Thursday, November 28, 2013

3.43. Showtime!

The 25-Man Progression Team defeats The Twin Val'kyr in
under three minutes, earning "Salt and Pepper (25 Player)",
Tournament of Champions

The Definition of Insanity

Cheeseus had taken a bow and exited stage right. Upon his exit from DoD as raid leader, some significant hurdles remained. Omaric and Bretthew took control of our 25-Man progression team at a time when it was most critical for DoD. Only three meta achievements remained outstanding in our quest to complete Glory of the Ulduar Raider, but they were arguably the most difficult ones of the bunch. All eyes were on them as we returned to our instance locks that Sunday at the start of October 2009. How would they approach it? Would Omaric's voice impressions and Bretthew's chatty nature distract the team from focusing in on the most brutal of these final Ulduar achievements? Would the raid follow their direction, or get caught up in unrelated conversations as they began to wipe to trash? Did the boys have the capacity to keep the peace and identify problematic players, or were we headed into attempts that Blain warned me about years before; attempts where you repeat the same thing over and over, changing nothing yet expecting results. Would Omaric and Bretthew deliver? Or would they slowly drive us insane?

The lights dimmed, and the curtain went up on their first act.

For their first trick, Omaric and Bretthew drove the raid up through the Tournament of Champions and had us target a three-minute burn on The Twin Val'kyr. A month earlier, The Eh Team had knocked out "Salt and Pepper (10 Player)", so this achievement was a safe play for them. I casually suggested that they keep their strategy and opinions hidden away in officer chat. We needed to keep a handle on the perception that The Eh Team's influence was broadening in scope. Many of us had first-hand experience in performing the 10-Man version by this point, so it was common knowledge that "Salt and Pepper (10 Player)" was an order of magnitude easier to accomplish. Repeating this information to the twenty-five as a teaching device would have been a bad idea. That tactic could have been misinterpreted as "we beat it a month ago because we're better than you" -- a situation not so difficult to imagine in a game where the difficulty between 10 and 25 was blurring in the public eye every day.

After securing "Salt and Pepper (25 Player)", their next trick involved Mimiron. We were dodging mines, bursts of damage from mechanized guns, and making our way into phase three. Omaric directed the raid to leave an Assault Bot alive in an attempt to force Mimiron to destroy it with a rocket strike. As it turned out, I had an Assault Bot on me, and kited it around while Mimiron transitioned into his final phase, combining into a giant clockwork monstrosity. I scanned for the rocket blast targets being painted on the ground while the raid began to chip away at all three parts of Mimiron's body. I missed the first target by inches, but remained diligent, zooming my camera out and spinning it like a top, watching for new crosshairs to paint. Another showed up across the room and I made a mad dash for it, squinting as I prepared to mess up in some horrific fashion; the guild leader ever-confident in his abilities.

The Assault Bot tailing me sputtered, whirred, and fell backwards, while achievement spam lit up guild chat: "Not So Friendly Fire (25 Player)". We were clear to burn through Mimiron, and the steampunk Voltron soon sagged its shoulders as it ran out of power.

Their opening act was a success. The main event was yet to come.

DoD defeats Freya with all three Elders alive,
earning "Knock Knock Knock on Wood (25 Player)",

Knock Knock Knock

To say there was a lot going on would be an understatement.

Freya's adds made up the majority of our suffering. While Ancient Protector himself wasn't terribly oppressive (as the raid very quickly moved under mushrooms to evade the silence from Conservator's Grip), a random person would be selected for Nature's Fury, doing repeated damage to players in close proximity. If players were sharp, the Nature's Fury target would zip away from us in no time at all. It didn't always play out that way. The ring of Detonating Lashers were also not much fun. A warrior tank could deliver a Shockwave to AoE stun them, allowing the casters to chain into a massive shower of AoE damage, while we gained a safe distance from their explosives deaths.

It was a pity, then, that our warrior tank decided to become a druid.

Meanwhile, I had my own struggles to deal with. Snaplasher, Storm Lasher, and Ancient Water Elemental all spawned together, and required us to kill them within twelve seconds of one another. Yet, the "group up and AoE down" method wouldn't fly here, either. While Storm Lasher's chain lightning could be mitigated with stuns, Riskers was having a tough time of it on his own as the sole remaining rogue in progression. Ancient Water Elemental had a tendency to want to charge out in a random direction, and made it difficult to keep damage focused on him. As it turned out, both of these adds were my responsibility. Meanwhile, Snaplasher was kited away, its own damage growing as its health dropped. In 10-Man, the Snaplasher would eventually be frozen into position, affording the kiter a buffer of freedom. In 25-Man there was no such allowance. Poor timing on the part of the kiter would cause player death as Snaplasher's own life came to an end.

