A little while ago on Twitter I saw someone ask the question, “After the Burning of Teldrassil, how could anyone follow Sylvanas?” The idea being that since Warchief Windrunner eagerly committed genocide on twenty-three-thousand Night Elves – men, women and children – how could anyone continue to follow a person like that? It’s a question that actually gave me some thought.
I’m going to focus my talk today on just the player base and not the in-universe npcs and characters. Why? Well because ultimately when it comes down to it the answer for the NPCs is pretty obvious: they don’t get a choice. They’ll do whatever the writers want and there isn’t much of free will. If they need a reason to stay, the writers will concoct one. That’s how fiction works. No fictional character has autonomy. They and the situations they find themselves in are manufactured. The Horde follows Sylvanas, the Alliance supports their High King now, and Superman didn’t have to kill anyone. Okay? So let’s move on to the more interesting question.
Why did players back Sylvanas committing genocide? And by genocide, I mean the death of other fictional beings. But lets not kid ourselves into thinking just because the deaths were not real that we have card blanche to not care. When a character in Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion, Shadowbringers, stated that he viewed our characters, our NPC allies, and every other sentient person in the world as “Sub-human” and thus paid their potential deaths as no concern as an obstacle to his grand plan – there was some serious talk going down in the Final Fantasy fandom about this. Namely about how a character who wants to commit genocide gets painted fairly sympathetically in the end. A lot of people were not comfortable with that. Some people didn’t have an issue with that. Others were downright thirsty for the guy and that also raised a lot of questions.
My point being that the lives lost being ‘fictional’ isn’t an excuse to hand waive being okay with genocide. So what is it then? Well, at the risk of sounding like a senior who votes straight conservative on every election: That’s their team. Let me explain. The World of Warcraft has probably more than any other MMORPG that I can recall played heavily into the concept of ‘Faction Pride’ that whether you chose Alliance or Horde says something about you and indeed is something other players will judge you for. From Battle for Azeroth‘s ad campaign that pitted red hooded Horde players against blue jersey’d Alliance players, to stories of random jokes of saying “/spit” to a player of the opposite faction you bumped into the bus, all the way to Blizzard themselves egging on each faction at the start of every Blizzcon. Warcraft is built on your faction identity. No other aspect of your character is so publicly identified. The roots of backing your own faction dates to the earliest incarnations of vanilla WoW, where I distinctly recall heated arguments over Horde favoritism vs Alliance favoritism from the developers when it came to racial abilities, zone quests, and of course battleground layouts. You are the faction you choose to main.
So when it was announced that 23,000 people were murdered by having their homes burnt to the ground, it’s entirely likely that a lot of Horde players just heard “Warchief kills 23,000 Alliance in a single blow” and didn’t care much beyond that. It’s horrific, right? But who cares – your team won. If they don’t like it, that’s just typical Alliance whining again. How many Horde soldiers have died to the crappy defenses in Alterac? Alliance will just complain the moment something doesn’t go their way because Blizz spoils them. Sometimes they’re joking, and sometimes not. So is just that Horde players are bad? Not at all. It goes both ways. After all, would the Burning of Teldrassil been such a narrative victory for Horde players if they hadn’t just come out of switching/killing/watching their various warchiefs die multiple times? Hell, Voljin did jack all considering we were in an alternate timeline for his entire time as Warchief. Ultimately, the problem and the cycle that it perpetuates is one not of one side getting different or better treatment but of Faction Pride itself.
Other MMOs I play, I’ve never seen this level of animosity between the factions – and make no mistake every MMO post WoW has tried to do the whole faction thing at launch. Elder Scrolls Online has three factions and outside of the PvP Cyrodil zone it doesn’t really seem to matter much. Star Wars the Old Republic has its natural divide between Republic and Empire that is treated more like an organic rift that hasn’t done much of anything except prevent one side from winning in the narrative to the point where their latest expansion does away with the concept of faction pride entirely and lets you support whatever side you want. Jedi that backs the Empire? Sure. Why not. Final Fantasy XIV’s factions – the three Grand Companies – are a complete afterthought that is almost entirely cosmetic.
But you won’t find this issue in any of them. Not that it doesn’t come up, but its either a complete non-issue like in Star Wars because it’s Star Wars and we didn’t blink at the population of the Death Star getting snuffed we’re not gonna weep for a dreadnaught, or Final Fantasy XIV where actual meaning debate occurs in the wake of such a topic. Because no one is just rooting for their side. Their team.
Now this isn’t speaking for everyone who plays WoW. I’ve seen plenty of examples of people saying that Sylvanas actions during Battle for Azeroth is what convinced them to faction change their main. Which is a far better reason than liking the Alliance Garrison better than the Horde one (that was my reason by the way). In the end, it’s still a game with millions of players. There’s not going to be any universal agreement. But I wanted to talk about what I thought the answer to the question was. All I keep coming back to that: Faction Pride. It’s a toxic concept that I’ve seen take deeper root in World of Warcraft than anywhere else.
So yeah. uh… I can’t think of a joke to end this on. Shoot. Why did Pepe cross the road? Because someone used that whistle?
Not great, I know. Till next time people.
One thought on “The Problem of Faction Pride”
It’s an interesting challenge, because I’ve found it interesting how long Horde players specifically resisted the characterization of Sylvanas until it was obvious they were fighting a losing fight.
I think it just got a start early with the factions being a concept and that the game has never had an expansion where that tension has been relaxed, even when the story isn’t pointing at faction conflict directly. Horde players have often had to assist in villainous acts, and I think that also sort of galvanizes their support for the faction – their questing and lore tells them that there’s a plan for what Garrosh/Sylvanas/the next evil leader is doing, a larger purpose being fulfilled, but it rarely pays off meaningfully. Even as someone who plays both factions, my Horde characters are curiosities there to see the story on both sides, and the vast majority of my time is on Alliance because I cannot logic my way out of the actions of the Horde to feel comfortable with it – although since I’m not an RPer, I still play with my Horde characters occasionally.