Thursday, April 12, 2012

1.5. The Idealist and the Realist

Kerulak holds his healing position during an Onyxia (40-Man) attempt.

Leadership Emerges

After only a few weeks of absorbing The Final Cut, we had become a fully-staffed 40-Man Raiding guild, and were executing bosses with extreme prejudice. We had a lot of ground to cover; Vanilla had already been out for nearly a year, and Blizzard was hard at work in preparation for the next tier of raid content, The Temple of Ahn’Qiraj. For us, it seemed a lifetime away, since two raids and 18 bosses stood between us and that next tier. Luckily, our roster had finally reached full capacity; a talented, eager set of players that were determined to raid. It was during this next year that we experienced a multitude of wins and losses, of tragedies and victories, and ultimately gave me my first real lesson in what it took to maintain a successful raiding guild: beware the double-standard.

I remember flying out to California in late October ‘05 to attend the first BlizzCon, and while I took the stage in the voice competition, busting out an impression of Deckard Cain from the Diablo series, the Descendants of Draenor raid team was back home, executing boss kills in Molten Core, earning us both credibility and gear. We also broke ground in a separate one-boss raid, Onyxia’s Lair, and began working on killing our first dragon, a raid that would ultimately take weeks and weeks of practice. I met a few of my guildies in-person at BlizzCon that October, and it was a cool feeling to be able to finally put a real-life face to an in-game character. WoW was, after all, a social experience. If I was going to keep Descendants of Draenor on the winning path, I would not only have to embrace my character’s role and responsibility in raids, I was going to have to learn more about the people behind the characters. Then, I could be certain they would work well together as a team.

During the next several months of raiding Molten Core, I noted that there were a few personalities we gained from The Final Cut that had tremendous leadership potential. One Warrior in particular had an extremely commanding presence about him. His name was Ater. He had offered to pick up the leadership reigns of Molten Core, having driven his own 20-Man Zul’Gurub raids throughout the week. Like clockwork, every three days (the reset timer for old 20-Man raids) he would rally the troops, taking the very best of the guild, and plow through the instance, with his sights set on killing Hakkar. Few guilds at that time had a Hakkar kill under their belt, and Ater felt that it was a reasonable accomplishment to work towards. It wasn't that the raid was necessarily difficult, but 20-Man Zul'Gurub fell into an awkward category in those days.

Kerulak snaps a picture next to Ater within Molten Core

Rewards Match Effort

Guilds of 40-Man raiding size were focused on much more challenging 40-Man content. To them, a raid that was half the size also meant half the challenge -- and rightly so. Those 40-Man raiding guilds that chose to tackle Zul'Gurub "as a goof" ended up wrecking the place. Gurgthock and his Elitist Jerks artificially increased the challenge by leaving nearly all the priests alive while killing Hakkar, causing the Blood God to gain a series of buffs making him nearly invincible. Without inflating Hakkar's difficulty, it wasn't worth their time. Zul'Gurub's rewards matched its effort, and in those days, the piddly blue items couldn't hold a candle to the gear that dropped out of a 40-Man raid. 

And yet, guilds that didn't boast our size or dedication to raiding simply could not put a random group of players together to do Zul'Gurub. Short of the first two bosses, High Priestess Jeklik and High Priest Venoxis, Zul'Gurub's 20-Man breadth remained out-of-reach for most casual players; any player even able to catch a glimpse of High Priestess Marli or beyond was considered a sharpshooter.  As a result, Zul'Gurub often went unfinished on servers. Vanilla's meta-game of gearing for raids was paradoxical in retrospect: To make any kind of raid progress, one required raid gear, but the gear wasn't available unless you raided. This design acted as an artificial gate to prevent casuals who had no business setting foot in a raid from even bothering. The flip side, however, was that getting your foot in the door meant exploring every option, finding any hidden tip, tactic, secret, strategy, or obscure loot that would augment your play just enough to keep it together for that first boss kill -- ones that ended with nearly the entire raid face down in the dirt. This artificial gating design of Vanilla WoW drove some players to push themselves to the absolute limit.

Ater was one of those players.