The deficiencies of modifying a 10-Man strategy for the 25 were starting to rear their ugly head, and the audience grew restless.

Mangetsu, along with his warlock officer Eacavissi, worked  in tandem to perfect an extended Shadowfury chain, which Turtleman helped augment with a Frost Nova tagged on the tail. This was our best bet to eliminate the threat from the ring of Detonating Lashers. Meanwhile, Bretthew, Omaric and I worked on our own system: Ikey-bear held Freya while Bretthew AoE taunted Snaplasher, Storm Lasher and Ancient Water Elemental. Without skipping a beat, Ikey would pull Freya back (as she was also subject to Bretthew's AoE taunt), while I gripped Storm Lasher and Ancient Water Elemental, facing them away and keeping tabs on Riskers so he was in range for stunlocks.

The baby steps slowly emerged over the course of the evening. The Detonating Lashers remained in place just a bit longer. Those with Nature's Fury moved away from the group a bit faster. The Snaplasher dealt far less fatal blows to random players in the raid. But it was grueling to perfect, and our attempts filled up the evening. Even when all looked good and we transitioned into the final phase, Freya still managed to play us, locking random players down with grasping roots, only to end their lives with the toss of spore-like bombs that we needed to avoid.

The worst part is when you feel like you have a phase down, only to be awakened to the brutal truth that you have absolutely no handle on what comes next -- and the work begins anew. In the days of Kael'thas Sunstrider, this sort of raid mentality was par for the course: entire weekends spent working on one phase, while four more waited in the wings. But now, in a new era of raiding where everything was a "pushover", getting a taste of what got us here was a bitter pill to swallow.

"Knock Knock Knock on Wood (25 Player)" eventually wrapped late that evening, in DoD's trademark famous last pull of the night. We sealed the deal eight minutes past our raid end time. Exhausted, we congratulated one another and retired for the night, replenishing our energy in preparation for the remaining two metas. The raid retired, rather. A guild leader's business, as they say, is often never done.

Jungard and Crasian go head-to-head in Recount as
the guild wraps up "Con-speed-atory (25 Player)",

An Axe to Grind

The decision on Shadowmourne still hadn't been made; a melee officer promotion hung in the balance. With two tanks now leading raids, melee lacked guidance -- a role formerly held by Cheeseus. I was lucky that talented players like Riskers were able to work through their own issues as he had on that evening's boss kill. But our guild needed to provide a better support mechanism than that. We weren't a true hardcore raiding guild; it was unfair to expect that every player could act as their own troubleshooter. It was our job to provide an official person in which to assign the responsibility. If we claimed to take players of all shapes and sizes (read: skill levels), we had an obligation to prevent them from impeding the work of our existing successful core. I needed a melee person that excelled to such a degree that they could not only keep their own shit straight, but had the capacity to clean up after other people's messes as well. Weighing the options on deck, two names rose to prominence.

First on this list was Crasian, the Eh Team's resident death knight who demolished the damage meters each night in our progression raids. Having climbed up to Elite rank, he was one of the primary drivers behind Descendants of Draenor's melee DPS being absurd throughout Wrath. Crasian was a likable guy, full of energy and carried with him a completionist mindset -- he was one of the first guild members to finish Glory of the Dungeon hero, earning a Red Proto-Drake in the process. Crasian had been sacrificing much of his spare time to help others knock out these heroic 5-man achievements, demonstrating that guild spirit I often looked for in people. Still, he was reasonably new to the guild, so his perceived selflessness had to be tempered carefully against other criteria. Crasian made a regular habit of checking in with me on the status of my decision regarding the legendary, and I assured him it was my number one priority. One thing was certain: putting Shadowmourne into his hands would secure his place in the #1 DPS spot for many months to come, and when I imagined how many heroic mode kills his boosted DPS would guarantee us, flashing images of golden achievement bars filled me with glee.

A second option existed, the yin to Crasian's yang. The warrior we called Jungard had been a steady source of high quality melee DPS since joining our 25-Man progression raid late in Mount Hyjal, way back in The Burning Crusade. Jungard was less of a show-boater than Crasian, but no less timid than the death knight when wrecking the meters. Jungard had recently helped grandfather his brother's guild into ours, augmenting the roster and adding another 10-Man team to the weekly clears. Jungard and I saw eye-to-eye on a good many things, and shared conversations over IM. He supported my changing guild structure as we moved from TBC to WotLK, and never once missed a raid he hadn't cleared with me before hand. Jungard was one of those few individuals that had never red flagged me once; never for a moment giving me a question to doubt his loyalty or honesty -- and with every bit of praise I showered on to him, he remained humble, thankful, and ready to prove himself worthy at the start of the next raid weekend. It stood to reason, then, that Jungard wielding a Shadowmourne in one hand and a Shadow's Edge in the other would be a force that few on Deathwing-US could threaten.

