What’s a “main”? Specialists vs. Generalists

So, since I’ve been splitting my time between LOTRO and WOW, I’ve noticed that I have very different play-styles between the two games.

In WoW, I’m a specialist: I have my main, a druid, and I spend MOST of my time & resources on that one character. I did manage to get a shaman up to 80, but it’s an “alt” that I’m barely comfortable taking into ICC past the first wing. None of my other alts ever get very far, and I get bored leveling alts.

In LOTRO, I’m a generalist: I don’t have a main. I cycle between lots of different characters, and I can’t get any of my characters to the level cap because I never focus on one character long enough. Even when I have oodles of playtime, I keep making new alts over and over and over again because my favorite part of the game is solo leveling and learning new classes that I haven’t tried before (Ooh shiny new things!).

These aren’t really new concepts, as other people have talked about this distinction many times before. However, switching back and forth between these two games (where I have dramatically different play-styles) has made me wonder about why I play differently in the two games, and why I have sometimes been unhappy in WoW with my specialist attitude. There is also a lot of people who don’t fall strictly in either category, but may fall somewhere in the middle.

What is a Specialist?

Specialists focus on 1 character. I would consider a specialist to be someone who focuses on a “main” character, at the expense of not having enough time to really dedicate to alts. Inspite of playing WoW for 5 years, I really only have 2 characters that I’ve ever dedicated very much time to. Even if you play for hours every day, the main focus is on getting one character to level cap and dedicating the majority of your play time to that character. You can have alts, but there is a clear gear (or level!) disparity between your “main” and your “alts.” For example, I have over 200 days /played on my druid(about 50 at level 80) over the span of the more than 5 years I’ve been playing the game. My next highest character has 31 days /played total (with 2 days /played at level 80). You don’t have to be totally hard-core to be a specialist (you don’t even have to be 80!). It’s all about how much you focus on one character.

So, what is a generalist?

Instead of “putting all your eggs in 1 basket”, generalists spread their playtime out over a bunch of characters. They focus more on alts. Even if they have a “main,” the discrepancy in playtime between multiple characters is much more reduced compared to the example of my characters. Regardless of # of hours you play the game, generalists will usually have more than 2 characters that they cycle between. Raiding may even not be that fun when they have to choose one and stick with it. For example, my boyfriend gets tired of raiding faster because he hates having to just stick to one character. However, generalists may still enjoy raiding (especially in WOTLK), but will do it on multiple characters if they have the time, rather than raiding with just one. Some generalists at this point have 10 (or more!) level 80 characters, and spend time trying to gear up all (or most) of their alts. If you have one 80 of each class, you are likely a generalist. You may even have 2 or more of the same class. It doesn’t really matter how much you play (a little or a lot); what matters is that you feel like you have a split-personality disorder as you cycle through your many characters. Maybe you get bored at end-game and like starting over, or maybe you like being able to do end-game things with multiple classes because just having 1 is something you find boring.

Generalists vs. Specialists in WoW:

For end-game purposes when WoW first came out, being a specialist was heavily rewarded at end-game. There was even sometimes asocial stigma about trying to raid with your alt and get raid-level gear (ie. some guilds didn’t allow you to raid with other guilds if they knew about it, and you couldn’t win loot for an “alt” over other people’s mains). You also usually had to be in a guild to raid, and very few guilds even had enough people to do alt-runs on the side. If you raided a lot, you probably dedicated all your time to one character (4 to 5 raid days a week on 1 character was pretty common for specialists). People who were true generalists may have gotten frustrated about having to choose between their children that they loved equally (or, they may have just never hit 60 on all of them before BC even came out).

Burning Crusade still rewarded this specialist model, though more people started having alts, and you could do a lot of “alt runs” to Karazhan. At the expansion, a lot of people also leveled up new characters to 70 (with the new races), and either changed who their mains were, or had the ability to do end-game with 2 characters (even if 1 usually out-geared the other).

Wrath of the Lich King came with a huge paradigm shift on this axis, which a lot of people attributed (somewhat incorrectly) to a struggle between hard-core and casual players (because specialists & generalists can really be either hard-core or casual in terms of attitude & play-time). The people who won out in WotLK were the generalists, and the specialists spent a lot of time fussing and being angry over losing their footing (ie. if I dedicate 50 hours to one character, as a specialist, I feel that it should have better gear compared to the person who spent 5 hours on each of 10 characters – and my game play feels cheapened by my alt with 2 days /played at level 80 and almost as good of gear as my main). WotLK spent a lot of time focusing on being able to gear up more than one character at level 80; and 5 years after the game first came out, it’s not uncommon for people to have multiple level 80 characters to gear up (ie. I’ve it’s no longer uncommon for people to have between 6 and 12 level 80 characters). They make it super easy to get epic gear from 5-mans and badges. Heirloom items make leveling faster & easier.

