Thespius’s State of the Dungeon/Raid

There’s been a lot of great conversation about how things are tuned in regards to Cataclysm Heroics and Raids (meaning normal Raids, I haven’t seen Hardmodes yet). This is starting to dip into the usual “Casual vs. Hardcore” debate, which I think is not what this entire argument is about. This game has made leaps and bounds toward making the game challenging for all. There are definite challenges for the people at the edge of blistering progression as well as for the family man/woman that can only log on once/twice a week, if that. I’d like everyone to take a look at a few different things, including adapting to change, the nature of challenge within the game, and the mindset of the “average” WoW player.

Know Where You’re Going, Know Where You’ve Been

Vanilla WoW – I was never a Vanilla WoW player. I understand that there was a very clear delineation between the casual player (questing and alts) and the hardcore player (40-man guild raiding). It’s very daunting to play a game when you know you have no chance of getting into any of the endgame content, stocked full of lore and goodies. This definitely took things too far in segregating the community. Casual players wanted to see the content, and Hardcore players loved feeling entitled to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the Holy Grail of the game.

Burning CrusadeThis is where I stepped into the ring. I started as a very casual player, barely being able to throw a Karazhan run together with friends. It was ridiculously hard to climb up the progression ladder to see higher content, but it was doable. Sadly, I had to leave some friends behind because of it. Guilds operated as “stepping stones” to the next level. There existed the “KZ” guilds, the Gruul/Magtheridon guilds, the “SSC/TK” guilds, and the “BT/Sunwell” guilds, meaning the highest those guilds could accomplish. With the release of Zul’Aman, we now had harder 10-man content that my ~9 friends and I could hammer through. Granted, I was single and working as an actor at the time, so I had lots of extra time to play. That would definitely change soon. Still, not being able to see Illidan really sucked.

Wrath of the Lich King – Ahh, the release of 10- and 25-man raiding, but things got easy REALLY quick. So much so that I found multiple PuG 25-man ICC Hardmode Runs. Hardmodes were supposed to be the culmination of progression, really only reserved for the highest of raiders. I was fine with that. I wanted to give them a shot but didn’t have any grand visions of getting my HM Lich King kill. The gameplay was such that mechanics could be avoided. Phrases like “just heal through it” were peppered in boss explanations. DPS started to complain if they had to stop their rotation, tanks screamed at healers if they couldn’t/wouldn’t heal through a mechanic that wasn’t being interacted with properly. Entire mechanics were being glazed over, and the general WoW community got lazy (that’s right, I said it). Although PuG raiders were in Hardmodes, they really didn’t know what to do, and had forgotten entire pieces of their class/spec. Mages decursing? Druids CCing? Hunters trapping? Unheard of!! The bonus part: people got to see the content. My opinion, it became trivial too quickly.

Cataclysm – 10-man and 25-man raiding becomes equalized as much as it can be. 25’s only slightly hold the advantage of being the “truer form of raiding”. Blizzard realized that people were completely ignoring fight mechanics and made them less forgiving (if you let Dragha’s Invocation of Flame get to its target, you’re dead). Justice/Valor Points from your Daily Heroic are no longer things you’re “entitled to”. They must be earned and fought for. With changes to healing and fight mechanics, players are forced to actually look at their spellbooks once again (any Dwarves looking at Stoneform again?). Encounters now begin to feel like a group effort, rather than 5 individuals who wish they could just solo the content so they don’t have to be around other people. Raids feel more daunting for most of the player base, and guilds are back to trying to beef up their own team rather than PuG’ing from Trade Chat. It takes longer to gear up, but the gear is obtainable. Epic gear is actually epic again! Even without running Heroics, it’s possible to get 346 gear for your character. People don’t want to PuG, thus forcing the player base to look for guilds of people they get along with.

I look at all of these as good things. With my guild being called “Team Sport”, it’s no wonder that I long for a gaming world where it feels more team-oriented and not so individually cut throat. If I had the time to run things more, I’m sure I would be geared to the teeth at this point, but I’m not. It’s taking me a little while, but that’s always giving me something to strive for. A trinket I need from Archaeology, or the rep from Baradin’s Wardens, all of which give me something to shoot for that takes time and dedication. I don’t expect it to come easy.

