Thursday, August 27, 2015

4.45. HPWs

Swimming in Death Knights

Heroic progression stagnated after the death of Halfus Wyrmbreaker. Blain's assessment was to narrow our focus onto Heroic: Magmaw at the front of Blackwing Descent. The worm rebuffed us in defiance, its chitinous body squashed the raid as it thrashed about. April turned to May as we burned attempts on Magmaw. To instill the roster with any sense of progression, we started with Bastion of Twilight, mowing across normal bosses for gear and outstanding achievements. On the 1st of May, the 25-Man killed two of Halfus' drakes within 10 seconds of one another, and "The Only Escape" popped up on our screens. They were baby steps. But baby steps were something. Moving forward. Always moving forward.

The tank situation was phenomenally bad. Wrath of the Lich King left us with an influx of death knights, most of whom were spec’d for damage, exacerbated by our server’s PvP designation. Insayno continued to fill as often as possible, and Soot signed up whenever his schedule allowed. A third death knight, Unchained, joined progression in the last week of April; I wasted no time in fast tracking him into the role of tank. But I was about at the end of my rope with death knight tanks. The new blood shield mechanic still wasn’t impressing the healers, and key kit absences were more painful in Heroic: Magmaw than anything we’d dealt with during our nightmarish failures during Normal: Nefarian.

Where were all the druids? The warriors? The paladins?

Recruitment felt like debugging, endlessly scouring lines of code for a smoking gun. Gone were the days of Wrath's abundance of faces. In its heyday, WoW's sub numbers grew to such extremes that we enjoyed a healthy two years in surplus. I worried Cataclysm and its wildly experimental take on accessibility would punish us. I was now starting to feel the shrivelled people economy first hand, and the least popular roles were the ones that took the biggest hit. I often wondered if Blizzard felt the trade off was worth it.

I refused to announce recruitment in /general and kept a healthy distance behind the "advertise on the forums" line. Guilds spamming general chat carried a stink of desperation that never washed off. Meanwhile, the forums (particularly Deathwing-US's) dripped with toxicity fueled by the PvP crowd: layer upon layer of unchecked testosterone protecting their soft, chewy, insecure centers. The very mention of raiding drew trolls faster than a Tolkien art contest. I resisted asking for any help on Battle.net. A gun control activist knew better than to spout rhetoric in the middle of an NRA rally. Any inquiry for help would only paint gigantic targets around us.

Always be recruiting.

Easier said than done.

Around the World

With work keeping my focus, and team micromanagement filling my non-raiding hours, there was little time to scour for applicants. More and more, it bled into family time, which I desperately wanted to avoid. The old ways were behind me, and I had no intention of falling back into bad habits. I leaned on old faithful, WoW Lemmings, as a means of finding faces, but there was little ripe for picking. Whenever I sifted through the site, our brethren across the ocean always seemed to have a healthier ratio of recruits.

Too bad we can’t leverage that pool of players, eh?

Oceanic realms were routinely snubbed by the Aussies and New Zealanders, as they were hosted out of a data center in North America; an unfortunate but necessary decision. Thanks to a single Australian ISP diverting its traffic to San Diego before relaying it to the rest of the world, hosting dedicated servers where there be kangaroos wasn't going to provide a better experience -- even choosing a data center in South East Asia, Blizzard claimed, would've been worse. So those players had two choices: Oceanic via North America...or North America.

Some "choice".

You could count DoD's international peeps on one hand. Throughout Vanilla and The Burning Crusade, a warrior named Deathwar checked in. Hailing from Chennai, India, he'd be logging in, just as the majority of us were logging out. Even when restricted to our graveyard shift, Deathwar still felt compelled to hang with a North American guild during extremely inconvenient hours, so DoD was home overseas. Sadly (and unsurprisingly), Deathwar suffered from connection problems as a result of his long-distance log-in, so he was never in a position to contribute to progression.

Blackdodge was our first from the land down under, a mage that poured his heart and soul into PvP, becoming one of the few to earn the coveted rank of High Warlord in Vanilla. Blackdodge spent many a late night (or was that early morning?) alongside players like Annihilation, Creepindeath and Kedavra. He consumed enough Arathi Basin and Warsong Gulch to make a casual never want to log in to World of Warcraft again. But like Deathwar, Blackdodge never really had great opportunities nor interest in participating in progression, so my own exposure to playing with him was limited to chatting in /guild, and the occasional screenshot I’d snap of him for the guild’s homepage.

International player were welcome in DoD, but I never actively sought them out -- it was neither realistic nor fair to ask them to endure awful latency and wildly inappropriate raid times, just for the “luxury” of putting the Descendants of Draenor guild tag under their name. I was always surprised when they sought me out anyway. But to seek me out with intent on joining progression under those extreme conditions?

That was impressive.

Mature and Vexx stand a few feet from one another,
while separated by 8,135 miles in real life,
Orgrimmar

Accentuated Play

Dewgyd's unmistakably british accent was not what threw me off. The culture of gaming nerds was such that hearing someone rattling off Monty Python quotes in their own unique dialect was a rare perk. The real puzzle was why, exactly, he chose to play on a US server when an English-localized European server provided timezone appropriate raids and latency. Dewgyd claimed he had "weird hours", awake all through the night and into the wee morning, translating to our mid-evening raids. From a scheduling perspective, DoD was a closer fit than anything he could find in Europe.

I looked over his feral druid during the interview process. He was adequately geared, and spoke intelligently about raiding and mechanics. Still, I had to ask.

"What’s your ping like?"

"260-280ms. Y’know. Sometimes it pops up over 300, but you don’t see it often."

An image of Death32c immediately popped into my head. I deathmatched the Quake map so many times, guessing how many opponents I fragged would be pointless. 260-280ms was right about the ping I had to deal with at the time, as packets bound for the University of Colorado at Boulder made their way through my 56k US Robotics modem. Oh, how I longed for a 30ms ping, to be an LPB. A low ping bastard. It wasn't in the cards. My 56k modem designated me an HPW. A high ping whiner. But I still made it work. Violent, bloody death still painted the floors and walls of Death32c in my wake. And players were unpredictable, devious, and cunning. An robotic internet dragon following a script didn’t stand a chance...even with a ping like Dewgyd's.

"Our raids are 7:00pm on Friday and 3:00pm on Sunday, 4 hrs. That's…"

"...2:00am and 10:00pm for me."

Dear God. That would make Friday's raid 2:00am to 6:00am. You’re certain you can make all these raids?

He was certain. The brit joined us in February of 2011, becoming a regular in progression for every week thereafter. I don't recall him missing a single raid, but you're welcome to double check.

---

The internationalism did not end with Dewy. Vexx was a real catch. Brash and uncouth, she kicked the doors open into DoD and walked directly into progression...and I gladly cleared a path. She was the female alter-ego of Annihilation: Vexx spoke her mind, didn’t care who she offended, and was so enthusiastically committed to playing restoration shaman, she never thought twice about getting up at 6:00am every Sunday to join our 3:00pm raid. The fourteen hour difference between Colorado and her place of residence in Australia, she said, was a small price to pay to be a part of a guild that referred to its digital self as "home".

I nearly regretted pinging Anni the day Vexx donned a DoD tabard. The conversation that followed was mind-numbing to the point of hallucinogenic: a drinking contest of sheer vulgarity, each of them determined to gross each other other out. The things I heard discussed that day no human should have to endure. Dalans may have "seen things", but reader, I say to you on this day:

I've heard things.

Vexx was geared and ready for a promotion to Raider by the end of May. Like Dewgyd, the difference in time and latency didn't bother Vexx; she muscled through it without complaint -- immediately logging back if there was ever a disconnection, which were infrequent. It was her loyalty and dedication to the endgame that I had a deep level of respect for. She could have picked any guild. She could’ve blown off disconnections like so many players blaming lag for their sheer incompetence and inability to admit fault. With the same confidence she used in demonstrating those unconventional norms, she boldly took responsibility for her mistakes...and fixed them.

I wished I could clone her.

---

April had not been a great month, for reasons I'm sure you are aware of by this point. But amid the drama and tension of that month, a single applicant email arrived in my inbox -- an inquiry from a gal investigating new raid homes for herself and her husband.

