|Kurst tanks a Death Talon|
Wyrmguard in Blackwing Lair
The flight back home to Denver from Dallas was unfriendly and rough. The glow of my laptop screen illuminated just enough of an area to catch a glimpse of my boss waving the flight attendant over, gesturing for another beverage. I looked at the words on my screen, half distracted by him paying for the drink, and sending her away with a nod. I was having a tough time writing, but it wasn't from the turbulence. Dave glanced over at me, my elbows tucked in awkwardly to avoid annoying the passengers beside me.
“Whaddya got going there? Still workin’?” he joked. I had come to develop a bit of a perfectionist reputation in the year I had been at my new job.
“Not quite," I smiled, easing my tension for a moment, "I’m writing a termination letter.” Perhaps he'd see the comedy in it. "Terminating" an "employee" that didn't actually work for me.
“Oh yeah?”, he said with a chuckle. Now it was clear I had to be joking around. Dave of all people knew intimately the details of my work situation--I worked for him. I owned no business, I ran no company, so this must be some sort of amusing hyperbole, right? He pushed a bit further, "Who ya firin'?” I sat back in the confined airline seat and took a deep breath.
“A friend. And it’s gonna suck.”
Six months earlier, I had been in a real bind. Ater, the player that guided me, acted as my mentor, and helped lead the guild -- had finished his tenure in World of Warcraft. One of his many roles was that of acting Warrior officer, following the raid retirement of my previous officer, Annihilation. With Ater gone, and Anni fully committed to PvP, I had to turn elsewhere for Warrior leadership. Only months remained in The Burning Crusade and we had yet to defeat Illidan, so I had to invoke Occam’s Razor, and go with the simplest, most obvious choice. That choice was Kurst.
Kurst was an old veteran of Descendants of Draenor. I obtained him during an assimilation of the guild Dirty Horde, back in July of ‘05. He was a family man, like myself, and had recently become a father. He tenaciously contributed to our original 40-Man raid team, and was present for numerous boss kills, and countless nights of work in progression. The easiest way to measure the longevity of a Warrior in Descendants of Draenor is to ask them which position they rotated through during the Warrior "sacrifice chain" we set up during our work on the 2nd boss of Blackwing Lair, Vaelastrasz the Corrupt. Kurst proudly held one of those positions, alongside such famous Warriors as the aforementioned Ater and Annihilation, as well as Darange, Demus, Thangrave and Burburbur. In Vanilla, 40-Man raids meant a wealth of each class, so 5-6 of a particular one was not uncommon. Kurst earned his keep during those early days of raiding, becoming a familiar face to all.
So, as the months turned to years, and Vanilla turned to The Burning Crusade, the Warrior list changed. Faces came and went, but Kurst remained steadfast. He continued to be a reliable player and a trustworthy guild member. Conveniently, his daytime job in IT Security planted him firmly online throughout the day, so we could converse about the game over IM, staying in touch. This communication helped strengthen our friendship, and I continued to share more thoughts with him about the guild, management, officership, and where things were headed for Wrath. It was Kurst whom I had review my initial “wake the hell up” manifesto when Blain agreed to return to leading raids, mid-way through The Burning Crusade. And, as my vision narrowed on the goals for Wrath, I too, shared these with Kurst, who provided me with support and feedback.
It made sense, then, for Kurst to earn the promotion when Ater took his leave. He had plenty of tenure under his belt, and I felt he was a solid player that had a good relationship with the other guild members. In my time of need when I had to make a decision quickly to keep the Illidan train on the tracks, making Kurst the Warrior officer seemed like the right thing to do. While it was true, he had certain habits that may have painted his leadership abilities in a different light, I felt these were trivial, and were things he could improve and refine with practice. After all, we’re human; we all make mistakes. So long as we identify those mistakes, learn from them, and fix them so they aren't repeated, anyone has the potential to grow. Right?
I wish it were that easy.
Kurst had famously been caught keyboard turning during a raid one evening, which effectively marked him for life. Keyboard turning is a stigma in the World of Warcraft community; it describes how a player rotates their character in a slow, robot-like motion, by pressing the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard. You can instantly size up a player if you catch them keyboard turning; the word "noob" immediately flashes into your mind. The approved way to play World of Warcraft is by rotating your character using your mouse -- this gives you the freedom to spin your character freely in the blink of an eye. This is important in raid situations when boss mechanics demand you change directions and move quickly; a split-second too long facing the wrong direction may mean instant death. Seasoned WoW players can spot a keyboard turner a mile away, so when Kurst was caught doing it, everybody in the guild knew. When I saw it, I wanted to point and scream at him like Donald Sutherland at the end of Body Snatchers. As with all things, Kurst would laugh and shrug this off when the guild bugged him about it, but as his performance was repeatedly called into question, keyboard turning forever remained in the back of our minds.
|Donald Sutherland spots a keyboard turner|
at the end of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"
In a raid, the role of the tank is to repeatedly strike a boss, building up an invisible meter that we have come to know as threat. Monsters become aggressive toward a player when that player's threat surpasses everyone else's -- this is what's known in WoW as having a monster aggro onto a player. Tanks are responsible for producing the most threat of the raid; it was their job to keep a boss focused or "aggro'd" on them. If another player were to somehow produce enough threat to surpass the tank, the boss would turn to that new player and proceed to smash their face into a pulp. Only tanks were equipped to withstand boss attacks; a warlock or a mage would be instantly turned into a fine paste if they tried to tank a boss. So, as you might expect, Kurst’s #1 job in a raid was to take a hold of a boss and keep it. Kurst’s threat, however, was an ongoing issue. He had a history of not being able to keep bosses off of the most destructive of our damage dealers, and I urged him to refine his technique. Simply, he needed to produce more threat. Unfortunately, he remained inconsistent in the threat department. My reward for supporting and encouraging him was seeing the best players in the guild continually pulling mobs off during the raid, and then have them complain to me after the raid. They felt it was “stupid” that they had to hold themselves back from unleashing their full power, in fear of pulling a boss off of Kurst.
As we transitioned from TBC to WotLK, and more Warriors joined the fray, more opportunities grew for Kurst’s skills to be critiqued. I remember pinging the other Warriors at various times about how they felt the leadership was going: Were they getting their needs met? Was Kurst a valuable source of information and insight? Was their officer ever able to educate them, and provide them with new tricks and techniques that would improve their own play? The results were underwhelming. Some Warriors, like Abrinis and Jungard, were kind-hearted by nature, and tried to be polite by pointing out how much they liked Kurst and thought he was a good guy. Others, like Omaric, who were more akin to being honest about the sad truth -- something that’s often hard to admit -- would point out in exquisite detail how Kurst was fundamentally failing in certain areas, either in his choice of gems, enchants, attack rotations, or other raid-related Warrior mechanics.
One of the expectations I made clear for the officers in Wrath was for each of them to keep their specific class forum thread updated, particularly where spreadsheets were involved. The raiding community often had theorycrafters build complex spreadsheets which allow players to plug in their stats, and tweak their attack rotations for maximum efficiency. While other officers actively engaged in these discussions with their respective guild members, I had to continually hound Kurst to do this. Whether he was distracted by work or his new baby was unclear; what was clear was that I was putting too much effort into an officer, who was supposed to lightening my load, not increasing it.
I remained optimistic about Kurst, hoping he would turn things around. In review, many of them were simple mechanical things that could be worked on. Practice would improve play and threat generation. Passion about the class would lead to more knowledge, and in turn, a sharing of that knowledge with the new Warriors of the guild. This in turn would lead to more forum updates, and leadership would eventually emerge. I hoped.