With my sights set on both Crasian and Jungard, the next quest in my log was clear to complete: Promote a New Melee Officer. It was time to schedule some interviews.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

3.42. The Talking Cricket is Dead

Audio from the final minute
of DoD's first kill of Morogrim Tidewalker

The Fan Who Played

The warriors of Descendants of Draenor had a curious way of consistently leaving their mark.

By now, the stories of both Ater and Annihilation should be no secret, but their stories aren't a reflection of the only contribution warriors had on DoD. Many other names came and went, painting plate wearers in various degrees of both light and shade. Burburbur famously stepped away from a raid for a moment to shoot a raccoon off his porch. Abrinis once excused himself, proclaiming "a car just drove through my living room wall". Thangrave will be remembered as having looted every edged weapon out of Molten Core and Blackwing Lair. Darange was responsible for setting up the initial meet between The Final Cut and Descendants of Draenor; the interview that ultimately led to our assimilation of their guild, catalyzing our start in Molten Core. Rocraw pushed the front line during The Burning Crusade and helped drive our content until a failed relationship with another guildy took him out of the limelight. And who could forget Kurst, the officer that could never be. Even now, it looked liked another warrior (in spirit, at least) would once again take center stage: Omaric. Each warrior's mark either signified a bright or dark day for DoD. But it seemed to me that no warrior worked harder to change their particular mark than the one who called himself Taba. It was because of his unending effort to scrub his past that I struggled with the decision before me.

If you know someone that has a special knack of stretching out the phrase "come on...." as your team is about to score, much in the way one would use it while trying to start a stubborn lawnmower, then you have an idea of what role Taba played in DoD. Taba was one of those players; the kind of player that channeled the raid's impending victory into Ventrilo, building momentum with every last second. He was a player that felt the game, knew when we were closing in on the kill, could taste the sweet victory that loomed. If our raid leader was the team's coach, then Taba most certainly was its number-one fan. Taba would often jump into Vent and let me know about a commissioned piece of art he was having made up featuring major players in DoD's history -- the perfect example of a project a die-hard fan would take on. But how many fans get to play for the team? He was our own Tim "Ripper" Owens, a DoD enthusiast who got the chance to show us what he was made of, rising from his early days as a warrior in a monstrous guild, to leading the charge at the precipice of greatness. From the victory dance (in real-life) after acquiring Ashkandi off a fallen Nefarian, to holding the line of Murlocs as they swarmed in during Morogrim Tidewalker, Taba had played an integral role in DoD since the very early days of our raiding career.

My internal struggle, then, was the red flag. Or more appropriately, the fact that I had already swept it under the rug.

Bretthew and Omaric had an
"interesting" working relationship

Misguided Conscience

I moved past the little white lie about being hacked; Taba -- now Bretthew the paladin -- had come clean. He was back to reclaim his former glory and wipe the slate clean. The Eh Team had made him a core member of the group and through their efforts, had risen to glory on Deathwing-US as an unbeatable 10-Man team. Players graciously stepped aside to allow him into the 25-Man rotations so that he could begin to provide tanking support on a regular basis. Omaric, my choice to take up the mantle of raid leadership, had proposed Bretthew as his partner; dual raid leaders -- something we hadn't seen since the days of Ater and Blain. I desperately wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, yet my written rules on how to address red flags continued to glare back at me. Give me a reason to doubt your integrity, and a position of authority is off the table. Humans make mistakes, forgiveness was divine. But it didn't change what happened, and that trust he earned was wiped away in an instant. And my hard-and-fast rule said there would be no earning it back.

The evidence mounted that Bretthew was a changed man, fully absolved of his past. He wasn't languishing in denial, but rather was accepting of those events and put forth every ounce of effort to scrape that old mark off our history, and replace it with a new one. In the midst of my summer vacation, I logged on remotely to check in-game mail, only to see The Eh Team wrap up Glory of the Ulduar Raider, and in a huge spam of congratulatory cheers from the guild, another round of peer pressure was sent my way via whispers. C'mon! Just go ahead and promote Bretthew to Elite, already! He's earned it, hasn't he? Look how great the team is doing! They were right. So, in that moment, I gave the final member of The Eh Team a promotion to Elite. Bretthew had more than made up for any past injustices levied on me. Perhaps it was time to quit dwelling on the past.

It wasn't so much that I expected Bretthew to earn back my trust, but instead, that I didn't expect myself to be prepared to grant it.

