Thursday, July 24, 2014

3.77. My Third Mistake

"Epilogue"
Artwork by Kala-A

The Fourth Marx Brother

It was Monday, December 6th. To millions of World of Warcraft fans around the world, it was the day before Cataclysm launched. To me, it was like any other day at the office. Steam rose from the coffee in my cup as I caught up on the morning gaming news. My fellow co-workers drifted into the office behind me; I nodded and waved without diverting my gaze. Eventually, my IM window sprung to life with conversation, chatting with people thousands of miles away. It was my intent to give this particular day no special treatment. I wanted no vibe, no hint, no miniscule clue that could tip anyone off that anything was wrong. And as I began my conversation with Cheeseus, I repeated the mantra in my mind. Nothing is wrong. Everything is cool.

At the start, I shared the results of a new DKP tool Drecca and I had been testing. Getting Cheeseus chatting casually about numbers was something I knew spoke to his interests. Forever the number cruncher, his love of mathematical puzzles got him focused on what he did best....which was my strategy to catch him off guard. He was about to be hit with something I knew he wouldn't expect that particular Monday morning.

"Hey, when you get a minute, you mind giving me your straight-shooter, from-the-hip post mortem on Eh Team?"

"Could you rephrase?"

"I'd like to hear your thoughts on what transpired in the Eh Team chat channel, back around Ulduar."

Cheeseus seemed confused, "Hm, do you mean what I thought our strengths and weaknesses were? Or the sort of stuff that went into day-to-day decisions?"

"Not really, no."

"Do you mean like, where egos were clashing? Who rubbed who wrong?"

I dropped a few more breadcrumbs to point him in the right direction, "More like, guild manipulation-related decisions, who took part, who turned a blind eye, etc."

"Oh, you mean the Crasian thing?"

Interesting. "Sure, let's start with that."

He began detailing how he wished to put together his own 10-Man team after becoming jealous of Blain's success in the first tier of content in Wrath, about the same time as his promotion to Raid Leader for the 25-Man. After taking the reins, he felt there were only 17-20 consistent players week-to-week and the rest were continually carried. He grew frustrated with people that didn't improve. His lack of faith in the 25 was exacerbated as he flipped back to his own 10-Man, one with a very different mentality. The one trying to push realm-firsts. The one called Eh Team.

Things got worse as his 10-Man started to down hard modes; over and over, they were not getting the drops they needed. Thorim's AP trinket, the healing mace off of Vezax...week after week the loot tables failed to cooperate. Meanwhile, other teams like Starflex and Cowbell were hitting the jackpot, adding to the jealousy. In Cheeseus's eyes, this was when Crasian took it a step further.

"He began to ditch out on Eh Team raids and run with other teams, to try to score the items we never saw. He constantly talked about loot. 'If I got this so-and-so item, I'd be so much better off...', and how we shouldn't roll against him."

The seeds being planted.

Communism Works

"Eventually, we got Yogg+1, and that was when you promoted Taba, effectively turning the Eh Team completely Elite."

I remember the promotion. Struggling with it. For months and months, as the pressure continued to be levied on me. And then, letting my guard down, while cooped up in a hotel in Williston, ND, waiting for my car's transmission to be repaired. At what was my lowest point, I wanted to acknowledge something positive. Something good that was happening: Eh Team's success.

"We were struggling on Algalon, and then ToGC shows up and, surprise!...better loot. So Crasian falls back into his old ways, going on about his loot, and somehow, the idea of allocating loot vs. rolling on it was born. In general, I've always liked the idea of communism, but I was still getting shit loots, that wasn't why I supported the idea."

Cheeseus noted that this was when the major problems began. Omaric was winding up Ikey, so they agreed as a group to allocate more loot towards him to gear out the druid. Not everyone agreed to it. And aside from Bheer getting burnt, the allocation "worked'...which is when they began to slowly introduce it during the 25-Man.

"I'd like to think it wasn't me who was responsible, but I can say that in previous guilds, we commonly had a separate channel, say /rogue, in which we would work out amongst ourselves who was most appropriate for the next upgrade, and this often meant figuring out what other classes we needed to beat in the bidding. I understand if you consider this unethical, essentially ‘bid-rigging’ but even now I don't disagree with the concept."

The reason it worked, Cheeseus explained, was due to the 1st-round loophole: bidding 1st-round had no noticeable ramifications, so Eh Team's modus operandi officially set to "go all or go home". The minimum bid of 50 DKP for 1st-rounds meant nothing to players sitting on hundreds of DKP, the product of their consistent, reliable raiding. There was no reason not to go all in, even if members of Eh Team had differences of opinion on the matter.

"Deal making…'plotting'...was definitely happening. Crasian was guilty of this. Bheer was completely opposed. Omaric was probably a plotter, I attribute this to his need to gear the bear out, even though people like you and Dalans still needed that stuff. Guns was excited about the idea, but I don't believe he actually ever participated in it. The rest of them...I honestly can't recall, so I'm either ignorant, or it isn't worth mentioning. I think it is fair to say I used my power as Raid Leader of the 25 to plot on behalf of the Eh Team, to assist people like Omaric."

Whether my nonchalance strategy worked, or Cheeseus was naturally forthcoming, it was refreshing to see someone be so honest about the alleged events -- more so than any other individual member of Eh Team.

It didn't, for one moment, excuse the behavior away.

Good Crop, Bad Crop

When I shared the news with the officer core, the first thing they wanted to know was why hadn't I kicked each and every one of them to the curb. I would have loved nothing better. You've demonstrated what loyalty you have to me: none at all. Enjoy your permanent vacation. I couldn't. The situation had changed significantly in the months that had passed since ejecting Bukwinkul for what seemed like a trivial infraction by comparison. The roster was once again taking control over my guild, not the other way around. The difference this time wasn't due to a lack of experience or structure. Instead, a changing landscape was emerging, and any guardrails that once existed to keep from throwing gutterballs were evaporating within hours.

The consequences at my disposal were far and few between. Stripping anyone of their title had little effect. Elite had been reworked from the ground up, complete with a new name, and everyone would be starting from scratch in Cataclysm, anyway. Meanwhile, those formerly holding the role of an officer already stepped down by this point. At least I could take comfort in knowing they would never be given authority over any decision-making in DoD again. Expressing my disappointment in their behavior came off like a parent scolding an employee for stealing shit from the office. Wrong place, wrong time. So, I stuck to the unemotional pragmatism of a boss, and whatever employee perks they'd earned evaporated. Whomever remained into Cataclysm was nearly guaranteed to be shackled in political chains. With little else to work with, I got creative in making an example out of them.

The final order of business was to ensure that Eh Team's exploits left a message to future manipulators. Verbiage regarding who was guilty of what remained ambiguous on the forums, sticking to Ater's old adage: praise in public, scold in private. But, when guildies took me aside expressing interest in setting up their own 10-Man in Cataclysm, I briefed them with a conversation in Vent. "What we don't want is a repeat of what went down in Eh Team." This mysterious introduction would almost always be met with "Oh? Eh Team? What do you mean?" I'd tell the tale, expecting a little cross-pollination as word has a way of travelling. I made sure that players knew Eh Team put the traitor in "perpetrator".

In my research since the incident, I've come across many sociological explanations on what went down in Eh Team and why. Enclothed cognition causes people to take on the attributes of their clothes and labels, which may explain how a title like Elite and being draped in the most powerful gear could cause a player to act with disdain toward a perceived lower-class. Deindividuation happens when groups of people temporarily lose their sense of self, succumbing to a hive mind in which the group's actions protect against unethical behavior. Insulated from the guild's authority, it might have justified their choices as easily as a group of onlookers goad a suicidal jumper teetering on a ledge. Agentic State Theory supposes that people who see themselves as incapable of making authoritative decisions will defer to the group, thereby allowing atrocities to continue as they are no longer responsible, merely an instrument carrying out another's wishes. Pick whatever puts your mind at ease.

What picks away at me at night is the contradiction between Cheeseus's beliefs, and their actual effects in practice. Communism is a socioeconomic system in which everyone is treated as an equal. I'd already made it very clear that I intended DoD to be a meritocracy. Communism has no titles, we had very distinct ranks for Guildy, Raider, Elite, and Officer. Cheeseus's preordained allocation of loot was to ensure an efficient spread of wealth, yet the Raiders remained upgrade-starved while the Elite remain strong...and firmly in control. Everything Cheese said went directly against the new order of DoD, so why didn't I pick up on this -- perhaps the biggest red flag of them all?

Because I assumed that Cheeseus had an obligation to the guild first, before himself.

Just because you say a rule exists, or write it down on paper, doesn't mean it will be followed. Getting people to pursue the necessary steps to climb the guild ladder was easy because it's what they wanted, it was a part of their internal game plan. When their obligations to the guild no longer fit with their internal game plan, I lacked the checks and balances to hold them accountable, and this was My Third Mistake. I spent the better part of The Burning Crusade listening to excuses from the losers in my guild. Now, I was getting excuses from the winners. Perhaps there's some truth to the old Communist saying, "Good crops come from good farming, bad crops come from bad weather."

