If you haven't seen it already, MMO-Champion is reporting that the Taiwanese guild Stars has gotten the world first kill on Heroic mode Shannox yesterday. This is quite surprising. Not because Stars isn't a good guild. They are a very good guild, proven by their world first Yogg +0 kill back in WotLK. This is surprising because Firelands heroic modes shouldn't be available until next week. Apparently Stars had their raid ID reset by having the raid team faction transferring after they killed Ragnaros on normal mode.
After reading the post I had a lot of thoughts right away, but after reading some of the comments on the post I felt the need to address the idiocy that followed.
World First (*):
I haven't seen any indications that they did anything to exploit the actual fight. So yes, by most definitions this is a world first, but that doesn't mean it's significant. Finishing first in a race when you are the only one running isn't all that impressive. I am sure that Heroic Shannox is a difficult fight, but I am also sure that we will see several heroic mode kills next week when many more guilds have access to them. At the very least this is a kill with an asterisk, and no one is saying "awe shucks, Stars beat us to that one."
I also question how much do early heroic kills really matter? I am by no means saying that the early heroic modes are easy, but no one is measuring the T11 progression race by who got the first kill on Halfus. In fact, I bet that a lot of you couldn't tell me who got the first Heroic Halfus kill without looking at WoW Progress or guessing one of the five obvious names and getting lucky. At the same time, I think that a lot more of you would be able to tell me who got the world first Sinestra kill without looking or guessing. The fact of the matter is that the progression race isn't measured by how you start, but by how you finish. So, even if this kill of Shannox wasn't controversial, it still probably wouldn't be all that important in the long run because this tier is going to be measure by who kills Ragnaros first.
However, while I don't think a lot of the elite guilds are all that upset about being beaten to a world first Shannox kill, I guarantee you that they are upset that Stars has gotten access to heroic gear a week earlier then everyone else. It's true that player skill is more important than gear in general, but at these elite levels of play the differences in skill are very small, so little advantages like having slightly better gear could have a significant impact on who gets that world first Ragnaros kill.
After considering all of this, I don't understand why Stars would change factions to get a new raid ID. The best case scenario is that Blizzard takes no action against them, and they get to keep the gear they gained as a result. However, the primary reward for winning the progression race is respect, but by winning the race this way they would ultimately lose the respect of their peers. Worst case scenario, is that Blizzard bans them for some period of time and takes away their gear and achievements. If this is the case then they are out the money they spent to transfer and possibly lose a raid week depending on how long the ban is for. To me it looks like they had very little to gain, but a lot to lose.
Exploit vs "Clever Use of Game Mechanics"
In my opinion, this will probably go down as an exploit. Some people are arguing that this isn't an exploit because Stars was just using the processes that Blizzard put in place. However, I have a hard time seeing how this would fall under the "Clever use of Game Mechanics" category.
It's important to note that "Clever use of Game Mechanics" doesn't mean that if it's possible it's allowed. There are a plenty of examples of players being banned for things that were possible. The most prominent example is Ensidia being banned for their World First kill of Normal Lich King, when they used Saronite Bombs to cause the platform to reform and trivialize phase 2 of the encounter. So, how is this different then Paragon stacking their raid with 13 feral druids to kill heroic Nafarian?
In my opinion, "Clever use of Game Mechanics" is best defined as using game, class, and encounter mechanics in an intended way, but producing unintended results. The Ensidia LK example violates this definition because the outer platforms were not intended to reform during that phase, and the Saronite bombs caused the encounter to behave in an unintended way.
The Paragon/Nefarian example is different, because all of the mechanics were used as intended. The Stolen Power buff is intended to increase the player’s damage output. Players are expected to use this increased damage to complete the encounter. Feral Druids are expected to use Rip as a part of their DPS rotation. Rip is intended to be a very efficient ability that does a lot of damage over an extended period of time, and the damage Rip did with the Stolen Power buff was mathematically and mechanically consistent with how Rip interacts with other buffs and debuffs. They used game mechanics as intended which when combined produced unintended results. What's interesting is that Stars did something very similar to this where their world first Yogg +0 kill by stacking Warlocks
Finally, while we can debate the line between exploit and "Clever use of Game Mechanics," history gives us a good example of how Blizzard will likely view Stars' actions. Back in ToC Ensidia, transferred servers mid lockout to reset their ID and get an additional 50 attempts. I don't think Ensidia got punished in that situation, but Blizzard did take steps to prevent it from happening again in the future. That sent a clear message to all guilds that Blizzard doesn't view this type of action acceptable. Don't be surprised if Blizzard reacts more harshly this time to discourage this activity from happening again in the future.
Crazy Theories and Rationalizations:
These are just suggestions that I wanted to address that didn't really fit somewhere above.
Greedy Blizzard: One of the crazier suggestions in the MMO thread is that Blizzard allowed this to happen because they are greedy and want the faction transfer fees. Lets do some quick math.
It costs 30 dollars to change factions and lets assume that Stars transferred 30 players and plan to change back to their original faction next week. That means it would cost Stars $1,800 to faction change their entire raid team twice. Now lets assume that the top 100 25man guilds would do the same thing to complete for world firsts, and that there are three major content patches a year. In this scenario Blizzard would earn an extra 540k dollars a year in revenue. On it's own that sounds like a lot, but lets think about it another way.
World of Warcraft has over 11 million accounts. Each of those accounts pay a monthly fee of at least 13 dollars. This means that over a year Blizzard has over 1.7 billion dollars in revenue a year in subscription fees alone. I know that every little bit counts, but do you think Blizzard is going to risk taking bad press and a negative player reaction for just 540k dollars? If you do, your crazy.
Time Zone Disadvantage: Another common response is that the US and European guilds have had a day or two advantage due to the servers they play on. Therefore this is just turnabout is fair play that the Taiwanese get an advantage for once.
It's very true that in the short term US guild definitely have an advantage in these early kills, but how does that justify breaking the rules? As I said above these short term milestones aren't all that significant. The really significant world firsts generally take at least a month to complete, and in that time frame that extra day or two isn't all that significant.
The time zone situation is what it is and has been this way for years. Claiming that this is just turnabout is fair play is a little like an embezzler claiming that what they were doing is ok because they've been underpaid for years. In the end this argument is just an attempt to rationalize their actions that were clearly against the spirit of the rules if not a blatant violation of the rules.