Thursday, May 16, 2013

3.4. Great Expectations

Mature completing "When the Cows Come Home",
Netherstorm

(Almost) A False Start

One week before we were scheduled to begin raiding, I logged on and discovered Annihilation was accepting invites for Naxxramas. Immediately, I called him into Ventrilo. It was time for a quick come-to-Jesus.

"What's going on?"

"Ah hey, Kerulak, nuthin' much, just puttin' a bunch of people together here for Naxx, see if we can maybe get it off the ground."

"...No! You can't just throw a group together like this!"

"...Uh, why not?" He seemed a bit put out.

"Anni, haven't you read anything I've posted on the forums?" It was rhetorical; I knew Anni hated reading the forums. "Do you not know about all the rules I've painstakingly detailed out here for the launch of WotLK? We're doing things differently now. Everything has a purpose. We have a scheduled start date and the raid rotations are all ready to go for next week."

He pushed back, "Yeah, but why wouldn't you want to at least get a head-start in there?"

"Maybe because I don't want a repeat of the fiasco at the start of TBC!"

Silence greeted me.

"You do remember what happened, right?" He must have at least partially remembered.

After a moment's pause, he replied, "...mmm, no, what happened?"

"Well, we had a bunch of groups that decided to unofficially start running Karazhan because we hadn't taken the time to purposefully make it official. No signups, no raid rotations, no set groups, just first-come first-serve. That lasted for one week, and then we started losing people because nothing was clear about how it was handled. That was the week we lost Baite to Pretty Pink Pwnies...remember now?"

"...yeah, I guess so. I remember parts of that, but I never knew the specifics..."

"OK well, now you know. I'm not trying to bust your balls over this, Anni. I just want to make sure you understand where I'm coming from. I have the entire responsibility of the success of the raid team on my shoulders now, and I know what's failed in the past. I'm not repeating those mistakes. We're starting on the scheduled start date, with the scheduled rotations, and nobody's getting a head-start: everybody's treated equal on day one. I want this as fair and unbiased as it can be."

I must have sounded insane to Anni. What's the big deal? It's just a bunch of guys getting together to check out the new content, maybe kill a few bosses. The days of looking at situations like these through rose-colored goggles were over. Starting folks early on an unofficial raid had ramifications. Some players might be upset that they were left behind, or question the lack of authority surrounding impromptu groups ("How could you let this happen, Hanzo?"). Even if it managed to slip under the drama radar, the fairness of the loot system would skew as certain members of progression started out with less of a need to bid. Are you getting this, Annihilation? Am I conveying the urgency of the situation to you? Or was I coming across like some sort of dictator.

"OK, Kerulak, we'll hold off. I never really knew this was that big a deal, but now that you explain it in this way, yeah...I can see why you want to stick to your guns. No biggy! We'll drop this invite."

He got it. Thank God. I wasn't just raving lunatic. There was a method to my madness and I needed everyone's support in making it happen. Luckily, there were folks like Anni in the guild I could count on that would understand my reasons, however unorthodox they appeared to be.

Mature (and other Horde) is spit on by an
infamous Dwarf Paladin from Deathwing-US,
Dalaran

The Wake Up Call

I struck a deal with Anni; we'd keep things by-the-book, and in return, I'd commit to getting the raiders into Obsidian Sanctum one week early. The original plan was to start with Naxxramas on December the 12th, but due to this compromise, we were able to pull off a full signup on Sunday, Dec. 8th. The design of the Obsidian Sanctum invoked memories of our early days slaying Onyxia; a relatively small instance, only a few trash packs to deal with, and a single black dragon: Sartharion. What made this instance unique were Sartharion's three twilight drake guards: Tenebron, Shadron, and Vesperon

The Twilight Dragonflight maintained an awkward alliance with the Black. Twilights loathed the Black, but at the same time, owed their existence to them, due in part to Deathwing's failed experiments in Blackwing Lair. Deathwing's consort Sinestra eventually succeeded in this endeavor, deep in the hidden chambers of Grim Batol. Politically, the Twilight had no choice but to act in the best interests of the Black: without their cunning and lust for power, the remaining Twilight faced eradication -- which was exactly what we were here to do. The strategy was simple: execute each Twilight guard, then pull Sartharion, avoid flame walls which would rise up out of the lava and sweep across the raid, and kill any Fire Elementals that assisted in Sartharion's defense.

He was killed in three pulls.

