Thursday, October 25, 2012

2.13. A Single Point of Failure

"Pit Lord: Magtheridon",
Artwork by MARKCW

An End to Tackling

Imagine for a moment, a world where no touchdown could be considered fair unless every single member of the offensive team remained untackled. Not just the person running the football into the end-zone, I mean each and every member of the offensive line. The center, guards, and tackles all remain upright. None of these players can be knocked down to the turf. Ever. If the quarterback opts to throw, he may not be tackled. Ever. Not before the ball leaves his hands, not after. Every single member of the backfield must stay up. All halfback and fullback positions can never be tackled during the play...whether they have the ball or not. No wide receiver, no tight end...nobody. Not a single player on the offensive line can be knocked down during the play.

It makes for an incredibly brutal game of Football. I expect it would be frustrating to play, torture to coach, and boring to watch.

This is what Football would be like if it were played like a linchpin boss encounter in World of Warcraft, a very specific style of encounter that we experienced as a repeating theme throughout The Burning Crusade. Individual boss strategy aside, the success of a linchpin boss encounter rests solely on the shoulders of an individual player. Now, whether this player is chosen at random, cycled through during the course of the boss-fight, or is a specific person that the raid can control, the result is the same. If the person currently responsible does not live up to his task, the proverbial linchpin not only fails himself, but causes the raid to wipe in the process.

Linchpin boss encounters are quite common in WoW. Looking back over the history of the game, there are a good number of bosses that stand out in my mind as linchpins. Archimonde and the horrific Doomfire mechanic. Teron Gorefiend, with his cursed Shadow of Death. Even as far back as Baron Geddon, igniting players at random into a Living Bomb, the linchpin encounter leaves raiders with a single, solitary truth:

Death to you means death to all.

Hear me when I state for the record that I am not opposed to the linchpin encounter. It is important for us as seasoned raiders to experience a multitude of encounters, to identify and adapt as necessary, to be challenged in different ways, and ultimately forced to conquer our own inner spatial awareness demons. But in designing these encounters for a game such as World of Warcraft, a game played over the internet, fraught with latency and subject to the performance of many individuals and their respective computers, a careful note must always be observed which takes these many factors into account:

An encounter in which the survival of the entire raid rests solely upon the shoulders of an individual that cannot be planned around is a terrible, terrible mistake.

In order to learn this undeniable truth, Ater would have to pull a prank on his guild leader.

"Baron Geddon"
Artwork by Brandon Kitkouski

The Living Bomb Prank

"...and Kerulak, you're going to stand right here."

Ater motioned me over to a portion of Garr's expansive cave; now empty, save that of a small pile of Earthen Elemental rubble in the corner. Eager, and still bursting with excitement that my guild had successfully entered 40-Man raiding, I moved to the position he directed me to, far on the south end of the room. While I was a bit concerned about the positioning, I trusted that Ater knew exactly what he was doing. By putting me in the role of main tank healer, I was in a safe spot to heal him and avoid any bad decisions that a Living Bomb might choose to make.

When the encounter began, all seemed well. Ater wailed on Baron Geddon while the raid slowly picked away at him. I whack-a-moled my Greater Healing Wave button whenever Ater took a spike of fire damage from one severely pissed-off Fire Elemental. A few minutes into the fight, something caught my attention. In the blink of an eye, one of the mages had teleported directly to me. It happened in a flash; there was no time at all to react. The mage burst apart at the seams, exploding in a gush of fire and flames -- taking my Shaman with him -- to a burning grave. When the laughter in TeamSpeak filled my headphones, it became painfully obvious that the joke was on me. I'd been set up, the target for whichever mage happened to be lucky enough to gain Geddon's awful debuff.

