Thursday, June 26, 2014

3.73. Revoke Regrant

A random player takes note of
Mature's Shadowmourne,
Warsong Gulch

With Great Power...

A sickly blue glow poured out of the gaping mouth of every victim I sunk the axe into. Swarms of banished souls spiraled around Mature as I commanded the digital death knight through whatever challenge the day brought. Shadowmourne cared little if Mature was clearing trash with the 25-Man raid team in tow, or joining a random battle in progress against the snowy backdrop of Alterac Valley. The axe didn't discriminate against the just nor the hungered, and was fed. And when that blue glow broke over the horizon, it demanded respect. Those who fought on Mature’s side most certainly bended the knee, and more often than not, those who fought for the enemy very often turned and fled in fear.

It was humbling to be recognized for doing nothing more than simply wielding a weapon. Humbling, and telling.

The demand for my attention in guild events, especially those relating to PvP, spiked as a result of the crafting of Shadowmourne. I generally kept a low profile in the day-to-day, politely declining an excessive amount of requests to participate. I could have easily been overwhelmed with the heightened interest, falling back into the old TBC/Vanilla ways of playing for ungodly amounts of time into the night, while family, nutrition and hygiene took a back seat to achievement whoring. My priority was always to the 25-Man progression team, and that's where I focused the brunt of my attention. Outside of the 25-Man, I maintained my commitment to Blain and the Si Team, carrying on with our quest to earn the 10-Man version of Glory of the Icecrown Raider. After progression and Si Team, I maintained only one other commitment: the unfortunately named 3v3 Arena team that Sentra had been carrying me through.

"Hard switch. Hard on the Mage."

Sentra commanded all of our attention on to the caster, noting that the mage's cooldowns had been blown. Nerrfmeh the paladin stunned the healer, while Sentra drove his blade deep into the enemy, hamstringing him in the process. Mature spun in a blur of violet, switched off of the healer, and hacked away at the mage. Gigantic chunks of health fell off the mage's bar in seconds and he collapsed in a heap.

"Mage's dead. Get on the healer."


"Ah, that was beautiful. Like poetry."

Mature and Sentra focused their efforts back on to the healer, while the rapid-fire tapping of keys carried over Vent in the background. In arenas (and unlike raids), we opened our microphones permanently. One extra key press to chat with partners was already one key press too many, and in PvP, strategies are not etched in stone, followed like a roadmap. Instead, strategies are fluid, ever changing, taking the shape of what enemies form the next challenge. PvP was everything PvE wasn’t. Unplanned. Spontaneous. Impulsive. Primal.

Without the mage, our 3-on-2 dominance turned the tables, and once the healer and his remaining partner expired, the win flashed up on our screens, with an additional surprise. The golden banner told the tale: we'd taken the team to a rating of 1750. By PvP standards, it was the equivalent of becoming potty trained; "congratulations, you suck less than the majority now." To me, it was the highest PvP rating I'd ever earned in game.

Nerrfmeh headed out for the night, leaving Sentra and I to chat as we tapered off our PvP session.

"That weapon is sick. Put me in some more of those ICC raids."

"Well, get your signups on. I didn't see you in last week's sheet. What’s up with that? I mean, if you want to collect shards, you actually...y'know...have to be in the raid."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Last week was bad, I had some shit come up, then my game time ran out and I didn't have any extra cash for a game card. Didn't pick one up until Tuesday."

"You play on game cards? Don’t you have a credit card or something you can put a sub on?"

"No credit cards. Can't get one with this shitty dead-end job I'm at."

"You lookin' to get your learn on at some point? Maybe step up the job situation a bit?"

"There's not much point right now. I legally can't get anything better."

Legally? "Say what?"

"Ehh...lost my temper on some guy in a bar, knocked his front teeth out."

I stared at the screen. I was not expecting that.

"I see. So, I guess it's game cards for awhile then, huh?"

"Yeah, it's fine. Just gotta rearrange some shit here and there."

"Well you're good for another solid 60 days now, so that's plenty of raids you can sign up for. The more of those you can get into, the better. And if you can't get a 25-Man rotation, just get your ass into the Alt-25, y'know?"


I tried to end the conversation on a positive note, "Let's get an entire guild of these axes going." I alt-tabbed into my web browser, fired up a calendar reminder for six weeks into the future, and typed into the description:

[Help Sentra with game card??]

DoD defeats Putricide without using Regurgitated Ooze,
earning "Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn... (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Stomach Problems

"...and another wipe. Wipe it."

The melee rotations had seen better days. The task for the evening was to continue work on the of the three remaining (and most challenging) of the meta achievements required for Glory of the Icecrown Raider. Tonight, the goal was to knock out Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn…, an achievement of unparalleled insanity. In order for us to complete the achievement, the abomination wouldn't be able to slow any of the festering goo that travelled across the room. DPS would need to be at an all time high, and although the fight favorited ranged DPS, DoD's 25-Man progression team’s melee damage consistently held sway over the ranged....

...which was upsetting, considering the evening's rotations.

"Is there something wrong with DPS?"

