|"You are nothing without me"|
Artwork by Breathing2004
The LayoffsWeeks went by as Ater put in night after night at the office, busting his ass on the time tracking app. I rarely saw him. He'd pop in occasionally, swing by with a wave and a smile, only to be swarmed by suits and various designers plugged with a myriad of piercings. His work caused a lot of attention for the firm and it was clear his team was making progress. I was excited for him, but at the same time, felt loss as I glanced up from my desk to see his old vacant seat across from mine. I stayed focused on the positive: Ater was here, in my presence, to give me both professional and guild leadership advice. That he was having a such an impact on the company was gravy at this point.
On an otherwise unremarkable evening, the bosses called for a company-wide meeting, to be held at the office where Ater did his work. I arrived with the rest of the crew from our side of town and navigated through the bodies to Ater's desk, where he greeted me and showed off the latest build of his application. As expected, it boasted a polished, professional look and feel. I moved the mouse around, clicking on icons shaped like subway sandwiches. It was intuitive, he didn't have to explain how to use it. It was natural. It didn't make me think. The layout of the timeline, how hours were plugged in and modified...it just worked. Another example of Ater's finesse with embracing simplicity to overcome great obstacles.
Before he could give me a detailed walk-through of the latest changes, the bosses called out to get everyone's attention. Ater and I straightened up and focused in on the speech. It had been a challenging several months since the merger, and we had new obstacles to overcome. Finances were being straightened out as each company's respective books were consolidated. This gave way to a new, unified road map for the company's vision. In this changing economy, however, certain cuts were going to have to be made in order to keep the newly merged firm afloat; a storm that any great company should expect to weather. The industry was shaping up to be blah, offering us both new blah, and exciting blah. But in order for us to be truly successful, blah blah blah would have to be changed and adapted to. More words. Adjectives nouns and verbs. Tech-based buzzwords and marketing lingo, spin and utter bullshit, while side-stepping the inconvenient hard truths. So on and so forth, excuses and lies, and everything you've poured into this job has come down to money. Money for things, phat lewts, petty power struggles...and more money.
I stood and listened to the bosses give their shpeel while the bridge began to crumble from both ends. When the support beams buckle, what do you do? Do you make a run for it, bolting to the end in the hopes of making it to safe harbor as the steel welds crack and support girders buckle and bend? Cables snap and iron beams make a gutteral boom like Gruul demanding you "stay" in preparation for the incoming Shatter. What options do you have? None. You stand there and watch the ends of the bridge fold inward, and you close your eyes as you lose your footing.
Comes the drop.
I watched in disgust as the bosses named the folks that would be laid off as a result of the downsizing. Should it have been any surprise that Ater was one of them? I looked over to him. Ater kept his gaze focused forward toward the commanding officers, never flinching, never once showing even a hint of contempt, not a single sign that this decision was short-sighted. He remained steadfast in his position, dignity intact, as the crushing blows pummeled him, crit after crit...until it was over.
Until it was officially a wipe.
Tank No. 2Guild Leadership consumed so much of my life that I had dreams about it. Deep in the recesses of my unconscious state, I saw images of my original raid team, interacting with me at the office, sitting down to have dinner with my family, and taking my dogs to the groomers. People I had never met in person now had faces, composites of random strangers I passed on the street in daily life. I would wake in the morning from these dreams and shake my head, coming to terms with the realization that I was well past "it's just a game." Logging in to World of Warcraft was more than leveling a priest or doing some dailies; I had the politics and drama of 600 random strangers to greet me on the other side. It was a virtual business, sans an inflow of money. It had been three years since forming that guild comprised of five buddies. We had seen successes. We had seen Ragnaros, Nefarian, and even bosses in 40-Man Naxxramas fall. And after hitting a speed-bump at the beginning of The Burning Crusade, Blain's return had catalyzed a profound resurgence. The next notch on our belt, Kael'thas Sunstrider, would be the ultimate test of our endurance and ability to play as a team.
