Alts are just like everything else in the game, they evolve. At least for me they have. Just like my playing focus has changed many times over the years and my opinions on topics have changed, so have the usage of my alts.
Alts however are a different situation when it comes to change however. No matter what my focus of alts have been throughout all the changes, they have always been alts. My hunter has been my main since I started, heck, you could even say my hunter has been my main since before I started, but that is another story for another time.
1) The Profession Alt
My alts have always filled a role for me and I leveled them not because I wanted to play them but because I needed something from them. From the start when I made an alt to be a tailor, so it could make my hunter bags and a leatherworker/skinner so it could make my hunter gear to later on when I wanted to save money on requirements for raiding and made an enchanter alt and a jewelcrafter alt.
Some people do profession alts to make money. Some people do profession alts to make things for their main. Some people do profession alts because they just want everything done. Some people do it for all three reasons.
My first alt was made for professions. A tailor and leather working rogue. Lets forget for a moment that the leather worker needs leather and I did not have a skinner, that was just a moment of stupidity of a starting player. But that was my first step in the evolution of the alt for me. I later made a priest and made it a taiolr and dropped tailoring from my rogue to pick up skinning, which made more sense anyway when first starting. You really should not have a double crafter when starting out if you do not have a gatherer or the money to support it yet. I learned that lesson of alts early on. On the first profession alt I ever made.
2) The Extended Family
Whether you are on a role play server or not doesn't make a difference. I would hazard a guess that there are many players out there that are not role players that have made up stories and histories of their characters, at least in the back of their minds. My alt family extended when I started to build the stable of characters I had.
While none of the characters were actually related in my little character world they were all connected. I went on a small run creating one of each class and naming them based on the small family of characters I had in mind. Three of them did not even have any plans for them, my warrior, my warlock and my mage, but they did have their names and how they connected with the other characters in mind. They were made simply because they were part of the family. I could figure out their professions later if I ever decided to level them.
For role players this extended family means a lot more of course and on one of my servers that is a role play server some of my characters actually are family. Oddly enough, based on the same family of my main servers characters.
Two brothers of the sword and a sister who could best them both. A father, a thief, and his daughter, a pirate. The quiet one that travels with them and the loudmouth that always has something to say about the silence.
On a role playing realm that all works out well and any one that role plays will understand the back story even if only a tiny bit was posted there but all my characters, even if not made for role play reasons have a story and usually the characters I make on that server have a connection to that story.
When I started to branch to other servers and actually play often, I would not start just one character, I would create a stable of them with the own story and preplanned on who would be what professions, to help them all move along together, as a family.
3) The Escapist and Loremaster
These two I put together because they are both alts that were made for the same reason even if they might have seemed like different reasons at the time. When you roll on one side you usually stay there on that server, at one point you did not have a choice as you could not have both sides on the same server, so that is why my first horde character was not on my main server. Well, that and I used up all 10 slots for the 10 classes a long time before I decided to see how the other side lived.
I tried many servers and leveled many hunters. A troll, an orc, a taruen, you name it. None of them ever stuck really. There was always something else I needed to do somewhere else. So they leveled slowly, really slowly.
I would pop on to escape the every day of raiding or grinding or what have you to take some time off and experience the game from the other perspective. I like that stuff, and I used my alts to get the most out of it. I did the whole experience, back when leveling still took time, so more of the story was enjoyed as I went instead of just going back and powering through it like you would now, which made it a lot more enjoyable, for me at least.
Now, thanks to catching up again, I am capable of seeing the story on both ends once more and have been at the beach in the wilds seeing how things work out on the other side and I must say that if you do not have one character maxed on both ends seeing the story from both sides, you are really missing something great. If you are into the story that is.
So I used the other side as an escape from my every day playing and to explore a whole new world within a world I had already come to know quite well. That could be said to have been the real reason to have alts. To have a little time to get away.
4) The Collector
Oddly enough this was not something my alts evolved into early on. While I did make a bank character as a catch all that is all it was. It got a guild of its own and every character sent it everything. It wasn't until cataclysm that I actually started to refine it from a catch all to an actual designed structure of collecting things however.
