Thursday, April 25, 2013

Who We Are, Who We Are Not

After returning from my summer vacation at the end of August 2008, my plan was to restructure Descendants of Draenor from the ground up. Part of this process involved me making a public declaration about who were were as a group of players, and where our focus lay. The goal was to have this mission statement realign the members of the guild, so that there was no misunderstanding about what we were here to do. Additionally, it would serve as a "sales pitch" to possible guild candidates looking for a new home.

This statement was wrapped up into a forum post and revealed to the guild on October 1st, 2008, six weeks before the release of Wrath of the Lich King. Included for your perusal is the complete body of that forum post.


We are not like other guilds. We are unique.

You can join any guild on this server (or other servers) and expect to find:
  1. An excessive amount of l33tspeak.
  2. Constant trash-talk/ignorance in WoW General Chat or the Public Forums.
  3. A guild comprised of people who know each other only by their character name, and know nothing about people's personalities or history, and whom show no compassion or empathy towards one another (or give a shit to even think about that).
  4. A guild interested purely in raid progression, focusing more on raid stacking and brute-forcing content via excessive raid schedules and raiding hours, and who cares little (if any) about personal responsibility or utilizing accurate communication skills when teaching/learning.
  5. Unfair treatment of guild members when it comes to anything from raiding, to guild vault access, to even the way guild members speak to one another.
  6. Lack of structure and rules, and enforcement of those rules.
  7. Instability. Guilds rise and fall like the tides.
The above traits are common in many guilds. They aren't wrong, but they are not how we do business. Other guilds employ these traits for any number of reasons: intolerance, lack of time management skills, inexperience, name a few. Here is how we are different:

The Guild Leader (Hanzo/Kerulak)

The guild leader treats the guild like a business.

He pours countless hours of energy and thought into the management and shaping of the guild.

He spends a lot of time getting to know as many of his troops as he can.

He is open to have any issue brought to his attention, and very rarely dismisses problems without further investigation.

He wants you to play the game the way you most enjoy it (provided you are not exploiting/cheating).

He doesn't have a problem telling you directly when you have fucked up. He is good about letting you know privately and what steps you can take to repair/improve. He'll also notice when you don't...and has no problem removing you from the guild.

He doesn't have any expectations on the amount of time or energy you invest, but he is actively aware of who contributes more than others, and he makes a habit of rewarding guild members who consistently go above and beyond the call of duty. Furthermore, he has set in motion a risk/reward structure into the guild rules that enforces this theory.

He wants every guild member's experience in DoD to be exceptional. He doesn't expect you to be perfect, but he expects you to evolve. It's ok to make mistakes. It's not ok to repeat them.

When the day comes and you move on, or put WoW down for good, the guild leader's goal is to have you reflect back and say, "The best guild I ever had the luxury of being in during my time in WoW was DoD." Above all else, he wants to have fun playing WoW, and he wants you to have fun as well.

The Guildies

We play WoW. A lot. For the majority of us, it is our favorite game at present.

We are stable. We have been around for the full duration of WoW and have never broken up, disbanded, re-formed, or taken time off. We are constant.

We are a guild comprised mostly of adults. Ages vary, spanning from the teens to the fifties.

Many of us have jobs. Many are 9-5, Mon-Fri. Some have jobs that span the weekend.

Some of us are married. Some of us have kids.

Many of us have been playing WoW together for several years and know quite a bit about one another. We understand each others nuances, behaviors, and mood swings and have grown accustomed to them. As such, we have the ability to resolve conflict quickly.

We enjoy the social aspects of the game and are a very social guild by nature. Some of us have friends that started in the guild and extend beyond WoW. We like people and we would like to get to know you.

No guild is drama free, but we keep ours to a dull roar.

No guild is free of oppressive, dictator-like officers, but ours just come across that way because they are more annoyed at incompetence than anything else. Some of our officers are actually patient and kind. In most cases where ex-guildies have complained about being oppressed, it is almost always a direct result of said guild member not taking criticism well.

We are respectful, both of guild members, and of other guilds and unknown players. We joke and kid each other, and will often ride each other in guild chat or vent, but this is because we are a group of friends who have been playing together for quite some time. We are helpful and considerate.

Our Approach to Raiding

We enjoy raiding and we enjoy raiding efficiently. We don't have time to fuck around. After four years, we know a few things about the game, and although we are usually good about helping new people learn the game, we are also not terribly focused on reiterating the same things we've done time and time again. We're looking to try and do new things.

When the guild re-evaluates its rules and regulations, it keeps the majority in mind. If one or two people feel very strongly about starting to raid a 3rd or 4th night a week, that's not very likely going to affect change. However, we have added raid nights in the past when there has been an overwhelming need to fill. As the demand grows, we will make an effort to meet that demand (so long as there is an adequate supply of guild members who are dedicated to making it work).

