Thursday, March 27, 2014

3.60. Dead Men Do No Deeps

"WOW : Blood Elf Death Knight"
Artwork by Timo Paananen

Tools 2.0

Oh, nice. I see the new guy is beating you again. How long's he been in the guild? What...three minutes?

As much as I proselytized Blain's motto to the guild, my own consciousness remained impervious to it. My damage suffered, and the first inclination was to always blame a desperate lack of gear as the possible root cause. The 25-Man progression raid continued to loot upgrades in ICC week after week, yet I remained quietly in the back, watching them pass me by, a kid pressed up against the glass of the candy store. With no DKP in my pockets, hunger pains persisted. Descendants of Draenor's longest running master looter eventually took notice, shooting over a whisper one night as we transitioned back to trash:

"Why aren't you looting?" Neps asked.

"Can't," I fired back a reply, "Still no DKP."

"It's been weeks."

"No choice. Still in the hole after getting Bheer's trinket."

"Yeah, but that wasn't your fault."

I sighed. Neps was right, but that changed nothing about what the rules were. That spend had to come from somewhere, and it wasn't OK make allowances for myself while the remainder of the raid did as I said, and not as I did. So I kept a stiff upper lip while players like Hellspectral closed the gap. There are other ways of improving your DPS. There's always another way. It was time to hammer some new nails in. And not with bare hands.

---

The first tool I turned to was Rawr. Developed by a handful of impassioned raiders looking to back their min/maxxing with raw numbers, Rawr allowed me to load up a profile that mirrored Mature's specifics: race, professions, and current gear loadout. Once a replica of my death knight was set up in Rawr, the application mathed out the most appropriate upgrades, enchants and gems. Rawr gave the entire fifty-thousand foot view of a character, even going so far as to recommend possible talent changes for DPS variances that existed between specs. Looking at the multicolored bar graphs sometimes revealed glaring deficiencies in approach; in some cases, it meant the difference between competence and ignorance. I spent my afternoon lunch hours playing with gear options, tweaking talents points, and watching Rawr redistribute the bar graphs appropriately. I adjusted those configuration options, experimenting with various builds until I saw the greatest combination of changes providing the most impact.

Another up-and-coming tool for the Death Knight class began to rise to prominence at this time. DKSimulator, written by a fellow going by the name Kahorie, claimed to run a theoretical DK through the motions after being given a starting set of statistics to work with. Specifying attributes like like hit and expertise while being tempered by varying levels of strength and critical strike showed me an alternate "perfect world" of where my damage should be.

The raiding environment was rarely a perfect world.

In most cases, I'd take data pouring out of the simulation with all the seriousness of a spilled salt shaker. A million and one factors separated simulation from reality. How much movement does the encounter force upon the player? Are there piles of adds to have to deal with...and are those adds even a priority for the DK? What degree of survivability goes into the encounter? Are you forced to face the front of the boss in order to stay alive, thereby increasing how much the boss dodges and parries? How many DPS cooldowns are sacrificed in order to stay alive? It's hard to rank on World of Logs when you're face down in the dirt. Many raid encounters had their handful of gimmicks and environmental considerations, all of which could skew what a player was capable of producing, vs. the actual damage that filled up a Recount meter.

That's why I loved Deathbringer Saurfang.

His father may have named him Dranosh, but he was all training dummy to me. When I stood toe-to-toe with DoD's melee, I could focus entirely on my rotation, never once worrying about movement, survivability, adds, or any other distraction a typical boss threw at us. Nearly every encounter had factors that skewed reports, making them difficult to compare with simulations like what Kahorie gave us. But not Saurfang. For all intents and purposes, the numbers DKSimulator dictated should have been attainable. And I was hitting them.

So why did World of Logs continue to report such discrepancies when comparing with other death knights? Awash with frustration, I turned to PvP in search of answers.

Rawr,
an application used to assist players in "mathing"
out their talents, upgrades, and spell rotations.

The Sucking

It'd been quite some time since I last set foot in an arena. Sixfold had been my partner at the start of Season 5; I bounced back and forth between Arterea the priest and Aethist the shaman during Season 6 and 7 as the raid team tackled Ulduar and the Tournament of Champions. Now at the start of Season 8, partners were far and few between. I reached out to Neps one evening, asking him of his own team's status. He was unavailable, but repeated his original suggestion: ping the new warrior Sentra. He had a 3v3 team with an open spot; his partner in crime was a holy paladin named Nerffmeh. Unease set in.