The night got off on the wrong foot with the news that Abrinis had been rushed to the hospital; a nailgun misfired at work, sending a nail clean through the muscle group between his second and third toe. Bretthew was out-of-commission on account of continuing computer-related problems; luckily, the longtime DoD vet Kizmet was able to pull up the slack, joining Drecca in the role of tank. A new paladin named Aezil had signed up as retribution, and didn't even bother to show up; his spot was immediately filled by an up-and-comer Immortalus, who -- like Ben -- was one of the few players in the guild identified by a name not tied to any toon he played: Sarge. And as for Sentra, he was nowhere to be found. For all the concern he had in crafting Shadowmourne, there wasn't even so much as a signup. In his place came Bonesoldier, a recently drafted death knight who’d enjoyed the luxury of his first Lich King kill with us the week previous.

Preventing the goo from being slowed during transition was the appropriate way to keep the wolf from the door; removing that from the strategy meant that the further we took the encounter, the further behind we fell. The only way to counteract that was with massive DPS, and our massive DPS traditionally fell on the shoulders of the melee...

...the melee we patched together at the last minute.

"Healing assignments need to change? Because technically this should be doable."

The problems of the guild were ever shifting; in Vanilla/TBC days, it was "we don't have the qualified people for this particular raid", and now that I had turned the roster around, the new problem was "do we have the right people for the (heroic|achievement)?" Trying to figure out where the line was drawn, and determining when to step over vs. when to back off wasn't something I had a great feel for -- which is why I made this the responsibility of the raid leader. But that meant that the raid leader had to have an equal amount of insight, make the appropriate judgement calls. Omaric seemed unsure, almost flying by the seat of his pants at times. He put out all the right signals, but the vibe of uncertainty trickled through.

Which is why Blain managed to sneak in his own raid leadership. By being be present, feeding info to Jungard, making suggestions to Omaric, kinks began to iron themselves out. DPS switched on to the goo with greater ease. Stronger players were placed more strategically, stacking precious fractions of damage and healing into each attempt. Weaker players were routed to the back, given more overall coverage and less specific responsibilities. Kiters gained a clearer path. Omaric's broad strategy was sound, but it was Blain's micromanagement, a strength he'd carried with him for as long as the guild tag hung under his name, that tied up all the loose ends. Even when we knew we were about to chase the goo, Blain's discreet reminders had us mentally running even before we were digitally.

"I hate that backseat raid leading, Blain" Omaric commented, "but dammit, you were right again."

We earned "Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn… (25 Player)" on May 21st, 2010.

The heroic clear of Putricide would come later.

Sentra and Nerffmeh carry Mature to 1750 in
their unfortunately named arena team,
Blade's Edge Mountains

A Surprise Return

I kicked off a code check-in, the Subversion window scrolling through hundreds of files included in the commit, when a new IM window popped up on my desktop.

"Hey, Hanzo."

"My God, Bheer! How the hell are you?"

"Good. The time away was productive. Feel much better about things."

"Oh yeah? You think you'll come back?"

"I realize my exit was a little abrupt."

"It was, but I appreciated you making the effort to have Blizz transfer Death's Choice over, at least."

"I didn't want you to get the idea that I was treating the guild like a doormat."

"Bheer, don't worry about it. What's done is done. I'm sure you had your reasons. We don't need to get into that right now."

"I'm ready to come back...if you'll still have me."

I never gave it a second thought.

"Of course you're welcome back! DoD is your home. God, man, you were around in those early Vanilla raids."

"I just want you to know I don't have any expectation of raiding. Wanted you to know that up front. I understand what I did and I don't want any special treatment."

"Well, I don't see you getting Elite again."

"That's fair. I remember the rule."

"Maybe I can find you a few spots here and there. You know how the roster is. Always changing, forever in flux." My mind wandered to the recently ejected Bulwinkul.

"So, Eh Team's whittled away?"

"Things have become a bit fragmented in that end of town since your departure."


"Yep, Crasian's gone. Bulwinkul's gone. Omaric and Taba are still around, obviously. Well, that's not entirely accurate, Taba's starting to wind down his involvement, but the lineup is still solid..."

"Looks like pretty good progress in the 25-Man."

"Yeah, you could say that. Moving forward at a pretty good pace. We're into heroics now, been especially good to have some of these newer folks as well. Lotta folks are really just floating across the 10's at this point..." My mind drifted again, this time to Ben, "...some float a little more freely than others."

"Well I appreciate the reinvite. I'll help with whatever I can."

"Think nothing of it. It's like I said before. DoD will always be your home."

The original reasons for his leave remained a mystery. They wouldn't remain so for long.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

3.72. RUI

The 25-Man progression team completes The Blood Council
in Heroic mode (following Blood Queen Lana'thel), earning
"Heroic: The Crimson Halls (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Points on Your License

May of 2010 brought more achievements as DoD continued to knock out chunks of "Glory of the Icecrown Raider", eyes fixed on the skeletal frostwrym that rewarded those raiders who could withstand the most unforgiving of challenges in Icecrown. My collection of Shadowfrost Shards was nearing its end, and the power of Shadowmourne drew close. Two days into the month, we'd wrapped up the heroic versions of both The Blood Council and Blood Queen Lana'thel. Seven days later, we scratched "Dances With Ooozes (25 Player)" off the list. The requirement of not allowing a single large ooze from casting Unstable Explosion was brutal: forcing many small oozes out and kiting them relentlessly to keep from merging upon themselves. The tanks were stretched thin as it was, and healers wrung out every bit of mana from their pool. We surprised ourselves by pulling off the server 3rd completion, a feat not at all terrible by the server's standards, especially considering we pulled it off with only 24 players present. It was that same night that we knocked out "Portal Jockey (25 Player)", forcing our raid to enter all of Valithria Dreamwalker's portals, low-hanging fruit easily devoured.