---

Naxxramas proceeded as planned the following Friday the 12th of December. I zoned into the instance alongside the raid team, and prepared to resume my role as off-tank. We began by weaving through the Arachnid Quarter, the easiest wing during its 40-Man days...and the only wing DoD cleared. We'd spent a good number of weekends working through the mechanics of the first boss, Anub'Rekhan, tossing us into the air, forcing us to run around the outside of the circular ring, avoiding his Locust Swarm...

We killed Anub'Rekhan in one pull.

Grand Widow Faerlina followed Anub'Rekhan, and in the old days, she required us to mind control her followers, which allowed us to prevent her enrage from one-shotting the tank. No such requirement existed today. We were free to kill her followers, or leave them up; whatever worked. Whatever we were in the mood for. She posed absolutely no risk whatsoever, and was executed. As the wake up call continued, we moved on to Maexxna, a boss I would forever remember as a glowing triumph for our guild back in the day. Maexxna's constant webbing of the entire raid team put the main tank at risk of dying without being able to receive heals, and we had to coordinate a "Nature's Swiftness" healing rotation among the druids and shamans. This, of course, was vital to the success of the 40-Man version of Maexxna.

She required no such rotation this Sunday. She was slaughtered in a single attempt.

The 25-Man Progression team defeats Sartharion,
Obsidian Sanctum

Steamrolling

After exterminating the arachnid infestation, we moved to the Plague Quarter, cleansing it of Noth the Plaguebringer, Heigan the Unclean, and wrapping it up with the defeat of Loatheb. In a distant past, Naxxramas (40-Man)'s Loatheb was a brutal, heal-intensive encounter requiring rapid reflexes and diligent communication -- massive silences would apply to the raid, preventing players from receiving heals for 80% of the fight. It is no wonder that Loatheb's name itself is an anagram for HEALBOT.

One pull later, Loatheb was dead.

Onward, we turned to the Construct Quarter, putting us in the direct path of Patchwerk, Gluth, Grobbulus, and eventually, Thaddius. I distinctly remember hearing horror stories from ancient hardcore raiding guilds about the damage output of Patchwerk. Fully geared T2 (Blackwing Lair) warriors were often being popped like balloons, forcing raiders to supplement their equipment with drops from AQ40. Patchwerk was, without question, a gear check in Naxx 40, and a true test of the min/maxing capabilities a raiding guild possessed. 40-Man Patchwerk kills often showed screenshots of only a few members in the raid remaining alive at the time of the abomination's death, as Patchwerk would hit his enrage timer, and proceed to kill one player per second with every Hateful Strike he delivered.

On this occasion, Patchwerk took two attempts for us. It would've been one, but a couple of healers locked-up...or maybe it was that they disconnected? In the second attempt, he fell over dead and everyone in the raid was still alive. You can probably guess how Gluth, Grobbulus and Thaddius turned out. They proved no more difficult than anything we had encountered, and we proceeded to make short work of them, signifying the end of the first raid night in Naxxramas-25.

I thanked the raiders as they headed out, and imported the DKP earnings and expenditures into our website. I glanced at all the loot that we acquired on our first night; the most we had ever seen in a single night of raiding...ever. And I remember quite distinctly the thought that entered my mind as I reviewed what could only be described as a "steamrolling" of this new raid content...

...what the hell was going on?

13 comments:

Strategos said...

I want to thank you writing this blog! It reminds me so much of my experience leading raids and eventually stepping into the GM postion just before Sunwell opened. Keeping the guild together for a Kil’jaeden kill was probably my greatest leadership accomplishment. Granted it was two weeks after the nerf, but we still cleared it.
Our GM at the time decided to call raiding the end of November 2006 and decided to just farm content to have better gear to level up in Burning Crusade. After struggling to get 10/15 bosses down in 40 man Naxx, stepping into 25 was almost a complete let down. It was amazing to witness the night and day between the two. I remember that raid, where the 12 or so of us left from the 40 man days just talking about the many different ways we wiped back then, and here were one shot everything up to Sapphiron. A couple wipes there, a few more on Kel’thuzad and the zone was cleared in one night.
Ulduar was an amazing raid, but everything there after just seemed to be a let down. After we downed Heroic Lich King after the 10% nerf, I decided it was time to take a break. I came back for Mists of Pandaria to play with a few old guildies and some of my RL buds, but it just doesn’t have that shock and awe feeling of the 40 man and 25 man raid days.
Since I found your blog about a month ago, I check in every Thursday. It is some of the best writing I have read concerning guild leadership up and downs. Keep up the good work!