I scanned the email quickly, looking for roles and classes. She healed. He tanked. She was a druid. He was a paladin.

I was stunned.

"Blackangus, thanks for reaching out. Let's chat at your next opportunity," I typed back, "Looking forward to seeing if we're a fit for you and Amatsu."

Thursday, August 13, 2015

4.44. The 90-Minute Demotion

Joredin and Mature earn 1000
Conquest Points in 2v2 Arenas,
Ruins of Lordaeron 

Right Spec, Wrong Patch

Another gaming night came and went with few internet dragons slain, thanks in part to a more formidable foe: ongoing micromanagement. I spent the evening checking up on Tacticians, those 10-Man leads running their own mini-guilds within DoD. After getting updates from Borken and Bovie, I wrapped up with Joredin, head of Recovering Raidaholics. Joredin just happened to be my on-again, off-again 2v2 partner. I honestly couldn't tell you how Priest / Death Knight fared competitively circa 4.1, we did it for fun. It was important to keep my relationship strong with all the Tacticians, so I could trust they'd give me the straight story on their own folks. I needed to know if rough times were headed our way.

"I don't have two other healers, but luckily I've been about to pug them each week," Joredin said. "Funny story: we wrapped up Blackwing Descent and were headed to BoT the other night, and I had a DPS switch to heals. We have Halfus down to 50%, healing is super intense. Then I realize our DPS never switched to heals. I was solo healing and dispelling the entire fight. Luckily we didn't wipe, and only had one death."

Pro.

"Jesus," I said, "was this Disc or Holy?"

"Disc. I don't think I'll ever play Holy."

"Not a fan, eh?"

"I really got into the style of Disc in Wrath, this entirely new way of healing through bubbles. It was fun. Holy really had a tough time keeping up with that. Now in Cata, that gap is even wider. I mean, Holy is even more complex to play than it was in Wrath, and you really have to be at the top of your game to pull it off well. Disc is great because I like the style and it frees me up to keep an eye on all the various things going on in our 10."

"I've got a heated debate going amongst the officers about a particular spec. Like to hear your opinion. It has to do with the change to Chakra."

"Do tell."

"Apparently Chakra was raised to 1 minute in 4.0.6 and most top end priests are no longer spec'd into 1 / 2 State of Mind...they put the point elsewhere. I realize there aren't a lot of options, unless you count Desperate Prayer...if the priest happens to be fond of dying."

"So the debate is where to put the points?"

The debate is about why her attitude sucks.

"I can't say for sure," I told Joredin, "but would appreciate a second set of eyes."

Joredin pulled up the logs of our latest 25-Man progression kills in Blackwing Descent, and started cross-referencing Lexxii's spec with her individual tactics.

"I can't really tell how she is on mana from these logs," he said, "but Renew is one of her top spells. Renew is thirsty. Throughput really comes from Heal, particularly because it relates to Chakra and SoM. But her style really isn't benefiting from these choices. A tiny bit of Circle of Healing, but not even any Holy Word. AoE heals should be a lot higher on this chart."

"One of the arguments she's made is that she is 'always always always' using Sanctuary."

"Again, I don't know her specific role on these bosses, which is highly dependent on how she heals. But to the point, if she claims she's spending all her time in Chakra: Sanctuary, then why even use SoM? It isn't for extending a stance anymore. It's for changing stances more frequently."

Lexxii's tactics were for a spec that no longer existed.

Neps overrides Lexxii's request for more healers,
Undercity

Excuse Navigation

"You know what this is about, right?"

"I'm guessing you want to get rid of me."

"And what makes you think that?"

"Well, it really isn't that much of a secret. I mean, I know that Jungard doesn't like me, Fred is constantly giving me a hard time, and whenever I try to get support, nobody wants to listen to what I have to say, about strategy or assignments, or whatever. I know they are calling me a bitch behind my back. Which I don't care about, that's fine. I mean, whatever, if that's what makes them feel better about it."

"So you don't really feel like you're getting the support you need."

"Not at all, not really, no."

"Can give me a specific example where you weren't supported?"

She sighed into the mic.

"Ok. Well, like, there was that one time, about a month ago, where I was trying to get seven healers for heroic Halfus, and Neps just rolls right over me."

He's 2nd-in-command. It's his job to override bad decisions.

"Blain never really listens to me, either. Whenever I try to push harder, sure enough there's Neps and Klocker and Jungard right there supporting him and shutting me down. I mean it really is insensitive, which is surprising because I've never really been in a guild before where the guild leader is supportive, but the officers behave like that. It's just been a lot of ego and bullshit and children beating their chest."

It's called a 'unified front', Lexxii. You might take a page from their book.

"Blain doesn't approve of redoing strategy mid-raid. That's something he made clear when he took on the role of raid leader. I know you weren't around for the early days, but allowing officers to second-guess and debate him as he prepares for a pull is inappropriate. I don't allow it. Neps and Klocker and Jungard are doing their jobs in support of that policy. Blain's made it pretty clear that if you want to debate the merits of certain tactics, that those debates need to happen post raid."

"Yeah, but he's never available."

He's never available? Or you aren't.

"I've seen you spending a lot less time online in the evenings these days. Is it possible that you are the one that's not readily accessible after raids?"

"I've had a whole bunch of things going on in the evenings that normally weren't taking up a lot of my time, back in Wrath."

"OK, that's fine. We all have real life responsibilities. And I'm pretty sure you know what kind of a ship I run here. That's why we have a static raid schedule – so our players can re-arrange the rest of their stuff safely. They'll know it's Friday night and Sunday day, and that's it. No surprises. But if you're going to be a leader, you're expected to stay on top of specs. If it comes naturally, then there's no issue. But if it doesn't, some extra time and effort might be warranted."

"So it's about the spec."

Aha. So you do know there's an issue.


Lexxii is the sole death as the 25-Man progression
team defeats Heroic: Halfus Wyrmbreaker,
Bastion of Twilight

On Credibility

"So what's the deal with the spec, then?"

"They're giving me a hard time because I'm not spec'd into whatever cookie cutter build is at the top of worldoflogs or wherever they're looking these days."

Get specific, Lexxii. Demonstrate some expertise.

"Can you elaborate?"

"They keep bitching about how I’m spec'd into State of Mind, and they don't understand how I'm using it."

"Enlighten me."

She sighed again, as if being forced to a re-paint a freshly painted house.

"The way Holy works is that the Chakras are all a stance that boost a particular proficiency. Sanctuary is the one I spend all of my time in. State of Mind lets me extend that stance."

Wrong.

"And what problem do they have with it?"

"They're saying that I'm not able to permanently keep the stance up, since the 4.0.3 patch, so why bother even using it. But they don't understand that I’m not trying to keep it permanently up. I'm aware 100% uptime isn't possible. It doesn't matter, the throughput that's generated from being in Sanctuary is better than not being in it. So, yes, I may not be able to keep it up permanently, but the longer, the better."

"You say SoM is more important than something like Surge of Light or Desperate Prayer. Let me give you the benefit of the doubt. If Sanctuary is your go-to Chakra, the one you're most comfortable in, that should mean your healing spells should reflect Sanctuary, right?"

"They should, yeah."

"The last logs I pulled off Atramedes show you leaning heavily on Renew. But Renew doesn't benefit at all from Sanctuary. In fact, would you not agree that it's costly, and therefore, not a great example to push your throughput?"

"Atramedes isn't a very good fight to look at. The entire second phase we're constantly running around, banging gongs, dodging fire. Even phase one has us dodging rings, I barely have any time to pull off Circle of Healing or Holy Word."

"Hold on, now. Stay with me a moment. So your Renew is way up, and spells that are directly benefited by Sanctuary are way down. Can you see why the officers might be concerned that you're spending time in a Chakra that doesn't reflect the way in which you heal? Does that make sense?"

Lexxii repeated her initial claim, a bit louder this time. As if I hadn't heard her.

"Atramdes isn't a good fight to measure this by!"

"So if you know that Atramedes doesn't play well to your spec, why are you using it?"

Another audible sigh.

