Thursday, July 31, 2014

3.78. Epilogue: Growing Apart

"Leaked" warrior talents from The Burning Crusade
Friends & Family alpha (Source: Fires of Heaven Forums)

A Christmas Present

The weeks before Christmas typically experience a lull in traffic. On this particular year, present opening would fall squarely on one of the two raid days; I cancelled both. You'd still get the stragglers, bachelors, college kids, and of course, the die-hards. The ones that played every. single. day. I made my regular rounds, even during these holidays, doing dailies or wrapping up achievements. Typical upkeep. It was during one of these vacation evenings, while I re-arranged some items in Kerulak's bank, that a stranger appeared in game and whispered me. I had to re-read the source a couple of times, and when the name came into a focus, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

[W To: Ater] Ater!! Jesus Herbert Christ, how the hell are you?!?

[W From: Ater] Hey. :) What's going on?

[W To: Ater] Not a whole hell of a lot, but what's going on over there?

[W From: Ater] Had some time to kill. Fiancee is visiting her family for xmas. I'm hanging around the house alone. Thought I'd fire up the old game and check in.

I sat upright with a surge of energy, fiddling with the headphones as I jumped into Vent and sent him our new server's info. There he was. It was like he'd never left.

"This is pretty crazy, ya? They've changed a lot of stuff around."

I got right to it, "Oh my God, tons. Tons! You remember when they leaked out those bullshit talents just before Burning Crusade, and some guy photoshopped Titan's Grip into the warrior tree? You got it now, buddy."

"I see that. It's bizarre."

"Shit, I'll bet you haven't even seen the LFD tool yet. You remember when we had to spend 30 minutes coordinating a run through Sunken Temple, UBRS, all those damn heroics in TBC? Just press the 'I'."

"Oh, Wow. So this just puts you into a group now?"

"Yup. They just added this feature a couple of weeks ago. No more portal stones or whatever-the-fuck that shit was, no more waiting around -- dude, it even puts you in there with random players. And you would think that players are pretty bad, eh? But it's working surprisingly well!"

"This is a really great change. The old system was pretty broken, those meeting stones were especially bad. They've put a crazy amount of work into this."

I felt like a kid dragging their parent through Toys 'R Us, pointing to every incredible new thing on each shelf. God, how much the game had changed since his last raid...his last login.

"So you're back on Kerulak now? Or are you still playing Zanny?"

"Neither. I'm a death knight now, baby...death knight or GTFO."

"Is it as OP as I've heard?"

"It's tight. I kill everything now. Everything dies. And you know me, I'm an that's saying something." I walked Ater through the ins and outs of the death knight's talent trees -- the Unholy, the Frost, and the Blood. My former raid leader sounded intrigued.

"So you're saying you can tank in any tree? Without a shield?"

"Well, you know crushing blows are gone now, so that's one of the reasons why it works. I mean it's already a bit spiky, but there are a lot of emergency buttons to press, too. Honestly, I don't know how you did it back then. Tanking must have been a bitch. Now, not so much. To be honest, a lot of the game has been made more approachable."

"It's a smart decision. They lower the bar, get more people in, get more players in front of their content. It's nice to see they decided to start going this direction." I could hear that UX brain of Ater's thinking aloud. Usability. Streamlining interfaces. Smoothing difficulty curves. All necessary components to building a successful product.

"They've really got us hooked with this Achievement thing. Every little thing you do now, BAM, achievement pops up. Achievement for finishing 100 quests. Achievement for clearing a dungeon. Achievement for wiping your ass."

"It's addictive, isn't it?"

"I can't stop! There are people in the guild who just constantly look for ways to get each and every achievement in the game."

"They're definitely adding the right buttons to push. The old ways were incredibly archaic. If Blizzard really wanted to catapult WoW into the mainstream, these are the kinds of changes that demand it. The most impressive part of it is that it's a six year old game. That's unheard of it from a domestic MMO. Think about it. Name any other game that's not only lasted this long, but doubled its subscriptions in that amount of time."

"I know. It boggles my mind. I have to laugh whenever anyone claims WoW is dying, or when we lose several hundred thousand subscribers, they blame it on 'the game is old'. Fuck that! The game was ancient by any other measure by the end of The Burning Crusade! Now two years later, it's even more popular than it was then."

"What was the last subscriber count?"

"It peaked around 12 million. I think they took a hit recently when something went south in China. They had a falling out with their distributor out there or something. Piracy maybe? I dunno. That was a chunk of change. Still..."

Ater agreed, "Yeah. 12 million is amazing. No other game comes close to this."

We both sat a moment in silence, conversations in Vent are apt to do. Ater spoke next.

"Any of the old gang around?"

"Well, Blain's recently returned to the mix, he took a bit of a hiatus at the start of Wrath. Let's see. Kaddy, of course, has gone over to Elitist Jerks, but he still pops in to Vent. We usually see him at the end of an expansion -- when EJ's done their progression. Uh, who else...who else. Dalans is still good, he's been tanking away there. Taba's here, he's helping lead the 25 with another fellow, I don't think you ever met him, he came in just as you were heading out, guy by the name of Omaric. Good kid. Sharp with a warrior. He's moved over to a druid..."

My mind drifted as as I rewound my thoughts about Omaric's origin, the advice Omaric gave me toward my then newly promoted Warrior officer, Kurst -- who was Ater's replacement.

"I gave Kurst your old job for awhile."

"Kurst! I remember him. He was solid."

Instantly, a wave of doubt washed over me. Did he remember him the way I did? Or did I miss something...did I make some grave mistake in prom...


"Yeah, he was a solid guy. Good tank. But not ready for leadership."


"It didn't work out. I don't know that he had it in himself to lead, or had the right mindset. He was an absolutely loyal follower, though. We were very lucky to have him for as long as we did."

"Ah, that's too bad. Anybody else?"

"Uh, let me think...Anni is still around, he's on his warlock now, doesn't raid, but offers advice when he can."

Ater laughed, "And is Anni's 'advice' still causing people to ragequit?"

"He's been on very good behavior recently!" I rolled my eyes and imagined Ater doing the same.

"God, the complaints that came my way because of his language were ridiculous."

