Thursday, April 19, 2012

1.6. Asymmetric Insight

2nd-in-command of DoD, Graulm, shot next to
DoD's Warlock Officer, Gutrippa

Emotionally Intelligent

As the new year of 2006 rung in, I was at last enjoying the benefit of a fruitful, prosperous guild. The many late nights I'd poured into negotiating guild merges, strategizing takeovers, poaching skillful raiders that were unhappy in their current situations...had all paid off. The result was a 40-Man raiding machine, now making weekly clears of Molten Core, diligently scooping up loot, and acquiring the necessary materials to craft fire resistance gear; items that would be vitally important to the defeat of Ragnaros, one of the four Elemental Lords in the WoWniverse. Structurally, we were rock solid. Per Graulm's suggestions, I had appointed one officer for each of the classes, and this delegation of authority allowed us to ease the administrative nightmare surrounding 40-Man logistics. The officers were sharp, each was an expert in their respective field, and I perceived them to be equals, all contributing to one another as they guided the raid teams down the serpentine caverns of brimstone that lay hidden beneath Blackrock Mountain.

My officers were extremely competent in their respective class departments; part of what made them effective was their ability to understand and convey complex raid mechanics to the team. A simple example of this was the decision behind forcing our melee DPS to attack mobs from behind. Any player worth their salt will tell you why this is so: attacks from behind can't be parried, which improves the player's DPS. Less parrying equals more strikes on the target, and more strikes, therefore, means more damage. However, there was a far more subtle mechanic at work, and when less-than-stellar players tried to defend their incompetence and laziness, my officers would step up and bring out the big guns: Attacks that were parried by a boss caused the boss's swing timer to reset, producing the effect of another instantaneous attack. This "parry-hasted" swing, coupled with a random mechanic in Vanilla raids known as a "Crushing Blow" -- a strike at 150% damage of the normal attack -- could potentially take a tank out in a single shot. It was about more than just improving damage, it was also about implicitly increasing the survival of the tank. Luckily, I had Ater leading the troops into battle, and thanks to his qualities in directing raid-related traffic, the raiders of Descendants of Draenor knew and understood the value of the individual contributing to the greater good.

This WoW-related expertise lay completely at the mechanical level. As players often joke, much of it isn't "rocket surgery". Where things become truly complex and difficult to understand are when one must make an evaluation of a person. It's easy to see why one person's damage is in the toilet, and remedy the situation with a new set of gear or spell rotations; it's an entirely different can of worms to try to predict why people behave the way they do, what their intentions are, and what their hidden agenda is. Some leaders, as it turns out, have an innate ability to read people; their emotional quotient is high and attuned to the nuances of behavior. Others mistake their "reads" of people, unaware of their own cognitive biases. This leads them to falsely blame one set of behaviors as the cause, when an entirely different set of variables are at play.

And this is where Ater the Idealist and Graulm the Realist began to bonk heads.

Khaevil makes a sarcastic comment
about what girls want in WoW

'Til Death Do Us Part

Xorena the Priest and Khaevil the Mage were a husband and wife team recruited into the guild in late October of 2005. A seemingly pleasant couple, their intention was to join the 40-Man raid team and offer their services in our quest to clear content. They were extremely well played; Xorena healed like a champ as mists of holy energy washed across the raid from her lightning-like reflexes, and Khaevil produced stupidly high damage as he let fire fly from his fingertips. They joined our 40-Man roster and continued to strengthen our raiding backbone. Additionally, they loved to PvP together, and found themselves in battlegrounds alongside other DoD veterans who enjoying seeing the Alliance scream and writhe in agony. Haribo and Annihilation, my Priest Officer and Warrior Officer, respectively, often entered Alterac Valley and Arathi Basin with Xorena and Khaevil at their side. To all, it would seem, Xorena and Khaevil were team players and soon to be considered a part of the DoD family.

All, except Graulm.

Graulm expressed concerns to me early on regarding Xorena and Khaevil. Their intentions were not with 40-Man raid team, or with progression at all. He had already sized them up, and confirmed his beliefs with another Officer, Annihilation -- another guildy who possessed the innate ability to read people. And to them, Xorena and Khaveil read like a children's book. The husband / wife team cared little for 40-Man raid progression, and were only there to collect loot for their personal benefit in PvP. As soon as they acquired what they wanted, I could expect to see their priorities shift...and not in favor of the raid team. My default modus operandi was to try to see the good side of the situation, to artificially inflate the pros over the cons, but Graulm stayed firm: it was a mistake to move forward with them, and I needed to cut them loose.