It is a tale of woe and despair that continues to amuse guildies and strangers alike, but while many focus on the funniest part of the story -- the death of the cow named Kerulak -- the story has a darker, more serious underpinning. Ater was never truly in control of the prank. Geddon applied Living Bomb to members of the raid in such a way as to ensure no one individual knew who would be next. There was no amount of positioning, no management of damage or threat, no single one mechanic that any player could latch on to that would shift the control of the encounter to them and them only. Even though Ater had set aside a very specific spot for a soon-to-be-BBQ'd cow that was away from raid's harm, a false sense of control lingered. The prank's success would ultimately rely on the mage that happened to be randomly chosen for Living Bomb, and whom happened to be let in on Ater's secret.

The prank may never have happened at all, had the Living Bomb not randomly made it around to the mage Ater had let in on the gag. The Blink spell had a habit of being buggy in Vanilla, so the prank's success had technical implications as well -- the mage could have just as easily misblinked into a crowd of unsuspecting raiders. Latency was also an issue, the Mage could have lagged at the time they were to move toward Kerulak, a very real possibility that had dire implications. But of all these possible points of failure, the worst possible scenario is the scariest: Had Ater chosen someone less adept, there might be far fewer DoDers today that remember this story as a hilarious.

A Hellfire Channeler monitors one of the puzzle
cubes keeping the pit lord shacked,
Magtheridon's Lair

Lynching the Pit Lord

The boss was situated in the center of the room. Surrounding him were five boxes that could be clicked on by any player in the raid. The strategy involved sending five players, at a specific moment in time, to go and stand by those five boxes. When Magtheridon was about to unleash a massive amount of fire damage on the entire raid, the five players were to "click" their respective box, which would cause five purple beams to shoot out towards Magtheridon, partially de-materializing him, and preventing him from unleashing hell onto the raid. Simple, right? Wait for the call, click the box, repeat. It was a very simplistic mechanic. 

Unfortunately, what should be straightforward in theory often does not translate well into practice within a raid environment.

Right from the start, players couldn't get it straight when they were supposed to click. Even with a raid leader coordinating by voice over Ventrilo, players still couldn't get into position consistently. Or they clicked their cube too late. Or too early. Or they thought they clicked their cube, but didn't. And the beauty of this encounter was, as soon as you successfully made it past one round of cube clicks, you could no longer rely on those same five people, because now they had a magical debuff that prevented them from clicking again. So even though you had a reasonable amount of control to decide who clicked what and when, eventually, nearly everyone in the raid was going to have to handle the clicks. Now you had the luxury of teaching the mechanic to five new people. And another five. And another five.

And this is about the time you start thinking about putting a gun in your mouth.

Let's face it, everyone makes mistakes; every single member of the 25-Man raid team most certainly fucked up their own cube clicking at one point or another. Others...struggled. We would do our very best to try to keep them from having that responsibility so they could stay focused on the boss, but that was a fairy tale where everyone lived happily ever after in the end, as a rainbow sprouted from Magtheridon's lifeless corpse. The cold, brutal reality of Magtheridon's Lair is that players died mid-attempt. With limited battle resurrections as a crutch, eventually, you are going to have to put those struggling players into cube-clicking responsibility. A truly gifted group of raiders are dynamic and can bend at will to the needs of the raid. So you spend 15 minutes on Magtheridon, you get him low on health, and someone takes a bad fireball to the face, doesn't quite get healed up in time, and is killed...and you are forced to make that horrible, horrible judgement call. The one where you call out the name of that not-so-great player in Vent, say you need help, and tell him he's next on cube-clicking duty, and he runs over and clicks...

...the wrong cube.

And the entire attempt is a wash.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

2.12. The Accidental Florist

"Crying Tree of Life"
Artwork by Okha (Oksana)


Kerulak was all I knew.

