Trill: The Bridge Between
If there is one thing MMOs are known for, it is how they enable people with divergent interests to play the game in exactly the way they want to. Popular modern titles like CS:GO and League of Legends hastily shove its neophytes into deathmatches against one another. On the other hand, Blizzard once introduced World of Warcraft to new players with a simple question: "what's your game?"
Some devote themselves to making as much gold as possible—even going so far as to dictate the economy of an entire server. Others focus on collecting in-game achievements or dueling in Pokemon-esque Pet Battles. The majority, however, take part in Player versus Environment (PvE) or Player versus Player (PvP) game modes or challenges. PvE players participate in raids of escalating difficulty and frequent dungeons in Mythic Plus (M+). PvPers, meanwhile, direct their attention to rated Battlegrounds or Arena.
PvE and PvP each present a unique set of challenges—challenges players must overcome if they wish to count themselves among the best in the game. The time required to become a Rank 1 Arena player (finishing in the top 0.1% of the ladder in a particular season) or seriously compete in the Race for World First is virtually incalculable. Even the most talented players spend years developing the necessary understanding, awareness and mechanical ability.
One of the most peculiar trends to persist through World of Warcraft’s nearly 20 year history is that the truly elite players dedicate themselves to PvP or PvE—but not both. Top Arena players grind out thousands of games a season, while Mythic Raiders with aspirations of achieving a World First pour hundreds of hours into vanquishing the final boss of the newest raid tier. It is quite possible that there are not enough hours in the day to become part of the top .01% of PvPers and PvEers alike.
That is, unless your name is Trill.
Best known for achieving multiple World Firsts as part of the guild, Liquid (formerly Limit) and winning the Arena World Championship in 2018 alongside teammates Mes, Cdew and Samiyam—Trill is likely the only player in the world with such an illustrious resume in PvE and PvP. And, it is his experience and accomplishments that make him uniquely qualified to explain the differences between them, the factors that cut the WoW player base into two clean halves, and what is required to reach the zenith of World of Warcraft in two wildly different styles of play.
Trill was introduced to World of Warcraft by his parents when he was only five years old, but it would take another half-decade for them to feel comfortable playing on his own. His initial forays into raiding occurred during Cataclysm, an expansion released in 2010. As you would expect from someone so young, it took multiple expansions for Trill to ascend from a casual raid experience to joining a top 30 NA guild and eventually becoming a part of Liquid. Meanwhile, his first attempts at Arena did not come until Mists of Pandaria, where he met numerous players, like Versace and Wealthyman, who helped him develop and hone his skills in WoW’s original esports format—3 versus 3 Arena.
When speaking with Trill, his love for World of Warcraft is immediately apparent. His responses are thoughtful and well-worded. Intentional and comprehensive. But there is always an undertone of the youthful enthusiasm that first attracted him to WoW when he was only 5 years old.
The early portion of our conversation focused on how Trill came to play WoW and who influenced him during those nascent days. But gradually, we switch topics and hone in on what it takes to raid and play Arena at the highest level. And, while Trill’s initial response is more milquetoast than any he has provided thus far, it is quite clear I am only glimpsing the tip of the iceberg.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say one is easier than the other. Whether it’s Arena or raiding, each presents its own difficulties. And, as you would expect, the means of overcoming them differs in PvE and PvP. You have to develop expertise in entirely different areas to perform at your best.”
I ask for a more detailed explanation and Trill eagerly takes me underwater.
“It’s crucial to remind yourself that you are part of a large team during the World First Race. Since so many people are involved, you need everybody to be extremely consistent. If one person makes a mistake during a fight, we wipe and move on. But if a different person makes the same mistake every pull you are never going to make progress.”
This exact scenario happened not just to Liquid, but to every guild, during the most recent Race for World First. Guilds like Liquid downed the early bosses with ease, but the moment they reached Halondruis they realized that the version of the boss they had faced on the Public Test Realm was entirely different than the one before them. The top guilds in the world were suddenly forced to alter long practiced strategies as swiftly as possible for a fight with zero room for error—as even one death was enough to trigger a wipe.
“You need to know exactly what you need to do in any given encounter and only concern yourself with that. That is why we initially decided to implement the now standard approach of having the raid leader watch instead of playing. This allows the "21st raider" to keep track of mechanics and when we need to do what, which makes our lives as raiders a lot easier. Since everyone is fending for themselves, having an extra set of eyes to make sure the fight is advancing properly reduces the potential of getting distracted from your primary task and slipping up.”
“Arena is an altogether different challenge,” he adds as his attention shifts to PvP. “For example, if my team and I are fighting a Retribution Paladin/Warrior team, our initial gameplan might be to crowd control the opposing team when they use their major cooldowns to grind out the game. If that is not cutting it, we have to identify another win condition—like being offensive and draining the opposing healer’s mana.”
“The strategies in mythic raiding have a lot more depth to them than those in Arena. They have so many moving parts and are heavily focused on personal responsibility. That’s not to say coming up with the correct gameplan in Arena is easy, however. Bosses do the same thing every time you pull them, but when you face off against another human they can react to what you’re doing. That causes PvP to be a lot more fluid than PvE. You can’t do the same thing at a predetermined time like you would in a raid. You have to worry about the opponent suddenly swapping to one of your teammates who can’t use their trinket, and killing them while they are incapacitated, while also monitoring everyone’s cooldowns and where the other five players are positioned on the map.”