I laughed, "Oh, I know! He had to have his own Vent channel! Password protected!"

"People would complain about him, then turn around and go sit in his channel, back for more."

"Funny how that works, eh? How some people just don't seem to know what they want?"

"But they know how to complain!"

"Of course! The complaining's the best part!"

We both laughed. Ater and I talked late into the evening. I told him that I left the agency he and I used to work at, how it reignited a passion for work and to build quality software. He gave me the thumbs-up, then had me connect to a remote desktop session, sharing out some projects he was working on at his new company in the windy city. I marveled at the complexity of these new interfaces he'd toiled over; they made the sandwich shop's project management tool look like child's play by comparison. The app itself pushed massive amounts of data, far more than the tech had been known to withstand. If anyone could've pulled it off, it was Ater.

Ater asked if I was playing any XBox games, and raved about the latest Call of Duty. I stood my ground and refused to play a first person shooter with my controller, deferring to my son as the one playing the console more than I. He sold the game's improvements like he worked for the company, describing in exquisite detail what made this particular iteration, Black Ops, the best-in-show. Without giving me an opportunity to protest, he ordered a copy of the game for Hunter; I made sure to have Hunter jump on Vent and thank him for the gift.

Eventually, we chatted about the guild. How I had reshaped things at the start of Wrath. How I had taken his advice and was now acknowledging people for their contributions, and we were enjoying our greatest successes to date. Administration was light, real life had better balance, and I felt like I had done a good thing. Ater seemed pleased.

When the holiday week came to a close, his fiancee returned from her trip, and Ater resumed his daily life. I never saw him in-game again, but before he left, I made sure we had each other's contact info in real life. Those nights over the '09 Christmas holiday were memorable for no other reason than being given a few extra hours, hanging out with the player who I called my mentor. I didn't need to drag up old hard feelings, interrogating him about why he left the guild, why he left me hanging. The truth was that he'd simply grown apart from the game that was once familiar. Many of the old faces were gone, only handful of names remained. Our reasons to start playing WoW may have all differed, but there was a noticeable common theme in why many of them continued to play. They played because of the people. The people made it fun. Working together, tackling problems together, overcoming problems together. Teamwork among peers. Family.

People slowly drift away from World of Warcraft as time goes on, it doesn't matter the reason. What matters is that for a short time, they were a part of something big, something meaningful, something that took effort; blood, sweat and tears to make something great. Something fun. It was hard to predict how my own longevity in the game would play out, but I knew that as long as it remained fun, I'd be here.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

3.77. My Third Mistake

Artwork by Kala-A

The Fourth Marx Brother

It was Monday, December 6th. To millions of World of Warcraft fans around the world, it was the day before Cataclysm launched. To me, it was like any other day at the office. Steam rose from the coffee in my cup as I caught up on the morning gaming news. My fellow co-workers drifted into the office behind me; I nodded and waved without diverting my gaze. Eventually, my IM window sprung to life with conversation, chatting with people thousands of miles away. It was my intent to give this particular day no special treatment. I wanted no vibe, no hint, no miniscule clue that could tip anyone off that anything was wrong. And as I began my conversation with Cheeseus, I repeated the mantra in my mind. Nothing is wrong. Everything is cool.

At the start, I shared the results of a new DKP tool Drecca and I had been testing. Getting Cheeseus chatting casually about numbers was something I knew spoke to his interests. Forever the number cruncher, his love of mathematical puzzles got him focused on what he did best....which was my strategy to catch him off guard. He was about to be hit with something I knew he wouldn't expect that particular Monday morning.

"Hey, when you get a minute, you mind giving me your straight-shooter, from-the-hip post mortem on Eh Team?"

"Could you rephrase?"

"I'd like to hear your thoughts on what transpired in the Eh Team chat channel, back around Ulduar."

Cheeseus seemed confused, "Hm, do you mean what I thought our strengths and weaknesses were? Or the sort of stuff that went into day-to-day decisions?"

"Not really, no."

"Do you mean like, where egos were clashing? Who rubbed who wrong?"

I dropped a few more breadcrumbs to point him in the right direction, "More like, guild manipulation-related decisions, who took part, who turned a blind eye, etc."

"Oh, you mean the Crasian thing?"

Interesting. "Sure, let's start with that."

He began detailing how he wished to put together his own 10-Man team after becoming jealous of Blain's success in the first tier of content in Wrath, about the same time as his promotion to Raid Leader for the 25-Man. After taking the reins, he felt there were only 17-20 consistent players week-to-week and the rest were continually carried. He grew frustrated with people that didn't improve. His lack of faith in the 25 was exacerbated as he flipped back to his own 10-Man, one with a very different mentality. The one trying to push realm-firsts. The one called Eh Team.

Things got worse as his 10-Man started to down hard modes; over and over, they were not getting the drops they needed. Thorim's AP trinket, the healing mace off of Vezax...week after week the loot tables failed to cooperate. Meanwhile, other teams like Starflex and Cowbell were hitting the jackpot, adding to the jealousy. In Cheeseus's eyes, this was when Crasian took it a step further.

"He began to ditch out on Eh Team raids and run with other teams, to try to score the items we never saw. He constantly talked about loot. 'If I got this so-and-so item, I'd be so much better off...', and how we shouldn't roll against him."

The seeds being planted.

Communism Works

"Eventually, we got Yogg+1, and that was when you promoted Taba, effectively turning the Eh Team completely Elite."

I remember the promotion. Struggling with it. For months and months, as the pressure continued to be levied on me. And then, letting my guard down, while cooped up in a hotel in Williston, ND, waiting for my car's transmission to be repaired. At what was my lowest point, I wanted to acknowledge something positive. Something good that was happening: Eh Team's success.

"We were struggling on Algalon, and then ToGC shows up and, surprise!...better loot. So Crasian falls back into his old ways, going on about his loot, and somehow, the idea of allocating loot vs. rolling on it was born. In general, I've always liked the idea of communism, but I was still getting shit loots, that wasn't why I supported the idea."