"Lex, I don't want to sit here and tell you what's right and what's wrong. Only you know what spec works for you. What I want to stress that's far more important than individual talent choices is how you defend those choices. You're trying to convince me that Atramedes is a bad fight to use as a gauge of effectiveness. What you should be convincing me of is why you aren't switching to something else when we get to Atramedes."

More silence.

"It's OK to not know the answer. It's not OK to defend those reasons for answers you make up. You're a good healer. You're competent."

Barely.

"I fast tracked you to Elite in Wrath because you represented the type of raider I hoped others would emulate. But today, we’re talking exclusively about your role as Healing Officer, a role you and I agreed that would be something we'd try out. And for that, I need more than competence. I need you to understand the nuance of your class so well that you are in a position to defend something perceived as a bad spec choice. Without even giving it a second thought, you should be able to tell me exactly why you stay in your spec for Atramedes, and give me...or anyone in the guild...the kind of answer that stops us dead in our tracks. The kind that makes us go 'Ohhhhhhh. My God. I never considered for this or that. You've given me some significant insight into Holy today.' And if you can't, that's perfectly OK...but you cannot be in a position to lead until you do."

I continued, "You said yourself that you have more on your plate now, after hours, then you expected. Let me lighten the load on your behalf. We'll be professional and discreet about the change -- this isn't going to be an attack or smear on your skills. The guild is very appreciative of you stepping up and handling things at the start of Cata. We'll swap Fred in and give him a shot, and let you take a backseat."

"So am I going to end up losing a bunch of raid spots now?"

"Absolutely not. I still consider you top tier, and I expect to see you at every Fri/Sun raid here on out. From now on, you can focus on doing what you do best..."

Bullshitting.

"…healing. And this will give you an opportunity to get a bit more flexible with your spec if you need to try things out, without being under the scrutiny of the officership. Make sense?"

I waited for the "Yeah. You're right, Hanzo. I never saw it that way before. Thanks! I appreciate the support."

No such luck.

"...I guess so. Whatever works. I mean, it doesn't matter if I switch up my spec, or stick with a particular spec, I feel like they're going to find a way to tell me why I'm wrong, or why I have to start using a particular spell on a particular encounter, and I really thought I would get more support on my reasons and…'

I shut up and let her talk. And talk. And talk. And talk.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

4.43. Guitar Hero in Hell

Mature clocks in at a full 2k under Hells
as the 25-Man defeats Heroic: Chimaeron,
Blackwing Descent

Right in the Feels

Omaric's exit from DoD opened up a new position for a ranged officer. I'd approached Mangetsu once before, but he politely declined, unsure of his ability to commit to the necessary demands of leadership. While mulling it over one evening, I decided to return to Karazhan to farm for Attumen's mount.

As ghoulish melodies of the harpsichord belted out of my speakers, I was immediately reminded of Goldenrod, the mage who'd been my officer back in The Burning Crusade, and who had recently returned to 25-Man progression. I'd been spending more time with Goldy, both in-game and out, thanks to the convenience of my new job flying me out to California every few months.

Goldy, too, had done well to take heed of his own vulnerabilities. He'd grown from a player willing to cancel his Blizzard account in a fit of rage over a ticket fiasco, to defending himself against cancerous attacks that challenged his ethics (and keeping a cool head throughout the ordeal). During one of my business trips, I extended the position of ranged officer to Goldenrod, and he humbly accepted.

Goldenrod was DoD's last ranged officer.

---

Sentimentality nearly always gets the best of me. The amount of time I spend dwelling on the past is probably a little extreme. If there was ever any doubt, allow me to point out, dear readers, that you're in the midst of reliving a story which ended four years ago. This kind of sappy melancholy isn't typical amongst gamers who carry themselves as if every day is a clean slate. At times, I get a little disgusted with myself, just on principle. It's a game. Move on with your life.

It's those damn external triggers. For me, nearly all of them are steeped in music. Fire up a song from a particular WoW soundtrack and my mind instantly rewinds to that moment in time. Netherstorm's hollow echoes as lightning cracks across the barren purple landscape, and I'm immediately reminded of Divinepants trying to finagle his way back into the guild. Black Temple's orchestrations will always remind me of Ater's final days in the guild. Even Alliance music does it: Elwynn Forest catapults me right back to Vanilla, right where it all started. It's a fun party trick; try it on me if you see me at the next BlizzCon.

I'm sentimental because I'm an emotional guy...I have a box of broken keyboards to prove it. Coming to terms with that part of me was evolutionary. Learning that my affinity to punch keyboards affected my decision-making changed how I made decisions.  Knowing that, if left unchecked, my emotions could lead me down a dark path, they could be used against me by those seeking their own agendas. It's OK to reminisce fondly about times that have passed, but clinging to old ways on account of tradition is a path with too much zeal for my tastes. Be objective with decisions, look at it from all angles.

And remember that gut instinct is statistically more likely to be right.

...just know that the Halo Effect applies to your perception of more than simply people.

Mature sizes up his dual wield gear next to Hells,
Ebon Hold

End of the Honeymoon

Unholy was pissing me off.

The spec I grew to love in Wrath was history. I tried everything I could to acclimate to the death knight changes, but after five months of swapping to DPS whenever we secured two tanks, my DPS wasn't where it needed to be. There is nothing more pathetic that a player whose only claim to fame is denial. When that player happens to be the guild leader, it's flat out inappropriate.

The Blizzard hype machine was on overdrive when the death knight changes were announced for Cataclysm. I'll admit there was a brief and torrid love affair with Dark Transformation, when my ghoul first grew to twice its size, cleaving its way through a pack of trash. And Blizzard's description of Dark Simulacrum made its spell-copying ability read like unfulfilled necrotic desires were now within reach of Mature's pallid fingertips. Oh, you gonna Mirror Image, mr. mage? Let's see how you handle three death knights.

In reality, Dark Transformation's uptime was awful, and micromanaging the timing to increase it left wide gaps in unspent runes, downgrading both Mature's effectiveness and my enjoyment. It was difficult to get right on a dummy, never mind the chaos of a Heroic: Magmaw attempt. And as for Dark Simulacrum, it ended up a nerfed, barely-realized fantasy. A million spells in World of Warcraft, and death knights ended up being able to copy...about four.

Maybe I'm exaggerating. But it felt like four. And that didn't feel very fun.

I put on my big boy pants and took these cuts in stride. There was still plenty to like (including Necrotic Strike). What I could not turn a blind eye to, however, was the new rotation. Or lack of a rotation, to be specific.

In Wrath, there was an implicit contract with the death knight. If you want to burn all six runes in as fast as your globals would allow, knock yourself out. It could also mean you go for a long period without having any runes to spend. But the disciplined death knight (an oxymoron, I know) would easily get into a rhythm that had runes cooling down at a rate tempered by how quickly their runic power was burned. By having the runes cooldown simultaneously, one could get into a solid rhythm, moving back and forth between runes and runic power, but still be able to burn all six in nearly a heartbeat, if there was cause.

The rotation was easy to master. I could stand with the best melee in the guild -- Blain, Jungard, Hells -- and use a boss like Deathbringer Saurfang to make sure everything was in alignment. Saurfang was our Patchwerk, and while I'm not about to sit here and debate his difficulty (hint: he's not), I made no secret about looking forward to the fight every raid evening. It was the one place guildies couldn't claim problems like "too much moving around" or "lag affected me too much" or one of a million other excuses why their numbers weren't where they should be. Saurfang was the benchmark, and every kill gave me an opportunity to ensure my rotation was exactly where it needed to be.

Perhaps I was in the minority in thinking the death knight rune system was working pretty well out of the gate. Blizzard didn't think so. The claim was that our play style was essentially "rune locked": that we only had enough globals to burn each rune as it cooled down, forcing us into a locked rotation that was too penalizing if we strayed. Some death knights seemed to yearn for a system more random, more up to the player at any given moment. Some call that a more "dynamic" system, a more rewarding play style.

I saw the logic of the "rune lock" argument, and looked forward to what lay ahead.