The 25-Man progression team was jelling and our progression into "Glory" reflected that attention to detail. We had not seen an Avatar promotion in some time, the last being Hellspectral in early January. It was time to acknowledge the efforts of our outstanding earners, so who better to focus on than our newest additions, Lexxii and Bullshark? Since defecting from the Alliance when their previous guild collapsed, they provided our team with a wealth of knowledge and skill. Bypassing the need to even be vetted, they shot up to the top of the charts and sunk nearly as much time into the 25-Man as they did into the Alt-25. If someone needed an explanation on "going above the call of duty", I merely pointed in the direction of our newest raiding couple. Such acts of dedication in a short time deserved recognition, so I awarded them a promotion to Avatar for their service to Descendants of Draenor. Once the two-week promotion subsided, I fast-tracked them into the rank of Elite.

This, as it turned out, would not sit well with certain people.

The bug of jealousy crawled in my ear, picking up traces left by certain players unhappy at the apparent ease I rushed to acknowledge these new recruits. Others, they would have me see, were more loyal and devoted to the cause, having proven themselves long before these two "traitors" set foot in the house of DoD. I brushed this off; it was clear this jealousy could have been staved off by simply not red flagging themselves in the first place. But, I was also approaching a new horizon of thinking with regards to my perception of red flags. Every day, I came to perceive red flags a little less black-and-white, and a little more like points on your driver's license -- tallied up for little mistakes being made in your day-to-day commute. One could lose their license if the demerits piled up too high, but time and good behavior could mend these wounds and erode the record away. As word trickled up that players expressed resentment at Lexxii and Bullshark's promotion, I was certain to pass a message back down the chain: stop earning demerits, and you'll see the same promotion they saw.

Some driving offenses, however, earn so many demerits in a single moment of bad judgement, that there is no turning back. The damage is devastating and the crime unforgivable. What follows is swift punishment, the offender stripped of their privilege to drive, left to walk down a path of solitude in which few turn a compassionate eye.

Mature stands surrounded by the 25-Man progression
raid, after crafting the guild's first Shadowmourne,
Icecrown Citadel


I collected my 50th and final Shadowfrost Shard on the 16th of May, 2010. The long journey from The Sacred and The Corrupt neared its finale. Crafting the legendary axe took me across Northrend; collecting Light's Vengeance, lining the walls of my inventory with the blood of Festergut and Rotface. Eventually, I wielded Shadow's Edge, an empty shell turned prison -- the weapon fed off the souls Mature cleaved life from as our guild executed weekly clears of ICC. As the Lich King began to whisper through the cursed weapon, Mature extracted an Unholy Essence from Professor Putricide, a Blood Essence from Blood Queen Lana'thel, and a Frost Essence from Sindragosa...tasks which pushed my death knight to the precipice of death. Through the efforts of the 25-Man progression team working together, healers shielded Mature, tanks redirected bosses away from Mature, and DPS held fast in exploding the boss until Mature's extraction could complete. Many of the tasks in this journey relied on the assistance of the 25-Man progression team; I certainly could not have pulled off its creation by myself. So as the 50th shard finally made its appearance, I insisted that the raid take a moment from our weekly clear, and head down to the base of the citadel to participate in the crafting.

Legendaries made their way to various players throughout DoD's history: Thunderfury to Ater, the Hand of Ragnaros to Teks, and more recently, Val'anyr to both Neps and Gunsmokeco. This day was monumental in that it was the first time the guild leader managed to secure a legendary of his own. I was both thankful and humbled that my guild came together to forge this weapon on my behalf. Once I sunk Shadowmourne into The Lich King's skull, a plentiful bounty of rewards were promised by way of an Unsealed Chest. I insisted on sharing these rewards with the team; there were few opportunities for me to give back to those who gave of themselves to further DoD's mission, and this was one such chance I wouldn't squander.

The following week, I revealed to the 25-Man progression team who would receive the rewards pulled from the Unsealed Chest. I kept Muradin's Favor for myself, selfish that I was towards costumes, but handed the rest out to important individuals in the roster. To Sir Klocker went Tabard of the Lightbringer, thanking him for fulfilling the duties formerly held by Dalans. Sylvanas' Music Box, a toy producing a chorale of ghostly banshees to sing Lament of the Highborne, went to Lexxii, thanking her for the dedication and expertise I wished of all my guildies. To Neps went the Dalaran-porting utility captured inside Jaina's Locket. His permanence in the roster exceeded that of any mage, so by giving him the ability to port us out at the end of the raid, the gift acted as both a reward for Neps and a practical convenience for the progression team.

But the final reward, Reins of the Crimson Deathcharger, I reserved for a player I felt deserved the most recognition, a player who continued to prove himself a true member of the DoD family. He hadn't managed to secure a position among the Elite, yet stayed well ahead of the Raiders. The Crimson Deathcarger, therefore, was assigned to Ben. I can't promote you to Elite yet, so take this as a token of my gratitude instead, and keep pushing. Perhaps one day soon, you'll get there.

