Thursday, May 1, 2014

3.65. Questionable Ethics

Gunsmokeco earns the #1 position in the world for
restoration shamans on Blood Queen Lana'thel,
World of Logs

Dissecting the Queen's Demise

It was big news for Descendants of Draenor. Really big. A small time, not completely casual, not entirely hardcore, just your average run-of-the-mill 25-Man raiding guild had managed to claim some celebrity. It wasn't exactly Wall Street Journal material, nor was it even WoW Insider worthy, but it was the biggest news among our little raiding community. Each week, I diligently loaded reams of combat data into World of Logs, a website that analyzed our performance, scrutinized our players, and gave us a window into knowledge we would otherwise be left in the dark about. Each week the process repeated; thousands of guild/raid leaders analyzing the performance of their respective raiders. Sitting on such a wealth of data brought interesting...and often surprising...analytical comparisons to light. Each player could be ranked against one another, per raid, per boss, individually...however you chose to display the data. All of this translated into a fancy widget in the lower-right hand corner of the screen, telling you where your extra special players ranked among their world-wide raiding peers. It was in this widget that we would occasionally see the truly exceptional players, denoted with a number next to their name -- their rank in the world. At least, from World of Logs' perspective.

I glanced down at the freshly uploaded report from our Blood Queen Lana'thel defeat the night before, and zeroed in on the widget, looking to see who had ranked this week, reading from the bottom up. There's Jungard, very good, very good. Ah yes, Bulwinkul. He ranks nearly every week. Excellent job. There you are, Hellspectral. Pushing Frost deeps to new heights, I see. Nice work, there. Ha, there's Jungard again. Cleave more, perhaps? Oh, nice work, Guns! World-wide 15th on Lord Jaraxxus, not too shabby!

...wait, this next one can't be right...

At first glance, I thought it was a bug in the analysis. I pulled up the complete Restoration Shaman report for that week, ranking the top 500 players across the world. Sure enough, the first page listing the top 100 best restoration shamans for the week of February 15th, there he was. Gunsmokeco, my healing officer, resided in the #1 position at the top of this list. This was monumental! I immediately captured screenshots of the report and posted announcements in guild chat and on the forums. Guildies, both new and old, joined in congratulating the shaman on his award-winning play. Guns was the official celebrity of the guild, he ran with it. Jokes soon began to fill our raids with how the great and mighty Gunsmokeco honored us with his presence. And who wouldn't want to get an occasional tip or recommendation on how to adjust their play from the #1 ranked shaman in the world?

Players that knew how a sinister sheet of statistics can paint anything positively, that's who.

"He's getting a bit of a big head," Blain whispered over.

"Let him have his fifteen minutes. We rarely get the opportunity to win anything in life, might as well let him run with this for awhile."

"Just remember that how he got #1 wasn't exactly accurate."

"I get it. Fred's Divine Sacrifice inflated the duration of the fight by five seconds. Everybody got to do a little extra deeps and healing than the majority of the reported attempts. Chain Heal spam ftw. I get that it's a bit of a fudge."

"There's more to it than that. When you get a sec, take a look at the 'Damage Taken' report."

I pulled up colored bar graph at Blain's request, "Ok, what am I looking for?"

"Filter by Swarming Shadows."

Ah, the dreaded purple flames left under unsuspecting players' feet, forcing them to run out of the group. In an optimal situation, players afflicted with Swarming Shadows rushed out of the group, leaving a long trail of violet flames behind them. Slow movers, and those referred to by Dalans as mouthbreathers, did us a disservice. By not reacting, they would jeopardize the safety of the players around them, the purple flames needlessly folding back upon themselves, growing outward, causing massive amounts of damage to all who stood mindlessly in them.

I did as instructed, filtering the report by damage taken from Swarming Shadows. It appeared that another award was in order. Behind the two tanks (who had a verifiable excuse), Guns also took the most damage from Swarming Shadows. Why? Why would he have even been standing in the Shadows at the end of the fight? In the heat of battle, did he lose his shit? That's not Gunsmokeco. Think about who you are dealing with. You made him an officer because of his quality of play. Hell, he’s one of the few people in the guild capable of raiding with the default UI. No, there was a very real and thoughtful decision behind standing in Swarming Shadows...

...he knew it would inflate his healing to record levels.

"Clever guy," I typed back to Blain, "he lined those up to knock 'em over, eh?"

"Makes ya think, don't it?"

I had to admit it was a neat trick. Even neater, though, was the validation of Blain's watchful eye. Apparently my last minute negotiation tactic in joining Si Team was paying off. But as with all things Blain, his attention to minute details went far beyond just casual Omaric and Bretthew observation.

I wondered if Blain would ever return to the throne of raid leadership.

