Tuesday, June 4, 2013

3.7. Terminating Employment

Securing your Blizzard account with two-factor auth...$6.
Knowing your WoW account is hackproof...whatever the
 going rate is on eBay.

Credibility Crumbles

Kurst's skill as a tank was repeatedly called into question, yet I insisted on working through these superficial struggles. If it were only a question of his ability as a warrior and an officer, I reasoned, this knowledge could be taught and improved over time. If I stuck it out, he could turn this around. As we progressed into Wrath, Kurst gave me another handful of problems to mitigate, and my clarity faded. As with all people-related issues, his blurred from black-and-white into a complex cloud of grays. Navigating this storm was a challenge; just when I thought I had his problems addressed, another struck, as though he were forever cursed to suffer bad luck. His character's name was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

At the beginning of January 2009, Kurst's account was hacked. The details in my mind are sketchy; I recall that there was a focused attack that compromise his wife's email, and the collateral damage spilled over into Kurst's in-game obligations. One can argue (and I definitely argued) that anyone can be hacked. It's true; in Kurst's defense, thousands of Warcraft accounts are hacked on a daily basis. But there were key pieces that made Kurst's situation turn from disheartening to infuriating.

Why hack a World of Warcraft account? Nerd pride, perhaps. But there is also an element of financial gain to be had: WoW players use Azeroth's gold as their currency to buy and sell goods. Gold is also used to repair worn out gear; yes, the slaying of internet dragons actually imposes wear-and-tear on our virtual armaments. At that time, in the real world, a WoW black market thrived. It allowed players to unofficially purchase in-game gold with real cash -- something Blizzard strictly forbids in the WoW's terms of use. This underground activity spreads regardless of Blizzard's stance, a virus infecting our in-game experience, nourished by both the childish and the fraudulent alike. 

The Kurst hack was particularly inconvenient. He was unable to raid and finding a geared / experienced tank in a short amount of time posed a challenge. Tanks were rare in numbers as a natural result of their distribution in raids, and those that were well geared remained extremely loyal to their raiding guilds. So, my options were limited to the many ungeared / inexperienced tanks, desperate to show me how little they knew. But the inconvenience didn't end with a recruitment burden. 

Kurst's officer rank extended him access to the guild vault, which I logged-in to find had been gutted as a result. Since Cataclysm, guild leaders have been able to restrict access to the guild vault by detecting the presence of a player's Authenticator, but back in WotLK, no such functionality existed.

Blizzard, you get a pass on this one. It wouldn't have helped.

Kurst, whose profession was IT security in the real world, had opted against attaching an Authenticator to his account. 

I jumped through the guild leader hoops and defended him publicly on the forums, reminding my guild on the dangers of hacking and that nobody was above being targeted. Inside, I was disgusted at his shortsightedness. Kurst's hack absolutely could have been prevented, but his insistence that his account was safe despite a lack of two-factor auth made it that much more difficult to take anything he said seriously.

A screenshot from the "Re: Why I Sort By Damage Done"
DoD forum thread

Checked Out

Presence on the guild forums is as vital to Descendants of Draenor as it is to any guild. We are a social unit and need to carry on conversations that begin in-game or vice-versa. We need to be able to communicate strategy to raiders, changes in management to officers, and clarification of rules to guildies. Yet, forum activity was nearly always a fraction of what transpired in-game. It is a constant struggle to keep people attuned to our forums outside of the game.

I've experimented with a variety of techniques to keep people participating. One such tactic: Have officers drive content. They are the leaders, the ones who are turned to for advice and guidance. They need to set the example by providing updated topics on their class, and what players need to be aware of in order to continually improve their game. And (perhaps most importantly) if you're not being rotated in for raids, the first person you'll go to is your officer. At the start of WotLK, I mandated that officers keep their topics fresh with links to spreadsheets, info on the latest patches, and what their class needs to be thinking about on a day-to-day basis. I wanted to breed excellence.

Not surprisingly, being uninvolved had the reverse effect on players. They would wander around Northrend in a daze, asking the same questions over and over...questions that had been answered long ago on our forums. I instructed all officers to stay caught up on current events by clicking "View New Topics" each time they returned to the forums, and while guildies were generally encouraged to check the boards at least once a week, officers were mandated to check at least once per day. 

