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The “I” in Raid Team

27 Mar

Our guild has done well. Well, by the standards of The Underbog, amounts to 12/12 normal modes, a few arena teams over 2400, rated BGs that happen every week, and a player base free of homicidal tendencies (toward each other). It’s important to not forget what we do right.

But with a growing drive to seriously tackle Hardmodes (and the jump in challenge level) members—myself included—are looking at our raid team with a critical eye. What’s the answer when your team doesn’t make the dps check for a fight? Do you scroll down your World of Logs postings to see who’s at the bottom? The impulse to point a finger is a strong one.

There are a few important provisos.  Some classes do better on certain fights.  Players will have bad nights.  A specific encounter may required dramatically different play, higher AoE, even offhealing; forcing a player out of their role may lower dps.  Once you’re certain there is a consistent problem it is appropriate to talk to the player who isn’t pulling her weight.  But now that we’ve identified a problem player, what’s the right tactic?  It comes down to three choices: kick/bench the player, teach the player, or turn them into the kind of raider who teaches themselves.

Players like to suggest that kicking someone out is a simple choice.  In a pick-up-group or a random heroic it is simple.  A regular raid in a committed guild is a more complex environment.  Players need to feel a measure of security to play best for an extended period.  Teams familiar with each other’s play-style also do better.  Every time we trial a new player or change up our raid composition for a night I explain to my raid team that we can expect the pace to slow down as the new player adjusts to our team and style.  A healing team that plays well together knows when a druid HoT will take care of a low health player and when they’ll need to step in with a direct heal.  Kicking a member of an established raid core should always be a last recourse for a serious team.

Teaching the player to do better seems the logical first thing to try. If changing a few gems or using CDs in a different place would improve performance, why not make this suggestion?  Assuming the player is genuinely receptive and that one makes this approach diplomatically (a few major assumptions), this might be a great short-term solution.  The problem comes when advice becomes a handout.  If a player knows they have no danger of being kicked, they feel safe to explore their class and tactics fully.  Conversely, if a player knows they will never have to think about their class because someone will always hand the latest theorycrafting right to them, we have an issue.  A good raid team cannot thrive on the personal growth of one player alone, trickling down to the remaining 24.  The best members will bring a little something more.

I’ve posted before about what makes a good raider, but a raider who teaches themselves might require a little more clarification.  Learning to play well in World of Warcraft is a lot easier now than it has ever been.  Countless blogs, forums, sites, and programs are available to the motivated players.  Teaching yourself is a matter of setting aside the time.  I spoke with a player not long ago who said “all that learning and research stuff is good, but I just want to play the game.”  That’s not an uncommon philosophy.  Imagine, however, how much more enjoyable it is to play extremely well.  Is it not more thrilling to pull to the top of the dps charts?  This style of play, the interest in constantly growing better as a player, is a commitment.  It’s a few hours a week dedicated to becoming better at WoW.  At the advanced level, this is what folks at elitistjerks.com and shadowpriest.com are doing.  Programs like Simcraft and Rawr do help remove the RNG from Best in slot gear lists.   At even the most basic level, sites like AskMrRobot.com and WoWReforge.com can optimize reforging and gemming choices.

Now how do you convince a player to make active and regular use of these tools?  The first step is asking.  After that, you have to let them see the value.  I know a player who’s gone from “I don’t really like to read” to reading six blogs a day based only on how much it improved his personal performance.  Some players never get to this point.  Sadly, these players might not be a long term fit for your raid team if they continue to struggle.

A final note of caution:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

That’s Alexander Pope, and he brings up an excellent point.  Players who read a few blogs or forum posts can quickly become “experts.”  I have a priest healer friend who listened to every Circle of Healing podcast and promptly came back and told be priests should never cast Heal.  Obviously, this isn’t exactly what was said in the podcast.  Take everything with a grain of salt.  Be receptive to new ideas, but don’t dismiss anything.  Finally, don’t be a jerk just because you know a thing or two.