We don't live in a just world. People do bad things, sometimes without even knowing it, other times defending it as "not really bad". A smart leader knows the system can be broken, and takes measures to keep his or her people on the path. If a person's moral compass points the wrong way, you can't prevent them from following it. The job of the Guild Leader, instead, is to be the magnet under the compass. If my greatest triumph in the reworked rules was a system to acknowledge the star performers, my biggest failure was a system to keep them honest. If you wish to continue to believe that most people are inherently good, I will not dissuade you...but only a foolish leader would proceed without taking precaution to the contrary.

So, trusted blog reader...is your own conclusion similar to mine?

Left to his own devices, overwhelmed by frustration and jealousy, Cheeseus's ideals floated to the surface, let them get the best of him, let him excuse away the behavior that directly violated the rules of the guild. But without understanding his (arguably common-sensical) obligations to the guild, this belief system flourished long after his departure, perhaps made easier by Agentic State Theory (see above). Eh Team claims, to this day, that there was no true one person in power, that all decisions were made equally; I'll leave it to the reader to decide where authority in Eh Team truly rested, and who was ultimately responsible for collusion that followed. He who was smarter than all the others, who had strongly held beliefs in loot distribution that stretched further back than even their induction into the guild. He who had an unwritten responsibility to me to communicate the issues he saw unfolding and, given the right clarity of role by the guild leader, be expected to uphold what was I declared to be right...even if it meant going against his own idealistic system. He who had multiple opportunities to come clean, yet failed to do so until directly questioned.

Reader, once you have decided for yourself who the real perpetrator, the true villain is, let me be the the first to tell you:

You’re not even close.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

3.76. Burying the Leader

"WoW: Lich King"
Artwork by Grampsart

An Inconvenient Truth

Much transpired between the end of July and the launch of Cataclysm in December. The transition event marked the coming of Deathwing, and the land suffered many earthquakes as elementals sprouted forth, calling us to battle. The dedication of many players in the guild continued on into the summer months, returning to raids for gear and achievement acquisition. Players rolled alts, flipped to the Alliance to secure a Lich King kill on the enemy's side, and even returned to older content to wrap up outstanding achievements.

As you probably guessed, I headed off on my annual summer vacation, albeit taking a different route, likewise returning with a different mindset. The 4.0.1 patch eventually made its debut come October, and we settled in to our new talents and abilities. I even returned to BlizzCon that year -- my first time returning since the original "Deckard Cain" visit in '05. A great number of changes happened in the roster as we approached Cataclysm, and...just as I had done near the start of WotLK...I rolled out refinements to our guild rules, closing what I hoped to be the last remaining loopholes left unattended.

These paragraphs could produce a hefty amount of blog posts. And they will, I promise. But those posts belong to a different story, however, one we can't begin until the current story ends. In the meantime, there remains a bit of unfinished business to attend to. For this final part of the story, we'll have to leap ahead to the first week of December 2010, a few days before the launch of the expansion that ends it all.

---

I rolled the last of my raiding rule updates out to the guild forums that morning, preparing to answer questions as they arrived. I popped Pidgin open, fired off an instant message to Bheer, asking him what he thought of the updates. I expected he would be impressed and thankful; Bheer was in a group of a select few people to hold me accountable several times throughout Wrath, pointing out loopholes that needed to be closed. I remembered his state of mind when my Wrath changes were announced, two years previous. I remember being nervous, predicting the worst. And I remember Bheer being one of the first people to acknowledge the changes as exciting and beneficial for us, sating my fear and providing the validation I needed. He made me believe I was on the right track.

This time, he gave me a different response.

"So, no more guaranteed spots?"

"Negative. The day of the Elite is over. It had a good run, but...I'm concerned about how the title grew into their head, changed their attitudes over time. It changed how they treated people. Privileges became entitlements. That's not quite the direction I intended. Once their spot was 100% secure, they...well, some of them...began to act like they were untouchable."

"I'm not sure the new incentives are gonna be worth it."

Perhaps my wording wasn't entirely clear. "Look, functionally, it is the same thing as it was. If you behave responsibly and are consistent...essentially, the Elite of yore, you'll still have the same spot week-after-week. I've just removed the language about a permanent guarantee." To add clarity to my stance, I framed an example around Bheer himself, "Let's look at your spot. You were in a highly sought-after position. There were no other enhancement shaman. You were a model citizen. You signed up. You showed up. In this framework, you yourself would be present in practically every raid you request."

"But you still have the old rule written in the new Elite rank that they're expected at all raids."

"Absolutely. Again, it's not functionally different than before. The new Elite rank is still going to grant perks, but they're going to be held accountable this time. The same goes for the changes to 1st-round bidding. They're going to have to really think about what they want to burn their first round bids on, because in doing so, they reset their pool. Just additional guardrails in place to prevent people from abusing the loot system. They can still bid 1st round...it's just that now, the price to come to the table is far more significant."

I sat back in my chair, confident I'd clarified the change to Bheer. His response popped up a few moments later.

"Hopefully, that will fix the problem with folks like Eh Team colluding behind your back."

The excitement and energy in talking about my changes to the guild rules instantly came to a halt. At first, I thought I misread it. I tilted my head, squinting, leaning closer to the monitor, and re-reading the words next to his name.

.........What?

"What do you mean 'colluding'?"

As Bheer's words began to appear in the IM window, a debilitating rage welled up inside me. My teeth clenched as his story unfolded, and the glow of my monitor took on a reddish hue.

Mechanism of Convenience

A cycle repeated as Bheer revealed the grand conspiracy. Part of the story would appear in the IM window, causing my mind to leap back through time like a movie on rewind, trying desperately to pinpoint what happened when, and why I wasn't able to pick up on it. The further back I rewound my memories, the more lost in a trance I was, tightening my fists until my knuckles were white and my fingernails dug in to the skin. Then, I'd snap out of it, re-focus on the story, only to have each successive reveal toss me back into the projector of the mind, the anger blinding me to my own self-mutilation. And I scrambled to isolate the individual pieces. What had I not paid attention to? How had I let this happen? What signs had I missed?

It came about during Ulduar, Bheer claimed. The "initial discussions". They set up a chat channel in-game, protected by a password. Originally, it was to serve as a private bitching area for members of the Eh Team to collectively shit on players they felt were being carried in the 25-Man. Nobody was to share the existence of the channel to anyone in officership. Guild members that were deemed "too close to Hanzo" would also be excluded from this information. Once all of the individual members of the Eh Team acquired a rank of Elite, an alternate looting strategy was floated to the group. As items dropped from bosses, there would be a quick discussion among the group on whether or not the item would be beneficial to Eh Team. If it was, they coordinated their bidding, ensuring that someone locked down the item via a 1st-round bid, denying the item to any potential Raiders that were working towards their own upgrade.

"Were you in on this?"

"I refused to participate, as did Guns. Everyone else had a hand in it."

"Why didn’t you tell me about this before?"

"It was a mechanism of convenience that allowed the Eh Team to flourish, and we were doing well. Really well, actually. I didn't agree with it, but I also didn't want to jeopardize our track record."

I zeroed in on the irony of that statement, "...even though they kicked you to the curb, anyway."

"Well, yes, but that came later. I didn't know they were going to turn on me like that."

I took a deep breath. "Whose idea was it?"

"Crasian was the one who initially started suggesting it. The rest went along with it."

Crasian. The death knight who came and went as he pleased. The player who earned Elite, only to leave to go skiing, who claimed to have thrown a hissy-fit when I chose myself as the first to claim Shadowmourne. The death knight who lost a melee officer promotion to Jungard by a simple lax in judgement. Jungard himself had warned me about Crasian's two sides. There was the popular, guild-friendly face who loved to help fellow members knock out achievements. Behind closed doors, the other face emerged, following his own agenda to establish a steady flow of upgrades to himself, no matter what promises to guildies went unfulfilled. As long as he got his skiing in, that was the most important part.

Crasian.

He would never set foot in this guild again.

The Unusual Suspects

There was nothing I wanted to do less. Staring at the Eh Team's vent channel made me want to just draw a box around all of their names, right-click, and mass ban in one fell swoop. There's your mediation. But I owed it to them to hear them out. I was obligated to consider both sides of the story, to get a clearer picture of what actually went down. It was all part of the job. Kicking out a wife on account of her husband's bad behavior, or removing a stand-up guy from officership because he couldn't cut the mustard were tasks that seemed lightweight upon reflection. Now I was going to have to call people's credibility into question. Was Bheer's story a fabrication? Or had they genuinely lied to my face about their behavior -- Enron-esque loot funds diverted into their own accounts.

