Thursday, May 29, 2014

3.69. Blizzard's First Mistake (Revisited)

Visualization of The Public Goods Game

The Public Goods Game

When I said Blizzard never repeated their first mistake...I lied.

An economics experiment that teaches about human nature and cooperation was all the proof Blizzard needed to cast doubt on their latest revelation. Whether their designers knew of the experiment's existence or not was moot, as the announcement of 10-Man and 25-Man being joined to a single lock in Cataclysm, producing the same rewards, was peppered with the colorful language of "good intentions". Sadly, good intentions are not enough to divert years of evolutionary adaptation away from the hard wired ways we fool ourselves. Spending only a few moments reviewing this simple textbook experiment should have convinced Blizzard that what they were about to embark on was going to have lasting, powerful repercussions, and 25-Man guilds would never be the same.

Imagine for a moment, that you are sitting around a table with nine strangers. Each stranger is given $100.00 and told that, in each round of this "game", you are free to contribute any amount of money from your holdings into a pot. At the end of the round, the pot is doubled, and all winnings are divided evenly back amongst the group. Depending on how fast you catch on, you come to realize that by withholding less and less of your own money from the pot, you begin to turn a much larger profit than the other players of the game. Over time, other players will pick up on this trend, and begin to do the same. Eventually, the economy of the game crashes, because all the players stop putting money into the pot. After all, why join the others and only come out $10.00 ahead...when you could put nothing in, and get $18.00 back? Why would anyone in their right mind be content with contributing, just to break even, when they could do nothing and turn a profit?

Things get more complicated when punishments and rewards are introduced to the Public Goods game. Punishing the stingy keeps the economy flowing through the pot, yet rewarding good behavior causes an economic crash again. It is a bizarre reflection of human nature that flies in the face of all logic, since on the surface, it makes sense that as long as everyone contributes, everyone will profit. But buried deep in the synapses of the highly evolved human brain, the rational often gets suppressed by the emotional. When you see other people gaming the system, you instinctively feel that they should be punished, as bad men/women should be. Just how that behavior manifests is subject to the type of game being played. In this experiment, it means that you withhold your funds from the pot, just as the others do, until no money remains.

In World of Warcraft, it manifests nearly the same...the only difference is that it isn't money you withhold from the pot, it's effort.

Contributions during the Public Goods game,
with and without punishments

Tragedy of the Casuals

Nobody wants to feel like they're being taken advantage of, yet this is exactly what happens when you look at two different levels of effort that both produce the same reward. Instead of tossing money into a pot each round, you're weighing all of the variables that help you decide which size of a raid you're wishing to run that week. And there are a lot of variables to consider. What kind of effort goes into dealing with that boss each week, trying to set aside a new schedule so that you are available for your raids each week? Maybe it means sitting down to a have a talk with your significant other, running the risk of it escalating into an argument over whose time is more valuable. And what of the risks involved in the actual raid itself? Any player worth his/her salt knew well that heading into a 25-Man raid was going to be a bigger challenge that a 10-Man; all the evidence in Wrath of the Lich King had proven 10s were the easier gamble by this point.

It all boils down to risk aversion.

Our free time is valuable to us; what we decide to put our off-hours into can mean more than money itself. With each decision we ponder regarding the allocation our free time, risks are constantly weighed against payoffs. We're more likely to avoid risk if a loss is possible, yet illogically we favor risk when only gains are on the table -- just ask any financial investment expert. As the blue post began to circulate the Internet, risk aversion chemicals had already begun their flow through the brains of raiders across the world. So, I can do a 10-Man, which I already know is easy-sauce, or take a chance at maybe getting my foot in the door of a 25-Man...for the exact same reward?

Cataclysm was still months away, but I already saw a crystal clear picture of what was to come.

Risk aversion is our default mechanism to fall back on when evaluating how we allocate our spare time. The situation is exacerbated by the fundamental need to want to punish "wrong doers"; its our mind wanting closure in a just world that otherwise doesn't exist. And when we see other players putting in less effort for the same rewards, our instincts aren't to "show them the right way", it's instead to come up with justifications on why we should do the same. We don't want to feel like we're being cheated out of money in the pot. We can't beat them, so we join them. We can't take a risk on the we fall back on the 10s. It's safer, it's easier. Easier to roll with a small group of friends that aren't judgmental in watered-down mechanics, than deal with the possible criticism of a raid leader attempting to turn you from a mediocre player into a great one.

The pool of 25-Man options dwindle as a result, a term coined by Garrett Hardin as the "tragedy of the commons". The only way to combat it is the punishment of those "free riders", those folks unwilling to contribute to the pool. Blizzard may not have realized it, but the punishment of those free riders had already long been in place: the separation of the 10 and 25 by their individual loot tables. Players who wanted to take the easy way out, dumping out of a 25 in favor of a 10, were punished implicitly -- they no longer had the option to reap the achievements and rewards of the 25. I liken this separation of rewards to the guardrails that come down over a bowling alley lane, protecting an easily manipulated ball from rolling into the gutter. When the 10s and the 25s were merged to a single lockout and a single set of rewards, the guardrails went away.

Blizzard's opinion expressed bewilderment at the proposition that "one group of players doing something you didn't want to do" would somehow take something away from you. And the bewilderment was understandable...provided you look at the issue from that same skewed perspective. Unfortunately, the situation was never about "10-Man players get the same rewards as us 25-Man raiders, and we're not having fun now!"... was "10-Man players are going to get the same rewards as 25-Man, and they will...which means whatever pool of players existed to fuel 25-Man guilds will all but dry up."

When players can take the easy way out, they do. I saw it once before in The Burning Crusade, as players came/went from the 25-Man as if the front door to our raid was a steamboat propeller. Because they could. They didn't need a warlock's Malefic Raiment from Black Temple...they could slough off any accountability a raiding guild attempted hold over their heads, and pull Vengeful Gladiator's Dreadgear out of a few weeks of smashing heads together like coconuts. Once that pool runs dry, the economy of available raiders crashes as a result. It was a matter of perception. Blizzard simply refused to "perceive" the issue the way 25-Man raiding guilds did.