Players detached from the extended conversation risked missing vital information. Sometimes, that vital information had nothing to do with raiding. Once such discussion arose when Ekasra announced to us, with great sadness, that his friend and fellow guild member Lhaktar, a player who suffered from clinical depression, had taken his own life. In a gesture of kindness, the guild spent some time offering their condolences and remembering Lhaktar on the forums. But the stigma of suicide is such that word doesn't necessarily spread quickly, so pockets of the guild remained in the dark about Lhaktar's passing.

When someone created a thread titled "Re: Why I Sort By Damage Done," which featured their scores at the end of a battleground, guildies began contributing their own screenshots of various performances in PvP. One such screenshot featured the final score of an Arathi Basin.

It was a screenshot taken by Lhaktar.

Upon seeing this, players left comments in the topic like, "I miss him. :(", remembering their friend. Thinking players were being melodramatic about a ex-guildy that had been ejected for behavioral problems, Kurst hopped into the thread and added:

"This is not 'The View'. Move along"

I stand by the claim that Kurst was a very kind and generous person in real life, and believe to this day that he meant no harm by his curtness. He lacked context. Despite my encouragement, Kurst was not active on our forums, and therefore, wasn't privy to Lhaktar's story. As a result, his comments came across as disrespectful and cruel, offending a great number of players. Once Kurst realized his mistake, he apologized profusely. Gamers, however, are very good at holding grudges, and not at all good at forgiveness. The damage was done, and was yet another reason to make me believe he was checked out.
The 25-Man Progression team poses outside Wryrmrest
Temple upon completing The Twilight Zone,

Firing Good People

I pressed Kurst to stay involved in the forums -- it was his responsibility as an officer to drive leadership and represent the expertise we demanded of our recruits. As we shifted our focus toward The Twilight Zone, it was clear he was still out-of-the-loop.

Cheeseus and I would have daily conversations about how to best position the three drakes, how we would improve our positioning to dodge the flame wall, and how we would most effectively coordinate killing elemental adds. When other guilds revealed tricks and techniques we jumped on them and poured them into our raid strategy forum. Kurst was never involved in it.

Proactively, I would open an IM window with him, and ask if he was up-to-speed with our changes to flame wall movement -- he didn't know what I was talking about. I had to specifically ping him each and every time a new piece of information was discussed. In my quest to delegate responsibility in WotLK, Kurst was turning the tables on me, giving me more to worry about rather than less.

Initial work on The Twilight Zone suffered. One drake was a non-issue, killed on the Jan. 11th, and Two drakes took only an additional week to work through (the 18th), so by Jan. 25th we were officially working on all three. The progression raiders were comfortable with the various mechanics introduced by cranking up the difficulty, but Kurst to fall short. Cheeseus expressed frustration over IM about the number of times Kurst continued to eat shadow fissures, noting that on the evening that Cheeseus himself had eaten one, Kurst had eaten thirteen. I implored Kurst to improve and refine, but you can't get blood from a coarse stone. Kurst was already giving me everything he could.

It wasn't enough.

By the third week of attempts, I was out of both encouragement and options. If I wanted to keep the DoD raid team moving forward, I had to enforce my guild's new edicts. Both players and officers had to be accountable. The right people had to be in the right job; anything less put the raid team at risk. It was awful, but had to be done if my guild was to succeed: I made the horrible decision to demote Kurst from officership.

Writing Kurst's termination letter sucked. I drafted the entire thing up on a flight back from Dallas, TX, to my home in Denver, CO. Turbulence chipped away at my ability to concentrate the entire time, spurring self doubt and guilt. You don't have to do this. He will improve. But I pressed on, rationalizing the decision by returning to those awful facts that described an officer failing to meet expectations.

It's easy to fire a douchebag as you kick them to the curb. But how do you tell a friend, someone who's been loyal to your guild for years, that they're no longer good enough? That their presence jeopardizes everything you've worked toward?

There is no easy way. The hardest job in the world is firing good people for not being good enough.

You tell a child that their beloved pet is dead and it hollows you out when they fall apart. You just deliver the news and try to keep a shred of dignity about it. It's a band-aid that you rip from the flesh; it stings, you move on, and you hope it stings a little less each day.

Kurst didn't take the news well. He wasn't defiant, he didn't proclaim there was some grand conspiracy at work. He didn't blame anyone or point fingers at any player in particular. But, he wasn't overjoyed. He didn't express a grand sigh of relief, no longer burdened by demands he couldn't maintain. Kurst didn't challenge my decision, he simply shut down.

