Thursday, December 27, 2012

2.22. Blain Returns

The Alliance wins a battleground despite
Blain's domination of the killing blows,
Warsong Gulch

Back in the Saddle

"Everybody head to TK."

The chatter of the raid picked up somewhat. What was this? Something new and unplanned?

"We're switching gears?" someone asked in Vent.


Blain was a man of few words.

"Get inside when you get there, get eating and buffing. We're pulling at 7:00 o'clock."

When I first met Blain, his abrasiveness put me on edge. I questioned Ater's choice in leaders, looked at the gear the Undead Rogue walked into Molten Core with, and wondered if it was some sort of joke. Yet the joke was quickly on me as Blain proceeded to tear the Core apart, along with a number of whiners and excuse-makers in the process. Yet this time around, it wasn't a worry about incompetency or a lack of people-skills; I worried about whether or not he could bail the water out. We'd stagnated in progression for months, barely able to claim a couple of kills on The Lurker Below. Players were leaving to join guilds that were proven and successful, and we were left with the bottom scrapings. Was it too late? I wondered. I was well beyond concern that people's feelings would be hurt by this point.

"So we're just heading to TK out of the blue, what about all the work we've put into SSC?" What work, I thought to myself, while the hackles continued to go up. Ater boldly played his hand,

"Quite frankly, morale is low. We could use a boss kill to pick people up. Blain says we can knock out Void Reaver, so it's time for a change of scenery."

In typical Blain fashion, he ignored any sort of acknowledgement that credited his decision making, and kept focused on the coordination. "Your tanks are Ater, Rocraw, Bretthew and Dalans, the kill order is skull, then X, assist off of me or Chopliver if you aren't sure. Turtleman, sheep diamond."

When I hopped off the taxi and zoned into Tempest Keep, the raid was seated, eating and drinking, and the first pack of Blood Elves that guarded the door had been marked. Gunsmokeco sent me a whisper,

"So when did Blain decide to come back to leading?"

I got my own flask up, and sat down to join the crowd in the midst of buffing.

"Last week, when we decided we were done wasting time."

I moved into position after hearing the countdown to the pull, and lit up the raid with Chain Heal. Gunsmokeco didn't know the news yet, nor did any of the shamans. I didn't want to burden them on the day we planned to turn things around. For now, I kept the news to myself, so that everyone could focus on this change of scenery and the return of their old raid leader, hoping it was enough of a morale boost to start cutting notches in our belt again. The news would have to wait. For now.

Kerulak prepares to head into Tempest Keep: The Eye,

Void Reaver

The roster was reasonably solid that evening of July 22nd, 2007, and my sanity rested on a number of familiar faces. Joining Ater and Blain from the 40-Man days was Neps, faithfully running the priests since Haribo's retirement, as was Zyr, infamous for his dead-on impression of cricket sound -- the perfect follow-up to horrible jokes. Dalans was the lone Feral Druid, backing up Ater's tanking alongside Bretthew the paladin. Turtleman held the longest running mage spot, as did Houla with the hunters. Even Annihilation was present, now laying waste on his warlock Fatality, side-by-side with another 40-Man vet named Eacavissi. And, standing by my side was Gunsmokeco, a Resto Shaman who had been with us since early '06, flooding the raid with chain heals. Rounding out the vets was Abrinis, a down-to-earth, no-nonsense undead warrior that delivered consistent, top-notch melee damage -- when he wasn't talking sports with Neps. Of the 25 folks present that evening, 14 had come from Vanilla. It was time to see if the remaining 11 were carries, or something better.

Rather than two separate instances with two individual paths of progression, Blain lumped Tier 5 into a single pot. Our best chance at success in pulling out of this nosedive meant attacking the bosses from the least amount of difficulty to the most. Lurker was down (though its bugginess was still a concern), and everything that remained in SSC was non-trivial. Logically, that meant the next easiest boss would have to be Void Reaver, hiding in the western wing of The Eye. The change of scenery would not only breathe life back into the raid, but boost morale -- if we could do it. On top of it all, the reward would be significant: Tier 5 shoulders. Blain may have taught me the fundamental rule about gear not making a bad player good, but at the same time, understood the impact the reward had on the crew. We needed to get people's minds out of the sinkhole and thinking about killing bosses, if there was any chance in Hell at one day defeating Illidan.

