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Last week, the best World of Warcraft raiders in the world successfully killed Arthas, the Lich King and main Warcraft villain since 2002’s Frozen Throne. The European guild Ensidia – unquestionably the most famous WoW guild at the moment, and one responsible for almost every “world first” in the game – claimed victory in the difficult 25-man version (considered by many to be the “real” version of the encounter).

Then it was revealed that Ensidia had exploited a bug in order to get that world first kill. In response, Blizzard suspended each member of the raid group for three days and stripped away the loot, titles and achievements from the kill. Confusion and outrage spread through the WoW community, with fingers pointed at Ensidia, Blizzard and the mothers and dogs of all involved before it became clear what had actually happened.

During the fight, pieces of the environment starts falling away, and the Lich King summons minions to pick players up and drop them off the edge to their deaths. The raid, therefore, needs to split its damage between killing the minions – to prevent their comrades from splattery deaths – and killing the Lich King to, y’know, get their loots. In preliminary attempts, Ensidia discovered that the Saronite Bombs that their Engineers were using had an unforeseen effect – the siege damage caused by the bombs was actually regenerating the broken floor (a bug that only affected the 25-player version, not the 10-player version). With the floor intact, the minions were much less important to kill, meaning that the raid could devote more of their attention and damage to making the Lich King (more) dead.

The WoW community is still aflame about the topic, and will likely be so for some time. While there has always been controversy about exploits and “World First” kills – Chromaggus, C’thun, Lady Vashj, the list goes on – Arthas holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of Warcraft fans, so the situation is a bit more volatile than it might have otherwise been. But is all of this kerfuffle really warranted? Is what Ensidia did really cheating? And who should everybody be mad at?

On some level, a bit of blame has to be laid at Blizzard’s feet for this – it was a significant bug in the climactic encounter of Wrath of the Lich King that should not have gone live. It might not have completely trivialized the fight, but it made it significantly easier, and the developers should have caught it. In their limited defense, though, this was the one fight that – beyond all others – they couldn’t possibly have put up for public test as with all the other encounters in the raid dungeon. This was their grand finale; where all the cards absolutely had to be held close to the chest. Should they have caught the Siege Damage card? Probably, but it’s also a bit understandable how something could slip beneath them – using an object designed for PvP mechanics in a PvE encounter? How bizarre.

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But whether or not Blizzard should have caught this bug is ultimately irrelevant, since, like it or not, Ensidia cheated. This is a guild composed of the people who understand the game better than anybody else in the world not employed by Blizzard. There’s no way that the raiders didn’t figure, “Well hmm, when we fought him in the 10-man version, the ground collapsed around us… but when we fought him in the 25-man version, it didn’t. Oh, it’s probably nothing!” These players are the best in the game at learning the mechanics of an encounter on the fly. To suggest that they couldn’t realize what was going on and figure out what was causing it is absolutely absurd.

And yet, they kept on doing it. Even knowing that it was abusing a bug to change a fight in order to make it easier, Ensidia continued using the bombs. The most common excuse for this I’ve seen is that the use of the Saronite Bombs was part of their Rogues’ normal damage-dealing rotation anyway, so why stop and unfairly gimp their damage-per-second? Except that removing the bombs from their rotation wouldn’t have gimped anything. 1,000 extra damage every 60 seconds provides a meager 16.6 DPS, which is pretty damn trivial in a raid where the Rogues are already flirting with 10,000 DPS against a boss with 75 million hit points.

Ensidia knew what they were doing was against the rules – they’d previously blasted rival guild Exodus for exploiting the solo Yogg-Saron fight (and getting a similar three-day suspension). Then they go ahead and abuse an bug to make the battle significantly easier. Now they have the gall to be outraged about being punished? Why even do it in the first place – was the drive to be #1 really enough to overpower the ignominy of having said kill tainted with that word “exploit,” and even having it stripped from you outright? Is a dirty, dishonest kill better than no kill at all?

If you cheat – and using a bug in the game to make a highly competitive encounter easier by ignoring one of the major mechanics of the fight is certainly cheating – you deserve what comes to you. In all fairness, Ensidia did report the bug so that it could be fixed … but only after they’d gotten the kill (and a cynic could say that ensures that nobody else could get the kill by using their bug, but I digress). Thanks to their assistance in discovering the bug and their high profile in the WoW community, it’s not surprising that their punishment was effectively a slap on the wrist.

In the end, this just feels like much ado about nothing. Blizzard should have caught the bug, but a guild cheated and got punished – end of story. It feels almost irrelevant. Not only did the Paragon guild (of the EU Lightning’s Blade server) kill 25-man Lich King without exploiting for the genuine World First shortly afterwards, but this was all on the “Normal” difficulty. The real test will come when players take on the Hard-Mode encounters… and considering how the Hard Modes can’t be faced before killing the Lich King on normal, it’s a race that has only just begun.

Of course, if Ensidia isn’t allowed to take another crack at the Lich King (the legitimate way) when their suspension runs out, that means they lose a week in the race to get Hard-Mode world firsts. But hey, they should have known what they were getting into.

Cheaters do sometimes prosper, but it’s nice when they don’t.

John Funk’s guild is still stuck on Festergut and Rotface.

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