Klocker stands naked atop the bank next to Annihilation,
Haribo, Crazzyshade, and Demus (circa Vanilla),

Promoting the Perv

Even as Descendants of Draenor were preparing to dig their heels deeply into the first heroic encounters in 25-Man ICC, I feared that the 10/25 decision would spell the end of many 25-Man raiding guilds, including our own. Blizzard felt confident that 25-Man raiding guilds would live on and thrive, but not paying attention to the fundamentals of human behavior, blinded by their "best intentions", was without a doubt Blizzard's Third Mistake in World of Warcraft. Amusingly, this was a far worse version of their first mistake in The Burning Crusade, having both PvE and PvP sets share the same visuals, something many wagered they had already learned from. Of course, the damage done during TBC was minimal (if any), and amounted to inconvenienced guild/raid leaders losing occasional PvP players from their raiding roster. This time, the change had the potential to reach far deeper into the blood of each and every raiding guild that wasn't listed on the first few pages of WoW Progress. It didn't look like Blizzard was going to budge on this one, so I mentally prepared for the devastation it would levy on the roster, each night going to bed, lost in a cloud of ideas on how I could save Descendants of Draenor from something that it couldn't be saved from: human nature.

First on that to-do list was to find a replacement for Dalans; he'd been gone over a month now. I always felt comfortable with he and Neps in charge, in the off-chance I were to be hit by a bus. In the absence of Dalans, I grew concerned that serious issues wouldn't get the clarity they needed by just Neps and I. We tended to agree on most generic stuff -- there wasn't anyone to play devil's advocate. This lead me to return to an oft overlooked player. Sir Klocker was one of my few remaining core members from the days of Vanilla, his years of experience making him one of only a handful of players that knew the guild inside out. Newer members like Bullshark, Jemb, even Mangetsu didn't carry the baggage associated with our early days of struggling in SSC, withstanding the setbacks of losing guildies to competing hardcore guilds like Pretty Pink Pwnies, or being subject to months and months of work in Ahn'Qiraj and Naxxramas (40), only to turn away empty-handed.

Sir Klocker had been there for it all.

If anything, Klocker would bring his veteran experience to the table, keeping reason in the face of irrationality. If players in the roster were to ever express disinterest in pursuing the 25, I could place a safe bet that Klocker would be one of the few to argue my side -- because he had lived through it himself. He knew what sacrifice went into real raiding and would staunchly defend it if challenged. With Blizzard's hand played for the next expansion, I wagered that keeping similarly-minded folks in the officer core was going to be our best chance at survival.

Sir Klocker had been shortchanged in the officer department several times already. When I shifted to role officers at the start of Wrath of the Lich King, Klocker ended up on the unfortunate end of the stick, as I had no place for him in the core. I re-arranged guild ranks to finagle his way back into officer chat, but this move was simply a band-aid taped across a much larger wound. Now, Klocker could finally make the move into a role befitting of his knowledge of the game and experience of the guild's people. He obliged at my request, and took up the rank of 2nd-in-command, alongside Neps. Once promoted, he wasted no time at all at bringing up a long-standing concern:


Thursday, May 22, 2014

3.68. Fall

One of many opinions on Ensidia's exploiting
The Lich King encounter (source: Allakhazam)

Apples to Oranges

Weeks before Descendants of Draenor began to scratch the surface of the final encounter in Icecrown Citadel, it was common knowledge that The Lich King had already been defeated. The victor? Blood Legion...but the recognition they received was muted, for it was the 10-Man version they had scored a world-first of -- something other hardcore raiding guilds paid little attention to. Guilds clamoring for a world-first title were instead pouring their effort into a 25-Man defeat. Two days after Blood Legion's 10-Man clear, the European guild Paragon wrapped up the 25-Man version, and went on to defeat Ensidia by clinching the world first 25-Man heroic clear, even though Ensidia had wasted Arthas first. Details leaked out about Ensidia's dubious strategy, forcing Blizzard to strip them of their title. While the WoW media was busy covering the drama between Ensidia and Blizzard, debate raged further on where the line should be drawn between "clever use of game mechanics" and "full-on exploit". All eyes and attention were on them, and Blood Legion's "world first" quickly fell out of the limelight.

Granted, only nine guilds in the world had defeated the Lich King in 25-Man heroic by this point -- Arthas was far from what even the seasoned raider would call "trivial". One thing was certain: WoW Progress's landing page, listing the world-first guilds who had put Arthas in his place was a short list, and one in which our resident server's celebrity guild was nowhere to be seen. A viewer had to click deeper into WoW Progress or GuildOx to determine what 10-Man standings existed. It was quite clear that the attention was focused squarely on 25. Players certainly cared about 10s, but the weight they held from a competitive standpoint still had little credibility. This argument was further backed by Blood Legion's continuing delay to wrap up their own 25-Man heroic kill of Lich King. The difference between Paragon's kill and Blood Legion's eventual one wasn't a matter of hours or even was weeks.

It was pointless to compare the 10 to the 25. But that didn't stop players from doing it.

Time and time again, each boss encounter was defeated first and foremost in its 10-Man iteration, sometimes well before its big brother, and was easily explained. Blizzard never intended for 10s to be a challenge; at one point during Wrath, they even debated leaving the 10-Man heroic mode completely out. Yet in the face of the 10-Man being a non-factor, complaints persisted:

"10's are more difficult!"

"There's less room for error!"

"They need to be nerfed!"

So the nerfs continued to flood in. Marrowgar became less touchy between transitions. Saurfang refrained from casting Blood Nova on Mark of the Fallen Champion targets. Sindragosa's instability debuff was decreased in potency. Changes to Festergut. Changes to Rotface. Changes. Changes. Changes, so that players' concerns were sated. No member of Descendants of Draenor ever voiced such a concern throughout our entire career in Wrath of the Lich King. Because there was no need to. There was no concern.

Raiding in Wrath of the Lich King had finally reached the right balance. We were proof.

Many of us had first-hand experience with the raids of yore, and the pains and struggles of those days were still fresh in our memories. Our greatest struggles thus far, bosses like Blood Queen Lana'thel, Professor Putricide, Algalon, Yogg-Saron, these bosses didn't hold a candle to the likes of Illidan, Kael'thas Sunstrider, and Lady Vashj. And these bosses weren't even the worst of The Burning Crusade! Cheeseus shared horror stories of the nightmares in Sunwell Plateau, an instance that would've chewed up and spit out so many of these entitled players. But from our own perspective, so many lost weeks on bosses like Magtheridon made Yogg-Saron look like a child's plaything. Boo hoo, it took you an entire weekend to kill one boss? Try months of work on one boss...then we'll talk. But therein lay the problem. It was taking guilds months of just happened to be on bosses that didn't require it.

I'd scan blog posts from guilds throughout that final year of WotLK, chock full of frustrated guild leaders. Months of work wasted on bosses like....Freya?? Sartharion?? It was true. While Descendants of Draenor buckled in to begin work on our first kill of 25-Man Lich King (normal!), there were still guilds that hadn't yet completed Naxxramas.

Even though I felt confident that Blizzard had reached exactly the right balance in Wrath, the overwhelming majority continued to prove me wrong.