We are respectful to guild members who raid, and we expect that you return the favor. We will be mindful of speaking to you fairly in raids, giving you assistance where you need it, and doing our best to treat rotations fairly, while adhering to the rules of the guild. As such, we expect that you are consistent, reliable, communicate emergencies to us, and are a team player.

No loot system is free from being corrupt, but we have a reasonably solid one that has been, for the most part, fair to those who have raided with us. No one single person is in charge of being master looter and many officers with differences of opinion oversee loot distribution, while adhering to our guild rules. It is reasonably well monitored, and in the history of four years of raiding, has almost never caused drama.

We are not a "hardcore" guild: We don't raid every night of the week. Some of us need to get up in the morning and go to work, and we give a shit about our jobs, so we don't want to do them half-assed. We also give a shit about raiding and don't want to execute raids half-assed either; therefore, we have focused, quality time on the weekends to take care of business in WoW. When we do raid, we come prepared, as if we had to lead the raid ourselves. We don't expect anyone to hand us explanations or hold our hands while we re-learn content all over again.

We don't take the same 25 people when we raid. This is because we don't expect to have the same 25 people every raid night. We don't kick you out of the guild for not raiding every single night of the week, so we work with who we have. Some people raid more than others, and we make an effort to keep a large pool of players available to switch in and out. This is a very flexible model that allows you to raid as much or as little as you want. The side-effect is that you don't get to go all the time. If you prefer to go all the time, your raiding is probably best done in another guild where they raid every night and require the same people to be present, kicking you out of the guild if you miss one night out of 30.

We will not be the first guild on the server to kill a boss or clear a raid instance. If this is your priority, you may be better off elsewhere.

We are not ultra-hyper-focused on loot. We care more about the progression and accomplishment than handing out toys. Having said that, loot is fun. We like to play with new toys, and we are happy to reward you with loot for your contributions to our team. If you are thinking about quitting the guild because you feel you got the shaft on a new piece of loot that went to somebody else, I recommend packing up now; you will find no shoulders to cry on in this guild with those priorities. Sorry.

We won't guarantee you a raid spot. Raids spots are earned. If you have signed up for a raid, there is no guarantee either way that we will take you, or that we will not be requiring your services. Signing up tells us you are ready to commit. If you don't show up, chances are you've blown any chance in hell that we will take you seriously. Equally, there's no guarantee that existing raiders won't lose their spot to you...if they have been performing sub-par, and you demonstrate may very well switch places with them in the raid lineup.

Challenges You May Face

We're not here to babysit you. If you don't get along with someone in the guild, I don't want to hear about it (unless you are being abused and/or neglected by an officer). You'd best deal with it.

We're not a faceless organization. We don't keep to ourselves, login, do some dailies and logout. We have names and are real people. We're uninterested in having people in this guild who are unwilling to communicate. If you keep to yourself, you are going to struggle to get things done in DoD.

If you insist on communicating in guild chat, and prefer not to speak in Ventrilo, you are also going to have real problems. Think of guild chat as just another instant messaging/IRC window that's up while you're at may shoot the shit with other people online from time to time, but in actuality, you are getting work done. In DoD, the brunt of the work is done via Ventrilo. Insist on remaining silent in vent and hyper-focusing on guild chat and why nobody "listens to you" or "hears your requests when you ask for help", and you will surely be disappointed, time and time again.

Our schedule is what it is. It has been molded and shaped over time by the majority. As stated above, we have other interests, priorities and responsibilities outside of WoW that cause the schedule to be the way that it is. We apologize if it doesn't work for you, but it's unlikely to change, so if you cannot change your own schedule to meet the needs of the guild, it is going to be difficult for you to accomplish what you want.

If you like to cause drama, or bitch about trivial things that are out of your control, or even make generalized statements that have no basis in fact, you are going to be hard-pressed to find people to side with you. Also, leaving the guild without saying a word or putting us on /ignore doesn't "teach us a lesson"; it only makes certain you have poured the final drops of gasoline onto your newly burning bridge, and will only serve to make you look like a fool when you apply to other guilds and those guilds' officers ask us about you and your time spent here.

Your Reward

If you've read this far, it's clear that you still give a shit about DoD and are intrigued enough to make it your home. I assure you that you won't be disappointed. Let's review what your reward is for choosing the best damn guild on Deathwing:

  1. The most stable and reliable Horde guild on the server.
  2. The most dedicated guild leader in existence, who may even sing during raids (just don't loot during combat to prevent this).
  3. A group of intelligent, funny, mature and fair (but firm) officers.
  4. Low drama. Low corruption.
  5. Guild structure and rules that have been tested through time and are enforced.
  6. A fixed raid schedule that you are able to devote as much or as little time to as you wish, and a loot/reward system that quantifies your dedication to the guild.
  7. A massive collection of guild members with varying personalities and interests, all of whom enjoy WoW and would like to have you join in.
If interested, I encourage you to apply.

