Thursday, August 1, 2013

3.22. Preparing for Ulduar

The Influx of 3.1

"fallen Ulduar",
by Jian Guo
The gray sky above Ulduar was all at once broken by the flock of twenty five players swarming the entrance. Flying mounts of all shapes and sizes swept in and down towards the meeting stone, perched near the base of the entrance to the newly opened raid instance. Ulduar was an ancient titan city, its tall marble pillars bearing the weight of Azeroth's origins, and other dark secrets intended to be left alone. I was enamored with the history surrounding Uldaman, Ulduar and Uldum, and how these three ancient cities buried clues to the very creation of the world we played in, day after day. When I first caught wind of these cities during Vanilla, I dug up any shred of information in existence that would reveal those secrets to me. I even purchased a pen and paper RPG book issued by Blizzard, "Lands of Mystery", which confirmed my suspicions. Ulduar lay embedded in the Storm Peaks of Northrend, home to a multitude of titan artifacts, along with other...horrific nightmares. As soon as we knew the next expansion was set in Northrend, I called out a prediction to the guild that we'd see Ulduar and that it would be incredible.

"Incredible" wouldn't even begin to do Ulduar justice.

The broad strategy Blizzard put into play for Wrath was working: by now, knowledge that WoW had become more approachable was spreading out far beyond the scope of the game. This, coupled with their aggressive marketing strategy of cleverly inserting celebrities into TV commercials for WoW began to surge the subscription base upwards. Even more international versions of WoW were being delivered, and the worldwide subscription base grew healthily as a result. So, by the time of the release of 3.1 and the Ulduar raid, we saw an even greater surge of interest in raiding. As was with my own nerdy infatuations, more players were available, and sought to jam their foot into the door. While many raiding guilds stuck to their age-old ideals of fixing a roster on the same 25 folks, I employed a different tactic -- one necessary to the success of Descendants of Draenor.

Balance of Power

We may not have completed Heroic: Glory of the Raider during Tier 7 at the start of Wrath, but this tiny embarrassment in an otherwise respectable progression didn't hamper recruitment any. Each week I'd receive two-to-three new applications via e-mail, and in-game, players continued to inquire on how we achieved the "Twilight Vanquisher". I continued to advocate "selling the guild": hook folks at any opportunity,  give them the pitch, offer them some cream with their coffee...and then reel them in. This was the plan all along: aggressively recruit, be constantly on the lookout for fresh meat to pad the raid rotations with, and broaden our pool.

For us to succeed, there was no other option.

We weren't a hardcore guild, at least in the traditional sense, and couldn't maintain a roster of the same 25 folks week-to-week -- our core was built on Elites while Raiders rotated week-to-week. In the early days, I didn't do an exceptional job of communicating what our expectations were for both groups. This produced a raid often comprised of players who performed poorly, were quick to make excuses, and had to be told over and over what to do. The power rested with the raiders; I couldn't hold them accountable because there was nobody in line to replace them. At the start of Wrath, I was determined to shift the balance of power back where it belonged -- in the hands of officership. I needed to be able to make a commitment to the guild that the double-standard would no longer be tolerated: if you were a shitty player and incapable (or uninterested) in improving, you'd be gone. But without becoming a hardcore, fixed 25-man group, I had to employ another tactic to enforce that accountability. That tactic was constant, aggressively recruiting.

By retaining a large pool of players that yearned for raid progression, I could at last hold them accountable for their actions; if they carried themselves like amateurs, they'd find themselves on the bench. But it wouldn't just be talk -- I'd make certain they would physically see the lineup of people in the queue, week-to-week, names of players gunning for their spot. So, I ensured that there was a constant inflow of new faces and kept our web-based signup sheet public and spammed throughout our forums and guild chat. There would be no mistaking what that pecking order looked like, no way for a player to make an excuse about "not knowing". For our guild's design, this was the only way to ensure we could prevent double standards: a bullet-point list of requirements for players to adhere to, fully documented, easily accessible on our forums...and a line of faces that was completely out in the open, ready to get their chance to join the 25m progression team.