Originally everything got sent there, if a character needed something, it would send it to them. That bank character was an enchanter of course, as I believe all good bank alts should be, and as such it became the perfect place to send everything. It would also list all the excess junk on the auction house and become the sugar daddy character to all my alt should they need money.
As I collected more stuff and the guild bank was completely full I started to organize things better. I got big leather bags for my rogue, and that became my leather catch all. Some big gem bags for my druid and that became my gem catch all. Some big enchanting bags for my priest and that became my enchanting catch all. Things like that.
I moved from my bank all mentality, basically being a hoarder, to a designed plan of collecting and my alts worked as a network to hold everything and maximize space using the slots in the bank for the bigger crafting bags.
This expansion I needed to add a new collector of sorts, a food collector to send everything too, and I have. I have not however got the big bags from the tillers yet as I am waiting. Waiting for the engineering ones that are bigger and will not cost me tokens to buy. Why waste tokens on a bag when I can buy black pepper with the tokens and sell them for 100 gold each.
My network of alts is wide and maximizes space. No longer is it just one character hording everything, it is all characters doing it. Who would have thought that you could have a guild bank full of stuff and a slew of characters with filled bags and still have no space anywhere. Maybe it is still hording, but I like to call it collecting and my alts had worked into a collection of bag space mules instead of just being alts.
5) The Time Waster
At a certain point mid wrath I would say, I started making a lot of alts on random servers, just to waste a little time. I would play for one day or even one week and then go back to what I was doing. I entered a new phase of the alt creation and that was trying to find a new home.
Not like I wanted to leave what had become my main server by osmosis, but I wanted to see if I could find a new place to feel like home as well. A get away, a place to waste some time. When you have made as many alts on as many servers as I have you can pick up a lot about a server and its community by listening to their trade chat. It was during this phase that I realized that the server I am on as my main is probably the worst US server and possibly the worst server in the entire game in any zone.
There were trade trolls everywhere on all servers but most servers seemed better. I made some characters on servers to join people I knew in real life that played on different servers. I made some characters just for the experience like rolling on PvP servers. I made some characters to join people I'd met elsewhere and even managed to get into a world top 5 guild for a while, albeit on a brand new alt shaman.
A friend invited me to come make a character there and I dabbled with it for about two weeks and moved along. Even if the idea of being in a top 5 guild was cool and all, I did not roll these alts to leave my main or to get a better progression guild, I did it to waste some time. Just for fun, just for something different. I eventually got kicked when I did not long on to that character for three months but hey, I can still say I was in a top 5 guild, even if I was only a level 30 something the last time I was on it. Sounds funny doesn't it?
The thing is, the other realms all seemed better than mine yet I would not leave mine. I wonder why that is and I think it is the people I do play with that keep me there. One realm was pugging heroic DS, full clears, when on my server you could not even get a pug to down more than one boss most times. One realm teamed up against someone that was trying to be a troll in trade and told him to take that crap to general, and the entirety of the trade people all pushed him out of trade. I was surprised by that, a troll free trade chat? What universe did I end up on.
So many servers so many different styles they seem to evolve into. If you ever want to see what the world of warcraft is really like I suggest you make some alts on other servers and spend some real time there and see what they are like. Do some of that time wasting, trust me, you will not regret it. Perhaps if you are looking for something new you might even find it. If nothing else, it is a nice way to waste some time and see how other people live, so to speak.
6) The Backup
I always raided on my hunter, not so much on alts. While I had alts at max level for some time it was not until ICC came out that I ever raided on any of them. Nope, not even in a throwback type raid had I ever stepped into a raid on my alts. I kept them geared through dungeons and buying frost gear (I think that was what it was during ICC) but they were alts. Something I did when there were no pugs going on, or to gather materials, or to have some fun with it. My alts were not raiders, never had been, never were intended to be.
But with ICC came the emergence of raiding for all. The golden age of warcraft if you will. It opened the doors to everyone that was at least remotely competent and that meant it opened the doors for my alts to step into raiding for the first time ever.
My main was doing 10 and 25 but there were reputation runs all the time and people needed tanks and healers and damage dealers, just to fill the spots and I started to bring my alts in, one at a time, just to fill a role. There was, in my experience playing, never this much pugging going on, ever.