One by one, I plucked them out of the channel, dragging their name down into "Officer" for interrogation. The line of questioning was the same for each Eh Team member. I'd like you to take a moment and explain to me your point-of-view of the events that transpired in the private Eh Team chat channel with regards to loot. It should have been enough to convey exactly what I was speaking about, without playing my full hand to the table. They didn't need to know Bheer was the one who revealed the conspiracy; in the absence of that knowledge, I felt they'd give me a more accurate story.

In some cases, they really played dumb. When I fished the answers out of them, you would've thought they had just joined the guild yesterday -- manufactured shock and surprise to mollify me. They all told me something different, speaking as though they were an outside observer to something they had all been privy to. It only fueled my rage further.

Gunsmokeco: "That was going on? Really? I guess I wasn't paying attention to it."

Just like you weren't paying attention to your addons that I specifically required all players and officers to have configured for the 25-Man? At what point did you feel like you wanted to start paying attention?

Larada: "Had no idea anything was going on like that. I definitely wasn't doing it, though."

The ignorance defense seems to work incredibly well. I wonder how that works in the real world.

Sixfold: "I knew that they were trying to find a way to keep things in the inner circle, but it...I dunno...it felt unfair. I wasn't happy about them doing it. I didn't really like the idea."

...and yet you didn't feel the need to bring it to my attention, that perhaps maybe this was going against the rules.

Bulwinkul: "I dunno why I didn't say anything, but I'm not proud of it. It started as a way to vent frustrations at some of the other players who weren't contributing as much as we were."

Except that you don't get to decide what level of contribution is rewarded in this guild...I do.

Omaric: "Crasian got a little loot hungry, sure, but I wouldn't call it 'collusion'. They were just trying to work out what the most efficient path was for a certain set of upgrades."

And working together to decide who bids on what and when, under the guise of 'efficiency', you wouldn't call that collusion, eh?

Bretthew: "This is an absolute lie. Who told you this? I mean, this really pisses me off, Hanzo, I really really want to know who it was that gave you this info, because it is totally false and unfair. God, this makes me angry! The stuff that we chatted about in that channel was not collusion. Totally not collusion. The kinds of things we talked about regarding loot were no different than anything that was talked about in the officer chat. Officers did exactly the same things as we did, and nothing more. I'm offended, Hanzo."

So, what you're saying is that when I type "Please let it be heroic Deathbringer's Will" in officer chat, that's the same as you typing, "Anyone here need Voldrethar? Should we snatch it up?" Thanks for clarifying that for me.

One thing they all agreed on: when questioned on who the ringleader was, no individual member ever stepped up to take responsibility. Crasian certainly took the brunt of the bus' tire treads when it came time to place the blame on someone for the idea itself...but allowing the idea to take root and flourish fell squarely on the shoulders of the Eh Team's leader.  Yet in a stroke of either convenience, genius, oversight, or simple dumb luck, nobody in Eh Team claimed to be the one calling the shots! The one thing they all believed to be true was that they made decisions together -- a democracy of misfits and anarchists whose plausible deniability absolved them of any accountability.

What they didn't realize, however, was that there was someone who was responsible. Someone who had long since taken their leave from World of Warcraft. Someone whose ideals weren't quite aligned with my own -- especially when it came to loot. Someone who had the means to let their belief system justify a new world order of their own. Someone who had an obligation to the guild to report bad behavior and greed, rather than allow it to flourish.

Someone who really should have known better than all these bit players in the Eh Team show.

Someone that I trusted.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

3.75. Never Say Never Again

Si Team wraps "All You Can Eat (10 Player)",
completing Glory of the Icecrown Raider,
Icecrown Citadel

A Win is a Win

Sindragosa howled and filled my headphones with her threats, barking of betrayal. A barrage of arrows mixed amongst explosive buckshot loosed into the undead dragon's side as Bullshark and Cenadar strafed across her flank, their respective pets chomping in the hopes of hitting marrow. Neps and Lexxii zig-zagged across the platform while shields flashed around us, stopping occasionally as Penance spiraled out of their fingertips. Moolickalot the Boomkin dropped back, fading away from the iceblocked Phame. I watched for the timing to hand the bone dragon back to Klocker. The last remaining DPS came from Abrinis and Blain, maintaining their rotation, driving steel into bone. Her health dipped to 2%, then 1%. The flash of guild achievement spam signaled the fight's end. Si Team completed "All You Can Eat (10 Player)", the final meta necessary for Glory. And when it flashed up on the screen, cheers filled both Vent and the DoD guild chat. Finally, a 10-Man in the guild claimed completion of Glory of the Icecrown Raider...it was us.

Meanwhile, in another Vent channel, Eh Team ran back for their next attempt.

It had been neck-and-neck between Eh and Si in our collective attempts wrap up Glory. Of course, no official gauntlet had been thrown down, no line had been drawn in the forum sand. Nothing had ever been explicitly stated that this was a race. The competitive nature of raiding set us down this path. Beating Eh Team at anything stood on its own as a justifiable measure of accomplishment within the circle of cliques that populated DoD. Laying claim to the Bloodbathed Frostbrood Vanquisher certainly didn't hurt. It was a shame that no official rivalry had been digitally inked. As is often the case among "friendly" competition, being beaten in the absence of contractual obligations seemed to grant you a free pass...yet the reverse was nearly never the case. No player seemed concerned about a lack of officiating when they were the first to cross the finish line, and their chests were thumped with no less vigor. A win is a win.

Conveniently, losing the race suddenly doesn't hurt as much when you can tell yourself it wasn't a race.

"Gratz on sticking it to Eh Team," I whispered over to Blain.

"They're missing a few of their original roster." Big deal. So were we.

"Blain," I said, "you have my permission to enjoy the win. Just get the damn mailbox out already. Need to get screenies for the website."

Omaric swapped Vent channels, poking his head in to congratulate us on nailing the achievement. "Thanks, Om. Now get back in there and wrap it up! What's taking so long?" He chuckled before switching back to Eh Team's channel, a hint of indignance in his tone. I got the vibe, as if to say "Funny joke! Maybe you could take your joke and shove it straight up your ass." It's difficult to say exactly what was leaving a bad taste in his mouth, but losing Glory to Si Team by minutes didn't seem like it. Perhaps there was inter-Eh Team friction at play, drama we weren't privy to in our own private Vent channel. Perhaps he harbored resentment toward Blain pulling out another win, taking it personally; another lesson in leadership, as if to rub his nose in it without saying a single word. Or perhaps that tinge of disgust was more for me. Maybe I hadn't given him as much support as he needed as Raid Leader for the 25-Man, having to deal with being spoon fed help from a retired raid leader from a former era of WoW.

Or...maybe it was something else entirely.

Mature and members of Si Team pose with their
Bloodbathed Frostbrood Vanquishers,
The Storm Peaks

Cancelling Retirement

After collecting our mounts from the mailbox, I directed the members of Si Team to head toward The Storm Peaks for our victory shot. En route, I pulled Blain into the officer channel in Vent.

"Have you given it more thought?" I asked.

"He's definitely stepping down?" Blain responded with a question of his own.

"It's practically a done deal now. Omaric says he's fine with you taking back control of raid leadership whenever you want. He is completely done with it, chapter closed, end-of-story."

Bretthew's exit at the conclusion of 25-Man (normal) left Omaric to fend for himself, which most certainly contributed to additional pressure. He suffered a long history of struggling to take criticism and suggestions, and by this point, had expended all of his remaining energies as lead of the 25-Man. Blain's undercover adjustments kept the raid focused through those heroics, undermining Omaric's leadership in the process. Each whisper must have been like digital daggers in Omaric's eyes. Here's an example of why you're wrong. Here's another adjustment which proves you don't know what you're doing. But Blain never held animosity nor delivered malice with his adjustments. "Switch the tanks." "Let me call out the warnings." "Group further back on the steps for iceblock." What Blain typed and what Omaric read were two different things. Perhaps the differentiating factor was a simple lack of why such adjustments were needed.

Blain rarely explained himself. When he did, there were bigger problems at hand than simply re-positioning ourselves on the steps for iceblock.

"And Taba's out for good?"

"As far as I know."

"What was that all about, anyway?"

I took a deep breath. "Dunno, exactly...but I was pretty pissed off when he told me. He said something to the effect of 'killing the Lich King was my personal goal'...which apparently relieved him of any responsibility toward the 25-Man."

"Nice."

I popped open the roster and eyed the list of players that were still in Icecrown Citadel, Bretthew's name resting at the top. I guess another personal goal was Glory of the Icecrown Raider, Eh Team stylin'?

I took another deep breath and let the pulsing forehead vein subside.

"At least he stuck around as a backup while I got Kizmet situated."

Blain seemed disinterested in the whys or the why nots, "I don't know about all those crazy requirements you got now. I can't guarantee that I'll be there every. single. weekend."

The 25-Man progression team defeats Heroic Professor
Putricide, concluding "Heroic: The Plagueworks (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

I shook my head instinctively, as if speaking to Blain face-to-face, "Don't let the fine print of the guild rules prevent you from taking up your old position. That's not what they're about, alright? The reason those rules are written like that is to prevent people from coming up with excuses to get away with shit you and I consider common sense. We avoided the catastrophe of TBC thus far, my plan is to continue to do so."