The 25-Man Progression Team poses next to
The Lich King at the start of the encounter,
Icecrown Citadel


The Lich King was a three phase fight, connected by two transitions. Arthas brought forminable techniques to the table, so the only way to master them was practice, practice, practice. We began the weekend of March 5th-7th, which primarily consisted of refining our handling of his phase one abilities. Drecca fastened the Lich King in place while Bretthew distracted the swarming army of undead drudge ghouls and shambling horrors clawing their way out of the frozen earth beneath us. DPS wound up slow and steady, taking care to not deploy any area-of-effect abilities that might cause Bretthew's adds to run rampant. Their positioning away from Arthas' was important: at various intervals, a player would become afflicted with Necrotic Plague. While ticking away precious health, healers instinctively wanted to cleanse the disease away, but had to stay their hand. Decursing Necrotic Plague caused the disease to not dissipate, but rather, leap from its target to the next closest. This meant players afflicted with the Plague needed to run quickly from their group, and stand near Bretthew's adds. Then, and only then, could the plague be safely decursed, as it lept from our raid to the undead monstrosities themselves. Turning the Lich King's Necrotic Plague back upon his own undead army was the primary focus of phase one...that, and dealing with blasts of Infest -- shadow damage that not only ate away massive chunks of health, but continued to do so until targeted players had their health topped back off to full. When Arthas' health dropped to 70%, the first transition began.

The Lich King charged to the center of his icy platform, sending out a steady barrage of Remorseless Winter, a constant stream of biting snow that would quickly kill any player in close proximity. Winter had a radius that stretched so far, the raid was forced to the very edges of his platform, our heels inches away from chunks of ice breaking off -- every transition, we risked losing our footing and plummeting to an early death. During this transition, Remorseless Winter was not the only thing that raged. Raging Spirits would spawn, needing to be picked up by tanks quickly, as their tendency was to one-shot whatever they faced. Tanks needed to move quickly in positioning them as to not cause additional strain to the healers, while DPS burned the spirits away as fast as possible. On top of all of this, Ice Spheres would appear from the Lich King, slowly heading towards our position along the jagged edge of that platform. Casters needed to turn their attention to the Spheres quickly; if left alone, they would cause an explosion of enough force to knock handfuls of players clear off the mountain's top. By the end of the first weekend of work, phase one and its subsequent transition was safely behind us.

Mastering phase two, along with its transition, took us well into the third week of March -- its learning curve bent sharply thanks to Defile. A disgusting blackness broiled and bubbled in an enormous circular area beneath unsuspecting players, and it took the concept of "standing in the fire" to a horrific new level. Not only would players standing in Defile suffer enough shadow damage to kill them in mere seconds, the physical act of standing in Defile caused it to grow uncontrollably. This meant that the weakest links in the roster -- the ones with the slowest reflexes -- most certainly held the power to transform an otherwise typical raid encounter into a linchpin. All it took was one wrong person to stand one moment too long in Defile, and a manageable disc of black death transformed into an oozing monstrosity that blanketed the entire platform, devouring us in the process. Defile was relentless and suffered no fools. It was devastatingly swift and turned many of our excellent attempts into instant failures. By all measures, Defile was the mouthbreather's worst nightmare. In order to turn the tables on Defile, we would have to leverage the power of a very special kind of healer.

Arthas annihilates the 25-Man Progression team
during an attempt on The Lich King,
Icecrown Citadel

Disciplinary Action

After scouring reports from World of Logs, one thing became imminently clear: Discipline Priests were becoming the rockstars of the Lich King fight, as their unconventional "bubbling" of players absorbed precious milliseconds of damage at the start of each Defile. Theoretically, lightning fast disc priests could bubble players targeted for Defile, granting those victims a window to escape before the thick black mass multiplied across Arthas' platform. Until this point, we ran with one and only discipline priest: the infamous Neps. This newly uncovered information, however, made a solid case for Lexxii to drop from Holy and adopt a bubbling spec as well. She did so, and as expected, the 25-Man progression team was defiled a little less with each attempt. In learning about the absorbs, we identified other abilities that gave us "room to move" within Defile; I myself was able to pop Anti-Magic Shell to help stave off the blackness.

Soul Reaper forced the tanks to hand Arthas off to one another throughout these phase two attempts, but it was a trivial mechanic to deal with. Far more menacing (other than Defile) was the Val'kyr that the Lich King commanded, plucking various players from the platform and slowly carrying them over the edge of the platform to be dropped helplessly to their doom. The 25-Man progression team prepared for this by prioritizing their positions as close to the center of the platform as possible. This gave us the largest window to burn holes through the Val'kyr before they dropped members of our roster over the edge. Work continued in this manner, coordinating the right positions for tanks to hand the boss off to one another, defile targets racing away from the group, and a sychronized collapse to the center before Val'kyr spawned. From there, it was on to second transition...which was more of the first, save for less room being available near the edges of the platform. Again, Raging Spirits needed to be controlled and burned, while Ice Spheres slowly crept up on us, ready to blast players off the edge if not burned down in time.

After a month and a day of work, the chaos of the Lich King was nearing completion. Phase three pushed the entire raid to its limits. Arthas still leveraged Soul Reaper on the tanks, and he continued to Defile the progression team. Additionally, Vile Spirits were added to the mix: slow moving ghostly apparitions that carried an explosive area-of-effect with them. Vile Spirits were subject to snare effects, so while Drecca and Bretthew maneuvered Arthas around the far edges of the platform, Jemb and Bullshark would ice-trap the center, allowing the AoE frenzy to unleash hell. Ben's Mind Sear, Hellspectral's Howling Blast and Mangetsu's Seed of Corruption quickly turned the Vile Spirit packs into fireworks, detonating safely away from melee perched along the edge. But Arthas still had one more trick up his sleeve.

The final moments of Descendants of Draenor's
first kill of The Lich King in 25-Man,
Icecrown Citadel

Eve of the Soul Harvest

In one swift motion of his hand, Arthas reached out into the air and grasped nothing, squeezing an invisible neck tightly. I lost control of my death knight, as Mature was lifted up off the ground, choking, and in an instant, I was transported inside the very essence of the runeblade Frostmourne. In this alternate dimension, the ghostly image of Arthas' slain father, King Terenes was locked in eternal combat with a Spirit Warden. This was Arthas' last attempt to defeat us, dividing and conquering through Harvest Soul. I stood alone, separated from the raid, which continued to battle The Lich King on the outside world, and so rushed to Terenes' aid. Mature swung Shadow's Edge, layering the Spirit Warden up with diseases, pummeling him with Scourge Strike, and I watched, waiting for Soul Rip. There. The Warden began channeling a devastating spell, draining King Terenes' spiritual essence; instantly, I fired off a Mind Freeze, and Mature stopped the Spirit Warden's channeling, saving the ghost of Arthas' father. Together, we turned back to the Warden and tore him apart.

