Thursday, March 22, 2012

1.2. The Casual and the Hardcore

Kerulak assists in a 15-Man pickup
group or "pug" circa Vanilla,
Upper Blackrock Spire

Casual is Bliss

If you've never played World of Warcraft, there are a wide array of dungeons to explore. These dungeons very typically take 5 players, which consist of a tank (the person responsible for grabbing a hold of a pack of monsters and keeping their attacks focused on him), a healer (a person responsible for keeping the tank from dying), and three miscellaneous players which fall into the category we call “DPS”, which is WoW-speak for “Damage Per Second”. Those three remaining players focus all of their attacks on the monsters, and kill them as fast as they can, before the healer runs out of mana, which in turn, causes the tank to eventually run out of health and die, causing the monsters to turn their attention to the rest of the party, killing them off one by one. This chain of events ultimately leads the entire group of players falling over dead, and having to run back from a graveyard, this is the act of “wiping”.

For seasoned WoW players, this is common knowledge, but what may not be so obvious is that, back in Vanilla, there were a few endgame dungeons that required more than 5 players. Scholomance, for example (a dungeon dedicated to the schooling of dark wizards) wasn't a 5-Man dungeon, it was a 10-Man. And it was not something that was done quickly, it took hours to complete. It took patience and very slow, methodical execution; one wrong move would lead to a wipe, and it could be caused by something as simple as standing 2 ft. to the right of a pack of monsters (“trash” as we call them), rather than 2 ft. backward. Scholomance was an end-game dungeon, and it required everyone to be at the max level (60, at the time), and it was unforgiving to the general populace, because it demanded exquisite control and discipline of your character and the ability to work together.

However, most of the players in World of Warcraft didn't posses this sensibility, having grown accustomed to the lightweight dungeons they experienced during the 1-60 leveling grind. Today, a multitude of online resources exist, that have combed the depths of WoW and provided guides, tutorials, tips and tactics for players, but in Vanilla, these resources simply did not exist. As a result, the majority of the WoW player-base ultimately remained in a sort of “blissful ignorance”, unaware of the game’s depth and mechanics, and didn't have a clue that their skills could be refined, taking their play to an entirely new level. They were forever lost in the illusion of The Matrix, logging in, checking their auctions, cooking virtual food and mixing/matching sets of armor to tweak their character’s costume.

We called these players casuals.

Uld flirts with Maxxum of Dirty Work, Inc.

Eyes Wide Open

Several months into Vanilla, I struck up a friendship with a player named Maxxum. I had tried (unsuccessfully) to recruit him away from his guild on multiple occasions. He was always polite when he refused, but he would still strike up a chat with me whenever possible. One day he invited me to help fill the 10th spot in a Scholomance clear. I wasn't particularly looking forward to another 2 hour dungeon run, but to help break up the monotony, I said I’d come along. When we got into the dungeon, I was still getting adjusted and settling down in my chair, making sure all my macros were set up when the chaos erupted. Like some kind of bat shit crazy insane players, Maxxum and his guild began tearing Scholomance apart. They moved from pack to pack in a blur, having some kind of unspoken system; their efforts were completely synchronized and coordinated. A Rogue would sap one monster, stunning in position, a Priest would shackle another undead minion, locking it in place. All of the players then focused their attacks onto a single monster at once, the remaining targets left alone, incapacitated. With everyone beating on a single monster at once, it was annihilated.

Maxxum and his guild had a system, and it was like nothing I had experienced before. It was fast, efficient, disciplined. Each member of the team was mindful of every piece of info available to them; where they needed to stand -- the tank facing the mobs away from the party, while the melee DPS positioning themselves carefully behind each target, thereby reducing dodges and parries. The healer took a proactive approach to each pack, contributing to crowd-control, winding up large heals in preparation for big damage, then cancelling if the heal wasn't needed, thus conserving mana. When we walked out of there 45 minutes later, I was stunned. I'd never seen a group of players clear Scholomance in under 2 hours. There was a term that WoW players used to describe this level of dedication to the game, this expert-like knowledge of the game's mechanics, which led to a flawless execution of content.

We called these players hardcore.

Having experienced both ends of the spectrum, I knew that Descendants of Draenor would have to lean less into casual and more into hardcore, in order to truly stand out and provide a respectable, successful home for players on our server. I wanted to know what it would take to get my guild to this level. When questioned, Maxxum gave me two words as a response: Molten Core. I didn't know what it was, only a few people in my guild seemed to have a idea, it was something that was referred to as raid content. But it wasn't just like any dungeon we had explored before, it would require surgical coordination to execute correctly. And it would require a few more players than 10 to run... would take 40 players.