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Cataclysm Plans: The Hard Push

6 Dec

We’re all thinking the same thing here.  We’re all refreshing countdown timers and counting the minutes.  In a matter of moments we’ll be leveling again.  For a number of us, this is the first serious leveling we’ve done in almost two years.

Leveling!

My ambition is to take a group of 277 ilvl geared raiders and lead them through chained dungeons.  This might not be the fastest XP / hour method, but its a surefire way to replace epics with blues and see firsthand the layout of the new heroics we’ll be running to get raid ready.  I’d also trust my team over myself any day.  We’re stronger as a group.  Aside from this, there are a few other motivating factors for this method:

  • We’re on a PvP server, and questing can be tricky
  • Getting ahead of the main leveling teams using instanced content could let us quest the last level in an underpopulated Twilight Highlands
  • Completing all the quests at a leisurely pace once we hit 85 let’s us enjoy them more and provides a windfall of gold (quests at max level reward gold in place of XP)
  • We can all keep each other talking and awake.

I’ll let everyone know how it works once I have some post-Cata down time.  I hope to report successes.

PvP Heroes!

I’d like to hit arena on launch week (launch of arena, not Cata launch.  This will be the following Tuesday).  These means a decent mix of honor gear and purchasable crafted items.  Blasting a solid team through to high ratings by killing players in greens is the plan.  At the very least I’ll learn something about how everything has changed in the new “mana matters” style of play.  On the table right now are Shatterplay, RPS, and Afflic/rDruid/sPriest.  Part of this is going to depend on the players willing to push as hard as I am for this.

I will admit I need to develop skills.  I’m not perfect, but i’m a lot stronger than last year.  I’ve done my homework.  If it takes 10000 hours to become an expert, I’m starting to count them down.

Guild Achievements

We have a core of players interested in pushing server first achievements.  This is exciting, but for the rest of the guild I’ve set a more tentative goal of 25 player raid readiness by January 11th.  Our entire officer team is on board with this, which is impressive given that many have children/classes/families/jobs, etc.

We also plan to implement guild achievement bounties.  This will look like a group (or single) player being rewarded for completing a task that either awards an achievement for the guild or takes us closer to one.  We should be able to afford to give players and extra incentive, especially after we unlock Cash Flow (guild level four).  I still have no clear idea how fast a guild levels.

A big item on this list for me is the new fish feast.  Unlocking the recipe currently requires the guild to fish up 10000 pools (not fish, pools).  I’m not certain on the best way to motivate this, but broken into 20 players fishing up 500 pools each makes this feel a lot more manageable.

Time will tell.  How’s everyone else’s push?

How to Build a Drama-free Guild

6 Sep

I was discussing at our weekly officer meeting the other night how happy some of our new recruits are in the guild. One of the major factors for a lot of them is the lack of drama. Our officers concluded that the guild has been almost completely drama free for most of the summer, and almost all of the expansion. How do we manage that? Well, it isn’t magic. The guild has been raiding for almost four and a half years, so we’ve learnt the right way to handle a number of situations.

Use a Fair and Upfront System for Loot Distribution

We use a system called EP / GP with aggressive decay and a fairly low threshold. If you’re not familiar with the system, I’d recommend checking it out. Our new members are quickly given the option of obtaining loot, but usually end up getting major upgrades and do not deny longstanding players the few upgrades they still need. EP/GP rewards attendance, and when we had challenges working on the LK we increased the EP awarded every 15 minutes. Attendance increases followed naturally.

In a big guild with some slight fluctuation in regular roster, this system works perfectly for us. I does not work nearly as well for some guilds, so the solution is to chose a loot system that aids in furthering the goals of the guild. Our goals are progression, so giving the best items to the highest attending players is important, as is a reasonable distribution of these upgrades. Beyond this, moral is a big deal. With EP/GP a night of progression where you win no items feels like an accomplishment.