Cheeseus noted that this was when the major problems began. Omaric was winding up Ikey, so they agreed as a group to allocate more loot towards him to gear out the druid. Not everyone agreed to it. And aside from Bheer getting burnt, the allocation "worked'...which is when they began to slowly introduce it during the 25-Man.

"I'd like to think it wasn't me who was responsible, but I can say that in previous guilds, we commonly had a separate channel, say /rogue, in which we would work out amongst ourselves who was most appropriate for the next upgrade, and this often meant figuring out what other classes we needed to beat in the bidding. I understand if you consider this unethical, essentially ‘bid-rigging’ but even now I don't disagree with the concept."

The reason it worked, Cheeseus explained, was due to the 1st-round loophole: bidding 1st-round had no noticeable ramifications, so Eh Team's modus operandi officially set to "go all or go home". The minimum bid of 50 DKP for 1st-rounds meant nothing to players sitting on hundreds of DKP, the product of their consistent, reliable raiding. There was no reason not to go all in, even if members of Eh Team had differences of opinion on the matter.

"Deal making…'plotting'...was definitely happening. Crasian was guilty of this. Bheer was completely opposed. Omaric was probably a plotter, I attribute this to his need to gear the bear out, even though people like you and Dalans still needed that stuff. Guns was excited about the idea, but I don't believe he actually ever participated in it. The rest of them...I honestly can't recall, so I'm either ignorant, or it isn't worth mentioning. I think it is fair to say I used my power as Raid Leader of the 25 to plot on behalf of the Eh Team, to assist people like Omaric."

Whether my nonchalance strategy worked, or Cheeseus was naturally forthcoming, it was refreshing to see someone be so honest about the alleged events -- more so than any other individual member of Eh Team.

It didn't, for one moment, excuse the behavior away.

Good Crop, Bad Crop

When I shared the news with the officer core, the first thing they wanted to know was why hadn't I kicked each and every one of them to the curb. I would have loved nothing better. You've demonstrated what loyalty you have to me: none at all. Enjoy your permanent vacation. I couldn't. The situation had changed significantly in the months that had passed since ejecting Bukwinkul for what seemed like a trivial infraction by comparison. The roster was once again taking control over my guild, not the other way around. The difference this time wasn't due to a lack of experience or structure. Instead, a changing landscape was emerging, and any guardrails that once existed to keep from throwing gutterballs were evaporating within hours.

The consequences at my disposal were far and few between. Stripping anyone of their title had little effect. Elite had been reworked from the ground up, complete with a new name, and everyone would be starting from scratch in Cataclysm, anyway. Meanwhile, those formerly holding the role of an officer already stepped down by this point. At least I could take comfort in knowing they would never be given authority over any decision-making in DoD again. Expressing my disappointment in their behavior came off like a parent scolding an employee for stealing shit from the office. Wrong place, wrong time. So, I stuck to the unemotional pragmatism of a boss, and whatever employee perks they'd earned evaporated. Whomever remained into Cataclysm was nearly guaranteed to be shackled in political chains. With little else to work with, I got creative in making an example out of them.

The final order of business was to ensure that Eh Team's exploits left a message to future manipulators. Verbiage regarding who was guilty of what remained ambiguous on the forums, sticking to Ater's old adage: praise in public, scold in private. But, when guildies took me aside expressing interest in setting up their own 10-Man in Cataclysm, I briefed them with a conversation in Vent. "What we don't want is a repeat of what went down in Eh Team." This mysterious introduction would almost always be met with "Oh? Eh Team? What do you mean?" I'd tell the tale, expecting a little cross-pollination as word has a way of travelling. I made sure that players knew Eh Team put the traitor in "perpetrator".

In my research since the incident, I've come across many sociological explanations on what went down in Eh Team and why. Enclothed cognition causes people to take on the attributes of their clothes and labels, which may explain how a title like Elite and being draped in the most powerful gear could cause a player to act with disdain toward a perceived lower-class. Deindividuation happens when groups of people temporarily lose their sense of self, succumbing to a hive mind in which the group's actions protect against unethical behavior. Insulated from the guild's authority, it might have justified their choices as easily as a group of onlookers goad a suicidal jumper teetering on a ledge. Agentic State Theory supposes that people who see themselves as incapable of making authoritative decisions will defer to the group, thereby allowing atrocities to continue as they are no longer responsible, merely an instrument carrying out another's wishes. Pick whatever puts your mind at ease.

What picks away at me at night is the contradiction between Cheeseus's beliefs, and their actual effects in practice. Communism is a socioeconomic system in which everyone is treated as an equal. I'd already made it very clear that I intended DoD to be a meritocracy. Communism has no titles, we had very distinct ranks for Guildy, Raider, Elite, and Officer. Cheeseus's preordained allocation of loot was to ensure an efficient spread of wealth, yet the Raiders remained upgrade-starved while the Elite remain strong...and firmly in control. Everything Cheese said went directly against the new order of DoD, so why didn't I pick up on this -- perhaps the biggest red flag of them all?

Because I assumed that Cheeseus had an obligation to the guild first, before himself.

Just because you say a rule exists, or write it down on paper, doesn't mean it will be followed. Getting people to pursue the necessary steps to climb the guild ladder was easy because it's what they wanted, it was a part of their internal game plan. When their obligations to the guild no longer fit with their internal game plan, I lacked the checks and balances to hold them accountable, and this was My Third Mistake. I spent the better part of The Burning Crusade listening to excuses from the losers in my guild. Now, I was getting excuses from the winners. Perhaps there's some truth to the old Communist saying, "Good crops come from good farming, bad crops come from bad weather."

We don't live in a just world. People do bad things, sometimes without even knowing it, other times defending it as "not really bad". A smart leader knows the system can be broken, and takes measures to keep his or her people on the path. If a person's moral compass points the wrong way, you can't prevent them from following it. The job of the Guild Leader, instead, is to be the magnet under the compass. If my greatest triumph in the reworked rules was a system to acknowledge the star performers, my biggest failure was a system to keep them honest. If you wish to continue to believe that most people are inherently good, I will not dissuade you...but only a foolish leader would proceed without taking precaution to the contrary.

So, trusted blog your own conclusion similar to mine?