- Hanzo, Guild Leader
Descendants of Draenor, Deathwing-US

Thursday, April 18, 2013

3.1. Perestroika

Part III: Wrath of the Lich King

"It would never work, just as communism would never work in the real world, but if you look at it on paper, isn't it an excellent idea?"

World of Warcraft login screen, during the
Wrath of the Lich King ('09-'11) era,
Copyright © 2009 Blizzard Entertainment

The Restructure

In the summer of 2008, I had a lot to think about.

I built Descendants of Draenor from a group of people I used to play Quake and CounterStrike with, to a guild of hundreds. Over the course of both Vanilla and The Burning Crusade, the original ideals I set out for DoD evolved into two core goals. In Vanilla, my priority was to construct and grow a guild with other players of a similar, mutually respectful mindset. I accomplished this by building a solid core of friendly, helpful, skilled players. In turn, this catalyzed the assimilation of other guilds who shared that mindset. With a core reflecting my own ideals in place, we began to dabble in raiding. Initially, we saw impressive success, but it was haphazard and lacked focus. By The Burning Crusade, a second goal for DoD emerged: To make a real competitive push in endgame raid progression without having to maintain a hardcore schedule. We were working men and women after all, we couldn't be expected to raid until midnight (or later) throughout the week. I implemented changes during TBC to drive new behaviors surrounding raiding. We clearly identified the expectation of the raider, and what our unified goal was: the constant, consistent defeat of raid bosses, keeping pace with other hardcore guilds. I also stressed personal responsibility, compelling the guild to re-examine each player's individual level of contribution. Via these changes, we were able to maintain a two day per week raid schedule. It was this very schedule which allowed us to clear all of the content up through Black Temple, ending with an Illidan kill before he was nerfed in 3.0.

But there were other struggles beyond the schedule I had to give serious thought to. Players came and went in our raid rotations, and it frustrated the core players, leaving them stressed out. We had to retain a large pool of people to choose from, in the case that we had emergencies or last-minute-cancellations, and those fillers often left a lot to be desired. The disparity between player skill levels was vast. People coming and going also led to a decrease in overall raid performance. The "revolving door" of our guild also led to another issue: brand new players joined, raided, won items that my core had been working toward for weeks, then switched guilds the next day, effectively pissing off the entire raid team. Morale among progression was a roller coaster of highs and lows.

On top of all of this, my raid leader, Blain, had quit the game -- burned out from the exhaustion of having to deal with so many failed players, a cornucopia of excuses, and the lack of that "spark"; a willingness to simply cut out the excuses, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and dig in to endgame content until it was farmed. When he joined DoD at the start of Blackwing Lair, my then-warrior officer Ater had warned me, "he's going to whip this group into shape, but he's not going to make a lot of friends doing it." Ater and Blain played together previously in Lineage II, and Blain had made a name for himself as being detail-oriented and focused on doing whatever it took to be the best. When he joined the rogues, they were the most under-performing group of players in my guild. He walked into our raid wearing gear from Zul'Gurub and Dire Maul, yet within minutes, Blain was not only destroying the other rogues in DPS, he was quickly shooting to the top of the entire damage meters. He went on to become my raid leader for the duration of Vanilla, broke briefly at the start of TBC, but re-assumed his role when it was time to set the raid team straight. He then held the position all the way through the death of Illidan the Betrayer. By then, nearly four years later, he was completely spent. Nearly four years of listening to "This is too hard", "You're such an asshole!", "Why are you pushing us into more difficult content when we don't have the items we need from earlier bosses?"...he was done.

I didn't want him to go, but I didn't blame him.

These were only the in-game issues weighing heavily on me. I had a family that I was putting on the back-burner, and a career that was stagnating. I had to give some serious thought to how I was going to run Descendants of Draenor from here on out. The person whom I looked to for general leadership and guidance, Ater, was gone; I was officially on my own. I took my summer vacation out at my Dad's farm in a town called Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan -- a speck in the northern reaches of the Canadian prairies. Here, hours and hours away from any metropolitan city, I could step out on the deck at night, look up, and see nothing but stars. I'd stare upwards and lose all sense of time. No noise. No distractions. I let my mind go blank. All the stresses of the world washed away. I didn't care about the problems at work. I wasn't stressed about my family situation. And, it goes without saying, the pressures of running the guild were gone. Finally, I was able to think straight.
Kerulak, my main during Vanilla
Shattrath City

