Thursday, April 3, 2014

3.61. The Field Where He Grew Them

Kerulak, dressed in full Ten Storms, stands alongside
Dalans, dressed in full Stormrage Raiment,
Orgrimmar

OMG! Bare Durid is Storng!

In the beginning, I didn't know if Dalans was going to last.

"He's at it again," Graulm whispered to me. The warlock, my Number Two, struggled to guide me through the after effects of a recently completed guild assimilation. Incorporating The Final Cut into our ranks was the final shove that pushed us through the door into 40-Man raiding, but it came at a cost. A veritable melting pot of personalities were now among our ranks, and not all of them had yet adopted "the way of the guild leader". When I gazed out across the virtual world that populated Deathwing-US, my conclusion was that most players couldn't give a fuck. This was a game; it was populated by gamers, and most of them cared little (if anything at all) about one another. Casual attitudes were swallowed whole, and predatory trolling was met with more aggressive trolling. Natural selection appeared conservative by comparison, watching how the hardcore fed off of the casual. In this rawest form of survival, kill-or-be-killed translated literally into both the fields of PvP and PvE, extending further on to the Battle.net forums where whining and taunting was commonplace. In my quest to create an environment unlike any other guild on the server, I steered my roster away from the forums as a means to avoid the disrespect and waste.

But, my newest players hadn't yet become privy to DoD's way of life, and after my second-in-command discreetly pointed out his behavior several times post-merge, it was clear I would have to address Dalans directly.

Dalans liked the forums. A lot. He swarmed them. With the razor sharp tongue of a seasoned gamer, he sliced into the forums like a Sushi Chef. As I reviewed his posts, there was a common theme. Amid the vitriolic personal attacks, Dalans remained surprisingly loyal to this brand new guild he called home. He espoused support for this new family, degrading all attackers who dared challenge our guild's credibility. I appreciated his fierce dedication, but it had to be controlled. Whatever name we had made for ourselves as a respectful, mature guild would quickly fly out the door if Dalans were left alone too long. My gut told me that there was great value buried deep in his character, and blanket threats to "change your attitude" would only fuel the rage further. In those early days of leadership, I made many judgement calls that felt right. I had consumed no leadership training materials, and it would be over a year before I'd meet Ater face-to-face, having our daily lunch rituals, schooling me on the fine art of directing human traffic.

So, my gut told me to appeal to the gamer in Dalans. Show him that we shared a mutual love of disliking idiot players, that we both had high expectations of one another, and that we were ultimately two faces of the same war -- the war on incompetence. After upgrading our guild's forums, I found a funny Currier and Ives painting a WoW player had painted over with cartoon dialogue balloons. In the painting, the characters spoke in the broken, horribly misspelled language of WoW players, commenting on the state of the druid class and its power. I sent it over to him, suggesting he use it for his forum signature. He laughed, promptly editing it down in size and affixing it to his profile. Building those gaming-related bonds helped ease into administrating Dalans, in an attempt to curtail his forum rants. He agreed to my demands. There was a bit of resistance, but I expected some; I would've been disappointed had he not put up any fight at all. It was that thick bear skin, after all, that was what appealed to me from a guild leader perspective. My roster needed a thick skin, especially considering what we were up against.

As we slowly etched away at raid content, after our late start midway through Vanilla, Dalans was always the first to report our boss progress on the Deathwing-US forums. This topic, maintained by players in the guild Inertia on the Alliance side, was rife with insult and mockery. Always ready to point the finger and laugh at how far behind we were, rarely acknowledging that we now sat among an elite few on the server that was making any progress in raids, Dalans kept his word to me. He promised to restrain himself, though it must have had been difficult. The trolls rarely let up. But Dalans stayed true to his word, continuing to post our boss kill progress even before I had our own forums announce said accomplishments. His undivided attention to our guild was impressive...

...or was that oppressive?

Dalans transforms into ROBO BEAR by
wearing Void Reaver's destroyed head,
Tempest Keep: The Eye

Is U Liek a Nise Hot Cup o Mangel?

