After World Of Warcraft Classic's Announcement, The People Behind Legacy Servers Cried From Joy


When Vaelanor heard the announcement of World of Warcraft Classic last Friday, he says he broke into tears. The veteran Warcraft player, whose real name we omitted because he helps run an unofficial legacy server, said he was so moved by news of a vanilla version of Blizzard's long-running multiplayer game, he couldn't help but cry.

"I welled up with tears," he said. "It's been a long journey filled with a lack of hope ... I always dreamed they would do it so I could go back to enjoying it as a player."

Vaelanor is one of nine underground developers I've spoken to over the past few days who have worked on unofficial servers that take World of Warcraft back through time. Thousands of people have played on those servers, where they can play "vanilla" versions of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), the way it was back in the early 2000s, before a decade of patches and expansion packs. For years, those underground developers have been meticulously crafting and curating these servers, without Blizzard's permission or blessing.

They believe that the current incarnation of World of Warcraft lacks the challenge and the community feel of the original game, so they have devoted many hours to fine-tuning, tweaking, and building a version of World of Warcraft that resembles the one they used to play, out of love for a game that no longer exists.

So you might think that these developers would be fuming at last Friday's news that Blizzard plans to release its own "vanilla" version of World of Warcraft. But they all tell me they're over the moon.

"I was actually sitting there crying for 15 minutes before I could actually say anything at all," said WhiteKidney, an administrator for one legacy server "This is a monumental victory to every single one of us, whether it be players or private server administrators. This was my end game."

The most popular of these legacy servers was Nostalrius, which had over 150,000 active players until Blizzard decided to shut it down last spring. Some of Nostalrius's developers and fans filtered over to other "vanilla" World of Warcraft legacy servers, the most popular of which still boast 10,000 concurrent players on an average evening.

Blizzard explained that it had to slam down the ban hammer to protect its intellectual property, but the move sent a message to the legacy server community: What they were doing was not kosher.

But Michael "Nano" Allred, who ran Nostalrius, tells Kotaku that, if anything, he's humbled if his server helped generate an audience for World of Warcraft Classic.

Allred said he watched last week's BlizzCon opening ceremony while sitting in a Starbucks, and once World of Warcraft project lead J. Allen Brack started talking about how people loved "vanilla" ice cream, a segue into the announcement, Allred says he began to cry.

Ultimately, Allred thinks that legacy servers are only worthwhile as a substitute for the original game, not as a replacement for it. "Legacy servers are a cloudy mirror that are ultimately flawed and incapable of reproducing the original content as it was," Allred told me.

"The only team capable of fully delivering on the promise of authentic classic content is Blizzard."

Allred says the endgame of Nostalrius was always to convince Blizzard that it was worth launching something like World of Warcraft Classic. Staden, the lead developer of the legacy server Light's Hope, feels similarly.

That's why he says he'll shut down his server and its 100,000 active accounts once World of Warcraft Classic launches. It's not a legal issue that spurred the dramatic decision, he says. It's that his goal was to offer an experience that wasn't available.

"Our job will be done, as far as we're concerned," Staden told me.

With his extra free time, Staden plans on grinding up levels on World of Warcraft Classic. "We look forward to getting our free time back only so we can lose it again on those servers," he said.

Blizzard did not respond to questions about how it will approach existing legacy servers once World of Warcraft Classic launches. Blizzard has said several times that the process of developing classic servers could only be executed with "great difficulty," citing "operational challenges to integrating classic servers, not to mention the ongoing support of multiple live versions for every aspect of World of Warcraft."

Yes, it sounds tricky — faithfully reproducing an early 2000s game to 2017's standards. Some legacy server veterans, who have experience overcoming this challenge, have openly mused whether Blizzard might hire them.

Namreeb, a developer who cut his teeth on World of Warcraft legacy servers for eight years, said that he knows a few unofficial authorities that Blizzard might want to tap.

He added that, if Blizzard did decide to answer questions about all this, "We'd love to know if we will get sued if we apply for a job and cite our experience with classic WoW :)."


