Thursday, June 20, 2013

3.12. The Next Raid Leader

The 25-Man Progression team hovers
near Alexstrasza after defeating Malygos in
The Eye of Eternity

Cheesy Conversations

I thrived on predictability, and the morning ritual fell into just such a rhythm. I’d leave the house around 6:45am with my son and daughter packed into the car, heading four-and-a-half miles south toward 6th and Clermont. I opted to go by way of Monaco Parkway, as Colorado Boulevard was often thick with congestion. After the kids were hugged and left at their school, I looped back to Monaco, and drove another eleven miles, doing an easy 55mph through residential areas. The stresses of I-25 were bypassed in this process, and it gave me time to think. I’d arrive at the office, get settled in with a cup of coffee, begin reviewing work E-mails for the day. Keen on multitasking, I’d fire up Chrome (having only been released as a new browser a few months prior), and load up, the Descendants of Draenor forums, our raid sign-up site (powered by phpRaider). And to wrap up the morning ritual, I’d fire up my IM client, Pidgin, which allowed me to keep connected to a number of networks at once, in this case, a combination of ICQ, MSN, Yahoo! and Google chat. As soon Pidgin loaded, the morning ritual was officially complete, as the ‘pang’ of the first instant message arrived:

9:07 AM Cheeseus: Morning.
me: Morning
Cheeseus: What a fucking weekend, eh
me: Yeah, that was bizarre. We just barely squeeked out Maly6

Cheeseus and I had fallen into a regular pattern of communication. Separated by a distance of about 1,700 miles, I in the Rocky Mountains where John Denver made his home, and he in the cold north of Canada where I spent the first 20 years of my life, we worked. While I built web applications designed for oncologists to stay atop their accreditation, Cheeseus would prepare intricate, isometric schematics of gigantic oil rigs which construction teams would read and fabricate. Our lines of work fell into two vastly different areas, but both required us to apply our expertise so that people could consume without confusion. Physicians are widely known as a type of user that struggles with technology (ironically), any unfriendly forms or error messages will frustrate them and turn them away. I worked with my team to tread carefully through this minefield and make our website as easy to traverse as possible. Likewise, technical clients wanting to construct a massive derricks pepper their blueprints with extraneous and often confusing detail, lacking knowledge of standards. Cheeseus similarly worked with his team to unclutter these details, stripping away ambiguous terminology, refining the blueprint until it was up to his company’s high standards: easy to read, easy to follow, easy to build.

Two vastly different career paths, yet we were both tasked with making other people’s jobs easier, preventing confusion and reducing mistakes.

Day-to-day, Cheeseus and I conversed. Since he and Sixfold had joined the guild a few months earlier, we had developed a very good working/gaming relationship. By day, we chatted about what was going on in our lives, how work was treating us, and what news had leaked out about our shared gaming interest. By night, I death-gripped Malygos’ power sparks to the raid’s feet while Cheeseus eviscerated them, turning the Aspect’s own power against him, slicing and dicing with arcane-laced weapons. The unique rhythm he and I maintained from day-to-evening led to a proliferation of chats. In the past, I was only able to count two that regularly spoke to me outside of the game: Ekasra the Shaman and Wyse the Mage. The volume of conversations Cheeseus and I engaged in very quickly surpassed those two combined.

The 25-Man Progression team is
captured in Kel'Thuzad's chambers,

A Council of One

Our early discussions centered mostly around him getting acquainted with the feel of the guild, and sharing his observations with me about the previous night’s raid. But as the weeks turned to months, we dove much deeper into each other’s psyche. He had an affinity for logic puzzles and games, and applied this love of math into his theorycrafting. We spent several months just debating the marginal increases or decreases in DPS by tweaking Hit and Expertise values. We even went so far as to put together a makeshift calculator that would examine a player on the Armory, extract their stats, and begin going through pseudo-combat loops, letting us play with hit and expertise values to see how marginally the damage fluctuated. But, a topic that we continued to touch on, time and again, was the topic of loot distribution systems:

11:41 AM Cheeseus: More to the point, how do you feel about needing to "bid against others" for similar loot? I'm still uncertain as to my opinion on the matter, and it just seems like it may do more harm than not, so the opinion of someone who's experienced it for longer, such as yourself, would be great.yourself, on
11:42 AM me: Can you give me a more concrete example?
11:46 AM Cheeseus: Just in general your system isn't quite like the others I've experienced. In my first guild Omen it was /ra open bidding, which was a nightmare, followed by a set price, each boss is worth X dkp whisper in bid system, which obviously favored vets. My last guild was a set price, diminished dkp after... 5-10 kills system, which overall seems like the best system I've yet to encounter. I've also helped my friends make a "suicide" system for their guild, and that seems to go well , though I do see the downfalls of it. I'm just wondering your opinion on your system.
11:47 AM me: /ra is garbage. Rewards nobody but people that are lucky. Should be self-explanatory how I feel about that.
Our 1st system was fixed-priced zero-sum.
It was an administrative nightmare.