Morale was strong, and the family bonds of DoD ran deep. It was a boost that would help keep the forward momentum as we prepared to dig into the most difficult meta achievements in "Glory". One member, however, let the recent acknowledgements get the better of him, and he was pushed over the edge, a level of inappropriateness from which there was no return.

Blowing an .08

Bulwinkul returned to progression on May 7th, turning a two-week vacation into a sixty-day stretch. I looked the other way because I valued Bul's contributions; he'd been diligent in attendance, present at every raid since we cleared our first set of trash in the Spider Wing. Giving him an extended period of time off, I hoped, would serve as a necessary cooldown, re-energizing him and lowering his frustration formerly directed toward non-Eh Team members. Bulwinkul had, on occasion, lashed out at players he'd run out of patience with, but there was more to the issue than simply anti-social behavior. Bul had a tendency to enjoy a little recreational drinking when playing WoW, something not unusual when playing video games. I had no problem with this; players drank, took smoke breaks, even chose to partake of substances perhaps more illicit than one might admit in public. My stance simply was this: I don't want to know about it, so keep it to yourselves and don't let it get in the way of the raid. In my mind, raiding under the influence was no different than raiding while distracted by the "game on TV", so I treated the alcoholics of the guild the same as those afflicted with March Madness.

Even when it came up in the past, such as during Hellspectral's infamous passing out in the middle of the raid, I kept my fury at bay only thanks to the help of folks like Blain. What went down with Bulwinkul, however, was an act that a handful of Blains couldn't repair.

"And that's when he called me a fucking bitch."

"This was when?" I asked Lexxii, sighing in frustration.

"Last night in the Alt-25. You can ask Mang or Drecca, one of 'em was there for sure."

I stared at my screen and listened on, Lexxii's digitized voice squeaking out of Vent. She was audibly upset, but keeping her composure.

"I'm sorry you had to deal with this. I've had talks with Bul before. He's been warned to keep this sort of behavior under control."

"I'm alright, I mean...I was just very surprised, he totally caught me off guard. I was just making a suggestion about positioning, y'know. Bullshark has done a lot of research on this particular fight, so I thought offering it up would help Bulwinkul, seeing as how he's been away for awhile..."

"No, I get it. It absolutely would've helped...he's missed a huge chunk of work in that respect. Again, I'm sorry you had to take this from him. I'll see to it that it isn't left unpunished."

Gone for two months, then you come back and treat our star performers like this? It was inexcusable. I pulled Bulwinkul into officer chat after I was done with Lexxii.

"Well? Do you want to explain your side of the story?"

"Basically she was acting all high and mighty and telling a bunch of us what to do. She was trying to lead the raid the entire night."

"Do you really believe that? Or do you think she was maybe perhaps offering some advice to some players who weren't exactly squared away. This is the Alt-25 we're talking about, Bul. Remember that it isn't always populated with the sharpest players in the guild."

"She was shooting her mouth off and, frankly, I was sick of it."

"So you thought it was OK to call her a fucking bitch in Vent in front of the raid. That's an appropriate way to handle yourself when you have an issue with other people in DoD?"

"I don't have to take that crap from her. Some of us aren't here to just ride coattails. What's she done? Besides getting showered with promotions and trinkets?"

You asked for it. "Well, for starters, she hasn't taken a two-week vacation and turned it into two months. So that's one thing."

Silence was the response I got from that jab; I can imagine that it stung. So being in the Eh Team makes you untouchable? I took a deep breath, "Are you drunk right now?"

He paused a moment, ""

"Alright. We're done here. I can't allow this behavior to continue. You can find another place to be drunk and disrespectful toward the guild." I flicked the guild roster up, scroll down to Bulwinkul's name, highlighted it, and ejected him from Descendants of Draenor. I left him alone in the Vent channel and alt-tabbed to the forums, clicked on "Announcements", and created a new post entitled "Zero Tolerance of Drama", writing the following:

I'm certain I've said it to each member of this guild, but I want to reiterate as it is no less meaningful now as the day I first stated it to each of you.

I'm not in any position to tolerate any drama in this guild. If you have interpersonal problems with other guild members, and have a problem with your temper, I highly suggest you seek help and/or professional counseling, because I have neither the time nor the patience to tolerate it.

One of the reasons I set an age limit at the start of WotLK was so that I knew we had a group of adults working together towards a common goal.

If you want to act like children and/or treat the rest of the guild like children, you can do it on someone else's dime. I'm currently in the midst of pouring a ton of excess energy into the refactoring of this guild as we move into Cataclysm, and I'd rather not waste any of that time listening to stories about guild members going on drunken disrespectful tirades.

If you want to shit on other players, do it someone else's guild. You're not doing it in this one.

I clicked submit, then alt-tabbed back to the Vent server. Bulwinkul had already left.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

3.71. The Edge Case

Si Team (with help from Sixfold) ends The
Lich King's reign in 10-Man mode, earning
"Fall of the Lich King (10 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Fifty Shades of Red

The Lich King struck Mature with Frostmourne, and the pale blood elf reeled from the blow. Will of the Necropolis proc'd, granting Sixfold a window to load up another round of HoTs. Blain called out a warning: prepare to move. We'd survived the Val'kyr dragging players off the edge to be dropped to their death by racing to the center of the platform; moments later, our safe zone became a death trap as The Lich King blasted us with Remorseless Winter. Exhausted, I commanded my digital death knight to pull freshly ripped Raging Spirits toward me before they dealt fatal blows to players less armored. Blain called for cooldowns to ensure a clean transition into the final phase, and it was upon us.

