Thursday, June 27, 2013

3.14. The First Elites

Newcomer Abrinis joins a handful of his guildmates
in Zul'Gurub (20-Man) during Vanilla


There's not much you can get wrong in a glass of milk. As a kid, you poured it on your cereal; perhaps later on in life, you drank it for the reported calcium benefits. Wherever you went in life, if they didn't have your drink of choice, at least you knew what you were getting if you asked for milk. The various brands of milk differ more in label than they do in flavor. Grab a gallon off the shelf at the grocery store -- any brand and all -- and you’re pretty much guaranteed the same taste and texture. Milk is milk, what else can you say about it? So when it comes time to reach for the jug, the only thing that really separates one from another is brand loyalty. You stick with the brand you know because you've always bought it; second-guessing your decisions only adds anxiety to a normal, consistent life. But milk is only consistent because of homogenization, a process that prevents the cream separating from the skim. The cream is special. People see it as a luxury; milk in your coffee is plain, but cream...that's a taste reserved for those who appreciate the finer things in life.

Throughout Vanilla and The Burning Crusade, our raid team was not unlike a glass of milk.

The players that were poured into our raid team were a mixture of all different talents and styles, of varying degrees in skill and play. But without a system to incentivize players, to excel and be acknowledged for that excellence, we sat on the shelf of our server's grocery store and stagnated. We appeared no different than the brand any other guild sold. Creating a hierarchical structure of ranks in DoD served two purposes. One: it gave the individual players in my raiding roster an opportunity to rise to the top, rewarding them with pellets as they continued to pound the lever. Equally important, it allowed me to skim that cream off the top and place it on Deathwing-US's shelf for sale. If my hunch played out, that cream of my raiding roster would turn the heads of those wandering the grocery store aisle of guilds, looking for that richness in flavor that was presently absent in their lives...and raiding careers.

My job was to make sure the centrifuge spun as fast as possible, and skim the cream as soon as it surfaced.

An early shot of Jungard, along with the 25-Man
 Progression Team, after the defeat of Anetheron,
Hyjal Summit, Caverns of Time

Predictions and Surprises

We often attracted two types of raiding recruits to Descendants of Draenor. The first bucket of players were battle-worn and exhausted; ex-hardcore raiders who prided themselves on server-firsts in Sunwell and Naxxramas (40-Man), but for one reason or another, couldn't maintain that lifestyle anymore. Perhaps their hardcore raiding days were during College, but with degree in hand, it was time to knuckle down and punch the 9-to-5. Perhaps it was more appropriate to game into all hours of the night when your significant other was simply the “boyfriend” -- but now that he was the "husband", it was time to get some priorities straight. Maybe the only thing that changed was the addition of a kid to the picture...perhaps it was none of these things. It may very well have simply been a conscious decision to strike a better balance in life. Whatever the case may be, I was not there to judge, but to simply welcome in. I'd offer an alternative to the abusive demands of hardcore raiding, and guarantee seeing some progression. Cheeseus was a good example of this type of a recruit. He had a taste for cream and was uninterested in the peasantry of milk.

The other type of recruit we attracted was that of a player who felt constrained by their current conditions. The kind of player that felt they could be so much more, but were surrounded by excuse-makers: Facerollers clinging to pathetic justifications for their incompetence like a broken-record.

It's a challenge to strive for greatness when you are surrounded by mediocrity.

Guilds comprised of trolls seemed bent on perpetrating the notion that because World of Warcraft was "just a game", it was OK be a moron. While those guilds were busy starting and ending every sentence with "lol", our prospective recruits were alt-tabbed and hitting the virtual pavement, researching their class and boss mechanics -- trying to squeeze that last bit of DPS out. But with no one to act as a mentor, to guide them through the twisted raiding path of right and wrong, their own motivation to excel only got them so far. They needed a new lesson in raiding. We'd be the ones to step to the front of the class for them.

The first Elite promotions went to individuals that fell into this latter category. Abrinis and Jungard were a pair of Warriors that had become a staple in our raiding roster for many months. Abrinis, first recruited by Annihilation when he oversaw the Warriors, had an affinity for sports and would often be spotted discussing Basketball scores with Ben and Neps in guild chat. He was otherwise quiet, but also prolific with his alts, ever eager to help out a 5-man or a quest, and he'd have an alt specific to the role you needed to have filled. When it came time to raid, however, it was down to brass tacks on his Undead Warrior. Abrinis consistently topped the meters with Fury DPS, and I could always expect to see him signed up for next week's raid. It came as no surprise that when a fresh face known as Jungard entered the scene near the start of our Hyjal work in TBC, Abrinis took him under wing and trained him up to be equally effective wielding two weapons. The pair soon grew to challenge each other come raid night; a battle to see which Warrior could claim dominance on the meters. Pushing each other to rise to the top produced the pleasant side-effect of consistently high melee DPS. Their efforts were well-deserving of the Elite title.

The next Elite promotion was a surprise: Ekasra, the bullied Shaman from TBC who took my place when I retired Kerulak to raid as a Shadow Priest. Ekasra had struggled to find a place in DoD throughout TBC, and the weight on his shoulders was heavy. Not only did he have to fill the shoes of the guild leader who had come out of the 40-Man healing core from Vanilla, he struggled to gain any respect from his peers. Ekasra's raiding mistakes were exacerbated by his tendency to ebb the bullies on in return, rather than ignore them. Ekasra approached me at the start of Wrath, still wanting to demonstrate his value and be accepted by the team, asking for my advice. I was blunt: shelf the Shaman; you're intrinsically wired for a different role. Look at what appeals to you in a different raiding department, and then embrace it. He took my advice, and in the wake of Ekasra came Nestonia the Warlock. Nestonia not only wrecked the damage meters, he dominated them, even giving the Warlock officer Eacavissi a run for his money. Coincidentally, he whined a little less, joked a little more, and before I knew it, he had officers recommending him for promotion -- officers that, during TBC, wouldn't even speak his name. For him to be among the first Elite promotions was a proud moment.

