|The Blizzard Authenticator: a simple, six-dollar solution adding|
two-factor authentication to a World of Warcraft account.
Kurst’s skill behind-the-wheel was being repeatedly called into question, yet I insisted on working through these superficial struggles. If it were only a question of his ability as a Warrior and an officer, I reasoned, these things could be taught and improved over time. But the picture became far less black-and-white as time went on. As with all people-related issues, his grew into a complex cloud of greys that coalesced into a dark storm, following him as though he were cursed to continually suffer bad luck. His character's name was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
At the beginning of January 2009, Kurst’s account was hacked. The details in my mind are sketchy; I seem to recall that it happened as a result of his wife's compromised Hotmail account. Now, one can argue (and I definitely argued) that anyone can be hacked. It’s true; in Kurst’s defense, thousands of Warcraft accounts are hacked on a daily basis. To what end? A multitude of reasons. Selfish nerd pride, perhaps. More practically, there is a monetary incentive to hack an account: WoW players use Azeroth's gold as their currency to buy and sell goods. Gold is also used to repair worn out gear; yes, the slaying of internet dragons actually imposes a virtual wear-and-tear on the weapons and armor we don for battle. Back on Earth, a WoW black market thrives. It allows players to unofficially purchase in-game gold with real cash -- something Blizzard strictly forbids in the terms and conditions of the game. Nevertheless, this underground activity continues to spread and infect gamers (as viruses do), and hacked gold is the nourishment of this parasite. Break into a player’s account, pilfer their gold, transfer the currency to a commodities exchange account, and voilà, it is ready to be sold on eBay, or a host of BUY WOW GOLD NOW! websites.
Kurst’s hacking was particularly inconvenient. He was unable to raid, and finding a geared / experienced tank in a short amount of time consistently posed a challenge. Worse, his officer rank granted him extended access to the guild vault -- which was subsequently gutted by the hacker in the process. Since Cataclysm, guild leaders have been able to restrict access to the guild vault by detecting the presence of a player's Authenticator, but back in WotLK, no such functionality existed. And, it wouldn't have helped. Kurst, whose profession was IT security in the real world, had opted against attaching an Authenticator to his account. So, although I defended him publicly on the forums by reminding the guild that anyone can be hacked, I was disgusted and disappointed at this situation. It could have been prevented. His insistence to me that his account was safe without an Authenticator was simply more gasoline on the fire.
|A screenshot from the "Re: Why I Sort By Damage Done"|
DoD forum thread
Presence on the guild forums is vital to Descendants of Draenor. We are a social unit, and need to carry on conversations that begin in-game, or vice-versa. We need to be able to communicate strategy to raiders, changes in management to officers, and clarification of rules to guildies. It is a constant struggle to keep people attuned to our forums outside of the game, and I've experimented with a variety of techniques throughout my guild career to keep people invested and reading. One of those techniques is simply: Have officers drive content. They are the leaders, the ones who are turned to for advice and guidance. They need to set the example by providing updated topics on their class, and what players need to be aware of in order to continually improve their game. At the start of WotLK, I mandated that officers keep their topics fresh with links to spreadsheets, info on the latest patches, and what their class needs to be thinking about on a day-to-day basis. I wanted to breed excellence.
Not surprisingly, being uninvolved had the reverse effect on players. Players wandered around Northrend in a daze, and were perpetually asking the same questions over and over; ones that had been answered on the forums long ago. More importantly, remaining checked out of the guild forums meant vital conversations could be missed. I instructed all the officers that the most efficient way to be caught up was to click “View New Topics” each time they returned to the forums. This was a sure-fire way to see all the new discussions that guildies were engaging in; I personally chose to consume our boards using this technique. Once such discussion arose when Ekasra announced to us, with great sadness, that his friend and fellow guild member Lhaktar, a player who suffered from depression, had taken his own life. The guild took time to remember Lhaktar and expressed their heartfelt condolences. As it seems to me regarding the topic of suicide, word doesn't necessarily spread quickly, so pockets of the guild remained in the dark about this fact.
