I frequently waffle on and on about how all the best times I've had in WoW happened during the Burning Crusade. If I had to pick one specific event or achievement during that time that had a bigger impact on me than anything else, it would without a doubt be the original Zul'Aman bear run. Mind you, I have a lot of happy memories from the BC days, but working on beating that timer week in, week out, failing over and over again until we finally had those ten Amani War Bears for everyone in the team definitely stood out.
(Incidentally, looking back at that picture of our "Team Bear" makes me kind of sad, as not one of the other nine people still plays with me anymore. They all either left the guild for one reason or another or simply quit the game entirely. I'm still in loose contact with most of them, but at least one guy has pretty much vanished off the face of the earth as far as I know. If you read this, Kordac, I still miss hearing your Irish accent on Teamspeak!)
Obviously I've had other good times in the game since then, but nothing that really lived up to those bear runs... until...
The other night I was thinking about how PvP season ten is ending soon and pondering our rated battleground team's performance over the last couple of months. And it suddenly hit me just how much of a good time I've been having and that I really, really care, in a way that I haven't cared about anything in the game in three and a half years. We've had our problems, sure, and for a while we had a couple of players that didn't really mesh with the rest of the team and who made things awkward sometimes, but looking at our regulars right now, there isn't a single person there that I don't like.
I don't exactly await every rated battleground evening with baited breath, but once we get started I tend to completely forget about the time (which is quite a feat, considering that I'm usually one of those people who look at their watch every five minutes) until someone says "well, that's it for the night I guess" and I realise that it's three hours later. I get completely immersed in exciting matches, and I laugh out loud at the silly banter that goes on during breaks between games. Who'd have thought that Cataclysm managed to bring back a little piece of my favourite expansion after all? That feeling of playing in a team, kicking butt and just having oodles of fun is back. I was honestly kind of shocked by this realisation.
The funny and slightly confusing thing is that I can't even really explain what makes these rated battlegrounds so different from everything else that I've done in the game since those infamous bear runs. The first things that come to mind that I enjoy about rated battlegrounds, other than the company, are the challenge and the pacing. Due to the matchmaking system almost every victory and loss push us to our limits in one way or another, but there's also plenty of time to chill out and be silly - between matches, at the start and towards the end of a game, as well as when you're simply waiting to resurrect at a graveyard.
As a bit of a side note, I've been thinking about challenge in games lately. Whenever WoW's difficulty is discussed anywhere, I tend to side with those who say that it needs to be harder, but at the same time I'm the kind of person who sets all her single player games to "easy", so am I being hypocritical? After a bit of soul searching I came to the conclusion that I don't really need challenge in my single player content (though I don't necessarily mind it either if I have to face it), but I absolutely do need it in group content because otherwise... it doesn't really feel like group content to me.
I mean, if I did a heroic Grim Batol through the dungeon finder right now, it wouldn't even matter whether I did it with friends or random strangers in terms of gameplay; just running along and AoEing everything down is boring. There is no interaction. I mean, I could chat with my friends while doing this I guess, but for that I don't really need to have the game running; we might as well go for a walk. For group content to be satisfying for me, it has to be at least difficult enough to require the assistance of another human being that can think for themselves, so that our goal is only achievable by working together. That is the true joy of having other people to play with, for me at least. And PvPing with a fixed group of people is like that all the time.
However, none of these things make rated battlegrounds truly special. Raids still have challenge and cooperation too! It's an interesting conundrum. Then again, maybe I just like riding around with a group of people who are all using the same mount as me. Vicious War Wolves, hoo!