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WoW ClassicSep 13, 2022 5:30 pm CT

Blizzard disables character creation on and transfers to Wrath’s most overcrowded realms

Icecrown Citadel in Northrend during Wrath of the Lich King

Wrath of the Lich King Classic hasn’t even launched yet, but it already has a serious overcrowding problem. Since the Wrath Classic pre-patch launched, bringing the first round of expansion features and events into the game, some of the largest servers — known as “mega-realms” —  are full to the point that they have multiple hour queues, rendering them almost entirely unplayable. It’s an experience that’s quite true to the reality of the original Wrath of the Lich King launch, but players were hopeful that Wrath Classic might not repeat that particular experience.

But overcrowding is a tough problem to address. One of the major problems is that many players believe that the only viable realms to play on are these mega-realms, are many times larger than the largest realms that existed back in 2008. As a result, players flock to these realms, and the pre-patch sent a fresh influx of new players to these already crowded servers, causing extremely long queue times, and sometimes preventing people from logging on at all. Even though healthy Classic realms can handle four times the number of players as original Wrath realms without queues or other issues, there’s still a limit to how many players can be on a server at once.

Originally Posted by Aggrend (Official Post)
Realm health and management has been the most challenging aspect of managing WoW Classic. When these mega-realms started to emerge last year, we were concerned about their impact, but we were very hesitant to take heavy-handed action for fear of breaking up friend groups and restricting player freedom. At this point however, we believe the time has come to end the concept of a mega-realm. We hope that with your help and willingness to consider the current and future transfers we are going to offer, we can maintain a lively, vibrant community across all realms without the need for queues or increasingly heavy-handed actions.

And as server populations have ballooned during the Wrath Classic pre-patch, Blizzard has started taking extreme measures to combat overcrowding and break up mega-realms. Blizzard has locked transfers to and disabled character creation on WoW Classic’s mega-realms, while offering free transfers to less crowded servers. 

Originally Posted by Aggrend (Official Post)

We have disabled new character creation and incoming paid transfers to the US and EU mega-realms, and they will remain locked indefinitely.

This was a difficult choice that we feel is very heavy-handed. By doing this, we will cut off opportunities for new and returning players to join their friends on these large realms, possibly for many months. However, the situation on these realms is completely untenable, and even if we can eliminate queues in the short term, this is going to continue to be a problem when new content releases as long as mega-realms exist. As a result, we’ve made the choice to effectively close US and EU mega-realms to new and additional incoming players indefinitely. We will also be monitoring our other realms and will take similar steps if they begin to inch into mega-realm territory in the future, and we may do so with little to no warning. We’ve been hesitant to this because we really dislike restricting player movements and potentially breaking up social circles, but that ethos is no longer compatible with the reality we find ourselves in.

Anyone on the mega-realms Benediction, Grobbulus, and Faerlina can currently transfer to Old Blanchy or Erankius (PVP) for free, though these free transfers could end if the transfer server fills up. For example, Blizzard has already ended free transfers to Sulfuras, which is a healthy server with a full population that’s four times the size of a “full” realm would have been in 2008 when Wrath of the Lich King first launched.

Blizzard is also adding a couple of new Fresh Start realms for players who want to start completely from scratch. Angerforge (PVP) just launched for US players with maintenance this week, and Jin’do (PVP) will launch for EU players after maintenance. Since you have to start brand new on these servers, there will be no realm transfers and no Death Knights here (at least not yet) — everyone starts at level 1 and goes from there.

Arthas close-up from Warcraft 3

Will these restrictions fix Wrath Classic server queues?

I understand how frustrating queues are for players and honestly, I wonder if it’s a case of people underestimating how popular Wrath of the Lich King really was — and how popular Wrath Classic will be today. This is the expansion where WoW hit its highest subscriber numbers ever, a high that’s never been matched in the fourteen years since. [Ed’s note: We named our daily Q&A column The Queue after the long Wrath of the Lich King queues. After all, you needed something to do while you waited to get gaming.]

But part of the problem seems to be the idea that these massive mega-realms are the only viable realms to play Classic on, which has led to them growing larger and larger. Player complaints frequently focus on “fixing” these larger realms by increasing server capacity to reduce queues or adding more layers to prevent crowding, but Blizzard stresses neither of these things are a solution.

Originally Posted by Aggrend (Official Post)

We’ll start with the easiest and most clearcut statement to make. The mega-realms in US and EU that are queuing are completely full. This statement is the absolute state of things, and there is no additional capacity we can add to these realms to allow more players on, or to reduce queues.

One common suggestion we get is to “just add more layers”, and it’s very important to understand that layers do not add in any way to capacity. Layers are a Classic-specific solution to alleviate congestion in the game world in densely populated areas. The way they work is that when a certain threshold of players congregates in a small area in the game (say, in Blackrock Mountain) the service will spin up another entire copy of the game world to try to load-balance any new players that log in. This is to prevent a situation where large numbers of players congregating, casting spells, sending server messages and updates to one another causes a severe degradation of the entire service/game world. This functions in some contrast to the “sharding” system that modern World of Warcraft uses which basically does the same thing but spins up additional shards on a per-zone or per-area basis.

Neither of these systems increase realm capacity. Realm capacity is dictated by the total number of connections that the service itself can handle. Every time a player connects to a realm, that connection interacts with numerous services, systems, and adds to the total load on the persistent database that the entire game relies upon to fetch data related to players, spells, quests, creatures, Auctions, etc. When that total number of connections to a realm’s DB and services reaches a certain number, the service will degrade or fail on multiple levels, leading to symptoms like severe Auction House lag or outages, Chat performance degradation, or lag when attempting to loot items. Never in wow’s history had the capacity of realms been as high as they are now, and even with our modern capacity we can still sometimes experience performance degradation when the realms are full and DB load is at its peak.

So put as plainly as possible, we cannot increase capacity any more without inviting additional and likely cascading failures to the service. At present, the best and only way to resolve this issue for the impacted realms, is for people to leave the realm via free transfers. There’s no technology solution to this. There is no hardware solution to this. This situation will not improve when Wrath of the Lich King Classic launches on September 26th, it will only get worse.

Blizzard clearly didn’t want to have to take these “heavy-handed” steps, especially not with just two weeks to go until Wrath Classic officially launches. But this is essentially a triage situation: it’s been difficult to play on these mega-realms at all due to queue times, and with the Wrath Classic launching soon, something needed to be done. Cutting off access to mega-realms and encouraging players to move elsewhere may be the most reasonable course of action, even if it is heavy-handed. You can still play Wrath Classic, you can still make a character, you can even transfer a character — just not to the realms so crowded that the queue times are unwieldy and untenable.

Will this fix the problem long-term, though? Hopefully. Blizzard already says that free transfers have been working well, so continuing to encourage players off crowded servers and on to less-crowded servers may create a long-term balanced, viable player population. But we’ll see what the queues look like when Wrath Classic launches later this month.

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