Since the game's launch in November of 2004, all of my end-game knowledge and expertise as a healer had been funneled through my Tauren Shaman. Like many players, I had a number of alts on my account, to break the monotony and see the world through a different pair of eyes. But my alts were low-level and I looked upon them as a hobby in-between polishing Kerulak's gear, assisting with attunement runs. My priority was first and foremost my shaman, Kerulak, so the prospect of putting him on the bench was unnerving and left me feeling a loss of control. My muscle-memory had long been cemented around totems, chain heal, and big single target greater healing waves. Earth Shield was still relatively new, having been added at the start of TBC, and was technically my only legitimate HoT (albeit one that lay dormant until reacting to damage). That is, if you don't count the pathetic heals-over-time that came from a Healing Stream Totem.

I feared the pain of breaking down that muscle and rebuilding it.

Part of the problem was that I was spaz. As far back as I can remember, I struggled with keeping my shit straight as it began to hit the proverbial fan. In emergencies, microseconds before death, I was at my absolute worst from a play perspective. I had a habit of freaking out and spamming a multitude of buttons as I scrambled for my life; in many cases they were the wrong abilities in the wrong order. In order to prevent myself from tripping over my own branches while playing on Breginna's character, it was important for me to keep shared functions in the same places. That muscle memory was all I had to rely on when adrenaline was pumping and I was about to flip out on the keyboard and mouse. I needed to ensure I was a contributor, not a detriment, by bringing this Druid to raids. Embrace the spaz.

My strategy in approaching the adjustment from Shaman to Druid was based around a single concept: Both are healers, so find whatever similarities you can, and map Druid abilities by function to the same keybindings you use with your Shaman. The starting point was the spell both the Shaman and the Druid shared: Nature's Swiftness, granting an instant cast to an otherwise long-casting spell. With Kerulak, the macro was mapped to Greater Healing Wave. This time, it would be Healing Touch. Kerulak could perform an emergency pool of mana regeneration through Mana Tide Totem, so I took my keybinding for it, and changed that to Innervate. Since Healing Touch had taken the place of Greater Healing Wave, I looked at my options. Chain Heal was more of a staple than Lesser Healing Wave in my eyes, and for the Druid, Rejuvenation seemed to follow suit. As a result, I chose to map Regrowth to Lesser Healing Wave, and made Rejuvenation my base spell. I reasoned that, since Earth Shield is what I'd use to protect a tank, I converted that mapping to Swiftmend -- with the expectation that I would have said tank loaded up with HoTs as the prerequisite.

As I wrapped up the changes, all that remained was Tranquility, taking the place (far more significantly, I might add) of Healing Stream Totem. Like an anal retentive chef, I dragged the metaphor even further, replacing Ghost Wolf with Travel Form and Revive with Ancestral Spirit. By this point, abilities were varying wildly, but it came down to function more than naming convention or even the difference between instant and non-instant cast. As for Ankh, a passive triggered upon death, the paradigm shifted the furthest in the form of a druid's Rebirth. This clutch ability was something the raid would rely on me for, so I needed the ability bound front-and-center. When the spazzing began, someone would need to come back from the dead while the raid remained in combat. I stuck to mapping functions in this manner in the hopes that re-learning healing from the ground up would be painless and quick.

Just like how Magtheridon intended to end our pathetic lives.

The Druid Talent Trees during The Burning Crusade

The Feels of Heals

Healing on Breginna's Druid was an entirely refreshing experience. I took advantage of the perpetual-motion machine that was everlasting attunement requests, and leapt in to help as much as possible. I was amazed at how much simpler it was to keep people alive. The freedom to heal while moving was a luxury that Druids took for granted. One can only know the pain of having to keep a Main Tank alive and stay out of the fire at the same time by playing a healer other than a Druid. It required extreme discipline to shuffle around as little as possible in order to maximize cast time, but all those restrictions went out the door with the Druid. With a Disney-like innocence etched into the bark that was the Tree Form's face, I pranced around 5-man heroics like The Arcatraz, The Steamvault, and Shattered Halls, waving my twig-like arms in the area, dolling out HoTs like they were candy, while bouquets of flowers and nature flourished behind me.