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

"Driving Instructor" isn't a Career, It's a Sentence

Now in Cataclysm, runes cooled down sequentially, rather than simultaneously. It was easier to stray from the rotation because there really wasn't a rotation -- runes ended up sporadically appearing, one-by-one, in a slow-as-molasses style that wasn't anything even remotely close to a "rhythm". This was the side-effect of the new system. A rune would not cooldown until its equivalent partner cooled down. It was clunky. It felt like Mature was perpetually tapping his foot, looking at his watch, waiting for the right rune to reset.

The odd slowness of the new rune system was immediately felt in early Cataclysm beta. To offset this, Blizzard gave frost death knights Runic Empowerment, a talent that jelled with frost's proc-like style. But for Unholy, we gained a different talent: Runic Corruption...or what I like to call "Guitar Hero in Hell".

Runic Corruption was a talent that had a small chance to proc when we spent Runic Power. When it proc'd, rune regeneration would double for three seconds. This was Blizzard's halfhearted attempt to resolve the sluggishness of the death knight that was introduced with runes cooling down sequentially.

Since my rune addon of choice was DKIRunes, I'd configured my UI to have my runes cooldown in a vertical animation, coming to rest at the screen's dead center. The effect was not unlike the lanes of multicolored buttons that stream towards a musician as they rock out on a plastic guitar in the various Rock Band and Guitar Hero style music rhythm games. With Runic Corruption proc'ing, I expected to get Mature back into his groove, ramp up the speed and eventually hit a new momentum in which I was spending runic power, procing Runic Corruption, lighting up the runway with runes as they poured down my screen in double time, and repeating the process.

In practice, it was a constant state of speeding up and slowing down, which felt like the first day of Driving School. The whiplash of constantly lurching forward, then screeching to a halt. then lurching forward again. You were either doing 60mph...or nothing, but you weren't doing either for very long.

I tried everything I could to get into the groove that Runic Corruption promised, to hit that steady stream of runes flowing down the screen. But the groove never materialized, and week after week of "good intentions" did little in the way of contributing DPS to our heroic attempts. I faced the truth: this wasn't Wrath, and I needed to stop pretending it was.

Cataclysm's Unholy was clunky, awkward, and most of all: not fun. But even more than any of these, Cataclysm's Unholy prevented me from realizing Mature's full potential. As the music of the death knight wing in Naxxramas piped through Ebon Hold, I divorced myself from the notion Unholy would ever be what I remembered it to be, and respecc'd to Frost.



Thursday, July 23, 2015

4.42. Fear of the Unknown

LinkedOut

Neglected software teetered precariously like a Jenga tower, each brick an absurd joke played on the company. Dunning-Kruger was alive and well, running amok behind the corporate curtain. There was no excuse. You didn't even have to hit Barnes & Nobles up for a book. The power of Google was at your fingertips. Everybody needs to start somewhere, but the point is to move onward and upward. Each line of code I read caused me to question humanity. Where was the pride? Where was the motivation to improve? To grow? To arrive at a place slightly less shitty than yesterday? It sickened me how some programmers treated their job as menial labor. You're creating something. Put some effort into it.

One of my first repairs required little more than what it took to install a WoW addon. Examining the code around a malfunctioning search field, I noticed its library was severely out of date. The last time a human being had put eyes on it was early 2008. It was like trying to get CT_RAID to work in Cataclysm, then realizing the addon hadn't been updated since The Burning Crusade.

All hail jQuery, a JavaScript library leveraged by web developers around the globe. Competent web developers. jQuery did the heavy lifting. It masked the complexities of browser incompatibilities so that a developer could focus on getting things done. When you hear the expression "Work smarter, not harder", but aren't exactly sure how to do that, jQuery is a fine tool to have in your belt.

It took five minutes to download the latest version, drop it in place, and change a few calls around the search field. Just a little effort. That's all. Was that so hard?

A normal person might sit back and bask in the glory of their cleverness, but I couldn't leave it alone. When someone's boneheaded move nearly kills you on the freeway, a rage begins to seep through every muscle that grips the steering wheel. Suddenly, you are compelled to pass the offender. You have to see their face, to see what kind of imbecile they would have to be. You have to give them "the look". I hate you.

I had to see the face of the person who left this code in a state of disarray.

This person, who we'll call The Brosef, was no longer around. It required little detective work to figure out who he was; his pathetic few code comments were initialized, leaving a breadcrumb fail trail. Cross-referencing with a few folks around the office confirmed The Brosef's identity, and within minutes, googling led me to LinkedIn. Seeing his face didn't help, and seeing his activity on the social network only made things worse.

There he was, actively participating in answering programming questions from the community. Only they weren't "answers", so much as they were complete and utter bullshit. Unlike Stack Overflow, where your accuracy is vetted by anonymous peers, LinkedIn provides no such mechanism. You can be as right or as wrong as you wish, and nobody knows the wiser. The people that "vet" you on LinkedIn are the professionals that know you personally, that have worked with you, the sorts of folk whose names appear under the "References" section of your resume. Having a network of professional references is an excellent way to help nail that interview shut, but it's not how you gauge authenticity of someone's skills. When it comes time to answer a skill-testing question, are you going to have your ex-boss come in and take the test for you?

I scanned The Brosef's posts until I couldn't take it anymore. Either wrong or contradictory, his answers infuriated me, until all I could do was just stare at his profile photo in abject disgust. Staring back, with his too cool-for-school sunglasses and smirk of proud accomplishment, his photo seemed to say, "Yo. Looking for a new programmer? Hey...your search is over."

Just like your career.




Talking Tech

Soot stormed down a hallway that had been carved out of the ocean floor, charging the Faceless Watcher, his death and decay rippling and boiling in a familiar circular pattern under their feet. I kept my distance, lighting the mobs up from afar with Syrophenikan's Multi-shot.

"So, Soot...I hear you're like my alter ego, but in the .NET world."

"Yeah, that's right. What's yours again? ColdFusion, right?"

"Allegedly."

"Heh," he paused between pulls, "Yep, web dev is my game. For quite a few years now. Well, these days it's really more about architecture and specs than actually coding."

"I see," purposefully changing my tone to exaggerated disgust, "so you've become one of those people."

Soot laughed, "Management is not all that bad. I mean, think about what you do now, you're coding off of a blueprint that you write…"

"...that you never end up writing," I said. The wicked problem. Software development demands well-defined rules before you sit down to type the first line of code. Yet, few developers actually end up writing specs. They're boring. They're inaccurate. Nobody reads them. It makes people in suits feel good because they like to see a plan; ask any programmer how much they love to bend over backwards for incomprehensible corporate demands. Nerds just want to be left alone to code.

Of course, these are all excuses for the real answer: many programmers don't know how to write specs.

"The old joke, yeah," Soot agreed, "Well, when you have a staff of offshore developers, you have to write the blueprint. It's a non-negotiable. And I'll agree it may not be as exciting as writing the actual code, but you're still in charge of how it all comes together. You're still designing. You're calling the shots. But without all the stress of late night and weekend bug fixes."

I'll admit, it had a certain appeal to it. Briefly.

"I dunno, chief. I don't think I could trust other developers to do it correctly." I spasmed, flashing back to the audacity earlier in the work day, "It feels like senior level folks are consistently doing junior level shit. Take today, for example. Some rook left a jQuery library outdated for years on this one search field. Seriously! How hard is it to fold library updates into your build process?"

"Ah, I love jQuery," Soot said, "makes things so much easier."

Just then, Lexxii's voice piped up in Vent.

"I dont' use jQuery at work. I really don't like it at all."

I'd completely forgotten that Lexxii was also a web developer. I hadn't really discussed work topics with her in the past, so this was a first.

"Why?" I asked, taken aback, "jQuery is industry-known and tested. At the very least, you gain maintainability through it. Other devs know it, they can come in and pick up where you left off."

Soot politely played devil's advocate, "There are some other solid libraries out there. What's your preference?"

"None. I don't use any libraries. I write all my script from the ground up."

What.

"Hold up. You don't use any library? You write everything from scratch?"

"Yup. All the time."

Soot and I stayed quiet a moment, waiting to see how Lexxii would justify so much extra work. What insight would we glean from her revelation that the developers of 7 million other websites hadn't collectively figured out?

"When I write it by hand, it's way faster."