When I first considered Dalans for a promotion to officer, I thought I had gone mad. I wasn't alone. Floating the idea around the officer pool was met with handfuls of really? I expected that most felt he wasn't nearly mature enough for the responsibility. I disagreed. Tact notwithstanding, I knew he was a gamer at heart, a person who would forever hunger for greatness, maintaining high expectations of both himself and his peers. It was a philosophy I shared, so a promotion was the logical decision to make. The officer pool in DoD ultimately needed to be an extension of my own ideals. Even though I sometimes felt like raiding with Dalans was like carrying around a live grenade in my backpack, he diligently served as druid officer, and matched our expectations to keep his players in a straightened military file. The druids we brought to raids complained little, kept their gear min/maxxed, and none complained of their role as healer during Vanilla. And they had no reason to: it was public knowledge within Descendants of Draenor that Dalans himself hated healing. But, like the guild leader, he led by example; instead of complaining, he embraced Restoration, consistently topping the meters among druid healer pool.

When The Burning Crusade launched, the druid class (as many others) finally came into their own, broadening in capacity to fill multiple roles. It was then that Dalans cut over to tank, a role he passionately looked forward to performing. By this point, his hot-headed handling of haters had been focused inward for so long, he commonly wielded his officer powers swiftly and with little remorse. Some argued it was abusive; for me, it wasn't always clear. Some complainers deserved instant silence for their annoying rants, others...I felt could have been shown a bit more compassion. Dalans didn't have time for compassion. Like the gamer attitude that brought him to my attention, it was the gamer attitude that kept him from seeing the other side of the situation. Was a player like Ekasra responding poorly to criticism because of a palpable lack of skill? Or was it a failing computer? Self-esteem issues? Problems on the home front? These things didn't matter to Dalans, so it was up to me to arbitrate, and bring both parties to the table.

Much of early Burning Crusade was spent in diplomatic negotiations with Dalans. He refused to budge on his hypercritical stance regarding players that failed. I agreed with him: excuses had no place in our raid team, but still I felt his tolerance of the inadequate could be increased, made to be more loose and fluid. The mathematics behind game mechanics are black and white, but people are a constantly shifting cloud of grays. Over time, the banhammer came down with less frequency, Dalans reserving his tyranny for only those who annoyed him in truly exceptional ways -- the height of which was reached during the final months of The Burning Crusade, as a mage named Wyse continued to press his buttons relentlessly. 

It was also during these last months of the first expansion that, for the first time, Dalans began revealing more of his personal life to me, the result of which most likely came from my promoting him to fill Ater's shoes. Dalans confided in me which helped take my mind off the loss of Ater, and in doing so, built up a much stronger relationship than we'd shared to that point. Extensive conversations revealed insight into the person behind the bear; we shared an interest in music like Front Line Assembly, and that he would most likely pursue IT professionally, just as I had years earlier. This reveal, however small, meant a lot to me. I knew how well guarded Dalans carried himself. For example, many players in the roster had revealed their real-life pic by this point, yet Dalans kept it well-guarded, in much the same way as our rogue raid leader did, preferring to keep a "church and state"-like separation of gaming and real life. 

I was amused, therefore, to discover both Dalans and Blain coincidentally shared the same first name in real life.

By the end of The Burning Crusade, I'd emerged from my depression bearing a tablature of re-written rules that the guild would adopt for Wrath of the Lich King, never once stopping to realize that Dalans was now my Number Two. He had taken on the role of that which had criticized him so many moons earlier, the role responsible for jeopardizing his very existence in DoD. The student had become the teacher.

---

As we transitioned into WotLK, Dalans continued with his formidable tanking. He and I stood side by side in many of those early fights: Malygos, Sartharion, the myriad of bosses intertwined inside Naxxramas. When I looked to shift from Class Officers to Role Officers, I felt strongly about the need for a second Number Two, someone to be the yin to Dalans' yang. For someone who lobbied heavily during Vanilla upon the platform of "too many cooks in the kitchen", Dalans surprised me yet again by not only supporting the idea, but being instrumental in the decision of choosing Neps. It was Dalans who put my fears to rest when contemplating the risk of elevating a PvPer to power.

