PvP zones or world battles are non-instanced zones designed for player versus player combat, featuring siege weapons, destructible buildings, and multiple objectives with lasting effects. Players on non-PvP realms are automatically flagged for PvP when entering a PvP zone. There are currently two PvP zones: Wintergrasp and Tol Barad.
A new PvP-oriented zone, Ashran, is planned for the upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion. However, while often described as a PvP zone, Ashran is in fact an extensive and highly developed form of organised world PvP.
PvP zones are a unique form of PvP somewhere between world PvP and battlegrounds. They are a non-instanced form of PvP encounter, and are not affected by the cross-realm zones feature. PvP zones are essentially normal areas of the game world, with the addition of specific battleground-like objectives, vehicles and rewards.
PvP zones are always available for players to explore. However, battles for each zone take place at regular intervals. Players accepting an invitation to join the battle will be summoned directly to an appropriate location within the zone. Unlike battlegrounds, players are not returned to their prior locations at the conclusion of battle; instead, players are granted the option of teleporting out of the PvP zone at any time, resulting in the player being returned to their current location. This feature will activate the cooldown on the player's Hearthstone, but will function even if the Hearthstone is already on cooldown. Players far from their Hearthstone location may therefore have to spend some time travelling back to their previous location following participation in a PvP zone. Players can of course also leave the area by ground or flying mount.
Victory in a PvP zone will result in control of that zone being transferred to the winning faction. Control of each PvP zone grants access to unique features in that zone. These include additional daily quests and entrance to raid instances hidden within the PvP zone. These features are available only to players of the controlling faction, giving players additional motivation to participate in PvP zones. Additionally, numerous faction-specific NPCs will spawn in the zone following battle, offering services to the controlling faction's players and attacking enemy players on sight.
The realm-specific nature of PvP zones can lead to participants finding themselves fighting along the same players on a regular basis, or often battling the same opponents, especially on quieter realms. This can lead to greater opportunities for guild membership and other lasting interaction.
PvP zone battles involve the attempt by the attacking team to take control of the zone. To accomplish this, attackers will need to capture and/or destroy bases, while defenders may attempt to systematically crush the offensive, or simply ensure the attackers do not succeed before the allotted time expires.
The basic play of PvP zones is very similar to that of a battleground such as Alterac Valley. Victory is attained through completing objectives, with coordination and strategy often paying dividends. However, unlike battlegrounds PvP zones offer an extremely polarised experience, with players often engaging in very different tasks depending on which faction currently controls the zone.
Battle for each PvP zone takes place at fairly regular intervals of around 2 hours 30 minutes. The time until the next battle is displayed in the PvP interface, provided the player is of sufficient level to join.
Unlike battlegrounds, PvP zones do not have regular brackets for various level ranges. Instead, each PvP zone currently exists separately in two versions: one for level 90 players, and one for all other players. NPCs in each version are scaled appropriately.
Another difference to battlegrounds is that PvP zones do not have a fixed number of players; instead the system seeks to balance play by admitting equal numbers from each faction. This is particularly important for players on realms with significant faction imbalance.
At the conclusion of a PvP zone battle the outcome is announced, and most objective-related elements such as vehicles despawn. However, unlike battlegrounds, players are not prevented from taking actions, and combat is not interrupted. Numerous NPCs will also spawn shortly thereafter, depending on the winning faction. No scoreboard is shown at the end of a PvP zone battle.
Participation in PvP zones is chiefly rewarded through honor points, as well as through access to additional features. Victors may also be rewarded in related currencies, such as .
Entering and leaving PvP zones
PvP zones can be entered at any time by simply travelling to that area. Some PvP zones require flying mounts (or at least a fearless proficiency in base-jumping) to access, while others can simply be walked into on foot or by ground mount.
Unlike battlegrounds, leaving a PvP zone does not flag players with the Deserter debuff. At the conclusion of a PvP zone's battle, players are not teleported out of the area, but are free to travel as they wish, or to remain in the area. Note that after a short period NPCs will spawn, some of which may wish to attack the player.
Players can leave PvP zones simply by travelling out of the area, or by using a special button found on the edge of the minimap. This option has the effect of instantly using the player's , even if it is already on cooldown.
PvP zones were introduced for the first time with Lake Wintergrasp in Patch 3.0.3, described as the first "non-instance PvP zone", and featuring "siege weapons and buildings, because blowing stuff up is cool."
- Siege weapons are something we've been talking about for quite some time, and we're ready to bring them in to affect both outdoor world and battlegrounds. ... [We're adding an] entirely new type of outdoor world Zone-- a zone dedicated to PvP activity.
- "The more you blow up, the more honor you'll score."