So, I made the call. I smashed the cricket dead and agreed to Omaric's proposal, telling the two of them that I had no actual written rule about dual raid leaders for the time being. With the two of them in Vent, we worked through the ground rules. You must be unified in your approach. There can't be any public fighting between the two of you over a given strategy; take debates offline. You must back each other up at all costs, and sweep any personal differences of opinion aside until after the raid. Debates will breed dissent, and when the raiders start second-guessing you, they’ll begin to offer up their own two cents on how things should be done. That evening, we agreed to put an end to backseat raid leading, "It dies this day."

With new leadership taking the reins that weekend, a depressing task remained: seeing off the old blood.

The 25-Man progression team defeats Freya with two
Elders alive, earning "Knock Knock on Wood (25 Player)",

Cutting the Cheese

The conversation over IM that morning was as if nothing was changing. I sipped my coffee, reviewing some of my code at work, while the chat window filled with text from Cheeseus. He spoke of a math problem puzzling him, a hobby I'd since come to recognize as his means of sharing a nerdy passion among fellow gamers. Perhaps "solving for x" was his way of distracting himself from the more serious topic of his impending retirement from leading raids, a mantle he only held within the guild for one tier of content. Two weeks prior, he delivered the fatal blow: he was unable to pull himself out of the funk caused by a perception that we were failing. In his eyes, the blame rested solely on his shoulders. I made a concerted effort to convince him to reconsider, but I wasn't going to break my back over this upcoming changing of the guard. I'd lost far too many nights of sleep over the exit of high ranked players in my guild.

My expectations of guildies changed at the start of Wrath; I planned for players to leave. Player deficit was already in the budget before the first piece of loot ever dropped. Leadership held no get-out-of-jail-free-card in this respect. Even when my officers were solid, my ear was to the ground, listening for the threat of incoming change and grooming players as future replacements. Change begat change.

As we discussed the necessary changes to a race car's acceleration in order to match a new average speed, I began to zone out. My brain argued amongst itself, just as it had in dealing with the decision to accept Bretthew into a position of authority. The old, "pre-WotLK" me was struggling with his apparent denial of the situation. Why aren't you discussing your retirement? Don't you feel guilty about leaving the raid behind? Don't you have more work to do before this expansion ends? The new me kept it at bay. Quit dwelling. It isn't worth losing sleep over. He's made his bed. Omaric and Bretthew have a new show to put on. Business is business. That weekend would be Cheeseus' final raid as leader -- his last, great performance.

That evening, we managed to wrap up three more achievements, and although none of them were metas for Glory, one acted as a stepping stool to a needed meta. The first of these final badges under Chesseus' watch was "Must Deconstruct Faster (25 Player)", earned by dropping XT-002 in under 205 seconds -- just a tad under 3 ½ minutes. The second was "Rubble and Roll (25 Player)", forcing us to spawn twenty-five rubble minions from Kologarn's destroyed arms. The stepping stool achievement, which took us through the end of the evening, was "Knock Knock on Wood (25 Player)". This time around, the 25-Man progression team defeated Freya deep in her Conservatory of Life while being assisted by two Elders. Cheeseus opted to keep Stonebark and Ironbranch up, granting both Freya and her minions an additional 50% physical damage bonus. It was challenging but not oppressive...the real test would come later when the third Elder looped in an additional 50% nature damage to both Freya and her minions. Under those circumstances, blanketing the soft earth with a shower of AoE spells would ignite her adds, setting off a chain reaction that would blow the entire raid apart. It was an obstacle quickly approaching, just not one Cheeseus himself would have to deal with.


The raid wished Cheeseus well as the curtain drew to a close on the evening's performance. He shared with them that he wouldn't be too far away, watching their progress from the forums and popping into Ventrilo on occasion. He wouldn't be gone entirely, no...he wouldn't be that lucky. Our daily conversations would continue on to this very day, which was important -- because we still had one important topic to discuss...

...a topic I would not find out about until the end of Wrath of the Lich King.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

3.41. Lady Prestor Never Learns

Kerulak heals through the final moments as
Descendants of Draenor defeats Onyxia (40-Man),
Onyxia's Lair

Scooby Snacks

"Where we headed tonight, Hanzo?"

There were no shortage of options to choose from. We were two weeks into regularly farming content in Trial of the Crusader, which meant we were more than adequately equipped to work on heroics in Trial of the Grand Crusader. There was also work left to do in the titan city of Ulduar; only four metas remained in our quest to conquer Glory. Neither instance could be eliminated from the to-do list just yet. Gearing was still happening in both the main 25-Man progression, and in the alt 25-Man run. Traditionally, Annihilation had run the Alt-25 on Saturday evenings, as his schedule was much more manageable then. Unable to contribute to the progression raid as he did during Vanilla, Annihilation led a makeshift crew every Saturday night to continue to gear and vet people. Recently, he'd taken a bit of time off from the Alt-25 and handed the reins to Crasian in the interim. Even with two 25s a week, players still lacked gear, but displayed no similar deficiency of interest to raid. Having a lot of options was a good thing. A great thing for us in particular.