Being completely upfront about a loot system is critical to avoiding drama. Selecting the right one for your guild is perhaps even more important. Loot matters to a player, and it should. It is both a measure of accomplishment, and a tool toward maximizing your character’s potential. Do not overlook something so important to so many of your team members.

Clear Direction from Officers

Drama is created when folks assume the worst. That’s human nature, and its hard to fault people for their fears. If a guild member needs to be kicks, explain why. If you’re taking X raider over Y, give folks the reason (and ideally, a reason that can be worked upon by the at-fault member).

“Okay, we have 28 attending raiders, so we’re going to need a few players to be on standby tonight. We’re taking Bill over Ted, because he has a viable off-healing set for The Excellent Adventure fight.”

“Srubbalicious recently got hacked and asked the Officer Team to remove him from the guild until its all sorted out. Just an FYI—we still like him.” /gkick

The name of the game is transparency. A good officer team makes changes for the good of the guild. If you make this obvious by being clear in your actions, you’ll garner respect, if not always consensus.

Guild Culture and Age Restriction

This has been a hot topic over the history of our guild. I originally disagreed with it, and slowly came to agree with the policy. We do not accept raiders to core raid positions who are under the age of 18. Let me explain.

The I am involved in has a mix of adult and middle aged players. As a 24-year-old, I’m one of the younger players (although many are close to my age). We behave a certain way in vent, guild chat is relatively uncensored, and raid attendance is an expectation.

Historically, younger players do not have enough control over their own lives to meet a tight raid shift. There are players in this age grouping that can, but they’re not the rule. Be it a mother insisting homework be done, a videocard needing replaced that is unaffordable, or the countless social obligations of high-school, folk under 18 are in a different life situation to those of us with control over our own lives.

Queue objections. I’m aware that some adults don’t have a lot of control over their lives. I know some kids do amazing dps and have 200% raid attendance. I am not (despite what it seems) advocating that the solution to drama is pruning yourselves of the kiddies (although it sure helps). I am saying, take a read of your guild.

Know what your guild members are all about. What sort of absence is “completely understandable.” One of our priest recently had emergency surgery, and everyone in the guild encouraged and thought nothing of her taking a few days (although she raided that week, on pain meds. Fucking hardcore). On the other hand, suddenly not showing up for weeks ’cause you got your first girlfriend makes everyone /sigh.

I don’t promise or even begin to suggest I know everything about coordinating and keeping happy a large group of people. I do know what has worked well for us in the past, and I’m beginning to explore the “why” of that success. Join me later in the week for a discussing of cultivating forums use, and the pitfalls associated with such a medium.

SC2 vs WoW: The Endless Battle of Player Interest

28 Jul

Let me start by getting a few things off my chest:

SC2 is awesome

Raiding short some key players is a frustrating experience

I haven’t slept even my usually small amount of time

SC2 is awesome

The experience of the campaign is another example of Blizzard’s extremely talented storytellers letting loose and delivering a deep and immersive gaming experience. A lot of our guild members are as excited by this game as I am.

Some folks aren’t. I held back my excitement for long enough to raid last night and do a post-raid-debrief with a few new recruits. Other guild members I’ve talked to either don’t like RTS games or are busy enough with WoW.

I respect that, so I’ve tried to keep the chatter in check. It’s good to reflect that not everyone is always going to be wildly enthusiastic about the same things.

Our new recruits all show varying levels of promise. We can hand out experience and gear very easily (which all three of them are lacking in slightly), but attendance and enthusiasm are hard to teach. My hope is that a little competitive spirit in our raid group will strengthen attendance.

Blogging has been slow for me. Last night I made the choice to board the Hyperion rather than polish of an spriest guide I’ve been working on. I promise to work on it this week. No promises yet on when it gets posted.

Players Abound! Who are you?