As a fellow World of Warcraft player who has reached duelist multiple times, Trill's words make perfect sense to me. Resource management, positioning, coordination and cooldown usage are huge parts of being successful in Arena, but when a player makes the jump to playing professionally, that adds a new level of complexity. In tournaments, one needs to be able to play multiple classes so their team can counter the opponent’s composition. For example, one team might send out a double melee comp in the first map. Double melee teams are great at running the opposing healer into the ground. But they are far less effective when facing a mage/warlock team who can constantly slow the melee and punish them for committing into enemy territory.
Of course, all my knowledge is rudimentary compared to Trill’s. Like most Arena players, my experience is limited to the ladder, while Trill's experience is a reality which applies to all of a few dozen people. Even those who earn a Rank One title on the Arena ladder cannot be directly compared to those who participate in tournaments.
Curious as to how Trill prepares against the very best the game has to offer, I inquire as to how his team approaches PvP’s marquee event - the Arena World Championship or AWC.
“Since we know exactly who we are playing on any given day, it gives us the time to practice and identify what’s going wrong and what’s working well. Say we are going to play against a team that constantly beats us on ladder in the exact same way. Those losses give us something to focus on. We might decide that I’ll only stun when my teammate is stunned or only peel when our healer is stunned. Suddenly, instead of playing to win, we’ve figured out that playing not to lose is the more effective tactic. That wrinkle is a huge part of playing Arena competitively. Sometimes the best way to win is to prevent the opponent from winning. And, as long as we're doing that, we're actually the team with the advantage.”
The differences between the competition persist even outside of the game itself and into the structure, the seasons, and the pacing of the competition. Unlike the Arena World Championship, where the circuit and season finals are spread out over the entire year, the Race for World First is more compressed. While a ton of planning takes place behind closed doors, when it comes to the raid itself, Trill sees the Race for World First as a single, massively cooperative marathon rather than a series of sprints.
“We start preparing for the race long before the raid is actually released. We spend a lot of time playing on the PTR and theory crafting to figure out what classes are going to be good and how we want to approach each of the fights. Things can obviously change if a mechanic is buffed or needs to be dealt with in a way we did not expect, but it is critical to have a plan in place before mythic difficulty goes live.”
“Everything changes once the raid starts. Where before we had time to formulate and alter our strategies, now we have no choice but to refine them as we go. That means being ready for any and all possibilities. You have to remember that you are working with 19 other players who are all experiencing their own individual problems. All the while, you are racing against other guilds from all over the world. This creates a lot of pressure to solve problems as quickly as possible. Constantly dying at the same point or failing to meet a dps check can set us back hours—a delay we cannot afford when competing against other world class guilds. Similarly, if you get hung up on a boss in the middle of the tier you are putting even more pressure on yourself because you will have less time to work on the final boss.”
““Since we are playing 16 hours a day for a week, maybe even two, that [also] causes you to have to focus on things like getting quality sleep and eating decent food. If you don't, you're going to be fatigued and you're going to make mistakes, particularly on fights that require an immense amount of personal responsibility.”
It is a bit shocking to hear someone so young place so much importance on proper sleep and nutrition. But Trill is not your average 23 year old, not your average player, not even your average professional. Competing at the top level in PvP and PvE is a grind on the time, the body, and the mind. Someone in Trill's position needs to prepare efficiently and practice the right way if they are to have any hope of keeping up in the ever-escalating arms race between top guilds and Arena teams.
“In PvE the boss is always there. As long as you are awake you can improve your strategy and become more proficient at executing the plan. Finding Arena games that have relevance to a tournament setting is a lot more difficult so it's less about playing game after game after game and more about how well you utilize your time when you do have the opportunity to play arranged matches against other teams or you play against the same composition on the ladder that you’re going to be playing in AWC.”
I find myself checking the time as Trill falls silent. I still have just enough of it to go down one last route: to ask him about the top of both these summits. Trill is a World First raider and an Arena World Champion. He has competed at the highest level WoW has to offer and succeeded on all fronts. So, what does Trill, the man dubbed “Mr. Warcraft” for his unique mastery of World of Warcraft, view as his most valuable attribute—that special something that allows him to excel in PvE and PvP?
“Every truly great player has their own respective strengths. Personally, I can always lean on my ability to do a ton of damage in any given situation. I’ve always been a very aggressive—maybe even greedy player. In raids, I’m the guy who barely dodges a mechanic because I know I can sneak in an extra attack without dying. I approach Arena with the same mindset. Where others might play more passively, I want to force the issue. I want as much uptime on the opposing team as possible so I can force cooldowns and open kill windows.”
I am sure Trill never once considered he would accomplish even half of what he has when his parents first placed WoW before him. But now, nearly two decades removed from that fateful day, Trill finds himself in rarified air. He has been one of 20 players to first kill the final boss of a raid and one of four players to earn the title of Arena World Champion in any given year. So, across all those years, what is Trill’s greatest memory from his time playing World of Warcraft?
“Winning the Race for World First is definitely special. You’re one of only 20 people to accomplish that feat. At the same time, my greatest memory from WoW was winning the Arena World Championship at BlizzCon. The crowd got louder and louder with each passing game—it got to the point that I could hear their shouts through the soundproof headphones. It was so exhilarating to win a game, stand up and see this massive crush of people cheering us on. Taking center stage with my team amid all that adulation. And raising our trophies overhead was an incredible feeling to which nothing, not even a World First, could ever hope to match.”