End-game raiding in WotLK takes up less time if you only raid with one character, making the game seem boring for specialists who focus on raiding (ie. there have been periods of time when you could get one character through all the raid content in two nights a week, leaving specialist raiders scrambling to find things worthwhile to do up to 5 nights a week). Specialist PvP isn’t really that much better, with a relatively small # of arenas required to meet the weekly goals, the bigger battlegrounds not giving very good rewards, and Wintergrasp on a pretty long timer. One of the things I was the most unhappy about in WotLK was not having enough to do with my one main that I’ve been really focused on. Also, PUG raiding makes it really easy for you to raid with multiple characters; and many guilds will do ALT 10-man runs on off-days. Death Knights made it even easier to be a generalist

The future of WOW: More Fun for Generalists!

Cataclysm will really be a generalists’ playground. Generalists benefit more from the new races, new race/class combos, new/redesigned leveling areas, and other changes to the leveling system. Specialists, however, will still appreciate Cataclysm for being able to explore new areas with their mains; along with the fact that they are releasing more raid content early (so you will have more to do at end-game if you don’t focus on leveling up alts). Cata may also encourage specialists to branch out a little bit more and try new things, so that they can experience more of the leveling content on new characters (though I think I’ll mostly end up with a string of alts that I abandon between level 10 and 20).

What I learned from playing LOTRO:

Most of what I wrote above could make me sound like an elitist jerk. However, I learned to appreciate the viewpoint of a generalist when playing LOTRO. As I said before, when I play LOTRO, I’m a generalist and not really focused on any one character. I get bored with one relatively fast, so then I’ll just start a new one and play through the early leveling zones again. I’ll probably never do end-game on a character in that game, since I never focus on one character long enough to make a character my “main”. Also, I’ve been able to see (over the course of the game) how they have made more and more improvements to leveling. They made mounts available earlier, which I was able to benefit from with my newest character. They have progressively made the early levels more solo-friendly (which I’ve been able to benefit from, as well). I keep discovering new leveling areas that were newly added, and each time they make improvements to their leveling areas, the game is more fun for me.


I used to argue with my boyfriend over whether or not he needed to pick a main in WOW and stick with it. However, I’ve come to accept that being a generalist is a viable play-style in WoW as of WotLK being released, even for end-game purposes. I appreciate handing out new gear and heirlooms and all the fun toys that generalists get to play with. At this point, I’m almost envious of his ability to enjoy leveling new characters over and over again in WOW. I’m hoping that Cataclysm will make me more open to the idea of being less of a specialist, and I hope it will make leveling alts more enjoyable for people (like me) who have spent the last year or so trying to cling to our specialist mentality in a generalist’s World of Warcraft.

Posted in Cataclysm, Lord of the Rings Online
7 comments on “What’s a “main”? Specialists vs. Generalists
  1. Lavata says:

    Ya and I am now working on 2-4 more characters, course they will be horde this time so I can see the Horde storyline before Cataclysm changes everything. That and pvp horde side in battlegrounds is more fun. Shorter Queue times in our battlegroup. Cross Faction BoA gear FTW.

  2. Ardol says:

    Don’t forget that, the more characters you have at level 80, the more Emblems of Frost you can get in one day, and the more Primordial Saronites you can sell on the AH.

    I would definitely call myself a specialist, though my specialization tends to shift, meaning I’ll focus exclusively on my main, then an alt, then my main again, then my alt again, then my main, then a different alt, etc. I suppose it comes out of a lack of things to do on my main, since I am bored with the solo content AND with heroics, I don’t have the patience for raiding, and I don’t enjoy PvP, so that leaves alts as that last something for me to do.

  3. Nightwhisp says:

    I’m a generalist in a specialist’s body. . .

  4. Lissanna says:

    Night – it’s not a perfect dichotomy, but it’s easier to talk about the extremes rather than everything that doesn’t fit neatly into categories. ;)

  5. scaresome says:

    Deep stuff! I wonder if one can add a third to the generalist and specialist … the obsessed? Or maybe extremist. Hehe.

  6. The Rokk says:

    I find I’m more of a Speci-Generalist in that I have one character that is my focus, but that focus tends to shift between my available characters. I’ll focus on my DK for an extended period of time, and then something will click in my head and then my Hunter becomes my focus for weeks or months. I’ll be at the store and think “I wonder how my Warrior is doing?” Again, shift. Needless to say, my Gold & Emblem supply tends to take a beating.

  7. Intravax says:

    I acutally took a short break and picked up Allods Online. It is very good for a free to play and now I’m bouncing back and forth between this and WoW after I’ve done my daily frosties on all my 80’s.

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