Artwork by Nooblar
Taking a Hot ShotThe Olympic Volleyball team, players finely honed, muscles sculpted and senses heightened to near superhuman levels, has just made a startling announcement: they will be dropping out of the Olympics to pursue a spot in this year's San Bernardino International "Spike That Drink" Pee-Wee Tournament.
I'm going to guess that one of two thoughts just entered your mind:
"Wow, the rest of the kids in that tournament are about to get a serious beating."
...or was it closer to:
"Uh, why is an Olympic team competing at a Little League level?"
Well, which was it? I have to confess that, for me, it was both. To the relief of amateur and professional athletes the world over, my particular experience had nothing to do with the fictional account of Olympians choosing to put the smack down on a bunch of high school kids.
For me, it was something that hit closer to home, but was no less absurd.
"This doesn't make any sense," I spoke into the mic as we headed back to the instance, riding on the back of a ghostly wyvern.
"We must be missing some key mechanic," added Klocker.
"Possible we don't have the deeps," said Blain.
I found that hard to believe, "How is our DPS any different than Eh Team? Seriously?"
"Could just be the mix and match of their particular group..."
I stopped him, "OK, two years ago maybe that would've been an excuse. But it goes against every game design Blizzard's preached throughout Wrath this entire expansion. 'Bring the player, not the class', remember? It can't possibly be tuned that tightly to favor their makeup over ours. This is normal mode, for God's sake!"
Si Team's steamrolling had come to an abrupt halt in the Plagueworks: Rotface. Wipe after wipe after wipe, we came within mere percentages of closing the deal. The fundamentals of raiding weren't even a consideration at this point: every weapon had been enchanted, every food buff and flask consumed. DPS rotations were as tight as they could possibly be...yet we were continually coming up short. Again, with a 3% wipe. And another at 2%. A gut wrenching wipe at 1%. Then, back to 2%, and back to 3%. A cloud of asphyxiating frustration swept in; my breath tightened. I swore I felt my blood pressure rising as easily as one could feel the burn of a hot stove element searing flesh.
Suddenly, a flood of spam filled guild chat with players typing "ROTFACE DOWN!!!1!1". The torrent of exclamations that followed read of "FINALLY" and "JESUS" and "FUCK THAT BOSS".
I fired off a response, addressed to those Eh Team members that were on, "WTF"”, I typed, "How in the hell did you guys do this?"
The first response came from Bretthew, "Rotface sucks serious ass."
Bulwinkul added in his two cents, "Something is seriously wrong with that fight."
Wrong or not, Eh Team stuck the proverbial fork into the leather faced abomination. Why couldn't Si Team?
"Maybe the encounter is just...broken."
We dispersed that evening, battered. The fight invaded my dreams and distracted my thoughts the next day. I struggled to focus on my work, as images of the abomination darted across the synaptic darkness. A slime here, a pool of poison there...fuck. Unexplained mysteries were the worst. Not knowing the answer was a thousand nails dragged down a chalkboard. My IM window shot open. A person I rarely heard from over instant messenger would deliver the drug that relaxed my veins and got the blood flowing again: Jungard.
"This just in: Rotface 10-Man nerfed"
Called it. "Well, well, well..."
"Yup. He's down a chunk of health, people are reporting it on the forums. Here's a link."
"I knew something wasn't right. Have they made an official statement yet?"
"No blue posts that I can tell, looks to be a stealth nerf."
As with all changes to the game that weren't immediately followed by announcements from Blizzard, theories began to circulate. Players were quick to jump on the conspiracy bandwagon, never once stopping to consider that, sometimes, companies don't always get everything right all the time. Having spent most of my professional career in software development, I could relate. Communication between those doing the work and those keeping the public informed wasn't as easy as lighting a stove, but more akin to cracking rocks of flint together in the hopes of sending out some smoke signals. It was possible the community managers simply didn't have the information from the dev team. I did my best to keep a level head during situations like this, giving Blizzard the benefit of the doubt.