It was a massive mechanical contraption with a tiny head, rumbling while it idled in the center of a circular room. It eyed us and revved invisible motorcycle handles, waiting to peel out and attack, while Blain led the raid through the Fel Reaver's trash packs. Once the room was devoid of any backup, Blain instructed the raid to take a circular position around the outside ring. The rest of us would move in tightly, tanks, melee, and the shamans with their chain heal at the ready. Breginna had taken up the task of helping out with healers, and assigned them locations around the ring as well. Once in position, Ater pulled the gargantuan machine, and I raced into the center of the room to wind up the chain heal spam.

Descendants of Draenor defeats Void Reaver,
Tempest Keep: The Eye

Pounding It In

There was no real "trick" to Void Reaver, from the inner circle looking out. Void Reaver would Pound the tank, knocking him back, cycling over to the next tank highest in threat. The somewhat-diminished chaos arose in determining which tank would ultimately have him, as the contraption was immune to taunt. Watching Omen was usually a good sign, but calls were made in Vent regardless. Dalans has him. Taba has him. Ater has him. An excess amount of communication was a good start for a raid that had been troubled for so long.

I can imagine the ranged had their hands full with Arcane Orb, Void Reaver's slow-motiong ranged attack that he lobbed at our ranged casters like an electric bomb caught in a space-time warp. It was slow moving for a reason; if you saw it headed your way and ran away in fear, it was already too late. The blast radius for Arcane Orb was so wide that you needed a solid head-start at getting the hell away before it caught you in its dome, silencing you for a full 6 seconds. The silence added to the arcane damage was brutal, especially to healers caught unaware. Players should have been able to track their own orb, but Blain was taking no chances. He called out every person that was targeted and whom needed to move, while juggling melee DPS and mitigating damage from Pound at the same time.

Yet once again, Blain came out on top of the damage meters, just like he had that first day of setting foot in Molten Core. Even after calling out Orb targets. Even after surviving Pound. Even after dealing with the threat of being one-shot by a boss that couldn't be taunted. A heavy sigh of relief washed across the raid that night. My players were thankful for Blain's guidance and motivated once again to tackle content. The coming months would be telling, as we set out to regain control of progression and set upon a path that would lead us to the death of Illidan. It would not be a straight path, more obstacles would throw us curveballs and the lineup would change. But at least for now, we enjoyed a momentary victory after eating weeks of crow.


The bids wrapped up on Pauldrons of the Vanquished Champion. The winner wasn't Kerulak. Voices in vent showed their surprise and confusion. My shaman had gone months without an upgrade, the side-effect of failing to progress, coupled with my duties driving Breginna's druid while she was away on business. The raid clearly expected me to be one of the first shamans to walk out of The Eye with Tier 5 shoulders.

"The winner wasn't Kerulak?" someone asked in Vent.

"I didn't bid."

"Why not?"

"Because," I answered, "I won't be returning on Kerulak."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2.21. The Thin Yellow Line

Blain displays his Armored Netherdrake from Season 1,
Shattrath City

The Prodigal Son

"If I'm coming back to lead raids, there's gonna have to be some changes."

Blain made his expectations abundantly clear. My former 40-Man raid leader had been primarily responsible for driving progression throughout Vanilla. Along with Ater, the Warrior responsible for bringing Blain to me, Descendants of Draenor had blown through Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, ½ of Ahn'Qiraj (40) and ¼ of Naxxramas (40). Blain's no-nonsense and often brash style was pivotal in pushing our raid team to their maximum capabilities. But, when The Burning Crusade launched, his priorities changed, and he took to PvP while Ater was left to fend for himself as the driving force behind raid progression.

