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Blizzard's World of Warcraft patch schedule suggests The War Within expansion will launch in August

 World of Warcraft void elf character Xal'atath looking intently in a close up.
World of Warcraft void elf character Xal'atath looking intently in a close up.

Today marks the launch of World of Warcraft patch 10.2.6 and Plunderstorm, Blizzard's new battle royale PvP experiment. Based on my interviews with Blizzard representatives and WoW's past update cycles, I've figured out when the MMO's next expansion will probably release.

More precisely, it puts the The War Within expansion launch as sometime in August, perhaps around August 20.

I have a decent track record of predicting patch and expansion launch dates, as I've been covering the game for 20-plus years at this point, have predicted the last few on the nose, and broke the original release date for WoW as part of an interview with a then-VP of Vivendi.

But don't take my word for it. Here's the deep dive on why an August 20 launch date might be true.

Doing the math

In my interview with Blizzard representatives for this patch, we discussed elements of the schedule. The new patch will last six weeks, season 4 will be available on the Public Test Realm later this week, and that next season will start "a few weeks in."

"The first half of it, you'll see the Plunderstorm event, and then the second half of it, you'll see season 4," a Blizzard representative said about 10.2.6. Assuming that Blizzard is using its standard definition of "a few" to mean three–supported by the use of "half"—that puts season 4 as starting April 9.

Cutting Edge: Fyrakk update

A World of Warcraft character flying on a firey owl mount
A World of Warcraft character flying on a firey owl mount

Blizzard confirmed for me that the Cutting Edge achievement in the Amirdrassil raid will end as usual when Season 4 begins, though the nifty fire owl mount from killing Mythic-difficulty end boss Fyrakk will continue to be a guaranteed drop throughout the rest of the expansion.

The new season will launch what is basically a victory lap for Dragonflight dungeons and raids: All eight of the original Dragonflight dungeons will return for Mythic Plus difficulty, and all of the expansion's three raids (Vault of the Incarnates, Aberrus and Amirdrassil) will return in rotation in a system very similar to Shadowlands' Fated raids system.

Blizzard isn't commenting on the specifics yet, but game director Ion Hazzikostas told me in an interview at BlizzCon last fall that it would be very much like the Shadowlands Fated system, minus the punishing affixes–new mechanics that players had to re-progress through, which turned out to not be so much fun for them. Blizzard learned from that experience, he said then.

WoW: The War Within
WoW: The War Within

The new "Fated" (it'll have a new name) raid rotation will overlap 10.2.6 and 10.2.7, representatives said. Patch 10.2.7 will be the Dragonflight story epilogue and the start of the story run-up to The War Within.

In Shadowlands, Fated raids ran for four rotations of one week each for the three raids, or 12 weeks in total, before the big Dragonflight pre-patch began. When the Dragonflight pre-patch started, all raids were available all the time. So if a similar cadence happened here, you'd have something like this:

  • Week of March 19: 10.2.6 (today) and season 4 PTR launch later this week (confirmed)

  • April 9: Season 4 begins (speculated) with Vault of the Incarnates as the "Fated" raid

  • April 16: Aberrus, the Shadowed Crucible is "Fated"

  • April 23: Amirdrassil, the Dream's Hope is "Fated"

  • April 30: 10.2.7 begins (confirmed), season 4 continues (confirmed) and begins to repeat

The holiday problem

The schedule would repeat until the 11.0 pre-patch launch event for The War Within. If the same schedule applied as in the run-up to Dragonflight, that would put the 11.0 patch on July 2.

Now, that date is a bit problematic. The pre-patch launch is absolutely enormous, an all-hands-on-deck experience for Blizzard, since it includes all of the new systems and abilities and balance that will become part of the core game in The War Within. It frequently has new stories and events in its own right. Basically, it's the launch of the new expansion, minus the new zones and story.

Traditionally, Blizzard has been very reluctant to release those kinds of patches on a holiday week, and the US July 4 holiday is a popular vacation week. If I were a betting woman, I'd say that Blizzard would take steps to steer clear of that week as a pre-patch launch date.

If that's the case, the company would have a few choices: launch season 4 a week later; don't complete one of the rotations fully (unlikely); remove one of the rotations entirely or add one; or decouple the "all raids are Fated" week from the start of the pre-patch.

I think based on past experience, they're likely to take either the first or last option, launching season 4 on April 16 or launching "all raids are Fated" on July 2 and 11.0 a week later, on July 9, which would have the same result.

WoW: The War Within
WoW: The War Within

I think that for a couple of reasons: One, those choices require the least adjustment internally. Two, representatives said in the interview that the "fated" rotation this time would be "the raid rotation that people are used to"--which granted, could just mean the 1-2-3 weekly rotation, but might also mean the number of rotations overall.

And finally, based on past interviews and conversations, the company really likes a six-week length for its pre-expansion patches when possible. That would mean that either of these options would put the launch for The War Within on August 20. August 15 has been a popular internal launch target date for Warcraft expansions in the past, though frequently Blizzard has blown wildly past those internal deadlines.

Lately, however, they've been keeping to their schedules in a remarkable way. And last fall, Blizzard executives corrected me when I noted that folks had been predicting a "fall" release for The War Within and that fall started on September 22 this year. I was told dismissively it would not be that late–so an August launch feels likely.

Given that some pre-sale versions of the game give three days of early access to players of The War Within, that would put players in the new expansion on Saturday, August 17, darned close to that perennial August 15 target.

Is August 20 the right prediction? Time will tell. After all, launching a new season like season 4 three weeks after a patch launch date, or attached to a typically-tiny .6 patch, is somewhat unusual behavior, and caused me to have to revise many of my normal internal timelines. But if it's not that Tuesday, it's highly likely to be close to it, unless Blizzard takes steps to change the game… again.