Throwback Thursday: An In-Depth look at the Classic PvP System and it’s Rewards

Amahn holding the flag in Warsong Gulch.
When World of Warcraft was released there was no such thing as battlegrounds or arenas. World PvP existed of course, but there was nothing else to accompany it. Players wanting to gain ranks would seek out other players to fight and kill, preferably those of higher rank.

Earning Ranks and Honor

The original honor system consisted of ratings which accumulated weekly based on how many other players you killed. The higher the rank of the person you killed, the higher the payoff for you in points. However if you went and murdered NPCs, you would incur dishonorable kills which subtracted points. Rankings were also influenced by the standings of other players on your server and your rank for the week was not known until the weekly server reset. As your rank increased, it became harder to progress, with a particularly steep curve after rank 10. The highest rank, 14, was only able to be held by 0.1% of players on a server at any one time. Your rank each week depended on the other players who were also participating in PvP. The more time someone committed, the more likely they would be higher ranked.

In an interesting post, Svagis on MMO-Champion describes the intense grinding, frustration, time, and teamwork that it took to gain Rank 14 through this system. According to the blog post Why I will never be a Centurion, rank 5 “requires spending about 20 hours per week in the game” and rank 13 was “almost 80 hours/week.” While their numbers were not necessarily ironclad, they do give some perspective on the time commitment required to reach the higher ranks.

Rank Interface

The below screenshots of the interface added in patch 1.6.0 show the in-game tooltips explaining the honor interface and how it the system worked.

Honor System Honor System Honor System
Honor System Honor System Honor System

Marks of Honor

When battlegrounds were introduced, they also came with Marks of Honor. Upon winning a battleground you would gain three marks and on losing you would gain one mark. At the time, their only use was to turn them in via repeatable quests which granted you extra honor as well as reputation with all three battleground factions. After the honor system overhaul in patch 2.0.1, these quests were removed and the marks were used to purchase rewards instead. They also became the goal of the Concerted Efforts (A) and the For Great Honor (H) quests in Shattrath. Then prior to the Cataclysm expansion, they were phased out through the introduction of the Commendation of Service items which granted honor on use. All of the items were removed in patch 4.0.1.

Item Alliance Quest Horde Quest
Warsong Gulch Mark of Honor Fight for Warsong Gulch Battle of Warsong Gulch
Arathi Basin Mark of Honor Claiming Arathi Basin Conquering Arathi Basin
Alterac Valley Mark of Honor Remember Alterac Valley! Invaders of Alterac Valley

Ranks and Rewards

Paladin Level 60 PvP gear set Field Marshal's Aegis Level 29 Amahn sporting the Scout's Tabard

Ranks were central to the entire honor system, even after battlegrounds were added, as they were the only way to get better PvP gear.

Rank Alliance Title Horde Title Reward Alliance Reward Horde Reward
1 Private Scout Tabard Private’s Tabard Scout’s Tabard
2 Corporal Grunt Team insignia trinket Per-Class Trinket effects Per-Class Trinket effects
3 Sergeant Sergeant Superior-quality cloak
10% discount on all goods and repairs from your faction’s NPCs
Sergeant’s Cape level 30
Sergeant’s Cape level 45
Sergeant’s Cape level 58
Sergeant’s Cloak level 30
Sergeant’s Cloak level 45
Sergeant’s Cloak level 58
4 Master Sergeant Senior Sergeant Superior-quality necklace Master Sergeant’s Insignia level 30
Master Sergeant’s Insignia level 45
Master Sergeant’s Insignia level 58
Senior Sergeant’s Insignia level 30
Senior Sergeant’s Insignia level 45
Senior Sergeant’s Insignia level 58
5 Sergeant Major First Sergeant Superior-quality bracers Sergeant Major’s… Items were class specific First Sergeant’s…
Items were class specific
6 Knight Stone Guard Access to officer’s barracks
Officer’s tabard
Potions (Combat Mana Potion and Combat Healing Potion)
Knight’s Colors Stone Guard’s Herald
7 Knight-Lieutenant Blood Guard Superior-quality boots and gloves Knight-Lieutenant’s… Items were class specific Blood Guard’s… Items were class specific
8 Knight-Captain Legionnaire Superior-quality chest armor and leggings Knight-Captain’s… Items were class specific Legionnaire’s… Items were class specific
9 Knight-Champion Centurion Battle standard Alliance Battle Standard Horde Battle Standard
10 Lieutenant Commander Champion Superior-quality helm and shoulder armor Lieutenant Commander’s… Items were class specific Champion’s… Items were class specific
11 Commander Lieutenant General Commander’s epic mount
Ability to talk in World Defense
Black War Racial Mounts Black War Racial Mounts
12 Marshal General Epic-quality gloves, leggings, and boots Marshal’s… Items were class specific General’s…Items were class specific
13 Field Marshal Warlord Epic-quality helm, shoulder armor, and chest Field Marshal’s… Items were class specific Warlord’s… Items were class specific
14 Grand Marshal High Warlord Epic-quality weapon and shield Grand Marshal’s… Items were class specific High Warlord’s… Items were class specific

All of these items were originally purchased with gold. With later changes to the honor system their cost changed to being bought with honor tokens then to a high amount of honor and most recently to a low amount of honor.