Left to his own devices, overwhelmed by frustration and jealousy, Cheeseus's ideals floated to the surface, let them get the best of him, let him excuse away the behavior that directly violated the rules of the guild. But without understanding his (arguably common-sensical) obligations to the guild, this belief system flourished long after his departure, perhaps made easier by Agentic State Theory (see above). Eh Team claims, to this day, that there was no true one person in power, that all decisions were made equally; I'll leave it to the reader to decide where authority in Eh Team truly rested, and who was ultimately responsible for collusion that followed. He who was smarter than all the others, who had strongly held beliefs in loot distribution that stretched further back than even their induction into the guild. He who had an unwritten responsibility to me to communicate the issues he saw unfolding and, given the right clarity of role by the guild leader, be expected to uphold what was I declared to be right...even if it meant going against his own idealistic system. He who had multiple opportunities to come clean, yet failed to do so until directly questioned.

Reader, once you have decided for yourself who the real perpetrator, the true villain is, let me be the the first to tell you:

You’re not even close.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

3.76. Burying the Leader

"WoW: Lich King"
Artwork by Grampsart

An Inconvenient Truth

Much transpired between the end of July and the launch of Cataclysm in December. The transition event marked the coming of Deathwing, and the land suffered many earthquakes as elementals sprouted forth, calling us to battle. The dedication of many players in the guild continued on into the summer months, returning to raids for gear and achievement acquisition. Players rolled alts, flipped to the Alliance to secure a Lich King kill on the enemy's side, and even returned to older content to wrap up outstanding achievements.

As you probably guessed, I headed off on my annual summer vacation, albeit taking a different route, likewise returning with a different mindset. The 4.0.1 patch eventually made its debut come October, and we settled in to our new talents and abilities. I even returned to BlizzCon that year -- my first time returning since the original "Deckard Cain" visit in '05. A great number of changes happened in the roster as we approached Cataclysm, and...just as I had done near the start of WotLK...I rolled out refinements to our guild rules, closing what I hoped to be the last remaining loopholes left unattended.

These paragraphs could produce a hefty amount of blog posts. And they will, I promise. But those posts belong to a different story, however, one we can't begin until the current story ends. In the meantime, there remains a bit of unfinished business to attend to. For this final part of the story, we'll have to leap ahead to the first week of December 2010, a few days before the launch of the expansion that ends it all.


I rolled the last of my raiding rule updates out to the guild forums that morning, preparing to answer questions as they arrived. I popped Pidgin open, fired off an instant message to Bheer, asking him what he thought of the updates. I expected he would be impressed and thankful; Bheer was in a group of a select few people to hold me accountable several times throughout Wrath, pointing out loopholes that needed to be closed. I remembered his state of mind when my Wrath changes were announced, two years previous. I remember being nervous, predicting the worst. And I remember Bheer being one of the first people to acknowledge the changes as exciting and beneficial for us, sating my fear and providing the validation I needed. He made me believe I was on the right track.

This time, he gave me a different response.

"So, no more guaranteed spots?"

"Negative. The day of the Elite is over. It had a good run, but...I'm concerned about how the title grew into their head, changed their attitudes over time. It changed how they treated people. Privileges became entitlements. That's not quite the direction I intended. Once their spot was 100% secure, they...well, some of them...began to act like they were untouchable."

"I'm not sure the new incentives are gonna be worth it."

Perhaps my wording wasn't entirely clear. "Look, functionally, it is the same thing as it was. If you behave responsibly and are consistent...essentially, the Elite of yore, you'll still have the same spot week-after-week. I've just removed the language about a permanent guarantee." To add clarity to my stance, I framed an example around Bheer himself, "Let's look at your spot. You were in a highly sought-after position. There were no other enhancement shaman. You were a model citizen. You signed up. You showed up. In this framework, you yourself would be present in practically every raid you request."

"But you still have the old rule written in the new Elite rank that they're expected at all raids."

"Absolutely. Again, it's not functionally different than before. The new Elite rank is still going to grant perks, but they're going to be held accountable this time. The same goes for the changes to 1st-round bidding. They're going to have to really think about what they want to burn their first round bids on, because in doing so, they reset their pool. Just additional guardrails in place to prevent people from abusing the loot system. They can still bid 1st's just that now, the price to come to the table is far more significant."

I sat back in my chair, confident I'd clarified the change to Bheer. His response popped up a few moments later.

"Hopefully, that will fix the problem with folks like Eh Team colluding behind your back."

The excitement and energy in talking about my changes to the guild rules instantly came to a halt. At first, I thought I misread it. I tilted my head, squinting, leaning closer to the monitor, and re-reading the words next to his name.


"What do you mean 'colluding'?"

As Bheer's words began to appear in the IM window, a debilitating rage welled up inside me. My teeth clenched as his story unfolded, and the glow of my monitor took on a reddish hue.

Mechanism of Convenience

A cycle repeated as Bheer revealed the grand conspiracy. Part of the story would appear in the IM window, causing my mind to leap back through time like a movie on rewind, trying desperately to pinpoint what happened when, and why I wasn't able to pick up on it. The further back I rewound my memories, the more lost in a trance I was, tightening my fists until my knuckles were white and my fingernails dug in to the skin. Then, I'd snap out of it, re-focus on the story, only to have each successive reveal toss me back into the projector of the mind, the anger blinding me to my own self-mutilation. And I scrambled to isolate the individual pieces. What had I not paid attention to? How had I let this happen? What signs had I missed?

It came about during Ulduar, Bheer claimed. The "initial discussions". They set up a chat channel in-game, protected by a password. Originally, it was to serve as a private bitching area for members of the Eh Team to collectively shit on players they felt were being carried in the 25-Man. Nobody was to share the existence of the channel to anyone in officership. Guild members that were deemed "too close to Hanzo" would also be excluded from this information. Once all of the individual members of the Eh Team acquired a rank of Elite, an alternate looting strategy was floated to the group. As items dropped from bosses, there would be a quick discussion among the group on whether or not the item would be beneficial to Eh Team. If it was, they coordinated their bidding, ensuring that someone locked down the item via a 1st-round bid, denying the item to any potential Raiders that were working towards their own upgrade.