Still, Ghostcrawler had done more this expansion than any in the history of World of Warcraft to keep the public in-the-know. Was there, perhaps, even the tiniest of possibilities, that something larger was afoot? It bore questioning, at the least.
"GC hasn't said anything? Eh, he's probably still drafting it up."
"My guess is it has something to do with the Strict 10 guilds. Probably bent out of shape because they can't supplement upgrades from the 25."
The what now?
|The "Strict 10" categories as they appeared|
on GuildOx during Wrath of the Lich King
The Fall of Alexander"Strict 10s?"
"Yeah, you've seen 'em on GuildOx, right? Maybe Blizz is trying to make them uber competitive or something, and the 10s end up overtuned as a result."
I pulled up GuildOx, filtered down to the Deathwing-US server and began scanning the categories. Sure enough, sandwiched between the 10-Man and 25-Man achievements sat a new category: 10M Strict, with its own subset of filters to measure progression and ranks. Out of the primordial soup that was this expansion emerged a new, self-proclaimed "competitive" raider. Still dripping from the evolutionary mass, these guilds burned with all the hardcore intensity of the oldest and wisest raiding guilds ever to set foot in WoW, bearing a solitary, subtle difference. These raiders purposefully remained within the tight confines of a small guild, never growing above a dozen or so players...and certainly never reaching the size that a 25-Man raiding guild demanded. Yet, unlike the 10-Man guilds which had been casually consuming raid content in Wrath thus far, these newly evolved players climbed up the food chain to demand recognition as competitive raiders. 10-Man raids in "heroic" mode most certainly came as close as they could to deliver such demands, but of everything we'd experienced thus far, even the most difficult 10-Man heroics didn't hold a candle to the challenge demanded of in the traditional 25-Man.
Most surprising of all was that this new class of raider took themselves seriously enough to warrant their own server-first/world-first rankings. What fumes had these players been breathing in?
It boggled the mind. To me, Strict 10 guilds competing for world dominance made about as much sense as a team of Olympians demanding a spot in a Little League tournament. Again, the Not-Knowing infected my mind as I wrestled with the concept. Just as frustrating as it was to be missing the key to solving Rotface's oppressive difficulty (in 10-Man normal mode, no less), I struggled to wrap my head around this new raiding paradigm. Why would anyone that considered themselves a competitive player purposefully handicap the playing field in which they did battle? And all at once, the situation reminded me of another community in World of Warcraft:
Without question, the twink was a horse of a different color. They were an eclectic crew that played by their own bizarre rules, the hipsters of WoW, driven by an internal desire to reshape the game to suit their own needs. If PvP was a bucket that collected the majority of WoW's liberal anarchists, then the twinks most certainly made up the radical left-wing of this party. Bucking the trend (or core mechanic, based on your perspective) of striving to reach a character's max level facilitating the acquisition of end-game content and its appropriate rewards, twinks derived orgasmic satisfaction by doing the exact opposite. Twinks refrained from leveling past the top of the decuple, favoring numbers like 29, 39, 49, and so on. Once arriving at this magical yet seemingly arbitrary number, twinks then dove deep into any and all available gear for that chosen "cap".
To explain this concept to the layman is like trying to explain why a professional race car driver diverting all of their time and energy into old beat-up Monte Carlos, Chevelles, Novas, and Power Gates from the 70's. People point and laugh at these relics of an ancient era as they cruise down main street, but hobbyists know the truth: they may not win any races, but are some of the most resilient automobiles when pitted against one another in a destruction derby. So when a professional race car driver chooses to funnel his interests into something a hobbyist does as a goof, one has to wonder: what's the motive? "It's just for fun", "I enjoy it!", and "It's a matter of preference" are all perfectly acceptable responses...none of which answer the question. Why? What benefit comes from changing the playing field?