My love/hate relationship with PvP continued to bother me. Every time I set foot in an arena, I felt like I was heading out on a date with an ex-girlfriend. You and I have nothing in common. So why are we doing this? I sucked at PvP, it was a completely different language. I'm not trying to mince words here: the level of suck I brought to PvP wasn't your typical  "Oh, it's not that bad, you're just getting your feet wet!" type of suck. We're talking a full on "Uninstall and kill yourself" degree of suckage. Teammates were driven to the brink of rage, and opponents reveled in my ineptness, an unheralded incompetence oozing from each fingertip. My gut knew exactly what my Achilles heel was the entire time.

You don't PvP enough. No practice = you loseCall a spade a spade. Someone will end up carrying you, so make the best of it. Play the game. Get to know these players a bit more. You could use the perspective. They may even teach you a thing or two. It's going to pay off later when you need to make them see your side of things inside a raid.

In the days of the Burning Crusade, PvPers I shoved into Serpenshrine Cavern, like Ouleg, were the most alien in the roster. Most dismissed the crowd as a bucket of d-bags that weren't worth the time or energy. It's easy to judge people you know nothing about, people outside of your own comfortable social setting. There you are, trying to make a guild a better place for players...and then you've got these guys. Aloof. Untouchable. They wore a perceived elitism proudly, that they were "too good" to stick around until the end of the raid. And every wipe-and-run-back was colored with insults and profanities that made you feel like you were personally wasting their precious time.

As if nobody else's time was precious.

Judging and dismissing them was the easy way out. I had proof they weren't all a bucket of douche. Annihilation, Neps and Haribo were three of the strongest, most reliable officers ever to set foot in DoD -- all three avid PvPers. No, I decided to put the effort in, so joining this 3v3 team was the logical next step. If Sentra was going to see raid rotations, I was going to have to develop a greater vocabulary of techniques -- not unlike how I convinced Ben to start texting me on raids he'd be late to. Contrary to popular belief, there are other important people in the world who rely on you, so it's important to follow through on your word. Ben got it. Could I make it happen with more PvPers?

---

Sentra confirmed he and Nerffmeh were searching for a partner for 3v3, "Yeah. Got a team goin' already."

"Great", I answered, "shoot me an invite and let's get this thing going."

A few moments passed, then the bong of an invite request rang out of my speakers. I accepted the request, then promptly popped open the Arena Team interface to read our team's name:

N GGERS

I stared at the screen, and had no words. This was going to be a long Arena season.

An example damage report of a death knight on
World of Logs

Devil in the Details

Back at the office, my failing damage continued to distract me. Chunks of coding time were broken up by pulling up World of Logs, drilling down into our last report, highlighting my detailed spell breakdown, then comparing with a top ranked death knight I bookmarked. The differences continued to be night and day. I fired open another browser tab, typing the URL to the WoW Armory, cross referencing this death knight to my own. Now, the differences were trivial: we were both heavily draped in gear from Ulduar and the Tournament of Champions. Yet his damage gouged massive gaping holes in the report...a far cry from what piddly scratches I made to the surface.

"Sup?" popped open the IM window from the system tray of the desktop. Long since retired from his role as my raid leader, now completely absent from World of Warcraft, Cheeseus was still actively a part of my day to day chatter. More than anything, he was a numbers guy. If the puzzle involved math, he'd solve it.

"Pissed that I can't figure out what's wrong with this damage report."

"I'm completely checked out of WoW, but you can try your luck and see what I can pull out of my ass."

"Long story short: Scourge Strike now hits as physical and shadow. Reports will break those casts out into two separate lines. So, assuming that one isn't a complete idiot...a Single Scourge strike that hits once should have two entries. With me so far?"

"Si."

"Perfect example is this report right here from a Deathbringer Saurfang kill. You will note in the report 14 Scourge Strikes. 14 entries that are physical, 14 that are shadow. Confirm that you see these and that I'm not high."

"Confirmed on the report entries. Can't speak to any drug addictions, tho."

I pulled up DoD's report from the previous weekend, drilled-down into Deathbringer Saurfang, then copied and pasted the URL into the IM client.

"Now look at my Saurfang from Sunday and tell me what's wrong with this picture."

Less than 10 seconds went by before I had an answer.

"Nothing. And you're silly."

I stared back at the IM client.

"OK. What glaring thing have I missed?"