Blain remained quiet, which I can only assume meant he was still in contemplation. The group arrived in The Storm Peaks, and before long, were vying for position as the most prominent player in the shot.

"Look, you said yourself the raid's gone soft. This...mentality...of needing loot for progression has pretty much flourished under Om and Taba. I agree. I'm with you. I see it myself. This could be your last real chance to take control of the raid, and if the raids in Cataclysm are heading back to the difficulty of TBC, DoD's going to need someone like you to set them straight. I can't do that on my own. I'm gonna need some serious help from some serious folks."

"Ater was the one doing most of the research in the off-hours." It was as if Blain was giving me reasons to stay in retirement.

"That's no problem, I have a plan for putting people in place to take care of that for you. There are a few players left here that still give a shit, and they'll gladly step into that role...or whatever role...you need them to fill."

I thought back to those issues that manifested during Blain's career while at the head of the raid. Maybe it was best to revisit my stance on the most troublesome of those pain points.

"Remember, you will have all the support you need. The entire officer core would be behind your decisions. There will be no undermining, no questioning your strategies. I'm driving people to the forums for those discussions now. That haphazard shit is behind us. Too many cooks in the kitchen? We barely have enough now to fry up an egg."

"Who'll be my backup on the days I can't be there?"

I held back on naming names, only because I wanted to be 100% certain it was a done deal first. "I have a few people to talk to first, you let me worry about that. I'll put someone in place, that's my part of this deal. I have my eye on a couple sharp candidates already. Trust me. We can make this work."

Blain shifted amongst the crowd of frostwyrms in preparation for the historic shot. "Alright. I'm in for Cataclysm. After that, no promises."

"I'm fine with planning one expansion at a time. Anything beyond that, it's just a crap shoot by that point."

I positioned Mature in the middle, spun my camera around, and pressed the PRTSCR key. In a moment of daydreaming, my brain spun through the Warcraft lore, considering any number of possible futures beyond Cataclysm. I saw myself playing through The Frozen Throne, years before, guiding Rexxar alongside a familiar black-and-white bear.

"...I mean, Hell. For all I know, the next expansion will be filled with pandas."

Blain made his position abundantly clear, "The day they add pandas to this game will be the day I cancel my account."

The 25-Man progression team defeats Heroic Sindragosa,
finishing "Heroic: The Frozen Halls (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

The Highest of Notes

Before officially retiring from leading the 25-Man progression team, Omaric pulled us through those last three meta achievements, all of which took the entire month of July to wrap. Heroic Professor Putricide was every bit as grueling as we expected, reminding us of the challenges we faced in the early days of raiding in Vanilla and TBC. It took three weeks of concerted, concentrated practice on the Professor, knocking out a kill on the 23rd of the month. Two days later, Sindragosa fell in her Heroic Mode, the progression team sprinting to the Lich King to knock out Neck Deep in Vile. And we did, in classic DoD fashion, in our famous last pull of the night. The raid had no qualms staying a few minutes late that Sunday evening, collecting their mounts and being captured in the guild's killshot.

DoD wraps the final meta, "Neck Deep in Vile (25 Player)",
earning "Glory of the Icecrown Raider (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel
DoD's last major accomplishment in Wrath of the Lich King was Glory of the Icebound Raider, granting the team their Icebound Frostbrood Vanquishers. On that day of July 25, 2010, the team proudly hovered over the landing pad in Dalaran and their accomplishments were digitally etched into DoD's history.

The percentage of raw content we claimed victory over, no other expansion came close...nor ever would. We left three quarters of Naxxramas and one third of Ahn'Qiraj untouched in Vanilla (not to mention three of the four outdoor green dragons). In TBC, the entirety of the Sunwell Plateau was left behind. By comparison, only three bosses remained incomplete from the 25-Man perspective, and all three were in their heroic forms: Halion in Ruby Sanctum, Anub'arak in the Tournament of Champions, and The Lich King himself. It wasn't a 100%, but I'd take a 96% over an 80% and 60% any day of the week.

The 25-Man progression team shows off their
Icebound Frostbrood Vanquishers,
Dalaran
From a camaraderie perspective, Descendants of Draenor couldn't have ended Wrath of the Lich King on a higher note. It was the first expansion we suffered no exodus; no massive group of players left us to greener pastures. And even in the day-to-day of wading through the celebrity of Enigma and their rise to prominence on Deathwing-US, we never lost a player to them...or to any competing guild that surpassed us in progression. The bonds of loyalty may have tensed, but withstood even the biggest of egos. Not even The Eh Team could be swayed to part ways with DoD; they never left our side, instead standing defiantly among the roster when approached by the competition. Wrath of the Lich King will forever remain the apex of Descendants of Draenor's success, from every angle.

Every angle but one.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

3.74. Compartmentalization

DoD defeats Lady Deathwhisper in Heroic mode,
wrapping up "Heroic: Storming the Citadel (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Every Month is May

My wife's birthday fell on the weekend that Descendants of Draenor completed two additional meta achievements, "Heroic: Storming the Citadel (25 Player)" and "All You Can Eat (25 Player)", and I was present for both. But there was no fighting in the Holmes' residence. No accusations, no finger-pointing, no yelling and screaming about "putting the game before your family" or how "another year's gone by with no regard to birthdays or other important events." It was a relaxed, enjoyable weekend, and both real-world and in-game events were attended to. And that wasn't all that was happening in May. My son also celebrated a birthday in May. Mother's Day meant planning flowers for both my mother and Jul. The Memorial Day weekend had a history of sticking its nose into our raid schedule's business, but we were able to carry on without interruption. It wasn't some magical cast of Tranquility that allowed all of these events to take place without stepping on each other's toes, all it took was some thoughtfulness and planning ahead; a tiny bit of effort had far reaching effects.

It wasn't always this way. A guild leader in World of Warcraft constantly juggles two worlds. The secret was to schedule proactively, rather than reactively. May of 2010 produced some of our best progression to date, inching toward Glory of the Icecrown Raider. By the end of it, two wings and six heroic bosses lay in our wake. The unorthodox executions of Professor Putricide, Sindragosa, and The Lich King, resulting in three meta achievements: "Nausea, Heartburn, Indigestion…", "All You Can Eat", and "Been Waiting a Long Time For This" (respectively), left only three metas before we could claim the chilling Frostbrood Vanquisher flying mount. If that wasn't enough, the completion of Shadowmourne, the continued eeking out of content in Blain's Si Team, and practicing arenas with Sentra and Nerffmeh was a feast more than any king could hope to finish in a single meal.

The only way...the only way...to make May work, was to meticulously plan ahead. Cover the bases by getting the roster rotations done well in advance, and repeat my warnings both in-game and on the forums as to what to expect when we hit certain speed-bumps along the way. How many people are planning to take time off for Mother's Day? If too many people are away for Memorial Day, ensure the raid leaders have strict orders not to attempt heroics (and especially metas that the core might miss). In the real world, who was responsible for picking up the presents? The cake? Who is sending the flowers and when? And what days are we agreeing to celebrate? With both the family and the guild completely squared away, there was no chaos, no curveballs, no emergency situations. Everything ran smoothly, because they had been handled...because I had handled them. "Hoping" for everything to fall into place had a poor track record, and wasn't going to win me any awards.

Success over the long term simply meant handling every month like May.

So as that month drew to a close, I was able to spend Jul's birthday evening with her, while we sat out on the front deck. We breathed in the evening while glancing at the Denver skyline and shot the shit about how Mad Men was getting really good and how True Blood was quickly going down the toilet. Yet, only an hour earlier, I had been a digital death knight, cleaving my way through internet dragons and toiling toward imaginary golden awards that didn't actually exist...but did. The ability to flip back and forth between game and life so quickly, keeping them separate yet equally important, became an increasingly valuable trait as Guild Leader. It was the only way I was able to sit in a Vent channel while a guildy lied to my proverbial face about his drunken, jealous transgressions toward a rival, maintain a cold distance while ejecting him from the guild...only to be pouring a glass of wine moments later, discussing TV shows with my wife.

DoD defeats Halion the Twilight Destroyer,
earning "The Twilight Destroyer (25 Player)",
Ruby Sanctum

U Jelly?

June wasn't nearly as clean. The only unorthodox kill remaining was "Neck Deep in Vile", a brutal gear check that demanded we assassinate every last kamikaze Vile Spirit before it suicided in explosive death. Continued attempts without progress wasted precious hours, and any hope of getting into flow was erased by Omaric's changing opinion of the appropriate boss to tackle. Bretthew completed his transition out of the roster, leaving Omaric to fend for himself. Bretthew's tanking responsibilities were taken up by the DoD vet Kizmet, who partnered with Drecca from that point forward. Without his raid leading partner, Omaric fielded decisions by himself, struggling to accept advice from the shadow of a former leader as it continued to cast doubt on his own ability. From my own perspective, it was a challenge to switch gears so frequently...even with my aforementioned practice in that department. I imagine it was worse for the roster, especially those who didn't see every raid they signed up for.

