Definition: Main vs Alt

What makes a main, a main?

I read a WoW Insid­er post today about mains and alts. I dis­agree with the answers offered in the arti­cle and the com­ments, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Let’s get rid of two easy mis­con­cep­tions.

First, if you’re not raid­ing then the whole main/alt thing is nice for chat­ting with friends, but it’s real­ly more like your favorite fla­vor of ice cream–not impor­tant, except to you. Your “main” is just your nick­name that peo­ple refer to you as, regard­less of the toon you’re cur­rent­ly play­ing. You don’t even need to choose a favorite. Like any chil­dren you might have, your favorite will shift between them as the weeks come and go. You can change your favorite toon as often as you like and it won’t real­ly mat­ter to any­one. Quest and instance to your heart’s con­tent. Enjoy!

Sec­ond, even for raiders, your main has noth­ing to do with your time spent play­ing each toon. I know many play­ers who only raid with their main. When not raid­ing (that is, most of the time), these peo­ple are work­ing on alts or farm­ing with farm-friend­ly char­ac­ters.

The com­mon thread between these two exam­ples is peo­ple think­ing that the main/alt label is describ­ing some­thing about your rela­tion­ship with your char­ac­ters, but real­ly, these labels are describ­ing your raid group’s rela­tion­ship with your char­ac­ters. In a raid­ing group, your main is impor­tant.

When you choose to progress through a gear-gat­ed raiding/progression endgame like World of War­craft, at every step the group of play­ers has to achieve a cer­tain gear/skill lev­el to pro­ceed to the next step. You start at Endgame A. If your tank can’t sur­vive or hold threat from X, or your heal­ers can’t keep the raid going dur­ing Y cir­cum­stances, or your dam­age deal­ers can’t end a giv­en fight in Z time, then you can’t go to Endgame B. A lot of this is skill, and you don’t tech­ni­cal­ly need great gear to make that leap, but for prac­ti­cal pur­pos­es, most of us play­ers have a far bet­ter learn­ing expe­ri­ence when you have the gear right up to the point of pro­gres­sion that you’re at. For exam­ple, to learn Endgame B, you are best pre­pared by being in gear from Endgame A. This is Pro­gres­sion in a nut­shell. (Bonus def­i­n­i­tion!)

Your main is the char­ac­ter you join a group’s pro­gres­sion cycle with. You’re telling that group: “This is the char­ac­ter I want to be on this Pro­gres­sion jour­ney. Invest in me and I’ll help you along it.” Then you and that group go for­ward as a team. When you’re all ready, you col­lec­tive­ly step to Endgame B, then Endgame C and so on. Switch­ing mains means adjust­ment for that group and its raids, not just the play­er. This is why raid­ing groups often have rules about that process. (It’s not an auto­mat­ic move when a core char­ac­ter says “I want to switch this essen­tial Endgame C char­ac­ter for my new favorite pre-Endgame A char­ac­ter.”)

An alt is any char­ac­ter you have in that group which is not your main.

Pro­gres­sion hap­pens most often in guild envi­ron­ments, but can just as eas­i­ly hap­pen out­side of guild struc­ture. The same basic guide­lines apply. As far as a giv­en per­sis­tent raid group is con­cerned, your main is who you are pri­mar­i­ly in the group with. As far as they’re con­cerned, every char­ac­ter but the one you’ve cho­sen to bring on their raids is an alt of yours.

Obvi­ous­ly, there are all kinds of weird social dynam­ics with raid­ing groups and mains/alts. Maybe I’ll write about them anoth­er time.

(revised to reflect pro­gres­sion group/guild dis­tinc­tion, thanks Cyn­ra!)

More Words!

6 thoughts on “Definition: Main vs Alt”

  1. So, how do you define a main for a per­son who raids with two com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters in two inde­pen­dent raids? I have two char­ac­ters in a friend­ly pro­gres­sive raid­ing guild cur­rent­ly in Hyjal Sum­mit and the Black Tem­ple. In that raid I go with my hunter. How­ev­er, my perky priest­ess is the only heal­er that remains that has been in a raid since its incep­tion. This oth­er raid isn’t asso­ci­at­ed with my guild at all.

    By your def­i­n­i­tion, I think that I’d claim two mains, depend­ing on which raid I’m refer­ring to. While I can see the rea­son­ing behind your expla­na­tion, I think that it’s a bit too nar­row — espe­cial­ly when you take into account that there are peo­ple out there that nev­er raid or raid only out­side of their guild. You’ve cov­ered one sit­u­a­tion, but not the oth­er.

    Inter­est­ing per­spec­tive on the idea, though!

  2. Ooh, good point!

    I tie the main to guild too close­ly. Most guilds have only one pro­gres­sion raid move­ment, and I’m very guild-mind­ed. You’re right that many per­sis­tent pro­gres­sion raid envi­ron­ments can hap­pen out­side of a guild struc­ture. Mains are real­ly a per­cep­tion tied to the group you hang out with.

    Thanks much for the note, I’m revis­ing the arti­cle now. Any fur­ther com­ments are wel­come. :)

  3. I think you are right in the sense that the “Main” is in the eyes of the behold­er.

    Either, this toon is my main focus right now, or this toon is the Main one the raid needs right now (and I might swap out for my “oth­er main” for the next fight, as it’s skills are need­ed).

    I think a sim­i­lar thing hap­pens with Hybrids. A friend of mine is the “Main” (bear)Tank, but for him his main spec is Boomkin, but it will be resto if that’s what we need. Which (for­tu­nate­ly) for him means he has lots of options for gear­ing.. but it can be hard­er to con­vince pug­gers that our Main­Tank does need spell dam­age gear for his Main…

    errr I am so con­fused.…

  4. Hybrids and Poly­toon­ers who are lever­aged by their raid lead­er­ship can get main-iden­ti­ty issues, espe­cial­ly when that per­son would rather bring anoth­er spec/toon to a raid but are fill­ing a gap “tem­porar­i­ly”. As you said, they can also cause prob­lems which are dif­fi­cult to resolve.

    I know this first­hand because I am a poly­toon­er and it has caused bizarro prob­lems for my guild that we did­n’t see com­ing. I’ll write about it some­time.

  5. I’ve also encoun­tered peo­ple whose ability/desire to progress out­paces their raid pro­gres­sion envi­ron­ment, and so have mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters who are as well-geared as most of the mains they are raid­ing with. It’s hard to define a sin­gle main in that sit­u­a­tion.

    For exam­ple, in a high­er-turnover envi­ron­ment where the guild has trou­ble break­ing through a ceil­ing, a loy­al “lead” type might end up gear­ing up a vari­ety of char­ac­ters just to avoid hav­ing to run KZ in the same role for a year straight (or, say, ZG/AQ20, back before TBC).

    1. @Dave:
      If one play­er can con­sis­tent­ly main­tain two char­ac­ters at a giv­en raid’s cur­rent gear lev­el, pro­gres­sion isn’t hap­pen­ing. But you’re right, the main/alt thing is less rel­e­vant in that case. (I’ve been in this sit­u­a­tion, due to los­ing the guild’s main tank.) This is part of what I was try­ing to get at in the arti­cle. I’ll prob­a­bly take anoth­er shot at the sub­ject in a few months.

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