This was how the other side lived.

When it came time to return to Gruul's Lair for our weekly run, Ater and company had already been briefed on Breginna's story. The sudden loss of Kerulak from the raid turned the attention of a few raiders, and that was to be expected. I explained myself in Vent and waved to them all from my bird's eye view, gliding down out of the Blade's Edge sky and shifting into humanoid form at the entrance to the Gronn's cave. Yes, there was ribbing, and that was to be expected, but I took it in stride as this is what we did for one another in a family setting. Breginna may have still been new, but she was no less important than the players who had been with us since as far back as Blackwing Lair. We looked out for one another, and joked about each other's ability behind the wheel. We did this because if there was ever truly a legitimate concern about someone's incompetence, the jokes would be a little less playful, would sting a little more...have a little more bite.

They were certain to leave teeth marks.

Behind the wheel of Breginna, High King Maulgar was a bit less stressful, a little less chaotic. I got the hang of layering up Lifebloom to smooth out the otherwise jagged health bar that sat just below Ater's name on my screen. I was the only Resto Druid in the raid, so when I heard a call out for a battle rez, there was no need to debate or question who was being addressed. A button click later, the dead were back in biz, rushing toward the Ogre King with blades in hand. Gruul was equally less taxing. Moving out of the cave-ins was a cinch, as I shuffled the little wide-grinning Tree out of harms way, flinging its arms into the air for heals as I went. Other healers would run low on mana, call out for help, and without giving it a second thought, out came the mana-regenerating magic imbued within Innervate. When I took on the task, I wasn't sure if I would acclimate to the Druid as quickly as I had, but keeping my button functions the same pounded the learning curve into a flat pancake. The High King and Gruul were once again down, and I bid on items on Breginna's behalf, keeping her geared and growing in strength while she was away.

Hanzo plays Breginna during her absence for work,
Gruul's Lair

Magtheridon's Lair

April had come and gone, and with it, the task of digging into TBC’s raid content had finally commenced. But to say we were progressing would be a stretch. Three weeks of the High King and three weeks of Gruul landed us squarely at the beginning of May, and we still had not yet completed Tier 4. Yes, there were issues. Two pieces came from Karazhan, a 10-Man raid not officially on our roster. Two pieces came from Maulgar and Gruul combined, but with only three King kills and a single, solitary defeat of the Dragonkiller on our belts, Tier 4 equipped raiders were still a long way off. But as Blain had taught us, gear did not make a bad player good, so we repeated this mantra every time we slammed up against another wall.

This time, the wall was about to come down on us.

The remaining piece in Tier 4 would come from the pit lord Magtheridon, a pit lord shackled deep beneath the bowels of the Blood Furnace, where Illidan drained his blood as a means to fuel his army of Fel Orcs. If there was any shred of a doubt in the back of my mind that Blizzard misjudged the difficulty for their entry level raids, that doubt was excised from my brain once we set foot in the pit lord's lair. I was none too thrilled to dig into this fight. Word had spread among the raiding community about the sheer ridiculousness in difficulty the boss posed. A few short weeks after The Burning Crusade launched, I remember reading an article on WoW Insider about how Death and Taxes themselves said, not in so many words…
"Fuck that."
DnT leap-frogged past Magtheridon entirely, diving into Tier 5, uninterested in wasting any time dealing with the foolishly designed mechanics of a boss that desperately screamed out to be re-tuned. The High King and Gruul were tough and unforgiving, that was never in question. But they were doable with a raid comprised of team members that were sharp, took accountability for their own actions, positioning and performance. A pro-team could absolutely take out these pro-bosses.

But even professional teams make mistakes, yet still come home with the championship trophy; it's because the game might be complex and technical, there's room for error and recovery -- there's room to breathe.

On the twelfth night of Magtheridon attempts, I felt like I was drowning.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

2.11. Divergent Paths, circa 2007
Source: SXSW

The Latest Fad

"Check out this new website."

