The bitter war between World of Warcraft's two major factions, the Alliance and the Horde, has been a fundamental part of the MMO since, well, forever. Not only is it fuel for player-versus-player battles—either in the open world or in competitive Battlegrounds or Arenas—Horde and Alliance players often experience a very different side of Azeroth. They have different zones, quests, and stories, and interactions between the two are usually limited to emoting and killing one another.
That may not always be the case. During a World of Warcraft Q&A panel as part of BlizzCon 2021, game director Ion Hazzikostas said that, while preserving the rivalry between the two sides is a crucial ingredient in WoW's appeal, concessions could one day be made to let players from different factions do cooperative group activities together like raids or Mythic+ dungeons.
This statement came after Hazzikostas fielded some tough questions from players about the imbalanced player population between factions, as well as frustrations many players have to deal with when their server just isn't as well-populated as others.
"This is something we talk about a tremendous amount," Hazzikostas said. "We know there's a very real problem, particularly at the high end of the raiding and Mythic+ scene."
Hazzikostas explained that, back around the Mists of Pandaria expansion, Horde races like orcs and trolls had a superior racial ability compared to other Alliance races. Because competitive raiding guilds are always looking for that extra advantage, many players began switching over to the Horde. That created a kind of vicious cycle of players feeling increasingly compelled to give up their Alliance characters.
If you look at the total WoW population, Hazzikostas clarified that the Horde and Alliance split is pretty even. For certain social and hardcore players, though, Horde did become the more popular choice, which has negatively affected high-end raiding and dungeon-running communities.
"The thing that keeps people in one faction or makes them tempted to move is the social dynamics," Hazzikostas said. "It's the feeling that if you're a raider looking to join a top-end guild, there are simply more options [on the Horde side] and if your first choice doesn't work out there are others to explore and fall back on. If you're looking to run high-end Mythic+ dungeons, there are more people looking to do that content [on the Horde side]. That's a challenging problem to solve because, really. We can't undo this movement that's happened over time. It would take something tremendous to make people who had switched from Alliance to Horde want to suddenly switch back."
Hazzikostas added that he doesn't think anything can be done about the imbalance in the short term, but that it's "a top priority" to address in the long term, while also maintaining the sense that these factions are at odds with each other.
"It's essential to us that identity and faction matter in Warcraft and that years from now, no matter what we do, when we're all together in Anaheim at BlizzCon ... that there are roars coming from the crowd for each faction," he said. "If we lose hold of that, we will have lost hold of something precious."
Later in the interview, the topic moved onto another big issue: server population. Here Hazzikostas talked about Blizzard's ongoing efforts to merge servers in order to help counter faction imbalances and issues where servers simply didn't have enough players to sustain a healthy culture. At this point, panel moderator Scott Johnson asked Hazzikostas directly if Blizzard would ever consider letting players from different factions play together in raids or dungeons for the sake of solving these ongoing issues.
"I honestly would not say never," Hazzikostas responded. "That's kind of what I was getting at with my answer earlier. There are a ton of reasons why it is essential to retain faction identity ... In an ideal world all of these priorities would coexist, but at the end of the day an MMO like World of Warcraft is about being able to play with your friends, being able to play where you want to be, and arguably there's greater strength to the faction identity if you feel like you can truly choose the faction you identify with, that you feel like most apart of, and not have to sacrifice that because you need to be with your group or you want to join a higher rated guild. I have coworkers who are lifelong Alliance players who now play Horde and really wish they could be Alliance and they're doing it for guild reasons. I know there are tens of thousands, maybe more, in that exact same boat around the world. We'd love to do something for them."
That World of Warcraft might one day let players group together regardless of faction might seem like heresy, but there's plenty of narrative precedent for it. It's been a long-running meme that many of WoW's expansions start with both sides warring with each other until some existential threat comes that forces the Horde and Alliance to band together for survival. It happened in Mists of Pandaria, it happened in Legion, it happened in Battle for Azeroth, and even the current Shadowlands expansion has the ancient feud on the backburner.
As Hazzikostas said, though, it's a big problem with a lot of considerations, so I wouldn't expect to see Horde and Alliance players holding hands and frolicking through flowered fields any time soon. That said, it's becoming increasingly clear that some kind of bridge between the two factions might be necessary.