Sir Klocker and I balanced the weight of Frostmourne between our respective toons, trading at the application of Soul Reaper. The six remaining damage dealers unleashed hell into Arthas, his blows softened by bubbles of protective energy twisting outward from Neps' Hammer of Ancient Kings. Arthas' health slowly diminished, until at last, a final blast from his icy hands annihilated us in a single shot.

"Aw. Game over, everyone. Pack up your shit."

Klocker did his best impression of The Price is Right's fail-horn. The raid continued to joke and congratulate each other, as if nothing had happened. For such a clean execution, the raid was surprisingly chipper about this wipe.

The "wipe" was only an illusion.

Like clockwork, Fordring broke free, smashed Frostmourne and released King Terenas II who mass resurrected the 10 of us, and we gave Arthas what for. "Fall of the Lich King (10 Player)" flashed up on our screens, as Si Team officially wrapped their clear of Icecrown Citadel.

"Thank you to Eh Team for loaning us Sixfold today," I typed into guild chat. The formality was merely a show of respect to any guild members present and paying attention to the scrolling green words in the lower-left. In actuality, Eh Team was filling spots of their own as needed, following Crasian's second exit and Bulwinkul's vacation still in progress. As a good guild does, we worked to help each other fill spots as needed, a weekly ritual that grew out of our mutual needs as a result of the expansion nearing its end-of-life. It'd been a long time since any 10-Man team had been charged with poaching from one another. But before I could officially stick a fork in this particular issue, the dead horse would be flogged one final time.


When Sir Klocker returned to the officer pool, his first order of business was to bring to light issues that had been bothering him for some time. First on his list was a re-addressing of the loot situation, a path I had already begun to tread down. A dialogue unfurled, and I'd done some initial investigation into potential solutions for the next expansion. They needed polish, but at least ideas were flowing with enough inertia that I could douse folks like Cheeseus and Blain with them, gaining feedback and refining. Shortly after the loot conversation kicked off, Klocker pushed for the next item he felt was important.

There came an open discussion among the officer core to re-investigate the possibility of promoting Ben to Elite. Both he and Neps felt strongly that Ben had more than proven himself in the heat of battle, pointing out that his drunken tirades in Ventrilo had diminished significantly since the early days. Out in the field, Ben was far more than what the "Raider" rank asked of him, dominating meters and prioritizing the 25-Man progression raid's schedule over all else. Sir Klocker argued that it "didn't seem right" that Ben remain relegated to Raider. Had he not proven himself consistent and reliable for a long enough period of time? I couldn't argue with the sentiment. If anything, I was the most directly affected by Ben's increasing accountability. His willingness to improve translated into a much lighter load on my plate. It would be a shame to forget that he'd grown from a player that that lived by his own rules and the type of raider that would text me multiple times before a raid:

"Hey man, I’m gonna be five minutes late, hold my spot!"

"I'm just turning the corner now, I’m almost there!"

"Man, I'll be at the computer in like one minute!"

Better too much communication than not enough.

But as much as I wanted to give him the promotion, to give him that positive reinforcement for a job well done, something held me back from converting him into an Elite. As much improvement as Ben had demonstrated, the red flags still flew in my face...and my inner voice spoke. You will regret this decision. People don't change. Think it through. But he had changed! Why was this situation so unique, why was it any different than any other player I'd dealt with? It was entirely possible that those red flags Ben had flown in my face warranted a second look. After all, I'd come to the realization that not all people issues were black and white, but rather a million different shades of gray. Perhaps those flags weren't all as blood red as I imagined them to be.

The Halo Effect

I decided long ago that Ben was worth the effort, and wouldn't let it go. I let the officer core know I had something in the works to address the edge case -- this amorphous zone Ben floated between. Overqualified for a Raider, yet still unable to fulfill the prerequisites demanded of an Elite, Ben was something else entirely. I was committed to finding a way to acknowledge Ben's efforts, both in the short term and in the long. Quite a few players wondered why I even bothered putting effort into Ben; they had already written him off as immature, annoying, and not worth their time. Ironically, this was exactly the reason I bothered...because I hadn't made up my mind. Most perplexing was that every time I felt like I was about to come to a conclusion...I couldn't.

My hesitancy was more than likely a result of those earliest memories I formed of Ben; nights in which his perceptions of game mechanics filled our raid channel. His confidence walked the fine line between expertise and arrogance, dipping back and forth with just enough inconsistency to leave me guessing. Was it actual insight? Or an inflated ego borne out of PvP dominance -- an affliction plaguing more players than just Ben. Unfortunately, I lumped my judgments together: that "Halo" effect that causes us to focus in on one attribute, then apply it across the board when assessing the complete package.

Folks like Dalans weren't so easily convinced in observance of ego-fueled claims, "He'll never be a raider."

"Who? Ben?"

"He just spewed a bunch of nonsense about threat and aggro."

I'd fall into the trap, throwing in my own judgments, "How did we ever make it without the guy? Tell Ben that's why we never made any progress in The Burning Crusade. Oh, wait a second, WE TOTALLY DID!"

"Yeah, that won't work on Ben, he'll just laugh it off."

"It's all a big joke to him, isn't it?" I added, "Just like his life."