A random Shaman in WoW,
boasting the default keybindings (1-9,0, -, =)

Wax On, Wax Off

The fourth and final promotion to Elite that I issued out in my first round was another surprise. He was a player I've not mentioned too much thus far, but had also been with DoD since TBC -- a Restoration Shaman by the name of Mcflurrie. Originally named Deathflurry, he joined progression at the same time we suffered overabundance of players whose name began with the word "Death". To reduce the confusion of raid calls in Ventrilo, he opted to change his name, a pretty good indicator of someone willing to do whatever it took to improve. What makes Mcflurrie’s story inspiring was his hunger to grow, and how the most seemingly obvious roadblocks are often right in front of our faces.

Mcflurrie's issue was healing effectiveness and survivability. He felt like he couldn't push his play any further, but still suffered from "playing with blinders" -- a common affliction among healers too focused on their whack-a-mole addon, and not focused enough on the environmental damage blanketing them in flames. One evening following a Serpentshrine Cavern raid, he pulled me into a private vent channel.

"I just feel like I'm not as mobile as I could be. And when I get moving, I can't heal really well, or end up dying."

"Playing with blinders?", I asked rhetorically.


"Take a screenshot of your UI and send it to me."

Moments passed, then came the ding of my email alerting me of a new message. I pulled up his screen and began examining where he placed his healing mods, his unit frames, what his field-of-view was like.

And then, I noticed them.

The action bars held all of a player's abilities, lined up in a horizontal row along the bottom of the screen. In each bar, twelve divots. Resting in each divot, a square icon that represented the spell that would cast when clicked or having its key binding pressed. But most importantly, in the upper-right corner of each icon, a tiny white symbol...either or a number, letter, or punctuation mark...that represented the key binding assigned to the spell. All at once, his problem was as crystal clear as the waters of a Moonwell.

"How are your keys set up?"

I knew the answer, but wanted him to say it.

"Oh, well...I’m just using the default layout."

"So, you're hitting the numbers keys along the top for healing? 1, 2, 3...etc...all along the top of the keyboard?"

"Yep, that works pretty well for me."

"Can you reach all your spells while you move? Or do you have to lift your hand up off the keyboard to reach the spell you want."

Silence followed.

"Try running forward right now, and while you continue to run forward, I want you to cast a Greater Healing Wave without lifting your left-hand up off the keyboard."

A little more silence followed that. Then,

"I...I can't. I have to lift my hand up."

"We're going to change that. Right now."

I spelled it all out for Mcflurrie, that painful truth that he was crippling his abilities by forcing himself to awkwardly look away from the screen, lift his hand off the keyboard to reach for a spell...ugh. I had flashbacks of Battleguard Sartura and the day I changed my karate stance. I told Mcflurrie it was going to be painful to re-learn from scratch. It was. Like me, it took a few weeks to re-program, to be able to react to the demands thrust upon a healer. But he got it. He sweated through the re-programming, and was soon  reaching for spells and moving at the same time, instinctively. His play improved, and this introduction to key binding customization pushed him even further to explore mouse-over macros -- something that wasn't available to me in Vanilla. Eventually he was shooting me tells mid-raid, "“I can't believe how much easier this is!" The rest, they say, is history. His reward for that tremendous growth: Mcflurrie became our fourth Elite, closing out the first batch of promotions.


The cream was now on the shelf. Potentials buyers were out there...but would they bite? The careful, meticulous restructuring of my guild's ranks produced a team unlike any I had before -- one comprised of both casual raiders that were motivated to play like professionals, and hardcore elites, the backbone that would drive progression week-to-week. Finally, I felt like I had nailed the perfect balance of player willing to work together to accomplish great things.

It’s unfortunate, then, that in order to demonstrate our ability to work together as a team, Blizzard forced us to stick a fork directly into it.


Dalans said...

We all had those noob moments. I can remember in open beta thinking to myself, since I'm a druid I should have my skill points distributed evenly through all the skill trees because we can do it all! Oh the naivete, I gave Blizzard too much credit at the time...

Shout out to Abrinis' daughter, Pinecone-eater! Still makes me laugh.

Sev of Infallible said...

I just spent an entire evening reading all of these memoirs. Absolutely fantastic material that you have composed here (did you take notes of everything as it all happened?).

Though I never partook in raid leadership, or had anything to do with Deathwing or your guild, I feel like I have an intimate understanding of the situations you've been in.

Also, the way in which you recall the contemporary feelings and ideas of players back in certain times of WoW is absolutely riveting. The first few pieces covering Vanilla were especially nostalgic.

Please, sir, keep up the good work!

Shawn Holmes said...


Thanks very much for your support, I'm once again blown away by how much our story is able to give back to the community.

I'm re-constructing it as accurately as I can, based off of our archived forum posts, screenshots, chat-logs, videos, and interviews with many of the DoD members to help me pieces it back together.

Some of it remains very vivid in my mind, even though it happened years ago. I hope it continues to entertain and enlighten as the story goes on.

Aztek said...

"It's a challenge to strive for greatness when you are surrounded by mediocrity."

It's hard to soar like an eagle when you're surrounded by turkeys.