We pressed on. Heroic Professor Putricide required an insane amount of damage and control. Sindragosa's heroic mode demanded exceptional control on the part of the tanks; Kizmet's dedication to the role was admirable, but was not an instant replacement for Bretthew's jell after so many months at the head of the progression pulls. Synergy comes from more than just a handful of well-geared players randomly thrown together. Raid with the same people long enough, and you slowly enter a state where their pulls are already happening in your mind -- you're already winding up a heal before the blow comes. Jell doesn't come overnight, it takes time. Putting Kizmet into Bretthew's role simply meant getting accustomed to different rhythms.

More disruption arrived by July. The 3.3.5 patch was released, another kink to distract us. To keep morale high, we downshifted into the Ruby Sanctum, where the Twilight dragon Halion was causing trouble on behalf of the impending arrival of Deathwing. Old habits resurfaced: Ben's drunken rants colored Vent, Omaric's insistence on gear to assist with our heroic achievements butted heads with Blain's long held beliefs of effort first, I even had to raise my voice to Hellspectral on several occasions when he was unresponsive in Vent. One such occasion took place during Halion work, where the teams struggled to divide their DPS evenly between the mortal realm and the realm of shadow.

"We need better synchronicity between the in-and-out team assignments if we're going to get this down."

"That's fine, we can move Hellspectral back out to Team 1, it's still lopsided. Hells, you got that?"

Silence.

"Hells? HELLS!!"

Oh, Christ. Not this shit again. "Is he passed out?"

The thick New York accent suddenly broke the silence, "Yo, relax. I was alt-tabbed, lookin' up 'synchro-whatisname'."

Laughter in Vent, followed by a sigh of relief, and the Halion kill came soon after, bringing an end to the drought in achievements. It was July 2nd. June had come and gone without the 25-Man team seeing a single golden bar flash up on their screen.

Sindragosa falls without any player gaining 5 stacks of
Mystic Buffet, earning DoD "All You Can Eat (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Faux-jection

"I was upset. I couldn't deal with it. The people I trusted as my friends basically stabbed me in the back."

"I could see how that was upsetting, I’m sorry you had to deal with that."

"For a while there I just shut down. Didn't want to have anything to do with them, with the guild, with WoW."

I offered support to Bheer as best I could while he revealed the story to me over a series of IM windows, "I can’t imagine I would want to face them either. I read somewhere that rejection from a social group affects the same areas of the brain as physical pain. Do you feel like you have a handle on who it was that swayed Eh Team in that direction?"

"Taba was the one who told me, but I have my suspicions about Crasian being the one responsible for putting the idea of kicking me out in their heads. He and I never really saw eye to eye. He always fought me on loot, dismissed my suggestions on strategy. I just never expected them to all side with him."

His story correlated with my own observations, "Well, he is pretty wishy-washy in that respect. He came and went from the roster several times, remember? Took off right after I gave the role of melee officer to Jungard, which meant he wouldn't be seeing Shadowmourne. And the loot whoring, it became pretty common knowledge. There was a couple of times where he promised to take Jungard into Ulduar for a cloak...never even followed up with the guy. Anyway, what’s done is done. Your back now, and that's all that matters. I appreciate you taking some of these spots, the roster’s been all over the map this last month."

"No problem, happy to help. How are the revisions coming?"

"Good, good. I still have more to do, but I have a pretty solid handle on what further tweaks we can make to loot rules, rotations, etc. Really want to make sure we close off any remaining loopholes. Perfect example was that one you pointed to me, back in Ulduar, alts being able to roll on items ahead of mains? Yeah...not gonna let that go on."

"Thank you."

A period of silence where we each carried on with our individual business, and then, a final question popped back up from Bheer, "Do you think we'll ever seen Crasian again?"

"I doubt it, but don't worry. If we do, I don't expect there's any way I can invite him back. Not after all of this info has come to light."

No player was going to treat my veteran guild members like that and not feel my wrath in some form or another. I expected Crasian could find a perfectly acceptable crowd of players to join up with that shared his mentality regarding loot.

The text-to-speech announcement of Vent run out across my speakers as a new player connected to our server, one that had held a long-standing "open policy" of players of any faction/guild to join and chat with us:

"Bulwinkul has joined the channel."

I alt-tabbed and removed myself from the Vent server, then logged off before the purple text had a chance to beg me to stay and listen.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

3.73. Revoke Regrant

A random player takes note of
Mature's Shadowmourne,
Warsong Gulch

With Great Power...

A sickly blue glow poured out of the gaping mouth of every victim I sunk the axe into. Swarms of banished souls spiraled around Mature as I commanded the digital death knight through whatever challenge the day brought. Shadowmourne cared little if Mature was clearing trash with the 25-Man raid team in tow, or joining a random battle in progress against the snowy backdrop of Alterac Valley. The axe didn't discriminate against the just nor the corrupt...it hungered, and was fed. And when that blue glow broke over the horizon, it demanded respect. Those who fought on Mature’s side most certainly bended the knee, and more often than not, those who fought for the enemy very often turned and fled in fear.

It was humbling to be recognized for doing nothing more than simply wielding a weapon. Humbling, and telling.

The demand for my attention in guild events, especially those relating to PvP, spiked as a result of the crafting of Shadowmourne. I generally kept a low profile in the day-to-day, politely declining an excessive amount of requests to participate. I could have easily been overwhelmed with the heightened interest, falling back into the old TBC/Vanilla ways of playing for ungodly amounts of time into the night, while family, nutrition and hygiene took a back seat to achievement whoring. My priority was always to the 25-Man progression team, and that's where I focused the brunt of my attention. Outside of the 25-Man, I maintained my commitment to Blain and the Si Team, carrying on with our quest to earn the 10-Man version of Glory of the Icecrown Raider. After progression and Si Team, I maintained only one other commitment: the unfortunately named 3v3 Arena team that Sentra had been carrying me through.

"Hard switch. Hard on the Mage."

Sentra commanded all of our attention on to the caster, noting that the mage's cooldowns had been blown. Nerrfmeh the paladin stunned the healer, while Sentra drove his blade deep into the enemy, hamstringing him in the process. Mature spun in a blur of violet, switched off of the healer, and hacked away at the mage. Gigantic chunks of health fell off the mage's bar in seconds and he collapsed in a heap.

"Mage's dead. Get on the healer."

"NICE!"

"Ah, that was beautiful. Like poetry."

Mature and Sentra focused their efforts back on to the healer, while the rapid-fire tapping of keys carried over Vent in the background. In arenas (and unlike raids), we opened our microphones permanently. One extra key press to chat with partners was already one key press too many, and in PvP, strategies are not etched in stone, followed like a roadmap. Instead, strategies are fluid, ever changing, taking the shape of what enemies form the next challenge. PvP was everything PvE wasn’t. Unplanned. Spontaneous. Impulsive. Primal.

Without the mage, our 3-on-2 dominance turned the tables, and once the healer and his remaining partner expired, the win flashed up on our screens, with an additional surprise. The golden banner told the tale: we'd taken the team to a rating of 1750. By PvP standards, it was the equivalent of becoming potty trained; "congratulations, you suck less than the majority now." To me, it was the highest PvP rating I'd ever earned in game.

Nerrfmeh headed out for the night, leaving Sentra and I to chat as we tapered off our PvP session.

"That weapon is sick. Put me in some more of those ICC raids."

"Well, get your signups on. I didn't see you in last week's sheet. What’s up with that? I mean, if you want to collect shards, you actually...y'know...have to be in the raid."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Last week was bad, I had some shit come up, then my game time ran out and I didn't have any extra cash for a game card. Didn't pick one up until Tuesday."

"You play on game cards? Don’t you have a credit card or something you can put a sub on?"

"No credit cards. Can't get one with this shitty dead-end job I'm at."

"You lookin' to get your learn on at some point? Maybe step up the job situation a bit?"

"There's not much point right now. I legally can't get anything better."

Legally? "Say what?"

"Ehh...lost my temper on some guy in a bar, knocked his front teeth out."

I stared at the screen. I was not expecting that.

"I see. So, I guess it's game cards for awhile then, huh?"

"Yeah, it's fine. Just gotta rearrange some shit here and there."

"Well you're good for another solid 60 days now, so that's plenty of raids you can sign up for. The more of those you can get into, the better. And if you can't get a 25-Man rotation, just get your ass into the Alt-25, y'know?"

"Yep."

I tried to end the conversation on a positive note, "Let's get an entire guild of these axes going." I alt-tabbed into my web browser, fired up a calendar reminder for six weeks into the future, and typed into the description:

[Help Sentra with game card??]