Officially, it was just a demotion. There was no clause stating he had to forfeit guild membership. He alone chose to withdraw. Remaining to himself for the days following the demotion, he logged on a few times to collect his things, go about his daily routine, but spoke to no-one, and made no announcement of his intentions on the forums.

Less than a week after the demotion, Kurst left Descendants of Draenor. We never spoke again.

After three dedicated years of membership, Kurst's last raid with us was on February 6th of 2009; a 2-drake kill in OS25. One week following his exit, the 25-Man progression team earned its first 3-drake kill, wrapping up The Twilight Zone. Once again, the team was realigned and on track.

For the guild, it was the right decision; the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few. Yet, not a day goes by that I don’t think about my decision regarding him. It was the single, most difficult thing I've ever had to do as a guild leader.

I've not yet come to forgive myself for it.


Aubiece said...

The buck stops here.
This is what leadership is.
Tough decision to have to make
but from my view absolutely

Good stuff as usual.

Shawn Holmes said...


Thank you for the words of support. :)

I got through it, and moved forward. I can assure you that both the Wyse and Kurst stories helped me prepare for tougher decisions ahead.

Mystidruid said...

I just had to sit some long time raiders in our guild if we ever have hopes of making progression. It definately sucks but must be done.

We had a similar situation where we were stuck on elegon. One guy week the guy couldn't make it and it was like the light of heaven shined down and elegon was dead. 3 pulls later, so was the next boss.

Shawn Holmes said...


It sucks having to bench people, but with the focus on the progress of the team, everyone involved has to be invested.

Thanks to my experience with Wyse and Kurst (and you'll see soon) I started to get better at this, as the emotional armor hardened.

Anonymous said...

Being a good leader definitely means making tough decisions when necessary, and not just whichever is the path of least resistance. Sounds like he couldn't give the role the time and effort it needed; if he couldn't see that and step down on his own, you had to make the call for the good of the rest of the guild.

Also, I love the detail--you have an amazing memory. I don't think I can recall that far back in such depth.

Shawn Holmes said...


Re: Tough Decisions -- In many cases, I had always hoped sitting back would let the situation resolve itself.

It never did. It *always* involved me having to take care of business. Leadership is just that, being one of the few that can make the decisions, and then live with them.

Re: My Memory/Detail -- Thank you! I'm getting a lot of that from the guild as well, and although I have a lot of screenshots, video, chat logs and forum posts to refer back to, some of the players themselves are also helping me remember these events.

Some events, like Kurst's...I just simply won't forget, period.

Anonymous said...

Sending him a letter is the cowards way out. If my guild of many years just sent me a letter out of the blue telling me i'm not cutting it, I think i'd bail on them as well.

It's harder to do stuff like this face to face(or the vent equivalent), but the outcome is often better.

The best way to have handled this is to bring up his failures as they occurred rather than ignoring them until it became a huge problem.

..anyway love the blog, keep on writing.

Shawn Holmes said...


Guilty as charged; he deserved to have me speak to him about it directly, rather than get a faceless letter.

I didn't "get" this part of leadership until much later, when I really became attuned to mediating issues, and would be able to gauge, issue to issue, whether or not I had to have the person jump into Vent.

There end up being a few more...incidents...that I handle this way (written only), before I learn this.

Mackeyser said...

I take a different tack.

As a service-connected disabled vet who's dodged death twice (not in combat, it's not that dramatic), I survive by being honest, often times brutally with myself, but with generosity, humility and kindness to those around me.

I realize that most can't handle the level of honesty that I must function with. I mean, I have a seizure disorder. Even the slightest bit of adrenaline from good or bad sources (meaning new boss fights for example) can make my hands shake so much that it's hard to play. So, I have to acknowledge that at this point in my WoW career, I can't keybind anymore. I have to be very honest about what I can and cannot do.

What I've found is that most people that I connect with find that honesty refreshing. Younger people or people with egos tend not to, but I'm never brutal or cruel. However, everyone knows me for my honesty and integrity.

It's also critical that there be an open line of communication that is trusted and well worn. Even honest words can hurt if that level of honesty is a rare thing.

