Thursday, September 12, 2013

3.32. Implications

XT-002 Deconstructor's heart is destroyed,
earning DoD "Heroic: Heartbreaker",
Ulduar

Grief from the Hardcore

The truly hardcore players...the ones who did everything in their power to re-arrange their real-life schedules to be present...were the ones I had to fight the hardest when it made sense to cancel a raid. Father's Day weekend was fast approaching and, like Mother's Day, had a handful of people choosing to spend it with their folks. It didn't make sense to force the raid to happen when so many players would be absent. Yet I knew exactly what was going to happen the minute I proposed the cancellation.

"I want us to raid that weekend, why does it have to be cancelled?" Cheeseus typed over an IM to me.

"Look, we have a ton of people already standing down. You want me to fill it with a bunch of players that don't know what they're doing? That sounds like a horrible idea if our goal is now hard-modes."

"They're not that hard!"

"Not to you, they're not. But what about Prodigie?"

Cheeseus was over 1500 miles away from me, but I could feel him wince at the suggestion of rotating in Divineseal's druid.

"That is the reality of the situation. You want me to make the Father's Day raid happen? You’re going to be looking at folks like him in the roster. Hey, if you can make it work...”

I had already delivered the news to Divineseal -- he'd be raiding on Prodigie from here on out. To continue to allow his sub-par healing in rotations would be a detriment to the raid, especially as we were now working to knock out Heroic: Glory of the Ulduar Raider. The short-term strategy was simple: put Divine into raids under a different name and role. Healers were the glue that held progression together; attempting to short-change the raid of their ability to survive spurts of panic and chaos wasn't a very sound business decision. By bringing his Boomkin, he could do far less damage to the raid. Meanwhile, the long-term strategy was already in play. Continue to recruit, bloat the pool up further by bringing in fresh meat. Hopefully, a shining star would step forward and push his way up past Divine...eventually squeezing him out of rotations completely.

Cancellations continued as we pushed into July, and there was more down the road to make me nervous about. My annual vacation was approaching, wherein I'd return to my Father's farm in Northern Saskatchewan, leaving me out of the rotations for a week. Furthermore, Blizzcon 2009 would take place a week past that, and while I'd already made up in my mind that we would be canceling raids that weekend, I knew that I would more than likely have to face Cheeseus' wrath amid his disgust with not pushing forward. With Cheeseus' continued pressure on me to make a decision regarding Crasian, coupled with my hesitance to lock down an entire role -- risking the loss of that group in anger -- I was forced to go back the drawing board on my approach.

Descendants of Draenor defeats Ignis
the Furnace Master in under 4 minutes,
earning "Heroic: Stokin' the Furnace",
Ulduar

The Vacation Tactic

The Elite rank couldn't continue without an adjustment. I had more people to promote and no available slots to play with, at least not without locking an entire role out of rotations. My only option was to pursue a modification to the Elite expectations, changing the verbiage from "You are expected to be present at every raid," to "You are expected to sign up for every raid." This negated one of the primary perks of being Elite: their guaranteed spot. If the verbiage wasn't right...if I didn't handle it with enough delicacy, I risked a mutiny of the core 25-Man progression raiders. These being the very folks whom I sought desperately to prevent alienating in the first place. My tactic would be to do it in such a way as to make the player feel that they were making the choice.

I had finally arrived at a point where a full roster of Elites for a particular role were in my hands. My guild's current ruleset dictated that they should all be expected to show up each week. This provided no floating spots for Raiders to be rotated into. With no Raiders floating into raids week-to-week, they would grow bored, neglected, and begin to seek shelter elsewhere on Deathwing-US. It was imperative that I took a handful of Raiders each week; I could never bring a raid fully comprised of Elites. But Elites were required to raid every week, per my explicit rules. I didn't want to take their guaranteed spot away. They'd feel betrayed, their hard work which separated them from the "casuals" tossed aside, making them feel insignificant.

I insisted on keeping the line between Raiders and Elites separate.

I thought about what Cheeseus had suggested -- that while I chose Raiders to be rotated out week-to-week, Elites themselves would be the ones to choose. This implied a focus on the player taking vacation. The model of Elite was already based on what struck me as the perfect employee: someone who is communicative, hard-working, goes above and beyond the call of duty. This was something Ater had pointed out to me in those many lunch hours we spent together in '07. So, in approaching Elite as a star employee, I focused my attention into the most noticeable perks of their loot, title, and guaranteed spot. What I needed to do was highlight another important part of what keeps a loyal, dedicated employee happy: time off.

It was time to crunch some numbers.

---

"You know all of the requirements around Elite, right?"

"Yup. Yeah, I read through, seems pretty straight forward," Crasian replied in Vent, "So, like, with time-off, I can take that whenever?"

"Absolutely. One night off every three months of raiding you accrue. But keep in mind any hours you've banked as a Raider will be available when you get promoted."

"Ah, sweet. So, do you like...track that on the website, or…"

I lied.

"Yup. Yes, it's all woven into the DKP. I cross-ref it with a spreadsheet I store on Google Docs. If it isn't clear, you know you can ping me. Just let me know ahead of time and I'll adjust it automatically."

Something I clearly planned to do reactively.

"Sweet." 

Crasian liked to punch his T's hard. Listening to him was like reading the phonetic pronunciations of each word in the dictionary. According to him, Sweet had three syllables instead of one.

