Thursday, April 5, 2012

1.4. Two Suns in the Sunset

Kerulak and crew make their way through Zul'Gurub (20-Man)

Outlook: Hazy

In the meta game to build up my ranks to 40-man raid size, I was beaten black and blue. Guild leaders were hard to read and size up, especially without seeing them face-to-face. There were no hints, clues, body language to pick up on. Were they bluffing or giving me the straight story? Could I trust them or would they eat my guild up from the inside out, turning my players against me? Were they as skilled as they claimed to be, or were they “face-rollers” -- players who seemed so completely inept and incapable of stringing together a series of abilities that it seemed as if they were literally rolling their faces across the keyboard, randomly pressing a multitude of buttons in the process. The art of negotiation took extreme finesse, I had to listen carefully to what opposing guild leaders meant, which wasn't always the same as what they said. My experience with Juxta proved this: When he said one thing, Atrocity did another. Their raid coordination was non-existent, as was their leadership. I learned an awful lesson about blindly trusting players on the server, in the name of building a raid team, and Descendants of Draenor had a chunk of flesh missing as a result.

I continued on, seeking new faces for our roster, but it was no less difficult to acquire them. Sometimes I thought I had a guild merge wrapped up, only to find out hours later that they had completely changed their mind and gone a different direction, merging instead with a competing guild. It was stressful and exhausting, and required me being online every night, late into each evening. I'd open up new communications with other guilds, survey the landscape of the server, reach out to new players, and try to spread the word that we were the place to be for 40-Man raiding.

This, of course, was a blatant lie. We'd had about as much raid experience as Fred Savage had playing Super Mario 3 at the end of The Wizard: not a whole hell of a lot.

So, the marketing spin continued. Desperately, I lobbied for Descendants of Draenor, in the hopes someone would bite. Meanwhile, I filled the gaps by piecing together a few Molten Core attempts with whom we had left in the roster, though it was never a complete 40-Man group, and although we managed to make our way past the two Molten Giants at the door, we typically didn't make it much further before people had to start logging off for the night.

How in the hell was I going to keep 40 competent players online, on a regular schedule?

I prayed that I would get another opportunity to make a guild merge happen. If it did, I reasoned, it would be the last opportunity I'd get to make it right; if I botched another merge, all would be over for Descendants of Draenor, and any hope of us ever tackling 40-Man raid content would be swept away into the virtual ocean of WoW guilds on Deathwing-US.

I got my wish.


Kerulak, accompanied by newly acquired
members of The Final Cut, lay waste to Zul'Gurub (20)

The Final Cut


A few weeks after the Ugly Black Warhorses incident, I received an email from a player named Darange who said he wanted to have his guild and officers have a chat with our officers about a possible guild merge. They were members of a guild called “The Final Cut”, and I had no knowledge of them or their exploits on the server. I arranged a meeting between both sets of officers, and we would hold an online chat to discuss any questions they might have for us. Going into that chat, I was a wreck. My guild’s roster was slipping away, and the previous few guild merge attempts all ended in stalemates. This one was going to either make or break us, I thought. I wanted to bring ammunition to that meeting, something that could definitively put us ahead of other competing guilds, but kept coming up snake eyes. We had no proven raid experience. I needed something for us to latch on to, to make us appeal to the members of The Final Cut...I just didn't know what.

We met with them and chatted. Introductions were traded, and we talked about our experience with the game, and where we wanted to go. I was struck by how very well organized they were; they came across as very professional. There was no shit talking, no typical “dude” or “bro” or any of that--the conversation was professional and mature. In fact, as the conversation continued, I couldn't get past the feeling that I was being interviewed for a job. And it was at that precise moment that the light went on upstairs:

Hardcore players take raiding seriously. It needs to be approached with a level of professionalism that casuals simply do not possess. If we want to sell ourselves as a successful raiding guild, without having any actual raid boss kills under our belt, we are going to have to demonstrate this level of professionalism.

I immediately steered the conversation towards the work we had put into the planning stages of our raids. I spoke of our DKP system, and how loot issuing would be enforced. I discussed with them the role of the various officers in the raids (before the officers even knew what I was talking about). And when the other guild asked about our existing efforts in Molten Core, I was sure to communicate that, while we hadn't seen wildly amazing success, we had definitely seen progress, and had a system we would follow, refining until bosses fell over dead.

It seemed a bit bizarre to speak about a video game in much the same way I’d describe performing management-related tasks in my career, but everything about successful raiding guilds spoke to that extreme level of dedication and focus. I must have said the right things, because a few days later, I was mass inviting the members of The Final Cut into Descendants of Draenor. It was the last significant assimilation we needed to push us over the edge into 40-Man raid territory. We began testing the waters with this new set of recruits, dipping our toes into the then-new 20-Man instance Zul’Gurub. Initial reports were fantastic. The new recruits gelled so well with our existing roster, that we made huge improvements in our ability to execute content. Prior to the assimilation of The Final Cut, we hadn't even managed to get much further past the first boss (High Priestess Jeklik)...and were now consistently killing Marli, Venoxis, Thekal and Arlokk, with Hakkar (the final boss) in our sights. The dedication and focus to raiding was paying off.