"...what is? You mean the code executes faster in the browser?"

"No, I mean I write it faster. Faster and easier to write."

Soot said nothing. I stared at the screen a moment in stunned silence.

You know, you could probably build a house faster, too, if you didn't use any concrete, insulation, nails, roofing materials, tile, cabling or plumbing...and just leaned a bunch of boards against one another. Like a rook.

Off and into the dark recesses of my mind stretched an unending series of red flags into forever, flapping violently, harbingers of the forthcoming disaster.

The Grand Ol' Sharpshooters of Texas

You choose people to take care of matters you're unable to. I knew my strengths weren't in raid leading, which is why I put Blain in charge of PvE strategy. I couldn't be in all places at all times, which is why I had role officers. My perfect choice for each promotion was someone whose knowledge surpasses mine in the given area; I don't want to tell them what to do, I want them to tell me what we should do.

In that decision making comes a risk: you don't know what you don't know. You could be putting someone in charge that seems like they're an expert. Beware the illusion of manufactured proficiency, residue from the Halo Effect. Your expert may seem like the sharpest of shooters, when in fact, it is you simply painting a target around the most convenient bullet holes.

DoD rode a successful wave of recruitment during ICC, snapping up names like Lexxii and Bullshark, players that topped meters on day one...and stayed there. Fast-tracking them to Elite served two purposes: it acknowledged their exceptional play and sent a message to core: this is the kind of competitive play you need to aspire to. But the Halo Effect clasped its golden grip around me, manipulating my emotions and decision-making. It led me to believe things that weren't proven, that perhaps a player like Lexxii was a profoundly awesome player and healer, and that her successes weren't simply the result of riding the coat tails of her former guild. That she was an expert player because of her skills, not despite them.

The evidence of a freshly painted target dripped its red-and-white evidence over every early decision I made regarding Lexxii. I picked her for healing officer not because I was convinced of her ability, but was unconvinced of Fred's. Fred struggled with healing and survivability; to Lexxii, it came instinctively. Yet, I was having a difficult time pinpointing in my mind an exact instance where Fred had died in an amateurish move. By contrast, Lexxii had been dying a lot in these first few months of Cataclysm raiding.

And how closely had I ever examined those meters? Lexxii preferred Holy, choosing Disc only at particular moments near the end of Heroic 25-Man ICC. I hadn't boned up on specs, since ironically, this was what I put her in charge of. But in my brief research of 4.1 Priest theorycrafting, Disc was dominating. That wasn't to say holy priests were bad, but in order to pull holy off, you had to be good. No coat tail riding allowed.

Some saw through the facade early on. But as luck would have it, the types of people complaining the most about Lexxii were the sort of people whose opinions deserved to be ignored. If naysayers wanted to choose the cynical route, they were free to. In my mind, Lexxii earned the chance to prove them wrong, to prove she was competent.

Competency, however, is not enough of a qualifying factor for leadership. It's barely enough to put you in the running.

---

Neps filled in the blanks, pointing out how effectively I'd painted the target around Lexxii.

"We've chatted a few times. It's not great," he said, referring to her spec. Neps always tried to be polite when discussing the captain of a failboat. I listened as Neps picked apart her spec, talent by talent.

"And you've recommended these changes to her?"

"Yep. She doesn't seem that interested in changing."

"She give you a legitimate reason why not?"

"She gave reasons. I don't know that I'd call them 'legitimate'."

I took a deep breath, that one you take when you come to the realization you've made a bad judgement call, "What's your take?"

Neps thought a moment, then spoke, "I don't think she's comfortable trying anything new."

Thursday, July 9, 2015

4.41. We Run S#!t

"Blizzcon Sketchbook: At Least, In Theory",
Artwork by Mike Krahulik
Copyright © 2005 Penny Arcade, Inc.

Reboot

"He can be...difficult...to work with."

"He can be pretty demanding."

"He overwhelms you."

I sat in a conference room small enough to double as a broom closet. It was barren and white. Dry board eraser chemicals hung in the air, burned under florescent bulbs. An easel pad of blank paper stared back from the corner of the room closest to the door. Outside, I heard the faint rattle of mechanical keyboards.

Blue, black, and yellow cables snaked down through the base of the conference room table, burrowing into network jacks and power strips. I clasped my hands on the table, then decided to fidget with a pen, only to put the pen down moments later. I stroked my chin, took a deep breath. Where's that damn coffee? I caught myself tapping my foot, and stopped.

He overwhelms you.

I recited these opinions, judgments barely two weeks old, and braced for the door to burst open.

A notepad next to the laptop bore the letterhead of the healthcare company I now served. Three painfully long interviews later, I made the cut. Or rather, I cut it pretty damn close. Three months had passed since packing boxes of computer equipment out of my old job's network room and into the trunk of the Civic. Contract agency jobs filled the gap while I pounded the pavement, leading me to this temporary solitary confinement. Attuned to explosions, dragons bellowing, and drama forever unfolding, the silence of this room rang in my ears.

My first assignment: assess the situation with a "Bio-medical Administration Repair Tracking" app. Fixing bugs and coding features dominated my career for fourteen years. My attention should have been focused on the tech. What's the language? Who built it? What's failing? But as I sat alone in the conference room, my mind drifted back to the judgments. The concern. What was it about this guy that left so many people uneasy? Before knowing anything else, how dire or trivial the actual situation may have been, I couldn't help but feel like an analysis of the app was ancillary. This was about rebuilding a relationship.

The first face through the door was Fred. He was slightly taller and had a few years on me, his dark hair receding in middle age. A scan of his business casual attire put my mind at ease. I tend to feel overdressed, even when actively choosing to do so, no doubt the result of my last boss's advice: "Dress better than everyone around you." I'd met Fred only once before, when the company flew me out to El Segundo for orientation. From that introduction, I knew he was a family man, had kids of his own, and coached them in little league. I also picked up on his distaste for some of the other parents involved, and that the stresses of work, life, and coaching little league were vented through a habit of chewing tobacco.

Everybody's got a vice.

Fred smiled, greeted me, then shifted to the side in the doorway of our less-than-spacious morning accommodations.

"Hey, good to see you again! I'd like you to meet Arch."

Arch was even taller than Fred, a large man in his early to mid-fifties. His grayish silver hair was longer and swept back, and his mustache instantly reminded me of Sam Elliot. He had a wide smile, was dressed more casually than Fred and I, and when he stretched out his hand to greet me, his grip was like an iron vice.

"Shawn. Pleasure to meet you. Sorry I missed our first opportunity back in Cali. Last minute flights and meetings have a way of messing up my schedule."

His voice was deep and deliberate, filling the room as a subwoofer might. Arch's casual speaking tone wasn't unlike that of a military commander. A direct order felt imminent. Fred was already sitting at the conference table, setting up his laptop in what could be described as a subdued panic.

I don't get it. No negative vibes. None at all.

"No worries, Arch, Ted gave me a great overview. I have the gist. I'm ready for every last detail."

Arch smiled at the sound of Ted's name, "He says you're the right man for the job."

The same El Segundo trip also introduced me to Arch's superior, Ted. I got a vibe that theirs was more of a working partnership than a commander / subordinate relationship. Perhaps the further up you go, the more these lines blurred, I pondered. Not unlike a guild leader and a raid leader. In Cali, I'd given Ted all that I could, selling it just as hard as when I was being interviewed. I fought technological fires.

"I'm up for the challenge. Give me everything you've got on this app."

Still not getting any weird vibes. Not entirely sure what everybody was freaked out about.

Arch took a blue marker in his hand, and opted for the paper easel. Just before taking off the cap, he turned to face me, then froze in position a brief moment. His eyes darted to the side of the room.

"Ready, Fred?"

Fred pounded a number of keys on his laptop. "Uhh...one more second...yes. Ready."

The Chocolate Factory

Just as server blades in server rooms power Azeroth from many remote locations around the country, medical equipment powers the healthcare industry. And, just like those server blades, which need the constant attention of system and network engineers to ensure they are running smoothly, the hundreds of thousands of medical devices scattered across the nation must be inspected, maintained, and repaired and replaced, if necessary. No server blades, no Azeroth. No medical equipment...no us.