24 Jul

Once again it bears mentioning that this week’s postings are inspired, at least in part, by the experience of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. This shall be the last such post, and next week you can look forward to aggressive shadow priest theorycrafting, or at least fewer references to hippie music.

Folk music, but it’s very nature, is somewhat multigenerational. As the music “of the folk” it tends to dwell on the issues of those folk. Everything from a famed older gentleman known simply as Valdie singing about nuclear waste, to a French Canadian gal singing about linguistic disconnection—different times have different issues.

Likewise, with our World of Warcraft, the different eras that players joined the game influence their styles and understanding of the game.

The Vanilla player has longstanding experience with the game, and has likely found some balance in their life.  Once upon a time, they were a part of one of the best raiding guilds, but now they take a more relaxed pace.  Despite this, their numbers are top, they move out of fires before they even spawn, and they “used to pvp a little” (rocking the High Warlord title).  These folks have likely taken long breaks from the game, but on hard progression they’re your best asset.  “You think this was hard?  You should have seen Naxx.  No, I mean the real Naxx.”

The Burning Crusade player calls for CC on a rough trash pull the first night of Ruby Sanctum.  Everyone laughs, saying CC is a crutch.  After the wipe, everyone quietly talks out how to CC the pull.  These players remember raiding when a different group size meant a different raid, and progressed through fights like KT and Sunwell.  Sometimes BC players are just like Vanilla players and are true loyalist.  Of course, with Burning Crusade marking the introduction of “raiding for all” these folks also learned game dynamics during a time when guild hopping was natural and expected.  Be careful that you’re helping these folks meet their personal goals!

The Wrath of the Lich King player really got into raiding recently, but they make up for it with enthusiasm.  They might play a DK, and always wonder why people complain about “boring talents.”  They hate how the Ashen Verdict rep was so “grindy” and wish ICC had more AoE pulls.  Despite being newer to the game, these folks entered at a time where class tools are everywhere, and bad habits are easily broken.  These people are likely to stayl loyal to the folks who helped them get into raiding, or improve their play.  New Wrath players tend to have fewer alts.

I expect the Cataclysm player will have a more balance schedule, more alts, and better class information.  Still, it will take some time for these folks to really crack into the raiding scene.  Guilds hoping to bolter numbers should remember that guild perks added in Cata will build loyalty, and that a player will always feel most at home with the people who helped make her/him better.  Cataclysm promises to be an exciting time; while the work is falling apart, our guilds are only getting stronger!

Lesbians Holding Hands

20 Jul

Recently returned from an inspired by the Vancouver Folk festival, today features another article, this time inspired by the open and active gay community.  While not directly related to WoW, my personal connection to the topic and the concept of community building give us a unique perspective on addressing hard issues in an electronic world, and sensitivity to others.  If you have a personal qualm with LGBT issues in general, read what follows with a grain of salt.

There are few more beautiful things in the world than the open affection shared between two women.  Seeing partners able to acknowledge feels for each other with a gesture as simple as hand holding (something straight couples often take for granted) is a reminder that each woman in that partnership has a harder time in life only because of who she loves.  Girlfriends often have a harder time developing close, platonic female friendships because off assumptions of sexual attraction.  Often befriending men can be just as hard.  Life creates a unique set of challenges for women in such a position, so seeing them lucky enough to have a comfortable environment for expression is rare and marvelous.

For many folks I know, WoW is a safe place for expression.  I know folks of varying ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and lifestyles who can connect with like-minded people across national or international borders.  I spoke recently to a friend in an all Christian guild.  He gets to talk in a safe space, free of the cruel and thoughtless trolling a lot of religious folks are subjected to in game.

I’m outspoken about the use of “gay” as a pejorative.  I respectfully and quietly comment on its use or whisper folks who continue.  I’ve gotten into a few discussions about it, but most folks accept that it offends me and change their habits (at least around me).

