Thursday, August 27, 2015

4.45. HPWs

Swimming in Death Knights

Heroic progression stagnated after the death of Halfus Wyrmbreaker. Blain's assessment was to narrow our focus onto Heroic: Magmaw at the front of Blackwing Descent. The worm rebuffed us in defiance, its chitinous body squashed the raid as it thrashed about. April turned to May as we burned attempts on Magmaw. To instill the roster with any sense of progression, we started with Bastion of Twilight, mowing across normal bosses for gear and outstanding achievements. On the 1st of May, the 25-Man killed two of Halfus' drakes within 10 seconds of one another, and "The Only Escape" popped up on our screens. They were baby steps. But baby steps were something. Moving forward. Always moving forward.

The tank situation was phenomenally bad. Wrath of the Lich King left us with an influx of death knights, most of whom were spec’d for damage, exacerbated by our server’s PvP designation. Insayno continued to fill as often as possible, and Soot signed up whenever his schedule allowed. A third death knight, Unchained, joined progression in the last week of April; I wasted no time in fast tracking him into the role of tank. But I was about at the end of my rope with death knight tanks. The new blood shield mechanic still wasn’t impressing the healers, and key kit absences were more painful in Heroic: Magmaw than anything we’d dealt with during our nightmarish failures during Normal: Nefarian.

Where were all the druids? The warriors? The paladins?

Recruitment felt like debugging, endlessly scouring lines of code for a smoking gun. Gone were the days of Wrath's abundance of faces. In its heyday, WoW's sub numbers grew to such extremes that we enjoyed a healthy two years in surplus. I worried Cataclysm and its wildly experimental take on accessibility would punish us. I was now starting to feel the shriveled people economy first hand, and the least popular roles were the ones that took the biggest hit. I often wondered if Blizzard felt the trade off was worth it.

I refused to announce recruitment in /general and kept a healthy distance behind the "advertise on the forums" line. Guilds spamming general chat carried a stink of desperation that never washed off. Meanwhile, the forums (particularly Deathwing-US's) dripped with toxicity fueled by the PvP crowd: layer upon layer of unchecked testosterone protecting their soft, chewy, insecure centers. The very mention of raiding drew trolls faster than a Tolkien art contest. I resisted asking for any help on A gun control activist knew better than to spout rhetoric in the middle of an NRA rally. Any inquiry for help would only paint gigantic targets on us.

Always be recruiting.

Easier said than done.

Around the World

With work keeping my focus, and team micromanagement filling my non-raiding hours, there was little time to scour for applicants. More and more, it bled into family time, which I desperately wanted to avoid. The old ways were behind me, and I had no intention of falling back into bad habits. I leaned on old faithful, WoW Lemmings, as a means of finding faces, but there was little ripe for picking. Whenever I sifted through the site, our brethren across the ocean always seemed to have a healthier ratio of recruits.

Too bad we can’t leverage that pool of players, eh?

Oceanic realms were routinely snubbed by the Aussies and New Zealanders, as they were hosted out of a data center in North America; an unfortunate but necessary decision. Thanks to a single Australian ISP diverting its traffic to San Diego before relaying it to the rest of the world, hosting dedicated servers where there be kangaroos wasn't going to provide a better experience -- even choosing a data center in South East Asia, Blizzard claimed, would've been worse. So those players had two choices: Oceanic via North America...or North America.

Some "choice".

You could count DoD's international peeps on one hand. Throughout Vanilla and The Burning Crusade, a warrior named Deathwar checked in. Hailing from Chennai, India, he'd be logging in, just as the majority of us were logging out. Even when restricted to our graveyard shift, Deathwar still felt compelled to hang with a North American guild during extremely inconvenient hours, so DoD was home overseas. Sadly (and unsurprisingly), Deathwar suffered from connection problems as a result of his long-distance log-in, so he was never in a position to contribute to progression.

Blackdodge was our first from the land down under, a mage that poured his heart and soul into PvP, becoming one of the few to earn the coveted rank of High Warlord in Vanilla. Blackdodge spent many a late night (or was that early morning?) alongside players like Annihilation, Creepindeath and Kedavra. He consumed enough Arathi Basin and Warsong Gulch to make a casual never want to log in to World of Warcraft again. But like Deathwar, Blackdodge never really had great opportunities nor interest in participating in progression, so my own exposure to playing with him was limited to chatting in /guild, and the occasional screenshot I’d snap of him for the guild’s homepage.

International players were welcome in DoD, but I never actively sought them out -- it was neither realistic nor fair to ask them to endure awful latency and wildly inappropriate raid times, just for the “luxury” of putting the Descendants of Draenor guild tag under their name. I was always surprised when they sought me out anyway. But to seek me out with intent on joining progression under those extreme conditions?

That was impressive.

Mature and Vexx stand a few feet from one another,
while separated by 8,135 miles in real life,

Accentuated Play

Dewgyd's unmistakably british accent was not what threw me off. The culture of gaming nerds was such that hearing someone rattling off Monty Python quotes in their own unique dialect was a rare perk. The real puzzle was why, exactly, he chose to play on a US server when an English-localized European server provided timezone appropriate raids and latency. Dewgyd claimed he had "weird hours", awake all through the night and into the wee morning, translating to our mid-evening raids. From a scheduling perspective, DoD was a closer fit than anything he could find in Europe.