It hadn't gone well.

Several months in, Kadrok had thrown in the towel. Losing my Paladin officer was a nasty wound, as he was also one of our key healers. His second-in-command, Volitar, had been hand picked by Ater to take on Blain's responsibilities and help direct our raid traffic. But our stagnation in progression had eaten away at what remained of Vol's sanity, driving him to frustration and anger. Rather than face further disappointment from a group of fire-eaters, Volitar had gone AWOL, a second deep gouge in an already infected wound. Star players were walking away, and I was holding the bag of leftovers, while Ater turned to his work as a means of funneling his own disgust away.

The class pool was horribly askew; I had so many shamans, I felt a guilty sense of duty to sacrifice my own shaman in lieu of a shadow priest for the sake of progression. Without a leader, the paladins were in a constant state of flux; I didn't have a solid grasp on who my tanks or healers were. Entropy begets regression, and where we could once kill the most simplistic of bosses (namely The Lurker Below), we would instead spend hours wiping like amateurs. Once again, the threat of a guild collapse loomed, and any potential of us defeating Illidan had long since gone out of sight.

Ater wields Zin'rokh, Destroyer of Worlds,
Blackwing Lair

Resetting Expectations

Blain, fresh off claiming a victory at the end of Arena Season 1, was my only realistic hope at realigning the raid team. But the truth of his departure still had to be addressed. It was public knowledge he stepped down to pursue Arenas, but he had ultimately revealed to me the real reasons behind his psychological leave of absence: he had become fed up with the whining and excuses, and was tired of having his leadership challenged and questioned by kids who thought they were gods at the game.

"The problem is they are not taking it seriously enough," Blain stated over Ventrilo, "we can't continue to cater to casual players who aren't dedicated."

"That's the type of guild we are, though", replied Ater, "we need to be able to allow anybody who wants to raid...y' do so!"

I tossed my two cents into mix, "The problem isn't that we are allowing everyone to raid, it's that everyone’s opinion of raiding is different. They come to have fun isn't wiping for four hours on a boss we already know how to kill."

"That's common sense," Blain answered, "we shouldn't have to tell them that."

"I think we've gone long enough assuming people have common sense. We need to tell them what we think 'fun' is."

With the margin of error now a practical negative value, personal accountability was that much more important. There simply wasn't any opportunity for people to be "carried" any longer. Everyone had to pull their own weight. At the start of The Burning Crusade, we had enjoyed so much success in progression, I merely assumed this sort of thing would be common sense! 

The problem with Descendants of Draenor at this point was everyone's common sense was different.

"Well, sounds good so far," Ater replied, "so what's your plan on telling them this?"

"I'm gonna write up a post, tell them Blain is returning. Clear the air on a brand new set of expectations." I took a deep breath, "and then, I'm gonna do exactly what you told me to do, Ater. Acknowledge them."

Hanzo continues to level Zanjina the troll priest,

The Bridge From Both Ends

In order to have Blain return to raid leading, change was needed at the top. His expectations of a player were very high, but that hadn't been communicated properly to the officer core. This was my own fault, and was due to a lapse in judgement regarding the chain of command. In Vanilla it was an assumed title -- but without making an official statement, officers let their egos grow into TBC and the result was unpleasant. Blain had to deal with back-talk, arguments, and debate regarding strategy, when it hadn't even been open to discussion in the first place. This was a plight often known as "too many cooks in the kitchen." I was determined to set the record straight. Blain was in charge and was doing the work necessary to build our raid strategy. Unless the officers wanted his job, they would need to keep their comments to themselves and stick to the micromanagement of their respective classes.

Additionally, we would need a unified goal; something that each individual player would need to be able to see, absorb, and relate to. We all knew we were raiding, and the goal was progression, but that wasn't finite enough; it didn't quantify any particular grade of success. So, I re-clarified the goal to Ater and Blain, who in turn, insured that the rest of the raid team knew exactly what we were pushing for:

Descendants of Draenor was going to kill Illidan the Betrayer, before the next expansion rendered him obsolete.