The Eh Team completes their first clear of 10-Man ICC,
while Mature farms Hydraxian Waterlords reputation,
Molten Core

An Agenda to Keep


We had regular award winners on World of Logs, and another one of these familiar faces was Bulwinkul. Not only an esteemed member of The Eh Team, he was one of the few competitive Boomkins to emerge on Deathwing-US. As February waned, he expressed feeling burnt out and wished to take advantage of the time-off feature I granted to the Elite. Like a respectful employee, he gave me the full two week notice I asked of my distinguished members, giving me adequate time to search for his replacement. That was on the 20th of February. Two days later, while I chiseled away at the Hydraxian Waterlords reputation deep within Molten Core, guild chat filled up with achievement spam as "Fall of the Lich King (10 Player)" scrolled up through the window. The Eh Team had finished off the 10-Man version of Icecrown Citadel. I immediately joined in the guild in typing a congratulations to them, but secretly, was disappointed that Eh Team pulled out a win over Blain's Si Team....our team.

Forget about who rushes over the finish line for a moment. Didn’t Bulwinkul just come to you regarding the need to take time off? If Eh Team was close to wrapping things up in ICC, don’t you think he would’ve known this before coming to you?

I couldn't argue about the timing, it seemed oddly coincidental that my solitary Boomkin requested time off only days before Eh Team finished their work in the Citadel. If his loyalty to the 25-Man was waning, perhaps he felt taking time off would innervate his focus and attention to progression. There was also the possibility that stuff was going on in his personal life that I wasn't privy to, so I tried to keep an open mind and continue to support him in his request, returning to the backlog of applications for more fodder.

...but Bulwinkul's timing never left my mind. It wasn't exactly a red flag...but it had the makings of one.

---

To replace Bulwinkul in the lineup, I had the good fortune of being contacted by another old-school DoD member. Goldenrod had finally cooled down from his angry exit near the end of The Burning Crusade. He never had a bone to pick with anything in DoD; his contempt was primarily focused at the botched BlizzCon 2008 ticket fiasco, lumped on top of the "butchering" of the mage class in PvP. I didn't have to tell Goldy that much had changed in the guild since his departure. He revealed that he had quietly followed the forums the entire time, reading along, checking in on our progress, seeing the swaths of raid progression we were slicing through; he wanted to return. I had no problems bringing Goldy back into the foray -- it was much easier for me to give the greenlight to an ex-member, than it was to take a gamble on someone I knew nothing about. Goldenrod was kind, considerate, and respectful of others' opinions, even in the trolliest of debates.

His re-entry to the roster couldn't have come at a better time, because deep within Goldenrod lay another attribute I was yet to learn about, one that would have significant impact on DoD until its final days.

A guild attempts Professor Putricide using the
AVR (Augmented Virtual Reality) add-on,
Icecrown Citadel

No Spoon to Speak Of

The forum topic pointed us to a brand new add-on. It was unlike any mod we had yet to employ in progression. Most modifications to the UI assisted us with more efficient healing, tracking the raid's damage and/or health, or gave us warnings that deadly mechanics were quickly approaching. This add-on, however, took it to an entirely new level. Looking at the screenshots and watching a few videos of it in action gave me pause, if but for a moment.

It was the first time I can remember being hesitant about adopting an add-on into our suite of tools.

The add-on in question was AVR, which stood for Augmented Virtual Reality, and how it enhanced a raider's environment was both impressive and disturbing. AVR built upon the foundation of other raid tools like Deadly Boss Mods and BigWigs, providing alerts and warnings to the raider about impending changes to the encounter while it played out...but with an important difference. Rather than simple messages splashed on the screen while alarms blared from desktop speakers, AVR went so far as to paint the room with gigantic, multicolored circles, indicating physical locations for players that were both safe and unsafe to move into. The encounter that AVR truly shined on was Professor Putricide, coloring virtual blocks of safety (and non-safety) from the oozes. In the case of Putricide, AVR was a godsend, providing clarity to an overly complex fight, rife with logistical coordination demands that often turned a well-meaning set of players into a handful of infuriated children.

But using AVR completely transformed the way a raider saw the encounter. Like Neo finally setting his mind free, the World of Warcraft was stripped of its digital magic, the terror of abominations and slimes replaced by non-threatening virtual arrows and rainbow paths no more difficult to follow than a set of directions spewed out of Google Maps. The result? The raid absolutely wielded a level of power and control over their environment unmatched, and to say these bosses were trivialized as a result would paint the situation in a positive light. More realistically, for a 25-Man raid that was already pushing the competitive envelope for our schedule, encounters exploded like so many Mr. Smiths.

In trying to decide if this was "the right thing to do", all that came to mind were the many defenses we stood by in support of add-ons. They are just tools. We don't hammer nails into boards with bare hands, we use a hammer and we get the job done like professionals. We work smarter, not harder. The problem with AVR was that it wasn't a hammer, it was robotic nail gun firing hundreds of nails a second. That kind of enhancement doesn't make the job easier...it puts us out of a job.