It falls to a team of men and women in nearly every state in the country, charged with daily quests, to determine what gets serviced and where. These bio-medical repair technicians log in to an online system, which presents them with a list of possible tasks to choose from, based on their position in the world. Then, task by task, they travel to various locations, inspect the equipment, solve the puzzle, and move on to their next location.

Arch was to this repair system, as the game designers were to Azeroth.

The easel paper filled with shapes, arrows, and labels, as Arch pulled back the curtain and painted an intricate picture of the system's many moving parts. Each time he filled a page, he paused a moment for Fred to catch up, then flipped the paper over, filling the next page anew. At each pause, I gestured to him with a nod. I'm good. Keeping going. I'm eating this up. Some kids are content fixing their gaze on row upon row of candy, but a select few of us cherished the thrill of learning secrets of its manufacture -- getting a tour through the machinery, seeing how that wonderful candy gets made, wanting to duplicate it, to master it. Improve it.

Trade secrets rapidly unfolded amid Arch's hand gestures. Often, he'd stop drawing on the easel, choosing instead to diagram in the air, pointing to invisible buttons, levers, and dials as if the entire contraption sat in the room with us. And throughout the presentation, I noted each time his voice rose and his eyes narrowed, speaking of issues that frustrated his team -- problems he wanted solved. While Fred frantically typed up notes, I'd push Arch. Why this direction? Did this choice make sense? Are we going mobile? Every answer got right to the point. No bullshit. No politics. This is how it is.

By the time Arch was finished, nearly two full hours had elapsed, and the system was imprinted in my mind. I began to see all the moving parts, each interface, each screen, each button. Most importantly, I saw Arch's team interacting with it on a daily basis. I saw what was working for them and what made their jobs miserable, and was already formulating a plan for what needed to be fixed first, second, third, fourth...

...yet, still there were no uncomfortable vibes. Not a single red flag in the room.

"We might as well do lunch," Fred tapped his wrist-watch, "I think Yard House is in order."

A sports bar. Brilliant. You can be sure to dazzle them with your infinite knowledge of professional football.

"Done," Arch said, "gives me an opportunity." He discreetly tapped his pocket. Fred nodded.

"I'll join you," I said.

"Oh! You…?" Arch asked, stopping short of actually mentioning the C word, as if the very mention of cigarettes might trigger a team of SWAT to burst through windows and drag us from the premises.

"Socially," I said, "but really, it's just an excuse to keep the questions coming."

Yard House at Colorado Mills, Lakewood, Colorado

When the Dam Breaks

The Yard House lot was unusually packed, forcing us to park away from the restaurant. As we walked the extra distance, I pried further, trying to get to the bottom of "the mystery".

"So, Arch, what do you like to do in your spare time?"

"I like a good motorcycle. Have a fine appreciation for a well-manufactured hog. I also collect exotic birds. Wife and I have a number of 'em. And I have been known to spend my down time gambling, though I really need to keep that in check. It's fun, but it has a way of emptying your wallet."

"Everyone's gotta have a vice."

The restaurant was packed. Narrow, taller tables were jammed together on the checked floor, circling the bar in the center of the room. Above the heads of the various bartenders, glasses hung upside down, glowing with a faint blue light that came from under a visor-like hood. At various spots among the glasses, TV screens were affixed. We were seated in one of the booths along the main dining area's extremities, remaining within eyeshot of the various screens depicting baseball, basketball, football, and so on.

Immediately after being seated, Arch excused himself to the boy's room. I sat in the booth across from Fred. After the waitress left to bring drinks, Fred checked in.

"Well?" he asked, raising his eyebrows, "pretty intense?"

Intense? Sure. Difficult? Demanding? Overwhelming? I don't see it.

I offered up my 2 cents. "He cares about the app. Honestly, it's refreshing to see a stakeholder really own their stuff. Y'know? I mean, really want it to work well. Trust me: you don't want apathy from whomever runs the show."

Fred nodded in agreement, and glanced over at the myriad of screens. ESPN logos flashed, sandwiched between shots of baseball players blasting home runs into bleachers. Moments later, Arch returned. He took a seat in the booth opposite me, as Fred slid toward the wall to make room.

Arch placed his hands on the table, palms down, and looked directly at me.

"How much do you remember?"

I winked and tapped my temple, "Oh, I got it all safely up here."

"Good man," he said, glancing at the monitors, with their flashing sports logos and Gatorade sponsorships. Just then, the screen near us went dark. In the place of stat sheets and rotating profiles of athletes, a scene faded in revealing a surreal series of events.

Military helicopters flew over a war torn landscape. Soldiers began to emerge from the rubble. Wait. Not soldiers. Civilians. A woman in a business suit lifted an automatic rifle, firing it into the windows of a burning building. Schoolkids fired shotgun blasts at a doorway, while a man in a hospital scrubs tossed a grenade through the fragments. A construction worker unleashed a stream of bullets from a side-mounted chaingun hanging out of the exposed door of a helicopter, only to be taken out by a surface-to-air missile directed into the craft's tail. As the camera panned out, fiery explosions bordered the screen, framing a single message: "There's a soldier in all of us". Then, the final image changed to a game box cover. Call of Duty: Black Ops.

Arch turned back from the screen.

"Shawn. I have a confession to make. I have another vice I haven't mentioned."

I sat up. For a moment, I thought I caught a glimpse of Fred wincing, as if preparing for the hit.

"I like to play video games. A lot. Some console stuff, but mostly computer games. One computer game in particular, as a matter of fact. You may have heard of it…"

Well, well, well. Everything makes a bit more sense, now, doesn't it?

The dam burst forth. Poor Fred succumbed to the waves of geekdom pouring out of both Arch and I. What do you play? Priest! Paladin! What's your spec? Disc! Holy! Opinions? Wrath of the Lich King. 10s? 25s? Both! PvP? Arenas! 2v2! Unbalanced! Play the Auction House? Corner the market! Gold on multiple accounts! Dominate the server! What about you? Shaman! Shadow Priest! Death Knight! Raiding? Guild Leader! Since when? Vanilla! Old School Raids? Hard as hell. Loved it. Illidan? Archimonde? Vashj? Kael'thas? What do you like now? Ulduar! So great. Icecrown? Awesome.

Horde or Alliance?

HORDE.

The conversation felt like it would never end. We shared tales of each other's experiences in Azeroth. Every so often, I stole a quick glance at Fred, and watched as his eyes glazed over.

---

As I steered the Civic through rush hour at the end of the day, I found myself behind a school bus full of kids. The kids at the back of the bus peered out at me, their thick-rimmed glasses and anime-themed shirts continued the time-honored tradition of stuffing the nerds in the back of the bus. Too much to handle, to difficult to deal with. Too overwhelming. They appeared excited at seeing me, a stranger, perhaps in their own revelation that I might, in fact, be one of them, with my own thick-rimmed glasses.

I remembered a Penny-Arcade strip from years earlier, the one where Gabe and Tycho return to their high school to lecture the next generation of nerds. I pointed to the kids at the back of the bus, then myself, then mouthed the punch line of that comic strip.

We Run Shit.

The bus pulled away, and I watched as the kids in the back of the bus lost their minds, screaming and high-fiving one another into oblivion.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

4.40. Last of the Brohicans

Omaric's final post to the Descendants of Draenor
guild forums.

The Softening

Herp Derp was gone. I'd had high hopes that they'd change their tune, that at least one of them would show a shred of decency by standing in defiance of their team's decision to split from DoD. Loot is what matters most, more than any sort of human decency one might be compelled to demonstrate during a guild division on moral grounds. After all, why does it matter how we treat each other in a virtual gaming world, if we'll never end up having to account for our behavior? If this was really about raid size preference, they could've walked away the day Azeroth cracked open.

The wound closed up. Those who remained could focus undeterred on the road ahead, hoping to get significant work done in 25-Man heroics...preferably, before the release of Firelands. I wasn't pleased with the outcome of the Herp Derp ordeal, but was relieved that it was over.

Of course, it wasn't.