The "problems" of today were very different than that of Vanilla. Shutting one instance down in lieu of another wasn't going to work; the roster had too many opinions. It seemed like a lifetime ago, the hard decision I made in Vanilla to shut down AQ40 to make room for progress in Naxxramas left some of my most dedicated, hardcore folks with a bad taste in their mouth. This time around, we'd divide our time evenly, until Glory of the Ulduar Raider was complete. Amid all the greatness of these options. there were still speed bumps to handle. The side-effect of splitting our time equally between ToGC and Ulduar was that my normally consistent raid signups began to skew heavily in one direction or the other. Fridays we would come up short on healer signups, and Sundays boasted a lack of Ranged DPS. The message was painfully clear: Raiders, who normally enjoyed more flexibility in their signups, began to sign up for only the raids they wanted. And by 'wanted', I mean the ones in which bosses dropped gear they had their eye on.

It always comes back to loot.

The curious experiment unfolded; amoeba left alone in the petri dish, driven by their primal instincts. It seemed that no amount of guild camaraderie, team spirit, or acknowledgement of triumphant effort would penetrate the thick membrane of some players. No matter how noble the cause of the guild they called home, their allegiance was always to themselves first. If I didn't explicitly point it out to them, they were none the wiser -- lost in their own dreams of gearing to the tooth, unintentionally following a path that suited only them. Other players weren't as transparent. A conspiracy theorist might hypothesize that they were putting on a front, faking their dedication while manipulating the system to suit their own needs. Feign interest in the guild and teamwork...for the greater good of loot. I didn't hold it against them. Human nature is what it is and it wants what it wants. My job as the guild leader wasn't to change their minds; I already knew that was impossible. My job was to make sure guardrails were in place to keep the bowling ball from hitting the gutter.

In order to keep the signup entropy at bay, we randomized which instance we'd start with on Friday night. Until invites were complete and everyone was departing Dalaran, the evening's raid would remain a mystery, and no hippy teenagers were going to meddle in this grand plan. So, as invites finished up and the request piped in over Vent, I threw the Mystery Machine off the scent.

"Head to Dustwallow Marsh. Time to pay a visit to an old friend."

Mature tanks an internet dragon, while
Descendants of Draenor defeats Onyxia (25 Player),
Onyxia's Lair

A New Fantastic Point of View

Five long years.

It had been a five year roller-coaster ride of craziness and brutality, and for those of us still around, it was hard to comprehend. What game had any of us played for this amount of time? I couldn't think of any. Certainly, there were titles that I played on and off over the course of five years...but never one title every single day of my life. By any measurement, World of Warcraft had been a colossal success, and when some MMOs boasted a quarter of a million players on their best day, WoW had ballooned up to 11.5 million worldwide. No MMO could touch it, even though many continued to try. I had zero interest in exploring others. The story, the lore, the challenge, the raiding, and the guild were all the reasons I needed to keep coming back. To commemorate their five year grip on the genre, Blizzard threw us a surprise bone midway between patch 3.2 and 3.3. We returned to Dustwallow Marsh, and looked up an old flame. The Alliance know her as the conniving Lady Prestor, but for the majority of the Horde, we called her by her true name:


After clearing familiar trash, we stood face to face with our old friend, the very first internet dragon I ever slew. Once a 40-Man raid boss, we struggled with her for six weeks during Vanilla. In between our Molten Core runs, we snuck into her lair, practicing our positioning and our healing buddy system. In those days, our raid lacked structure and consistency. We threw together whomever we could...and went. Annihilation, then in charge of my warriors, was our dedicated Fire Resistance tank, so it was decided he would hold the bird in place while the rest of us scraped away at her scales, the giant dragon batting us away like mosquitoes. Anni would often call me on the phone, ad-hoc, to see if I could jump online for Onyxia attempts, and I'd race back to the computer, log on to Kerulak, in the hopes of getting another round of loot distributed to the raid, getting them one step closer to a Ragnaros kill, one foot in the door of Blackwing Lair. There was no phpRaider, no signups, no vetting raiders, or promoting Elites...

...we'd come a long way from those days.

As we wrapped up the buffs, I examined the roster. Only a handful of original 40-Man raiders remained, and only three of them were present for our first Onyxia kill: Dalans, Sir Klocker, and myself. Turtleman had missed the first kill; both Neps and Bretthew joined later on in Vanilla. And Bheer, hmm...memory was fuzzy. I shot him a tell.

"Were you here for our first kill, back in the day?"

"Nah", Bheer replied, "I brought Kragnl a little later on."

"Ah. Well, you are still one of the original 40-Man core. It's good to have you here."