He and Neps built a core team of leadership unmatched in DoD's history. Neps, like Dalans, had a critical eye for play, but his demeanor was more relaxed and subtle; the perfect balance that I needed to offset the druid's short temper. I was never terribly proud to hear that Dalans had "gone off" on one of my players, but I continued to smooth things over as needed, because secretly, I wished that I had the balls of steel to deliver such swift and brutal punishment to players unwilling to make the small sacrifices we asked of them. I wished for his ferocity at hammering into content until it was complete, whatever the cost. To Dalans', there was no such concept as game/life balance. It was all game, and you did it until it was done. When others blew it, Dalans brought home the gold.

Dalans shows off his Plagued Proto-Drake,
Dalaran

No Thanks LOL!

As we began the ascent of Icecrown Citadel, the core of the leadership team felt intact and unbreakable. Jungard led melee, Eacavissi headed the ranged DPS, and Gunsmokeco drove the healers. Omaric and Bretthew led the 25-Man progression team by the hand each and every week, while my original raid leader Blain quietly fed me observations on what they were doing right or wrong. Above them sat Neps and Dalans, polar opposites in demeanor but identical in expectation. Our pace was superb: Festergut and Rotface had already met their fate. Professor Putricide was our only obstacle from reaching the halfway point through this new instance. I was focused on the finely tuned raid machine, oblivious to the warning signs creeping up around me.

Role-specific needs of the raid team were changing with the needs of the encounters. Omaric and Bretthew were tanking every week, and since I had taken on more DPS-related duties, the only tank that remained was Dalans. For the Professor, control of the Abomination would usually go to Omaric, with Bretthew handling the slime-based excitement on the floor. More and more, Dalans was asked to flip into a role of DPS, which he obliged as openly as he had with healing years earlier. The struggles of the druid to fill multiple roles were now nearly forgotten, its flexibility being one of the primary attractions that drew Dalans to the class in the first place. But by shapeshifting from bear to cat, Dalans gave up his command as well as his bulk -- a blow that most certainly caused him to question his relevance in the team. I could see his side of things. I felt the exact opposite with tanking, performing my duties out of blind obligation to the guild, the lull to return to DPS loud in my mind and difficult to ignore. But perhaps other factors were coming into play.

Perhaps we shared more than an interest in industrial music and technology-based work. Deep down, I think Dalans was a sentimental fool like myself, though he would be loathe to admit it. Quietly, he pined for the days of Vanilla, when the 40-Man raid rewrote the definition of the word epic. Accomplishments did not come easy -- bosses required weeks and weeks of work, ear-piercing screams and cheers filling Vent as these bosses crashed dead to the floor. The raid game had changed so significantly, that perhaps Dalans felt more and more distanced from the game that it once was. After all, this landscape was entirely alien to a person who cut his teeth on games so difficult that those who failed in their pathetic attempts were in huge abundance...and ripe to receive his wrath. That wrath was now a distant whisper, eeked out of him by both a compassionate guild leader that relentlessly compelled the bear to treat all players with respect and dignity, regardless of their skill. Or perhaps it was wrung out of him by the game itself, now opening its doors wide to both elitist min/maxxers and failboats alike. Sure, I missed the days when bosses like Ragnaros and Nefarian crashed down under our boot, but the administrative logistics behind such epic encounters were painfully abhorrent -- there had to be a better way. This was it. Wrath had finally attained that fine balance which could serve both the casual and the hardcore, and in the process, easing administration to the point that we could all enjoy a healthy game/life balance.

...but, what if you're uninterested in game/life balance? 