Challenge Yourself

Ever work out? Ever have that great feeling when you finally get your jogging route under your target time? What about finally getting able to lift some weights heavier than the 5-lb ones you’d find in an aerobic class? It’s a good feeling, isn’t it? It’s a high, a rush of endorphins. Did it come easy? Probably not.

Think of any hobby the same way. If you start out knitting, don’t expect yourself to whip out a complicated Afghan in a day. You start out with ‘easy’, and when you’ve mastered ‘easy’, you move to the next level. Look at model building, sports, or anything you do for fun. You can’t expect to be the best at it before you even pick it up. Just about any hobby is worth putting the work in, because without the work the payoff isn’t as good.

Now look at dungeons and raids. If you can face-roll Heroic Stonecore, then that one piece of gear that drops off of Ozruk doesn’t mean as much. You don’t value it the same way you would if you had to work as a team to get it done. That piece you now wear has a story behind it. Working hard to defeat that Heroic Ozruk has brought you close to your gear, and to the 4 other people that help you beat him.

When you find yourself in a group that is struggling with a Heroic Dungeon, ask yourself if you’re using everything in your power to make it go smoothly. Do you have some ability that would make the rest of the team’s job easier? Maybe you can step out of your normal role to help someone that’s struggling. I’ve seen Hunters that have issue frost-trapping a mob. My DK friend Aaron loves to Death Grip that mob back to the frost trap. It’s something that in WotLK a DK wasn’t expected to do, but Aaron does it because it helps the group. Is it easy to do? No, but it’s certainly not back-breaking. However, it’s more rewarding when we down bosses after thinking outside the box. It becomes an accomplishment to finish the encounter, rather than the accomplishment being the addition of a few Justice/Valor Points to your pool. That should be the reward for the accomplishment, not the accomplishment itself. Again, you value the prize more when you worked for it.

The Average WoW Player

A lot of complaints have come from the community (especially on the Official Forums) about the quality of the average LFD group. Rogues get instantly kicked for “not having reliable CC”, a Tank gets kicked for “one pull going awry”. I’ve been kicked from a group as a Resto Shaman simply for suggesting CC be used in Grim Batol. The quote: “Only bads use CC.” The forums are cluttered with threads such as these, and it makes it a really bleak outlook.

As stated above, we come from a Wrath mentality. The population both surged and got lazy in the last expansion. Mass pulling and AOE fests were more plentiful than senseless slander in American politics. Now we’re changing in Cataclysm, and change doesn’t come easy to most. It’s difficult for people to adapt to having to do more to get the same results.

Look at Trade Chat. Outside of gold and profession spammers, Trade Chat is pretty gross. I rarely am ever in it. Same goes for the official forums. Those that are the most unhappy or feel “scammed” talk the loudest. Anyone trying to be a voice of reason is usually shouted down, and good productive discussions are few and far between. This is no different than the LFD situation. There are a lot of people in that system that are bitter, jaded, and hate change. Rather than encouraging a nurturing environment, they’ll curse up a storm and belittle everyone else around them.

Where are all the nice players? They run with their guild, or have a friends list of people they’ve found that value a fun environment over the prospect of running a “boot camp dungeon”. They are out there, I promise. You just have to be patient and look.

I know the 45-minute queues are unbearable. It’s how I built up my Resto set–by queuing as Enhancement. It’s a total roll of the dice, and you may completely bottom out with your luck if you queue alone. Lodur posted a great article about being a teacher within the LFD. Strongly recommend checking it out, as it may give you a glimmer of hope.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

If you’re one of the people who feels like you’ve been wronged by Blizzard, I ask you this: What is it you really want out of this game?

  • “I want to be able to log in, get my badges/epics, and log off.” I’m sorry, but those days are gone. People very quickly were behaving like drones. Those players in the game looked at dungeons and badges as “tasks” or “chores”, instead of events and rewards for those events.
  • “I want to see the lore and the content.” The normal dungeons provide all the same lore that the Heroics do, as far as I know. Heroic Deadmines and Heroic Shadowfang Keep offer their own lore but aren’t really in line with the Deathwing plot line. They’re great little side stories. As for raids, think of the storyline as Mt. Everest. I would love to see the top one day, however, I know that it will take work and dedication to get there. I don’t expect to just stroll up to the top.
  • “I want it to go faster! It takes too long!” You lose the journey this way. The struggle. Anything worth getting is worth the fight. Take Lord of the Rings for example. If Frodo just flew over the mountain and dropped the ring in from the start, it’d be a short movie, and not very gratifying.