I had a lot to learn about judging character back then. Fortunately, I had people to guide me down the right path. People I previously thought incapable of caring about personnel issues. People like Blain, "His life is nothing to joke about."

"Why are you defending him?"

"His knowledge of the game has nothing to do with his knowledge of life."

My original read of Blain was no better than that of Ben's, in hindsight. Just because Blain's style was less communicative than Ater's didn't mean he lacked the ability to understand people. And as for Ben, he was still growing up in the guild, gaining life lessons at a completely different rate than the rest of us. Ego aside, his actions demonstrated he knew what he was doing, even if he couldn't articulate it. Just as he would learn this over time, I would also learn over time about how the halo effect had a grip on me, and how it would take calm objectivity and rational thinking to keep from falling into that trap. It meant not jumping to conclusions, especially after Ben had progressed so far.

Ben and Fred stand guard while Mature defeats
any challengers that stand in the way of the
"Gurubashi Arena Grand Master" achievement,
Stranglethorn Vale

Inner Demons

Learning to listen to my gut was one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. Time and again I struggled with those "hunches", that inner voice that screamed out warnings, that I was one step away from making a huge mistake. I justified ignoring it with my inexperience, contending that "my gut" wasn't a hard-and-fast rule I could point to when defining the expectations of the guild. If great leaders disagree on the many ways you can effectively manage people, one belief system that seems to be shared by nearly all: trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, don't do it. This formed the basis for my entire Red Flags post, and subsequent integration into our standard operating procedure. If you do or say something that rubs me the wrong way, it's going to hurt your chances in moving up. To clarify, I offered a multitude of examples, and felt strongly it would paint a clear picture for the guild moving forward.

Yet whenever the situation involved Ben, I questioned my gut the most, wrestling with an inner dialogue to understand why Ben continued to fall into limbo. People don’t change. But they can if they want to! Do you really think he wants to? Actions speak volumes. His actions have spoken, he's absent again tonight, off to "buy diapers"...something he should have done well before raid time. True, but he is taking care of his kid! Kids come before a video game! It's only an excuse for not planning ahead. People make mistakes. Think of how many times he's offered help to guildies, training Bulwinkul on Boomkin, helping stand guard while a Guild Leader that sucks at PvP wraps up a PvP achievement. His heart is in the right place, he just needs to practice his planning and communication...these are things that are fixable.

The problem was that my gut pointed out all the things that should be cause for concern, but it was still up to me to decide what was a simple mistake that could be fixed, and what was the result of having no heart in the first place.


"I guess Si Team run is cancelled this week!" Blain shot over a whisper. He seemed more irritated than normal.

"What's going on?"

"Yeah, Ben went and got himself locked to an Eh Team run this week."

This is a surprise? Grumbling and disgusted tones followed as I joined into Vent to listen.

"Should've known this was gonna happen. Hooray for Ben!"

"Hold up, let's not jump to conclusions here, let me talk to him." I alt-tabbed to the Vent server, scanning the groups, and finding Ben's name nestled in the "Eh Team" room. I yanked him out and into the officer channel.

"So what's the deal, here?"

He rolled right into it, as if he'd prepared for this exact moment, "Ok, so, I thought that Blain had told us that the Si Team run was cancelled this week. So, when Eh Team was asking for a filler, I offered up. Blain wasn't even online at the time."

"So you had no opportunity to check with Blain to confirm this?"

"Nah, I mean, I don't have access to those officer notes, so I don't know what his phone number is."

"But more importantly, you didn't think to check with anyone online that could get you his number?"

"That's what I'm saying, I didn't think I needed to because I thought that Blain had already called it off!"

Standard miscommunication. No actual ill-intent.

"Alright, we'll see what we can do to maybe get a fill from somewhere else, but you do realize this puts us in an awkward position, right? Eh Team being what it is, and all."

"I swear, Hanzo...totally didn't think this would be an issue."

"I think it's probably best you let Blain and the rest of the team know this was a mistake on your part, an apology would probably work wonders to help fix this. And in the future, you have got to touch base with Blain first. Before doing anything that would lock you to Eh Team's run."

I heard the clicking of keys as Ben opened up the mic to speak, but was interrupted by a wave of trash begging for his Mind Sear. "Yep, got it. I will totally tell them."

There was no need to vilify Ben over this issue. This was a Red Flag that didn't need to reset expectations -- it was merely a speed bump on the road to getting Ben where I needed him to be. I kept my gut at bay, and hopped back into Si Team's vent channel, "Simple mistake. It's really not a big deal, just a miscommunication."

"Oh, yeah, no, I wasn't really upset. I was just pointing out how amusing it was," Blain answered.

So much context lost over whispers and tells, I thought. Some things really need to be said face-to-face, or at the very least, over Vent.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

3.70. The Perfect Loot System

Drecca is the lone survivor of a heroic Rotface kill,
Icecrown Citadel

What Makes the Raid Go 'Round

Heroic work began in earnest immediately following the Lich King's defeat at the start of April. Drecca continued to make a name for himself by being the sole survivor of a desperately close attempt on heroic Rotface, and the screams that filled Vent poured the concrete around his ankles -- he was one of us now, and there was no turning back. By this point, Drecca was not only charging head-first into heroic bosses for the 25-Man progression team, but was assisting Mangetsu with the Alt-25 with increasing frequency. As our roster grew, fewer spots were available in progression, so the Alt-25 continued to garner interest from both guildy and stranger alike. The good news was that both Mangetsu and Drecca felt strongly about keeping standards high in the Alt-25, and this trickled down in the form of a strict set of rules to be followed as described on the forums. It was nice to see guildies finally taking pride in their play, and the result was a surprisingly successful 2nd 25-Man team.