Once leadership was aligned, I had to do work from the bottom up as well. We had imposed no hard restrictions on raiders in the past, with the justification that we weren't a hardcore raiding guild. It wasn't enough. Some level of responsibility needed to be placed on the individual player, otherwise I would lose Blain again, possibly forever. With Blain setting the bar high once again, coupled with Ater's moral obligation to uphold our guild's ideals, I turned to the single unifying thread that defined Descendants of Draenor: to have fun. 

So, what did 'having fun' mean? It meant that what separated a Raider from a Non-Raider was you gave a shit about progression. In order to hammer this thought home, I created new ranks in the guild: Raider and Veteran. With a visual title associated to the concept, players now had a concrete way of describing their level of dedication to the team. And, to reinforce that concept of teamwork, I imposed a 3-wipe maximum on bosses we had already defeated. We would succeed together -- and we would fail together, but we would not force an individual to demoralize and waste the time of 24 other individuals.

With the bridge rebuilt from both ends, it was at least time to clarify to the guild what our definition of "fun" meant: Constant, consistent success.

To help catalyze these changes into the guild bloodstream, I drafted up a forum post which was previewed to a select few guild members. I wrote as I never had before, funneling every emotion that had wrecked me over the last few months, gutting me, leaving me worn out and exhausted. In that email, I indicated that we would be adjusting our raid schedule, so that we could begin the process of embracing structure; a constant, consistent schedule of raid evenings that the players could come to rely on. If they were going to commit to becoming a true Raider and leave Veteran behind, then I should be able to commit to them a schedule that they could arrange their own lives around.

I felt the reins tightening in my hands. It was time to turn this stagecoach around.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

2.20. Replenishment

"Sabrine of Runetotem",
Artwork by Sabrine

The Forsaken Role

I couldn't sit back any longer. We hadn't made progress in months. I was losing Ater to work, only able to call on him in needs of great emergency, yet these were happening nearly every week. I couldn't stand by and let the guild implode out of raw apathy. I had to do something. The most logical place to start was with myself. Get my own shit straight. Figure out what the guild needed from me and make it happen, rather than sit around wishing people would do the right thing, or that the right player would fall into my lap. The shaman core was now reasonably extensive. Gunsmokeco and his brother Deathonwing had joined the crew, as had an older crew member named Deathflurry -- he would go on to rename himself Mcflurrie, in an attempt to diminish confusion. With these three grouped next to Ekasra to soften the blow from a chain heal perspective, I gave serious thought to benching Kerulak, filling another much needed role that we lacked.

In Vanilla, raiding specializations were rigid. Each class had 3 talent trees, which changed the way that class was played. Spec into Protection, and your Warrior becomes a tank, wielding a sword and a shield, standing at the front of the raid, holding the boss in place and bearing the weight of its attacks. But, change that same Warrior’s spec to that of Fury, and now the Warrior wields an edged weapon in each hand, and instead of tanking, the Warrior is now relegated to melee DPS, burning the boss’s health down as fast as possible.

During that era, multiple specs existed, but only one was viable per class due to the way in which the numbers broke down statistically. Only the Warrior could ultimately bear the immense burden of a boss pounding on it, even though two other classes could technically tank. And so, those two other classes that could tank...didn't. Blizzard aimed to fix this in The Burning Crusade. They granted a few new abilities to some of the other hybrid classes. Druids and paladins received a few new tricks that made them viable tanks. shamans and druids began contributing to DPS instead of always healing. There was one other class that received changes in The Burning Crusade that gave it more flexibility in raids, but unlike the others, this class was the only one to receive a very special ability that was essential to raiding: the Priest.