In time, they actually started to join in on full pugs that downed a few bosses. Even before the buff started, it was a popular thing to see pugs for rep or kill runs going on 24/7 when you logged on. Thanks to 10 and 25 being two different lockouts and trash being worth killing and even the worst of bad pugs being able to go 3 in, it made for a lot of community friendly playing.
I was raiding all the time, even if just trash clearing, I was learning to play my alt and was learning that I actually liked raiding with them. I met new people that I still know now back then and it was great for my alts and for the community, and when we moved on from that phase the game has never been the same but that part is another story.
It was only a matter of time when the buff started to come and more guild were running multiple groups that I started to play my alts more often. As it turns out, my priest was my first character to kill arthas, not my main, my hunter. I tanked it on my bear, my warrior, and my paladin. I DPSed on my hunter, mage and shaman, and of course, healed it on my priest. No matter what, no matter when, there was always a run going and I always had an alt ready for it. It was the greatest time ever to be playing wow. You were never bored, if you liked raiding that is.
It was during this time that my alts changed. They were no longer just profession people. Just catch all characters. Just something to be there and say I have a max level whatever. They became raiding options. From that point on I felt it was my responsibility to attempt to gear them up as best I could with the lesser alt time played.
Someone asked why I feel the need to gear up ASAP a few days ago, and this is the answer. Because they are alts, I play less on them, almost not at all, but I liked the idea of having that many different choices ready to go on a moments notice. So I want my alts to be raid ready even if I never use them, and as alts, I would like the gearing up to be fast. I never mind spending time on my main, but the catch up mechanic for alts needs to be fast.
Those end days in wrath when ICC was all the rage and the community was growing and getting better and there were pugs all day every day were the golden days of warcraft, something we will never see again. As while that might seem all peachy it did come with one major side effect for me and my alts.
That was the last time I actually played on my hunter as a main raider. Since then, since the awakening of the alts, as I call it, I have mainly tanked T11, did tanking, healing and damage dealing in T12, healed and tanked a large portion of the time in T13 and have not had my main see the inside of T14 with my guild. I only have one visit in a pug I did with him.
The awakening of the alts made my main, an afterthought, when it came to raiding.
7) Achievements, Mounts and Pets oh My.
Even before the announcement that those things would be shared I had taken it upon myself to collect everything I could from both sides of the fence. More and more my alts were becoming extensions of my main.
My night elf would not exactly be welcome to do the fishing and cooking dailies in the horde cities, I know, I tried, those mean quest givers would not even talk to me. So my horde characters would need to do it and get the achievements for it. Didn't matter to me that things like that were not shared, there was an achievement out there and I wanted it, even if my main did not have it. There are a whole slew of achievements I will never be able to get, but something like those is in reach of a solo player and there is no excuse not to get them.
Same goes for mounts, the opposing faction mount vendors are not really the smartest people in the world. They would try to kill me the second I get within range. Not very good business. The smart move would be to let me buy the mounts then kill me after you collected my gold. But no one said that mount salesmen are smart. Heck, if they were smart do you think they would be selling mounts and cleaning up after mount shit for a living? Poor kodo salesman must have done something wrong in a previous life and this is his punishment.
All kidding aside however, when I was bored and doing the alt thing I would try and get stuff I did not have, even if it were not shared. Sharing those things just made it 100 times better for me and people like me that have max level characters on both sides and were odd enough to want to collect all the achievements, mounts and pets that were one side only anyway.
With the sharing of such things my game play has actually expanded. Just like I used my alts at one time to support my main through professions I could now do it in other ways. Getting the big city brawler was easy when you have characters on both sides of the fence. My alliance character did not need to go into a horde city and my horde character did not need to go into an alliance city. How much easier does it get?
And then there are achievements. Some are easier on certain types of characters. So being 90 alone made it capable for me to get some things done that I was never able to do before, like shocking 10 and shocking 25. Sadly, I have never been able to find a group without at least one stupid person that would cross things up. Even when I would tell people, just stand there and do not move the entire fight, some how they still screwed it up. I was glad doing it at 90 now solo. No one to screw it up. So 10 and 25 and the metas for them are finally done, two expansions later than they should have been.