While the ability to gain these ranks was removed with patch 2.0.1, players were awarded their highest lifetime rank as a title for that character. Later when the achievement system was introduced in patch 3.0.2 they also gained the appropriate Feat of Strength (e.g. Blood Guard). As of the Cataclysm expansion, these titles are now available through achievements in Rated Battlegrounds related to your rating (e.g. 1700 rating grants Blood Guard).

When Transmogrification was introduced, Blizzard decided to make the classic PvP gear sets unable to be used for transmog. However, in patch 4.3.0, Blizzard released “Replica” gear on vendors in Netherstorm. Those players who had the appropriate Feats of Strength were then able to purchase items which could be used for transmog. Fairly recently in patch 5.2.0, they extended this restriction to players who achieve the titles through Rated Battlegrounds. Now both original title earners as well as new ones can purchase the transmogrifiable gear.


Seven months after the release of the game, patch 1.5.0 was released which added both Alterac Valley and Warsong Gulch to the game. Three and a half months after that Arathi Basin was added in patch 1.7.0.

The introduction of battlegrounds allowed a much larger portion of the game’s population to participate in at-level combat with other players. For those striving to reach rank 14, it meant something to do other than sit and camp a town.

Battlegrounds were where I had the most fun when I discovered the PvP system. I was late to the game and only began playing in mid-2006, but I still had several months before patch 2.0.1 would hit. Not knowing how hard it was, I decided to try and get rank 11 for the mount and started leveling my Tauren hunter solely through battlegrounds. Most of my time was spent in Warsong Gulch as she was around level 25 when I began and by the time the patch dropped, she was up to 47, around 30% revered with the Warsong Outriders, and had made rank 6.

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When you joined a battleground things were a bit different than currently. As you can see above, it was normal to speak up to request an invite because someone had to take the initiative to create a raid group. Sometimes more than one group would be formed and you would not be able to see your entire team. As of patch 1.12.0 though this was fixed as the raid group became auto-generated upon joining the instance.

It was also easier to join the battlegrounds at any level as there was not an extreme proliferation of twinks or well-geared alts. Whereas today it is hard to join battlegrounds at any level other than near highest for the range, at that time I would hit a cap (e.g. 30) and keep on queuing. I may have been an underdog, but I mostly played flag defense and knew how to be useful. The only times my hunter left Orgrimmar throughout those 20 levels/five months were to level up and train my hunter pets (the subject of a future “Throwback Thursday”) and for some dungeon runs. I spent a great deal of time fishing in the Valley of Honor.

Why did I spend my time in Orgrimmar fishing? That was because this was the time before remote queuing for instances existed. You had to talk to the Battlemaster for that battleground to join the queue or travel to the battleground’s instance entrance out in the world. For dungeons it was the same, you had to to either travel to the entrance and enter it with your group or you could travel to the Meeting Stone (what we now call Summoning Stones) located near the entrance to add yourself to the queue of interested players. At that time the stones were not capable of doing anything other than adding you to the dungeon queue on your sever for that single dungeon. When talking to the Battlemaster you had the option of joining a specific battleground instance. Usually you would choose “First Available” at the top of the list, but there were some circumstances when joining a specific number was desired (perhaps to join a friend).

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Like Svagis, I made friends with people I ran into over and over. Some I ran into in the Hall of the Brave as we were all queuing so we would gather around a campfire to chat. Some I met in the battlegrounds. Others I met from other servers while in the battlegrounds and happened to end up in several in a row together, a few I even saw a few days in a row. Unfortunately without the BattleTag system or creating a character on their server, there was no real way to stay in contact with them in game.

Speaking of players from other servers, Battlegroups were introduced eleven months after the release of Arathi Basin with patch 1.12.0. Up until that point in battlegrounds you only faced, or were on a team with, players from your home server. This meant that your server’s population had a large effect on your PvP experience, which made sense for a system that began as world PvP only. However battlegroups greatly increased the pool of players so it became much faster for an instance of the battleground to fill and sometimes allowed for running battlegrounds when previously there would not have been enough players online on your server.

The score screen for battlegrounds tied in to the ranking system by showing the icons associated with the player’s rank on the far left side next to their name. While this remained for a short time after the system’s revamp in patch 2.0.1, it disappeared not too long afterwards.

Battleground Rewards

Battlegrounds also had their own unique rewards for players who gained various reputation standings with their associated factions. At each new level of reputation and at certain character levels new items would be available for purchase.

Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin

Warsong Gulch Gear Warsong Gulch Gear Warsong Gulch Gear
Warsong Gulch Gear Warsong Gulch Gear Warsong Gulch Gear

I happened to take screenshots of the Warsong Gulch vendor right before patch 2.0.1 dropped. Above you can see those pictures and get an idea of the costs of items at the time. If you compare those screenshots with the table below, you will see most of the items represented. However, you will notice that there are no epic wrists or legs in the pictures. I think that was because my character was only Revered and therefore the Exalted items were not yet visible to her.

Warsong Gulch Item Rewards Arathi Basin Item Rewards
Alliance Vendor: Illiyana Moonblaze Alliance Vendor: Samuel Hawke
Horde Vendor: Kelm Hargunth Horde Vendor: Rutherford Twing
Item Level Item Level
Mana and Healing Draughts 35, 45 Mana and Healing Draughts 35
Friendly Friendly
Rations 25, 35, 45 Rations 25, 35, 45
Trinket 20, 40 Trinket 28, 38, 48, 58
Honored Honored
Bandages 25, 35, 45 Bandages 25, 35, 45
Rare Back, Neck, Finger 18, 28, 38, 48, 58 Rare Waist 18, 28, 38, 48, 58
Revered Revered
Rare Staff, Sword, Bow, Dagger 18, 28, 38, 48, 58 Rare Feet 18, 28, 38, 48, 58
Exalted Exalted
Epic Wrist and Legs 40, 50, 60 Epic Shoulders, Back, Staff, Dagger 40, 50, 60
Tabard Tabard

Unlike the items related to ranks, all battleground rewards still remain in the game today. They are on the same vendors, however their prices and requirements have changed in order to make them more accessible. Like the level 60 gear, they started out being purchased with gold, then moved to Marks of Honor, then to honor points. Today most of the items are purchased with a relatively low amount of honor. The reputation requirements were removed along with the change of the honor system. Their only remaining restriction is the level of the player.

Consumables originally required a fairly high reputation, but in patch 1.7.0 their requirements were lowered to what is listed in the table.

While leveling through the battlegrounds the existence of these items and the cheap consumables was wonderful.

Alterac Valley

Unavailable to players until level 51, Alterac Valley also worked very differently, and lasted much longer, than the other two battlegrounds. If you are interested in how the original version of the battleground worked, you can take a peak over at Cedric Beust’s World of Warcraft: Battlegrounds for Dummies written on August 8, 2006 or the less-polished Viskahn’s Nub Guide to Alterac Valley from February 8, 2006. Most of the things that you could do back then still work today, but the way the battleground is played has changed significantly and as a result most of the turn-ins and mob summons cannot often happen due to the shorter length of games.

In addition to the extra mechanics, the rewards were also more varied than the other two battlegrounds.

Alterac Valley Rewards
Alliance Vendor: Thanthaldis Snowgleam and Gaelden Hammersmith Horde Vendor: Jorek Ironside and Grunnda Wolfheart
Friendly Honored Revered Exalted
Superior Mana and Healing Draughts Major Mana and Healing Draughts Battle Standard Mount
Tabard Rare Cloak, Neck, Belt Rare Dagger, Staff, One-Handed Mace (Alliance) or Axe (Horde) Epic Off-Hands, Two-Handed Mace, Shield, Ring, Dagger
Bandage Mana Biscuit 16 slot Ammo Pouch/Quiver
Water Arrows and Bullets

All of these items remain in-game and purchasable by players, but without the reputations requirements. Their costs have changed the same as the other two battlegrounds: gold to Marks of Honor to honor.

Unlike the Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin rewards, Alterac Valley rewards do not include multiple items for multiple different character levels. Since the battleground was only available from levels 51-60, there was no reason to have more than one version of an item.

Two items which were originally exalted rewards are worth mentioning because of their fun names and their reference to The Irresistible Force Paradox: The Unstoppable Force and The Immovable Object. Their poor-quality counterparts The Stoppable Force and The Movable Object also exist, although the later never made it into the game.


While the Classic PvP Honor System was undoubtedly flawed as it required an arguably unrealistic time commitment, it still provided an interesting multifaceted system for players to work through and gain rewards based at least in part on effort. The ability to participate at any level and unlock rewards and ranks was a nice benefit which does not exist in today’s PvP environment. Even though the system has been reworked, new battlegrounds and forms of PvP have been added, the old battleground rewards still exist and some are even still useful for filling in slots which heirlooms miss. Also, while the rank armor sets were made inaccessible for a time, Blizzard at least made them re-obtainable for transmog purposes.

Personally I do miss “the old days,” but I fully acknowledge that those are some extremely Rose Colored Goggles through which I am looking. I miss the ability to PvP without being stomped by heirlooms-wearing twinks or having to avoid battlegrounds unless I was near the top three levels of the bracket, and I miss not having to deal with resilience. Needless to say, the proposed gear changes for Warlords of Draenor have me extremely excited.

What was your favorite part of the Classic PvP system? Do you miss it at all?


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