DoD defeats Putricide without using Regurgitated Ooze,
earning "Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn... (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Stomach Problems

"...and another wipe. Wipe it."

The melee rotations had seen better days. The task for the evening was to continue work on the of the three remaining (and most challenging) of the meta achievements required for Glory of the Icecrown Raider. Tonight, the goal was to knock out Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn…, an achievement of unparalleled insanity. In order for us to complete the achievement, the abomination wouldn't be able to slow any of the festering goo that travelled across the room. DPS would need to be at an all time high, and although the fight favorited ranged DPS, DoD's 25-Man progression team’s melee damage consistently held sway over the ranged....

...which was upsetting, considering the evening's rotations.

"Is there something wrong with DPS?"

The night got off on the wrong foot with the news that Abrinis had been rushed to the hospital; a nailgun misfired at work, sending a nail clean through the muscle group between his second and third toe. Bretthew was out-of-commission on account of continuing computer-related problems; luckily, the longtime DoD vet Kizmet was able to pull up the slack, joining Drecca in the role of tank. A new paladin named Aezil had signed up as retribution, and didn't even bother to show up; his spot was immediately filled by an up-and-comer Immortalus, who -- like Ben -- was one of the few players in the guild identified by a name not tied to any toon he played: Sarge. And as for Sentra, he was nowhere to be found. For all the concern he had in crafting Shadowmourne, there wasn't even so much as a signup. In his place came Bonesoldier, a recently drafted death knight who’d enjoyed the luxury of his first Lich King kill with us the week previous.

Preventing the goo from being slowed during transition was the appropriate way to keep the wolf from the door; removing that from the strategy meant that the further we took the encounter, the further behind we fell. The only way to counteract that was with massive DPS, and our massive DPS traditionally fell on the shoulders of the melee...

...the melee we patched together at the last minute.

"Healing assignments need to change? Because technically this should be doable."

The problems of the guild were ever shifting; in Vanilla/TBC days, it was "we don't have the qualified people for this particular raid", and now that I had turned the roster around, the new problem was "do we have the right people for the (heroic|achievement)?" Trying to figure out where the line was drawn, and determining when to step over vs. when to back off wasn't something I had a great feel for -- which is why I made this the responsibility of the raid leader. But that meant that the raid leader had to have an equal amount of insight, make the appropriate judgement calls. Omaric seemed unsure, almost flying by the seat of his pants at times. He put out all the right signals, but the vibe of uncertainty trickled through.

Which is why Blain managed to sneak in his own raid leadership. By being be present, feeding info to Jungard, making suggestions to Omaric, kinks began to iron themselves out. DPS switched on to the goo with greater ease. Stronger players were placed more strategically, stacking precious fractions of damage and healing into each attempt. Weaker players were routed to the back, given more overall coverage and less specific responsibilities. Kiters gained a clearer path. Omaric's broad strategy was sound, but it was Blain's micromanagement, a strength he'd carried with him for as long as the guild tag hung under his name, that tied up all the loose ends. Even when we knew we were about to chase the goo, Blain's discreet reminders had us mentally running even before we were digitally.

"I hate that backseat raid leading, Blain" Omaric commented, "but dammit, you were right again."

We earned "Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn… (25 Player)" on May 21st, 2010.

The heroic clear of Putricide would come later.

Sentra and Nerffmeh carry Mature to 1750 in
their unfortunately named arena team,
Blade's Edge Mountains

A Surprise Return

I kicked off a code check-in, the Subversion window scrolling through hundreds of files included in the commit, when a new IM window popped up on my desktop.

"Hey, Hanzo."

"My God, Bheer! How the hell are you?"

"Good. The time away was productive. Feel much better about things."

"Oh yeah? You think you'll come back?"

"I realize my exit was a little abrupt."

"It was, but I appreciated you making the effort to have Blizz transfer Death's Choice over, at least."

"I didn't want you to get the idea that I was treating the guild like a doormat."

"Bheer, don't worry about it. What's done is done. I'm sure you had your reasons. We don't need to get into that right now."

"I'm ready to come back...if you'll still have me."

I never gave it a second thought.

"Of course you're welcome back! DoD is your home. God, man, you were around in those early Vanilla raids."

"I just want you to know I don't have any expectation of raiding. Wanted you to know that up front. I understand what I did and I don't want any special treatment."

"Well, I don't see you getting Elite again."

"That's fair. I remember the rule."

"Maybe I can find you a few spots here and there. You know how the roster is. Always changing, forever in flux." My mind wandered to the recently ejected Bulwinkul.

"So, Eh Team's whittled away?"

"Things have become a bit fragmented in that end of town since your departure."

"Crasian?"

"Yep, Crasian's gone. Bulwinkul's gone. Omaric and Taba are still around, obviously. Well, that's not entirely accurate, Taba's starting to wind down his involvement, but the lineup is still solid..."

"Looks like pretty good progress in the 25-Man."

"Yeah, you could say that. Moving forward at a pretty good pace. We're into heroics now, been especially good to have some of these newer folks as well. Lotta folks are really just floating across the 10's at this point..." My mind drifted again, this time to Ben, "...some float a little more freely than others."

"Well I appreciate the reinvite. I'll help with whatever I can."

"Think nothing of it. It's like I said before. DoD will always be your home."

The original reasons for his leave remained a mystery. They wouldn't remain so for long.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

3.72. RUI

The 25-Man progression team completes The Blood Council
in Heroic mode (following Blood Queen Lana'thel), earning
"Heroic: The Crimson Halls (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Points on Your License

May of 2010 brought more achievements as DoD continued to knock out chunks of "Glory of the Icecrown Raider", eyes fixed on the skeletal frostwrym that rewarded those raiders who could withstand the most unforgiving of challenges in Icecrown. My collection of Shadowfrost Shards was nearing its end, and the power of Shadowmourne drew close. Two days into the month, we'd wrapped up the heroic versions of both The Blood Council and Blood Queen Lana'thel. Seven days later, we scratched "Dances With Ooozes (25 Player)" off the list. The requirement of not allowing a single large ooze from casting Unstable Explosion was brutal: forcing many small oozes out and kiting them relentlessly to keep from merging upon themselves. The tanks were stretched thin as it was, and healers wrung out every bit of mana from their pool. We surprised ourselves by pulling off the server 3rd completion, a feat not at all terrible by the server's standards, especially considering we pulled it off with only 24 players present. It was that same night that we knocked out "Portal Jockey (25 Player)", forcing our raid to enter all of Valithria Dreamwalker's portals, low-hanging fruit easily devoured.

The 25-Man progression team was jelling and our progression into "Glory" reflected that attention to detail. We had not seen an Avatar promotion in some time, the last being Hellspectral in early January. It was time to acknowledge the efforts of our outstanding earners, so who better to focus on than our newest additions, Lexxii and Bullshark? Since defecting from the Alliance when their previous guild collapsed, they provided our team with a wealth of knowledge and skill. Bypassing the need to even be vetted, they shot up to the top of the charts and sunk nearly as much time into the 25-Man as they did into the Alt-25. If someone needed an explanation on "going above the call of duty", I merely pointed in the direction of our newest raiding couple. Such acts of dedication in a short time deserved recognition, so I awarded them a promotion to Avatar for their service to Descendants of Draenor. Once the two-week promotion subsided, I fast-tracked them into the rank of Elite.

This, as it turned out, would not sit well with certain people.

The bug of jealousy crawled in my ear, picking up traces left by certain players unhappy at the apparent ease I rushed to acknowledge these new recruits. Others, they would have me see, were more loyal and devoted to the cause, having proven themselves long before these two "traitors" set foot in the house of DoD. I brushed this off; it was clear this jealousy could have been staved off by simply not red flagging themselves in the first place. But, I was also approaching a new horizon of thinking with regards to my perception of red flags. Every day, I came to perceive red flags a little less black-and-white, and a little more like points on your driver's license -- tallied up for little mistakes being made in your day-to-day commute. One could lose their license if the demerits piled up too high, but time and good behavior could mend these wounds and erode the record away. As word trickled up that players expressed resentment at Lexxii and Bullshark's promotion, I was certain to pass a message back down the chain: stop earning demerits, and you'll see the same promotion they saw.

Some driving offenses, however, earn so many demerits in a single moment of bad judgement, that there is no turning back. The damage is devastating and the crime unforgivable. What follows is swift punishment, the offender stripped of their privilege to drive, left to walk down a path of solitude in which few turn a compassionate eye.