Hanzo (playing as Breginna) eyes Melkezadek's
place on the damage meters for Shadow,
Gruul's Lair


When we were felling bosses like Ragnaros and Nefarian, Priests were healers, end-of-discussion. They had two styles of healing that they could adopt, either Holy or Discipline. Discipline was simply not viable in Vanilla. It couldn't match the healing throughput needed to raid competitively and make serious progression. Our priests certainly wouldn't have been able to keep our Main Tank up through Maexxna if they had been "Disc" in Vanilla. In fact, the Discipline tree itself wouldn't be reworked by Blizzard for another year-and-a-half. As a result, all priests were least, all the ones we were privy to, in our research of the furthest progressed hardcore raiding guilds.

Those were the two healing specs a Priest had as an option. The third option, however, was vastly different than Holy and Discipline. It was a class archetype that simply hadn't been heard of before (at least, in the mainstream MMO sense; I'm sure it exists in the annals of Dungeons & Dragons lore). In this third specialization, a priest no longer healed, was no longer a being of the light. Instead, a dark shadow draped down across the player, nestling the priest in a shroud of violet fog. And, rather than mending the wounds of her party members, this "shadow" priest would hurl dark energy from a distance, loading up their targets with curses, plagues and diseases. Where once there existed a Power Word for a player's savior, in its place was a Shadow Word for the target's suffering, pain...and eventual death.
It was the shadow priest who melted faces in World of Warcraft.

Shadow priests were an incredibly cool option when WoW launched. Visually, it was stunning; no other class had the unique look of a player surrounded by a swirling shadowy mist. But like the other hybrid classes, the damage a shadow priest produced simply couldn't be matched by its ability to heal. The Burning Crusade changed all of that, and did so in a very unique way: Aside from the standard "buffing its damage to competitive levels" that Blizzard applied to the other hybrid classes, they bestowed upon the Shadow Priest a uniquely important buff, one no other class provided:

When the Shadow Priest dealt damage, she would replenish the mana of all of the casters that shared her group.

Vampiric Touch, one of the tools in a shadow priest's belt, was the only spell that brought this game-changing buff to the table. Its value was unmatched -- by bringing a single Shadow Priest to a raid, the casting classes that shared a group with a shadow priest would gain a huge boost of endurance, allowing them to last much longer into a difficult fight.

A boost that could easily turn a 1% wipe into a kill.

Hanzo continues to level Zanjina for 25-Man raids,
Thunder Bluff

Perfect Timing

The end of the Arena season was fast approaching, and awards were soon to be dolled out to those on the server that had proven to be the best and brightest PvPers in our battlegroup. It was no surprise at all to hear that Blain and company had earned Armored Netherdrakes for their dominance against other players. But the end of the season also meant the chance to stick my foot in the door, before Blain committed to another season of mindless PvP. There was work to be done. In his absence, things had crumbled. Without him to crack the whip on the whiners, we had grown weak and full of excuses.

I jumped into Vent and called Blain in to chat, while I flew my priest Zanjina across Nagrand in an attempt to collect Clefthoof dung.

"I'm retiring Kerulak," I told him, "Shadow priests are consistently absent, and we're overflowing with shamans."

"What about Melk?" Blain named Melkezadek, one shadow priest that melted faces like a champ when he was available.

"His schedule is all over the place."

"Isn't Ben using Anni's account now? The one you gave him for his High Warlord present?"

"Yeah, he is. He renamed it. I think it is Aeden now. Anni's basically given him the account to use, but he mostly PvPs on it. I mean, he comes to the odd raid, but it's a crap shoot. I need a consistent one there every week."

"Yours isn't even 70 yet." Thank you, Captain Obvious.

"Gimme a break, I'm working on her now! Anyway...I'll craft the Frozen Shadoweave set when I get her leveled. In the meantime, I'll bring Kerulak to the last few raids and step down from any loot that drops."


The awkward silence loomed.

"Volitar is skipping out on raids. He's not helping Ater anymore. Unreachable. I don't have a contact number, I don't know who to call or what to do...the guy is shutting down. Things were much easier when you ran shit."