Bheer sent back a smiley. The next whisper arrived via Cheeseus.

"Would you like to do the honors?"

"I remain but a humble puppet."

He took it to Vent, "Who thinks Mature should tank her?"

A round of a booing and profanity lit my headphones up that it nearly brought a tear to my eye. Wise-asses.

"Sounds like the mob has spoken. Mature it is. Ikey and Taba are on adds."

I was still getting used to hearing 'Ikey' in Vent, but Omaric wasn't kidding when he said he was cutting over to his druid, and it looked to be official from this point forward. I gave everyone the count down, ran in and grabbed the bird by the proverbial horns. The raid cut deeply into her scaled armor while I kept her pointed in the same direction Annihilation had for so many months in DoD's past. She soon took to the air and the tiny dragon whelps swarmed onto us. Mangetsu, more excited than ever, lept into the middle of the group spamming a yell macro:


The lovable nerd brought down a rain of fire on to the whelps, and within seconds, World of Warcraft began to lock up.

"Whoa whoa whoa! What the shit?"

"Losing it...I'm disconnecting. I think. Ah. Yeah. Gone."

"Fucking typical. Nice work, Blizzard. Five years and you still can't get this raid to work correctly."

"Calm down, relax. It's probably a bunch of outdated add-ons. Just deal with it."

The view inside Onyxia's lair became a slideshow as my game client choked and sputtered. Ten seconds passed by before things began to smooth back out. I glanced at the raid. Six people were offline; 24% of the raid. Years earlier, our first kill boasted a total of seventeen players dead when Ony hit the floor -- a percentage somewhat closer to 42%.

"Ok, relax, it's responding for us again. Just log back in."

One by one, those who disconnected returned to the instance, their toons re-materializing in the spot where the whelplings were destroyed. Ony was back on the ground by this point, and I already had her repositioned in Anni's old spot. The raid resumed their attacks and her health pool whittled away, ending with her giant body flopping to the cave floor in a death animation forever burned into our brains.

Killed in one pull, even with six disconnections half-way through the encounter. The ol' bird deserved better than this.

The 25-Man progression team slays Auriaya while
keeping her Sanctum Sentries alive, earning
"Crazy Cat Lady (25 Player)",

Indecent Proposal

Kologarn's body fell backwards, collapsing to form a bridge to the Antechamber, and our screens lit up with another achievement, "With Open Arms (25 Player)", the result of having defeated him without destroying either arm.

"I believe that's a Server 2nd."

I was a bit taken aback.

"Really?....huh. It didn't seem all that tricky."

"Well, it's a matter of discipline, really. It's easy to pour too much into the hands to free people, breaking them in the process."

We moved into position for Auriaya to attempt to knock out another meta, Crazy Cat Lady. For this strategy, Dalans and I held two sentinels each, while Taba held Auiraya, and Omaric (now Ikey), did double duty: Feral Defender tank, when it was alive, and whatever kitty DPS he could contribute to the boss when the Defender was dead. The most complex part of this hard mode, more than anything else, was still the initial pull. When all four sentinels were in proximity of one another, they one-shot even the most well-geared tanks in the game. Staggering the pull and separating them was a tricky but doable tactic to survive the first few seconds of the fight. Once in position, holding a pair of cats away from Dalans took little effort, and thanks to Death Grip, switching packs of cats with him was a breeze. Before the night was over, we had drawn a line through "Crazy Cat Lady (25 Player)", and with its completion, only three metas remained.

"Nice work everyone, that wasn't too bad, eh?"

Bulwinkul piped up, "Yeah, we knocked that one out back in May."

The Eh Team strikes again.


"So...I've been giving the job a bit of thought. I have a proposal for you."

"Ok...I'm listening."

"How would you feel...about the possibility of maybe having two raid leaders?"

Omaric's offer was a bit unorthodox; certainly not one I'd considered. But, there was merit in this. Perhaps they could share the weight, taking the load off of each other, perhaps their time-until-burned-out would be lengthened. It could only work if they held a completely unified front; neither Omaric nor his backup could ever once argue with one another. They had to appear to always act in unison; one indivisible unit at the head of the raid. It could work. Maybe.

"Well, I don't see why not. I suppose it depends on who your partner is. Who's the lucky gal?"

"What would you say if I suggested Taba?"

Bretthew. Mother of God.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

3.40. Seven Hours With a Backseat Raid Leader

The 25-Man progression raid moves into position
to begin work on Illidan the Betrayer,
Black Temple

Poker Face

"Got a minute?"

"Yeah, sure. What's up?"

"I'm having a bit of a problem. I need your help. Specifically, your expertise in the area of the warrior class."

"Ok...what kind of problem?"

I pause and take a deep breath as I consider how to phrase it with a bit of dignity and tact.