The twink, much like the larger PvP culture it spawned from, cares little about public opinion. They answer to no one and feel no obligation to explain themselves. As a result of this obstinacy, we're forced to look at any data available and come to our own conclusions. Many different drivers could act as possible motives for this style of play. For one, it favors the extreme geek who loves to research and theory out various "greens" and their potential for max damage. It's also explored by a small fraction of the community, so perhaps it favors those who thrive in smaller groups of players, especially ones whose expertise will become apparent much more easily. After all, everyone needs to feel like they're good at something, right? But these are all still personal preferences and opinions, which can vary from player to player. We need harder data, something that doesn't change from player to player, when trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. The answer to that is quite simple, a fact that could quite possibly be the single driving factor for the existence of twinks in their entierety:
At levels below the current cap, World of Warcraft becomes a severely unbalanced game.
The game was never meant to be played permanently at levels below max. As a result, Blizzard simply has never put the time nor energy into balancing the game at those levels. Twinks know this fact well, whether they like to admit it or not. "Competition", therefore, is vastly skewed out of proportion at those less-than-max levels, and it is this drug that keeps them coming back to the dealer. They love that the balance is out-of-control at those levels, and don't care. It keeps them coming back to Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin, fueling the junkies as their opponents explode in a mess of flesh and bone. Their enemies never had a chance.
...just like they themselves never had a chance, back when they attempted real competition at max level, and proceeded to have their asses handed back to them by players wielding true skill. Now, they leaned on the imbalance of lower levels to skew things in their favor. They couldn't compete on the field, so they changed the field.
The exact same thing that the 10-Man Strict guilds were doing.
|"WoW Weekly 1: Rotface",|
Artwork by Aleana
Poisoning Pigeons in the ParkAs I glanced at the Strict 10 categories on GuildOx, I thought of the twinks and how they shared a similar apathy towards both public opinion and the shape of the game itself. These so-called hardcore raiders seemed driven to compete against one another in their race to dominate PvE. But, the math fell apart at their size. Players that cut their teeth in guilds so large they could hold off an attack on their home city...were now settling for "keeping it small", uninterested in the raid machine of their former years. What was it that drove them to this bizarre frontier? Publicly, they said the same thing: "Preference. It's purely a matter of preference." The answer was a cop-out. I wanted to know why they preferred it small. Were these the rejects of larger, 25-Man hardcore raiding guilds who were unable to work with others, unable to get over their petty, personal issues? Was it because they told themselves they couldn't put forth a little effort into rearranging their lives around a larger guild's scheduling demands...when, in many cases, all it would take is a little planning on their part? Was it because they knew that the majority of guilds running 10-Man only raids were mostly comprised of players approaching content with a casual, laid-back attitude, so competing against these guilds would come off as impressive by comparison?
...or was it because they, like their twink cousins, knew the truth: 10-Man raids could never be balanced competitively against their larger 25-Man raids cousins.
Remember: this was primarily a hardcore crowd. They weren't stupid; the had done the math. Each and every way they laid it out on the table, a 10-Man raid's mechanics could never provide the difficulty of a 25-Man. Not unless Blizzard decided to bend the rules. If this Strict 10 crowd could evolve into something significant, perhaps Blizzard saw it as a boon, a way to make encounters appeal to an even broader range of player. For a split second, in that moment of space and time when the mystery of Rotface's difficulty remained unanswered, I had to question the possibility. Competitive 10-Man raiding? And the very first thought I had sent a chill down my spine colder than any Howling Blast a death knight could hope to deliver:
If it existed, why would anyone ever set foot in a 25-Man again?
Five days after the "stealth" nerf, one of Blizzard's community managers Crygil confirmed the hotfix, simultaneously confirming my suspicion and banishing all conspiracy theories out into the void. But the research into "Strict 10s" got me thinking...was it possible that Blizzard would take note of their efforts? It was a real possibility. After all, when the twinks yelled loudly enough, Blizzard added an option in-game to "toggle off" experience gains, which made the twinks' lives much easier, and validated their style of play.
What changes would Blizzard make to accommodate this unusual new type of raider?
At the end of the day, did it matter how people chose to play WoW? Not at all. What other players did to entertain themselves in game had no impact on my own enjoyment...
...that is, unless, their advocacy of this unorthodox experience helped shift Blizzard's design team into a new mode of thinking, perhaps even to favor it, poisoning our own experience in the process.