When Mangetsu picked up the Alt-25, GDKP was the loot system first discussed, the reasoning being that non-guildies could be persuaded to help out. The concept of pouring gold into a pot to reserve a spot in the lineup worked surprisingly well, and if players hoped to see any of that money back, they were forced to stay throughout the duration of the raid. We knew nothing about non-guildies, hadn't vetted them, and couldn't vouch for the presence of any integrity or reliability -- the promise of a "damage deposit" was a convenient method of due diligence. But the success of the Alt-25 grew to such a level that it was eventually staffed by all DoDers, and GDKP gave way to a simpler solution: Need Before Greed rolls, with one Need per night. As soon as you "Needed" on an item (and won), that was it -- you were relegated to Greeds for the duration of the run. I wasn't particularly fond of NBG, due to the randomness of the roll and the fact that it had no memory; players who had raided since forever could lose to the newbie of the week. But, it wasn't the loot system that the 25-Man used, and I was fine with Mang using it in Alt-25; if anything, the DKP system of the 25-Man progression team acted as a carrot for those driven to get out of Alt-25 and to one day be a part of the guild's historic first boss kills.

As sound as our progression team's loot system was, there were still problems creeping up. The first-round bidding system I developed as as a perk for the Elite rank had backfired a number of times already. The last time it bit me in the ass was when an "alt" or "off-spec" bid ended up winning an item, denying it from a player who was bidding for their own main spec. At the start of 3.3, I amended the system to allow players to categorize their bids by adding "off" (eg. 20 DKP off), and any off-spec bids would be cast aside if even one main spec bid was on the table. But that wasn't the end of the problems for our loot system -- very quickly into ICC heroics, more loopholes were becoming evident.

"Crimson Acolyte"
Artwork by Nancy Cho

Loot Fears Float

Players like Deathonwings the shaman had no main spec. Each week, players like Wings flipped back and forth from Elemental to Restoration, an incredibly helpful type of player for a roster in a guild like ours, as they could fill a variety of needs at any given moment. We called these players "floaters", floating from spec to spec as the guild needed them to. As expected, some floaters were good enough to qualify -- and eventually arrive at -- the distinguished rank of Elite. Once Elite, Wings fully expected to start 1st-rounding bids on some of the most top notch items falling off heroic ICC bosses. But...for what spec? Was it fair for Wings to 1st-round items that were Elemental and Restoration? Of course not! But the alternative was to forfeit his ability to 1st-round...which was one of the primary reasons guildies pushed for the Elite rank in the first place. Floating as a reflection of roster need should not have come with a penalty...but it did.

Another type of floater caused me great concern as well, but these players had more selfish intent behind their decision to change specs. These were the players who had simply grown listless, requesting a change to help alleviate the doldrum now apparently baked into their everyday raid life. I'd suffered this first hand, so tried to keep perspective when players came to me about expressing their need to switch to a role that was more exciting. And I had no problem with purposeful role switches...until it came time for them to leverage their 1st round bidding rights as an Elite. I became painfully aware of this loophole when it affected me directly: the night Omaric attempted to bid 1st round on a freshly dropped heroic Deathbringer's Will -- a trinket long sought by pure DPS classes that had been waiting patiently. I wasn't particularly happy with Omaric's decision to seek the trinket before other non-floaters had their shot...but there was nothing in the rule book that said he couldn't. My recently promoted 2nd-in-command, Sir Klocker, confirmed the issue in a forum topic expressing current concerns...and it had been going on longer than I cared to admit.

There was no such thing as the perfect loot system, but I often daydreamed about what that might look like. I theorized that it would be a DKP system that weighted your earnings based on the role that you played. In this alternate reality, a player would keep four pools, separated by role: melee, ranged, healing, and tank. As raiders toppled bosses, logs were generated and uploaded to sites like World of Logs, and a breakdown of their contributions would appear there. In my mind's eye, I foresaw a report that read like so:

Tank / Melee / Ranged / Heals
Bretthew: 98/2/0/0
Mangetsu: 0/0/100/0
Wfredlund: 0/12/0/88
Mature: 48/52/0/0
Gunsmokeco: 0/0/0/100
Deathonwings: 0/0/76/24

If such a magical tool existed, breaking down an individual player's contributions, bids on specific types of loot would be far easier to manage. If Wings saw an exceptional elemental staff, he'd know that he'd have 76 DKP to bid on it...1st round, if he so chose. Likewise, those who took to a new role out of boredom would be free from facing the wrath of the fellow guildmates as being deceptively evil with their 1st-round bids. A player freshly floating from tank to melee, for example, would have no melee DKP accrued at that point, and would have to work towards it from scratch. If such a loot system could be, no player in my guild -- regardless of rank or contribution -- could argue it was unfair: players bid exactly what they earned, and their earnings were exact reflections of level of contribution.

