Thursday, November 13, 2014

4.14. Leaders By Proxy

Blizzard's newly revealed Demon Hunter
wanders the convention center,
BlizzCon 2010

Guildies For Days

Two men stood on the steps of the Anaheim Convention Center. The first, easily six feet tall, wore a pair of rectangular glasses similar to my own, had thinning hair, and bore a tanned complexion that only nerds local to California could enjoy the luxury of. The other was shorter than I, a bit paler, with more meat on him. His black hair was thick and curly, and greeted me with a smile more appropriately described as a smirk. Both were guildies, both also former Avatars, acknowledged for their exceptional contribution and dedication to the guild. Both members of the 10-Man squad recently tasked with rolling Alliance alts and defeating the Lich King "because they could." One was Moolickalot, and the other was...

"Drecca?" I presumed, pointing.

The shorter of the two gave a single wave.

"You, my friend, are the savior of the guild."

He nodded and said "cool" as if I had complimented him on his shoes. I don't think Drecca understood how vitally important his role in the guild was. He joined DoD at a crucial point in ICC progress, both as Bretthew was strategizing an exit from raiding (and raid leadership) while his partner, Omaric, grew increasingly dissatisfied with tanking. To Drecca, it seemed a simple thing: come in, tank, kill some bosses, walk out with loot -- all in a day's work. It was much more than that. Tanks are the pillars of a raid team's foundation. It isn't enough just to have them present. They have to own it.

The tank sets the pace of the pulls and bears the brunt of the boss's force; they drive the charge and you follow. Even if you don't place them in a role of responsibility, your guild will grow to see them as leaders over time -- it happens organically. Drecca may have been "cool" with my praise, but I made it a point to remind him of the precedent he was setting. He was quickly becoming the type of guildy I hoped my team would mimic: having a practical, laser-like focus on getting the job done, no matter the cost. I never heard Drecca drop phrases like "yeah, but..." or "maybe if we..." Here's the obstacle, this is what we need to do. Get it done. Pulling in 3...2...1...

I led them back into the convention center, and shot Drecca a quick footnote, "I need to show you the next rev. of our website. I think I've found a way for you to keep your own DKP pool for the Alt. 25...and it even works with players that aren't in the guild."


"I swear to God Almighty, if he texts me 'LOL' one more time, I'm going to stab myself in the face."
Joredin laughed while I thumbed another SMS message back to the perpetrator. DoD was deep in recruitment mode as the weeks ticked away toward Cataclysm's release. Just prior to the 'con, we gobbled up another tank, and a torturous stream of messages beginning and ending with LOL was proof that the kid was near. As Joredin and I sat in the foot court, my phone vibrated with updates from a player perpetually lost.

LOL where are you?

having a hard time finding u lol

lol which sied is the food on

"I don't know how many more ways I can describe 'the place where you go outside to eat' here. Atrium? Vestibule?"

Joredin wiped a tear of laughter away, "that would probably make it worse!"

"Seriously. Can this guy not get a map? There is a map of the convention center, isn't there?"

"What's his deal?" Joredin asked.

It was a very common story. Reasonable tank, adequate skills -- a role that was always in high demand. An opportunity arose to get his foot in the door with a hardcore guild, but the guild leader had other intentions. Once baited in, the guild leader used him to make a sales pitch to more dedicated, hardcore raiding tanks. "Oh sure, we're raiding today, here's our MT. But...with you on board, we could be so much greater." The directionally-challenged kid had been made a stepping-stone, catapulting the raid to greatness, leaving him benched in the process. I carved a spot out for the kid, and looked forward to seeing what he could.

That is, if I didn't go insane first.

which side again lol?

I stared at Joredin a moment, stunned with disgust, then thumbed a text back:

I will murder you in your sleep.

A few moments later, the phone buzzed with with a response:

Sorry, not good with directions :(

Let's hope you tank better than you navigate.

Bretthew (Taba) and Kadrok ride the Gyroscope,
BlizzCon 2010

He Has It

Most attendees would agree that the most memorable moment from the BlizzCon 2010 panels was the Red Shirt Guy, famously taking Alex Afrasiabi and Chris Metzen to task by calling out a plot hole with the Wildhammers. For me, an unrelated question had a far greater impact...

...or rather, its answer, and the person who gave it.

QA sessions were pure entertainment. Attendees generally pitched softballs at the designers. things like why doesn't (insert class) have its own special mount? and weren't we promised a Moose? and where's the dance studio? I'd hear questions like these and immediately have one of my own: Why are you wasting our time? I had to hand it to Blizzard, they were always incredibly patient and gracious with their fans, regardless of how inane the questions might be.

Class QA was a bit different, caused the real hardcore math nerds to emerge. Why don't you add a glyph to make this ability's cooldown line up with other attacks? How do you plan to keep Mastery from making us too bursty in PvP and too dulled in PvE? Why hasn't rage normalization solved the warrior's resource management issues, and how do you plan to address? They were the types of questions that got you leaning forward with your bag of popcorn.

Blizzard's class team, led by Ghostcrawler, always responded with thoughtful professionalism, yet astute listeners could often pick up on those tell-tale traits of uncertainty. "...we're still looking at this," "...we'll continue to tweak and tune as necessary," and ", that's a very good point, and we'll be keeping an eye on it." These types of answers left me cringing; they translate into "I don't know," "I'm not at liberty to say," or "My answer is probably going to infuriate you."