Descendants of Draenor defeat their first boss,
Lucifron, as a complete 40-Man raid team.

Molten Core

One night, while questing around Stranglethorn Vale, my Shaman officer Kadrok sent me a tell:

“Uh, you know we have 40 people online right now?”

I popped open the guild tab, and sure enough, there they all were.

“Wow. We do have 40 people online. We could totally do Molten Core right now.”

Not a second word was spoken. Immediately, the officers began rallying the troops, and players were suddenly being mass invited to a raid. Was this it? Were we about to become what I had set out to accomplish? Actually be the size enough to field a 40-Man raid and be successful at it? The raid roster filled up with 40 players, and we began our flight to The Burning Steppes, headed towards Blackrock Mountain, where the entrance to the Molten Core awaited. The raid chat lit up like a marquee as officers began organizing their groups of players, figuring out who had which position, who would perform what role. One by one, we arrived at the entrance, leaping over a brick ledge and falling into a sea of lava, only to be quickly teleported into the Molten Core. I’ll never forget zoning in with the guildies surrounding me, as we began to buff, get into position, and nervously make that first pull of the two Molten Giants towering above us at the Core’s entrance. I held my breath, and we pulled. The Warriors ran up, shields in hand and grabbed a hold of the gigantic stone creatures, arcane missiles flew, fireballs and shadow bolts cascaded across the cave entrance, lightning shot out of players’ hands, and our health spiked up and down frantically as the healers struggled to keep us all alive, while the Giants pounded our raid into the ground. We continued to volley attacks at the Giants, the tanks struggling to keep them in position, and eventually, the two gigantic creatures made of molten rock fell over dead with a huge crash. We surveyed the results...we weren’t dead! The two Molten Giants lay silent at our feet, and we had survived.

And just like that, we were a raiding guild. On October 12th, 2005, we executed our first 40-Man boss kill, Lucifron, catapulting us into the raiding spotlight in which there would be no turning back. And the speed bumps were only beginning..

6 comments:

Kurn said...

a) ZG! Love it.

b) While you guys were downing Luci for the first time, I was running around Teldrassil for the first time.

c) I love the "How in the hell was I going to keep 40 competent players online, on a regular schedule?" question. I'm sure EVERY SINGLE guild master has thought that to themselves at one point!

d) Loving the story. Period.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Kurn,

Thanks for the feedback! I haven't had too many guild leaders comment thus far, so it'll be nice to hear how close our experience mirrored yours (and other GLs as well).

Ishira said...

Just reading this post sent shivers up my spine. I'm glad you've chosen to write this all down.

Pigglett Daniels said...

as a "casual" guild...(I guess), I feel your pain and anxiety. We were Four Man Army and yes, we did 4 man everything we could.....not so much control issues, as family issues, my 2 younger brothers and my stepson - I the oldest and original beta tester at 52 often find myself the oldest person playing, we then went 46, 40 and 40 so we tolerated no kiddy stuff. My stepson would do raids and come back with awesome gear, my brothers and I would annihilate whole regions and PVP like mad. for us it all fell apart when they released Warlords of Dreanor came out - we no longer could play the way that made us happy and so had to suck it up and raid to keep from being wiped out. We lost my younger brother first, just did not have the kind of time needed to play and raid better. Then we lost my next brother who left me the guild and the pieces, My stepson dropped out and then there was me. I soldiered on for a few months until I finally gave up the ghost last July - 3 lvl 100's a few 90's, one 84 level panda and a level 20 goblin tank........but you ask, how did I get here? I went and watched the WOW movie and remembered what I loved about the game, I re-upped and now am happily mini tanking along - not doing raids or dungeons, just exploring and leveling - I missed so much of the beauty of the game in the rush to get the best gear - loving your BLOG and am reading it in order - so far it is an excellent take on the game

powerWolves said...

thanks for taking the time and effort to write this down; Really enjoyed reading it. Also looking forward to the next chapters. (I also noticed the Pink Floyd eastereggs in some of the headlines and immediately reminisce the long sessions of exploring I did in WOW whilst Pink Floyd tracks would play endlessly in the background...) aahh the nostalgia ;)

Shawn Holmes said...

@PowerWolves,

Pink Floyd will come up a few times. See if you can catch all the references.

@Piglett,

Glad you are enjoying it! And kudos for you for keeping it together with just the four of you for as long as you did. Experience has shown that this game's earliest days were very hard to keep things interesting with just a very small group of people.