Learning from the Past

While I contemplated the state of my guild and where I wanted to go with it, I explored new avenues to gain insight and perspective. I read "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni, a fascinating tale of a failing company and its various employees, locked in a constant state of finger-pointing, stubbornness, and old habits. Although intended for the entrepreneurial crowd, I found an amazing amount of parallels between it and the difficulties I was experiencing managing a raiding guild. The book spoke to my plight so accurately that I paraphrased many of its concepts in a forum post that would help align the raid team during their preparation for Archimonde. Now on vacation, I returned to those notes, and re-purposed them into a new post entitled "Why Raid Teams Fail". In my post, I simply reiterated the same core fundamentals that Lencioni touched on. Instead of targeting a company and employees, my post was tailored for a WoW guild and its raiding members. I reviewed the forum post, and all at once, I had a path to follow.

This post would be the outline for my restructure.

Descendants of Draenor had been following the same set of unwritten rules I set forth since its inception in late 2004. Although we were still together and things seemed fine on the surface, there were cracks in the foundation. I had a raid team that, while successful, drained a massive amount of energy to manage and coordinate. I also had players of such vastly different skill levels contributing to raids that progression would stagnate for weeks at a time. This led to increased administration on my part, which forced me in-game for longer periods of time. I was pouring too much of myself in, and needed to balance my WoW time with my family and other external responsibilities. In order to accomplish that, I was going to need to refine and delegate. The guild would need a completely transparent set of expectations, unambiguous and unable to misinterpret. Every member would read them, confirm that they understood, and either meet those expectations...or be dismissed.

I reflected on the lessons I learned during Vanilla and The Burning Crusade, from the many individual experiences, players, and mentors that had come and gone. The highlights?:

Personally Oversee All Recruitment: The mass assimilation of guilds was a task I fielded solely during Vanilla. This granted me the luxury of first-hand knowledge of a person, and to go with my "gut" instinct when something felt right or wrong. This hands-on knowledge of people, in turn, was vital to the success of building a foundation comprised of guilds with similar mindsets as my own; it allowed us to make the leap to 40-Man Raiding. But in the course of TBC, I delegated much of the recruitment to my officer core. Each officer's opinion of a player varied too greatly. Thus, the pool of players that we expected to help us with raiding were suffered disparity. I solved this by personally taking on the recruitment process. All applications would go through me; there would be no more delegation of this task through officers. All invite privileges in-game were revoked. The public application forum (which often derailed into a flame fest) was locked. My guildies flaming n00bs during the app process went against everything I preached about being kind and respectful to fellow players and guilds. The open app process would come to an end. I would handle it from that point forward.

Everyone On the Same Page: "The Five Dysfunctions..." showed me that the team needed to speak a common language. The raid team's disharmony was sad and pathetic. It grew from (among other reasons) a generation gap; players in different age groups couldn't even agree upon the basic fundamentals. 38 year old players had a very different perspective on life than 17 year olds. If they couldn't see eye-to-eye on generalities outside the game, how could I expect them to form a cohesive team in-game? I imposed an age limit of 21 to diminish this generation gap. It wasn't about maturity -- it was about realignment.

Acknowledging Multiple Levels of Commitment: Ater taught me the value of acknowledging a player's contribution, and reminded me that players of different skill levels warranted hierarchical recognition. Players of poor quality fostered animosity among the team. Stellar players resenting foolish ones drained everyone's energy, and performance suffered as a result. Failing players could no longer be allowed to justify their behavior, and star players deserved priority over these mediocre folks. To solve this, I mapped out a hierarchy of ranks, each with its own requirements, rights, and responsibilities. Now, not only were there a clearly defined set of prerequisites that needed to be completed in order to set foot in a raid, players who exceeded them would be granted additional rewards and perks within the guild framework. Henceforth, two classes of player would be identified in the guild: "Raider" for general rotations, to come and go as they wished, and "Elite" for fixed rotations, whom I expected to be present every week, the rock stars of the team. The beauty of this solution was that the fixed rotation was perceived as a perk to the player, because they wanted to be there every week. And, by enforcing the attendance of the Elite, the overall performance of the team would remain high, instead of the sine wave of the past.

Elites Get 1st Round Bids: Players that treated our guild like a revolving door were murder for the progression team. Joining our team, gearing up...and then never setting foot in another raid again not only wound me into a ball of seething hatred, it flushed team morale down the toilet. I had a responsibility to provide some kind of incentive to keep stellar raiders returning to progression. In a somewhat controversial move, I introduced a change to our guild loot system, based off the aforementioned Elite rank. Players who gained the Elite rank by proving their consistent reliability and stellar performance would not only gain a guaranteed a spot in our raids, but would earn the option of a 1st-round bid, so that fleeting new members couldn't swoop in, bid and win the most powerful item in the dungeon, then hit the road the next day. This perk further incentivized players to outperform, and provided me with an additional layer of defense against cattledrivers; an in-joke we used when referring to top-geared raiders that suddenly left us high-and-dry.