In a flash, I was back outside. In the center the platform.

"Move, move! Get out of the center, Spirits spawning!"

The melee and tanks were far off to the edge of the platform, well away from me. I dashed towards The Lich King and resumed the fight, while Mangetsu's Seeds of Corruption flew past Mature's shoulders, igniting the Spirits behind me. Arthas' health was nearing the 10% mark. Like the flash of a supernova, the raid was instantly obliterated. All twenty-five members of the progression raid team lay dead at Arthas' feet as he laughed, preparing to raise us as his own undead army. It was at this moment that Tirion Fordring, who had been frozen solid through the duration of every attempt, finally freed himself with a single blast of holy light, an explosion which shattered Frostmourne in the process. The souls of every man, woman and child that Arthas had desecrated were freed, now enveloping him, trapping him...becoming his own prison. Fordring refused to stand down. Determined to end Arthas' reign, King Terenas II's spirit manifested long enough to cast a spell of Mass Resurrection, and the 25-Man progression team was instantly restored to life, emptying every last attack into what remained of The Lich King.


Descendants of Draenor stood triumphant that day, snapping up our first kill shots as Arthas lay dead at our feet. The once noble paladin, long a slave to his cursed runeblade, was finally put out of his misery on April 11th, 2010. A story that had stretched as far back as 2002 had finally come to an end. But although Arthas' story had concluded, there was still some story left to tell about Descendants of Draenor before turning to the final chapter in our history. As Wrath of the Lich King waned, DoD would dive deep into heroics, drama would continue to unfold between both old and new guildy alike, and a veteran of the guild would make a startling revelation that would shift the course of the guild once more. But before any of these events transpired, Blizzard would do us the honor of kicking things off by revealing their plans for Cataclysm -- plans that can be more accurately described as Blizzard's Third Mistake.

Descendants of Draenor pose for their
first kill shot of The Lich King,
Icecrown Citadel

Thursday, May 15, 2014

3.67. The Sorest Loser

While waiting for Sindragosa, Mature sneaks a peek
at who is currently logged-on in the guild,
Icecrown Citadel

Best Policy

Logging in each day, being greeted with the bustle of Descendants of Draenor, was not unlike entering a small city. Throughout the week, any one of the four 10-Man teams were busy marking their territory at the various signposts staked inside Icecrown Citadel. While I assisted Blain and co. with Si Team, Eh Team continued along their own path, minus a few members, but still determined to make a stand in heroics. Meanwhile, Jungard and Fred continued to push Federation Starflex through the muck. The fourth was Cowbell, a team comprised mainly of old-school DoDers, many of whom had left their mark in our history -- folks like McFlurrie, Kizmet and Breginna. Cowbell was the platform that many players got a start from, including Jungard and Bretthew. But the bustle didn't end with the four 10-Mans. The 25-Man progression team, long the sole source of income for our guild, had drawn a line through every boss standing between us and The Lich King himself, and plans were well underway to architect his defeat. The success and celebrity of the 25-Man progression team led to more invested interest in the Alt-25, and before long, Mangetsu was getting help from Drecca leading a second set of players through ICC. Business was good.

From the top down, I did what I could to remain humble, yet kept spreading the word about our accomplishments, acknowledging the hard work being done by the men and women in the guild -- boasting only occasionally to outline we were a raiding machine that actually still cared enough to treat each other with honesty and respect. Just as it was in the old days, our members mostly kept off of the public forums, and as a result, flew under the radar enough to steer clear of the handful of festering douchebag guilds on Deathwing-US. We were rarely (if ever) the target of humiliation, nor did we drum up drama needlessly. There was plenty to go around on the server without our intervention. I felt confident that when our name did come up, whatever insults were slung came from the misinformed and the careless -- groups of players that we didn't need to lose sleep over. Detractors didn't have a chance. I kept a diamond-like focus honed on the cultivation of a guild unlike any other on the server...and possibly even further than that.

How does one cultivate such a culture? For me, it was by ensuring that when taken to task, I shot straight from the hip about who we were and who we weren't. Players with our guild tag under their name, as well as those who wished it to be, knew what we were here to do, even before their eyes graced a single rule or perused any forum post from our boards. We are not going to be a world- or server-first guild. But we're not going to run you ragged through week long sprints of raiding, either. You get out of this guild what you put in, and those people who invest wisely will see the biggest returns. And as long as you dedicate yourself in whatever chunks of time and energy you have available, we'll continue to see successes as we have in raids in years past. This will be a judgement free guild where you will come to enjoy content by similarly minded folks, who push each other and always have something to learn. In short, what you do here matters. And we notice.

I was proud of that sentiment, at least. It made the many men and women living in the city of Descendants of Draenor feel like they mattered. And I often wondered if Blizzard themselves would ever take notice of us? Do you think they see what we're doing here? Do you think we matter?

I got my answer on the morning of March 11th, 2010.

Enigma demonstrates their mastery of
choreographed genitalia,
Icecrown Citadel

15 Minutes of Shame

I scrolled through the website, reading carefully, my tongue dragging itself across the jagged edges of my teeth in disgust. It was Blizzard's freshly launched World of Warcraft Anniversary site, celebrating five outstanding years of World of Warcraft and an unbelievable fifteen since the Warcraft universe's inception. On this particular page -- one I was finding increasingly laughable -- Blizzard had chosen a random guild of the many hundreds of thousands across a myriad of servers to highlight for their accomplishments.

I'll bet you already have a pretty good idea of how I felt about their decision to choose Enigma.

I read through the interview with Fraya, to see what Blizzard felt made them so special as to be plucked from a seemingly random group of guilds across the world. After all, Enigma was certainly not a world first raiding guild, only a server first. This was true at least in the short time they had spent on Deathwing-US. Descendants of Draenor, meanwhile, had a solid four years on Enigma. Longevity certainly didn't seem to hold much weight in this particular comparison. There, of course, were minor details to stack up against Enigma as well -- pushing more people through content, keeping flexible schedules and allowing players to contribute at varying degrees without penalizing them and kicking them to the curb. But again, these features appeared to mean very little in this particular selection process, nor would the fact that I insisted players in DoD treat not only each other with respect, but also those outside our guild. 

