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.


Hai said...

Hi Shawn,
just popping in to say I hope you continue these memoirs. I was pointed in this direction via reddit and have just finished reading all 21 of your posts so far. You have a great flair for writing and it brings back a wave of nostalgia.

Shawn Holmes said...

Thanks very much for the praise! I shall continue!

Josh Hall said...

I also came here via Reddit, this has been great. I look forward to the rest of it.

Nic Mitton said...

Damn! I hit the end of these posts, now I will have to patiently wait for the next one. I love these, the feeling of nostalgia is immense. Makes me seriously regret that I'm currently in a guild that sits in silence all day and never does anything.

Shawn Holmes said...

Thanks, Nic! With the increased visibility of the blog thanks to Reddit, there's now a heightened sense of urgency to get going on the next round of posts. I expect everyone will get to see some new stories very soon.

Anonymous said...

:| That was a very awesome read but now I've got the itch to resub after a year and a half off. Dangit.
Looking forward to the rest of it!

Nic Mitton said...

It's really kind of scary, you guys went through almost the exact same progression pattern my guild did, with the exception of us getting stuck on vael for months. God, the screaming when he died.. haha. We also ended AQ40 early in order to check out Naxx, and got about as far as you guys in there as well.

Unfortunately during TBC (Where I also had to make the switch to shadow priest, for the same reasons. Was playing holy paladin before that.) , the guild split in half. Straight down the middle of our core raiding group, and the half I was in never really recovered.

Shawn Holmes said...

Yup, Razorgore and Vael were both well-known brick walls for many guilds. I'm still stunned to this day that we managed to pull off the Razorgore kill-all strat.

Sorry to hear about your experiences with the split in TBC. If I had left it much longer, we could easily have split in a similar manner and lost so much of the core that there would be no picking up the pieces.

I won't deny that luck played a huge role in my successes as Guild Leader in those early years, but even now, looking back, with the experience that I *do* have, one thing is for certain...

...situations like these need to be rectified and decisions need to be made, and they almost never favor everyone.

Auz said...

Yeah, your progression matched mine until AQ40 where we ran through until huhu and she (he, it?) broke our guild cause no one wanted to farm up the resist set. Guild manager / raid leader hopped to one of the hardcore guilds on our server so as to have a break from leading. Our guild then proceded to break into casual / hardcore and I stayed with the more casual crowd in TBC. Still a great read through here as I had friends in more progressed guilds dealing with similar things.

shane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.