"Were you in on this?"

"I refused to participate, as did Guns. Everyone else had a hand in it."

"Why didn’t you tell me about this before?"

"It was a mechanism of convenience that allowed the Eh Team to flourish, and we were doing well. Really well, actually. I didn't agree with it, but I also didn't want to jeopardize our track record."

I zeroed in on the irony of that statement, "...even though they kicked you to the curb, anyway."

"Well, yes, but that came later. I didn't know they were going to turn on me like that."

I took a deep breath. "Whose idea was it?"

"Crasian was the one who initially started suggesting it. The rest went along with it."

Crasian. The death knight who came and went as he pleased. The player who earned Elite, only to leave to go skiing, who claimed to have thrown a hissy-fit when I chose myself as the first to claim Shadowmourne. The death knight who lost a melee officer promotion to Jungard by a simple lax in judgement. Jungard himself had warned me about Crasian's two sides. There was the popular, guild-friendly face who loved to help fellow members knock out achievements. Behind closed doors, the other face emerged, following his own agenda to establish a steady flow of upgrades to himself, no matter what promises to guildies went unfulfilled. As long as he got his skiing in, that was the most important part.


He would never set foot in this guild again.

The Unusual Suspects

There was nothing I wanted to do less. Staring at the Eh Team's vent channel made me want to just draw a box around all of their names, right-click, and mass ban in one fell swoop. There's your mediation. But I owed it to them to hear them out. I was obligated to consider both sides of the story, to get a clearer picture of what actually went down. It was all part of the job. Kicking out a wife on account of her husband's bad behavior, or removing a stand-up guy from officership because he couldn't cut the mustard were tasks that seemed lightweight upon reflection. Now I was going to have to call people's credibility into question. Was Bheer's story a fabrication? Or had they genuinely lied to my face about their behavior -- Enron-esque loot funds diverted into their own accounts.

One by one, I plucked them out of the channel, dragging their name down into "Officer" for interrogation. The line of questioning was the same for each Eh Team member. I'd like you to take a moment and explain to me your point-of-view of the events that transpired in the private Eh Team chat channel with regards to loot. It should have been enough to convey exactly what I was speaking about, without playing my full hand to the table. They didn't need to know Bheer was the one who revealed the conspiracy; in the absence of that knowledge, I felt they'd give me a more accurate story.

In some cases, they really played dumb. When I fished the answers out of them, you would've thought they had just joined the guild yesterday -- manufactured shock and surprise to mollify me. They all told me something different, speaking as though they were an outside observer to something they had all been privy to. It only fueled my rage further.

Gunsmokeco: "That was going on? Really? I guess I wasn't paying attention to it."

Just like you weren't paying attention to your addons that I specifically required all players and officers to have configured for the 25-Man? At what point did you feel like you wanted to start paying attention?

Larada: "Had no idea anything was going on like that. I definitely wasn't doing it, though."

The ignorance defense seems to work incredibly well. I wonder how that works in the real world.

Sixfold: "I knew that they were trying to find a way to keep things in the inner circle, but it...I felt unfair. I wasn't happy about them doing it. I didn't really like the idea."

...and yet you didn't feel the need to bring it to my attention, that perhaps maybe this was going against the rules.

Bulwinkul: "I dunno why I didn't say anything, but I'm not proud of it. It started as a way to vent frustrations at some of the other players who weren't contributing as much as we were."

Except that you don't get to decide what level of contribution is rewarded in this guild...I do.

Omaric: "Crasian got a little loot hungry, sure, but I wouldn't call it 'collusion'. They were just trying to work out what the most efficient path was for a certain set of upgrades."

And working together to decide who bids on what and when, under the guise of 'efficiency', you wouldn't call that collusion, eh?

Bretthew: "This is an absolute lie. Who told you this? I mean, this really pisses me off, Hanzo, I really really want to know who it was that gave you this info, because it is totally false and unfair. God, this makes me angry! The stuff that we chatted about in that channel was not collusion. Totally not collusion. The kinds of things we talked about regarding loot were no different than anything that was talked about in the officer chat. Officers did exactly the same things as we did, and nothing more. I'm offended, Hanzo."

So, what you're saying is that when I type "Please let it be heroic Deathbringer's Will" in officer chat, that's the same as you typing, "Anyone here need Voldrethar? Should we snatch it up?" Thanks for clarifying that for me.

One thing they all agreed on: when questioned on who the ringleader was, no individual member ever stepped up to take responsibility. Crasian certainly took the brunt of the bus' tire treads when it came time to place the blame on someone for the idea itself...but allowing the idea to take root and flourish fell squarely on the shoulders of the Eh Team's leader.  Yet in a stroke of either convenience, genius, oversight, or simple dumb luck, nobody in Eh Team claimed to be the one calling the shots! The one thing they all believed to be true was that they made decisions together -- a democracy of misfits and anarchists whose plausible deniability absolved them of any accountability.

What they didn't realize, however, was that there was someone who was responsible. Someone who had long since taken their leave from World of Warcraft. Someone whose ideals weren't quite aligned with my own -- especially when it came to loot. Someone who had the means to let their belief system justify a new world order of their own. Someone who had an obligation to the guild to report bad behavior and greed, rather than allow it to flourish.

Someone who really should have known better than all these bit players in the Eh Team show.

Someone that I trusted.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

3.75. Never Say Never Again

Si Team wraps "All You Can Eat (10 Player)",
completing Glory of the Icecrown Raider,
Icecrown Citadel

A Win is a Win

Sindragosa howled and filled my headphones with her threats, barking of betrayal. A barrage of arrows mixed amongst explosive buckshot loosed into the undead dragon's side as Bullshark and Cenadar strafed across her flank, their respective pets chomping in the hopes of hitting marrow. Neps and Lexxii zig-zagged across the platform while shields flashed around us, stopping occasionally as Penance spiraled out of their fingertips. Moolickalot the Boomkin dropped back, fading away from the iceblocked Phame. I watched for the timing to hand the bone dragon back to Klocker. The last remaining DPS came from Abrinis and Blain, maintaining their rotation, driving steel into bone. Her health dipped to 2%, then 1%. The flash of guild achievement spam signaled the fight's end. Si Team completed "All You Can Eat (10 Player)", the final meta necessary for Glory. And when it flashed up on the screen, cheers filled both Vent and the DoD guild chat. Finally, a 10-Man in the guild claimed completion of Glory of the Icecrown was us.