---

Omaric was an old-schooler. He didn't have the tenure of folks like Klocker and Neps and Blain, but coming in at the tail end of The Burning Crusade still granted him the gift of sight, to see WoW as it had once been, in its raw, most unforgiving form. When raiding in WoW was an exclusive experience, where any instance you stepped into demanded discipline, patience, coordination, and skill. When you relied on your guild for progression, and there was no contingency plan for gearing. Omaric never got the opportunity to drag his bloodied knuckles with us through magma-drenched depths, insect infested catacombs, or a floating necropolis whose arachnid trash squashed you like a bug. But he still got a small taste of what it was like. Enough of a taste enough to grant him perspective. Or so I thought.

Omaric had no problem gaining ground in Descendants of Draenor. He planted his foot firmly into Wrath's progression and kept it there, dividing his time between the 25-Man and his 10-Man membership in Eh Team. And when Cheeseus' curtain call came at the end of Ulduar, Omaric teamed with Bretthew to lead the 25-Man progression team through both Tournament of Champions and Icecrown Citadel. No easy task, especially considering the opinionated crew we brought to the plate. Omaric came away from that experience with a new respect for players like Cheeseus and Blain, Leading players is hard.

Leading people is hard.

When the Eh Team bomb dropped, Omaric was in the middle of blast. Having been a raid leader, I assumed he'd take ownership, make a call, shut it down, loop me in...something. Every single player in that group lost credibility with me in an instant. I vowed never to put them in charge of anything ever again. Recent events, however, caused me to reconsider the loot collusion story, as well as the major players involved.

Pawns on the Board

Omaric was one of the deniers, thrown under the proverbial bus during Bheer's grand confession. I'd known Bheer longer than Omaric, and simply defaulted to trusting him. This was a mistake. Over the last few months, I gained a profoundly new perspective of Bheer. For someone perceptibly distraught at playing a part in sweeping collusion under the rug, Bheer demonstrated little remorse in pilfering the guild vault or indulging in self-righteous statements like demanding I be the one to apologize. He was also quick to finger Crasian as the core conspirator, even though I knew the truth (and got a confession of my own). A moral compass spinning out of control, coupled with an apparent vendetta for Crasian, made little sense -- unless, of course, one might consider an alternative motive: revenge.

Bheer had a problem fitting in. He demonstrated it in the awkwardness of his constant gem cutting between pulls, long after raiders like Kelden had blown their stack in annoyance. But Bheer's struggle to find a place among the group went much deeper than Ekasa's lisp or Sentra's douchebaggery or Divinepants' all talk/no play attitude -- his vulnerability stemmed from a deep-seated lack of self-esteem, a reason many of us turn to video games in the first place, free from judging eyes and cruel words at the sight of us.

When I met Bheer face-to-face, witnessing his girth with my own eyes, my suspicions were confirmed. People were cruel. I didn't have to ask if he'd been bullied as a kid. It's common sense. What isn't necessarily common sense is how the effects of bullying manifest in you as an adult. A lack of trust in others. The inability to open up about problems, out of fear of ridicule. Doing whatever you can to ensure you are included in the group, desperately avoiding being cast out, being alone. No wonder Bheer approved of my "guaranteed raid spots for Elites" rule in Wrath, then masked his disgust for the change in that same rule under the pretenses of "loyalty". No wonder he went with Drecca in Herp Derp, where his spot was guaranteed and safe. To Bheer, I was just another bully, just another person in his life telling him his place in DoD was in jeopardy. His spot was never in jeopardy, but the horse blinders of his bullying years narrowed his focus to the most important issue: removing threats to exclusion.

The dysfunctional relationship between Crasian and Bheer made more sense every moment I reconsidered the story. I knew they didn't get along. But Crasian was popular, well-liked, and one of the best-geared, best-played DKs on Deathwing-US during Wrath. And, being roommates with Bretthew strengthened that popularity within DoD's circles. What kinds of conversations did Crasian and Bretthew have about Bheer behind his back? A kind of paranoid insecurity must have set in. As Crasian's popularity increased, Bheer's place in Eh Team grew more tenuous. The constant clash for melee dps loot added to the strain. Then, Crasian threatened to re-assemble Eh Team, sans Bheer. This devastated him, causing Bheer to grow so averse to the thought of Crasian, he couldn't even bring himself to read a private message from the guy.

He'd be willing to be do anything to be rid of Crasian. Perhaps, even, to embellish the collusion story and pin it on Crasian.

When viewed through this new lens, the yarn of Eh Team's collusion seemed far less hyperbolic. Did it happen? Yes. Was it wrong? Absolutely. Was it borne of malice intent on wreaking havoc within the very fabric of the guild, the goal of which was to pull DoD apart, strand by strand?

Probably not.

But blowing it out of proportion seemed the most logical way to inspire me into kicking Crasian out the door. In this new light, Bheer seemed no better than Crasian. In the end, they were both loot whores. The difference was that Bheer was smart enough to get to me first, "helping" me remove the necessary pawns from the board.

Helping Friends

Eh Team's habits were nothing more than typical gamer malfeasance. But of course, all of this perception came long after Omaric's promotion to ranged DPS officer. That happened at the start of Cataclysm, while the blood of Eh Team's betrayal was still fresh on Omaric's hands. I had no choice. Better to have a proven raid leader in charge of the masses, than to have an amateur lead them over a cliff. Omaric's position was structured so he couldn't take advantage of the guild, even if he wanted to. Now, after seeing Bheer's story from a different angle, I had renewed faith that Omaric wanted the best for DoD.

Until I found out about his alt.

By day, Omaric played the elemental shaman Zuzax, but by night, he was moonlighting as a death knight named Raradina, helping a group of friends with various 10-Man raid achievements, acting as a filler when needed.

You get one guess as to which 10-Man guild he just happened to choose to help.

It wasn't enough that Omaric was helping them on the side, he had to physically move his alt from DoD into their guild in order to ensure they had enough players present to qualify for guild raiding achievements. I'll admit I wasn't pleased with his choices, but just as it was with Riskers, I had no business telling him who he could or couldn't play with.

I could, however, remind him of the dual-guilding policy, in place well before he ever set foot in DoD.

"Other players are dual-guilding, so this is really kind of a double-standard, Hanzo," Omaric's voice was thick with disgust.

"If they are, I don't know about it. As soon as I do, I remove them."

"Well, you know about Insayno's two characters in Quit Your Job. Why aren't you kicking him out?"

"We're not in competition with them. We're not a PvP guild. This is something I've stated since the very beginning. The hard feelings come about when people put alts in guilds that compete with us. Lots of people have come to me over the years to ask if they can have an alt in a friend's guild. I'm not heartless. I take these situations on a case-by-case basis. But the general rule of thumb is, you don't do it if they are the competition."

"So I'm being punished for choosing to play with my friends..."

They're not our friends. They're the competition. Get some ethics.

Before I could respond, Ventrilo exploded with the sound of Blain's voice.

"Just MAKE a DECISION. SERIOUSLY. Ok? This has gone on long enough. We were finally able to put Herp Derp behind us, and now you are just DRAGGING IT BACK IN."

Wide eyed, I shut my mouth, just to see how far he'd take it. God knows how long this had been pent up.

"I don't really care what you want to do, Omaric. Play with Drecca, stay in DoD...do whatever you want. But MAKE a DECISION. Sick and tired of all these distractions. It accomplishes NOTHING. If you don't like Hanzo's rules, leave. But don't waste our time with this."

The rest of the officers and I sat quiet a moment while the dust settled from Blain's mini-explosion.

"Alright, well. I guess that settles that. Thanks...for everything...I guess!" Omaric tried to stay chipper after the Blainslamming.

Pfft. He got off easy.

---

Omaric didn't quit the guild right away. He lingered in the roster well into the evening, struggling with the decision. Perhaps he was trying to convince ex-Eh Team members to go with him; perhaps they were trying to convince him to change his mind. Whatever the case, my pitch was done: Stay with DoD and be a part of one of the last few guilds on the server focusing on 25-Man content, or take the easy way out, with a handful of players that epitomized everything wrong with the gamer stereotype.

He was gone by the morning, marking the end of the third exodus of DoD.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

4.39. True Colors

Gods Will Be Watching

"So, what's the status? It's been several weeks. Are you changing the line-up?"