Mature stands surrounded by the 25-Man progression
raid, after crafting the guild's first Shadowmourne,
Icecrown Citadel

Shadowmourne

I collected my 50th and final Shadowfrost Shard on the 16th of May, 2010. The long journey from The Sacred and The Corrupt neared its finale. Crafting the legendary axe took me across Northrend; collecting Light's Vengeance, lining the walls of my inventory with the blood of Festergut and Rotface. Eventually, I wielded Shadow's Edge, an empty shell turned prison -- the weapon fed off the souls Mature cleaved life from as our guild executed weekly clears of ICC. As the Lich King began to whisper through the cursed weapon, Mature extracted an Unholy Essence from Professor Putricide, a Blood Essence from Blood Queen Lana'thel, and a Frost Essence from Sindragosa...tasks which pushed my death knight to the precipice of death. Through the efforts of the 25-Man progression team working together, healers shielded Mature, tanks redirected bosses away from Mature, and DPS held fast in exploding the boss until Mature's extraction could complete. Many of the tasks in this journey relied on the assistance of the 25-Man progression team; I certainly could not have pulled off its creation by myself. So as the 50th shard finally made its appearance, I insisted that the raid take a moment from our weekly clear, and head down to the base of the citadel to participate in the crafting.

Legendaries made their way to various players throughout DoD's history: Thunderfury to Ater, the Hand of Ragnaros to Teks, and more recently, Val'anyr to both Neps and Gunsmokeco. This day was monumental in that it was the first time the guild leader managed to secure a legendary of his own. I was both thankful and humbled that my guild came together to forge this weapon on my behalf. Once I sunk Shadowmourne into The Lich King's skull, a plentiful bounty of rewards were promised by way of an Unsealed Chest. I insisted on sharing these rewards with the team; there were few opportunities for me to give back to those who gave of themselves to further DoD's mission, and this was one such chance I wouldn't squander.


The following week, I revealed to the 25-Man progression team who would receive the rewards pulled from the Unsealed Chest. I kept Muradin's Favor for myself, selfish that I was towards costumes, but handed the rest out to important individuals in the roster. To Sir Klocker went Tabard of the Lightbringer, thanking him for fulfilling the duties formerly held by Dalans. Sylvanas' Music Box, a toy producing a chorale of ghostly banshees to sing Lament of the Highborne, went to Lexxii, thanking her for the dedication and expertise I wished of all my guildies. To Neps went the Dalaran-porting utility captured inside Jaina's Locket. His permanence in the roster exceeded that of any mage, so by giving him the ability to port us out at the end of the raid, the gift acted as both a reward for Neps and a practical convenience for the progression team.


But the final reward, Reins of the Crimson Deathcharger, I reserved for a player I felt deserved the most recognition, a player who continued to prove himself a true member of the DoD family. He hadn't managed to secure a position among the Elite, yet stayed well ahead of the Raiders. The Crimson Deathcarger, therefore, was assigned to Ben. I can't promote you to Elite yet, so take this as a token of my gratitude instead, and keep pushing. Perhaps one day soon, you'll get there.




Morale was strong, and the family bonds of DoD ran deep. It was a boost that would help keep the forward momentum as we prepared to dig into the most difficult meta achievements in "Glory". One member, however, let the recent acknowledgements get the better of him, and he was pushed over the edge, a level of inappropriateness from which there was no return.

Blowing an .08

Bulwinkul returned to progression on May 7th, turning a two-week vacation into a sixty-day stretch. I looked the other way because I valued Bul's contributions; he'd been diligent in attendance, present at every raid since we cleared our first set of trash in the Spider Wing. Giving him an extended period of time off, I hoped, would serve as a necessary cooldown, re-energizing him and lowering his frustration formerly directed toward non-Eh Team members. Bulwinkul had, on occasion, lashed out at players he'd run out of patience with, but there was more to the issue than simply anti-social behavior. Bul had a tendency to enjoy a little recreational drinking when playing WoW, something not unusual when playing video games. I had no problem with this; players drank, took smoke breaks, even chose to partake of substances perhaps more illicit than one might admit in public. My stance simply was this: I don't want to know about it, so keep it to yourselves and don't let it get in the way of the raid. In my mind, raiding under the influence was no different than raiding while distracted by the "game on TV", so I treated the alcoholics of the guild the same as those afflicted with March Madness.

Even when it came up in the past, such as during Hellspectral's infamous passing out in the middle of the raid, I kept my fury at bay only thanks to the help of folks like Blain. What went down with Bulwinkul, however, was an act that a handful of Blains couldn't repair.

"And that's when he called me a fucking bitch."

"This was when?" I asked Lexxii, sighing in frustration.

"Last night in the Alt-25. You can ask Mang or Drecca, one of 'em was there for sure."

I stared at my screen and listened on, Lexxii's digitized voice squeaking out of Vent. She was audibly upset, but keeping her composure.

"I'm sorry you had to deal with this. I've had talks with Bul before. He's been warned to keep this sort of behavior under control."

"I'm alright, I mean...I was just very surprised, he totally caught me off guard. I was just making a suggestion about positioning, y'know. Bullshark has done a lot of research on this particular fight, so I thought offering it up would help Bulwinkul, seeing as how he's been away for awhile..."

"No, I get it. It absolutely would've helped...he's missed a huge chunk of work in that respect. Again, I'm sorry you had to take this from him. I'll see to it that it isn't left unpunished."

Gone for two months, then you come back and treat our star performers like this? It was inexcusable. I pulled Bulwinkul into officer chat after I was done with Lexxii.

"Well? Do you want to explain your side of the story?"

"Basically she was acting all high and mighty and telling a bunch of us what to do. She was trying to lead the raid the entire night."

"Do you really believe that? Or do you think she was maybe perhaps offering some advice to some players who weren't exactly squared away. This is the Alt-25 we're talking about, Bul. Remember that it isn't always populated with the sharpest players in the guild."

"She was shooting her mouth off and, frankly, I was sick of it."

"So you thought it was OK to call her a fucking bitch in Vent in front of the raid. That's an appropriate way to handle yourself when you have an issue with other people in DoD?"

"I don't have to take that crap from her. Some of us aren't here to just ride coattails. What's she done? Besides getting showered with promotions and trinkets?"

You asked for it. "Well, for starters, she hasn't taken a two-week vacation and turned it into two months. So that's one thing."

Silence was the response I got from that jab; I can imagine that it stung. So being in the Eh Team makes you untouchable? I took a deep breath, "Are you drunk right now?"

He paused a moment, "...no."

"Alright. We're done here. I can't allow this behavior to continue. You can find another place to be drunk and disrespectful toward the guild." I flicked the guild roster up, scroll down to Bulwinkul's name, highlighted it, and ejected him from Descendants of Draenor. I left him alone in the Vent channel and alt-tabbed to the forums, clicked on "Announcements", and created a new post entitled "Zero Tolerance of Drama", writing the following:

I'm certain I've said it to each member of this guild, but I want to reiterate as it is no less meaningful now as the day I first stated it to each of you.

I'm not in any position to tolerate any drama in this guild. If you have interpersonal problems with other guild members, and have a problem with your temper, I highly suggest you seek help and/or professional counseling, because I have neither the time nor the patience to tolerate it.

One of the reasons I set an age limit at the start of WotLK was so that I knew we had a group of adults working together towards a common goal.

If you want to act like children and/or treat the rest of the guild like children, you can do it on someone else's dime. I'm currently in the midst of pouring a ton of excess energy into the refactoring of this guild as we move into Cataclysm, and I'd rather not waste any of that time listening to stories about guild members going on drunken disrespectful tirades.

If you want to shit on other players, do it someone else's guild. You're not doing it in this one.

I clicked submit, then alt-tabbed back to the Vent server. Bulwinkul had already left.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

3.71. The Edge Case

Si Team (with help from Sixfold) ends The
Lich King's reign in 10-Man mode, earning
"Fall of the Lich King (10 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Fifty Shades of Red

The Lich King struck Mature with Frostmourne, and the pale blood elf reeled from the blow. Will of the Necropolis proc'd, granting Sixfold a window to load up another round of HoTs. Blain called out a warning: prepare to move. We'd survived the Val'kyr dragging players off the edge to be dropped to their death by racing to the center of the platform; moments later, our safe zone became a death trap as The Lich King blasted us with Remorseless Winter. Exhausted, I commanded my digital death knight to pull freshly ripped Raging Spirits toward me before they dealt fatal blows to players less armored. Blain called for cooldowns to ensure a clean transition into the final phase, and it was upon us.

Sir Klocker and I balanced the weight of Frostmourne between our respective toons, trading at the application of Soul Reaper. The six remaining damage dealers unleashed hell into Arthas, his blows softened by bubbles of protective energy twisting outward from Neps' Hammer of Ancient Kings. Arthas' health slowly diminished, until at last, a final blast from his icy hands annihilated us in a single shot.

"Aw. Game over, everyone. Pack up your shit."

Klocker did his best impression of The Price is Right's fail-horn. The raid continued to joke and congratulate each other, as if nothing had happened. For such a clean execution, the raid was surprisingly chipper about this wipe.

The "wipe" was only an illusion.

Like clockwork, Fordring broke free, smashed Frostmourne and released King Terenas II who mass resurrected the 10 of us, and we gave Arthas what for. "Fall of the Lich King (10 Player)" flashed up on our screens, as Si Team officially wrapped their clear of Icecrown Citadel.

