Thursday, October 4, 2012

2.10. Carrying the Load

Kerulak watches while Gruul ends
the lives of his 25-Man raid,
Gruul's Lair


After coming off of our High King Maulgar kill with 11 people dead, I felt an uneasy tug at my gut. Our performance was going to have to be as sharp as the difficulty curve that TBC was throwing at us. Gruul's mechanics offered us no reprieve. He struck Ater hard, and employed a similar strike made popular by Patchwerk back in Naxxramas. But while Patchwerk's was Hateful, slamming an additional punch into the first melee in range with the highest amount of health, Gruul's was Hurtful, always choosing the second melee in threat behind the Main Tank as his target. Both Ater and Kurst's health were constantly spiking, and any hope of smoothing out that damage was diminished by the fact that we were painfully low on Resto Druids. In fact, we only had one to speak of: a new recruit named Breginna, who promised to do everything she could to flatten said spikes with her multitude of HoTs.

He struck our tanks with such fury that the cave shook around us, rocks breaking free from the ceiling and showering down onto random unsuspecting players. We were in a constant state of re-positioning, while Ater and Kurst moved together, slowly, cautiously -- bound by an invisible shackle that...if one or the other moved too far away from...would cause Gruul to choose a new melee in range as the second-highest threat as a Hurtful Strike target.

You'd know when it happened. A rogue would be alive one minute, dead the next. No time for a Power Word: Shield, no Ancestral Swiftness-macro'd Greater Healing Wave. Alive, then dead. Game Over. The End.

Aside from extreme damage pouring into both tanks, coupled with the panic that ensued after cave-ins, Gruul still had one big gimmick in store for us. The Gronn would punch the ground in a single explosive blow, knocking the entire raid in random directions. As we spazzed-out after landing, our feet grew heavy with mud and rock, we began to slow down, as if being pulled through clay. Soon, we all stood motionless in the cave, frozen into position, reduced to immobile statues.

Then came the Shatter.

Gruul would send a wave of damage out that multiplied against any player that was within the vicinity of any other player. The closer the player, the more damage that was multiplied into the Shatter. One poorly positioned player could easily take four or five other players out in a single Shatter. The goal, therefore, was to use those precious few seconds after the knockback to get away from each other as quickly as possible. This was not complex at all, not nearly as much as High King Maulgar. One boss. Three mechanics. It was practically a tank-and-spank. This should be over in a couple of attempts.

It wasn't.

An example of the many Gruul's Lair diagrams
guilds created to train their raiders on.

Yelling at the Deaf

On every Gruul attempt, players continued to amaze me during Shatter. The instructions could not have been communicated any simpler: Move away from each other. Spread out. Get away. Do not stand next to another player. How many other ways can it be stated? It didn't matter. Whatever we told the raid to do, they panicked and spazzed out. They ran into each other. They killed each other. The simplest of tasks became a nightmare, and paraphrasing the instructions was as effective as yelling at a deaf person.

You can yell all you want, but they won't hear you.

Other raiding guilds struggled with this, too. They created bizarre images which meticulously detailed out each one of the 25 positions a person could hold in the roster, mapping each slot to a placement in the cave and a direction for them to run. It was the thing of nightmares, a paint-by-colors strategy meant for a child, handed over to grown men and women as an instruction manual. Why was this absolutely necessary? Had we fallen to such a degree that each and every person had to have their hand held as we gently guided them to the bathroom to go potty?

But that wasn't the nightmare. The horror came when we realized it wasn't helping.

Even with diagrams and arrows drawn in crayon, players continued to panic, blindly following the path given to them per the instructions, not taking into account that their positioning was off or had changed as a result of the knockback. Walking the directions we gave them without thinking for themselves. Heading towards other raiders. Ending each others lives.

Six nights.

Six painful nights is what it took until we got it right. I can't even begin to tell you how many attempts it was. It was a lot. Far too many. Far too many for the first tier of raids, and far too many for players that should have known better. Both Blizzard and our raid team had made some pretty embarrassing mistakes in this first tier thus far. Yes, there was a huge onus on us to increase each player's personal responsibility, but from a practical perspective, one thing was clear: entry level 25-man raids were insanely unforgiving.

For all the painful attempts, the wipes, the running back, going over positioning and clarifying not where you run during Shatter, but how...over the course of those six nights we eventually knocked Gruul down a peg or two. A round of yelling -- albeit somewhat muted -- filled the Vent server with what should have been considered a triumph and a victory.

I felt neither. And I had no idea why.

Kerulak poses with the 25-Man raid team
after the defeat of Gruul the Dragonkiller,
Gruul's Lair

Personally Irresponsible

Gruul's Lair was behind us, but it had opened our eyes. All the work we'd done in Vanilla, the struggles, the late nights, re-learning healing, refining keys and adding mods to the all seemed irrelevant. Like we had never accomplished anything in a raid before, like we were all green and needed to start from scratch. Claiming the progress we'd made in Vanilla as a selling point to new recruits made me feel like a fraud as we languished amid tier 4. They would only have to be present in one raid to see the panic-stricken raiders get picked off by falling rocks to read between the lines. You're not progressing -- you are the very absence of progression. Look me up when your guild pulls their heads out of their collective asses.

In these opening weeks of our guild re-entering the raiding landscape, I was desperate for answers. Had we lost our touch? Was the difficulty truly as steep as we perceived it to be? Did the lack of a reliable raid assistant affect Ater more than I had hoped? Did it come down to an absence of mage leadership, or the inconvenient shortage of restoration druids blanketing the raid with Tranquility? Or was there simply a much broader, more overarching reason why everything felt oppressive?

As with any team, there are going to be folks that rise to the top, a great majority of competent individuals, and a select few bottom feeders. In the days of the 40-Man, the incompetence of those bottom feeders was masked by the sheer strength in numbers coming from the remainder of the raid. The majority of these shining-stars would act as a buffer for those who were unable to deal with such technical details as standing in fire. With the loss of the forty came with it the loss of that buffer, that extra padding that softened the blow dealt by a handful of dead weights. 

In the new world order of a 25-Man, each and every person had to account for their sins, and "carrying" would no longer be a viable option. By each player taking personal responsibility, the strength of the team became that much more robust. I believed it. It is what I strove for, and what I wished the guild to adopt as their mantra. a very poor way to lead people.

1 comment:

Russell said...

Ah, the glory of BC raiding! I remember that, long after we'd moved on to SSC/TK (maybe we were even in BT?), there were still rogues getting together Gruul pugs for a Dragonspine Trophy. My raiders at that point, being jackasses, would ask each other in Vent, "So who should we kill?" They'd agree on someone and, as soon as people landing from the ground stomp, you'd see 5-6 of them all converge on one person and destroy them, then laugh and kill the boss.

Great times.