that seem almost designed to bore and frustrate us to tears. Instead, there’s one main quest-line and enough, well, stuff, to keep any player, whether they are into pet battles, vanity items or PvP, happily exploring for ages.

Not everything is perfect. Blizzard claimed the new Warchief would not be someone everyone expects, and then gave us the person everyone expected. Don’t get me wrong, Vol’Jin makes a perfectly badass Warchief, but it’s the predictability of the thing that’s frustrating. I was hoping for someone new and wildly controversial, like Aggra.

If you’re not a fan of PvP, or even if you are, the ganking on Timeless Isle will likely frustrate you, especially when PvPers collect into a group and purposefully get in the way of questers or pet battlers.

This patch, like all patches, has come with changes to each class that will cause some to celebrate and others to curse all Blizzard employees, their families and their pets.

All that said, this patch has introduced two ideas I’m beyond excited about: Proving Grounds and Flexi Raid.

Proving Grounds

Visit the Temple of the White Tiger, chat to Trial Master Rotun, and you can enter the proving grounds, where you can face three types of challenges: Tank, Healer and DPS. The proving grounds are solitary, so as you begin to try out a role you’re not used to for the first time, you’re not embarrassing yourself or putting other players at risk. Each challenge comes in Bronze, Silver, Gold and Endless difficulties – perfect for honing your skills.

The proving grounds are perfect for the casual player who wants to get better, but who doesn’t want to go through the unpleasant experience of being a “noob” amongst better players. They also help the casual player without upsetting the serious player – if anything, serious players will appreciate the rise in people who are getting better at playing their roles.

Flexi Raid

You’ve honed your skills, you’ve geared up, you want to raid. Problem is you have the same old options: Looking for Raid and actual, proper raiding. Actual, proper raiding has a tendency to require extremely high gear scores, a perfect knowledge of tactics, a flawless knowledge of your class and spec, and a tightly organized team.  Generally speaking, only the best are able to get anywhere in a genuine raid.

You are pretty good at your character, your gear score is OK, and you know the tactics as well as anyone who’s watched through YouTube explanations can be expected to know them. Unfortunately, you just can’t find a raid team willing to accept new members. Alternatively, you can, but you simply cannot commit to the one or two evenings a week the team has set aside for raiding. You end up joining pugs [The 21st Street Pugs – Ed.], and even the best-organized pug [Puppy with a day planner? – Ed.] can’t hope to get through a full raid without some serious frustration. At the end of the day, many, many players decide it’s not worth it.

Looking for Raid (LFR), on the other hand, is a joke.

This is where Flexi Raid comes in.

The difficulty of “flexible raids” will scale based on the number of players in the raid. According to Wowhead, “This is intended for social players that enjoy raiding together and dislike the anonymity of LFR. The rewards are better than LFR, and players can complete achievements in this difficulty as well.”

Flexi Raids are the go-to option between LFR and normal raiding. It’s not as difficult as normal raiding, but it’s not the joke that Looking for Raid is. You do need to know your tactics, and you will need a decent gear score.

Flexi Raid groups tend to be easy to find. Visit a major city or Timeless Isle and watch the chat channels. Even guilds are organizing Flexi Raid events, and the more innovative guilds are using Flexi Raid to train potential raid team members.

They’re absolutely perfect for people who do want to raid a little but can’t dedicate themselves to the serious commitment of becoming a member of a raid team. They’re also perfect for people who do want to join raid teams, but who haven’t yet learned how to raid properly. Blizzard has reached out to the less serious players in a way that will ultimately benefit serious players by giving them more peers who actually know what they’re doing.

So I find Patch 5.4 pretty exciting. Whether or not these changes do bridge the gap between casual and serious players remains to be seen.

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