"Thank you to Eh Team for loaning us Sixfold today," I typed into guild chat. The formality was merely a show of respect to any guild members present and paying attention to the scrolling green words in the lower-left. In actuality, Eh Team was filling spots of their own as needed, following Crasian's second exit and Bulwinkul's vacation still in progress. As a good guild does, we worked to help each other fill spots as needed, a weekly ritual that grew out of our mutual needs as a result of the expansion nearing its end-of-life. It'd been a long time since any 10-Man team had been charged with poaching from one another. But before I could officially stick a fork in this particular issue, the dead horse would be flogged one final time.

---

When Sir Klocker returned to the officer pool, his first order of business was to bring to light issues that had been bothering him for some time. First on his list was a re-addressing of the loot situation, a path I had already begun to tread down. A dialogue unfurled, and I'd done some initial investigation into potential solutions for the next expansion. They needed polish, but at least ideas were flowing with enough inertia that I could douse folks like Cheeseus and Blain with them, gaining feedback and refining. Shortly after the loot conversation kicked off, Klocker pushed for the next item he felt was important.

There came an open discussion among the officer core to re-investigate the possibility of promoting Ben to Elite. Both he and Neps felt strongly that Ben had more than proven himself in the heat of battle, pointing out that his drunken tirades in Ventrilo had diminished significantly since the early days. Out in the field, Ben was far more than what the "Raider" rank asked of him, dominating meters and prioritizing the 25-Man progression raid's schedule over all else. Sir Klocker argued that it "didn't seem right" that Ben remain relegated to Raider. Had he not proven himself consistent and reliable for a long enough period of time? I couldn't argue with the sentiment. If anything, I was the most directly affected by Ben's increasing accountability. His willingness to improve translated into a much lighter load on my plate. It would be a shame to forget that he'd grown from a player that that lived by his own rules and schedule...to the type of raider that would text me multiple times before a raid:

"Hey man, I’m gonna be five minutes late, hold my spot!"

"I'm just turning the corner now, I’m almost there!"

"Man, I'll be at the computer in like one minute!"

Better too much communication than not enough.

But as much as I wanted to give him the promotion, to give him that positive reinforcement for a job well done, something held me back from converting him into an Elite. As much improvement as Ben had demonstrated, the red flags still flew in my face...and my inner voice spoke. You will regret this decision. People don't change. Think it through. But he had changed! Why was this situation so unique, why was it any different than any other player I'd dealt with? It was entirely possible that those red flags Ben had flown in my face warranted a second look. After all, I'd come to the realization that not all people issues were black and white, but rather a million different shades of gray. Perhaps those flags weren't all as blood red as I imagined them to be.

The Halo Effect

I decided long ago that Ben was worth the effort, and wouldn't let it go. I let the officer core know I had something in the works to address the edge case -- this amorphous zone Ben floated between. Overqualified for a Raider, yet still unable to fulfill the prerequisites demanded of an Elite, Ben was something else entirely. I was committed to finding a way to acknowledge Ben's efforts, both in the short term and in the long. Quite a few players wondered why I even bothered putting effort into Ben; they had already written him off as immature, annoying, and not worth their time. Ironically, this was exactly the reason I bothered...because I hadn't made up my mind. Most perplexing was that every time I felt like I was about to come to a conclusion...I couldn't.

My hesitancy was more than likely a result of those earliest memories I formed of Ben; nights in which his perceptions of game mechanics filled our raid channel. His confidence walked the fine line between expertise and arrogance, dipping back and forth with just enough inconsistency to leave me guessing. Was it actual insight? Or an inflated ego borne out of PvP dominance -- an affliction plaguing more players than just Ben. Unfortunately, I lumped my judgments together: that "Halo" effect that causes us to focus in on one attribute, then apply it across the board when assessing the complete package.

Folks like Dalans weren't so easily convinced in observance of ego-fueled claims, "He'll never be a raider."

"Who? Ben?"

"He just spewed a bunch of nonsense about threat and aggro."

I'd fall into the trap, throwing in my own judgments, "How did we ever make it without the guy? Tell Ben that's why we never made any progress in The Burning Crusade. Oh, wait a second, WE TOTALLY DID!"

"Yeah, that won't work on Ben, he'll just laugh it off."

"It's all a big joke to him, isn't it?" I added, "Just like his life."

I had a lot to learn about judging character back then. Fortunately, I had people to guide me down the right path. People I previously thought incapable of caring about personnel issues. People like Blain, "His life is nothing to joke about."

"Why are you defending him?"

"His knowledge of the game has nothing to do with his knowledge of life."

My original read of Blain was no better than that of Ben's, in hindsight. Just because Blain's style was less communicative than Ater's didn't mean he lacked the ability to understand people. And as for Ben, he was still growing up in the guild, gaining life lessons at a completely different rate than the rest of us. Ego aside, his actions demonstrated he knew what he was doing, even if he couldn't articulate it. Just as he would learn this over time, I would also learn over time about how the halo effect had a grip on me, and how it would take calm objectivity and rational thinking to keep from falling into that trap. It meant not jumping to conclusions, especially after Ben had progressed so far.

Ben and Fred stand guard while Mature defeats
any challengers that stand in the way of the
"Gurubashi Arena Grand Master" achievement,
Stranglethorn Vale

Inner Demons

Learning to listen to my gut was one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. Time and again I struggled with those "hunches", that inner voice that screamed out warnings, that I was one step away from making a huge mistake. I justified ignoring it with my inexperience, contending that "my gut" wasn't a hard-and-fast rule I could point to when defining the expectations of the guild. If great leaders disagree on the many ways you can effectively manage people, one belief system that seems to be shared by nearly all: trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, don't do it. This formed the basis for my entire Red Flags post, and subsequent integration into our standard operating procedure. If you do or say something that rubs me the wrong way, it's going to hurt your chances in moving up. To clarify, I offered a multitude of examples, and felt strongly it would paint a clear picture for the guild moving forward.

Yet whenever the situation involved Ben, I questioned my gut the most, wrestling with an inner dialogue to understand why Ben continued to fall into limbo. People don’t change. But they can if they want to! Do you really think he wants to? Actions speak volumes. His actions have spoken, he's absent again tonight, off to "buy diapers"...something he should have done well before raid time. True, but he is taking care of his kid! Kids come before a video game! It's only an excuse for not planning ahead. People make mistakes. Think of how many times he's offered help to guildies, training Bulwinkul on Boomkin, helping stand guard while a Guild Leader that sucks at PvP wraps up a PvP achievement. His heart is in the right place, he just needs to practice his planning and communication...these are things that are fixable.

The problem was that my gut pointed out all the things that should be cause for concern, but it was still up to me to decide what was a simple mistake that could be fixed, and what was the result of having no heart in the first place.

---

"I guess Si Team run is cancelled this week!" Blain shot over a whisper. He seemed more irritated than normal.

"What's going on?"

"Yeah, Ben went and got himself locked to an Eh Team run this week."

This is a surprise? Grumbling and disgusted tones followed as I joined into Vent to listen.

"Should've known this was gonna happen. Hooray for Ben!"

"Hold up, let's not jump to conclusions here, let me talk to him." I alt-tabbed to the Vent server, scanning the groups, and finding Ben's name nestled in the "Eh Team" room. I yanked him out and into the officer channel.

"So what's the deal, here?"

He rolled right into it, as if he'd prepared for this exact moment, "Ok, so, I thought that Blain had told us that the Si Team run was cancelled this week. So, when Eh Team was asking for a filler, I offered up. Blain wasn't even online at the time."

"So you had no opportunity to check with Blain to confirm this?"

"Nah, I mean, I don't have access to those officer notes, so I don't know what his phone number is."

"But more importantly, you didn't think to check with anyone online that could get you his number?"

"That's what I'm saying, I didn't think I needed to because I thought that Blain had already called it off!"

Standard miscommunication. No actual ill-intent.

"Alright, we'll see what we can do to maybe get a fill from somewhere else, but you do realize this puts us in an awkward position, right? Eh Team being what it is, and all."

"I swear, Hanzo...totally didn't think this would be an issue."

"I think it's probably best you let Blain and the rest of the team know this was a mistake on your part, an apology would probably work wonders to help fix this. And in the future, you have got to touch base with Blain first. Before doing anything that would lock you to Eh Team's run."

I heard the clicking of keys as Ben opened up the mic to speak, but was interrupted by a wave of trash begging for his Mind Sear. "Yep, got it. I will totally tell them."

There was no need to vilify Ben over this issue. This was a Red Flag that didn't need to reset expectations -- it was merely a speed bump on the road to getting Ben where I needed him to be. I kept my gut at bay, and hopped back into Si Team's vent channel, "Simple mistake. It's really not a big deal, just a miscommunication."

"Oh, yeah, no, I wasn't really upset. I was just pointing out how amusing it was," Blain answered.

So much context lost over whispers and tells, I thought. Some things really need to be said face-to-face, or at the very least, over Vent.