One of the most popular collections of pirate World of Warcraft servers, the Nostalrius servers, are being closed. Lawyers acting on behalf of Blizzard sent cease and desist letters to hosting company OVH, ordering the servers be taken down. They will close 10th April 2016 at 23:00 server time.
On one hand this is unsurprising, as it's against Blizzard's rules to host and run private/pirate servers. But on the other hand Blizzard has turned a blind eye to Nostalrius for a year (and to many other private/pirate servers for longer).
In that year Nostalrius apparently attracted 800,000 players, some paid WOW subscribers, some not, and 150,000 players are said to be active. That's according to a petition to Blizzard written by the team behind Nostalrius. The petition is currently at 18,244 signatures.
The draw of Nostalrius was in it being a 'vanilla' World of Warcraft server, as in, a replication of the game as it was 2004-2007, before any expansions arrived. The Nostalrius servers were about to implement the 40-person raid of Ahn'Qiraj, which is, coincidentally, exactly the state WOW was in when I stopped playing in early 2006.
Nostalrius' draw was also in having a densely populated world with an active and identifiable community. Cities and zones were populated, and Horde and Alliance fought openly in the streets. It's a sharp contrast from the slickly instanced World of Warcraft today, where players are pulled in from clusters of servers, flashed before your eyes, and disappeared again at the end. Nostralius, in other words, felt to many people like a world.
Nostalrius was a sizeable project maintained by a team of apparently 30 volunteers. Their petition asks Blizzard to change its policy regarding legacy servers, which seems an unlikely outcome to me. That's presumably why the Nostalrius team has also released the source code and anonymous player data to its community should it wish to carry the legacy on.
Blizzard has made several moves to integrate old game content into the current WOW fold via Timewalking dungeons, but doesn't seem overly keen on breaking out discrete vanilla WOW servers. Perhaps it's a very complicated procedure. EverQuest 2, however, has managed it, adding old-game-state servers for people to play on.
You know, if Blizzard did add an old vanilla WOW server, I'd be tempted to go back.