Shawn Holmes said...

@Strategos,

Thanks for the feedback and for being a loyal reader! 10/15 in Naxx is nothing to laugh at; we went 4/15 and I still feel that was huge. The shift from 40 to 25 was, for us, a blessing, because we were able to trim a lot of fat.

What's interesting about the dichotomy of 40->25, and then later, the 25/10 merged locks in Cata, is that with the former, the power was in the hands of the leadership. With the former, if you were one of the 15 space-wasters, you were cut. But with Cata, the opposite happened: the players gave the guild leadership the middle-finger and went off to do 10s.

And re: how you feel about MoP today, I share your pain. I play WoW today to socialize with those that remain in DoD, and help out with the array of 10s if they need fillers...but those days of epic boss kills that had vent filled with screams and cheers are long gone.

...and I'd honestly be very surprised if they figure out a way to bring it back in Titan--because it's most likely not happening in WoW again any time soon.

Strategos said...

I do enjoy what they have done to a certain degree. The zones seem to be well thought out, the story lines were decent enough. It has gotten stale fairly quickly. I’m looking forward to what 5.2 can bring to the table. I agree with you, it’s more about socializing with the people I play with. We raid 6 hours a week. We cleared everything on normal with a few heroic bosses down and decided it wasn’t worth the time and effort to push ourselves. 10 Man certainly trumps LFR. I’m not impressed by LFR. I liken it to running UBRS with our tier 1 gear back in classic.


I prefer the 25 man aspect over the 10 man. However, 10 somewhat suffices the need. I’m an accountant by trade, and I rather enjoy number crunching and micromanaging. Dealing with a larger raid was more entertaining, but that’s a given. The again, who am I kidding! Between work, exercise, married life, and chasing my two year old son around I don’t have time to devote to WoW the way I once did. In that sense, 10 man raiding is a god send, but in terms of that feeling of a job well done in 25 it just doesn’t compare.


Sure, our little guild has 28 members, and we’re a tight knit group. However, we’ve all moved our characters over to Area 52. As large as this server happens to be, there is absolutely no sense of server community. Back in Classic though Wrath (before LFD), I had a friends list of numerous people. These days, I can honestly say I don’t converse with anyone outside of the guild. If I truly wanted to play this game solo, I could…and it’s a shame it’s gone to the wayside.


I’m looking forward to reading what you have to say about Cataclysm. I missed that expansion and its entirety. I came back for the last few months of it and by no means was I impressed. I didn’t experience any of the raids, but the zones just didn’t grab a hold of me. I have tagged along with a few of my friends so they could knock out an achievement or two in Firelands and Dragon Soul, but these raids just seemed so bland and tasteless. I can certainly see why my old guildies say it was the worst expansion they have experienced.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Strategos,

I just finished chatting with my ex-boss (Part 24 if you're keeping track) who mirrors your thought exactly: we're now starting to transition into this new, awkward place where there are small, fragmented groups of talented raiders pocketed among servers that are either dying or hyper-populated by casuals. We're effectively siloed off from one another. Unless we all keep a gigantic central realid list of each other, there'll be no way for us to group up and tackle this raid content, free from the space-wasters that consume our time and energy in LFR.

I also don't like this restriction that cross-realm raids are going to be limited to 5.0 at the start of 5.2--this is *exactly* the limitation that needed to be applied to LFR, and lifted from CRZ. Why should lazy players be rewarded for continuing to be lazy, while those that yearn for a *real* raid experience...are held back?

What boggles the mind is that GC continually states that this will never be solvable, and that "he can't figure out a way to make everyone happy"--the secret is: not everyone WILL be happy! So, barring that as an option, who should you keep comfortable? Those who've paid the bills for the last 8 years?

...or those that come, consume content, leave, then complain that the game was "boring" and "lfr was dumb" and there is "nothing to do"??

This right here is the greatest enigma in regards to Blizzard's agenda.

Re: Cataclysm. I have a ton of material to cover in WotLK; it's going to easily dwarf the combined content of my blog for Vanilla and TBC...but I have no shortage of things to say about Cata, trust me...

...it's going to get the full treatment, no question about that.

Strategos said...