"Now that more Elites are coming into the roster, there's going to be a need to move back and forth between various Elites, so that everyone gets a shot. Of course, you'll still always get priority over a Raider…”

"...oh, no doubt. No doubt."

"Yeah. So, if you want to sit for another Elite, y'know. Just come to me. Let me know ahead of time so that I can work it out on the schedule. Likewise, if I have to move people around, and you have to sit for say…"

I grabbed someone from The Eh Team.

"...Omaric, then you won't have to worry about eating into your vacation hours. I won't dock you for the ones that you don't step out of on your own. Make sense?"

"Totally", replied Crasian, "Should work great."

"Alright well...gratz on the promotion, Crasian. Welcome to the Elites! Let's see a little bit of that Eh Team skill in these 25-Man hard modes, eh?"

I pressed the "Promote Member" button. Mission accomplished.

Thorim is defeated while DoD is under the
influence of Aura of Celerity, earning them
 "Heroic: Who Needs Bloodlust?",
Ulduar

Proving Worthiness

As we worked our way through the rest of June, the 25-Man team scratched more achievements off the list. The weekend after defeating Yogg-Saron produced a two-tower kill of Flame Leviathan, and a Heroic: Heartbreaker. Killing XT-002 Deconstructor in hard mode was a sprint we narrowly hit with our gear level...so the addition of Crasian to the roster didn't hurt at all. His Death Knight was a damage dealing machine, and previously unreachable goals were once again within grasp. The final week of the month claimed two more achievements. The first was yet-another-sprint: Heroic: Stokin' the Furnace, defeating Ignis the Furnace Master in under four minutes. The other, Heroic: Who Needs Bloodlust?, forced us into a gimmicky kill of Thorim, one that had our priest Arterea mind-controlling a Dark Rune Warbringer, granting nearby allies Aura of Celerity for the kill. We punched out our time card at the end of the month, and thanks to the two sprints, our Heroic: Glory meta tally was at three of the needed thirteen

The weekly achievement spam made it feel like we were further ahead than we actually were, but no less motivated despite it. Ulduar overflowed with achievements...and this was a good thing. In the wake of Wrath's raid difficulties plummeting to unrecognizable lows, a steady stream of rewards flashing onto the screen was a constant reminder that we were doing something a little bit better than the average raiding guild -- pushing ourselves a little bit harder, straining ourselves to reach for that carrot. Ostensibly, this is one of the reasons why Ulduar remains so vivid in the memory of longtime World of Warcraft raiders. Though the first tier of Wrath (Naxxramas, Eye of Eternity and Obsidian Sanctum) did have their own hard mode achievements, Ulduar was the first to truly embrace them. The performance of a highly skilled raid was tied directly to the activation of some of these hard modes. It wasn't just a raid setting in the UI. You flipped the switch if...and only if you could reach it. 

Many could try, but only raiders that brought the complete package to the table would have a shot at reaching for the switch to activate a hard mode. This is why Ulduar felt like it had real purpose and challenge layered into its depths. In the old days, the requirements to raid were severe and not for the casual-at-heart. Attunements alone kept most players far, far away from the floating necropolis, or the commandeered Auchenai spaceship floating above Netherstorm's cracked remains. But come Wrath, the flood gates opened wide, and so many long-time raiders looked upon the new instances with contempt and disgust.

And yet…

Ulduar kept secrets beyond that of what simply resided in the lore, for it contained a far more impactful gating process -- one not tied simply to quest execution or an arbitrary gold sink. At the dawn of a new era of raiding which embraced the masses, Ulduar's real challenge lay protected behind gates that only the accomplished and proven would reach. Unlike Naxxramas, The Eye of Eternity, or Obsidian Sanctum, where players could throw themselves at hard modes without having a shred of competency to stand on, there were specific encounters in Ulduar that tested your worthiness. It was not the type of instance that favored smashing your head against a brick wall -- again, and again, and again.

You had to have the DPS necessary to break XT-002's heart. 

You couldn't destroy any Saronite Vapors. 

You needed to get to Sif before she left Thorim's side… 

...You had to defeat Yogg-Saron minus keepers in order to craft Val’anyr.

These tests of worthiness, in turn, bled their consequences over those remaining hard modes activated by more trivial means. Raiders were compelled to choose those hard modes judiciously, to be prepared...as opposed to raiders of the past, mindlessly throwing themselves at Patchwerk in blissful ignorance, wondering why they were nowhere near the 3-minute kill achievement. In Ulduar, progression was palpable, not a thing used to describe an abstract concept, a quantity of boss kills, or a toggle on the UI. It's path was very real. You could see it. You could reach out and press it, as if it were a gigantic red button, buried deep within the Spark of Imagination.

Pressing it...had implications...

3 comments:

chiflutz said...

Why are there no comments on this one ? I thought it had everything:
- lies and deceit to further progression, hashtag PeopleManagement
- carefully explained and detailed praise of Ulduar, with emphasis on the contrast between it and the initial tier of Wrath
- an ending with a delivery that makes you want to put on sunglasses and yell YYEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH

Shawn Holmes said...

@chiflutz,

Only the astute readers are the ones who comment! Perhaps more readers will see folks such as yourselves, build up the courage and, like XT...

...have a change of HEART.

Dalans said...

@Hanzo, allow me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ytCEuuW2_A