World of Warcraft offers a few different flavors of PvP: fast-paced arena battles, War Mode fighting out in the world, or battlegrounds. Some players reject all of these in favor of a role-play take on the experience of a live fighting exhbition. Some of Azeroth’s heroes are setting up underground fight rings in the canals of Stormwind or the halls of an ancient monastery, and it’s because they’re chasing an experience the current game can’t offer them.
In the hidden corners of Stormwind City, characters are gathering for secret wrestling matches. They’re a fan community called Azeroth Championship Wrestling, and it’s the fantasy version of Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling — tiny indie wrestling events, staffed by a passionate crew of wrestlers for a few loyal locals. The ACW hosts practice matches and small test exhibitions where role-players gather and watch a good ol’ fashioned rumble. The group maintains “kayfabe,” focusing on putting on a show above all else.
There’s also the Azerothian Boxing Association, which hosts tournament matches at the Tian Monastery in Pandaria. Right now, the human William Hawke is cleaning up the circuit and picking up a huge win off the undefeated Night Elf Ranathiel Shadowsong. Fighters show up with names like “The Silver-Tongued Devil” or “The Doctor.” One player even went ahead and booked a wedding with her match back to back, so she could tie the knot and then beat the snot out of some opponents.
Role-play PvP fights don’t give in-game currencies, armored mounts, or sick-looking sets of gear. Instead, they just offer a narrative hook. Being a pit fighter, wrestler, or athlete is a cool story. People still watch Remember the Titans and Rocky, after all. If you’re a role-player looking for a juicy, low-scope, low-stakes way to hang out in Azeroth, it’s a great opportunity.
Why do groups gather for these social gatherings to form their character? Well, the in-game PvP system feels isolated. Take arenas, for example. First, you queue up from an in-game menu. You hit the ready prompt when it happens, and then you’re teleported into an arena set somewhere around the world of Warcraft. You have a short and dynamic fight, but it’s hard to explain to someone else without using a ton of jargon.
“Yeah, the druid kept me cyclone-locked until our mage got the interrupt off and we could burst the squishy down” is an entirely accurate statement, but it lacks narrative gravitas. After the match is done, you teleport back to your original location, and you’re marginally closer to buying a new piece of gear. Meanwhile, at the Azerothian Boxing Association, players get to talk smack before having a fist fight. That’s very relatable, or at the very least, entertaining.
World of Warcraft’s original iteration had a PvP system that felt much more personal. Everyone in a match was from your server, and over time, players could learn to recognize rivals and friends on sight. The vanilla PvP system had its own pitfalls, but it offered a sense of community and permanence that the current queues lack. Role-players have simply found a way to capture the best parts of that original experience, and share it in character as a bare-knuckle scrap between a werewolf and an elf.