If you want to find enjoyment in the game with people that are like-minded, you have to work for it. Blizzard stated before this expansion that they wanted to encourage more group- and community-oriented game play. It’s time for us as players to adjust to this shift in ideology.

Perhaps you’re in a guild that doesn’t really offer itself up to run dungeons with you. Maybe the group you’ve found yourself in isn’t really supportive when it comes to learning your class mechanics. Everyone starts somewhere, right? To me, both situations mean it’s time to start looking to surround yourself with people you share a mindset with. That’s what this particular MMO is built around, and that’s how Blizzard wants it. If you want to be solo and do your own thing, it’s going to be tougher and cause you more headaches. Start looking for a guild of people that you actually get along with. There are guilds out there that can get through the content and not belittle their members along the way. Whatever your schedule is, whatever your goals are, I promise there is a guild out there for you.

Focus on the journey and the challenge, rather than whining that you can’t have it all right here and right now.

I’m Thespius, and I approve this message.

Raid Leading Backbone

**Image from “Patton” courtesy of 20th Century Fox Films**

I have a fault. Well, I have lots, but the one I’m going to talk about is my propensity to be “too nice”. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve hated confrontation. I wanted everyone to be happy. People in Team Sport (my guild) have called me “The Politician” (without all of the negative stigma from current American politics). I try to make sure everyone is listened to and catered to as much as possible.

However, with regard to leading Team Sport’s Raid Team, I’ve hit the biggest snag. I can’t be “The Politician”. I have to be a leader. Previous incarnations of Team Sport raiding were very casual. If people happened to be online that night, we raided. If not, no big deal. As time went on, I noticed a few of us were very passionate about getting a raid going, while others were very lackluster about the whole ordeal. I always tried to get us raiding while not being inconsiderate to those that weren’t interested that particular night. Everytime we came close to getting something solid going, it would fall apart. Someone would have a real life issue (totally understandable) or just randomly disappear on a WoW break. Each time it would fall apart, I would most likely take my raiding desires elsewhere but found myself always back in Team Sport once it looked like raiding was possible again.

With about 2 months left to the expansion, I worked with a buddy of mine to throw some much-needed structure into the system. It started out great. We did a merge with another small guild that had the same issues, and we killed 10-man Arthas within one month. This proved to me that our team has what it takes to be a good progression crew. We just need some structure and drive.

The Present

We’ve had a good amount of guildies return to the game from “retirement”. A lot of them seem incredibly excited to raid the current content. However, when I mention this new structure (scheduling, accountability, responsibility), a few have balked at it. The main goal of the team is to actually progress through content while it’s still current, not eventually bash through it when it’s old news and nerfed to the ground. To do that, I’ve been working diligently to implement some guidelines:

  • Consistency – I justly understand and sympathize with real-life issues. Sometimes I have to work late, or I have something important that needs to be taken care of on a raid night. However, the core of us have done what we can to work our schedules around being able to raid together. We raid 3 hours each night, 2 nights each week. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for core raiders to be consistently available (within reason…don’t miss the birth of your child or risk getting fired).
  • Responsibility – A cardinal rule of raiding is being prepared. Make sure your gear is enchanted and you have flask and food available. Take the time to look up the fights. Don’t take unannounced AFK breaks or breaks that are longer than what the Raid Leader has set forth. Pay attention and look for ways that you can contribute.

If a Team Sport raider can’t consistently be available, or just lacks responsibility and preparedness, they’ll be placed in a standby slot (at best) or just not on the team (at worst). I’ve made it clear that we’ll do more casual raiding nights any other evening of the week (akin to the “if we have people on, we raid” mentality), but the Raid Team core wants Tues/Thurs night to be focused and dedicated.