I tilted my head to the side, peering around my work monitor, revealing Ater. His gaze remained fixed on his own computer's monitor, the clacking of keys producing a steady hum from his side of our collaborative desk arrangement.

"What's the url?"

" I guess it's been around awhile but I heard about it through South by Southwest. It's bizarre." Ater got up, walked around to my side, and pointed to the registration link. "Here...set up an account."

I clicked the link, filled out my info, waited for the confirmation, and then logged in. A lone window greeted me, with a single label above it: 

What are you doing?

"This is weird. Who would care about what I'm doing?"

"I know...crazy. But I bet people would use this for all sorts of things." He walked back around to his desk and took a seat, "Maybe even like having public conversations."

"That's just creepy, though. Following people's conversations? I mean, I can have a conversation over the Internet in IRC if I want to."

"Right," Ater shot back, "but how many people use IRC?"

"A hell of a lot of nerds, that's for sure!" I laughed.

"Nerds, yeah. But not the masses. Think about what you have to do to get into IRC. Gotta know what server to connect to, and then deal with all the lingo. Figure out what channels to go into. IRC is still pretty least for the general user. IRC is great for people who are tech like you and me. But not very usable for the masses. That's the difference."

I looked back at the website, and then looked at Ater. It was as though every time he spoke, there was some deeply insightful message that just seemed to be as plain-as-day to him. The masses? General everyday users, uninterested in technology, barely knowing the difference between Yahoo! and Google? They're going to be the ones having public conversations where strangers eavesdrop on one another? 

If it had been anybody else making such a bold prediction, I would've laughed them out of the room. The masses have never flocked to technology. As long as I've been alive, non-tech folk have always expressed frustration and dismissal when it came to technology. Cool for us...confusing, boring, and dull for them. Even at the agency where Ater and I built websites for customers specifically paying for technology, we struggled with training them. Things were too complex, too many terms to learn, too many buttons to press and an awful lot of "why doesn't it just work."

I couldn't help but be reminded of the plight of the casual.

Two Separate Roads

Every so often, a lone forum post would pop-up on the Battle.Net forums about why there weren't more raids like Karazhan. Smaller, less oppressive raids, allowing players to rely on fewer of one another to accomplish the same tasks. Most often, Blizzard wouldn't respond to these complaints. The folks in charge, namely Tigole, tuned it out as white noise. Raiding was never meant to be for the masses, the great majority of players that were confused by basic concepts like moving out of the fire. Should it have been any wonder that Tigole himself came from a background of hardcore late-night raiding in EverQuest, ranting on his guild's website about the undeserving whiners who were slowly forcing EQ into a watered-down grave. Raiding was a privilege, not a right. You want it? You get off your ass and you do it. No complaining of size or of having to interact with other people. You take that energy you'd normally use to bitch and moan about how you have it so hard...and you simply go and get shit done. Anybody that complained of raids being too large, too many things to learn, too many buttons to press...didn't belong in raids in the first place.

I looked back at the website, asking its presumptuous question. Ater did have a point. It was simple and accessible. Certainly something that far more users could take advantage of. IRC was involved, did have a lot of techno-babble baggage associated with it, and I got how it could turn the masses off, scare them with horror stories of pedophiles and pornography and pirated software. This...Twitter site definitely made things a lot more accessible. And it certainly wasn't going to replace IRC by any means. They'd serve different audiences -- maybe even both! But they would ultimately maintain unique purposes. If all you cared about was posting a public thought, this new Twitter thing would serve that crowd beautifully. Tell Twitter you're playing a video game, and maybe get a couple of followers as your reward. But if you wanted to take it a step further, dive deep down into the depths of IRC, get your hands muddy with mods, channels, binary file transfers and bouncing between servers, stuff you would never get through Twitter -- IRC was still an option.

One action with two separate levels of effort and two separate degrees of reward.