"Omaric, how do you feel about Kurst?"

"Good guy. I like him. He's super friendly."

"Yeah, he is a good guy."

An awkward silence follows. Omaric breaks it.

"If this is about me not being able to get in for Illidan, I realize that I still need to work my way into the rotations…"

"Oh no, no it''s nothing like that at all. You're great. We're working on getting you into Black Temple as soon as we can."

"Nice. Thanks."


"I realize you're new here and still trying to make a name for yourself so I'm going to go out on a limb and ask you to be brutally honest with me."


"What do you think of Kurst's...ability as a tank?"

A pause.

"Personally? I dunno. I mean...he's obviously competent. Right? I mean, he knows what he's doing..."

I push him.

"...but do you feel like he's a leader? Is he someone you strive to emulate? Are you rushing out and gemming like him, changing your rotation to be more like his…"

Omaric chuckles.

"Heh, no...not quite ready to make those changes yet."

I press further.

"Now why is that?"

This time, Omaric takes the deep breath.

"Um...I don't know that his gemming strategy is necessarily right for him, or for us."


Another deep breath.

"A lot of world first, server first type tanks are gemming full stamina like that. Bru for one."

I stay silent to see if he gives me more.

"Look. Healers like predictable amounts of damage. When a warrior gems stamina like that, they're giving healers a solid buffer of constant, predictable damage to heal through. But these are also server first type healers, right?"

They manage their mana.

"I mean, there's a cost to that server-first style."

"And that is?"

"Well for the tank, a loss in threat generation, usually. Maybe not a huge issue..."

"...unless you're a tank that already struggles to keep threat."


"So, you feel like he's maybe doing a disservice to our healers and himself with this gemming strategy?"

I can tell in these long pauses he doesn't want to say the wrong thing and do himself in. We're not a world first guild, don't have world first healers. Tanks that temper stamina with mitigation and avoidance stats give more casual healers a chance to catch their breath, granting them some breathing room during streaks of dodges and parries. He doesn't want to throw his new officer under the bus. He wants to be diplomatic, respectful.

Traits that will come in handy later.

"Maybe it's not the best for him, no."

"Omaric, say no more. You've been very helpful. I really appreciate you giving me a few minutes this evening. With this attention to detail, I promise you that you'll be seeing raids very shortly."

General Vezax is slain along side the Saronite Animus, earning
the raid "I Love The Smell of Saronite in the Morning (25 Player)",

A Series of Unnecessary Hoops

The longest stretch of road between Williston, North Dakota and Denver, Colorado has to be the 260 miles that sit between Watford City and Sturgis. It is a painfully long and uneventful stretch of asphalt that provides a long-distance driver with very little to focus on. I was fine without the distractions, since I had plenty on my mind. One month after the nightmarish breakdown, the Civic's transmission had finally been replaced. Driving it home was the final loose end that had to be tied up in real life, yet loose ends were still plaguing the guild in the virtual world. Cheeseus had made it clear that his raid leading days were fast coming to an end, and I needed to decide on his replacement. My mental game of Guess Who? pointed me to Omaric as the next logical choice to step into his shoes, but I had concerns to weigh. Which was perfect, considering I had nothing else to do for the next ten hours.

In the fifteen months since joining Descendants of Draenor, Omaric had continually been representative of that cream that rose to the top. He was the sort of player you didn't hesitate in bringing along when it was time to get shit done, tackling content with the finesse of an expert player. He wasn't terribly egotistical, but cheered with pride just as hard as some of the old-school vanilla players when content got smashed into the ground. He shared my love of voice impressions and managed to get Vent laughing on many occasions, especially when doing the Movie Guy:

In a world. Where one keyboard turner. Leads one guild. To victory. Now. More than ever. They have what it takes to clean up the Deathwing server. Descendants of Draenor. Starts Friday in a theater near you.

My "Deckard Cain" couldn't compete with that. Omaric nailed his voice impressions just as easily as he nailed warrior tanking. Which is why I gambled on taking him aside one evening and asking him to spill the beans on Kurst, just to confirm my own suspicions that things weren't being led as well as I had hoped. Omaric was honest with me that day, even amid the threat that word could get back to Kurst and make his life in DoD miserable. He wanted to lay his hand completely face up but used a bit of discretion instead, which meant he cared about the persona he projected. The prospect of appointing him my next raid leader grew alongside the tick of the odometer.

The loose ends were still daunting. Omaric had a tendency to get riled up during raids, especially in the face of repeated wipes. He was one of the first players to bring the strategy into question if we weren't making noticeable progress with each try. Why don't we do it this way? I don't understand why we don't just do this. Why do we have to go through the extra effort of doing these things? It doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to have people do these things here when they can have their attention focused over there instead. When my raiders challenged the raid leader's strategy, I was at my most vulnerable. I could do nothing but sit back and watch, hoping the raid leader would give birth to a rational, logical explanation while I pressed my face up against the glass, practicing my breathing exercises. As if that would help the labor at all.