Severing them from the raiding artery was a huge risk, it meant the possibility of the the raid team bleeding out. I raised this concern with Ater. His assessment was much more idealistic than Graulm's; he saw the "good" in people, and was loathe to make judgments on observations of behavior -- especially ones in a game which cloaked us all as good guys or bad guys. He had a very supportive mindset and was sympathetic towards all players, giving them a chance in Molten Core that most raid leaders would shy away from. Even though it went against my gut, I leaned towards Ater on this decision, and allowed Xorena and Khaevil to stay. I believed them to be valuable contributors, and that minor PvP-related preferences would not get in the way.

Kerulak mediates loot drama with Khaevil while the raid
continues to clear trash in Molten Core

Double Standards

The husband, Khaevil, was an excellent, professionally-played character, and one of the top damage dealers in our raid. Unfortunately, he was absolutely awful as a human being. He was extraordinarily disrespectful and rude to both players in my guild, and players in other guilds. This, of course, upset me greatly. Descendants of Draenor was founded on being different in that we weren't going to be a bunch of foul-mouthed shit-talkers like every other guild on the server. We were going to make an concerted effort to be a little bit better. Yet, Khaevil's treatment of players went against everything I wanted the guild to stand for. And I sat by, letting the behavior continue, lying to myself and convincing myself "it wasn't that bad" and that if people built up a thick-enough skin, we'd be able to carry on. If I ever doubted my decision, I fell back to Ater, who showed me the light, and confirmed my bias. Thus, Khaevil and Xorena continued on in DoD, creating an unhealthy double standard that others would soon take notice of.

Graulm grew increasingly frustrated, eventually to the point of breaking. He'd had enough of Khaevil's disrespectful attitude, and was tired of me ignoring him, instead favoring this "new, fantastic Warrior" as my go-to person to solve all the guild's problems. I can imagine he also grew disgusted with my disregard for upholding the guild's ideals at the risk of sacrificing raid progression. As the weeks turned to months, he withdrew increasingly from the officer spotlight. He contributed less to guild management, which I can only assume was due to the fact that he felt whatever he would bring to the table, I would simply snuff out by contrasting with Ater's stance. Eventually, his position as 2nd-in-command of DoD became nothing more than a title in the guild roster, and by the fall of '06, he packed up his stuff, and walked away. It was a huge hole to fill, both in officership and in 40-Man progression. 

The party did not end there.

Graulm pictured at the base of Blackrock Mountain
in full Tier 2 (Felheart) Warlock gear.

Cleaning up the Mess

Five months after Graulm left Descendants of Draenor, I took Xorena into our Ventrilo server one evening and gave her and Khaevil their walking papers. I’ll never forget how horribly upset she was; devastated is probably a good way to describe it. She was emotionally distraught, crying in Vent, trying to find a way to negotiate the situation, to see if there was any other recourse. There wasn't. They had to leave. The ejection left me physically exhausted; I wasn't prepared for her response. It was tough to take. The best part? Not only had I lost a core Priest and Mage out of 40-Man progression, I had sacrificed my 2nd-in-command in the process. I hadn't listened to him; I hadn't taken his concerns seriously enough. It was important to stay true to who we were as a guild, and that was more important than a boss kill. I couldn't make "allowances" for players, based solely on their damage meters; it was a double standard that would eat away at the core of the guild. And by ignoring the problem, I simply made the situation worse -- instead of losing two players (which I would have lost either way), I also lost the person that started to teach me the basics of leadership. I avoided the situation because I thought it would go away; that maybe perhaps some other officer would eject them on my behalf. I learned fast that nobody wants to do that. Nobody wants to be the enforcer of the rules, the bearer of bad news. Nobody wants to hear a gal plead with you in Vent while choking down tears that there must be another way to solve this issue. 

People avoid conflict for a reason.

And so, with the guild down an officer and two core raiders, I learned my lesson about double standards and vowed not to let it happen again. I discovered in practice that it was one of the hardest rules to enforce in the context of WoW. We would ultimately go on to gain a multitude of expertly played individuals over the course of many years of raiding, and some of them had horrible personalities. It took every ounce of energy to keep the roster filled with players able to rotate into spots that were left by players we ejected due to shitty behavior; it simply wasn't realistic, to be honest -- it became a full-time job. And it weighed heavily on my mind those months we worked on Molten Core and Blackwing Lair. I didn't give up. I was determined to see us succeed, at whatever the cost. My hope was that I would be able to continue to turn to Ater for advice, while tempering it with what Graulm had taught me.

Yet, the unanswered questions kept me up at night. Why did Ater put good faith into people that so obviously backfired? Was Graulm right about his assessment, or was there a far more complex set of circumstances working toward the Husband/Wife team being forced out? As my time with Ater continued on, he would prove to me he had far greater insight into people than I.

And thus, my training began.


FadedReality said...

This reads similar to experiences I had running a guild almost 4 years later in Wrath. It started with very exacting criteria for how people were to behave, chasing that same higher standard of behavior as you. As we grew and moved into raiding as a guild, I started excusing bad behavior for the sake of player ability and playing favorites. The more I read, the more I realize that I wasn't a piss poor GL, just inexperienced and all the behind the scenes stress, lessons and drama comes with the territory.