Acknowledging Contribution Outside Elite: Not everyone that raided could hope to become Elite. Perhaps they weren't the greatest players in the world, or maybe not the most well-liked...but they still played a valuable role, and ought to be recognized for their efforts, even by contributing in some capacity without raiding. My vision of the new progression team would be comprised of a core of Elites, but it would be the Raiders (and others) that would allow us to continue to churn a rotation week-to-week, granting our members the schedule flexibility we committed to delivering. So, how would I recognize those non-Elites? I instituted the ability to earn a temporary "glory" rank for going above-and-beyond the call of duty, regardless of raid commitment. We would make a big deal about their contributions and assistance to the guild, both on the forums, and in-game with a special rank that granted access to the officer channel, even granting them temporary 1st-round bidding rights of the Elite rank, so that even non-hardcore players might be given a chance to shine. We'd name these players "Avatar".

Zanjina, my main during The Burning Crusade,
Black Temple

What Dreams May Come

The changes were significant. On paper, it read like an employee handbook. Was I going to scare people away? Would they look at this restructure, think it was some sort of joke, and walk away, pointing and laughing? I had to take a deep breath and make an important decision. Up until that very moment, my biggest fear was failure; that the guild would be seen as a laughing stock in retrospect, that we weren't able to accomplish anything of any value. I didn't want the entire four years to have been a waste of time and energy. My gut spoke to me again, much more loudly than ever before. So I stood out on my father's deck, staring up at the night sky in Hudson Bay, and listened.

It is time to come to terms with this.

There is a very real possibility that these changes will cause the end of your guild. You have to be willing to accept it. Prepare for it. And when that day arrives, be it tomorrow or years from now, you need to be ready to move on. No more excuses, no more crying about what was, or what could have been. When you are ready to accept the end of your guild, only then can you truly take a hold of that vehicle, and drive it as you always meant to. 

At the precise moment I realized this, I gained a new outlook on my ability to lead; I was overcome with a sense of confidence and direction. Once the fear of losing my guild was gone, all at once, the cloudy path ahead became crystal clear.


I returned home from my summer vacation, posted an announcement hinting to the changes that I had planned, and began to draft the first post that would pave our way: Who We Are, and Who We Are Not.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

2.44. Epilogue: The Dinner

Denver, Colorado

Where Common Sense Goes

One of the last memories I have in Ater's presence was the night I couldn't stop thinking about my wallet.

Ater's folks were in town and they invited me out to dinner. I was nervous. Already being in Ater's commanding presence on a day-to-day basis had a perpetual tinge of intimidation attached to it, but tonight, my anxiety would reach an entirely new level. Ater's father was an oil man, and the family had traveled the world extensively. My travels were insignificant by comparison: I claimed Puerto Vallarta as my only destination abroad.

I made my way toward Mizuna, a restaurant off of 7th Ave -- staffed by a celebrity chef, no less, and I tensed up. How many foolish ways will you stick your foot in your mouth tonight? Awash with stress spreading through my mind as I prepared for the dinner, I took my seat across from Ater and his parents. The horror gripped me like a vice as I felt no familiar wallet in my back pocket.

I'd forgotten it.

The conversation, as one might expect, covered much ground. As fanciful dishes came and went from the table, we discussed education, business, the agency that Ater and I worked at, even a bit of WoW managed to slip into the conversation. All the specifics have since been overwritten in my mind -- a bunch of corrupted files all discarded, replaced with more up-to-date data like the seller's agreement on my old house, the address of my kids' new high school, and all the different ways Mists of Pandaria delights and infuriates me. As I struggle to remember the details of that night eating dinner with Ater and his parents, all I know for certain was how stupid I felt to have forgotten my wallet, and how embarrassed I was going to be when the check arrived. Only a child makes mistakes like this, I thought. But as I braced for impact when the fateful moment arrived, my anxiety proved wasteful and unnecessary.

Because there was no issue to begin with.

I was their guest. Ater and his parents had invited me to dinner. Sure, it was never actually spoken aloud, but the unspoken common sense should have put my mind at ease. This was standard operating procedure for them, and in inviting me as their guest, took care of dinner as well, never once giving it a second thought.

As I walked back to my car upon the dinner's end that evening, a deep feeling of relief washed over me. And then, disgust. For the first time, I finally understood all the chaos and confusion around my unwritten rules in the guild. Why players continually used ridiculous, embarrassing, nonsensical excuses to justify poor performance, poor behavior, an a total inability to follow my rules. I always just chalked it up to disinterest, or the inability to care about a video game.