What if that thing that drives you back to the game each and every night is that very same thing that makes you who you are? I don't understand why people climb mountains, jump out of airplanes or drive Indy cars around a track 500 times -- but these people do these things because it is in their blood. The passion to scale a mountain, hurtle toward the Earth or drive at speeds that put your life in jeopardy is a fire that exists in those people -- it is all the meaning they need to do it. It exists. The same is true of a gamer, who shuns the social norms of going out for drinks with friends, or hanging out at a club, in lieu of fixating on an internet dragon, coordinating button presses with the intent on a kill. That passion is no less strong, especially among gamers seeking competition and the thrill of accomplishment. At last, the mountain is scaled, the parachutist touches down and the Formula One race car crosses the finish line. Whether from the audience or inside the mind's eye, the cheers can be deafening.

So...what happens if that is the thing that is removed?

The 25-Man Progression team poses for a
victory shot at the defeat of Professor Putricide,
Icecrown Citadel
Those cheers had all but subsided. The thrill of victory, of the great accomplishment, had finally been snuffed out. Dalans finally came to terms with the fact that the game he once knew and loved no longer existed. What existed in its place he no longer shared the same passion for, because it wasn't what made him who he was. Even as I pounded the table throughout the years that there absolutely could be a way for World of Warcraft to strike a balance for both the casual and the hardcore, it was never a vision Dalans had for the game. To me, Blizzard had done it. They had achieved greatness, at long last.

To Dalans, greatness had faded from WoW long ago.

I wasn't surprised to hear what reasons he felt he needed to give me. Real life was taking over, he was in the process of securing a half-decent job, dominating his off-hours. I understood the predicament and felt no obligation to press it -- he didn't owe me anything. I thanked him for his dedication to the guild and his ferocity to defend our name to the bitter end. Professor Putricide was the final boss that Dalans was present for in the 25-Man progression team, and when he parted ways with the guild and game, a swarm of support filled the Leavers Lounge, acknowledging the many feats and contributions he delivered to my guild.

We tried many times over the years, but Dalans never again returned to World of Warcraft. Instead, he observed from afar, helping administer the guild via the forums. Now positioned behind an IT desk, Dalans delivers that same unbridled fury and rage toward idiot computer users that once shone brightly toward idiot players. We talk daily over IM, and as you can probably guess, he continues to demonstrate a fierce loyalty toward DoD by being the first person to review and edit every blog post that I write, still delivering on that high expectation of perfection and accuracy he promised me when I reached for that promote button years ago.

