Table of Contents1. Big drama in a small ring2. Emotions and reactions3. The wrestling approach: story over all3.1. Heels and faces: losing stinks3.2. Ring side stories: sky high, saddened to death4. Small Stories, Big FeelsImagine the
following situation: A young human gladiator has been repeatedly kicked in the dust by physically far superior enemies since his arena debut. Tauren laugh at him, orc women make fun of his size, and trolls don't even accept his challenges because they don't take him seriously. The human warrior has no magic. No companions. No self-healing. No friends. He doesn't even have very much muscle anymore. But what he does have is what all true warriors have had since the dawn of time: a spine of bare steel and an absolutely iron will. No matter how many times he lies dust, he always gets back up. No matter how bad his injuries are, he bites through every match and slowly but surely gets better and better. The veteran gladiators with thick muscles and high-level gear laugh a little less with each match, until they finally give the little warrior concerned looks - and begin to openly sabotage him. Other fighters are ignored and everyone just lashes out at the human warrior. His equipment is destroyed before the fight. His weapons are broken. But no matter how much they hurt the warrior, inside he is invulnerable. He always stands. Again. Up.
The Warcraft writers can really learn a lot from wrestling storytelling right now. Source: Blizzard
Big Theatre in a Small Ring
The above example, complete with the little warrior and the evil muscle-orc, pretty much represents the rise of wrestler Daniel Bryan. For those interested in the near flawless writing and quick reactions of the writing teams, look a little closer at the eight months leading up to one of the best wrestling finishes of all time in 2014. Wrestlemania 30 went down in history for Daniel Bryan's long ordeal and subsequent dethronement of long-established wrestling greats because absolutely everything was done right here: The writers knew exactly what cultural tropes to use, how best to utilize the actors, and, most importantly, the role of fan imagination in all of this.
In this article, we look at how WoW's story could be built in a way that not only makes your heart race, but also stands on solid footing that will last for an expansion or two. To do this, we'll use the writing approach of pro wrestling to illustrate. Laymen are now wondering why a bunch of sweaty people grunting loudly and pretending to hurt each other, of all things, should represent writing fulfillment. We strongly suggest you don't underestimate the story forge of the wrestling landscape! So follow us on a wild ride of twists and turns, raging factional pride, and long-term planning that changes in a split second. Oh, and don't forget your elbow pads and jockstraps. Without those things, no one in the ring will take you seriously!
Table of Contents
- 1Bigtheatre in a small ring
- 2Emotionsand reactions
- 3The Wrestling Approach: Story Above All
- 3.1Heelsand Faces: Losing stinks
- 3.2Storieson the side of the ring: High in the sky, low in the grave
- 4Smallstories, big feelings
Of dark horses and light moments
Khadgar was put down in Dalaran without taking advantage of his popularity. In pro wrestling, the archmage would have been given his own story arc by now.
Our wrestler example, Daniel Bryan, was originally a small supporting cast member who filled in the gaps until the big shows. The storyline for Wrestlemania 30 was already written, each performer had their place and purpose - John Cena was even built up to be the face of pro wrestling in 2014 and was expected to emerge victorious. But then something known among writers as the "dark horse" phenomenon set in: minor supporting player Daniel Bryan was so well-received by fans that he achieved almost legendary status. In Star Wars, for example, that happened with the essentially irrelevant bounty hunter Boba Fett, who was only visible in a few scenes. Typical of wrestling, the writers quickly checked that Bryan was taking the hearts of the audience by storm. The story forge started humming, so with each match Bryan was built up more as the underdog who ultimately took the title.
Blizzard could learn a lot here, as there are Dark Horses in WoW as well. Also, building them up doesn't necessarily have to break long-term expansion story planning, because usually fans love an NPC not because they do great and world-changing things, but because of their character. An excellent example of this is the grey-haired mage Khadgar, who shone in WoD with dry humor and a refreshing (for WoW characters) competence. In Legion, the mage's role shrank, while in BfA he was barely present - a wasted opportunity! Of course it makes sense to focus on a small squad of characters. But it's equally necessary to show the other characters in a short "guest appearance", just like in pro wrestling, and establish that they don't disappear from the world just because the story arc doesn't fit them right now.
Emotions and reactions
To explain the whole thing, we'll go a little further, so adjust your reading glasses: In a now infamous interview with gaming website Polygon, game director Ion Hazzikostas talked about Battle for Azeroth and the story that goes along with it. For newcomers, by way of explanation, the Battle for Azeroth storyline began with the attempted genocide of the Night Elf people by Sylvanas and picked up steam when Horde players were effectively harnessed by the story and used as assassination squads. A bit later, players were allowed to "choose" to turn against the Banshee Queen, but the choice fell hollow and resulted in no consequences.
