Deciding who raids and who sits out on any given night is the second-most unpleasant task any raid leader or organizer has to face. (The most unpleasant, of course, will always be loot distribution). From a player’s perspective, it really sucks to ride the pine pony when you had been expecting to raid. However, maintaining a healthy bench is necessary for both raiders and guild masters alike–your bench players are the people you count on to get you through the bad times. As we all must know by now, in any human enterprise you cannot expect to succeed if your plans hinge on achieving a best case scenario every time. There will be ups and downs in any competitive activity, and the game plan has to account for that.
The Bench and Sports
I know I personally have bad memories of sitting bench from high school sports. During my sophomore year of high school, I was allowed to play on both the junior varsity and varsity volleyball squads. This meant that I got two sets of ill-fitting, 1970s-era uniforms, double the practice time, and, guess what? Almost no playing time on the varsity team. Whenever I hear the word “bench” now, I shudder, remembering that experience. However, high school athletes sit the bench faithfully, hoping that someday, somehow, next year, their turn will come. As for volleyball, mine never did–I didn’t even try out the next year. That’s always a risk with the bench. You may never move up.
Raiding with a Bench
In theory, high-end raiding guilds are run by grownups, and sitting bench doesn’t have to be the humiliating experience that many of us remember from high school. We can all share and share alike, right? Wrong. Perhaps because of our high school traumas, many raiders feel territorial about their raid spots, and people may not always volunteer to sit when too many players log on to raid. What you have to do, in the WoW context, is overcome the idea that only inferior players sit bench. That’s not true. Players sit bench for many reasons–class balance, space, attendance, etc. It’s usually not just a question of who’s better, as it almost always is in high school. How can a GM or raid leader manage this situation? The following tips should help a guild master or raid leader keep the bench under control without bruising too many feelings.
1. Have Thoughtful Recruiting Goals
The first line of defense against bench trouble is a thoughtful recruiting plan. You do have to recruit more than 25 players for a 25-person raiding team. A good goal is approximately 15% more, or 4 extra raiders. These 29 players should all have equal ranking and equal access to raid spots. In a guild with typical attendance (75%), most raids will be exclusively composed of these 29 people, and only rarely will any of them have to sit bench. Make sure that sitting bench is part of your guild culture. Your raiders should expect that their number will come up once in a while. If you have far too many raiders at present, I have a piece of advice that doesn’t seem particularly proactive–just wait. Don’t gkick a bunch of your players or tell them there isn’t room. In the virtual world, balance changes in the blink of an eye, and there are always people leaving raiding, or the game as a whole. Any time you’re not recruiting, your guild is shrinking, and you can can just wait until the numbers come into balance.
2. Institute a Substitute Rank
Typical raider attendance, which I ballparked at 75%, can drop much lower in hard times. We’re in a difficult spot right now in WoW, with the Wrath content feeling stale to many high-end raiders and Ulduar still many weeks away. If your guild hasn’t had any roster shakeups in the last few weeks, you’re highly atypical. In order to get through the bad times, you may want to institute a substitute rank in your guild. In Conquest, Subs are players who are well-qualified to raid all content but typically joined at a time when we weren’t recruiting their class for permanent spots. Some Subs simply have more time constraints than our raiding policy allows for–often one or two raids per week is just fine for them, and they remain very happy at this rank. Many Subs joined Conquest for social reasons, but some became members of the guild hoping for an opportunity to move into the Raider rank. This has happened for very many of our Subs over the last few weeks as people’s interests have taken them in different directions. I am always happy to see a dedicated Sub get promoted. Of course, sometimes a Sub will move on to a different guild that has a permanent spot for them–to me, that’s great too, because it means that the player is closer to meeting their in-game goals.
If your guild uses a Substitute rank, it offers you a sort of pre-recruiting option. You will be able to promote from within when vacancies occur. After all, you never know when one of your players will disappear without a word. In the anonymous virtual world, this happens all too often. Thus, it’s in your best interest as GM to keep a list of subs and keep them happy. How to do this? Invite them on farm raids, 10-mans, Vault of Archavon, etc–whatever your guild’s more laid-back events happen to be, and give them a prize for their efforts. Most Subs will get loot naturally as many drops from farm content will go uncontested.
3. Have an Attendance Policy
My experience with attendance policies, both as a professor and as a raider, is that people tend to ignore them. They’re only usually enforced in the limit cases. I may have a policy on my books that says I lower a student’s grade after 3 absences, but I’m not likely to actually do it until they have 7 or 8. Despite this tendency, you need to put some kind of attendance policy on your books. It is true that it is not practical to demote someone who has 72% attendance when your policy says they need 75%. Yet, attendance figures should factor into some of the tough decisions that you might make as a leader. For example, if you need to bench one of your 29 raiders for an Obsidian Sanctum 3 drakes raid, and your choice comes down to two dps players, one with 70% attendance and one with 90%, let 90% guy have the spot. If your guild uses loot council, let attendance factor into the decision-making process. If you do enforce your attendance policy in any way, you ought to track it via your guild’s website so that people can see how they stand relative to each other. Matticus recently found a great way to do this for Conquest through EQDKP plus. As a raider, it’s a good reality check. I can see that I have 83% attendance, which is actually lower than I thought I had. I had forgotten that I took time off at Christmas. These sorts of selective blindness can have raiders thinking that decisions are unfair or arbitrary. It’s always good to see the actual numbers.
4. Keep Your Members Educated
The degree of success your guild has with the bench problem will depend almost entirely on how you communicate the matter to your raiders. Make sure that players know how attendance will be assessed and what will be expected of them. If you have a raider rank, get those players used to the idea of sitting out once in a while. In Conquest, those decisions are made based on the advantages/disadvantages of certain classes and specs in specific encounters. However, we try not to bench the same person too often. Sitting the bench is a responsibility everyone–even officers–should share. Another good policy is to ask for volunteers, especially if it’s a farm raid and class balance isn’t so crucial. Sometimes there’s a player who really just wants to go to bed. If so, be sure to thank them when you move a player into their spot. To me, a thanks from the raid leader or guild leader means a lot.
As the GM or raid leader, you can never entirely eliminate the bench problem. You can never recruit the exact perfect number for all situations, and you can never enforce any attendance policy so strictly that you will never fall short of filling a raid. I think it’s far better to have too many than too few show up to raid. If you’d like to keep your raiders healthy and happy, on bench and off, make sure to have clear policies that you enforce fairly. Make sure that many different players share the bench burden. When people see this happening, for the most part they will accept an occasional sideline, knowing that it won’t happen to them every raid, every time.