5-man dungeons and heroics are the “gate-keeper” to raiding; or at least that’s how it’s intended. At the very latest, this is when a new player is introduced to cooperative group-play. Here he is pushed to learning his class and role, here he is questioned, here he is geared up for the challenges ahead. Here he understands the importance of strategy and communication before class is dismissed.…If only!
No matter how Blizzard have tried to hard-tune their raid-entry dungeons in Cataclysm, heroics do not fulfill their assigned role as necessary stepping stone between noobland and the unforgiving reality of many raid encounters. Getting into a raid is relatively easy, but many are ill prepared for the individual challenge and pressure that awaits. For guilds and recruitment this means a big crowd of potential candidates with the barest pre-selection.
For one thing, there are too many ways in which players can avoid challenging and maybe stressful/frustrating 5-man runs (for example by gearing up in other ways). More importantly though: in an MMO with cross-server LFG no reliable means of player selection or preparation exist. The purpose of the training phase is undermined in a game of anonymity. Here’s why:
Let’s have another look at yes – vanilla WoW. Back then, we had 5-mans too at lvl 60 and hard ones they were (hello Stratholme 1.0 & Co.). We didn’t have heroics, normal modes were bad enough. Gear was important and there were no ways around acquiring your starter raid-gear (8-piece sets on random drop!) from in there. Then, there were also attunements and resistance gear which kept sending you back in frequently, not just for yourself but those you were trying to help out.For the MC raidguild looking at a potential, ready-looking candidate at the time, this meant the following: not only had this person leveled from 1-60, he had also jumped all hoops in order to gain entry and had made it through all essential lvl 60 dungeons (many times) to gather his gear sets. More so, he had succeeded in finding/organizing and finishing runs with groups of your own server continuously. If you hadn’t heard of said player in negative terms up to that point, if he wasn’t on any spoken or unspoken blacklist by that time, there was a pretty good chance that this was your guy! Even if not quite that – at the very least, there was full confirmation of this player being incredibly motivated and experienced enough to raid.
There are no similar pre-raiding hoops in today’s WoW and heroic gear tells us very little about a player. Maybe he is a complete fail who only ever made it by jumping from one LFG group to the next while being an anonymous ass, ninja-looter, rage-quitter. Who knows – you certainly don’t! Who can say how somebody behaves in a cross-server group? Who can judge how well a player truly performed in order to gain his gear? Even if he let himself carry (or cooked his dinner during runs), he certainly didn’t need worry about not being re-invited to a next group (as tank/healer within the next 5 minutes). No social pressure – no social control.
We need the concept of social control for functional communities. We need the dynamic of reputation. We need small enough server communities for social interaction to become meaningful and transparent. We need consequences. The last thing we need is anything cross-server or bigger. Guilds and smaller groups don’t benefit from quantity, they benefit from quality.And so does the individual player, by the way; black sheep aside, it’s not exactly fun to be the “weak link” in a raid guild. It’s not a nice awakening to realize you are ill prepared. It’s disappointing and stressful to end up in a place too early. In a game of unforgiving raid mechanics (which is the situation I base this argument on), you want and need proper hoops early.
I used to be the raider who loved vanilla raids for being 40man; the scale, the epic kills and also the hilarious chaos (and challenge to order the same). I loved being part of a mixed crowd and running raidguilds that had colorful characters in them. I liked having merry minstrels and jokers along for the ride, to share good moments and laughs on our way.I liked being able to afford “clowns” in our raids.I was never a l33t player and I don’t consider myself “hardcore”, despite having always been a core member and healing coordinator in dedicated top guilds. Fame, loot and kills are all nice and dandy, but I want to share them with good folks and have fun together. I want both, the close-knit team and serious raids. If this means I need to cut back on the first and heroic kills in order to have that – fine in my books (as long as I still experience most of the content). I don’t seek the affirmation that comes from being nummero uno on a ladder, nice as it may be. I frankly also never wanted more than three raid nights.The guilds I ended up in (founded in vanilla & early TBC), were therefore more or less always composed the same way:
- You need the top players; you need them to pull and push the group. You need them to be your guides, guild leaders, coordinators and analysts. You need them too because very often, they’re simply the consistent show-ups with the most time available (which is why they make great guides or leaders).