"Nobody listened to me," Blain fired back, "Too many cooks in the kitchen. Tired of having to re-explain myself over and over to people who don't listen."

"What if we could change that?" I proposed.

"Then I would come back and do it. But not without control, not without support."

"Ok. I get it. I will give you that support. If it means me telling each and every officer to shut their mouth and take direction from you, I will do it."

"What makes you think they'll keep it in check this time?" he asked.

In a moment of confidence, I blurted out something that sounded like what a leader might say.

"They'll have no choice in the matter. The alternative is to dismantle and go join PPP."

Blain chuckled at the prospect, while I sunk Zanjina's blue troll fingers into piles of excrement.


The next day, July 16th, 2007, I emailed Blain:

So, yeah...Volitar MIA. What can I do to convince you to going back to the full on raid-leader? What were you missing from me the first time around that I can make happen this time so your life is easier/job is done better, etc? I know you got harped on a lot and I can shut that down right quick, but the discussion that went long in vent last night kept pointing back to having you be a single solitary raid-leader, and that if that was indeed your role that people would shut the hell up and follow. I would like to discuss it with you if you have time. Volitar did mediocre but this uncommunicative shit is upsetting me a lot and the Paladins are spiralling out of control.

He called for a meeting with Ater and I in Vent, to put all our cards on the table.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

2.19. Blizzard's First Mistake


"People want to be considered good at something," Ater said, taking a bite out of a BBQ chicken sandwich. We used our lunch hours to get caught up on guild-related tasks and discussion, the majority of which centered around bracing for Tier 5. The locale was a Brother's BBQ on the corner of Washington and 6th, not far from the downtown area where we cranked out ColdFusion sites by day. For over two years, Ater had been a key figure in my guild, one of the many benefits I enjoyed as a result of assimilating The Final Cut many moons ago. He was a non-stop source of insightful leadership. I picked his brain at any opportunity. I expected today's conversation would touch on such items as Volitar joining him as a new Raid Assistant, the ever-fluctuating roster, or my recent assignment of being tasked with keeping Breginna's Druid active while she was away at work.

As it turned out, Ater had another topic on his mind altogether: losing our raiders to competing guilds.

"You're going to have regular performers, and you're going to have star performers. That doesn't make the regulars any less important, they're still very valid and play a very important role. But, if you had your choice of picking a regular or a star performer for the raid, who would you pick?" he asked me.

"Obviously, the star performer", I replied.

"Exactly! So, what makes them the star performer?"

I thought a moment, "Well, they're more than likely going above and beyond the call of duty. I mean, they kick ass. They seriously raid like professionals."

"That's exactly right, they play well. They do their job well."

I leaned back, and crossed my arms.

"I still don’t see what this has to do with us losing players to a shit-box trash-talking guild like Pretty Pink Pwnies."

"If the guild was a company," he said, "would you treat your sub-par employees and your star performers the same way?"

I laughed. "Hell, no! The star performers would get promoted."

He smiled in silence, taking another bite of his sandwich.

"...I'm not going to promote a bunch of people to officership because they top the damage meters."

He shook his head, "You're not thinking about it the right way. Forget promotion. I'm talking about acknowledgement. Re-affirm to them that they're valid -- that what they've done here....what they are doing important. They're a contributor. Remind them that they have accomplished something significant...otherwise, there's nothing that differentiates them from the carries."

I paused to let it sink in. If I had paid more attention in my college psychology class, I'd probably already know this. We have a desire to be noticed, to feel like we matter, and when we contribute to the social community, we seek approval for our efforts; we want to know that what we've done has some significance. This is why I was losing players to Pretty Pink Pwnies. Not because they were a better guild, or further progressed, but that players felt accomplished. Bru might not have patted them all on the back each and every time they had a successful raid (because that was certainly not his style), but his guild members already had something to fill the void left by his personal appreciation and acknowledgement:

They had gear.

In the absence of that gear, what did I have to acknowledge my raiders' contributions? Nothing. They were all being treated kindly, respectfully, fairly and equally.

