Artwork by Kala-A
The Fourth Marx BrotherIt was Monday, December 6th. To millions of World of Warcraft fans around the world, it was the day before Cataclysm launched. To me, it was like any other day at the office. Steam rose from the coffee in my cup as I caught up on the morning gaming news. My fellow co-workers drifted into the office behind me; I nodded and waved without diverting my gaze. Eventually, my IM window sprung to life with conversation, chatting with people thousands of miles away. It was my intent to give this particular day no special treatment. I wanted no vibe, no hint, no miniscule clue that could tip anyone off that anything was wrong. And as I began my conversation with Cheeseus, I repeated the mantra in my mind. Nothing is wrong. Everything is cool.
At the start, I shared the results of a new DKP tool Drecca and I had been testing. Getting Cheeseus chatting casually about numbers was something I knew spoke to his interests. Forever the number cruncher, his love of mathematical puzzles got him focused on what he did best....which was my strategy to catch him off guard. He was about to be hit with something I knew he wouldn't expect that particular Monday morning.
"Hey, when you get a minute, you mind giving me your straight-shooter, from-the-hip post mortem on Eh Team?"
"Could you rephrase?"
"I'd like to hear your thoughts on what transpired in the Eh Team chat channel, back around Ulduar."
Cheeseus seemed confused, "Hm, do you mean what I thought our strengths and weaknesses were? Or the sort of stuff that went into day-to-day decisions?"
"Not really, no."
"Do you mean like, where egos were clashing? Who rubbed who wrong?"
I dropped a few more breadcrumbs to point him in the right direction, "More like, guild manipulation-related decisions, who took part, who turned a blind eye, etc."
"Oh, you mean the Crasian thing?"
Interesting. "Sure, let's start with that."
He began detailing how he wished to put together his own 10-Man team after becoming jealous of Blain's success in the first tier of content in Wrath, about the same time as his promotion to Raid Leader for the 25-Man. After taking the reins, he felt there were only 17-20 consistent players week-to-week and the rest were continually carried. He grew frustrated with people that didn't improve. His lack of faith in the 25 was exacerbated as he flipped back to his own 10-Man, one with a very different mentality. The one trying to push realm-firsts. The one called Eh Team.
Things got worse as his 10-Man started to down hard modes; over and over, they were not getting the drops they needed. Thorim's AP trinket, the healing mace off of Vezax...week after week the loot tables failed to cooperate. Meanwhile, other teams like Starflex and Cowbell were hitting the jackpot, adding to the jealousy. In Cheeseus's eyes, this was when Crasian took it a step further.
"He began to ditch out on Eh Team raids and run with other teams, to try to score the items we never saw. He constantly talked about loot. 'If I got this so-and-so item, I'd be so much better off...', and how we shouldn't roll against him."
The seeds being planted.
Communism Works"Eventually, we got Yogg+1, and that was when you promoted Taba, effectively turning the Eh Team completely Elite."
I remember the promotion. Struggling with it. For months and months, as the pressure continued to be levied on me. And then, letting my guard down, while cooped up in a hotel in Williston, ND, waiting for my car's transmission to be repaired. At what was my lowest point, I wanted to acknowledge something positive. Something good that was happening: Eh Team's success.
"We were struggling on Algalon, and then ToGC shows up and, surprise!...better loot. So Crasian falls back into his old ways, going on about his loot, and somehow, the idea of allocating loot vs. rolling on it was born. In general, I've always liked the idea of communism, but I was still getting shit loots, that wasn't why I supported the idea."
Cheeseus noted that this was when the major problems began. Omaric was winding up Ikey, so they agreed as a group to allocate more loot towards him to gear out the druid. Not everyone agreed to it. And aside from Bheer getting burnt, the allocation "worked'...which is when they began to slowly introduce it during the 25-Man.
"I'd like to think it wasn't me who was responsible, but I can say that in previous guilds, we commonly had a separate channel, say /rogue, in which we would work out amongst ourselves who was most appropriate for the next upgrade, and this often meant figuring out what other classes we needed to beat in the bidding. I understand if you consider this unethical, essentially ‘bid-rigging’ but even now I don't disagree with the concept."
The reason it worked, Cheeseus explained, was due to the 1st-round loophole: bidding 1st-round had no noticeable ramifications, so Eh Team's modus operandi officially set to "go all or go home". The minimum bid of 50 DKP for 1st-rounds meant nothing to players sitting on hundreds of DKP, the product of their consistent, reliable raiding. There was no reason not to go all in, even if members of Eh Team had differences of opinion on the matter.
"Deal making…'plotting'...was definitely happening. Crasian was guilty of this. Bheer was completely opposed. Omaric was probably a plotter, I attribute this to his need to gear the bear out, even though people like you and Dalans still needed that stuff. Guns was excited about the idea, but I don't believe he actually ever participated in it. The rest of them...I honestly can't recall, so I'm either ignorant, or it isn't worth mentioning. I think it is fair to say I used my power as Raid Leader of the 25 to plot on behalf of the Eh Team, to assist people like Omaric."
Whether my nonchalance strategy worked, or Cheeseus was naturally forthcoming, it was refreshing to see someone be so honest about the alleged events -- more so than any other individual member of Eh Team.
It didn't, for one moment, excuse the behavior away.