The line from that interview that still echoes through various discussion forums today is, "Our goal in storytelling is always to evoke emotion." Many players took this as a rejection of the concepts of internal consistency and a toleration of plot holes - emotion is the main thing, nothing else matters! It wasn't meant that way at all, but due to the extremely unpopular and holey BfA storyline, it came across that way. Players wistfully remembered the days of vanilla WoW and Burning Crusade, where you could log in as a hordler and adventure instead of wondering what war crimes your hero was committing today. The destruction of Teldrassil has been a reason for some Horde players to change factions - they didn't want to play war criminals. Source: Blizzard So emotions were definitely evoked, just not the right ones. Because instead of waiting in anticipation for the next actions of Thrall, Sylvanas, Anduin, and the like, something very predictable happened: players were more concerned about what was happening to THEIR character instead of looking at the "big picture." The developers made a cardinal mistake in Battle for Azeroth, they let the important NPCs have cool adventures while the players themselves were reduced to pawns. BfA and Cataclysm alike were supposed to be the kind of dramatic story that scriptwriters like to write: very precisely planned, exciting, full of twists and turns, and great characters. Unfortunately, the players were forgotten.
The Power of Music
Wrestling understands the power that background music has on the mood of the audience. If suddenly in the middle of a match the entrance song of the Undertaker is heard, the wrestlers in the ring freeze and the audience goes crazy. One MMORPG that has perfected this concept, by the way, is Final Fantasy XIV - where pieces of music from previous expansions, for example, are used purposefully in current content to evoke a sense of nostalgia. And even though WoW generally has a great soundtrack, the concept of "boss music" is completely ignored, while FFXIV has a custom composition for every single raid and dungeon boss. And again, if you suddenly hear the music of a final boss you thought was dead in a cutscene, you can literally feel your endocrine system flood with adrenaline! What pro wrestling and FFXIV alike get right is a great musical score. Give us boss music for important characters! Source: Night Elf_Greatsword
The Wrestling Approach: Story Above All
In the story forges of wrestling, there's a motto that dictates everything else: "You don't write for yourself, you write for your audience." A storyline that takes three months to build a character can be overturned within an evening when a performer walks into the locker room after intermission and says "I don't think the audience is into it." This is so important mostly because pro wrestling gets something that hasn't quite arrived in the video game realm yet: It's not the technical aspect or the mechanics that keep an MMORPG going, it's the story. In wrestling, even big-time promoters like Triple H and Vince McMahon freely admit that the athletic aspect is all well and good, but viewers are primarily riveted to the screen by the emotion - the physicality only supports it. This is also why so-called "managers" keep showing up at ringside. These guys don't really handle the logistics of their charges, instead serving as "hype men" for physically top-notch but only moderately charismatic wrestlers.
Of course, this doesn't mean that WoW's gameplay is irrelevant; after all, it's still a game, not a passively consumed wrestling match. What Blizzard does understand, however, is that players get attached to characters, a story, and a game through emotion. Players who don't care about story will ignore it and rely on game mechanics like raids and PvP. Players who love story will pursue it with every fiber of their self and talk about it on specially created forums. Without a great story, Blizzard loses half of their player base without adding value to the other half. WoW is really sustained by its story. Why, then, does the game company seem to have such a hard time with the concept of "Alliance vs. Horde" of all things, when that's what Warcraft is supposed to be all about? Everyone remembers phrases like "It's not Warcraft without war" and "Faction conflict is central to the Warcraft series" being repeated by the story department so often it's like a mantra. Why is there story stink whenever Warcraft does what it wants to be famous for?04:29
WoW: Battle for Azeroth: The Cinematic Trailer - Sylvanas vs. Anduin
Heels and Faces: Losing Stinks
Heel-Face-Turn: Change the Tree
A "heel face turn" in pro wrestling is when a villain changes to a hero. The whole thing is considered extremely difficult to pull off... as witnessed in disastrous fashion on Garrosh in WoD.Nobody likes to lose, and that's a fact. Losing stinks. And no, we don't mean the good losing celebrated in Dwarf Fortress, Let it Die, or Dark Souls. We mean the empty feeling that comes after a contest you lose. Not making it to the winner's podium. Watching others rejoice. Losing in its purest form. That's also the big problem with faction conflict stories: they leave World of Warcraft (Buy Now $14.99 ) with nothing but losers, or at least players who think they are. This is mainly because you're much more likely to remember bad things than good things. In psychology, it's called the "negativity bias," meaning that when an equally good and bad event occur, you're much more likely to remember the bad