The next few articles will focus on the evolution of professions in World of Warcraft, and on their current usefulness in raiding. This article will be on the history and evolution of the professions, while following articles will focus on the various professions themselves.
As raids become more and more based on the work you do outside of them, so have professions expanded to increase their usefulness. In 'vanilla' World of Warcraft, professions were just a means to an end, and their actual usefulness was pretty mediocre at best. Few professions actually helped every class as well as they should, and they were difficult to level up (as they should be). Only the gathering professions were actual money-makers, along with enchanting, which everyone needed to use if they were planning on being a serious raider.
Those days were a simpler time, really: the professions you chose were the professions your class needed. Druids and Rogues tended toward Leatherworking and Skinning, while the Warriors and Paladins tended toward Mining and Blacksmithing. Few people actually stepped out of these well-worn norms. One of the main problems with the original professions was a lack of real usefulness in raiding. By your second run in Molten Core, you would already have realised how quickly getting items could be, and more often than not, there were better items in places like Stratholme or Upper Blackrock Spire, which only took a few runs to get.
The only real bonus from a crafting profession in raids was Enchanting and the ring enchants that one could get with Patch 1.9, Ahn'Qiraj. On my server I saw many people dropping their gathering professions for enchanting and its wonderful bonuses. While these ring enchants were comparatively weak compared to item upgrades or potions, they were permanent, and every little bit helped, especially on horrible bosses (Razorgore... I hate you so).
One might argue that Alchemy was also a great profession to have in a raid. This is possibly true, but then, why would the fact that you're an Alchemist make it automatically more likely for you to have potions? When I was raiding Black Wing Lair, everyone had to bring potions, and we did. Yes, we had a couple of guild alchemists, but other than that, they didn't get much of an actual bonus.
The Burning Crusade changed all this. Professions became more general and less focused on what the players could use from them. Many crafted items became Bind on Equip (BoE) rather than Bind on Pick up (BoP) and these items catered to a much wider group of classes. For example, when my Feral Druid started the Burning Crusade, he was an Herbalist and an Enchanter. Because of this, he didn't have access to the Heavy Clefthoof Armour pieces, which were basically a necessity for a tanking Druid. However, since these items were BoE I could buy them from a friendly Leatherworker for a good price! (I got mine for free... I promised the guy free enchants for life and he transferred to another server like a week later. A nice bit of luck there)
The Burning Crusade expansion also brought a new Profession into the fray: Jewelcrafting. Along with these weird new sockets on our armour ("What are these blue things on my armour? Are they holes?"), came the introduction of various stat-granting gems. Jewelcrafting, it seemed, was the new Enchanting, and everyone and their grandmother gravitated toward it. It was new, it was interesting and it could earn you money at a drop of a hat (one with lots of sockets!).
With these gems, Jewelcrafting also introduced a new kind of item: trinkets made from professions. These trinkets, using various types of gems and such, were excellent for their various specs, and also had one unique feature: they were Bind on Pick Up. This forced people to take up Jewelcrafting if they wanted access to those items. This was a big turnaround from "vanilla WoW": people had a very good reason to change professions.
All of the professions got a bit of a boost, with items ranging from massive swords from Blacksmithing to alchemical trinkets from Alchemy. The crafting professions also gained in the way of money making. Gold was more freely available, so the items that were Bind on Equip could be sold to players who had other professions, or had none at all (though everyone but the utterly lazy had at least one).
In the end, the majority of these items were quickly outstripped by raiding items or PvP items, and they were left in banks or just plain destroyed (or in the case of my Clefthoof items, disenchanted). There was no real longevity in the items and this really needed to change if people were to bother with their professions much more than making items that would remain useful in raids. Professions had to evolve to fit the times and had to evolve properly, not just a haphazard stat flung to the masses.
Wrath of the Lich King provided professions with that needed evolution. As the northern lands were invaded by the armies of Azeroth and Kalimdor, they discovered new changes to their professions that were an unknown before: profession-only gear enhancements. Yes, well... Enchanting already had that, but now all of the professions did.
Blacksmiths could now add new sockets to certain pieces of their armour, while Jewelcrafters could create Dragon's Eye gems which were vastly superior to those out there already. Leatherworkers got access to fur linings for their bracers which, while making sure their wrists were warm in the cold north, also provided them with various stat buffs. And not just the crafting professions gained in this evolution. The gathering professions, previously the backbone of the player economy, now provide buffs, such as Miners getting 50 stamina just because they're miners and have worked long and hard grinding ore for the population of their respective servers.
With the changes to raiding difficulty and the new seasons in PvP, these became very important to serious raiders. I know more than a few people in my guild who have two crafting professions which tend to provide more bonus than having a gathering profession and a crafting one.
In following articles, we will have a look at the professions themselves, their benefits and their disadvantages, and their usefulness in raids. We'll also give them a nice little rating 1-5, just as a guide for players who are currently undecided.
And as always, good hunting.