Now I have a reasonably thick skin, but getting people thinking about the meaning of words is about more than my personal qualms.  Its about the reflexive flinch anyone of a “non-standard” orientation makes when they hear the word used in such a way.  Its about the way, in an environment that allows such terms to be used offensively, folks are less likely to want to do any “public hand holding.”  Its about the culture created.

Think carefully about the culture your putting out into the Warcraft server you play on.  Are you answering questions politely and informatively when asked by guild member, giving you a reputation for authority and kindness?  Are you trolling the trade channel trashing folks from other countries and political leanings?  How do you behave when you think no one is watching?  In a PUG, what do you give off as a first impression?

I try to do interviews with new raiders joining our guild after their first raid with the guild.  I ask “who stands out to you, good or bad?”  Usually we get the same answers.  One time, I had someone comment on one of the kindest of our players, who had made an ethnic joke.  He asked if our guild didn’t let folks of that ethnicity in.  Even a comment in good fun can be taken dramatically out of context, when its all someone has to go on for a first impression.

Are you doing everything to create a play-environment where people are happy and comfortable being themselves?  Do you empower your fellows to do the same?  Isn’t girl-power awesome?

As a bonus for those of you who managed to push through an emotionally heavy and serious post, I’ll link something awesome.  Don’t click it if you didn’t give some serious thought to the above 🙂

Are We Having Fun Yet?

15 Jul

Bored?  Its a complaint I hear often, even from the most motivated of players.  Ever run laps around Dalaran or hoped from spike to spike on the Orgrimar bank (I’m sure there’s an equivalent for Alliance players—maybe falling into the Ironforge trench?)?  World of Warcraft continues to be a team game.  I can’t do arenas without my teammates, and a 25 player raid takes… well, it takes more than just me.

I want to make two major points here:  there is more to do in this game than most people can ever accomplish; community takes effort.

This is a BIG Game

Achievements have opened up a lot of the crazy things folks used to just do for the fun of it.  I personally get a thrill out of treating each achievement as a long term goal or a brief puzzle.  Adding this sort of challenge can let you bond with guildies, explore some content you’ve never checked into before, or just have a good time soloing something challenging.

Go solo MgT.  Any class at 80 can do it, but it requires some kiting, CC, or general co-ordination.

Farm BGs for the various achievements in them.  I spent a week getting all the Base Caps in AB and had an absolute blast doing it.  Queue up for a random battleground and just track whatever achievements seem do-able once you get in.  For added adventure, invite a few guild members to tag along.

Level an alt.  While I love it when folks show main toons the dedication they deserve, leveling an alt can teach you a lot about the game you might have forgotten or overlooked the first/second/third time around.  Since the advent of the the dungeon finder system leveling can be a smooth and painless process, free of grinding or even question.  It can be, but more often you get in a group with a hunter.  Either way, its an adventure worth having.

Gold Cap.  Going into Cataclysm with a little nest-egg isn’t a bad plan.  There’s a lot of ways to make money when an expansion launches, but I’d personally like to focus my efforts on just enjoying the new content.  To do so, I worked the AH and my various crafting professions hard and gold capped my priest.  That gives you a lot more flexibility in terms of gearing and leveling in a new expansion.

Put in the Effort to Build Community

If you’re doing something fun, try to bring others along.  While guildies are best, friends lists are handy for grouping up with other folks.  Random Heroics can always be done with a pal.  Leveling an alt?  Do it with a friend.  Getting all the achievements for the Red Proto Drake can be an amazing opportunity to make four good friends who last years.

At its very core, WoW is a social game.  It is about connecting with people, learning with them, and enjoying your time together.  You need to make this happen!  Join a guild.  Once established in it, don’t forget about building friendships outside of it.  A healthy raider compares notes with the best players out there, even outside of one’s guild.  Struggling on a fight?  Talk to that guy you did BGs with the other day who raid leads for the top guild on the server.

Boredom is easily overcome by personal direction, or some serious community building.  Put the effort into this game, and it will reward you with endless hours of entertainment and exciting new friendships!