I pulled our website up again to see if perhaps something could've been overlooked. Maybe there wasn't a clear enough link to our ideologies, what we stood for, things that might catch the eye of a potential Blizzard employee. Nothing stood out as problematic. I popped open a new tab and typed in the URL to Enigma's website. Centered squarely on the homepage were a series of boss kill pics, some in 25, and some in 10. And in nearly every image, Fraya and co. had positioned themselves in the shape of a gigantic dick. Their killshot portfolio brought an entirely new meaning to the phrase penis envy.

It was nice to see Blizzard chose such a class act for this monumental celebration.

I flipped back to the interview and read further, until my eye caught the real highlight of the entire ordeal. A specific question about scheduling, and Fraya's alleged answer, caused my vision to turn blood red:


How rigorously is raiding for your guild run? For example, do you place a lot of focus on 10-player content with multiple dedicated groups in comparison to your 25-player raids?

How rigorous? Well it's nothing extreme. We raid sixteen-hour weeks, with a potential extra four tacked on if we feel we want it. Most of the time we only end up raiding about eight hours a week.


Eight hours a week, my ass. If anything, the eight hour schedule was the only true claim-to-fame Descendants of Draenor had, retaining it as far back as The Burning Crusade. There was absolutely no way this was true. Fraya and his guild were pulling down server firsts from a four-night-per-week schedule, minimum. By comparison, guilds on Deathwing-US that had limited themselves to three nights a week were keeping up with us. But this claim...this was so far off the map that it infuriated me. And why, Fraya...why try to spin this? They already had the server-first claim to themselves, why try to bullshit their way through false pretenses? Was it because they weren't a world first guild, nor would be, so claiming a "lighter" schedule would excuse their shittiness when compared to the likes of Vodka and Paragon? Not everyone was fooled by the interview. Some of my best players had friends in Enigma, some of whom confided with me Enigma's more realistic schedule, which essentially boiled down to:

"We're not leaving until the boss is dead."

From that point on, I just shook my head as I read the remainder of the interview. I gleaned nothing amazing, no incredible insight from this "mature nineteen year old guild leader", but a final quote caught my eye just before I closed my browser:

"The aspects of really good leadership and people management are virtually endless, and that will keep me attracted forever."

Forever is a long time, Fraya. Let's hope you mean it.

Hanzo's email to Blizzard regarding Enigma's
selection for the Anniversary feature.

Turning Loss Into Win

To vent my frustrations, I wrote a scathing letter to Blizzard on their "guild selection process", thanking them for ignoring the efforts of guilds like mine that tried to put some effort into their management of people and process, rather than pick the guild with the most server 1st kills under their belt.

I got no response. And expected none.


When my temper tantrum subsided, my crimson view giving way to a more calm, crystal view of the situation, I was determined to make the best of the situation. If nothing else, Enigma's selection would mean heightened attention on Deathwing-US, which in turn would draw more possible recruits. Sensing a much larger surge of applications approaching, I moved quickly to take advantage of whatever collateral damage Enigma's celebrity might cast our way. I thought about the effort that recent applicants like Drecca and Lexxii displayed in their applications, and wondered if there was a way to draw more of that out from the WoW public. My wife reminded me that not everyone writes with such precise eloquence, but perhaps there was a way to point them in the right direction.

I scanned my Gmail trash bin, overflowing with the rejected applications of so many could-have-beens, looking for just the right mix of apathy, laziness and self-deprecation. So many to choose from! I tried a few out, copy and pasting them into a forum post, eyeballing it for clarity and aesthetics, while stripping away any name which might humiliate and/or incriminate. I had to admit, choosing between so many wonderful examples of idiocy gave me great pleasure. I felt like it was a rare opportunity to educate, but not necessarily implicate. After playing with various combinations of failures, I at last settled on two: Poor and Can't Read Directions. Together, they stood as shining examples that represented the very worst in guild applicants.

But...what to do about the very best in guild applicants?

I could've lifted either Drecca's or Lexxii's, as both were fresh in my mind. But that was the problem. Just as leaving names in the worst examples would've implicated the original authors, humiliating them in public, I didn't want to draw attention to these new recruits, either. In much the same way, using their apps as examples ran the risk of artificially inflating their ego, or worse -- speaking to the guild about how fast I was vetting players, an issue that really wasn't any of their concern in the first place, but still had the potential to sow dissent. No, I needed an older applicant. An older yet stellar applicant.

I popped open IM and made virtual letters appear there.

"Do you still have a copy of your app?"

Moments later, Cheeseus responded, "I expect its buried somewhere in my email, will look in just a second."

I tapped my fingers on the desk. Against all logic, I instinctively sent applicants I accepted into the guild straight into my Gmail recycle bin, a virtual trash compactor that Google disintegrated at regular intervals. Meanwhile, all of the failed applicants to which I had replied, "Sorry, but we're not looking for X at this time," remained etched into eternity via Gmail's "sent" folder. It was a tragic irony reflective of life: the failures remained, while the successful moved on, just out of reach...and never to return.

"Got it, resending."

Thank God.

"Ah, wonderful, here it is. Thank you for this."

"Taking a moment to bask in all of its glory?"

"You should be proud. I have big plans for it."

"Interest piqued."

"Need to tighten that noose up a bit on how potential applicants are reaching out to us. It's not enough to give them an explanation of what to do and what not to do. Sometimes they need to be shown."

"And you want to use my application as an example?"


"Oh, you flatter me so."

I began to select massive chunks of Cheeseus' writing, copying and pasting into a forum post, reformatting, prettying-up, making things crystal-clear for the masses. At last, I revealed the third and final example: **High Quality**. I remembered Goldenrod's advice a week earlier, regarding AVR and posting content publicly; he was right. If we wanted to set a new example for guild applicants, it was incumbent upon us to provide that clarity...and what better way to do so than by real-world examples of what we deem acceptable? With two examples on how to fail, and a solid one on how to succeed, I felt like I had turned a setback into a perk...

...and I looked forward to hearing from more applicants who'd visited Enigma's homepage.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

3.66. Securing the Caterpillar Drive

Artwork by d1eSELxxxx

Betrayal of Pathetic Magic

Valithria Dreamwalker was already on the back burner by the time we rolled into March. The unique mechanic of healing a boss to full, rather than DPSing it to 0, was not something that troubled our progression team. DPS split into groups and moved through the trash with ease, while our healers sailed through globes, gaining stacks of healing power to pour life back into the enslaved green dragon. The encounter was trivial enough that our team had completed it even before claiming a kill of Blood Queen Lana'thel. But now that the vampire was behind us, the pressure was once again on Omaric and Bretthew to push us further into the Frostwing Halls. It was high up the icy tower, flying a pattern far out across an exposed platform, where we caught our first glimpse of Sindragosa, bane of all WoW login screens. Sindy's scripted flight, landing, and subsequent roar graced our game clients upon launch throughout Wrath of the Lich King; it was this very script that led the massive player base to whine about Deathwing's equivalent screen on the Cataclysm login screen. It never bothered me; I have no problems with internet dragons. But, the loudest cries are the often the most heard, and Deathwing's roar would ultimately be toned down...thanks in part to Sindragosa.

