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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