Fresh Meat

By now, some names had become a regular in the 25m rotation. Bulwinkul, a Boomkin Druid named after the famous cartoon moose had joined the guild at the start of Wrath, and had been proving himself as a capable raider. Thanks to the efforts of the PvPer Ben, who himself had been boomkinning on his toon Scruffiebear, a knowledge-transfer occurred which very quickly placed Bul at one of the top DPSers of the raid. This freed Ben up to return to a class that helped make a name for himself in Descendants of Draenor: Shadow Priest. He and I had melted faces side-by-side throughout various pieces of content during The Burning Crusade; he on Aeden and I on Zanjina. Returning to his Shadow Priest in preparation for Ulduar meant a serious amount of face melting would be on the menu.

Another up-and-coming face was Crasian, a Death Knight who originally sought passage into the guild during TBC via his Shaman, Uliz. He heard the calling of the new class in WotLK, however, and made a name for himself as the first guildy to complete Glory of the Hero, a grueling set of 38 achievements that forced the player to defeat 5-man heroic bosses in strange and unorthodox ways. His demonstrated completionist mentality was a sure win for the 25-Man progression team, and I carved out a spot for him when the opportunity arose. Before long, he was a regular in the rotations, and his always competitive Unholy damage was sure to lay waste in Ulduar.

It was near 3.1 that we also saw some brand new faces to the guild. First on that list was Bonechatters, a young rogue who managed to finagle his way into Descendants of Draenor sidestepping my age restrictions. The new structure dictated we no longer accept anyone under the age of 21. Boney had come our way via Turtleman, and Turtle himself was one of our younger players, having been grandfathered in during the restructure at the start of Wrath. Much time would pass before I would catch on to Boney's "deception", but by that time, he had long since proven his worth. He caused me no drama, so by not having a need to scrutinize his behavior, he continued to fly under the radar. The purpose of the age limit, after all, wasn't about maturity -- it was about goal alignment. And he was aligned with the guild's goals, not his own personal agenda.

Uncommon Sense

Along with the faces that continued to bolster our progression team, there also came certain names that would cause us grief. During Vanilla and TBC, while I was still getting my feet wet in the leadership department, there would be times when something just didn't feel right. A certain behavior was observed, a certain sentence was typed out into guild chat, or a certain thing was spoken into Vent -- very casually, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Just your typical average everyday conversation. But when I would observe this behavior, or be quietly listening to a conversation in which these events would unfold, I would stop what I was doing and just stare at the screen in disbelief. My eyes would narrow, I'd shake my head from side-to-side, and form the words with my mouth without actually speaking

"What...the...fuck?"

When my gut spoke to me in the past, I was never really sure how to handle it. No formal rules existed that told me what to do when my instincts began to sound off like a siren in my head. How should I handle a situation when my gut contradicted our standard business practices? During the restructure, I felt very strongly that I needed to consider my gut more, as it often ended up being more accurate in the long run than I gave it credit for. So while I was drafting up the new guild rules during that Summer of '08 at my Dad's farm up in Hudson Bay, one of the exercises I completed was to transcribe every single moment in time I could remember throughout the life of the guild in which my gut warned me that something wasn't right. Upon reviewing it, I made the decision to include it as an official post to educate my guild on those simple little common-sensical things...that aren't often as common-sense as we like to think.

I titled the post: Red Flags.

17 comments:

Zievarrenna said...

Ah, Ulduar. The raid in which, I believe, World of Warcraft "jumped the shark", as it were. The absolute pinnacle of raiding awesomeness. Nothing before had been quite as epic, and nothing since has approached it, either.

The guild I was part of during Wrath was one of the top 3 on our server, constantly gunning for position as we downed bosses and achievements in the (pre-nerf) Ulduar. And, let me tell you, after the ease of raiding in Sanctum and Naxxramas, Ulduar was a very rude wake-up call which led to some interesting rage quits.

I look forward to seeing how your guild fared.

Ryley Foshaug said...

