World of Warcraft returns to growth with over roughly 7 million players in the lead-up to the 'The War Within' expansion

World of Warcraft promotional screenshot
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

What you need to know

  • Blizzard Entertainment may have over 7.25 million players are currently playing World of Warcraft, via BellularGaming, which lines up with a chart Blizzard shared at PAX East on how Dragonflight has shown subscriber growth, rather than decline, over the course of the latest WoW expansion. 
  • During a panel at GDC, the gradual growth of subscribers is was attributed to be the result of the positive reception of Dragonflight, World of Warcraft Classic Hardcore, and World of Warcraft Classic Season of Discovery, and preparation for the upcoming World of Warcraft: The War Within expansion.
  • World of Warcraft: The War Within, World of Warcraft's tenth expansion is currently scheduled to launch between the Summer and Fall of 2024 according to the World of Warcraft's roadmap.

At GDC 2024, Blizzard Entertainment discussed its long-running MMORPG. During the panel, Blizzard offered a bit of a post-mortem on the previous expansion, Shadowlands, which the firm said failed to meet player expectations. On the flip side, the most recent expansion, Dragonflight, has been well received. As a result, World of Warcraft has achieved a type of player growth not seen in years, coinciding with an analysis from BellularGaming that the game has roughly over 7.25 million active subscribers — which we can independently verify as "roughly accurate" according to our sources. 

UPDATE: Due to some internal miscommunication (and chronic lack of sleep), we incorrectly labelled the panels as being from PAX East 2024, rather than GDC 2024. We have corrected that here. 

What makes this gradual growth in World of Warcraft's playerbase noteworthy is that it's happening during the post-launch updates of World of Warcraft's expansion Dragonflight. Usually when a World of Warcraft expansion releases, the playerbase skyrockets but then gradually declines over the course of an expansion's post-launch updates. This is mainly due to people unsubscribing to pursue other games after completing the main game's story quests or their personal lives taking priority.

Via /u/Kevombat on Reddit, BellularGaming on YouTube, and Blizzard from GDC 2024, you can get a decent look at how the game has actually grown over the course of the latest expansion, bucking previous trends.  (Image credit: BellularGaming / Blizzard Entertainment)

However, that doesn't seem to be the case with World of Warcraft's Dragonflight expansion. As shown in the above graphic taken from BellularGaming's video and shared on reddit, World of Warcraft's playerbase has grown in numbers instead of shrank. This gradual and sustainable growth in players is likely due to several reasons.

The positive reception for World of Warcraft: Dragonflight

This expansion is considered by many (including by our own World of Warcraft expert, Jez Corden when he reviewed World of Warcraft: Dragonflight) to be a breath of fresh air for the MMORPG, celebrating the game with a more back-to-basics approach. 

It had a more down-to-earth storyline with moments of cinematic action and personal drama, reworked class talent trees that allowed players to more freely customize their characters, and high-quality visuals and music.

Additionally, the developers were more willing to listen to player feedback and use it to fix class balance issues post-launch. The fact the game is now working on permanent additions to the subscription, including things like dragon riding, has created the perception of increased value. Previous expansions utilized heavy "borrowed power" systems, which would vanish when the expansions ended. 

The addition of World of Warcraft Classic Hardcore and World of Warcraft Classic Season of Discovery 

A similar refresh occurred for World of Warcraft Classic when the Classic Hardcore and Season of Discovery modes were added. The permadeath brutal difficulty of Classic Hardcore and the old-school exploration and Class-combination experimentation of Season of Discovery were well-received by the fanbase. 

Even our own Colton Stradling described Season of Discovery as "the best WoW experience I've had in a decade" when he took a hands-on look at it.

Beyond the retail gameplay of WoW: Dragonflight, Blizzard has created a ton of additional value to keep players subbed, with modes like Season of Discovery and the recent Plunderstorm time-limited battle royale. 

Hype leading up to World of Warcraft: The War Within

Another reason for this is likely players getting ready for World of Warcraft's upcoming expansion, World of Warcraft: The War Within. When this expansion was revealed at Blizzcon 2023, it got the fanbase excited as this upcoming PC title would kickstart The World Soul Saga, an epic storyline that would be told throughout three expansions.

Also, The War Within promises to bring a smorgasbord of new features including a new Earthen Allied Race, new locales to explore, new dungeons and raids to conquer, new evergreen content like the Delves, new Hero Talent trees, new gameplay systems like The Warbands feature, and much more.

As you can imagine, The War Within is billing itself as a major game changer for World of Warcraft, especially since this expansion is celebrating the MMORPG's 20th anniversary. So, it is likely that players new and old are subscribing to prepare their characters so that they'll be ready for when World of Warcraft: The War Within launches.

What does the future hold for World of Warcraft?

While World of Warcraft's current player base numbers are still ways off from recapturing the heights of its all-time peak of 12 million players when World of Warcraft: Cataclysm launched in 2010 or even 8.27 when World of Warcraft Classic first launched in 2019, 7.25 million players is nothing to scoff at. The fact that the subscriber base has held steady over the course of the expansion bucks the trend of decline created by Shadowlands, which was heavily ill-received by the playerbase. 

It proves that World of Warcraft is starting to ramp in popularity again thanks to the positive changes made to the game and Blizzard Entertainment's ongoing efforts to repair their relationship with the fanbase after being let down by World of Warcraft: Shadowlands' lackluster conclusion

However, will Blizzard Entertainment be able to hold the interest of this gradually growing of players long enough until World of Warcraft: The War Within launches? Will this upcoming expansion deliver on its promises and help World of Warcraft maintain its status as one of the best PC games in the MMORPG genre? 

Join Thrall and Anduin on their quest to the depths of Azeroth to find out when World of Warcraft: The War Within launches on PC later this year.

World of Warcraft: The War Within

World of Warcraft: The War Within

A mysterious voice calls out to the Champions of Azeroth and you must journey deep within the underground caverns of Azeroth to find in World of Warcraft: The War Within.

Pre-order at: <a href="https://us.shop.battle.net/en-us/product/world-of-warcraft-the-war-within" data-link-merchant="us.shop.battle.net"">Battle.net

Alexander Cope

Alexander Cope is a gaming veteran of 30-plus years, primarily covering PC and Xbox games here on Windows Central. Gaming since the 8-bit era, Alexander's expertise revolves around gaming guides and news, with a particular focus on Japanese titles from the likes of Elden Ring to Final Fantasy. Alexander is always on deck to help our readers conquer the industry's most difficult games — when he can pry himself away from Monster Hunter that is!