event. While this is great when we have to watch out for natural disasters, tigers, and bandits, it's rather annoying in our civilized times.Add to that a nasty habit of conflict quests in WoW: They mainly show you what horrible things the other faction has done. War crimes like Camp Taurajo or Theramore stick in your mind for a long time, far outstripping the retaliatory strikes your own faction launches in your memory. That's one of the reasons Retribution feels hollow: the negativity bias doesn't allow your desire for revenge to ever truly be satiated. Conflict expansion coming to an end? Then brace yourself for an unsatisfying finale, because no one is allowed to "win." Instead of big consequences and world-shaking events, the end must return to the status quo, where the Alliance and Horde are roughly evenly matched. This usually ignores logistics and internal consistency because everything moves at the "speed of the plot". Death and drama are a great thing in WoW, because they ensure that actions have (at least perceived) consequences. Used well, always a win! Source: buffed
From this comes a bitter realization: expansions that focus on faction conflict will never be as popular as stories where Azeroth fights together against a great evil. Going up against the Lich King or the Burning Legion together with Alliance and Horde was so great because not only do you get to call your own shots and actually do things, but also because setbacks never really feel like "losing." The evil NPCs are what's called "heels" in wrestling, characters designed to draw hatred from the audience. It feels good to hate a Heel because you know that sooner or later the good guys and gals will ride into the ring like the cavalry to punish them with righteous wrath - a wrath that is in good part that of the audience! The "Face" (aka "Babyface") is the hero of the wrestling ring, the underdog, the knight in battered armor who gets knocked down every once in a while, but always gets back up to thwart the heel's plans. In Wrath of the Lich King, Legion, or Shadowlands, all players are the Face together. That's why it feels so good to be down at first - and rise like the phoenix from the ashes! It's a classic hero's journey, used so often in literature ... And in pro wrestling, of course.
Storylines on the ring side: High as the sky, low as the grave
So let's summarize our findings: Don't make WoW's story too much about faction conflicts in which we ourselves are the heels. Let the bad guys be hateful and not the players themselves - or give them a choice to go down that path. Don't let NPCs force us to do something bad, only to watch them have great adventures afterwards that we helped them get into as errand boys. When there are faction conflicts, players should be treated like wrestling fans, because that's what they are in the end: they want to cheer for their faction and hate the "enemy" faction without actually clashing. Sylvanas was set up to be a nasty wrestling heel, so let the players kill Sylvanas instead of having NPCs do it in a cutscene! Source: Blizzard If a story doesn't work, then it needs to be changed on the fly. Story chunks in the Titan War sense can be handled in PvE expansions or background fluff, but not in PvP expansions - here it's the little dramas "on the ring side" that banish both sides at once. Sylvanas clashes with Baine? Sweet! Anduin and Saurfang staring each other down? Awesome! Sylvanas burns 60,000 night elves and Horde players help her do it? Feels like losing to both sides. And if Sylvanas or another heel like Grommash is built up in WoD, then players need to be given the opportunity to triumph over the heel and grab a decent payoff like in wrestling. If Sylvanas doesn't atone for her transgressions at the end of Shadowlands, but instead "sees the light" one way or another, it will feel like a hollow finale to many players.
Small stories, big feels
WoW is not Game of Thrones. WoW is pro wrestling. The story department doesn't need a Martin Scorsese writing epics planned out from the beginning, it needs a Triple H who consistently has a finger on the pulse of the fans and changes his characters' heroic journey accordingly. So Blizzard was absolutely right when they said "our goal is always to evoke emotion". It's just the focus and manner of faction stories that need to change.
So wave your flags proudly, cheer for your heroes, and boo your villains. Do it wholeheartedly, because that's the only way the Blizzards will hear if you like the direction stories and types are taking.Support buffed - it only takes a minute. Thank you!
All readers get free daily news, articles, guides, videos, and podcasts on World of Warcraft, Pokémon Go, and other favorite games from us. Up until now, we've funded this site through advertising and kept it as free of paid articles as possible, but since COVID-19, that's become increasingly difficult. Many companies are cutting or eliminating their advertising budgets for 2020. Budgets that we unfortunately have to rely on if we want to continue offering buffed for free in the future in the form we are used to.
For this reason, we are now turning to you. You can support us as buffed supporters so that we can continue to offer our content for free in the usual form without introducing a paywall or publishing misleading news. Every contribution, big or small, is valuable. Support buffed - it only takes a minute.Support now
We thank you in advance.01:00
WoW: Official Video Preview of Mega Dungeon Tazavesh Also read these interesting stories 0