As we approach my pinnacle of raiding success my anticipation climbs constantly. The last 2 weeks you have been sidestepping Ulduar and it's been killing me (softly). I honestly can't wait to see Ulduar from your point of view.

Anthies said...

I've been reading every chance I got for the last 2 days and finally caught up.

Wow.

So much of what you've talked about reminds me of my own time as an officer trying to push my guild into raiding back in vanilla, and then trying to become a better raider myself when I finally got the chance in TBC.

Thank you for sharing your story, and to your guildmates for allowing you to share their roles as well. I've once again found myself in an officer position, and have gained a whole new insight to my responsibilities to my guild and it's members as a result of this blog. I'll continue reading as long as you continue writing, sir.

/salute

Anthies
Prot Pally on Thrall-US

Shawn Holmes said...

@Ryley,

We're digging in soon! Have to set the stage, first. People play a much more important role in the story than they did in I and II, so the readers need to know who is who.

@Anthies,

Thanks very much for the support! Really glad to hear you enjoyed it enough to marathon your way through the current posts.

Plenty more to go!

Aubiece said...

Ulduar..

I still get goose bumps thinking about it...
I didn't start raiding till WoTLK
and Ulduar was the best in my view...
After reading the blog, and being
an officer, I have a greater appreciation of the GM and RL
in my 1st raiding guild. I would
have love to been a fly on the wall
watching their Officer Chat.
Thanks for the blog it is great!!

Chris Brown said...

Found your blog through WoW Insider and I didn't stop reading until I finished it.

Do you guys still play together? I can't wait another year for your weekly updates to make it to current content.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Chris,

There are only a few of us left, many of the core 25m team has gone on to other guilds or left the game entirely.

I know waiting is tough, but I commit to telling the entire story, so I hope you can stick around. In the meantime, share it with folks you think would also enjoy!

Chris Brown said...

That's unfortunate. Your group of guys sounds a lot like ours.

Keep up the story, I've already linked your blog to the people in my guild who would enjoy the read.

Shinryu said...

I just finally caught up in this epic story and an eagerly awaiting more...

Anonymous said...

I also found your blog through wow insider, and haven't been able to stop reading. I'm glad I caught up, but now I am eagerly awaiting more. Thank you for telling your story so vividly, I can't get enough. I came into wow late in cata, and I really wish I had played earlier after reading this.

Pete said...

Been brilliant reading your story, I can safely say we went through a very similar series of events! Being the GM of our guild from our pre raid days up until early TBC I can really empathize with you. Unfortunately I couldn't stick some of the drama TBC caused,but a fellow guildie took up the GM mantle and the guild went on! Anyway keep up the blog, looking forward to seeing what happens next! :)

Riskers said...

No love for a Mexican Rogue. :(

I jest. These have been entertaining reads filled to the brim with nostalgia. Keep up the good work, Shawn! I look forward to your next entry.

Best,
Jorge Ortega
Aka Riskers

Shawn Holmes said...

@Riskers,

See Post #29, SeƱor Riskers!

Tyler Iacono said...

Riskers!

Shawn, even though many may have since left the guild to pursue either life interests or to keep up with 25 man raiding, I and I'm sure most everyone else, still consider themselves DoD'ers. My most exciting experiences in WoW belong with DoD. We all had our ups and downs, but there was plenty to learn and take away from them. Cheers to the most passionate GM I know! Also, I'll be in Denver in July, maybe we can share a drink? Go to Blizzcon as well damnit, Oggie's awaits!

-Omaric/Ikey(bear)

Kelden said...

I'm a DoD'er, and there's nothing you can do about it! Mwahaha.

Stuck with me for life.

Someday when you are old and gray, sitting on your porch yelling at the neighborhood kids, you will think of me and how much I would have enjoyed that.

Auz said...

Argh! Caught up. Great read so far and looking forward to continued reading in the future. Thanks for sharing.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Auz,

Nice work! Although I officially make new posts each Tuesday, sharing them to various social networks, etc...astute readers have discovered that I typically make the post early, to preview / edit / cleanup.

Keep checking, and I guarantee you'll figure out what day of the week I preview posts on.