But they didn't want to be treated equally.

Graulm displays the completed Warlock
Dungeon (Tier 0) Set "Dreadmist",

The Problem With Equal Treatment

To feel confident and have the respect of others is the reason people seek out a hobby or area of interest - something that they can contribute to or gain recognition from. This need affects people with both low and high esteem, which makes it cover a wide gamut of individuals. Whether seeking fame and glory, or simply the label of an expert, a person will only pour effort into such a task if they believe it is attainable. Once a realization sets in that the recognition they seek cannot be attained, the person is very likely to shift gears -- turning to new places for acceptance.

We had players that busted their ass to get into our raids, performed at the top of their game, and could be considered experts on the server, but when it came to raid rotations, they were treated no differently than a person who played at an amateurish level. This problem existed as far back as Vanilla, but the difference in Vanilla was that the scale of a 40-Man raid effectively covered up the handful of players that were "carries". Now, being forced down into a 25-Man size, but with difficulty being just as unforgiving, the carries were all too apparent. After wasting weeks on Gruul's Lair and Magtheridon's Lair, stalling on boss kills, the star performers felt more like their efforts were going unrecognized, which in turn, led to the resentment of fellow raiders that were holding us back.

By incorrectly assuming "equal" and "fair" were interchangeable, I bred an environment of mediocrity instead of one that prioritized excellence.

And as my eyes widened with realization during that lunch-time conversation, while Ater finished his chicken sandwich, suddenly, the subtle everyday things that I previously paid no attention to had meaning and ramifications. Images flashed through my head as the last several years of my raiding history cycled back like an old movie projector. I saw our Nefarian kill, and players walking out of Blackwing Lair and into Alterac Valley, taking their newly acquired gear and blowing the Alliance apart. I remembered Taba and the excited dance and scream that followed his acquisition of Ashkandi. I remembered the day the final piece of Ten Storms dropped, and Kadrok graciously stepped aside, allowing me to complete my set. I remembered taking a screenshot of Graulm in Orgrimmar after finishing his Dreadmist Warlock set.

In that moment of epiphany, it all became clear what it was that frustrated and angered me to no end on the day we killed Magtheridon -- I knew why the Gruul kill had left me empty and dissatisfied.

It was Blizzard's First Mistake.

Left: Malefic Raiment (Warlock Tier 6 - PvE)
Right: Vengeful Gladiator's Dreadgear (Warlock Season 3 - PvP)

Consensual Worlds

There are two different schools of thought within World of Warcraft on where the depth and richness of endgame comes from. On one side of the argument are the raiders. These are the players that push as hard as they can to execute raid encounters, and they quantify their success by their speed, their efficiency and their overall world/server ranking. This school of thought considers the most important attributes of a player to be how well they work in a large team, do they communicate and respond to commands quickly? Are they expertly played, and can they react with lightning-fast reflexes to emergency situations? Can they contribute to a thoughtful, intelligent decision on the min/maxing of their raid makeup in order to most effectively execute a boss encounter? And, will they have the capacity to endure a fight, over and over, until they get it right, while they race other guilds at exactly the same time for a world first title? This is the raider, the player that pours their time and energy into PvE (Player vs. Environment), and this is one school of thought.

Another school of thought is that man vs. machine is not the real test of skill, but instead, when human minds are pitted against one another. Like so many games throughout history that pit a human being against another in a battle of wits and skill, whether it be Chess, Go, Poker, or any number of other games, skill comes down to a mastery of the game's rules and the ability to predict what their opponent will do -- and then counter it. To this school, "reading the opponent" is the true test. Within this school, players build strategies to defeat other classes, studying the enemy, hoping to discover where each of their strengths are... and what weaknesses can be exploited. In their quest to master PvP (Player vs. Player), they strive to best all human opponents who dare challenge them; undefeated champions in their own right -- the ultimate accolade of a PvPer.