The Challenge

There are some that have thought that it is too much to ask. I’ve been told that I’m making raiding “feel too much like a job” and that I’m “taking the fun out of it”. Frankly, I expected this out of some. These are people that have always enjoyed the “casual” mentality of our old raid style. I don’t blame them. It was fun when we all had the time and were just kind of strolling around Azeroth, hittin’ up a raid when we could. However, many of us don’t have that kind of time or mentality any longer. That is the precise reason these changes were made.

I’ve been recruiting to fill those spots that were once occupied by the more casual players or ones with unpredictable schedules. It does pain me to be looking for other people instead of the long-standing Team Sport members that I’ve been playing with for 3+ years, but it’s just not fun for the Raid Team core to log on, and find out we’re not raiding because of people that we can’t rely on.

So the challenge I face: How do I institute this structure and work toward the raid’s success, while still maintaining in-game friendships with those that simply don’t want to be a part of a Raid Team like that?

Matticus already told me: “Don’t be friends with your raiders.” I get that. It makes sense. It’s why there are corporate rules of management not fraternizing with employees. It muddies the water. However, I feel it’s possible that I can be strict and firm with regard to the raid, and then just be myself whenever it’s not about the raid. The trick is to let them all know that’s what’s going on.

I need to continue to be firm on what the goal of the raid team is, and how we plan on achieving that. I also need to be diligent about communicating what’s going on with the raid and its raiders. If I make sure everyone’s aware of what’s expected, then they can’t legitimately get angry when something is not up to snuff.  I have to hold the raid accountable, as well as hold myself accountable.

Have you ever dealt with being a Raid Leader of your friends? What tricks have you used to keep things moving forward without sacrificing friendship?

On that note, Team Sport is looking for a melee DPS or two for core slots. Other roles are full. However, if you’re interested in being a part of the team in a standby role, those applicants are always welcome. Outside of raiding, we’re very active in PvP and regular casual gameplay. We’re an Alliance guild on the Ner’zhul server (PvP-PST). Further info and an application @ http://teamsport.guildlaunch.com.

10 Tips: How To Organise A Guild Meet

10 Tips: How To Organise A Guild Meet

Last week I Herded Cats.

Well, all right, not really cats. I’m not a crazy cat lady and my guild members aren’t felines with string addictions. But our annual guild meet up – or Herd Moot as we call it – finished last week. But what does this mean to you?

I know a lot of guilds meet up. I know some would like to and aren’t sure where to begin. I figured I might share a few pointers with you in case it’s something you might ever consider organising with your guild, whatever game you play. Pointers you wouldn’t necessarily think of immediately, and which I’ve learnt both during this Moot and through organising similar knees-up in the past.

It really is worth it. More’s the point, it really isn’t impossible.

We had folks travel from other parts of the UK, and from Finland and Norway. I deduce from the fact that everyone said they didn’t want to leave and some have made a point of saying they’re now actively looking to move here that everyone had a good time. Heck, we’re vaguely considering through the post-Moot recovery haze that we might organise another Moot for later in the year.

So, a few things to keep in mind for you as an organiser – or you as a participant supporting your organiser – to help your own Moot go smoothly.

1. Flexible plans. You’ll select precise times/dates. Be prepared for participants to either choose to travel on slightly different times/days which best suit themselves and their finances, or simply get it wrong, without checking with you first. For example, I organised our Moot for Friday-Monday; it ended up being Thursday-Wednesday due to peoples’ flights. You don’t need to stress if this happens, or worry if you have obligations like work on ‘extra’ days – the group can look after itself for a bit! Stay on top of travel details and keep in mind how many of the group are around at any one time.

2. Intensity. Think about how important it is that your group spends all of the meet together. Think about how long your meet is; if it’s quite short – 24 hours – you might well spend the whole day together as a group. if the meet is a few days then it’s likely to be part-meet part-holiday for anyone who’s travelled. Leaving them some time to themselves over the few days for exploring a new place on holiday might be just what both them and you need!

3. Health. Always ask anyone you’re ‘overseeing’ if they have medical conditions you should be aware of. Reassure them that you won’t make a big deal of it and it’s for your reference in case anything goes wrong or they fall ill. It’s highly likely everyone will have niggling little issues that they won’t think it worth telling you about when you ask, but which will probably come out during your meet when they suddenly remember their bad knee doesn’t like the long walk the group’s halfway through. Give them plenty of opportunity to think of telling you anything pertinent; if you’re planning a walk, tell them in advance, and how far, and if there are options to stop halfway through. For ‘active’ pursuits it’s also useful to have an idea of your group’s general (and lowest) fitness level. We found that half our group weren’t as up for long, pretty walks as others were.