It's funny, until you've run a guild even being told how much work goes on behind the scenes to keep the appearance of effortless day to day existence doesn't do the reality of it justice.

Thanks for the awesome read so far!

Shawn Holmes said...


Thanks for the support! While I feel like I excused bad behavior in the early days purely due to a lack of experience and deferring to others whom I felt had a better handle on people than I, justifying their behavior later on (via Wrath) became more of a political move than anything else...and I'll be getting to that story very soon.

Tom Tjarks said...

Oh man, having been creator and leadership team for a guild for over six years (stopped this Jan '13), I feel your pain. You've learned some lessions I *still* haven't learned. Can't wait to read more. (The Looters Guild didn't raid until BC/Lich King)

Shawn Holmes said...


Thanks for reading! You have a lot to catch up on, so be sure to comment as you go.

John Fugate said...

Sounds very familiar. I just saw about you cats on WowInsider. I did RL for a bunch of RP folks. Man you talk about a catty bunch. After leading these clowns through ZG and getting a Hakkar kill, I said never again would I take a leadership position in ANY MMO ever again. I am there to have fun, but other people are there to be turkeys is the most polite term that I can think of. And to do this crap as a guild leader? No thanks. I look forward to getting caught up and reading this and saying "Yup been there, done that..." or "Hmmmm, that clown sounds like our own clown xxxx."

Shawn Holmes said...


Thanks for reading! I've always been fascinated by the RPers. I mean, what's it like in there during a raid? How strict are they? Is it "forsooth" this and "nay" that, all Shakespearean like? Do they refuse to use certain spells on a boss because it'll break canon?

It just seems so alien and bizarre...

refaal said...

Yeah, I did that. And I'm ashamed to say that I did that several times in my time as RL. I overlooked the fowl behavior of some players in order to preserve their excellent playing skill working for the group. I lied to myself, I thought It was for the greater good but you can't really trade good co-existence for results. Otherwise you'll cringe everytime you log on the game. Thanks for the great reading!

Shawn Holmes said...


Thanks for stopping by!

This issue comes up a few more times as the story progresses, and I try a number of techniques to curtail the bad behavior.

Whether or not it worked out in my favor remains to be blogged...

Kurn said...

Geez. I can't say I have ever had to throw someone out of a guild of mine while they were pleading with me on Vent, in tears. That is seriously rough. But the "good player/terrible human being" thing? Been there, done that. A lot. And didn't always have the strength to rid my guild(s) of the toxic folks, which wasn't fair to the guild(s) and is still something that weighs on me. I kept most of the AWFUL people out and have kicked out several terrible people, but I know I didn't always succeed. It's tough work.

Amazing storytelling thus far, btw. I feel like I'm reading a book and each blog post is a chapter. And I don't want to put it down. :)

Shawn Holmes said...


That ejection was one of the first real wake-up calls I had in the GL department.

It gets a lot worse than that. :\

Anonymous said...

It's a minor note, but you need to remember that Ater also had a major PvP preference.

Pigglett Daniels said...

I'm still with you - was going to go from 1.1 to 1.5, just told my wife I was going to stop reading at 2.0 - hmmm - since this is reading so much like a book with a fantastic albeit tragic end, I may continue all the way through....or I may jsut hop on WOW and come back later - either way, fascinating stuff - thanks for putting into words what we all have felt at one time or another

Emrip said...

My guild learned the hard way about inviting couples to guilds.

We had been progressing on Argus the Unmaker in the current expansion for about a month. When it came to our realization that some of our healers just weren't very good. Eventually leadership made the decision to sit a repeat offender and within 2 or 3 pulls we looked very likely to kill the boss getting sub 5% twice. Unfortunately the person we benched is the significant other of one of our tanks. The tank fearing that his SO might miss out on the kill decides to boycott raid for the rest of the night. Our officers discussed what the best course of action was for almost 3 hours and after almost 24 hours they were removed from the guild.

It set us back a month, a 975 tank, a 975 healer and worst of all two players we thought were committed to our family.

All said and done, I give you mad respect for sticking with your decision, even in the face of a crying woman. Its tough, I've had to do it before, the guild officers were essentially afraid to do so. I've never fired anyone and don't have much experience with people management, but I'm generally not afraid of other peoples feelings or conflict and telling someone that they are no longer wanted for raiding was one of the hardest things that I have ever done.

Ultimately conflict is a major part of high end raiding in any capacity and is literally unavoidable. Hiding from one conflict creates another as you saw and in the end you had to pay the price. As a leader it's about effectively managing conflict to create the best outcomes for your guild.

Also this is a great read and really insightful, even in 2018 people still struggle with the same issues. Times change, but people don't.