- You need the solid good players who are dedicated but down to earth; You need them for a healthy, balanced guild culture that is neither too casual, nor too hardcore. You need them to be the pendulum that swings in between. They are your main executive force.
- You need the sub-par players; You need them for social qualities, for wisdom and humor that may be indispensable and unique. You need them so your top players get their occasional extra challenge and feel needed. You also need them because somebody always needs to be the weakest link – it’s better to know yours than to constantly look for a new one.
I don’t wish to be in a guild where every person is exactly like me (despite a healthy narcissism, that’s just boring). Nor do I mind slower learners or players who simply fail at the odd mechanic, and those who might fall behind a little due irregular playtime – as long as you can compensate for them somehow during specific encounters. (Assuming of course that they’re otherwise awesome).
Only, this gradually stopped being the case in WoW after the 40man era. Encounters became highly technical, focused on individual performance and unforgiving in ways that wouldn’t let us make up for lower bracket players – there was suddenly a hard line that wasn’t summary. We could only stand by and watch with increasing frustration as they went through the motions, again and again. We became helpless spectators of our guildmates’ ordeals, despite all guidance given. Worse: they started to become the “enemy”. If 100+ wipes into a boss, the same few people are still stuck at beginner mistakes, it’s human to start feeling resentful.I never wanted to become that other person or find myself in that well-known dilemma of so, so many raidguilds out there. But if I am pushed into the corner of choosing between keeping the bad player and not seeing larger parts of the game’s content in time (which was my motivation to play WoW at all) – then yes, I want the bad players out! I even want established people out who I used to appreciate and tried to support for as long as possible (my guilds have always tried longer than many would). I will make the unhappy choice if forced to; I won’t see an entire raidguild fall apart because the other 80% (and especially top 20%) will start looking elsewhere some time into the stagnation. Hesitating forever is not an option. If you’ve tried all you feel you could and if you intend to stick to the established raiding pace, you must make the choice as a leading team.
It’s no wonder so many good leaderships crack under the pressure of this decision; it sucks beyond comparison (add the issue of recruitment). It will always be one of the big sores for me when looking back on an otherwise great raiding run in WoW. It cured me of being too judgmental about how some guild leaders will act, too (“wear my shoes and see”).Sometimes raidguids change their original philosophy because they are catching the “success bug”; it’s a dangerous place to find yourself in, the upwards spiral of success that many fall for, becoming something else, someone else, forgetting how they started off and with whom. I fully acknowledge this problem. But what we experienced like so many others from the 25man era on, was not of our making; it’s nothing you choose, only what you roll with as good as you can.
To this day, I am deeply resentful; resentful of Blizzard, of the game’s later raid designs that presented my own guild with such a reality. I resent them for putting the focus on the weaker players, without any chance for the rest to step in and make a difference. I resent them for cornering us – for making us choose like this, again and again as the game took its course. Most of all, I resent them for making me that different person. A person with less and less tolerance for team diversity.
|What is fairness?|
Much in this argument is relative, depending on your own personal approach to an MMO like WoW. Maybe you’re the type of raider who wants to be in zero-tolerance guilds and who has always managed to keep clear of such problems. Maybe you’re not even interested in raids. However, for a big number of “mid-bracket raiders” that form the majority in WoW’s endgame and who are in constant competition for recruits, the missing pre-selection mechanisms and highly unforgiving raid mechanics on individual level, are presenting a real struggle and dilemma. There is also the added pressure of the ever-looming next content patch.
The game did not start off like this; raid teams had more leeway, partly due to the nature of bigger 40man raids, partly due to different encounter design. And while many asked for a more even share of responsibility and target focus after WoW 1.0., I don’t believe that Cataclysm raiders benefit from today’s very different situation – no matter what player group they belong to in their own guild. It’s the broken overall streamlining of difficulty combined with a lack of social control that impact negatively on everybody. They present today’s raidguilds with greater struggles than ever, logistically as much as socially and emotionally.