Meanwhile, in another Vent channel, Eh Team ran back for their next attempt.

It had been neck-and-neck between Eh and Si in our collective attempts wrap up Glory. Of course, no official gauntlet had been thrown down, no line had been drawn in the forum sand. Nothing had ever been explicitly stated that this was a race. The competitive nature of raiding set us down this path. Beating Eh Team at anything stood on its own as a justifiable measure of accomplishment within the circle of cliques that populated DoD. Laying claim to the Bloodbathed Frostbrood Vanquisher certainly didn't hurt. It was a shame that no official rivalry had been digitally inked. As is often the case among "friendly" competition, being beaten in the absence of contractual obligations seemed to grant you a free pass...yet the reverse was nearly never the case. No player seemed concerned about a lack of officiating when they were the first to cross the finish line, and their chests were thumped with no less vigor. A win is a win.

Conveniently, losing the race suddenly doesn't hurt as much when you can tell yourself it wasn't a race.

"Gratz on sticking it to Eh Team," I whispered over to Blain.

"They're missing a few of their original roster." Big deal. So were we.

"Blain," I said, "you have my permission to enjoy the win. Just get the damn mailbox out already. Need to get screenies for the website."

Omaric swapped Vent channels, poking his head in to congratulate us on nailing the achievement. "Thanks, Om. Now get back in there and wrap it up! What's taking so long?" He chuckled before switching back to Eh Team's channel, a hint of indignance in his tone. I got the vibe, as if to say "Funny joke! Maybe you could take your joke and shove it straight up your ass." It's difficult to say exactly what was leaving a bad taste in his mouth, but losing Glory to Si Team by minutes didn't seem like it. Perhaps there was inter-Eh Team friction at play, drama we weren't privy to in our own private Vent channel. Perhaps he harbored resentment toward Blain pulling out another win, taking it personally; another lesson in leadership, as if to rub his nose in it without saying a single word. Or perhaps that tinge of disgust was more for me. Maybe I hadn't given him as much support as he needed as Raid Leader for the 25-Man, having to deal with being spoon fed help from a retired raid leader from a former era of WoW.

Or...maybe it was something else entirely.

Mature and members of Si Team pose with their
Bloodbathed Frostbrood Vanquishers,
The Storm Peaks

Cancelling Retirement

After collecting our mounts from the mailbox, I directed the members of Si Team to head toward The Storm Peaks for our victory shot. En route, I pulled Blain into the officer channel in Vent.

"Have you given it more thought?" I asked.

"He's definitely stepping down?" Blain responded with a question of his own.

"It's practically a done deal now. Omaric says he's fine with you taking back control of raid leadership whenever you want. He is completely done with it, chapter closed, end-of-story."

Bretthew's exit at the conclusion of 25-Man (normal) left Omaric to fend for himself, which most certainly contributed to additional pressure. He suffered a long history of struggling to take criticism and suggestions, and by this point, had expended all of his remaining energies as lead of the 25-Man. Blain's undercover adjustments kept the raid focused through those heroics, undermining Omaric's leadership in the process. Each whisper must have been like digital daggers in Omaric's eyes. Here's an example of why you're wrong. Here's another adjustment which proves you don't know what you're doing. But Blain never held animosity nor delivered malice with his adjustments. "Switch the tanks." "Let me call out the warnings." "Group further back on the steps for iceblock." What Blain typed and what Omaric read were two different things. Perhaps the differentiating factor was a simple lack of why such adjustments were needed.

Blain rarely explained himself. When he did, there were bigger problems at hand than simply re-positioning ourselves on the steps for iceblock.

"And Taba's out for good?"

"As far as I know."

"What was that all about, anyway?"

I took a deep breath. "Dunno, exactly...but I was pretty pissed off when he told me. He said something to the effect of 'killing the Lich King was my personal goal'...which apparently relieved him of any responsibility toward the 25-Man."


I popped open the roster and eyed the list of players that were still in Icecrown Citadel, Bretthew's name resting at the top. I guess another personal goal was Glory of the Icecrown Raider, Eh Team stylin'?

I took another deep breath and let the pulsing forehead vein subside.

"At least he stuck around as a backup while I got Kizmet situated."

Blain seemed disinterested in the whys or the why nots, "I don't know about all those crazy requirements you got now. I can't guarantee that I'll be there every. single. weekend."

The 25-Man progression team defeats Heroic Professor
Putricide, concluding "Heroic: The Plagueworks (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

I shook my head instinctively, as if speaking to Blain face-to-face, "Don't let the fine print of the guild rules prevent you from taking up your old position. That's not what they're about, alright? The reason those rules are written like that is to prevent people from coming up with excuses to get away with shit you and I consider common sense. We avoided the catastrophe of TBC thus far, my plan is to continue to do so."

Blain remained quiet, which I can only assume meant he was still in contemplation. The group arrived in The Storm Peaks, and before long, were vying for position as the most prominent player in the shot.

"Look, you said yourself the raid's gone soft. This...mentality...of needing loot for progression has pretty much flourished under Om and Taba. I agree. I'm with you. I see it myself. This could be your last real chance to take control of the raid, and if the raids in Cataclysm are heading back to the difficulty of TBC, DoD's going to need someone like you to set them straight. I can't do that on my own. I'm gonna need some serious help from some serious folks."

"Ater was the one doing most of the research in the off-hours." It was as if Blain was giving me reasons to stay in retirement.

"That's no problem, I have a plan for putting people in place to take care of that for you. There are a few players left here that still give a shit, and they'll gladly step into that role...or whatever need them to fill."

I thought back to those issues that manifested during Blain's career while at the head of the raid. Maybe it was best to revisit my stance on the most troublesome of those pain points.

"Remember, you will have all the support you need. The entire officer core would be behind your decisions. There will be no undermining, no questioning your strategies. I'm driving people to the forums for those discussions now. That haphazard shit is behind us. Too many cooks in the kitchen? We barely have enough now to fry up an egg."