Also, get basic health supplies in. I believe a first aid kit is vital if hopefully unnecessary, and last week found me handing out painkillers to various Cats for migraines to hangovers to general aches.

4. Finances. Your group will probably reflect a range of financial situations. Try to get an idea of the range of your group’s finances early on by talking to individuals quietly and in confidence. Then plan a spread of activities accordingly. Remember that money is a sensitive thing for everyone, whatever their position – don’t blather publicly about who can afford which activities. if necessary plan a couple of options for any one time that differ financially; people can decide for themselves which they want to do.

5. Gaming. You do want to spend some time together playing the game you all have in common – it’s great fun to all be in the same physical space playing it. Even so, strike a balance between ‘real life’ activities which don’t involve WoW/whatever MMO you play, and playing the MMO. For us, that balance was one main evening session and a smaller, less organised session, over 6 days.

6. Booking responsibility. Everyone participating is responsible for booking something. For you that’s ensuring there are arrangements for a place to game. That might be a LAN in someone’s residence, which requires cables and technical equipment, or booking an internet cafe or hotel conference room.

Any participants travelling to the meet need to take responsibility for their own travel and accommodation; unless they really really want to give you their credit card details (big nono for so many reasons). The only help you should give them is to encourage them to book early and have either yourself or someone with knowledge of the area research/suggest some affordable accommodation options and travel sites. Bear in mind some people may not have travelled much and may need more help organising themselves than others.

7. Communication. As the organiser you need to be approachable. Maintain a dialogue with participants in the run-up to the meet. Less intrusive/immediate forms of contact like Facebook are ideal as it gives others the opportunity to reply in their own time, and you the ability to chase them up if they take too long to keep you posted. IM services such as Skype or MSN also work well, particularly the closer the meet is, and particularly if you are having to chase particular individuals for details.

On a more specific note, if your group doesn’t often use voice software while gaming and you have people coming from other countries, they may be worried about speaking English (or whatever language). One of our guild members was particularly worried about his spoken English; we reassured him as much as possible and I also offered to talk to him on a voice skype chat before the Moot as a ‘practice’/’soft’ speaking run before he got here.

8. Recognition. You’re all about to do something scary: go out of your way to Meet Faceless People Off The Internet. Most people in your group will be nervous to some degree. You should share your details with participants to help them see you’re not a betentacled monster and so that you can stay abreast of travel details on the first day. Mobile/cell phone number exchange is crucial, as is a picture of yourself.  Hopefully by setting this good example you’ll inspire them to share theirs back with you.

9. Visibility. Buy sticky labels. Have everyone wear one with their character name and real name for the first day or two. Sounds geeky, right? Mayhap, but it’s also practical and puts folks at ease with remembering real names and using them. You could commission individual t-shirts or hats displaying names and character information or pictures too, if you really want to push the boat out and add a memorable touch given that labels are easily lost and not much of a fashion accessory,

10. Age range. Some guilds have people of a range of ages playing. Be aware of the youngest and oldest ages you have. You may need to generally think round activities that all age groups can enjoy. On a more specific note – don’t make alcohol a part of your meet if you have folks under the legal drinking age (doh!). If you have really young folks, keep a general eye on them. This all may not be a problem for you; it wasn’t for us as we’re one of many guilds of a similar age range. But it’s easy for age differences to slip your mind when you’ve known people online for so long without actually ‘seeing’ them.

 

I hope some of that is useful to you and your guildies. It might look like a lot of work or a scary concept when laid out in practical tidbits but fear ye not. Guild meets can be really special events creating long-lasting memories and deeper relationships. Particularly if you keep an open mind for practical details!

What about you – are you considering doing something as crazy as this? If so, do you have any questions/worries? Have you organised meets, and have tidbits to add or any stories to share? Or do you think the idea of meeting up with the pixels you adventure is weird and wrong?

This is an article by Mimetir, an owl (and resto shaman) of a raid leader on The Venture Co. (EU) You can find my twitter feed here.