Maybe it was something else entirely that blocked their ability to wield common sense.

You can't assume people think the way you do. A million and one factors all come into play. For all I knew, every player I ever recruited was nervous in my presence. The concept seemed absurd. Yet, I had proof of this happening before: Ater's story of Headhunter was a clear indication that, by some technique unfamiliar to me, I was commanding an air of leadership simply in presence alone. Even without saying or doing a single thing...there were players -- even complete strangers -- that saw me as a leader. Someone to be followed...or feared. If a stranger could feel this way, without knowing a single thing about me, why not a guildy, freshly recruited to the guild? Carrying that baggage around for months, even years afterward, was a possibility. It could happen as easily as it did to me, in the presence of Ater and his parents.

The days of assuming common sense were over for Descendants of Draenor.

Life Lessons

I cycled back through all the lessons Ater had given me, cataloging our conversations, sticking mental Post-It notes on my brain, writing each one down. All players want to be good at something. Identify the casuals, and keep them separate from the hardcores. Treat them fairly, which is not the same as equally. Acknowledge those players who go above and beyond the call of duty, and find ways to point out how they are the glue that keeps the guild bound together, make them feel important and special. Avoid negative reinforcement, make an effort to praise in public. And as I scribbled these notes down in an attempt to wrap my arms around the big picture, a realization set in.

The entire time I'd spent with Ater, working across the desk from him, going out to lunches, picking his brain, awaiting some new epiphany, some elegant simplistic solution...I always framed his answers around World of Warcraft and the guild. After all, that's the role he had played for so long. Leading the charge, mediating player issues, bringing Blain on board and guiding my decision process in DoD. And by always putting things into the context of the game, trying desperately to learn how to get a handle on the big picture -- I was missing the even bigger picture in the process, a picture Ater was trying to make me see all along.

His answers weren't about how to build a better guild. They were how to build a better me.

His soliloquy about people wanting to be good at something was what I wanted. I'd express bewilderment at the concept of people following a dictator like Bru berating his players in Pretty Pink Pwnies, and was disgusted at Depraved's foul language in addressing us. Then, I'd return to an office where sales managers treated me worse than both guilds combined. They made do. They were accepted into their social group, and that was worth the demeaning insults. They felt like they were contributing to something, even if it meant whittling away any remaining self-esteem in the process. That feeling of "belonging" that Annihilation touched on? He was close. They didn't feel like they belonged...they felt like they belonged to Bru, dehumanized and bullied. He owned them and treated them as such...and that's how they acted, subservient to his abhorrent behavior. Which is how I felt about my job. Fear kept me from taking a chance that the sales managers were wrong, and I was able to be something more. I wanted to go the extra distance. I wanted to be a star performer, and I knew I had it in me.

But when Ater spoke, I heard what I wanted to hear. I was getting direction on how to take control of the guild with greater proficiency. All that time, he was trying to give me direction on how to take control of my life. I was living in extremes, devoting too much time to the game, and not enough to my family or career. I was wallowing in self-pity, treating Ater's exit from the guild like abandonment. Yet the answer had stared me in the face the entire time, for as long as I had known him. Right from that first guild interview, I had the answer. This guy was different. His approach was so thorough, so professional. Put the coddling to bed and stop trying to be everyone's best friend. Stop letting people get away with murder just because we were a "family-friendly" guild. And most of all, find the part of me that was "abandoned" by Ater, and remove it before it metastasized. My emotions were completely in the wrong place. This wasn't a time to mourn, it was a time to celebrate a new venture, new challenges, and new ways to grow as a person.

To Ater, leaving Descendants of Draenor wasn't was just business.

It was time for me to start treating it like a business. No more falling back on people behind the scenes. Time for me to step up and start making decisions. Time to take control.


Taking control is not easy, but it begins with a single step. For Descendants of Draenor, it would begin with me sitting down on my Father's couch, deep in the Canadian north, as I took those scribbled notes and typed out every unwritten rule, every bit of common sense that a player could claim ignorance of -- so that they could never again wield that power over me. And as for my life, I handed in my resignation at that agency, taking my expertise to a place where I'd be better utilized and appreciated. As I sat across the table from the interviewer, discussing my programming credentials and history with web application development, he leaned over the desk and dropped the bomb: 

"Do you play World of Warcraft?"

I smiled and replied, "Not only do I play WoW, but let me show you this recruitment tool I threw together..."