It was a wonderful make-believe system. The problem with it was primarily the 'make-believe' part. Could I build it, I wondered, perhaps as a plugin to eqDKP, or maybe even reach out to the owners / administrators of World of Logs. Maybe there was a set of rules we could come up with to determine how to break that analysis down, displaying it in subsequent reports. But it ate away at me. This is too complicated, too much to administrate. There's no guarantee the people at World of Logs will ever get on board with this craziness. Keep it simple and compartmentalized within DoD. So, back to the drawing board I went.

Contributions vs. Consistency

A sample of Hanzo's notes during one
of several attempts to theory out a
better loot system for DoD
"I've been pouring a lot of energy into a theoretical new system I've come up with. And I need it picked apart. Can I forward you my scribblings?"

"Sounds good."

I flipped over to Google Documents, and shared various drafts of my high level concepts over to Cheeseus. The loot system centered around an emergent behavior of players wishing to fill multiple roles, "floaters", and how they would be handled fairly when going up against players uninterested or unwilling to do so. My initial idea was to split DKP into four pools, then using a custom tool to analyze raid reports would subdivide the player's earnings appropriately, weighted by the percentage of contribution per role. A player that tanked 100% of the raid, therefore, would receive 100% of their DKP in the tank pool, and would only ever be able to use that pool to bid on tanking items. But there were problems with the concept from a practical standpoint.

Administratively, four pools were too much to track and too confusing for the player. Furthermore, no such "custom tool" existed to perform the calculation telling me that Drecca and Bretthew had both earned 100% of their pool as a tank, while Deathonwings had earned a 50/50 split of ranged DKP and healing DKP. Most importantly, what would stop greedy players from simply switching to whatever role they felt like playing, just to scoop up loot? After having earned a healthy amount of DKP in two pools, selfish players were free to "go to town" on whatever dropped, not caring for a moment what was being denied to the rest of the roster. It was a self-serving mentality that harmed the non-floaters in the long term.

My second pass felt much closer to the mark. I had to shift my mentality from rewarding your contributions to rewarding your consistency. If people were going to switch at the drop of a hat, I was fine with it, but the switch needed to come at a cost, which meant losing the right to 1st round bid (if they were Elite). Over time, they could earn the right again, a concept I sketched into my notes as a yellow bar growing into a green one. Hence, consistent players in a particular role were green, while floaters remained a neutral yellow. Both had upsides. Green players earned the right to 1st-round bid, and yellow players would never have to bid off-spec on anything -- to a floater, all loot would be main spec.

Cheeseus got straight to the point.

"Overall, I really don't like the way this reads. So you're saying that if Dalans decides to come back and fill his old role of tanking, that Mature...who was tanking in his has to pay the penalty of switching back to DPS? Sorry Dalans, You're an asset to the organization, but you're not worth the 458 DKP I’m going to lose as a result of your return."

His comments continued to flow in.

"The 1st round bit seems very counterintuitive. Why would an Elite, who has proven himself as quite capable of doing whatever is needed, want to remain neutral in bidding? They're just like everyone else now, except with more responsibilities."

I took that as the "no off-spec bids" perk wasn't enough of a game changer.

"A non-elite can main bid on any role they're neutral to, any role they're switching amongst."

"So why would they want to go green? Alternately, why would you, Hanzo, want to let an up-and-coming DPS Death on tanking gear? And your most capable people, who would only benefit from being green, couldn't be used for any other role.”

Cheeseus continued to poke holes into my theoretical loot system until it looked like a used kitchen sponge.

"I know people wouldn't want to be neutral. The point is...they are now. This is how Deathonwings, Omaric, etc...are treated today. I don't want to have to go to them and say 'I need you to pick a role and stick with it, because it's not fair to the others.' I want a system in place where I can say, 'Do what you want, and what you do defines what you get.' In my eyes, that is the path of least resistance and gives them the greatest freedom."

Cheeseus remained unconvinced, "Right, but why should a potential Elite...who is giving up his punished further? They already can't raid consistently, am I right? They should be motivated to raid and excel, not threatened with a loss of perks if they are unable to keep it up."

"Because Elites that have done that to me already don't care!! 'Hey I got everything I needed, I'm off to go skiing! Oh, hey, remember me? I'm back now, I just broke my legs in a skiing accident...remember I used to be an Elite?? I can still 1st-round shit, right' No! There needs to be some repercussions to coming and going as you please!"

Cheeseus loosened his stance, "OK, I'll rethink that a bit more. But overall I still think that something is missing, this needs a bunch of work. Personally, I still think you should go loot council, but that's just because I'm pro-communism ideology. It fits the raid mentality well, everyone contributes, everybody gets a slice of the pie."

I glared back at the instant messenger window with narrowed eyes.

"I'll never go loot council in DoD. Ever. Too easy to manipulate by those in power. Too easily corruptible."

"Oh, I know. It would never work, just as communism would never work in the real world, but if you look at it on paper, isn't it an excellent idea?"

It would be...if we were all the bestest of buddies in real life. If we had to face one another the next day at work, have to deal with the fallout of making a horrible decision the night before. To be made to feel guilty about being selfish and dishonest, and to have that paraded around the office until we learned our lesson. Be excluded from social gatherings, to not have our phones calls answered or our emails replied to when we decided to take whatever the hell we wanted off of bosses. Yeah...then loot council would be fantastic.

How wonderfully simple World of Warcraft guild leadership would be if people could be held accountable for their actions.