But that is just a level thing, what about the class thing. Some classes, just like some factions, it is easier to get certain things on. Like winning PvP battlegrounds is easier on my healer than on my hunter. On my hunter I will end up in a battleground with no healers and that means a loss 99% of the time when you do not have any healers unless the other side is made up of bots. But on my healer that means that at least one of the characters there will be a healer, me. So my win percentage is a great deal higher on my healer.
Thanks to things like that my hunter can now get achievements easier by letting my healer get them for him. So my alts, who were originally made for the purpose of doing things for my main, but have morphed into something more, were now back to their original intention, to do things for my main.
I am glad to say I have gotten a fair deal of achievements since mists came out thanks to my alts. I am also glad that being my alts achievements count on my main it does not feel as I left my main behind. I don't know if anyone else was in my situation but it sucks when your alts are getting all the achievement you want on your main. Not any more thanks to shared achievements. Now my alts are getting them for my main instead of getting them in place of it.
With the shared achievements and such the idea of a main is becoming less and less singular. Now it is a group effort. No longer do I think of it as I got a raid achievement on my bear, I got it on my hunter too. As long as I have a crew ready for everything I am ready to roll. My hunter might not have a tanking spec but my bear can get him achievements, so it is almost as if my hunter does. My hunter might not have a healing spec but my priest can get him achievements, so it is almost as if my hunter does.
Sure, some things, like that pesky reputation, I still need to grind on all my characters but not everything. It is almost as if my bear and my priest could be considered co-mains in a sense. All that is missing is complete connection, as in that reputation stuff. Outside of that, they are all interchangeable now.
If I really wanted to I could go this whole expansion without playing my hunter and my hunter would still end up with all the achievements as if he had played every day of it. Even my level 12 hunter on area 52 will get every single achievement that my other characters get despite the fact I have not played on him in over 2 years and only played on him for that one day when I first created him. That little level 12 hunter that is unplayed is a co-main too. They all are co-mains.
While characters on different server never really were created to support my main, as they couldn't help with professions, they can still do so through achievements now. I could get on my max shaman on that server that pugs heroic content before any guild on my server has completed normals and get all the heroic achievements on my main that is on a server that has not even seen one heroic boss downed. How is that for alts supporting my main, more than anyone could have ever imagined.
All my alts, even on different servers, in a sense are co-mains now thanks to things being shared. Is this good or bad? Not really sure. But one thing is for sure, what started in ICC where my alts basically replaced my main is now an after thought, it no longer matters. They are now a part of my main. My alts are no longer something that exists on its own as they are all an extension of my main now.
Is that to be the last evolution of the alt for me? Can they even be called alts any more?
When someone asks me I tell them my hunter is my main but if you look at the numbers and compared what he does to what all my other characters do he seems like the alt. An alt I spend a disproportional amount of time on. But now that everyone is connected like that, I think the concept of main is something different. It is now the character you spend the most time on, which would be my hunter.
It no longer means who is your main raider or main PvPer. It is the one you like being on the most, even if you don't do any end game with them. My main has elevated to a higher level. He is no longer middle management. He is now the boss. He sits behind that big oak desk and lets everyone else go out doing the work while he sips whiskey and they get the achievements for him and you know what? I think I have really begun to like that he is still my main even if I do not get to play him in the content I want to, all thanks to the evolution of the game, which spurred on the evolution of my alts.
9) The Future
We all have alts for various reasons. They have changed for me in what they mean as I am sure they have for others. One only has to ask, what is the future of the alt. Blizzard has made it clear this expansion is not alt friendly. They want you to build up each character on its own and bring it through the raids to catch up. This is the opposite of what we have been fed for two straight expansions, ones that wanted us to play alts and wanted us to catch up quickly on our alts. The old world was even redesigned to help people get their alts to max level faster so they can catch up but now all that means nothing with the work your way up with everyone design of an alt unfriendly expansion.
Then this time around they add the greatest thing ever for alts, a way for them to feel like co-mains but make it harder to keep them caught up with the minimal time you spend on them, or should spend on them. What does the future bring for our alts? Do they want us spending time on alts like the speed leveling and shared achievements mean or do they want us to dedicate ourselves to one character by slowing down the alt gearing process they just sped us through content to get to? Only time will tell where the next step in alt evolution will lead. It has been a fun trip so far.