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Illegal 'WoW' Server Asks Other Illegal 'WoW' Server to Shut Down

In-fighting ensues in community of players trying to preserve legacy 'World of Warcraft' servers.

by Leif Johnson
Jan 14 2017, 10:00pm

Image: Blizzard

Last year, a group of dedicated World of Warcraft players captured our hearts and minds with a noble mission: to make playable again a version of the most popular MMO in history as it existed when it launched in 2004. The game has evolved so much over more than a decade that entire landmasses that players remember fondly were replaced. The Nostalrius server, as it was called, aimed to let players visit those worlds again with a server running old code of the game.

We were pretty upset when in April Blizzard demanded Nostalrius cease-and-desist, but after a sordid and convoluted series of events, it seems that it's this dedicated community of players itself that will bring about the end of this noble effort, not a faceless corporation. Ironically, what really soured the whole deal is that—after releasing its source code—Nostalrius requested that another server that used it, Elysium, cease-and-desist.

That's right. One illegal server asked that another illegal server shutdown. As you can imagine, players flipped, now everyone hates everyone, and the whole mission appears doomed.

But let's back up a bit.

Nostalrius launched on a private French server in February of 2015. At a time when many players felt Blizzard had strayed from the ideas that originally made World of Warcraft great, it allowed players to experience the game exactly as it had been in 2004 and 2005. Any such projects are against Blizzard's Terms of Use, but by all accounts the Nostalrius team ran it with commendable professionalism, and the team even adhered to Blizzard's original patch schedule.

When Blizzard Entertainment forced Nostalrius' closure early last year, it was hard not to get caught up in the community's warm, fuzzy outpourings of love and support as it rushed toward shutdown. It was one of the most unique gaming events of 2016. Like many others, I, a classic WoW veteran who spent way too much time with the game over a decade ago, read and watched stories of lonely last-day funerary marches and vigils with a twinge of nostalgia and regret. There's definitely a case for servers that maintain an always-evolving MMO in a state from years ago like Nostalrius did, but it probably would have been best if Nostalrius let its legacy end on the strength of those powerful last moments.

Image: Blizzard

The team amassed over 278,000 signatures with a Change.org petition asking Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime to consider the possibility of official legacy servers, and they stirred up such a storm that Blizzard invited the French team to their California headquarters. But when Blizzard didn't seem open to actually allowing the legacy servers to run, the Nostalrius team defiantly announced they were releasing the code for others to take up the banner and make their own servers. At first they claimed it would be open to the public, but they later handed the source code and character database to a Ukrainian team who used it to create Elysium, which launched last month. It's essentially a Nostalrius clone, right down to the characters (provided players took the time to carry them over).

In a new post on its forums, though, Nostalrius now says it wants Elysium to give up the code and effectively end Elysium altogether because "we have the feeling that the main objective was missed." It also wants players to go along with this "tremendous sacrifice." As the Nostalrius team sees it, Elysium now has the reputation of being a pirate server instead of a "fan" server. That clashes with their idea that the Nostalrius project has always been focused on "achieving official Blizzard Legacy servers" maintained by the developer itself and "helping as much as we can to unify the WoW community." Handing over their source code and character database to Elysium, they say, has seemingly made those two goals "harder to achieve."

"Until this stigma is removed, it's unlikely any true progress towards official legacy content can be achieved," the post said.

My pandaren monk contemplates a WoW without pandas. Image: Blizzard/Leif Johnson (screengrab)

Elysium initially planned to fully comply with Nostalrius' request, more or less, as seen in a rough draft of a reply that was accidentally posted and then deleted (but shared as a Pastebin file). Acknowledging the team was "conflicted by disappointment and feelings of betrayal," they wrote "Nostalrius characters will be removed on Sunday during a maintenance."

But the official response from Elysium is a little different. It's more defiant, and it maintains that "All characters that have existed in the game world since Elysium's launch until now will be maintained and all Nostalrius specific data will be wiped." Based on that statement, they no longer have plans to remove characters already imported from Nostalrius; only the data that was specific to the source code they inherited from Nostalrius. This process will take several weeks, they say, and they'll eventually fully transfer over the game's files to their own core which they believe is now "equal to or superior to" the one they inherited from Nostalrius. If all goes well, Elysium players will barely notice any difference.

"Nostalrius handed us the torch, we have no intention of putting it out," the post says. "The environment within the game is wonderful, and is one of the key points to why we are so passionate about it. Fun, polite, social, and yet we find a completely different environment on social media."

And what's the community's response to Nostalrius? Well, naturally, the following posts on Nostalrius' forums exhibit the same kind of polite, level-headed decency and respect we've come to know and love from players in recent years. Take this masterpiece for example:

Image: Nostalrius forums

That's only the beginning. Other posts talk about how the "French dindu cucks" should "be executed," accompanied by a Photoshopped image of a WoW paladin pissing on their grave. A common theme in the following posts is the idea that Blizzard somehow put the Nostalrius team up to this.

"So, how much did you get paid by Blizzard to do this? I sure hope you got paid a lot to betray your community," said a commenter named Uncle Py. Or here's another:

Image: Nostalrius forums

There are, it must be said, some fuzzy conclusions in Nostalrius' statement. The Nostalrius team claims the community appears to be on their side because only 10 percent of their players apparently used tokens to transfer their characters to Elysium. But as a number of Elysium players point out, that's most likely because the token generator for moving them stopped working only a week after Elysium's launch. Others say the emails got rerouted to spam folders. In December, the Elysium team placed the blame squarely on Nostalrius' shoulders, saying the problem "is completely out of our control" as they had "no access to [Nostalrius'] web servers, and we cannot force them to fix the issue."

Judging by World of Warcraft's official forums, retail players think this is funny as hell. There was some clear support for Nostalrius' aims and legacy servers in general in the dark latter days of World of Warcraft's crappy and neglected Warlords of Draenor expansion, but that doesn't seem to be the case since the critically acclaimed launch of the new Legion expansion. For now, at least, Blizzard seems to have a degree of its WoW mojo back, and the idea of legacy servers doesn't have the teeth it once had.

"Begun, the Clone War has," said a night elf hunter named Gillrien in a highly upvoted post. And then there's Deathchix, a blood elf death knight, who said, "So an illegal server is trying to shut-down another illegal server? the [irony] is delicious." And then there's the paladin Armineus, who says "Nostalgia is the enemy of progress."

Image: World of Warcraft General Discussion forums

But almost everyone agrees the incident probably means the end of any hope of an "official" World of Warcraft server that recreates the game as it was in 2004 or slightly later, no matter how noble Nostalrius' intentions outwardly seem. The damage is done. As the orc shaman Vlarock says, "the minute they decided to move ahead with releasing their code and 'authoring' other private servers to use it (post Blizzard shutting them down) is the moment they lost all credibility."

Not so much cease-and-desist, then, as give it a rest.