Anyone else remember the term "welfare epics" from back in wrath?
— Samantha C 🔥 (@ktjnwow) January 17, 2017
This mornings topic is going to veer off in an odd direction, but stay with me. Yesterday I saw the above tweet and I have to say the term “Welfare Epics” is one that bothers me. Not that I mind the above tweet mind you, but the fact that it is apparently still a thing bothers me. For some background I remember when I first heard the term was during Burning Crusade. When the Arena system was introduced it also opened up a new gearing path, in that so long as you played a minimum amount of matches each week you got some points based on your current arena rating. As a result raiders like myself saw this as a quick and easy way to augment our gear, or at least mitigate the bad luck in getting drops. I remember that by the time we started Gruuls Lair, several of our more pvp centric players already had most of a set of gear… or at least two or three pieces and it prompted the rest of us on the deeply carebear spectrum of the world to quickly form teams and start getting our weekly allotment of points. Instead of using it to gear my raid main, I instead saw it as a great way to deck out my Paladin for whom I was attempting to go healer mode. Our team scheduled our arenas like a raid… and met in Nagrand once weekly to play three or four games hoping we could win most of them and wind up with a decent arena rating for that week. So every other week we would get some piece of gear, or it might take a little longer if we were going after a weapon… but all the same we were constantly inching forward.
To the best of my knowledge the term “Welfare Epics” comes from Blizzard itself, reportedly from a developer… but the only reference to this I could find is a now long dead WoW Insider post that has been mirrored on Engadget. There is no source cited but references the same urban legend that I recollect, however given that I have never attended Blizzcon and the stream didn’t exist at that point… I have no evidence other than speculation. (EDIT: Special thanks to Nyn for providing the evidence that apparently it was none other than Jeff Kaplan who said it I think joking… but nonetheless thrust the term into our vocabulary) The term however has been applied to any system that a certain fragment of the player base does not deem “worthy” of the rewards that are handed out. When Karazhan and Zulaman were release… they also got called this term as did all of the gear that you could purchase with Justice Points. In Wrath of the Lich King, the end bosses of the various heroic dungeons had a chance of dropping a much rarer epic quality item… and these were called Welfare Epics. It simply became a way of one segment of the population diminishing the achievements of another segment of the population. MMOs in general have always had rampant gate keeping, with various ways to tell other players that they are not tall enough to ride the ride, and this term just became another tool in that arsenal.
Where it frustrates me the most however is that it generates this sense that MMOs are a zero sum game. It creates the fallacy that if I am getting ahead, you are falling behind. The fact that a level 110 can walk into a world quest and get a level 865 item, does not diminish the sense of accomplishment at every piece of gear I got in a heroic raid, or through beating the timer on a mythic plus. Ultimately at the end of the day what we are actually battling is not other players, but instead the eldest of enemies… the random number generator. The problem is that there is a lot of bitterness that pools up when your luck never plays out. I have friends who still have not seen a decent legendary this expansion, whereas I got my third last night… and for extra salt they dropped at level 940. I got this legendary from an emissary chest, so I am sure that folks are going to refer to it as a “welfare legendary” but I really don’t care. I simply see it as a useful item that will make me perform better for my raid when we start doing Nighthold tonight. Instead of getting salty, I get happy when I see orange text appear in guild chat and congratulate folks with an open heart and friendly smile instead of a bucket of bile. My friends getting awesome stuff is almost as good as me getting it… and in many cases better. As is always the case in these games I tend to shoot up in item level pretty quickly, so when I started to see my friends catching up… it meant that I could then do interesting things with them. them getting gear was helping to fuel my fun, which is largely derived by doing the stuff that requires a well geared party.
Essentially in my experience if you are of the opinion that only the hardest of hardcore should have interesting stuff… then you are wrong. That is a recipe for a dying game, and a game that has a massive population surge and purge cycle. Please note that I absolutely raided Naxxramas in vanilla, which put me in the hardest of hardcores at the time… and the fact that the content was so grossly inaccessible was a travesty. During Burning Crusade I was a raid leader that suffered through the rampant poaching of players that occurred as folks checked out and slots needed to be filled. When Tier 6 required you to do a string of attunements that involved clearing both Tier 4 and Tier 5, finding a replacement for someone who simply needed to stop raiding because real life got a little too real was pure hell. You had two options… either grow your own raiders, or steal them from another raid. The growing option was painful because there are a fixed number of nights in the week, and trying to get folks who are knee deep in Tier 6 interested in running the content they long cleared and abandoned was pure hell. That didn’t even take into account the real problem that was you needing them to be geared enough to actually do the content. As a still sometimes leader, I would far rather have a system that allows players to get to reasonable item levels on their own, and stand as viable replacements that can make their way into the raid proper… rather than having to orchestrate a plan to direct the entire guild to help catch a single player up.
The fact that others are getting nice things does not diminish the fact that you cleared mythic and got a whole slew of shiny baubles to show for it. If you need a souvenir to prove that you were somewhere and did something “before it was cool”, then you might need to adjust your own motivations. Sure to some extent or another, we all do content to get the shiny loot… that often lets us then go on and do more content. However the experience of doing the content really should be the reward. When I look back on my raiding career I don’t see a string of loot drops… but instead I see a string of events that involved the people that I was raiding with. I think of moments like our first Sindragosa kill… where Thalen got the killing blow seconds before being frozen himself and we had to run back to see what had dropped. I think of hanging out in front of the Throne of Thunder with everyone using their shiny new Sky Golems like some sort of mechanized infantry. I remember the excitement this season when we managed to finish up Heroic Emerald Nightmare and clear Trials of Valor in the same week… not because of the achievements themselves but because I love the people I raid with. If you don’t have warm memories like that, then I question why exactly are you raiding? Raiding is about the people and the places and the things you did… not pencil sharpener that you walked away with because you needed to find something to spend your tickets on. The fact that someone else got something and it took less time than it took for you to get it… should not tarnish the memories of the things you did along the way to get that same item.