I’ll never forget the last piece of advice Maxxum threw my way: “Watch out for that first pull. It's a doozy.” I started to do research. I snuck into a few Molten Core attempts that had been pieced together by random players in Orgrimmar, thinking they would have enough leadership and coordination to make a few pulls. Those attempts all failed the first pull. I would watch as the two towering Molten Giants guarding the entrance would stomp forward, shaking the ground, and bashing the pathetic members of the raid into oblivion. Tanks would fall over dead in one hit, healers would be out of mana in seconds, and players ran around in a panic, trying desperately to get away from the Giants. And one by one, the raid was destroyed. It was embarrassing to see players this incoherent. There was no way I was going to let this content go unfinished. My guild had cleared everything in the game thus far, and it was time to make the leap...the leap to hardcore.

Kerulak surveying the guild roster as he
continues to assimilate guilds during Vanilla

Resistance is Futile

The plan to shift Descendants of Draenor into a new mentality of hardcore raiding seemed very daunting. I wasn't really very sure how we would pull it off, so I began simply in bite-sized chunks. The first order of business: mass guild assimilation. I hiked up my recruitment and began negotiating talks with other guilds on our server who were also interested in starting raids. Guild assimilation was very cut-throat. I was constantly competing with other guilds who were trying to do the very same thing: promise great rewards with absolutely no proof of experience. These competing “raiding” guilds hadn't set foot in Molten Core either.

Said they had. They. Had. Not. 

I had to find a way to make my guild stand out from all the others, even without a track record in the instance. So, I used what I knew we had under our belt as leverage. We were a solid team of passionate individuals, and we had explicitly laid out the most fair and just treatment to all our raiders. We even had a DKP system in place (rules describing how loot is issued out) before even setting foot in Molten Core, having researched this by reading blue posts on the forums, taking their advice, ultimately leading us to other successful raiding guilds on other servers (notably, Elitist Jerks of Mal’Ganis-US). I had to make a lot of gut instinct decisions when deciding who to go forward with, and who to hold on, but I stuck to my guns on the most important fundamentals: I wanted players with honesty and integrity, who were respectful to each other, and who would demonstrate loyalty. And the one thing I would not back down on is: I would not give up our guild name. Our guild name would remain unchanged, and our core leadership would always be retained. Many other guilds decided to merge, form new names, and bring officers from both sides. They very rarely worked out; drama and power-struggles often caused these guild merges to end in collapse. We wouldn't follow suit. We would retain our identity. This was simply a non-negotiable for me.

Guild mergers, as I would discover, were not so easy to facilitate. Desperation would lead me to make a decision that would cause the first mass exodus of Descendants of Draenor, and almost cost me the guild in its entirety.


Dalans said...

And so it begins...


Littlebear said...

Its a shame we had to get to such a point of frustration before you wrote this. I would have eaten this up when I first came over.

Drew said...

Woot casual!

Philotheos said...

I feel so hardcore right now. Better go take my final on this boost of harcoreness. Ha

Philotheos said...

And..... maybe I should learn to spell. Hardcoreness*

Unknown said...

Ah, I remember our Frostmane Guild's first Raid.. So humbling, yet exciting to see how well we are worked together. It was a great feeling knowing our largest issue was gear, not teamwork.

Dread said...

Started reading your blog, was wondering if I would show up in it, fascinating and nostalgic so far.

Shawn Holmes said...


Welcome back, stranger! Looking forward to seeing more feedback from you.

...and yes, your story *definitely* comes up.

jhaig said...

Throughout the blog you reference Scholamance as a 10-man mini raid dungeon, but it wasn't. It was tuned as a 5-man encounter in vanilla. They may have changed this later but on release it was designed for 5 players. It was in fact the first level 60 instance I tried as soon as I hit 60 at 3am on night. Our group of a prot warrior (me), arms warrior, resto Druid, elemental shaman and a Mage who insisted on being melee (don't ask apparently it was an RP thing) couldn't finish more than the first boss, but later with a real group we did it all the time as a 5-man.

The only 10 man on release was UBRS although lots of groups brute forced the other dungeons with more than 5 players once people found out you could do that.

I'm really enjoying the blog and nostalgia but this is one detail that keeps showing up that bugs me each time I see it.

Matthew said...

@Jhaig I don't like being "that guy," but in this case, Shawn's original post is correct. At Vanilla launch, Scholomance and Stratholme could both be run in groups of 10. I started playing around April 2005 and remember running Baron Rivendare with 10 people. It was capped at 10 players in Patch 1.3 (2005-03-07) and capped again at five players in Patch 1.10 (2006-03-28). Hopefully this will help alleviate the feeling of being annoyed when seeing references to Scholo and Strat being done as 10 mans.

From the article about the original Scholomance on Wowpedia: "At release, Scholomance was an extremely challenging dungeon. Typically, the dungeon was raided in 10-man parties, with a difficulty similar to Upper Blackrock Spire. Subsequent patches in the summer of 2006 changed Scholomance drastically. Mobs were weakened slightly, and a great many were removed. However, Scholomance could no longer be run with more than 5 party members. At the time, this "Scholo Nerf" was a common topic for party chat among long-time players."