When a conversation on “Sorting by Damage Done” in a battleground started up, guild members began contributing screenshots of their performance in various PvP battles. One guildy linked over to a screenshot displaying the damage done at the end of an Alterac Basin. The screenshot belonged to Lhaktar. Upon seeing this, players left comments in the topic like, “I miss him. :(“, remembering their friend. Thinking players were being overly melodramatic about a ex-guildy that had been ejected, Kurst hopped into the thread and added:
“This is not ‘The View’. Move along”
Of course, Kurst was a very kind and generous person in real life, and meant no harm by this statement. He lacked context. By not being active on the boards (as I asked the officers to be), he was not privy to the Lhaktar story, and his comments came across as disrespectful and cruel, which proceeded to offend a number of players. That wasn't his intention, and once he discovered this fact, apologized profusely. The damage was already done in my mind; he'd once again proven to me that he was checked out.
|The 25-Man Progression team poses outside|
Wrymrest Temple, after the completion of
The Twilight Zone.
I pressed Kurst to stay involved in the forums, as it was his responsibility as an officer to drive leadership, and represent the expertise we demanded of the officers. But, as we shifted our focus to work on The Twilight Zone, it became clear he was still out-of-the-loop. Cheeseus and I would have daily conversations about how to best position the three drakes, how we would improve our positioning to dodge the flame wall, and how we would most effectively coordinate killing elemental adds. When other guilds revealed tricks and techniques we jumped on them, and poured them into our raid strategy forum to keep the discussion moving. Yet, Kurst was never involved in it. Proactively, I would open an IM window with him, and ask if he was up-to-speed with our changes to flame wall movement -- he didn't know what I was talking about. I had to specifically ping him each and every time a new piece of information was discussed. In my quest to delegate responsibility in WotLK, Kurst was turning the tables on me, giving me more to worry about rather than less.
Initial work on The Twilight Zone suffered. One drake was a non-issue, killed on the Jan. 11th, and Two drakes took only an additional week to work through (the 18th), so by Jan. 25th, we were officially working on all three. By now, many of the progression raiders had become accustomed to the various mechanics introduced by twisting the difficulty dial. Yet, Kurst remained a consistent offender in this department. Cheeseus would express frustration to me over IM about the number of times Kurst continued to eat shadow fissures, noting on one evening of attempts that Cheeseus himself had eaten one, while Kurst had eaten 13 of them. I implored Kurst to improve and refine, but you can't get blood from a coarse stone. Kurst was already giving me everything he could.
It wasn't enough.
By the third week of attempts, the writing was on the wall. If I wanted to keep the DoD raid team moving forward, I had to enforce my guild’s new structure. That meant holding both players and officers accountable. That meant putting the right people in the right job; anything less would put the raid team at risk. So, I made the horrible decision to demote Kurst from officership. I drafted the entire letter up on a flight back from Dallas, TX, to my home in Denver, CO, the turbulence eating away at my conscience the entire time. You don't have to do this. He will improve. The facts kept me focused while my conscience tried to sway me. It sucked having to write it. It’s easy to tell a douchebag to hit the road, kicking them to the curb without looking back. But how do you tell a friend, someone who’s been loyal to your guild for years, that they’re no longer good enough? That their presence jeopardizes everything you've worked toward? The answer is: there is no easy way. The hardest job in the world is firing good people. You tell a child that their beloved pet is dead, and you feel hollowed out as they fall apart. You just deliver the news, and try to keep a shred of dignity about it. It’s a band-aid that you rip from the flesh; it stings, you move on. It stings a little less each day.
Kurst didn’t take the news well. He wasn't defiant, he didn't proclaim that there was some grand conspiracy at work. He didn't blame anyone or point fingers at any player in particular. But, he wasn't overjoyed. He didn't express a grand sigh of relief. He remained quiet, and chose not to challenge my decision. Officially, all he received was a demotion out of officership; there was no clause that he had forfeit membership. He alone chose this route. Remaining to himself for the days following, he logged on a few times to collect his things, go about his daily routine, but spoke to no-one, and made no announcement of his intentions on the forums.
A few days after the demotion, Kurst left Descendants of Draenor, and we never spoke again.
After three dedicated years of membership, Kurst's last raid with us was on February 6th of 2009; a 2-drake kill in OS25. One week after Kurst's departure, the 25-Man progression team earned its first 3-drake kill, wrapping up The Twilight Zone. Once again, the team was realigned and on track. So for the team, it was the right decision; the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. Yet, not a day goes by that I don’t think about my decision regarding him. It was the single, most difficult thing I've ever had to do as a guild leader.
I've not yet come to forgive myself for it.