Victory in Wintergrasp rewarded players not only with honor, but with access to additional quests, faction rewards and the Vault of Archavon raid, aiming to make Wintergrasp relevant for PvE players as well as those focused on PvP.
Cataclysm brought the second PvP zone, Tol Barad, which while broadly similar to Wintergrasp, featured several new developments, including a far greater selection of bonus quests, and the extensive daily quest area Tol Barad Peninsula. Blizzard cited numerous ways in which they sought to improve upon the perceived design flaws of Wintergrasp with Tol Barad:
- When we set out to create Wintergrasp, one of the issues we dealt with was that we were never able to ensure the sides were even -- in fact, they rarely were. Because the smaller team would almost always be assured defeat, we attempted to address team-size imbalance by favoring the attacker. Control of Wintergrasp went back and forth, and the result was that battles lost their impact. On most realms the defenders became complacent, knowing they were likely to lose control of the zone, returning to re-take it when it was their turn to attack. The sides swapped back and forth every few hours, and Wintergrasp wasn’t so much about an epic struggle for a meaningful piece of land as it was a complicated game of leapfrog.
- Since then we’ve devised mechanics that help ensure equal team sizes, and we've taken Wintergrasp's lessons to heart when we designed Tol Barad. Tol Barad is intentionally balanced so that it’s a challenge for the attackers, because we want to make sure that control of Tol Barad matters. For the defenders, there’s a sense of urgency that Wintergrasp didn't have -- if you lose it, you’re going to have a hell of a time taking it back. For the attackers, there are a number of rewards at stake -- such as access to the Baradin Hold raid and additional daily quests -- that we hope players feel are worth fighting for. That sort of tension is what we wanted from Wintergrasp, and what we believe Tol Barad can ultimately offer. 
However, while featuring the introduction of a number of features intended to encourage world PvP, Blizzard decided not to implement a PvP zone with Mists of Pandaria:
- Will there be a Wintergrasp or Tol Barad for Mists of Pandaria?
- Tom Chilton - No. We’re deliberately trying to get people out into the world and these areas ended up being more like instanced areas than World PvP. We don’t want to create another one and have it result in the same sort of gameplay. With that being said though, we’ve instead moved the bosses you would have found within an instance like Baradin Hold out into the world. We think the allure of a boss kill is a great impetus to go out into the world and engage in PvP.
Mists of Pandaria did however see a level 90 bracket added to the existing PvP zones. Prior to this, as fully non-instanced zones, all players on any realm would fight alongside each other, regardless of level. The introduction of a level 90 bracket was designed to encourage players back into these zones, using them more similarly to battlegrounds, "to earn bonus honor." This was arguably also intended to maintain the PvP zones as a permanent part of the game's PvP vocabulary, rather than as more content-specific zones mostly abandoned by players once the related expansion had passed. With the overhaul of the PvP interface, Patch 5.2.0 also saw PvP zones re-labelled "world battles".
With the introduction of the consolidated Group Finder in Patch 6.0.2, Warlords of Draenor saw PvP zones removed from the PvP interface, effectively moving them out of reach of most players, and likely consigning them to obscurity for the time being. While this was likely due in part to interface constraints, with the need to make room for the return of skirmishes, it was also due to a general lack of interest from players. Brian Holinka has stated that in order to find wider success, the PvP zones should probably be redesigned and reinvented as battlegrounds. However, this would be a substantial undertaking which for the time being is not high on the list of priorities, with the developers preferring to focus on creating wholly new content. As a direct reversion of Mists of Pandaria's introduction of PvP zones into the PvP interface, this change may be interpreted as a statement as to the failure of that attempt to bring players back into the zones.
- Patch 6.0.2 (2014-10-14): Players can no longer queue for PvP zones through the PvP interface.
- Patch 5.1.0 (2012-11-27): The growing conflict between the Horde and the Alliance has spilled across the face of Azeroth: level 90 players can now queue for Wintergrasp and Tol Barad via the PvP tab to battle one another in these epic conflicts.
- Patch 4.0.6 (2011-02-08): Tol Barad added.
- Patch 3.0.3 (2008-11-04): Wintergrasp added.
- ^ a b WoW Insider (Mike Schramm) 2007-08-03. Wrath of the Lich King Demo panel: liveblogging from BlizzCon. Retrieved on 2013-04-10.
- ^ 2011-01-11. Tol Barad Balance. Retrieved on 2013-04-10.
- ^ 2012-05-02. The Future of PvP in Mists of Pandaria. Retrieved on 2013-04-10.
- ^ 2012-10-31. Coffee with the devs: Mists of Pandaria PvP. Retrieved on 2013-04-10.
- ^ a b Brian Holinka on Twitter (2014-10-14).