Work began in earnest during the 2nd week of January, 2008. Ater's attendance wasn't as consistent as it had been, what with the looming life-change he was about to endure. This meant I only had Blain to rely on for strategy and tactics. The responsibility of mediating personal beefs players had with one another rested solely on my shoulders. What little experience in solving people issues I claimed came from hobbyist experiments on players like Ekasra, tactics I thought he could use to fit in better, become a part of the larger social circles that comprised progression. Said tactics seemed to be working, so I kept on him to see them through. This was mostly unexplored territory for me; I had no professional experience working through people's psychological and sociological issues. There was no way to be sure I was heading down the right path. Ekasra was improving, no question, even Dalans tolerated him in greater doses. But would it continue? Or was a drop-off quickly approaching, to which there was no emergency brake?
Just when I felt like I had a handle on the roster, having hit that carefully tuned mix of players whom jelled and were focused on completing Tier 5, another bombshell took us by surprise. One of the progression tanks, a paladin named Bretthew, had been hacked. Bretthew, first known as a warrior named Taba during the Vanilla era, played a crucial role in DoD's progression during both Vanilla and TBC. It was his exemplary control of Tidewalker's murloc swarm that ultimately saved many a healer and caster from imminent doom, able to stay focused on their heals and DPS, working Morogrim down to zero. Like all my tanks, Bretthew was attuned, geared, and absolutely vital for the upcoming work on Kael'thas. So when he delivered the news that he'd been hacked, the finely tuned roster began to slip through my fingers.
With Ater's schedule an unknown, and my number two tank now off-the-table, I couldn't sit back and "wish" for things to get better. I needed to get a handle on Ater's long-term availability, once and for all.
Windy City"So, what's next for Ater?" I asked, surveying all that I could from his balcony. A third floor apartment at the corner of Blake and Broadway planted me at the outskirts of glitzy downtown urban life, cradled by the railroad tracks that marked a poorer industrial area. From his balcony, you could catch the flood lamps of Coors Field -- complete with the booing crowd of the Colorado Rockies choking during yet another game. Turn your head a few degrees to the right, and you might catch the tops of the train cars as they jam together, booms that sound like explosive charges being detonated. I knew the sounds well; Ater lived a mere five minute bike ride away from me.
"Dunno!" he remained surprisingly optimistic, pushing past me to flip open the lid of the barbecue, as he fished a couple of steaks off the grill, slapping them on to some plates. "I have a number of things I'm looking at right now. There's a place in Chicago I need to hear back from that has potential."
Well, shit. It seemed like Ater had only just arrived in Denver.
"That's a hell of a place to move, man. You think the winters here are bad!"
"Oh, the winters are not bad here at all", Ater replied, "Chicago will be absolutely bitter by comparison. I'm gonna need an entire new winter wardrobe."
I dreaded broaching the subject, but it had to come up.
"This thing with Taba sucks. Pickings are pretty slim at this point. What do you think your WoW availability is going to be like now?"
"Well, that all depends. Definitely reduced, if and when I have to move, no question. Definitely want to start thinking about getting a replacement. Maybe Anni? Kurst?"
"Anni's all but completely cut over to the warlock now. And Kurst, well...he's good, but he's no Ater."
He laughed. Inside, I was a mess. I cut into the steak and listened to Ater talk about the rise and fall of his time at our agency, of the things he learned and his growing interest in UX. As I ate and listened, he never once spoke ill of the company that had given him his walking papers -- to him, this was a new adventure, a bold avenue to seek out grand opportunities and experiences. I looked at his firing like the worst of betrayals...but to him, it was the exact opposite. A gift. A chance to grow and move upward in the world. Change will happen. People will come and go. It isn't for us to dwell on these things like they are personal vendettas. It's just business. All part of the big game, the master plan, and we can either sit and sulk and wallow in our perceived defeat, or we can focus on what we've been given. A chance to start over. Fresh.
As I left his apartment that night and headed home, I hoped that one day I would be able to see things with his clarity, be able to make life-changing decisions with his level of dignity and optimism. To not take the recruitment and removal of faces as a personal attack, or cling to sentimentality when -- in the end -- the change of faces comes down to simply business. Perhaps that insight would come with time, or perhaps I'd need to harden myself as a result of this change. For now, I struggled to untie my stomach from its hundreds of knots, and knew that in the morning, I would begin to plan for the end...
...the day that Ater retired from Descendants of Draenor.