I am open and honest with my criticisms and praise. As a former altoholic, I can speak to almost any raider about their class in fairly specific depth and I make sure to research any specific criticisms prior to levying them to ensure I'm not making any unfounded claims that would cause more harm than good.

The good thing about this is that people come to EXPECT that they will receive the honesty. There are times when someone may be at the top of the dmg or healing meters and I'll have to take them aside because something is missing or someone found their way to the middle of the dps pack and I'll lavish praise on them because of the tremendous improvement.

Lastly, I've said this last but umpteen times, expectations are a compliment. Inherent in their setting are the belief in their accomplishment. The flip side of that is this: "frustration is unmet expectation". No one, for example, expects to solo current raid content in blues so no one gets frustrated about it even if they were...well..."enthusiastic" enough to try it. However, reasonable expectations that stem from diligence and competence are expected to be met. When people don't meet them, open and honest communication is the key.

At that point, should it come to removing someone from the current raid comp or having them sit for a particular fight, it's not a personal matter, it's a personnel matter. It's a skill building matter. It's something over which the player can take control or not knowing if the player wants to improve, the guild will give them all the support they need. Hunters often don't know how to kite anymore, for example. Plenty of people leave critical skills completely off of their bars because of their situational nature and they really don't understand how to use them. In BC, they may have been CRITICAL skills and only now are they coming back into use.

I expect people to grow, learn, expand....change. That process is what it is.

I recently had to sit a PvP hunter who was new to the game and just didn't understand how to move in PvE. How we spoke to him when we sat him meant that he went, got some missing addons, and excitedly worked on some things realizing his possibilities.

I've been in guilds where seeing someone get sat would lead to a /gquit.

And to be clear, I've been this kind of honest about the play of my wife who plays a priest. So you know I've put my money where my mouth is... Hah!

Shawn Holmes said...


I've found that it's a whole lot easier to train someone up, than it is to work with someone already at the top (rank-wise). In this case, I have only myself to blame by putting him there, under the assumption he'd meet my expectations.

On the flip side, working with players and getting them to improve by fine-tuning bits and pieces is great, esp. when it pays off. I have an upcoming post about that.

Mackeyser said...

I will say it certainly hit home when you talked about making the judgment call regarding whether or not to promote someone to officership.

I had a raid leader, best geared resto druid on our server and we're still restructuring. He is a tremendous person and I very much wanted to promote him. And... I just had this nagging feeling that I shouldn't.

And you're absolutely right about working with someone at the top. For a resto druid, he routinely maintained he couldn't move and heal at the same time. I was stymied to the point of incredulity. Nothing I could say would sway him from his position that it was HARD for him to move on the run. The one thing about 10s is that BOTH healers have to be able to move and heal. It's why resto druids are so dang strong in 10s.

When I got real with myself, the brutal and honest truth was that this druid as awesome a healer, raid leader and person as he was, simply wasn't patient enough and wasn't positive enough to be the kind of officer that I needed, nor could he really take much constructive criticism of his own performance. Building requires EVERYTHING be right. Foundation is key.

It wasn't long afterwards that his app to a top US guild was accepted and he was gone. He'd been apping for a long time and even while he was asking to be promoted, he was looking to leave.

Wasn't long after that that I found your blog, read the story of Wyse and thought, "this story sounds VERY familiar..." And I still very much am fond of my druid friend and wish him nothing, but the best where he is.

Shawn Holmes said...


Yikes! A resto druid that can't move and heal at the same time!

I think it's about time I weave in my blog post about...RED FLAGS.

Anonymous said...

Hey love reading your blog.. just one point about this chapter.. when you said he alone chose to leave the guild, yes that's true, but when you demote someone, justified or not, no one will ever look at them the same. He lost face with his comrades and no longer felt safe and comfortable within your guild. So while he chose to leave, he really didn't have a choice... you didn't really think he would stay in the guild after that did you?

Shawn Holmes said...


I desperately wanted to believe things would work out, as it was with a lot of these earlier, tougher decisions in guild leadership.

I was just fooling myself.

Promotions and demotions have to be thoughtful -- they have meaningful, long-lasting ramifications. In a hardcore guild where personal feelings aren't a big deal...perhaps not so much.

But if you are trying to create an environment where people give a shit about each other a bit more...these decisions *must* be done with care.

Anonymous said...

That was devastating. Did you even have a phone # to contact him out of game? I hopped on Deathwing-US yesterday, no Kurst resides there now.