Thursday, April 4, 2013

2.43. The False Step

Zanjina and the 25-Man Progression team prepares
to work on Illidan the Betrayer,
Black Temple

Contemplating Promotion

We pressed on and defeated The Illidari Council the night of July 27th, concluding a month of work. The path to Illidan was now clear. Time was of the essence. The next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, was in beta, and I expected Blizzard to follow suit with applying the 3.0 patch to the game prior to its full retail release. This meant all existing encounters would be implicitly nerfed when our players gained all new talents and abilities. The defeat of 40-Man Maexxna was one of our proudest moments as a raiding guild, as we managed it prior to the 2.0 patch that trivialized said content. I insisted that the guild apply the same passion towards an Illidan kill, pre-3.0. Our original goal of defeating Illidan as a raiding guild was still doable, and would earn us a historic spot on the server, even when considering that Blizzard bolted on an entirely new raid tier after Black Temple, the Sunwell Plateau.

As The Burning Crusade waned, raiding guilds that were stalemating on progression began falling apart, and I picked up the pieces of these dismantled teams. I weeded through them, cherry picking the roles we needed and giving them a shot. This was my strategy to deal with any possible burnout the raid team was suffering as we neared our goal. Many of these guild breakups involved players who happened to be friends of Wyse. I found myself getting first-hand referrals on players she recommended; as the volume increased, I simply deferred to her judgement when taking new players in, bypassing the due diligence. The end result was a core of new players that were exceptionally well-geared and well-played, but were lacking in other social graces.

That summer was rough on the roster, and the BlizzCon 2008 ticket fiasco didn't help. Blizzard, unprepared for the popularity of previous BlizzCons, set up an online ticket purchasing website that completely buckled under the demand of WoW nerds across the globe. One such nerd happened to be my very own mage officer, Goldenrod. The sham of the ticket system failing, coupled with his growing disgust of mage treatment in PvP, was the straw that broke the camel's back. He announced that he was quitting the game, news that got back to me by way of one of my raiding priests, Neps. I shared this knowledge with Wyse in the hopes that she would assist me in holding things together through Illidan's completion. She obliged, expressing that she would reach out to the existing mages, folks like Turtleman, Dandrak, Barraged, and convince them to remain focused until the Betrayer met his fate.

Unbeknownst to any of them, Blain had already confided that he, too, would be leaving at the end of the expansion.

It was at this point that I began giving serious consideration to Wyse for officership. She had the unique benefit of being on-hand every day via IM; I could delegate the handling of situations at a moment's notice, without having to wait to log in to the game. It came from a feeling of desperation. I needed anyone available that demonstrated a sliver of leadership to help plug holes in the dam. This desperation clouded my judgement while I considered promotions -- it prevented me from seeing the warning signs. Signs such as Wyse expressing frustration at players who were tormenting her in guild chat, or worse, ignoring her outright. Signs in the form of her relaying to me how her friends in-guild were being "abused"; I would find out later that it was these same friends who incited arguments amongst players ill-equipped to raid. Soon, even laid-back members of the guild grew disgusted with her neediness and inability to handle criticism.

In a moment of clarity, my gut spoke to me. If you are going to extend a position of authority to her, she is going to have to demonstrate serious growth in both diplomacy and finesse. I listened to my gut and made the decision to hold back on the promotion.

Descendants of Draenor defeats Illidan the Betrayer,
Black Temple

The Betrayer

Descendants of Draenor clawed its way through the hellish summer months of 2008. By September, we had put in a solid four weeks of work on Illidan. Blain and I clung to the A-Team/B-Team rotations, allowing us to field the huge pool of players which now made up the roster. I drafted a "State of the Union" forum post, hoping to encourage those suffering from burnout to stay strong and remain involved in the rotations, so that we could claim an Illidan kill. Thankfully, the roster stayed full, and we continued our work on Illidan. Kurst continued his role of main tank and dealing with Illidan's Shear, while both he and Dalans worked together to perfect the Flames of Azzinoth tanking. Eventually, they were acting as a single cohesive unit. Within a few more weeks of earnest effort, Illidan Stormrage met his fate by our hand, granting us an official Black Temple clear date on the evening of September 21, 2008. It was both triumphant and bittersweet, because although we accomplished what we set out to at the start of The Burning Crusade, we lost many core folks from our original Vanilla raid team along the way. Still, few guilds could claim an Illidan kill; we now sat among those elite few. It was a proud moment for Descendants of Draenor, and the event remains permanently burned into my brain.

It was the week following our Illidan kill that would bestow upon me another everlasting memory.