The Twitter thing suddenly made a lot more sense.


"I could only imagine someone like Blain using this. How goes the search for a Blain replacement, anyway?"

Ater glanced back, "I've been talking to Volitar. He might be interested in helping out."

"Ah, nice. Volitar's a good choice."

That damn site was still up on my screen, the dialog box practically begging me to type something into it.

"Twitter, eh?"

Ater smiled, "That site is gonna be huge. Keep an eye on it."

What are you doing?

I clicked into the box and typed a response:

Completing Twitter registration.

I closed the browser and went back to work.

Hanzo's Druid alt, Oxanna,
Thunder Bluff


I logged in that evening, checking to see who needed assistance in completing their attunement, when Breginna shot me a tell.

"Can I chat with you for a bit?"

"Sure, of course! Let me hop into Vent."

I alt-tabbed and fired up Ventrilo. Breginna was one of our newest raiders, our lone Restoration Druid. In the wake of a myriad of class changes that The Burning Crusade gave us, I struggled to find quality healers of the druid affinity. Many, as was the case with our very own Dalans, had felt forced and betrayed into a role of healing during Vanilla. They wished to take advantage of all of the bestial forms they'd been granted by rolling the class -- and that meant inside raid encounters as well. But in Vanilla, Druid tanks were clunky and difficult to get right, and their feral and balance DPS wasn't up to par with the purer DPS classes. So if raid progression was the goal, Druids were expected to heal -- and many didn't like it.

Come TBC, Druids gained far more viability in their multiple forms, and they -- like Dalans -- said good-bye and good-riddance to healing. Great for them, horrible for me. The pool of available healing druids withered away to practically zilch, and this was not good. Even with all the changes that TBC brought to the table for the variety of playable classes in the game, Restoration Druids still dominated one very specific niche of heals -- the ability to stack a multitude of HoTs on targets. Between Rejuvination, Regrowth, and Lifebloom, Tanks that normally experienced huge spikes of damage would have their health bar changes smoothed to a much more tolerable level, which in turn, eased the minds of the remaining healers and kept us from having an aneurysm.

"Hey, Hanzo." Breginna's voice was refreshing. In the sausage factory that was Descendants of Draenor, having a gal in the guild was a relief from the daily testosterone fueled chat. It was fine most of the time...but even I needed an occasional break from random bouts of excessive profanity.

"What's up, Breginna. Everything OK?"

"Yeah! Yeah...everything's great. Getting settled in to the raids now, really psyched about Mag."

"Yes. Mag. He is going to be a tough one. You'll absolutely be key in the guild pulling that off."

"Well, that's why I wanted to talk to you..."

Oh, God, no...

"You're not leaving the guild on me, are you?"

"Oh no no, no not at all!"

Jesus H.

"Thank God! You scared me!"

"No, I am going to be around for a long time, if you'll have me! The reason I wanted to talk to you was to let you know about an upcoming event in my schedule that I need help with..."

"Sure, anything! What can I do?"

"Well, I have a job coming up that I have to travel for, and it'll be a couple of weeks at least. So, I'm not going to be able to raid, I expect. I mean, I don't think I'll have access to a computer that will be WoW-ready."


"OK,, that sucks. But how can I help with that?"

"Well, I was thinking...what if I give you my account to play on? I mean, do you think that is a possibility?"


"Yeah. I guess that could work." I stumbled a bit, lost in a train of thought as I attempted to deal with this curve-ball. Awkwardly, I blurted a thank-you back to her, "That's extremely generous of you to offer up your account."

It could work. She wouldn't fall behind in gear, and Kerulak pretty much had everything he needed from the content we were able to complete thus far. And as the lone Resto Druid blanketing the raid with HoTs, her presence was going to be pivotal in our success -- never mind the fact that it was one more battle resurrection we desperately needed.

"Alright. Let's do it."

I had some Druid homework to attend to.

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.