While each school of thought maintains its own unique acknowledgement of success, these rewards are intrinsic, and therefore internalized by nature. A PvPer knows his worth by how how adeptly he slays other opponents, while a PvEer knows her worth by her completion of raids. Intrinsic motivators, however, fail to act as a validation when outside of their social groups, cast out into a virtual sea of faceless strangers that are constantly judging. It is at this point that humans turn to external validators; the more overt, tangible, easy-to-read and easy-to-understand types of rewards. Players fall on to these validators as a crutch, wiping away the friction, removing any doubt from their mind about their quest to attain expertise -- and not look dumb. And what better way to externally validate a player's performance in PvP or PvE than by the gear that they have acquired as a result of their effort.

Therein lies the dilemma.

Players that have turned to external motivators to validate their expertise have already given up on the internal, truer quantifiers. To them, the knowledge of defeating 10,000 players in a battle, or being the first on the server to clear all the raid content is not enough. All they have to lean on is the physical manifestation of their effort, the gear they wear and the weapons they wield -- so that in the sea of faceless strangers, their mind can take comfort in knowing they are perceived as successful. So, what happens when the internal motivators are absent, and the external motivators are null and void?

They are at a loss. They have no way to validate their quest to become good.

And what might cause those external motivators to be null-and-void?

When others acquire the same rewards for a completely different level of effort.

Ater taught me a valuable lesson that day, one that started me thinking about how I could no longer treat my amateur players the same as those who were truly experts. Lacking that external validation, that acknowledgement for their efforts, the experts were becoming resentful. They felt used, their time wasted...and they would move on to greener pastures to seek validation for accomplishment elsewhere. And in opening my eyes to this very real concern regarding my leadership of DoD, he solved the equation of my own inexplicable frustration and apathy toward Tier 4 -- which turned out to be much larger than just Tier 4.

In a sea of faceless strangers, our validation -- our contribution to the social environment of Deathwing-US -- came in the form of showing off what we had accomplished, the physical manifestation of our prowess. Our gear. But that gear no longer held any value or worth, for that very same gear was seen everywhere across the city of Orgrimmar. Everyone had that gear because everyone was PvPing. A few weeks in some arenas was all it took. Technically, the stats were different on each set, but visually, PvE gear differed in no way from PvP gear, save a minor palette shift in color. All the work we had poured into Maulgar, Gruul and Matheridon -- instantly invalidated. In my mind, PvPers were being treated exactly as PvEers, for an entirely different level of effort and dedication -- the qualifiers weren't even the same! They were being judged on their ability to stomp opponents into the ground; I couldn't care less! Yet there they were, hopping around Orgrimmar like rabbits, throwing their Season 1 gear in my face, while my guild bashed their faces against raid content.

I didn't want them to be treated like us. We were not equal.


We hear "never judge a book by its cover" and we know the idiom is a valuable edict to live by. It means well. It's the right thing to do. But it also takes effort, and doesn't come naturally to everyone. Only through growth, maturity, self-awareness and an ability to introspect can many of us rise to that level, and put our mind at ease in the knowledge that we have become great in the absence of external validation, that other people's judgement matters little. But to many in the faceless void, the quest to be accepted never ends. Their efforts must be validated, otherwise, they seek it elsewhere -- or worse, resent the success of others. Blizzard's decision to use the same sets of gear for two different schools of thought was most certainly one of practicality. From a business perspective, the costs of reducing labor by recoloring a pre-existing set of armor was a sound decision; it allowed them to hit their delivery date that much quicker. But the psychological impact it had on the player-base was vastly underestimated, and may have even been a contributing factor as to why TBC still struggled to grow interest in PvE after Vanilla.

I can only speak for myself in that it devalued our accomplishments, made us feel like raiding wasn't nearly worth the effort, and provided a backdoor to personal responsibility, as players gave up raiding and moved to arenas to acquire the same gear. To this day, I feel that it was Blizzard's First Mistake, and I hoped that they would not repeat it.