Player versus Player (PVP) primarily occurs through three “instanced” battlegrounds: Warsong Gulch, a capture the flag game that features 10v10, Arathi Basin, a king of the hill game that is 15v15, and Alterac Valley, which is an objective based wargame which is 40v40. There is some “world PvP,” on PvP servers, but for the most part, PvP grinding is accomplished via these three PvP games.
PvP advancement occurs in two ways. The first is the honor system. As you win PvP games and kill other players, you are awarded “honor points.” Every week, your honor points are totaled and compared against the rest of the server’s grisly accomplishments. Depending on your performance, you are promoted or demoted in rank (or more likely stay the same).
There are a total of 14 ranks. The first 5 are considered “enlisted,” and 6-14 are “officer.” Depending on your rank, you are given access to different levels of equipment, and in the high end, weapons. The gear acquired from these efforts is, at the higher levels, comparable (although inferior from the best) to what comes from some of the “hardcore” instances. Additionally, once you attain a rank, you can always use that ranks items, even if you lose the rank: so once you reach the highest rank, you can always use the best items from the PvP rewards. In this manner, it is possible to “beat the game” in PvP: at least from a gear standpoint.
The disadvantage of this system is that in order to advance, or at least maintain your rank, you must continually PvP. Therefore, to advance in PvP rank, you must commit a fair amount of time in order to keep your rank advancing (and keep doing so for weeks on end). Ultimately, the time you have available on a weekly basis will determine your final rank: at the higher ranks, you simply won’t have the time available to keep progressing, as progression is dynamic: it is measured against other people, as opposed to a static gain.
Each rank is limited in the total number of players who can achieve it per week: as an extreme example, the highest rank (14) is limited to 1-3 players per week, depending on your server’s population. Most people who achieve this rank have their friends play the character as well, in order to ensure that character is gaining honor points 24/7 the entire week. This is where you see the balancing act of “casual” vs “hardcore” players from a developer standpoint: a player who plays 20 hours a week will probably cap out at the mid tier of ranks (and accordingly only getting the mid tier of equipment, and thus mid tier character advancement), whereas a player with 100 hours a week may go to the very top, accordingly receiving “epic” level gear. This is good, because as Soviet Russia showed us, communism failed: it would offend most players to see that casual and hardcore players are rewarded equally. However, the flip side is that one can see how a casual gamer might be dissuaded from the honor system: they simply will not have the time to advance past a certain point. Fortunately, Blizzard has somewhat addressed this issue in the form of PvP Faction gain.
Each battleground has a corresponding faction that is pleased when you win victories. As you gain faction points (part of the overall faction system in World of Warcraft), you gain higher faction ranks. These ranks include (and are constant for ALL factions): Neutral, Friendly, Honored, Revered, and Exalted. Each level requires progressively more time to achieve, and has accordingly better rewards. This is a nice balancing act in that there is no point atrophy, as you see in the honor system.
Accordingly, casual players are rewarded with the same equipment hardcore players are: it just takes longer for them to accomplish it. This gives casual players an ultimate shot at some very nice gear. When you consider there are three different factions, this gives players a variety of things to work on. Again, it is possible to “beat the game” in PvP: once you have achieved exalted with each faction, unless you are seeking PvP rank, you have little reason to PvP (beyond fun, but at this point you’re probably so burnt out from PvP that you’re ready to give up the sword for a peace pipe).
In conclusion, PvP has opportunities for both the casual and hardcore player. Blizzard has done a good job in creating a system that supports both the casual and hardcore player in terms of rewards by giving “double dipping” for both honor and faction points. Further, PvP is probably the easiest to do “solo”: while a group helps, it is not necessary to participate. The biggest disadvantage to this system is that if you are playing to “max out”: be it with a faction or honor, you get very sick and tired of the PvP in the game. As a result, you get an interested dichotomy of players: there is a group that is always PvPing in an attempt to gain rank, and then another group who has already completed it and wants nothing to do with PvP.
I understand the need for Blizzard to make sure that “beating” PvP is time consuming. However, this, combined with your average gamer’s drive for accomplishment, forces people into an intensive grind that can subtract much of the fun from the equation. People play for the ends, not the means, and the whole thing smells vaguely of “work,” when games are supposed to be play. But particularly if you’re grinding for a PvP honor rank, you have no choice: it is play hard, or risk having your time amount for nothing, due to the dynamic nature of the calculations (you may slack, but the other 1000 people on your server won’t, and you fall behind).