Truly a bikeshed moment, if there ever was one.

The 25-Man progression team cared little about Sindy's noises. The focus, instead, was centered squarely on defeating the frostwrym. Grouping up during phase 1 for DPS was first and foremost, being mindful of Permeating Chill stacks as the encounter unfolded. Too much Permeating Chill meant a player needed to slow down (or even stop) their DPS to let the stacks drop, lest the healers be overwhelmed by exponential amounts of cold damage. Meanwhile, both healers and ranged needed to keep an eye on Unchained Magic, doing similar damage to those casters who mindlessly spammed abilities. When Sindragosa executed her Icy Grip, all players were pulled inches from her gaping maw, a dangerous position for anyone but the tank. This ability warned of the impending Blistering Cold damage that would destroy any player remaining in said vulnerable position. From there, it was on to phase 2, wherein the great bone dragon took flight, marking targets with a Frost Beacon. Similar in execution to Sapphiron, beaconed players were transformed into a solid block of ice. While encased in the ice, players coughed and choked as their air supply ran out -- it was up to the raid to break them out before they asphyxiated. Five players were encased in ice simultaneously, but more important was their positioning; if one non-beaconed player happened to stand too close, they too would be entombed, likely chaining to other unsuspecting players. It was a chaotic madhouse of running, positioning, breaking living ice cubes apart, and...if time allowed...focusing damage on Sindragosa until the final phase.

In her last 35% of health, Sindy applied a debuff to all players in line-of-sight: Mystic Buffet, a stacking debuff causing players to take more magical damage with each grueling second. However, she continued to entomb players, the breaking of which now had to be measured carefully. Take too long to break a player out of a block of ice, and they would fall over dead from a lack of oxygen. Burn too soon, however, and players were provided no protection to drop their Mystic Debuff stacks -- a dependency vitally important to the to tanks. Phase one and two were easy to master. Phase three consistently fell apart. It would be more than a single night of work before we saw loot fall off of this ex-blue dragonflight.

Mature is frozen solid into a tomb of ice
during an attempt on Sindragosa,
Icecrown Citadel

Coming to Montana

It was clear that Si Team's 10-Man strategy was not going to fly in 25-Man. Three days after The Eh Team dropped Arthas to his knees, Si Team managed to complete The Frozen Halls by securing a kill of Sindragosa. My positioning as a tank for Si Team had us right on the steps leading to her outdoor domain. Blain's reasoning was straightforward: two frost beacons were easier to coordinate as opposed to five. Amusing still was the alleged change in the 25-Man heroic version, in which the number of frost tombs was bumped to six. The 10-Man heroic change to Frost Beacon? None. It remained defiantly at two in both normal and heroic. We saw more and more of this, that simply scaling damage, healing, and hit points wasn't quite enough to retain parity between 10 and 25. Some mechanics just wouldn't translate if grown/shrunk appropriately. The 25-Man's initial work on Sindragosa felt smooth compared to Blood Queen Lana'thel. Before the frostwrym would collapse in defeat, however, more roster changes were headed our way. And this time, it would be the enemy that fed us the missing pieces of the puzzle.

On the Alliance side of things, a guild going by the name of Final Hour had been keeping up with us, progression-wise...a bit further, in fact. While we continued to chip away at Sindragosa's ice, Final Hour claimed their 25-Man kill of the bone dragon. Meanwhile, we were oblivious to what was going on behind the scenes: leadership was fracturing, egos clashed with ideologies and before long, Final Hour was a guild divided. They cast out a handful of their players, focusing on a "new" approach to raiding; a scenario which sounded all-too familiar. The largest chunk of rats scurried off the sinking ship to form Eidolon, but this new guild would concern themselves more with PvP in the long run. That left a handful of outcasts -- whose primary interests focused on slaying The Lich King -- with two choices. These guildless players could scatter like insects and hope to find a host among the already well-established Alliance raiding guilds on Deathwing-US. There was another option: defect -- leave behind their obligations to the shallow, two-faced faction that proselytized honor and justice, while blindly clinging to age-old biases, making way for murder, hatred and treason. The "prettier" races in WoW were warned no less than three times by Medivh of their impending doom at the hands of the Burning Legion, yet brushed him away in ignorant pride.

Self-righteous Alliance players favoring aesthetics conveniently forget that part of their faction's history.

For two ex-Final Hour players, no honor bound them to their faction; they sought asylum in whichever guild could provide safe haven -- a guild that would not only take them in, but provide them with a Lich King killing environment. The negotiations to defect began immediately. A shared application from the pair arrived in my inbox that first week of March. Like Drecca's before them, it showed that there were still competent players left in the pool. There it is again. Effort. I read through the document, reviewing each and every boss kill ever executed by the pair. Full clear of Ulduar (including Algalon), Trial of the Grand Crusader, Professor Putricide, Blood Queen Lana'thel. Then my eye caught their most recent boss kill, making me sit up straight in my chair: Sindragosa. This was the joint application of Lexxii and Bullshark, and I needed to move quickly for fear of losing them to a competing Horde guild. The pair could just as easily deliver the guts of the Red October to some other no-name guild capable of providing a home before we could. Time was of the essence. I shot off a reply, interviewed them in Vent, and expedited the two defectors into the rotations.

15 of the 25 progression raiders remain alive as
Sindragosa collapses, earning the guild
"The Frostwing Halls (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

And Then There Was One

Like the previous new recruit Drecca, Lexxii and Bullshark required no vetting. As expected from their history with Final Hour, they immediately hit the ground running in Icecrown Citadel. Bullshark's hunter deeps shot up to the top of Recount; the gauntlet had been thrown down, and horde loyalist Jemb was determined to not let this Alliance turncoat show him up. As we cleared our way through the instance, Lexxii revealed trade secrets, both in /dodhealers and in Vent. Vent, no less! Finally, a female raider who wasn't afraid to speak in Vent. It was a luxury we hadn't enjoyed since Breginna's retirement at the end of The Burning Crusade. And to be honest, it was refreshing to hear a gal join in the conversation, which had long been a testosterone-laden sausage fest. Some of our female players had reasons why they chose not to speak over VoiP, and I respected their decisions -- but come raid time, we had a mission to accomplish, and that meant pushing baggage aside. It was nice to see that no baggage came attached with these former members of the Alliance.