Good Crop, Bad CropWhen I shared the news with the officer core, the first thing they wanted to know was why hadn't I kicked each and every one of them to the curb. I would have loved nothing better. You've demonstrated what loyalty you have to me: none at all. Enjoy your permanent vacation. I couldn't. The situation had changed significantly in the months that had passed since ejecting Bukwinkul for what seemed like a trivial infraction by comparison. The roster was once again taking control over my guild, not the other way around. The difference this time wasn't due to a lack of experience or structure. Instead, a changing landscape was emerging, and any guardrails that once existed to keep from throwing gutterballs were evaporating within hours.
The consequences at my disposal were far and few between. Stripping anyone of their title had little effect. Elite had been reworked from the ground up, complete with a new name, and everyone would be starting from scratch in Cataclysm, anyway. Meanwhile, those formerly holding the role of an officer already stepped down by this point. At least I could take comfort in knowing they would never be given authority over any decision-making in DoD again. Expressing my disappointment in their behavior came off like a parent scolding an employee for stealing shit from the office. Wrong place, wrong time. So, I stuck to the unemotional pragmatism of a boss, and whatever employee perks they'd earned evaporated. Whomever remained into Cataclysm was nearly guaranteed to be shackled in political chains. With little else to work with, I got creative in making an example out of them.
The final order of business was to ensure that Eh Team's exploits left a message to future manipulators. Verbiage regarding who was guilty of what remained ambiguous on the forums, sticking to Ater's old adage: praise in public, scold in private. But, when guildies took me aside expressing interest in setting up their own 10-Man in Cataclysm, I briefed them with a conversation in Vent. "What we don't want is a repeat of what went down in Eh Team." This mysterious introduction would almost always be met with "Oh? Eh Team? What do you mean?" I'd tell the tale, expecting a little cross-pollination as word has a way of travelling. I made sure that players knew Eh Team put the traitor in "perpetrator".
In my research since the incident, I've come across many sociological explanations on what went down in Eh Team and why. Enclothed cognition causes people to take on the attributes of their clothes and labels, which may explain how a title like Elite and being draped in the most powerful gear could cause a player to act with disdain toward a perceived lower-class. Deindividuation happens when groups of people temporarily lose their sense of self, succumbing to a hive mind in which the group's actions protect against unethical behavior. Insulated from the guild's authority, it might have justified their choices as easily as a group of onlookers goad a suicidal jumper teetering on a ledge. Agentic State Theory supposes that people who see themselves as incapable of making authoritative decisions will defer to the group, thereby allowing atrocities to continue as they are no longer responsible, merely an instrument carrying out another's wishes. Pick whatever puts your mind at ease.
What picks away at me at night is the contradiction between Cheeseus's beliefs, and their actual effects in practice. Communism is a socioeconomic system in which everyone is treated as an equal. I'd already made it very clear that I intended DoD to be a meritocracy. Communism has no titles, we had very distinct ranks for Guildy, Raider, Elite, and Officer. Cheeseus's preordained allocation of loot was to ensure an efficient spread of wealth, yet the Raiders remained upgrade-starved while the Elite remain strong...and firmly in control. Everything Cheese said went directly against the new order of DoD, so why didn't I pick up on this -- perhaps the biggest red flag of them all?
Because I assumed that Cheeseus had an obligation to the guild first, before himself.
Just because you say a rule exists, or write it down on paper, doesn't mean it will be followed. Getting people to pursue the necessary steps to climb the guild ladder was easy because it's what they wanted, it was a part of their internal game plan. When their obligations to the guild no longer fit with their internal game plan, I lacked the checks and balances to hold them accountable, and this was My Third Mistake. I spent the better part of The Burning Crusade listening to excuses from the losers in my guild. Now, I was getting excuses from the winners. Perhaps there's some truth to the old Communist saying, "Good crops come from good farming, bad crops come from bad weather."
We don't live in a just world. People do bad things, sometimes without even knowing it, other times defending it as "not really bad". A smart leader knows the system can be broken, and takes measures to keep his or her people on the path. If a person's moral compass points the wrong way, you can't prevent them from following it. The job of the Guild Leader, instead, is to be the magnet under the compass. If my greatest triumph in the reworked rules was a system to acknowledge the star performers, my biggest failure was a system to keep them honest. If you wish to continue to believe that most people are inherently good, I will not dissuade you...but only a foolish leader would proceed without taking precaution to the contrary.
So, trusted blog reader...is your own conclusion similar to mine?
Left to his own devices, overwhelmed by frustration and jealousy, Cheeseus's ideals floated to the surface, let them get the best of him, let him excuse away the behavior that directly violated the rules of the guild. But without understanding his (arguably common-sensical) obligations to the guild, this belief system flourished long after his departure, perhaps made easier by Agentic State Theory (see above). Eh Team claims, to this day, that there was no true one person in power, that all decisions were made equally; I'll leave it to the reader to decide where authority in Eh Team truly rested, and who was ultimately responsible for collusion that followed. He who was smarter than all the others, who had strongly held beliefs in loot distribution that stretched further back than even their induction into the guild. He who had an unwritten responsibility to me to communicate the issues he saw unfolding and, given the right clarity of role by the guild leader, be expected to uphold what was I declared to be right...even if it meant going against his own idealistic system. He who had multiple opportunities to come clean, yet failed to do so until directly questioned.
Reader, once you have decided for yourself who the real perpetrator, the true villain is, let me be the the first to tell you:
You’re not even close.