    And classic will launch and people will remember how horrid and unbalanced the experience was and stop playing again.
    Or they'll fix those issues and other people will complain it's not faithful to the original.

      As long as I can stand on the Ironforge bridge and spam chat with my lockpicking skills again, I'll be happy.

      Daft comment.

      We've been playing 1.12.1 for the past couple years. Game is unbalanced.. but it's glorious.

        1.12.1... my memory is foggy. Is that the patch that basically turned Paladins into Neo from the Matrix?

          No not even close. hybrid classes were weaker in 1.12.1 and mostly all vanilla for that matter

      Expect a few folks to keep trying to run pirate servers to support the player-base that couldn't afford a WoW sub, too. I'm sure many folks playing on pirate servers were doing it for the nostalgia, but it absolutely wasn't the only reason. I knew a couple folks from uni who used to be in with some of the admins and enjoyed all the free gold that they got hacked in, too. (I never played a pirate server, but I can only assume the AHs were a fucking mess. If they were able to get that part running at all.)

      Last edited 08/11/17 11:42 am

      Yeah because the current game doesn't have any issues relating to balance at all.

      These seem to make the majority of the anti-classic comments and I don't understand them. I play WoW now and find it unfulfilling, little in the way of community and rewards don't feel as rewarding (oh hey, I completed this 2min quest and this piece of gear magically upgraded to an epic).

      Thinking it might have been nostalgia as many keep saying, I played on a private server for a while. Every kill felt meaningful, I was forced to interact with people and quickly made friends, every hard earned piece of gear felt like Christmas when got it.

      Honestly, while vanilla is not perfect I really just think different people enjoy different games.

      I think the class unbalance had a little bit to do with the game being new and people did not know classes like they do now. I think the class usage might be a bit different when classic releases given how much people know about classes then and now.

        Most classes had one decent spec only. eg if you could heal, you had to heal. Game was pretty bad but enjoyable because it was all new. I'm doubting it would be as much fun going back and doing it all again now

          Actually not true... The old talent system opened up a lot of available and viable speccs both for pvp and pve... Survival hunter was never really played that much, but became viable at late game due to 15% increased agility. It added some quite interesting new mechanics to the hunter.
          Two handed prot paladins were viable in pvp, as a critical hit to the paladin would add a double slap proc to the paladin that would stack over the next 8 seconds, making them good possible counters to rogue as well as fury warrior. Further prot paladins and druids are themselves viable tanks in encounters that require fast threat generation, making it a good idea to run with a few of each type of tank in a raid (this wasn't done that much either).
          These are some examples of speccs you virtually never saw in vanilla wow, on classes that had "Standard" speccs in MM hunter and healing paladin/druid.
          Definately interpretations of abilities, and how usefull they are will influence how people play the game now. Further balancing classes is not something people will be complaining about, as the imbalance has nothing to do with how the game was to play.
          The game was good because of the added difficulty, and the need to interact with other players to complete certain quests, even while at lower levels.

          I cannot think of a single class at the current moment, that did not have atleast 2 available and viable specc lines...

      The game feels too automated now. The manual mechanics of some features from Vanilla were cumbersome back then, but it felt rewarding because there was sense of accomplishment. That, and some epic quest lines phased out also hurt because they were exactly that, epic, despite time-evolution of the story making them unnecessary. They're unforgettable and never get tiresome to repeat.

    I remember vanilla mostly as a massive slog and while there were some great times with great people, it was largely because we didn't know any better. There's obviously a market for it but it's very strange to me.

      Quivers to store more arrows, bags full of arrows/soulstones/reagents, potions that only stack to 5, only able to fly from one flightmaster to the next instead of a long chain... Ugh. So much horror in vanilla. And the textures/models. Oh god. Watch old videos now and your eyes bleed.

        Oh god I completely forgot you used to have to buy ammo.

          Or create it yourself, as an engineer making bullets! Or a warlock farming lowbie mobs so they can cast their better spells as soulstones!

    I'm glad to clear I wasn't the only one who burst into tears of joy after hearing the news.

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