Back at Sindragosa, the great frostwyrm felt a new level of wrath levied upon its skeletal frame. As predicted, the pair's first-hand knowledge of the encounter drew us ever closer to a kill. Still, Sindy would not go down without a fight. The great bone dragon continued to wreak havoc on the raid during the final phase, when all hell broke loose. Beaconed players yelled to one another to move, lest their frost tomb's be chained uncontrollably across the group. Some were broken out too quickly, and Mystic Buffet stacked until afflicted raiders collapsed from the cold. Others were commanded to sacrifice themselves, choking to death in blocks of ice, giving their lives for those who couldn't...without causing a wipe. But as the great dragon writhed and thrashed about on the steps of the Frost Queen's lair, players continued to fall over dead. Battle resurrections were called out, while angelic spirits of redemption bathed the chaos in light before their final moments expired. And in a final defiant screech, the bone dragon thrashed no more. Sindragosa was dead, and DoD stood victorious. The date was March 7th, 2010. All bosses in Icecrown Citadel had been defeated.

All but one.


Bulwinkul's time away felt like less of a burden, now with Lexxii and Bullshark firmly planted in the roster. Their contributions poured out of World of Logs like fine artwork, their positions nestled squarely near the top of their respective roles. A trend was definitely starting to emerge. We were attracting top talent, players that cared about effort as much as I did. And as long as we continued to do so, I would be free to give players like Bulwinkul and Crasian extended periods of vacation, without worry or fear that progression would grind to a halt in their absence.

The pains of bending to the whim of my roster, circa The Burning Crusade, were now ancient history, wounds that were fully healed. By being in control of my players, no one individual could hold anything over my head, make any demands that I was being unfair, not rotating them in enough, coming across like some kind of dictator. If they didn't like what was going on in Descendants of Draenor, they could leave, and I wished them the best of luck in trying to find something better. Yes, I did have rules, and I expected them to be followed, but I staked my bet that I ran a far more open ship than some of the competing hardcore guilds. The bet was paying off. Players were proving to me that the hardcore mentality wasn't something absolutely necessary for success. Players needn't bear the weight of unrealistic raiding schedules and oppressive, egotistical children at the helm...just to experience competitive endgame raiding. On the contrary, players were clearly demonstrating that our environment was viable, and one they could find enjoyable.

It was too bad, then, that Blizzard continued to glorify the very worst aspects of raiding...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

3.65. Questionable Ethics

Gunsmokeco earns the #1 position in the world for
restoration shamans on Blood Queen Lana'thel,
World of Logs

Dissecting the Queen's Demise

It was big news for Descendants of Draenor. Really big. A small time, not completely casual, not entirely hardcore, just your average run-of-the-mill 25-Man raiding guild had managed to claim some celebrity. It wasn't exactly Wall Street Journal material, nor was it even WoW Insider worthy, but it was the biggest news among our little raiding community. Each week, I diligently loaded reams of combat data into World of Logs, a website that analyzed our performance, scrutinized our players, and gave us a window into knowledge we would otherwise be left in the dark about. Each week the process repeated; thousands of guild/raid leaders analyzing the performance of their respective raiders. Sitting on such a wealth of data brought interesting...and often surprising...analytical comparisons to light. Each player could be ranked against one another, per raid, per boss, individually...however you chose to display the data. All of this translated into a fancy widget in the lower-right hand corner of the screen, telling you where your extra special players ranked among their world-wide raiding peers. It was in this widget that we would occasionally see the truly exceptional players, denoted with a number next to their name -- their rank in the world. At least, from World of Logs' perspective.

I glanced down at the freshly uploaded report from our Blood Queen Lana'thel defeat the night before, and zeroed in on the widget, looking to see who had ranked this week, reading from the bottom up. There's Jungard, very good, very good. Ah yes, Bulwinkul. He ranks nearly every week. Excellent job. There you are, Hellspectral. Pushing Frost deeps to new heights, I see. Nice work, there. Ha, there's Jungard again. Cleave more, perhaps? Oh, nice work, Guns! World-wide 15th on Lord Jaraxxus, not too shabby!

...wait, this next one can't be right...

At first glance, I thought it was a bug in the analysis. I pulled up the complete Restoration Shaman report for that week, ranking the top 500 players across the world. Sure enough, the first page listing the top 100 best restoration shamans for the week of February 15th, there he was. Gunsmokeco, my healing officer, resided in the #1 position at the top of this list. This was monumental! I immediately captured screenshots of the report and posted announcements in guild chat and on the forums. Guildies, both new and old, joined in congratulating the shaman on his award-winning play. Guns was the official celebrity of the guild, he ran with it. Jokes soon began to fill our raids with how the great and mighty Gunsmokeco honored us with his presence. And who wouldn't want to get an occasional tip or recommendation on how to adjust their play from the #1 ranked shaman in the world?

Players that knew how a sinister sheet of statistics can paint anything positively, that's who.

"He's getting a bit of a big head," Blain whispered over.

"Let him have his fifteen minutes. We rarely get the opportunity to win anything in life, might as well let him run with this for awhile."

"Just remember that how he got #1 wasn't exactly accurate."

"I get it. Fred's Divine Sacrifice inflated the duration of the fight by five seconds. Everybody got to do a little extra deeps and healing than the majority of the reported attempts. Chain Heal spam ftw. I get that it's a bit of a fudge."

"There's more to it than that. When you get a sec, take a look at the 'Damage Taken' report."

I pulled up colored bar graph at Blain's request, "Ok, what am I looking for?"

"Filter by Swarming Shadows."

Ah, the dreaded purple flames left under unsuspecting players' feet, forcing them to run out of the group. In an optimal situation, players afflicted with Swarming Shadows rushed out of the group, leaving a long trail of violet flames behind them. Slow movers, and those referred to by Dalans as mouthbreathers, did us a disservice. By not reacting, they would jeopardize the safety of the players around them, the purple flames needlessly folding back upon themselves, growing outward, causing massive amounts of damage to all who stood mindlessly in them.

I did as instructed, filtering the report by damage taken from Swarming Shadows. It appeared that another award was in order. Behind the two tanks (who had a verifiable excuse), Guns also took the most damage from Swarming Shadows. Why? Why would he have even been standing in the Shadows at the end of the fight? In the heat of battle, did he lose his shit? That's not Gunsmokeco. Think about who you are dealing with. You made him an officer because of his quality of play. Hell, he’s one of the few people in the guild capable of raiding with the default UI. No, there was a very real and thoughtful decision behind standing in Swarming Shadows...

...he knew it would inflate his healing to record levels.

"Clever guy," I typed back to Blain, "he lined those up to knock 'em over, eh?"

"Makes ya think, don't it?"

