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.


Cheeseus said...

I'm hard pressed to remember, but I believe that that explosion went through bubble.

Also, as a pali, I did have Brett taking the ability.

In short - Omaric's a dick.

Blain said...

I think it was relatively easy to tell you to shut the hell up, Shawn.

Shawn Holmes said...


For some it was!

Dalans said...

And some, once started talking, never stopped...

/nod Blain

Fred said...

I miss these days........ Perhaps if the new xpac announced tomorrow actually is a time travel expansion, we can go back and stop Cata from ever being released.

Blain said...



Ya'll just had to open Pandora's Box in BWL.

Giuoco said...

I'm now caught up from the beginning entries.

I'm thoroughly enjoying the story. I've always had the desire to be a an active raider, but been unable to carve the time out of my schedule. I also know with my obsessive compulsive personality it's probably a bad idea because I would become quickly obsessed to the detriment of any kind of life balance.

I feel like I can live some part of that fantasy through reading your blog. Your a brave person to be so revealing in your accounts. I would be worried that there would be a huge debate over versions of events from those involved.

These entries will make a fantastic book soon I'm sure and I'm betting there is a large audience which could easily relate to it.

What might be interesting too is a fictional version of the life of a raid guild. You could base some of the characters on real people, but have the freedom to write from their point of view without having to qualify everything as your opinion or impression.

Anyway, keep up the great work.
You've made me a fan and I can't wait for more.

Shawn Holmes said...


Achievement unlocked! Gratz on marathoning your way through the blog thus far.

I'll admit it was terrifying, at first, to start to tell this story and reveal as much as I am. The various people involved have not only supported the telling of this story, they are assisting along the way. The goal, for me, is to tell it as it was. Being truthful and accurate is important. And it's the many members I dealt with along the way that are helping me keep on that path during its retelling.

If there ever is a debate, I will definitely welcome it -- and if things aren't told accurately, I will most certainly revise them (as I recently did with the Part II rewrite).

As for an impending book, it is pretty much a guarantee at this point. :)

Wylset said...

Once again, thank you Shawn for continuing on with this thoroughly enjoyable enterprise. I look forward to each installment, and there's no small thrill involved when I get to the website and find there's a new entry.... kind of like dinging a new level :D

I started WoW at the tail end of Vanilla, about 6 months before BC rolled out. My raiding experience started in MC, following people and not having a clue what I was doing, but there because of a large guild that I'd joined needed bodies in the raid. I had no idea of the things we take as standard nomenclature... ilvl? I'm 60. No, your gear level... um...

However much I didn't share your Vanilla raiding experiences, I did begin raiding in earnest in BC. I'd been an altoholic since the first week of coming to WoW from text based MUDS. I wanted to enjoy the game to its fullest, which mean from any and every perspective available. I quickly ran up my server's 10 toons to 70, and was wholeheartedly attuning each one. At my craziest, I was hitting Karazahn with 7 toons a week, a few times with 10, preying on trade chat to find a group looking for...anything. I learned to play each class. Fairly well in most, exceedingly well in others. I could tank, heal, melee or range with at least one class, and knowing the fights down cold gave me many a re-invite to run with guilds or groups outside my own.

Again our paths diverge, as I focused on the lower tiers in each expansion, always with the goal of levelling more and more toons and running them through those tiers. Over the years it's been a pattern, one that I'd imagine I'll do for the rest of the life of WoW. Play for about half the expansion on one server, levelling those (now) 11 toons and raiding with a few, then once the end of expansion tiers come out, start spreading across to my other servers and work on levelling those alts.

It's a different mindset, and it's mostly a solo effort for half an expansion, but at the very least it provides me an excellent insulation from having to wait a year to see new things (i.e. 12 months of Dragon Soul on a single toon).

Currently I've gotten all 50 of my toons to level 85 or higher. 34 are level 90, and my goal is to cap all 50 at level 90. Perhaps I'll take some time to think back and write about the experiences. Your blog has certainly made me think more than once about it.

Please keep up the fantastic work!

Shawn Holmes said...


Holy cow!! 50 characters?!? You, my friend, may need to have an intervention! I can't even begin to imagine how much time that must have taken. I only had a few sincere altoholics along the way and they proved invaluable as the roster fluctuated, filling the need for roles that changed on a week-to-week basis.

I applaud your commendable leveling efforts and am happy to hear that my story has not yet bored you to tears.

kizmet said...

Damn I have 50 toons but only 11 are 85 or over.

I like Fred's idea of making cata never happen.

Fredrick said...

Wow, I suddenly feel like my 7 level 90 characters is pretty insufficient.

Brett Easley said...

The Explosion went through bubble, it was when paladins had Ardent Defender, where when you died, you would immediately be healed back up to 25% health and the ability went on it's 5 minute cooldown. I think that's what Omaric was arguing.

Brett Easley said...

I mean to say, for Fusion Punches, not for Overwhelming Power.

Tyler Iacono said...

Oh memories. Also, I love you too Cheese! Some of these events are difficult to recollect over so many years; it's been fun thinking back on Ulduar.

Nann said...

Majority of my memories from Blain's raid-leading included telling Shawn to shut up... Dare I say there was copious amounts of that?

Shawn Holmes said...


Copious would be putting it lightly.

Eurylokhos said...

Love the first pic of us preparing for Illidan, Shawn and I are hardcore rocking the shadow priests