But it was during a question about a perceived unfairness favoring a paladin's holy damage (along with a subsequent lack of holy resistance) that an unfamiliar face came out of the woodwork. I'd never seen this Blizzard employee before, did not recognize the name or face, and wasn't sure where they fit in amongst the typical Ghostcrawler-dominated media blitzes. He had a quiet yet extraordinary delivery: he spoke in rapid-fire bursts, pausing to accentuate the most important points in his response.  

"As an additional quick followup, I think it's worth nothing: I think the advantage of holy over other spell schools isn't quite as large as it used to be in the past. We don't generally make resistance-oriented gear anymore, and so if you're facing a paladin...really, the difference between facing someone that deals holy damage versus facing someone that does fire damage is maybe your blessing of kings or mark of the wild...maybe mitigating 10% of the fire damage and not the holy...

...but that's not really...that's not the reason you're losing to the paladin...if you are."

He ended the barrage with a smile and a nod as the crowd slowly caught up to him. Once they 'got' the answer and the joke, laughter and applause followed.

I glanced at Drecca, impressed, "Oh, I like this guy. That was a hell of an answer right there."

Ion Hazzikostas would come to provide many more insightful answers in the months and years to come.

DoD leaves its mark on the "Guild Wall",
BlizzCon 2010

The Con Concludes

Goldy managed to find his way in on the second day, taking advantage of a huge line of ticket holders requesting refunds for last minute cancels. I joined him, acquiring a second goody bag to be shipped back to New York for Hellspectral, once such cancellation that was a result of work. Shortly after, we waited in line alongside Bonechatters, Borken, Larada, and others from DoD, to try our hand at Diablo III PvP Arena. Goldy and I formed a team: I drove a Barbarian while my guild mage manned the Wizard (unsurprisingly). The PvP in Diablo III was coming along nicely; it was definitely faster and more raw than the arenas I was accustomed to in WoW. Diablo III had secretly been in development for so long, and was such a cherished franchise to so many players, that its eagerly anticipated release was certain to be memorable. When that day arrived, I wondered how I would ever fit the time in.

While waiting in line for Diablo III, Goldy tugged my shirt, then pointed across the room, "Pretty sure that's Taba and Kadrok over there."

I squinted, trying to zero in on the faces across the room. Sure enough, the two of them were strapped into a device known to spin humans until sick. I snapped a photo, and looked forward to hearing about their lunch.

There were many more sights to take in: server blades that made up the original launch of WoW back in '04, many pieces of officially sanctioned artwork that could be bid on, even life-sized statues of their many heroes. Eventually, I came across a "guild wall" where attendees could permanently etch their presence into the Blizzard's history, scribbling messages and sketching pictures to prove they had been there. I grabbed a marker and penciled in our guild tag where I found room. Below it, I left Ater's famous quote: a guild motto that made no secret about our strategy.


The BlizzCon festivities ended tenaciously. We spilled out of the convention center in a daze, the DoD cavalcade marching south in search of food and drink. We made our way to a Pizzeria / Sports Bar called Oggi's. The wait staff jammed five tables together in order to seat the party. Pitchers of beer cycled through the procession. We drank. We told stories. We laughed. For a short time, surrounded by guildies in real life, the concerns of DoD's longevity and of Cataclysm were forgotten. In that evening of cheering nerds celebrating their victories over Internet dragons, the six years were worth it, and had renewed confidence that this group could stick together. It was a trip both exciting and informative, granting me a rare look into the people on the other side of the screen.

"I feel good about this," I said, nodding, "We've got the right changes in places. This is doable. The guild's still got some life left in it, and if we band together...yep. I think we can pull this off." I looked back at the guildy sitting across the table from me, and got my final read of the night.

I've made many mistakes as a guild leader, but none were as egregious as the one I was about to make. My first lesson in reading people had come many years before. It should have prepared me for this moment...and I looked away.

You should have known better.

I should have known better.


jazbo smith said...

Hey man, been loving the read. Whats the deal, I know you use to have it up by Thursday. Running late, or have you decided to go with Friday for now on?
Anyway, keep up the great work. Cant wait till we get to the point were you discuss WoD's launch.

Jazbo on Dawnbringer

Shawn Holmes said...


I've been caught.

Thursdays are early previews meant to catch edits/typos, and I share them out to social media the following Tuesday.

This week (and last) I've officially fallen behind.

Good news: Next week's is already written and will go out on Thursday for a preview, and hopefully I'll be back on schedule after that.

Anonymous said...

Loving the story, but I see you still have those disgustingly good hang-cliff skills

Anonymous said...


I'd say annoyingly annoying cliffhangers. :P


Ryley Foshaug said...

I'm pretty sure I have the video of Brett and Kadrok on the gyroscope kicking around somewhere.


Anonymous said...


Ah yes my bad still got my point I guess :D :D

Greg Mastin said...

Our guild was lucky enough that a lot of us worked together, so we saw each other fairly often. But there was one local guy, a mage named Xearo, who was my equal in damage and sarcasm who we were dying to meet. Some of us were sitting at the table, watching folks come in and this guy walks in, long black hair, glasses, heavy set, with a t-shirt that just said "Aggro". About three of us simultaneously said "That must be Xearo". It was, of course. I loved meeting guildies. It's like meeting DJ's you hear on the radio. They almost always never fit your mind's eye.