I had to admit it was a neat trick. Even neater, though, was the validation of Blain's watchful eye. Apparently my last minute negotiation tactic in joining Si Team was paying off. But as with all things Blain, his attention to minute details went far beyond just casual Omaric and Bretthew observation.

I wondered if Blain would ever return to the throne of raid leadership.

The Eh Team completes their first clear of 10-Man ICC,
while Mature farms Hydraxian Waterlords reputation,
Molten Core

An Agenda to Keep

We had regular award winners on World of Logs, and another one of these familiar faces was Bulwinkul. Not only an esteemed member of The Eh Team, he was one of the few competitive Boomkins to emerge on Deathwing-US. As February waned, he expressed feeling burnt out and wished to take advantage of the time-off feature I granted to the Elite. Like a respectful employee, he gave me the full two week notice I asked of my distinguished members, giving me adequate time to search for his replacement. That was on the 20th of February. Two days later, while I chiseled away at the Hydraxian Waterlords reputation deep within Molten Core, guild chat filled up with achievement spam as "Fall of the Lich King (10 Player)" scrolled up through the window. The Eh Team had finished off the 10-Man version of Icecrown Citadel. I immediately joined in the guild in typing a congratulations to them, but secretly, was disappointed that Eh Team pulled out a win over Blain's Si Team....our team.

Forget about who rushes over the finish line for a moment. Didn’t Bulwinkul just come to you regarding the need to take time off? If Eh Team was close to wrapping things up in ICC, don’t you think he would’ve known this before coming to you?

I couldn't argue about the timing, it seemed oddly coincidental that my solitary Boomkin requested time off only days before Eh Team finished their work in the Citadel. If his loyalty to the 25-Man was waning, perhaps he felt taking time off would innervate his focus and attention to progression. There was also the possibility that stuff was going on in his personal life that I wasn't privy to, so I tried to keep an open mind and continue to support him in his request, returning to the backlog of applications for more fodder.

...but Bulwinkul's timing never left my mind. It wasn't exactly a red flag...but it had the makings of one.


To replace Bulwinkul in the lineup, I had the good fortune of being contacted by another old-school DoD member. Goldenrod had finally cooled down from his angry exit near the end of The Burning Crusade. He never had a bone to pick with anything in DoD; his contempt was primarily focused at the botched BlizzCon 2008 ticket fiasco, lumped on top of the "butchering" of the mage class in PvP. I didn't have to tell Goldy that much had changed in the guild since his departure. He revealed that he had quietly followed the forums the entire time, reading along, checking in on our progress, seeing the swaths of raid progression we were slicing through; he wanted to return. I had no problems bringing Goldy back into the foray -- it was much easier for me to give the greenlight to an ex-member, than it was to take a gamble on someone I knew nothing about. Goldenrod was kind, considerate, and respectful of others' opinions, even in the trolliest of debates.

His re-entry to the roster couldn't have come at a better time, because deep within Goldenrod lay another attribute I was yet to learn about, one that would have significant impact on DoD until its final days.

A guild attempts Professor Putricide using the
AVR (Augmented Virtual Reality) add-on,
Icecrown Citadel

No Spoon to Speak Of

The forum topic pointed us to a brand new add-on. It was unlike any mod we had yet to employ in progression. Most modifications to the UI assisted us with more efficient healing, tracking the raid's damage and/or health, or gave us warnings that deadly mechanics were quickly approaching. This add-on, however, took it to an entirely new level. Looking at the screenshots and watching a few videos of it in action gave me pause, if but for a moment.

It was the first time I can remember being hesitant about adopting an add-on into our suite of tools.

The add-on in question was AVR, which stood for Augmented Virtual Reality, and how it enhanced a raider's environment was both impressive and disturbing. AVR built upon the foundation of other raid tools like Deadly Boss Mods and BigWigs, providing alerts and warnings to the raider about impending changes to the encounter while it played out...but with an important difference. Rather than simple messages splashed on the screen while alarms blared from desktop speakers, AVR went so far as to paint the room with gigantic, multicolored circles, indicating physical locations for players that were both safe and unsafe to move into. The encounter that AVR truly shined on was Professor Putricide, coloring virtual blocks of safety (and non-safety) from the oozes. In the case of Putricide, AVR was a godsend, providing clarity to an overly complex fight, rife with logistical coordination demands that often turned a well-meaning set of players into a handful of infuriated children.

But using AVR completely transformed the way a raider saw the encounter. Like Neo finally setting his mind free, the World of Warcraft was stripped of its digital magic, the terror of abominations and slimes replaced by non-threatening virtual arrows and rainbow paths no more difficult to follow than a set of directions spewed out of Google Maps. The result? The raid absolutely wielded a level of power and control over their environment unmatched, and to say these bosses were trivialized as a result would paint the situation in a positive light. More realistically, for a 25-Man raid that was already pushing the competitive envelope for our schedule, encounters exploded like so many Mr. Smiths.

In trying to decide if this was "the right thing to do", all that came to mind were the many defenses we stood by in support of add-ons. They are just tools. We don't hammer nails into boards with bare hands, we use a hammer and we get the job done like professionals. We work smarter, not harder. The problem with AVR was that it wasn't a hammer, it was robotic nail gun firing hundreds of nails a second. That kind of enhancement doesn't make the job puts us out of a job.

When Descendants of Draenor experimented with AVR, Goldenrod was one of the few who left the add-on uninstalled.

"I'm not going to use it. At best, it's for a casual guild who can't progress without it. We've already gone through Putricide without it, we're better than that."

"I'm having a hard time trying to determine what the cut-off point is. Where do you draw the line? How is this any different that running, say...Deadly Boss Mods?"

"Let me put it this way: when we down the Lich King, and you snap a screenshot to post up on the forums and the guild you want the world to see those yellow and red blotches all over your screen?"

It was a succinct way to put the situation into perspective. Is that how we wanted to advertise ourselves? Is that the type of player we wanted to attract?

"Like I said, some people may need it. We don't."

For Descendants of Draenor, AVR was an amusing experiment, and one I felt better leaving behind, agreeing with Blizzard (who disabled its functionality shortly thereafter) on what constituted a valid add-on. What we posted on our website should reflect who we are, and that wasn't us. More importantly, we didn't want it to attract that type of raider, the kind that would need AVR. It was about more than just making "the right decision", it was how those decisions reflected back upon us. Others may not have cared, but we did. So I needed to make sure all of our decisions reflected that...even if those decisions were buried in screenshots.

I wanted everyone in the roster to be a straight shooter. That meant in order to overcome our next obstacles, we would have to resort to good old fashioned elbow grease...

...with perhaps just a little help from the enemy.