When Descendants of Draenor experimented with AVR, Goldenrod was one of the few who left the add-on uninstalled.

"I'm not going to use it. At best, it's for a casual guild who can't progress without it. We've already gone through Putricide without it, we're better than that."

"I'm having a hard time trying to determine what the cut-off point is. Where do you draw the line? How is this any different that running, say...Deadly Boss Mods?"

"Let me put it this way: when we down the Lich King, and you snap a screenshot to post up on the forums and the guild website...do you want the world to see those yellow and red blotches all over your screen?"

It was a succinct way to put the situation into perspective. Is that how we wanted to advertise ourselves? Is that the type of player we wanted to attract?

"Like I said, some people may need it. We don't."

For Descendants of Draenor, AVR was an amusing experiment, and one I felt better leaving behind, agreeing with Blizzard (who disabled its functionality shortly thereafter) on what constituted a valid add-on. What we posted on our website should reflect who we are, and that wasn't us. More importantly, we didn't want it to attract that type of raider, the kind that would need AVR. It was about more than just making "the right decision", it was how those decisions reflected back upon us. Others may not have cared, but we did. So I needed to make sure all of our decisions reflected that...even if those decisions were buried in screenshots.

I wanted everyone in the roster to be a straight shooter. That meant in order to overcome our next obstacles, we would have to resort to good old fashioned elbow grease...

...with perhaps just a little help from the enemy.

15 comments:

kizmet said...

Ugh avr.

Fred said...

I always hated the ranking system. While I think it pushed competition, it also caused people to do dumb things. Plenty of wasted battle rezzes because someone had to get that last hit in.

I used to get shit about how I would never rank. I didn't care about it. It's not that I couldn't, it's that I was more concerned with the downing of the boss.

klocker2003 said...

That, and you were also quite bad fred. Granted, you were being dragged down by gear, your boots were just never quite up to the task...

<3 and miss you :(

Jungard said...

Fred was too busy running from Icehowl to get any ranks.

Goldenrod said...

I remember my first 25M raid with DoD after returning, and my first boss kill in the instance was Putricide. Huge nostalgia from this post.

I was not a UI purist like many in the guild (i.e. Guns). I used any and every addon I could get my hands on that would help me play my class better. Cooldown timers, a decursing grid, even that one that made your display area into movie screen size so you could put all your UI in the black boxes at the top and bottom. But something like AVR seemed out of the spirit of the game to me and the intention Blizzard had for raiders.

Removing unnecessary obstacles to performance, like the default UI (which I never liked), is one thing. However, removing the challenge of where to run, how long to stand there, and who to stay away from, which are basic, core elements of raiding, seemed like a step backwards.

One of the biggest things that distinguished us from other guilds was our ability to perform skillfully and competitively, without beating our heads against the wall by raiding 16-20 hours a week, but also without demanding huge nerfs to make encounters easier like a bunch of bad casuals. Utilizing AVR was a step in that direction.

Deciding not to use AVR was the right decision, and validated by Blizzard's removal of its functionality a few weeks later.

Mike O'Connor said...

Reading your blog is like trying to get a huge piece of a german chocolate cake but only being able to lick the side before it disappears.....It's as bad as waiting for the next game of thrones episode.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Mike,

This is probably the single nicest thing anyone has ever said about 8YIA. Deeply humbled. Hope very much that story delivers.

Tyler Henderson said...

To be fair about DMG taken I moved from all unnessisarry DMG on that fight. However sixfold and I stood in the inner healng ring (just outside of melee) and we got hit by melee running out or certain holy pallies trying to run forward.

Still I love to see your point of view and why you felt about "eh team" as you did

-Guns

Tyler Henderson said...

Oh and AVR, in go back to my car analogy. I used some mods like I might install a pyrometer but I wouldn't use heal bot anymore than I would downgrade to auto transmission.
AVR wasn't even an auto transmission, it was the driverless google hybrid that careens off the side of a cliff

Jungard said...

Passing the blame! Keeping it classy!

Shawn Holmes said...

@Jungard,

I chatted with Guns on Vent two nights ago about this post and asked him to come comment. Don't scare him away now!

Kelden said...

Now I understand why you would never decurse in Naxx, eh Guns? =P

Littlebear said...

I've been waiting for this entire blob for someone to bring up "Boots"

2 points for Locker.

<3 LB

GuiltieGaming said...

Ranking is too mainstream /sunglasses

Also; I never even HEARD of AVR and looking at the SS of it and reading about its features makes me want to vomit... I feel like I have had discussions like this for YEARS (oh wait I have) and these are the kind of add-ons that make the game playable for those without brains... you literally just need appendages and a somewhat decent control over them.

Fred said...

AVR was obnoxious. A few of us installed it for that first go round and IIRC, I disabled it at break. I found it to be more distracting than helpful.