Backseat raid leading was something that had plagued both Blain and Cheeseus. Both rogues had proven themselves perfectly viable, knowledgeable raid leaders. Yet both suffered the same fate: both had to face the wrath of random players who felt they knew better -- and couldn't understand why these rogues were making us jump through a lot of unnecessary hoops. But my expertise wasn't in raid strategy, which is exactly why I delegated that role to Blain and Cheese. I didn't have the tools to defend the reasons why they ran the show the way that they did; it was up to them to fight their own battles. Unfortunately, they rarely did. And the contempt built up silently inside them instead.

I stared at the miles of road stretching out into the distance, disappearing over the horizon, and tried to shuffle these variables around in my head. Perhaps if Omaric was in the role of raid leader, then this issue would be moot. He would no longer be challenging the raid leader's strategy because he'd be responsible for dictating it himself. But how would he respond to others backseat raid leading with him in the driver's seat? Would he stand up for himself and defend his reasoning? Or would he go silent like the rogues before him, letting the rage bar build up inside until it was time to execute.

And of course, there was still the issue of how to handle Shadowmourne

Steelbreaker is the last to die during an attempt on The Assembly
of Iron, earning the raid "I Choose You, Steelbreaker (25 Player)",

That Wonderfully Awkward Vibe

One weekend had already gone into The General's hard mode. All attempts had been close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades. The kick rotation was particularly unforgiving, yet essential for a win, so any missed interrupt on Vezax's Searing Flames would spiral the attempt out of control. My own ace in the hole for this part was a Quartz focus cast bar married to a Strangulate macro. This allowed me to see the incoming casts Vezax wound up while I had the Animus on me, and was still able to silence him before the damage was done. Patience and practice would ultimately win the day as we transitioned into the Animus, picking him up and keeping him held down tightly while DPS burned him as fast as possible. Finally, we transitioned back to Vezax for the kill. The "I Love the Smell of Saronite in the Morning (25 Player)" achievement spammed our chat windows, and we looted, preparing to head to Yogg. Cheeseus intervened.

"Hold up," said the rogue, "head back to the Antechamber."

I shot Cheeseus a /tell, "Changing things up, eh? You're full of surprises."

"Keeps 'em on their toes," he replied, "we have work to do."

Easy and Medium difficulties were already ancient history; Brundir and Molgeim both had their moment in the spotlight to be killed last by the 25-Man progression team. The task before us now was to defeat Steelbreaker last, a mode that would be devastating to his tank for multiple reasons. Steelbreaker's Fusion Punch would grow in power as his council members fell, to the point that tank cooldowns wouldn't be enough to survive; it demanded an additional protective rotation from the healers. But the real gimmick here was Overwhelming Power.

In the final burn on Steelbreaker, he would debuff his current tank, a time-bomb now ticking which would annihilate the tank and everyone around him after half a minute. Cheeseus had very specific instructions for Bretthew and I in regards to this debuff: Mature eats the brunt of the damage, Bretthew taunts to receive the debuff, then takes it away from the group and dies, to be battle rezzed and rejoin for the last few percent. Crystal clear in its description, a bit more challenging to pull off in reality. Steelbreaker hit like a truck. I measured my cooldown usage carefully; Unbreakable Armor, Icebound Fortitude, Bone Shield, Anti-Magic Shell. In Wrath, Death Knights had plenty of tools to mitigate damage, and I used every one I had at my disposal. But Steelbreaker broke me multiple times, and we fell short by only a few percent on each successive attempt. Close. But still not close enough.

As we ran back between wipes, the balloon finally burst, right on schedule.

"I don't understand why we don't just put Taba on Steelbreaker instead of Mature. Hello, paladin? He can bubble and dispel himself."

Angered enveloped me. We don't change strategy mid-raid. I was losing Cheeseus to backseat raid leading (among other things), and the very person I was considering as his replacement was the one doing the damage. I raged.

"Because that isn't the raid leader's strat, Omaric. This isn't a fucking democracy. If you want to be the raid leader, let me know. Got it? Until then, Cheese is running the show. And what he what we do."

The awkward vibe of a pissed-off guild leader blanketed Vent into silence. I regained composure.

"Now, Cheese, if you will...please continue."

It wasn't my place to fight the raid leader's battles for him. I needed to make a deal with myself that I wouldn't lose my shit again -- but whomever ended up replacing Cheeseus was going to have to stand their ground. They were going to need a backbone. Enough of one to even tell me when to shut the hell up.