"Who'll be my backup on the days I can't be there?"

I held back on naming names, only because I wanted to be 100% certain it was a done deal first. "I have a few people to talk to first, you let me worry about that. I'll put someone in place, that's my part of this deal. I have my eye on a couple sharp candidates already. Trust me. We can make this work."

Blain shifted amongst the crowd of frostwyrms in preparation for the historic shot. "Alright. I'm in for Cataclysm. After that, no promises."

"I'm fine with planning one expansion at a time. Anything beyond that, it's just a crap shoot by that point."

I positioned Mature in the middle, spun my camera around, and pressed the PRTSCR key. In a moment of daydreaming, my brain spun through the Warcraft lore, considering any number of possible futures beyond Cataclysm. I saw myself playing through The Frozen Throne, years before, guiding Rexxar alongside a familiar black-and-white bear.

"...I mean, Hell. For all I know, the next expansion will be filled with pandas."

Blain made his position abundantly clear, "The day they add pandas to this game will be the day I cancel my account."

The 25-Man progression team defeats Heroic Sindragosa,
finishing "Heroic: The Frozen Halls (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

The Highest of Notes

Before officially retiring from leading the 25-Man progression team, Omaric pulled us through those last three meta achievements, all of which took the entire month of July to wrap. Heroic Professor Putricide was every bit as grueling as we expected, reminding us of the challenges we faced in the early days of raiding in Vanilla and TBC. It took three weeks of concerted, concentrated practice on the Professor, knocking out a kill on the 23rd of the month. Two days later, Sindragosa fell in her Heroic Mode, the progression team sprinting to the Lich King to knock out Neck Deep in Vile. And we did, in classic DoD fashion, in our famous last pull of the night. The raid had no qualms staying a few minutes late that Sunday evening, collecting their mounts and being captured in the guild's killshot.

DoD wraps the final meta, "Neck Deep in Vile (25 Player)",
earning "Glory of the Icecrown Raider (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel
DoD's last major accomplishment in Wrath of the Lich King was Glory of the Icebound Raider, granting the team their Icebound Frostbrood Vanquishers. On that day of July 25, 2010, the team proudly hovered over the landing pad in Dalaran and their accomplishments were digitally etched into DoD's history.

The percentage of raw content we claimed victory over, no other expansion came close...nor ever would. We left three quarters of Naxxramas and one third of Ahn'Qiraj untouched in Vanilla (not to mention three of the four outdoor green dragons). In TBC, the entirety of the Sunwell Plateau was left behind. By comparison, only three bosses remained incomplete from the 25-Man perspective, and all three were in their heroic forms: Halion in Ruby Sanctum, Anub'arak in the Tournament of Champions, and The Lich King himself. It wasn't a 100%, but I'd take a 96% over an 80% and 60% any day of the week.

The 25-Man progression team shows off their
Icebound Frostbrood Vanquishers,
From a camaraderie perspective, Descendants of Draenor couldn't have ended Wrath of the Lich King on a higher note. It was the first expansion we suffered no exodus; no massive group of players left us to greener pastures. And even in the day-to-day of wading through the celebrity of Enigma and their rise to prominence on Deathwing-US, we never lost a player to them...or to any competing guild that surpassed us in progression. The bonds of loyalty may have tensed, but withstood even the biggest of egos. Not even The Eh Team could be swayed to part ways with DoD; they never left our side, instead standing defiantly among the roster when approached by the competition. Wrath of the Lich King will forever remain the apex of Descendants of Draenor's success, from every angle.

Every angle but one.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

3.74. Compartmentalization

DoD defeats Lady Deathwhisper in Heroic mode,
wrapping up "Heroic: Storming the Citadel (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel

Every Month is May

My wife's birthday fell on the weekend that Descendants of Draenor completed two additional meta achievements, "Heroic: Storming the Citadel (25 Player)" and "All You Can Eat (25 Player)", and I was present for both. But there was no fighting in the Holmes' residence. No accusations, no finger-pointing, no yelling and screaming about "putting the game before your family" or how "another year's gone by with no regard to birthdays or other important events." It was a relaxed, enjoyable weekend, and both real-world and in-game events were attended to. And that wasn't all that was happening in May. My son also celebrated a birthday in May. Mother's Day meant planning flowers for both my mother and Jul. The Memorial Day weekend had a history of sticking its nose into our raid schedule's business, but we were able to carry on without interruption. It wasn't some magical cast of Tranquility that allowed all of these events to take place without stepping on each other's toes, all it took was some thoughtfulness and planning ahead; a tiny bit of effort had far reaching effects.

It wasn't always this way. A guild leader in World of Warcraft constantly juggles two worlds. The secret was to schedule proactively, rather than reactively. May of 2010 produced some of our best progression to date, inching toward Glory of the Icecrown Raider. By the end of it, two wings and six heroic bosses lay in our wake. The unorthodox executions of Professor Putricide, Sindragosa, and The Lich King, resulting in three meta achievements: "Nausea, Heartburn, Indigestion…", "All You Can Eat", and "Been Waiting a Long Time For This" (respectively), left only three metas before we could claim the chilling Frostbrood Vanquisher flying mount. If that wasn't enough, the completion of Shadowmourne, the continued eeking out of content in Blain's Si Team, and practicing arenas with Sentra and Nerffmeh was a feast more than any king could hope to finish in a single meal.

The only way...the only make May work, was to meticulously plan ahead. Cover the bases by getting the roster rotations done well in advance, and repeat my warnings both in-game and on the forums as to what to expect when we hit certain speed-bumps along the way. How many people are planning to take time off for Mother's Day? If too many people are away for Memorial Day, ensure the raid leaders have strict orders not to attempt heroics (and especially metas that the core might miss). In the real world, who was responsible for picking up the presents? The cake? Who is sending the flowers and when? And what days are we agreeing to celebrate? With both the family and the guild completely squared away, there was no chaos, no curveballs, no emergency situations. Everything ran smoothly, because they had been handled...because I had handled them. "Hoping" for everything to fall into place had a poor track record, and wasn't going to win me any awards.