Ater was determined to execute Zul'Gurub in its entirety, since it was the only reasonable content he had a shot at completing during his membership in The Final Cut. He didn't care about the gear, regardless of its inferiority to Molten Core, he cared about the accomplishment. I heard it in his voice over our guild Ventrilo many nights -- that passion and hunger to complete content, just like any dedicated gamer who's focused on beating a game. His passion for gaming, and demonstrated leadership via Zul'Gurub, led me to hand him the wheel in our 40-Man raids as well, and it wasn't long before I promoted him to an officer rank, sitting alongside my existing DoD officers. But with his promotion also came dissent. Ater, while liked by many in my guild, held philosophies that clashed with others I put in a role of responsibility. Unfortunately, I had to bear the brunt of that fallout on my shoulders alone. 

Hanzo's alt, Oxanna the Tauren Druid, acts as
Guild Bank during Vanilla

The Basic Building Blocks

My 2nd-in-command was a Warlock named Graulm who had brought his EverQuest guild experience to the table, helping me lay the foundations for all the basics a guild would need. I originally met him in Stranglethorn Vale, while playing my Mage, Elephantine. We struck up a conversation, helped each other with a few quests, and continued to chat and assist each other over the next few weeks. During my assimilation phase, I stalked and harassed him to throw in the towel with his existing guild, and tried to make him see "the one true way". He fought me at first, but I eventually managed to sway his opinion. Once on board, it became clear his EverQuest guild-management experience would play a vital role in my learning process. While other guild members were focused on questing and clearing 10-Man Stratholme, Graulm was busy laying a foundation for Descendants of Draenor. The guild lacked structure, and leadership was essentially only an extension of the /ginvite command. He aimed to resolve that.

One of the first orders of business was a guild bank, which Graulm directed me to set up early on. Back in Vanilla, it was comprised solely of a series of alts holding items in bag space, since WoW wouldn't actually introduce true guild vaults until the first expansion. My alts, therefore, were used to store guild- and raid-related items, ferrying things like Gurubashi Coins around to players as needed. Graulm pointed out that there was more to this than purely convenience; it ensured that the management retained leverage over the guildies. He reasoned that it would keep them in line, so they would remember who was in charge; storming out of the guild in a tantrum of drama would mean walking away from earnings they themselves contributed to. An implicit psychological attachment to raid tokens would keep people loyal. Ownership, as it turned out, was a powerful motivational tool.

Graulm also identified a key flaw in my guild's forums that he felt needed to be addressed: we lacked an officer-only section of the forums. Managers needed to be able to go behind closed doors, and discreetly discuss the management of the guild. Often, this meant engaging in conversations about how to handle certain individuals. It wasn't appropriate to speak in public about the disciplinary actions surrounding a particular player in the guild. Graulm showed me that, like a business, the guild had a responsibility to conduct itself in a professional manner. Being respectful toward one another goes both ways, he reasoned, and if I was compelling the guild to follow my moral compass of treating each other with dignity, it had to start with leadership setting the example. I remember vividly the day I locked the non-officers out of a section of the forums; panic ensued. What was I hiding from them? What were we planning on doing that they weren't allowed to know? Graulm eased my anxiety. This response was expected, and was par for the course.

These basic building blocks of a guild structure may seem like common sense to seasoned guild leaders, but back then, I was but a babe in the woods. Thankfully, I was able to get Guild Leadership 101 from Graulm, and provide enough structure to conduct ourselves in a semi-coherent fashion. Up until that point, Graulm had been acting as the little man behind the curtain to which no one paid attention, but he himself knew intimately the role he played, and his value directing traffic on my behalf. And there was no one to question his authority by proxy, since he alone pulled the strings; I simply danced on his behalf.

So, you can imagine what happened when another influential leader entered the stage, one with a difference in opinion of people than what Graulm held. The effect was not unlike trying to push two magnets together. The positives didn't want to play nice, and neither did the negatives.


Littlebear said...

"since Guild Vaults didn’t exist then"

F*** your Guild Bank...

<3 LB

Unknown said...

the feels are real - I remember my guild didn't even bother with ZG. I would use my Friday nights freshmen year in college to put together ZG raids to get my rogue his Renatakis trinket ..prepping a mix of raiders and casuals for Edge of Madness...but hell that trinket was BiS for PVP for a long time!