Seven days later, we returned for our weekly clear. The rotations for that week were handled as fairly as possible; we brought as many must-have roles that were necessary for the kill, and rotated in folks that did not get a chance to be present for the first clear. Many core raiders fell into this latter category, officers included. Even the shaman Ekasra, whom I felt was vital to every raid that Kerulak was absent for, hadn't been present for the first kill. These folks all needed a shot, and thus, were rotated in on week two. As we were getting situated for a pull of Illidan, drama exploded in guild chat. Two recently acquired guildies (who happened to be friends with Wyse) threw a fit when they discovered they had been left behind for that evening's Black Temple raid. They were outraged that raiders who weren't involved in the initial kill were now getting priority over those who contributed to Illidan's defeat. Without even bothering to take it up with me and attempt some sort of resolution, they quit the guild.

This outburst of rage and immaturity would be the catalyst for Wyse's undoing.

Political Incongruity

By now, the raiders had grown into a unified, efficient team. They knew the goals we had set out to accomplish, and where our priorities lay. Clearing raids was the focus, being competitive and progressing so that the guild could experience the content was the endgame for us. We had burned into their brains that loot was not the reason we did what we did; we were not in this for individual gain or glory. The glory came from our accomplishments as an entire guild. Thus, any behavior demonstrating greed was immediately pounced on. The guild unanimously wrote the ex-guildies off as selfish and paid them no attention. Wyse, however, held a different opinion. She felt her friends had been mistreated and not given a fair opportunity at spots in the roster, reminding us that if it weren't for their contribution, Illidan would likely still remain undefeated. The result of this defiant public stance was an overwhelmingly negative response to Wyse.

Alienated, she became the focus of an entirely new round of personal attacks. Discussions she'd start in guild chat would cause officers like Dalans to instantly mute her. Any mention of the ex-guildies would cause my members to violently defend our morals and principles, further backing her into a corner -- with nobody on her side to defend her own claims. She made multiple attempts to contact me via IM, relaying to me the treatment she was receiving, but I could provide no additional support or advice. She had dug her own grave and nothing I could say or do would change the opinion of hundreds of guild members...including my own. It was not enough that she was a dedicated, experienced mage with a passion for progression and high-caliber play. She needed to be aligned with our ideals, our values. Instead, she remained frustratingly loyal to her friends; ex-guildies that had demonstrated selfishness and deceit -- not anything that I wanted us to stand for as a guild.

On November 11th, 2008, just six months after Wyse joined my guild, she posted a goodbye on our forums, and quietly left to join her friends. Various members of DoD made a concerted effort to be civil and wish her well; even Dalans left her a note: "Water under the bridge." I was appreciative that, in the end, my guild had the decency to let her know that she had been a contributing member. Skewed alignments aside, she had helped the raid progression team perform incredible feats. Without her, I cannot guess as to what amount of time we would have spent on Illidari Council, which potentially could have pushed Illidan far enough out, causing us to miss the pre-3.0 kill. I was thankful for her efforts, yet saddened that I couldn't convince her to see my side of the story. She would forever remain faithful to her friends, which in her eyes, were more important than the good of the guild.


A week later, one of my guild members started sending tells. "Hanzo, you need to jump into Vent. It's Wyse. She's pretty upset."

I popped on my headphones, turned on the mic, and jumped into Vent, finding her in a solitary channel. She was beside herself and in tears. I asked her what was wrong. Wyse proceeded to tell me how she had joined her friends' guild (the very same ones that stormed out of mine in a tantrum), and that she had been busy contributing raiding materials and gold from her characters to their guild vault. Once she had given them everything she had to help get their guild started on the right foot, her friends decided that they didn't need Wyse any longer, and kicked her to the curb.

It was an impressive demonstration of loyalty.

The very players Wyse had gone to extreme lengths to defend...had now turned around and cut her loose. She was distraught, not by the loss of trivial in-game goods, but by the betrayal of those she believed had her back, as she had theirs. I did my best to console her. I couldn't help but feel a certain sense of irony surrounding the events. Her "friends" had shown their true colors, something my gut had told me months earlier. It was unfortunate that she had to experience this first hand. As before, I wished that I could have found a way to convince her of this ahead of time. But, as with some people, the only way to truly convince them is for them to live through it themselves.

My experience with managing Wyse was profoundly enlightening. It was my first experience managing a player without the advice of a mentor, like Ater. I learned how to weigh my own needs in the middle of a crisis, but not jump to rash decisions like premature promotions. It was an exercise in keeping a level head. Dealing with Wyse reminded me that in leadership, I had a responsibility to not allow my emotional attachment to cloud my vision. The plucking of heartstrings is not a valid justification to sacrifice integrity, no matter how difficult it seems. And I won't lie to is difficult to listen to someone pour their heart out, and hold yourself back from wanting to help -- to make everything better. It also reaffirmed my beliefs about people: you can't change them. All you can do is provide the necessary information to lead them down the right path. Whether they take that path or not is ultimately up to them.

I filed the Wyse experience into my stack of lessons learned, as I prepared to take Descendants of Draenor into the next expansion.