Success over the long term simply meant handling every month like May.

So as that month drew to a close, I was able to spend Jul's birthday evening with her, while we sat out on the front deck. We breathed in the evening while glancing at the Denver skyline and shot the shit about how Mad Men was getting really good and how True Blood was quickly going down the toilet. Yet, only an hour earlier, I had been a digital death knight, cleaving my way through internet dragons and toiling toward imaginary golden awards that didn't actually exist...but did. The ability to flip back and forth between game and life so quickly, keeping them separate yet equally important, became an increasingly valuable trait as Guild Leader. It was the only way I was able to sit in a Vent channel while a guildy lied to my proverbial face about his drunken, jealous transgressions toward a rival, maintain a cold distance while ejecting him from the guild...only to be pouring a glass of wine moments later, discussing TV shows with my wife.

DoD defeats Halion the Twilight Destroyer,
earning "The Twilight Destroyer (25 Player)",
Ruby Sanctum

U Jelly?

June wasn't nearly as clean. The only unorthodox kill remaining was "Neck Deep in Vile", a brutal gear check that demanded we assassinate every last kamikaze Vile Spirit before it suicided in explosive death. Continued attempts without progress wasted precious hours, and any hope of getting into flow was erased by Omaric's changing opinion of the appropriate boss to tackle. Bretthew completed his transition out of the roster, leaving Omaric to fend for himself. Bretthew's tanking responsibilities were taken up by the DoD vet Kizmet, who partnered with Drecca from that point forward. Without his raid leading partner, Omaric fielded decisions by himself, struggling to accept advice from the shadow of a former leader as it continued to cast doubt on his own ability. From my own perspective, it was a challenge to switch gears so frequently...even with my aforementioned practice in that department. I imagine it was worse for the roster, especially those who didn't see every raid they signed up for.

We pressed on. Heroic Professor Putricide required an insane amount of damage and control. Sindragosa's heroic mode demanded exceptional control on the part of the tanks; Kizmet's dedication to the role was admirable, but was not an instant replacement for Bretthew's jell after so many months at the head of the progression pulls. Synergy comes from more than just a handful of well-geared players randomly thrown together. Raid with the same people long enough, and you slowly enter a state where their pulls are already happening in your mind -- you're already winding up a heal before the blow comes. Jell doesn't come overnight, it takes time. Putting Kizmet into Bretthew's role simply meant getting accustomed to different rhythms.

More disruption arrived by July. The 3.3.5 patch was released, another kink to distract us. To keep morale high, we downshifted into the Ruby Sanctum, where the Twilight dragon Halion was causing trouble on behalf of the impending arrival of Deathwing. Old habits resurfaced: Ben's drunken rants colored Vent, Omaric's insistence on gear to assist with our heroic achievements butted heads with Blain's long held beliefs of effort first, I even had to raise my voice to Hellspectral on several occasions when he was unresponsive in Vent. One such occasion took place during Halion work, where the teams struggled to divide their DPS evenly between the mortal realm and the realm of shadow.

"We need better synchronicity between the in-and-out team assignments if we're going to get this down."

"That's fine, we can move Hellspectral back out to Team 1, it's still lopsided. Hells, you got that?"


"Hells? HELLS!!"

Oh, Christ. Not this shit again. "Is he passed out?"

The thick New York accent suddenly broke the silence, "Yo, relax. I was alt-tabbed, lookin' up 'synchro-whatisname'."

Laughter in Vent, followed by a sigh of relief, and the Halion kill came soon after, bringing an end to the drought in achievements. It was July 2nd. June had come and gone without the 25-Man team seeing a single golden bar flash up on their screen.

Sindragosa falls without any player gaining 5 stacks of
Mystic Buffet, earning DoD "All You Can Eat (25 Player)",
Icecrown Citadel


"I was upset. I couldn't deal with it. The people I trusted as my friends basically stabbed me in the back."

"I could see how that was upsetting, I’m sorry you had to deal with that."

"For a while there I just shut down. Didn't want to have anything to do with them, with the guild, with WoW."

I offered support to Bheer as best I could while he revealed the story to me over a series of IM windows, "I can’t imagine I would want to face them either. I read somewhere that rejection from a social group affects the same areas of the brain as physical pain. Do you feel like you have a handle on who it was that swayed Eh Team in that direction?"

"Taba was the one who told me, but I have my suspicions about Crasian being the one responsible for putting the idea of kicking me out in their heads. He and I never really saw eye to eye. He always fought me on loot, dismissed my suggestions on strategy. I just never expected them to all side with him."

His story correlated with my own observations, "Well, he is pretty wishy-washy in that respect. He came and went from the roster several times, remember? Took off right after I gave the role of melee officer to Jungard, which meant he wouldn't be seeing Shadowmourne. And the loot whoring, it became pretty common knowledge. There was a couple of times where he promised to take Jungard into Ulduar for a cloak...never even followed up with the guy. Anyway, what’s done is done. Your back now, and that's all that matters. I appreciate you taking some of these spots, the roster’s been all over the map this last month."

"No problem, happy to help. How are the revisions coming?"

"Good, good. I still have more to do, but I have a pretty solid handle on what further tweaks we can make to loot rules, rotations, etc. Really want to make sure we close off any remaining loopholes. Perfect example was that one you pointed to me, back in Ulduar, alts being able to roll on items ahead of mains? Yeah...not gonna let that go on."

"Thank you."

A period of silence where we each carried on with our individual business, and then, a final question popped back up from Bheer, "Do you think we'll ever seen Crasian again?"

"I doubt it, but don't worry. If we do, I don't expect there's any way I can invite him back. Not after all of this info has come to light."

No player was going to treat my veteran guild members like that and not feel my wrath in some form or another. I expected Crasian could find a perfectly acceptable crowd of players to join up with that shared his mentality regarding loot.

The text-to-speech announcement of Vent run out across my speakers as a new player connected to our server, one that had held a long-standing "open policy" of players of any faction/guild to join and chat with us:

"Bulwinkul has joined the channel."

I alt-tabbed and removed myself from the Vent server, then logged off before the purple text had a chance to beg me to stay and listen.