I can see why you have a lot to say about Wrath. I am looking forward to what you have to say as well. That was when I really stepped into guild leadership. Outside of hearing “I’m pregnant” from my wife, what ultimately broke me back then was managing the guild’s day to day activities, managing recruiting, managing our attendance based wish list system and leading our raids. Hindsight is 20/20 but I should have micromanaged things better, but goals were accomplished.

It’s all centered on the bottom line. I don’t recall the numbers but such a small percentage of the player base saw Naxx 40. These are the people that are their paying customers. They do have to be catered to. The needs of the many will always outweigh the needs of the few, and I can understand why Blizzard has put in LFD and LFR and taken the stance they have cornered themselves into.

I remember when LFD went live, Cameron (we haven’t played together since our heroic LK kill but still keep in touch) stated something along the lines of “this is going to be the beginning of the end!” Looking back, he was spot on. From my point of view, it really is a complete 180 from where we were at the start of Wrath to coming back at the start of Mists of Pandaria. I am glad that LFD is there, but watching some of these individuals play there class astonishes me. “Space-wasters” is by far the best term I’ve read to describe so many of today’s player base.


Once again, I “thank you” for the blog and the conversation today! It has made an unbelievably slow day at the office a tad more bearable!

Dalans said...

I prefer "helmet kids" to "space-wasters"...

Shawn Holmes said...

@Dalans,

I thought your preferred term was "mouth breathers"?

Jonathan Surber said...

I sympathize with your viewpoint that the raiding population and servers fall into 2 groups: the dying with the few raiders grasping at straws and memories of the old days, or large servers with many raiding guilds who are in their own cliques and disconnected from everyone else. I and my guild unfortunately rely in the former. Recruiting to fill holes in a roster is a mess and the capable raiders are few and far between. :( This is a great flaw that Blizzard seems to have created in this schism they have created among their subscribers and it is very sad.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Jonathan,

Feel your pain, brother. It astounds me that Blizzard has an attention to detail with regards to game mechanics that far surpasses many other professional game development shops, yet pay little-to-no attention to the sociological impact these design decisions have...

...or they do, but the business ($$) options outweigh them.

Anonymous said...

From the article and comments there is Onething I don't understand, are u saying that MoP raids are just a walk in the park like some in wrath were? Cause they are not. In fact I feel that 10mans are currently tuned extremely tight. Why do you feel that say, ToT, isn't 'epic'? I feel that it may be because your glory days of raiding are past for the most part. However, that isn't the case for everyone. As a newer raider(never had the time before although I've played since BC) raiding has brought more experiences, like the ones you have described in other posts, the I've ever had from a game. A real challenge in encounters and teamwork that I never had without raiding. I can relate to some of your experiences so much it makes me sad that you think raiding isn't....well you've already said it better than I.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Anonymous,

The context of this blog covers (or intends to cover) everything from launch-Vanilla, right up until the *start* of the last tier of content at the end of Cataclysm (Dragon Soul). Anything falling outside that I wouldn't be comfortable criticizing since I no longer have the perspective of a 25m progression guild tackling the content.

I've seen the content from an LFR perspective and it's fun; ToT has a very half-Black Temple, half-Ulduar feel to it. As for difficulty in 10/25 normal/heroic, I can't comment -- anything I say would only be what I've heard from other folks and their own experience.

Anonymous said...

@shawn Holmes
"And re: how you feel about MoP today, I share your pain. I play WoW today to socialize with those that remain in DoD, and help out with the array of 10s if they need fillers...but those days of epic boss kills that had vent filled with screams and cheers are long gone.

...and I'd honestly be very surprised if they figure out a way to bring it back in Titan--because it's most likely not happening in WoW again any time soon."

I was gathering your general feelings from your blog and a few comments like this one I have seen. And my main point is, although you obviously have a ton of experience in raiding, perhaps that experience itself may scew your view of current content a bit. Or perhaps we just see things differently. I have seen many people compare raiding now and then and I personally just feel some of it is a bit...unfair? Probably not the right word but perhaps you get my drift.
I just feel that ToT has so much to offer raiding guilds and am sad that you aren't a part of that scene anymore. I just hope that its not for the wrong reasons. (Not that I know you personally, could be RL reasons). Reading your blog has enlightened me on many things but the number one thing is teamwork and leadership/guild management. With the 25 man raid scene diminishing more all the time, we could use more raid leaders like you willing to stick it out. Hope I explained myself alright :)

Shawn Holmes said...

@Anonymous,

You explained yourself well, and I thank you for the praise and for reading.