We discussed the merits of "randoming" loot, of fixed price systems, and of get-to-the-back-of-the-line “Suicide Kings” style systems, and I was dissatisfied with most of them. When I pried deeper, Cheeseus revealed his favorite system: Loot Council:
2:13 PM Cheeseus: I've always been a fan of the idea of a loot council, because I'm rather pro communism ideology, but it's too easily corrupt/not impartial.
me: I'll never go loot council so you can scrap that idea now.
2:14 PM it will only take one day of me to be pissed off at some fuckface to deny them an upgrade and the system will have fallen apart
Cheeseus: Oh, I know. 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?
me: yes it is excellent
if it were 24 of my close friends i would do it in a heartbeat
but that's simply not an option
Cheeseus: It's things like that that make me sad with humanity
2:15 PM me: Aye.
Cheeseus was a staunch supporter of Loot Council, because his experiences with it worked well for his raiding teams in the past. These players were tight-knit, hardcore, wrecking The Sunwell Plateau multiple nights per week. Hardcore guilds benefit from loot council because they churn very few people through their roster, leadership typically has a very good handle on who the contributors are and where they fall in line. Loot Council works for two types of guilds. The first type is Dictatorship which is easy to administrate (“If you don’t like it, get out”) and players obey because they value their place in a hardcore roster and the prestige they gain from it. The second type of guild it works for is a guild of close-knit friends, people who know each other by name, and are possibly friends in real-life...

People who have to face each other and the consequences of their actions the day after loot distribution becomes corrupt.

I staunchly opposed this distribution method and although he favored it himself, Cheeseus agreed with me on the reasoning: Loot Council is too easily corrupted. It only takes one bad day for the loot distributor to be pissed off at a player, to bias his judgement just enough to issue loot out to someone else unfairly. DKP is a pure numbers-based system, directly representing a player’s contribution to raid progress as a whole.

You don’t issue rewards by how you feel, you issue them by the measurement of accomplished goals.

These conversations involving the mathing out of character stats, of the ethics surrounding loot, and our analytical approach to closing gaps in our raiding efficiency invoked a feeling of deja vu whenever we’d engage in such chatter. As the weeks carried on, Cheeseus grew to remind me more and more of someone I’d had these conversations with before.

He reminded me of Blain.

Cheeseus shows off his Twilight Drake,
alongside the 25-Man Progression team,
Wyrmrest Temple

The Plan 

I came to see this correlation between him and my now defunct Raid Leader of three years with increasing clarity. Like Blain, he expressed little interest or empathy toward the “plight” of the casual player, but where Blain’s perceived “assholiness” came from a core ideology of speaking the unvarnished truth, Cheeseus’s inability to mediate drama was more rooted in apathy. The reasoning was moot. I never expected Blain to handle such issues, and wouldn’t expect that of Cheeseus either. Blain had a passion for pushing the boundaries of what a player could do, smashing their preconceived notions which only served to limit them. Like him, Cheeseus felt our raid team could be so much more. We were disconnected, and lacked a central leader to follow:

12:05 PM Cheeseus: My strength has been, and always will be raiding. When I raid I want to spend minimal time on trivial things, and to (quickly) overcome new encounters. Though theorycrafting, out of game resources, and my knowledge of WoW I formulate effective manners of overcoming new content. Regardless of my position in the guild, I’m liable to do such.
What DoD needs to succeed (more) is one voice to follow. Discussion of strats with a collaboration of different people works well, as demonstrated by our 3D discussions, but when in raid we need one person to call the shots and to adapt the plan(s) as needed to obtain success.

His intentions were clear: Cheeseus felt he could fill that role of raid leader. He had already proven he could walk-the-walk, performing weekly in our raids, and demonstrating the expertise we needed in a leader. He’d solve those problems that plagued us; we’d have better focus, clearer calls, less ambiguity surrounding battle rezzes, less confusion around Bloodlust. But, a promotion to Raid Leader this early in his DoD career was a conundrum I had to put serious thought into. Promoting too early might generate animosity among those continuing to climb the ladder to Elite. I learned my lesson long ago about double standards and wanted to avoid them at all costs.

But I could start with Avatar. 

Avatar had fringe benefits. It would give him an opportunity to flex his raid leadership muscle in officer chat, adding his observations to the collective pool. And to the guild, he would be recognized simply as another new contributor to the guild who was going above and beyond the call of duty. Meanwhile, I was free to continue to twist the administrative dials as we headed for 3.1, rearranging our leadership structure to support Role Officers. Once 3.1 arrived, along with a fresh tier of raid content, I’d be in the best position possible to etch these structural changes into stone. At that point, the path for Cheeseus to be promoted to our next official raid leader would be unobstructed. It made sense and it was still by-the-book. So, Cheeseus became the next earner of the Avatar rank. And it came not a moment too soon.

Five days before Cheeseus earned Avatar, Blizzard made an announcement about the forthcoming 3.1 patch: Heroic: Glory of the Raider would lose its Black Proto-Drake award. The clock was now ticking, and the 25-Man Progression team needed every bit of leadership it could muster.


Anonymous said...

I am eagerly awaiting the next post.

I could have easily substituted my own toon name and guild name into your posts and felt as if I were reading some of our history, mistakes, triumphs and learning experiences.

Reading this has (as the kids say) brought on all the feels.

I linked your blog to our officers and raid leads as we could certainly use a shot of affirmation and empathy.

Much respect to you, and many thanks. I wish I had the wealth of knowledge of your own experiences before I followed some nearly identical paths.


Shawn Holmes said...


Thank you *very much* for these kind words.

If our story provides even just a *tiny* bit of insight that helps one guild leader fix their mistakes, I've accomplished my goal.

Blain said...

I shudder at the thought of there being another person like me out there...

Dalans said...

@Blain: so do we all.

Vrykolakas said...


Anonymous said...

I tried to have Shawn fix it to show the differences between us, but for some reason he still hasn't changed the line to "He reminded me of Blain, though he was better looking, smarter, funnier, more humble and more Canadian."

I guess it will be coming out "Soon™"