In the beginning, I didn't know if he would last. In the end, I'm thankful that Dalans lasted as long as he did.


~~~

QQ bounced off him, blow by blow.
His fierceness was, at last, the sign
To put to rest all of the whine
While staffing bitches, to and fro.

*Apologies to John McCrae

12 comments:

Cheeseus said...

Here's Dalans real life picture, for those who are wondering.

http://www.allfordmustangs.com/forums/attachments/5-0l-talk/50254d1219462784-help-looking-some-yellow-mustang-pic-1024-wallpaper-86.jpg

Dalans said...

I don't even drive that car anymore...AND IT WAS NEVER YELLOW (hate you so much...)

Strategos said...

I can very much relate to Dalans. Eventually, too much of a good thing, eventually becomes a bad thing. Looking back on my time as our GM (January 2008 through November 2010), my biggest mistake was I didn’t dole out responsibilities. I just felt if I didn’t do it myself, it wasn’t going to be completed the way I wanted it to be done. I had a few officers that helped out with a few things, but for the most part I ran the show. I was main tank, raid leader, our wish list/attendance based loot admin, and a guild leader somewhere in between.
I enjoyed ICC, but it also the first time I started entertaining the thought: “Why am I still doing this?” I don’t think the greatness of wow had faded, but I just didn’t give a damn if we progressed quickly or not at all. It seemed that the screaming and cheering was empty compared to those earlier days. I felt torn. There were days I didn’t want to log on to lead a raid or update the attendance. On the other hand I had 24 other people that depended on me.
One of the biggest factor that lead me to take an extended vacation until MoP was the fact we downed heroic Lich King the end of June 2010. As the weeks continued, it was like watching that favorite rerun of Seinfeld for the umpteenth time. You know the lines by heart, but you aren’t really paying attention to it anymore. It’s there for background noise.
I didn’t leave the guild in shambles. I help transition a new management and raid leading team before I departed in November. However, I’m glad I wasn’t there to see things go to hell in Cata. They were done raiding 25 content a few months in.
Pulling a Michael Jordan and walking away for a couple of years was what I needed. Coming back to MoP and playing with some old school guildies and a few friends has made it enjoyable. We’re no longer 21-25 year old that’s full of piss and vinegar and ready to tell everyone on the server how great we are. I’m more than content being 8/14 heroic on a 7 hour a week schedule. We’re also decided to stick with what we are doing. We don’t want to merge into another guild or mess with recruiting to get to Mythic Numbers. If it’s not broken, no sense in trying to fix it.
Strategos
P.S. I wish the night time in Orgrimmar still looked the same as that screen shot of your shaman and Dalans.

Florimel said...

You have finally done it. You made a comment that I feel compelled to respond to!

That very humorous druid comic is actually using art from Currier and Ives, not Norman Rockwell!

I started reading your blog when it was featured on WoW Insider last fall, and I wanted to let you know how much I have been enjoying the trip down memory lane. I have been raiding continuously since 2006 on the Argent Dawn-US server and your stories are definitely a blast from the past!

I've gone from noob to hardcore to casual-core, and I agree that a lot of the sweetness of victory has leaked away over the years. Not sure if it's because the game is that much easier now, or if my friends and I have just been playing too long and gotten too way too good at it. It's still a lot of fun, though, and a great way to be part of a team now that I am getting too old to play team sports without injuring myself...

When I played Pong back in the 70s, I thought video games would never catch on because it was so boring. I would never have guessed that video gaming would become one of my favorite hobbies in the 21st century.

I have been wanting to make a comment for some time now, both to let you know of my appreciation and to join the conversation, but I could never quite overcome my reluctance to make a fool of myself by posting on the open internet...

I nearly jumped into the discussion over the merits of 10-man vs 25-man raiding, but others made my points well enough to satisfy me.

But you can't go meddling with art history and get away with it! :P

Looking forward to the rest of your epic saga.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Strategos,

Great comment! I share the pain you experienced in trying to handle everything on your own -- this was my #1 problem during vanilla/tbc.

I definitely didn't get that feeling of "why are we doing this" until Cataclysm, but having experienced it (eventually) I can understand why my members left when they did at various times.

@Florimel,

Great catch on Currier and Ives -- I shall amend. And good on you for finally jumping in and contributing! All comments and feedback are welcome, and we've had some really great discussions from the WoW community thus far.

I predict more commentary as the weeks progress...

Dalans said...

@Strategos: One of the main reasons other than my RL obligations changing was: I felt with my waning interest I wouldn't be giving 100% if I stayed on and that would be a disservice to the guild. I also went back and forth in my mind "well if you quit then that will be 0% so would something be better than nothing?"

In the end, playing felt like a chore. I'm only on to raid, and anything I was doing in WoW ancillary to that was to support my raiding, dailies for repairs or getting flask materials etc. That coupled with the overall feeling of "oh we killed another boss, meh" was the final nail.

That being said, if it hadn't been for DoD and the people I have met playing this game, I would have quit a lot sooner.

Fred said...

...... and Fed Star still needs that damn Algalon kill Dalans.

Benjamin Riley said...

That fuckin' stang!

Nann said...

Headings on this weeks installment... A+ LOVED that fkin' signature!

Neps said...

Dalans was, is and always will be the yang to my yin.

Also Cheesus, and Ben can tell you too, that what Dalans drove was a yellow Mustang 'convertible with a white top'.

Here's a picture of it.
http://i.imgur.com/ZtFeTss.png

This was the day Kocker came to visit him. We all know Klocker loves to show off his daisy dukes and Dalans loved to wear a sombrero in game and irl! My two favorite hairy bears. <3

Shimerice said...

Omg Neps you jerk. My eyes! Why did I trust a link you posted??

Dalans said...

@Neps: "Holy jesus, what is that? WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?"