Sir Klocker, Neps, Jungard, and Blain remained silent while I drilled Riskers in officer chat. I made a concerted effort to keep my tone in check.

"I don't really have a lot of options!" He sounded frustrated and defeated.

You have options. You just don't like any of them.

"You've been trying to get them to return to DoD?"

"Hanzo, let's face it...they're not really interested in that. At all."

"I completely understand. Not everyone is going to agree with my decisions. So, recruitment then? Perhaps replacing them is the better option?"

He sighed into the mic.

Go ahead. Say it. Tell me how this situation is completely unfair. That I did this to you. Tell me it's all my fault, while all of the officers are listening. I know you want to.

"I...can't really replace them. It's not an option for this team. We just wanna play, and we're getting things done."

"Not guild achievements," Neps and Sir Klocker both piped up, nearly in unison.

"You're getting things done," Blain added, "but they aren't relevant to DoD."

Silence lingered a moment. I took a deep breath.

"I know you're not dumb, Riskers. You know exactly what we're dealing with here. We have a 10-Man team comprised of guildies that are checked out, and non-guildies who have publicly wiped their asses with DoD. All eyes are on Herp Derp, now. ‘Why are they posting kill shots in the forums?’ ‘What’s being done about them?’. This is my life right now, Riskers."

"The people in this guild want to know why I'm still putting it up with it. And the reason is: You. You’re a good player and a good guy; you've contributed to DoD since as far back as Wrath. You know the ropes. And you've been given a raw deal, here...which sucks a lot. But I wanted to give you a fair opportunity to make it right."

Pack your bags. We're going on a guilt trip.

Riskers still had no options. He hadn't recruited, hadn't changed anyone's mind, so why were we going through this charade? Because I honestly thought he would've walked away from them, after seeing their behavior, their treatment of DoD.

I want to tell you that he did. I want to tell you that Riskers defied the gamer stereotype of cruel incivility, of unadulterated selfishness in the name of phat lewts. I want to tell you this, but I can't...because it isn't what happened. 

"Hanzo, whatever rift you and Drecca have going on, that's none of my business. I don't feel it's fair that you're putting this on me, and now I should have to deal with that. I just want to play the game and not have to worry about any of this."

"...and in any other situation, this would not be an issue. I hope you realize that. I mean, I'm really trying to make sure you do understand that. I don't think it's right for me to sit here and try to dictate who plays with who. You're right, that is none of my business. Players decide who they want to play with, not me."

Just put him out of his misery and be done with it. Quit dragging this out.

"But how this guild is treated by current and former members is my business. If I found out a group of DoD was running with a ninja-looting guild for pick-up runs in Tol Barad, do you think I would let that slide?"

"No."

"Damn right I wouldn't! We're better than that. Grouping with douchebags isn't a prerequesite to enjoying this game. So, why would I treat this situation any differently? When a few good folks like yourself are actively grouping with players openly disrespectful toward all of us?"

"To be fair, I don't think they appreciated being called parasites."

It isn't slander if it's true.

"I'll admit that announcement was a little emotional, but I hope you can see where I'm coming from. That team is using up guild resources now on every run. Guild repairs, flasks, etc...and contributing nothing in return. No achievements. No camaraderie. Nothing. Behaving like nothing is wrong at all. But we know something is wrong. Something is eating away at this guild. And we need to put it to bed, today."

Stitching the Wound

When Riskers parted ways with DoD, those in Herp Derp that bore the DoD guild tag were stripped of their Raider ranks, disallowing them from accessing any further guild resources. Within a couple of hours of the demotions, they left the guild on their own. There was no public outburst or profanity-laced insults, nor fanfare. They left quietly and without fuss. 

Later that evening, Neps informed me that Bheer managed to scoop out a healthy chunk of raiding materials from the guild vault before losing his rank.

"Drecca did the same on the Alliance side," he told me.

Wow. Stealing from Neps. Did they stop to kick an old man down a flight of stairs, too?

I questioned Neps as to whether or not he'd heard any justification for the final 'fuck you' flipped our way.

"Mmm, not sure who said it, but it was, like, ‘Well, if Hanzo's going to call us parasites, then I guess we better act like it'."

---

As so many players come and go in WoW, I doubted their departure would have an emotional impact on anyone but me. Annihilation, ever the faithful representation of DoD's idealism, took it to heart. I didn't want him to shoulder this petty load. His time was best spent elsewhere, enjoying the game, not repairing the guild leader's failed negotiations.

"Anni, if you really feel like you think you can talk some sense into them, be my guest."

"I just want to try. Whatever it is that they're bent out of shape over can't possibly be that bad. Maybe all they need is a mediator."

"You've been mediating for damn near eight years. At some point, a retired officer needs to not worry about guild administration shit. You don't have to do this."

"Kerulak, you know me. You know I can't let shit like this just drop."

Annihilation headed off to Herp Derp's vent server, with the hope of bringing back some options.

He couldn't.

But what he did bring back were a few quotes that guaranteed entertainment, particularly when considering the sources. I asked Annihilation what they said to him when he began his pilgrimage to resolve this inter-guild rivalry. And this is what they said to him.

A History of Histrionics

Bheer. A player who was in my guild as far back as Molten Core. A player for whom I carved a spot out in progression for, recommending a shift from druid to shaman in order to best get his raiding needs served. A player I promoted to Elite, only to then deal with his absence after he chose to leave progression without fair warning or explanation. A player I welcomed back to the guild without hesitation, defending him from alleged harassment from player like Crasian. A player who gladly accepted all this support, then thanked me with a single night of raiding in Cataclysm as a "courtesy", blaming rules he helped to shape as his justification for such decisions.

To Annihilation, Bheer said this:

"If Hanzo wants us to return, the first thing he's going to have to do is apologize."

Falnerashe. A player whose skill with healing was no match for her skill in judging others. A player adept at blaming failure on others with cruel insults, but rarely able to acknowledge her own incompetence at human decency. A player who stormed out of my guild, filling our forums with vile hatred toward a group of online strangers that chose to open the door and invite her in. A player whose people skills were so vast and immeasurable that her next home bled out until it was a guild of one. A player I decided was worth a second chance, because we are all human and make mistakes, that somewhere there was a shred of decency, that she was worthy of forgiveness, so that we could start fresh. A player I knew deep down wanted to play with experts, suffered no fools, and understood that our common top-end raiding culture had already begun to decay. A player that agreed to let me deal with drama, so she could focus on enjoying the game and not have to interact with idiocy; to let me push annoyances and ineffectuals out of her hair, so she wouldn't have to. The player who agreed to all of these things, and then walked away, and all of that effort wasn't even worth a single sentence explaining her exit.

To Annihilation, Falnerashe said this:

"I was expecting an officer position."

If Anni told me what Drecca said, or what Riskers said, or really any of the rest of Herp Derp, I've forgotten. I know that it was dismissive of the original issue, that they simply were tired of the fighting and wanted to get on with the playing. Which I think we can all agree is the end goal...just not at the price they were willing to pay.

But there is one more thing I remember about the quotable quotes that Anni's mediation attempt brought back. And it was really the one person I was most interested in hearing about, more than Falnerashe, more than Bheer, even more than Drecca. I was most interested in the person whom kicked this entire ordeal off. The person who gave me many opportunities to kick him to the curb (he made it very easy). The person I chose to invest in, kept working with, getting him to be more communicative, more accountable. The person who went from no-shows to texting me when he'd be a few minutes late, getting him to keep his shit together, getting him reliable, a skill far more valuable in real life than behind his shadow priest. The person I gave enough of a shit about that I constructed a new guild rank specifically for him, to make his raid life a little easier, then watched as he never even bothered to step one foot into that role, not even for a moment.

For that person, what he said to Anni spoke the greatest volume of all, because it confirmed every gut instinct I ever had about him, every red flag I chose to ignore, believing instead in the ability for a person to grow and take responsibility for their actions; to understand this was a game built on human interaction, and that we needed to rely on one another to achieve a common goal -- something he was bound to use in real life one day.

To Annihilation, Ben said absolutely nothing.