"How many hits do you have?"

"15"

"And how many crits?"

"25...oh for fuck sakes...the shadow portion can't crit."

"Ha ha."

Something still wasn't right.

"Hold hold hold, back this bus up a second. This other death knight had 14 hits, 26 crits in both the physical and shadow. That doesn't make any sense at..."

...all?

"Son. of. a. bitch."

I glanced up at the date of the report in which the purported death knight was pummeling Mature in damage. December 8th, 2009. Opening day of Icecrown. Patch day. Three days before Blizzard would make a blue post warning unholy death knights that Scourge Strike was too bursty in 3.3 and would need to be toned down. I'd been comparing Mature's damage to a bogus report all along, inflated for the one night this top ranked death knight's guild ran Icecrown. That one and only evening Scourge Strike wailed on anything and everything, propelling her to the top of the charts. Charts that World of Logs did little to curate.

I scurried for another, more recent report, in an attempt to find a top ranked death knight. The russian alphabet filled my screen with glyphs indecipherable. I zoomed in on the the telltale deep blood red color that painted death knights in reports. His magic number for the evening: 7239. Mature's? 7884. I slumped back in the chair, satisfied.

For the moment...

11 comments:

Dalans said...

"N GGERS"

Something something entitled white people on the internet giving the rest of us a bad name...

All class, that Sentra.

Cheeseus said...

Shawn,

You totally could have used the hundreds of DKP I accumulated but you wouldn't let me spend at the end.

<3

Fred said...

Oh ICC. The land of Paladins in cloth

Anonymous said...

So, if your DPS was that good the entire time, why did you feel the need to go to such lengths to increase it to begin with? Were you underperforming compared to the rest of the raid? And if so, how was that possible with numbers like that? Were DK's just weak at DPS at the time? Or was it actually a gear problem, Blain's motto be damned?

-Salivanth

Fred said...

One of the things that all of us dealt with at the time was, for a "casual" guild, we had some very elite raiders. Guys like Jungard and Hells were always pushing the boundaries with their DPS. They were a benchmark that everyone tried to be like. Likewise with our healers. In the years that I have been raiding, I have never been part of a healing team as efficient and cohesive as we had in Wrath.

Ru said...

Great read. I crave these every week.

Kelden said...

Being a healer I never paid too much attention to the dps numbers, but even if your numbers had been low I would not have cared, and I think most people would have felt the same. Having your guild leader and most charismatic member in the raid provided a morale boost that easily negated any loss of dps.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Salivanth,

This was more about my insistence on not being in the dark regarding death knight mechanics than anything else. I couldn't leave unexplained mysteries alone because I felt like it was something players who didn't give a shit would do.

"Why are you at the bottom of the meters?"

"I dunno."

To me, that was the ultimate slap in the face. So even bizarre mysteries like why I wasn't measuring up to accidentally inflated death knight reports had to be answered.

I didn't want to be put into the position of someone asking me that, and telling them I didn't know.

DKs were definitely not weak at the time! If anything, DKs dominated the meters extensively throughout WotLK (even moreso at the end).

Nann said...

I just want to interject something here: decent PvPers that have a fair grasp of how to execute their cooldowns as well as watch for enemy cooldowns are VASTLY different in attitude than those that remain at the upper echelon of the scene. It is actually quite interesting how there is almost a definitive barrier between the contrasting community that remains just above 2300+. I was pretty well received into every raiding guild I ever had the privilege of slaying content with, including DoD.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Nann,

Speak to what you saw! I bet more than a few readers are interested to hear about PoV other than my own.

Nann said...

Sentra has always been on my real id since it was introduced into the game.. He wasn't necessarily a bad guy or anything but when you have a guild--nay--community like DoD, you HAVE to be prepared to suck it up and put on a filter at times. I wasn't like the FCC was watching our green chat or patrolling our Vent conversations ready to pounce at anything we said. There was a HEFTY share of vulgarity at times. However, the vulgarity was well placed most of the time and therefore, acceptable. Sentra was one of those PvPers that was decent and understood somewhat of the expectations to be competitive but he represented the majority of players that could not quite achieve that skill level that many were comfortable sitting at and remaining calm most of the time because they have a deeper understanding of "how the game is played". And I mean more than just the surface text in those words... Everything is much more relaxed at the top. Sentra not ever being quite there was stuck meddling with others, much like himself, full of rage and off the wall comments at extremely inappropriate times...