I looked over his feral druid during the interview process. He was adequately geared, and spoke intelligently about raiding and mechanics. Still, I had to ask.

"What’s your ping like?"

"260-280ms. Y’know. Sometimes it pops up over 300, but you don’t see it often."

An image of Death32c immediately popped into my head. I deathmatched the Quake map so many times, guessing how many opponents I fragged would be pointless. 260-280ms was right about the ping I had to deal with at the time, as packets bound for the University of Colorado at Boulder made their way through my 56k US Robotics modem. Oh, how I longed for a 30ms ping, to be an LPB. A low ping bastard. It wasn't in the cards. My 56k modem designated me an HPW. A high ping whiner. But I still made it work. Violent, bloody death still painted the floors and walls of Death32c in my wake. And players were unpredictable, devious, and cunning. A robotic internet dragon following a script didn’t stand a chance...even with a ping like Dewgyd's.

"Our raids are 7:00pm on Friday and 3:00pm on Sunday, 4 hrs. That's…"

"...2:00am and 10:00pm for me."

Dear God. That would make Friday's raid 2:00am to 6:00am. You’re certain you can make all these raids?

He was certain. The brit joined us in February of 2011, becoming a regular in progression for every week thereafter. I don't recall him missing a single raid, but you're welcome to double check.


The internationalism did not end with Dewy. Vexx was a real catch. Brash and uncouth, she kicked open the doors to DoD and walked directly into progression...and I gladly cleared a path. She was the female alter-ego of Annihilation: Vexx spoke her mind, didn’t care who she offended, and was so enthusiastically committed to playing restoration shaman, she never thought twice about getting up at 6:00am every Sunday to join our 3:00pm raid. The fourteen hour difference between Colorado and her place of residence in Australia, she said, was a small price to pay to be a part of a guild that referred to its digital self as "home".

I nearly regretted pinging Anni the day Vexx donned a DoD tabard. The conversation that followed was mind-numbing to the point of hallucinogenic: a drinking contest of sheer vulgarity, each of them determined to gross each other out. The things I heard discussed that day no human should have to endure. Dalans may have "seen things", but reader, I say to you on this day:

I've heard things.

Vexx was geared and ready for a promotion to Raider by the end of May. Like Dewgyd, the difference in time and latency didn't bother Vexx; she muscled through it without complaint -- immediately logging back in if there was ever a disconnection, which was infrequent. It was her loyalty and dedication to the endgame that I had a deep level of respect for. She could have picked any guild. She could’ve blown off disconnections like so many players blaming lag for their sheer incompetence and inability to admit fault. With the same confidence she used in demonstrating those unconventional norms, she boldly took responsibility for her mistakes...and fixed them.

I wished I could clone her.


April had not been a great month, for reasons I'm sure you are aware of by this point. But amid the drama and tension of that month, a single applicant email arrived in my inbox -- an inquiry from a gal investigating new raid homes for herself and her husband.

I scanned the email quickly, looking for roles and classes. She healed. He tanked. She was a druid. He was a paladin.

I was stunned.

"Blackangus, thanks for reaching out. Let's chat at your next opportunity," I typed back, "Looking forward to seeing if we're a fit for you and Amatsu."


Anonymous said...

Hrm. As an Australian I was playing on Oceanic servers when I started playing WoW just before ICC opened in Wrath. They were all based out of US datacentres then. Saurfang, Dath'Remar, Khaz;Goroth etc. Yes a ping of 250-300ms was normal. Still is if you play any other MMOs - or use Open Raid to raid Au weekend afternoons, and hence get USA Fri/Sat night groups. Which I've done for some time.

We finally got Au based servers in Sydney, in late 2014. So yes it's still very fresh, very new. And soooo wonderful. 250ms pings, down to 20ms? Bliss.

You do get used to the 250-300ms pings tho. You learn to anticipate, pay greater attention to your DBM timers and the like. Be moving before a "move out the fire" mechanic even goes off. What I'm saying here is: "I can't raid well, I have a poor ping" is an excuse, not a reason. :-)


klocker2003 said...


FINALLY! Sexy sexy Black and her even sexier hubby, god i miss those two!

Shawn Holmes said...


Fixed. I misread their explanation at BlizzCon 2010 as to why Oceanics were not in Australia. The mention of the south east asia datacenters weren't even relevant. It "made sense" to them to expand -- but not to Oceanic players, who would have experienced worse play.

The single lack of a 'but' in their response threw off my entire interpretation of their response.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Klocker! I miss raiding with everyone quite a bit. Was fun times and not so fun times. I also haven't thought about Vexx in some time. She was a hoot to raid with. Like you said she took everything in stride and did pretty much everything that she was told. Really great raider, just wished she could have stayed around longer.


Anonymous said...

I miss you guys as well. I've been playing here and there. In between playing with the baby.

Anonymous said...

Australian raider here, raided from vanilla - WoD hopefully i can help paint a picture what it was like for Australian hardcore raiders, When I started raiding MC on the Blackrock-US server my ping was 500ms.

I was a priest during vanilla and would have to precast every heal and move out of mechanics before the animation even began. Raiding was difficult but not impossible, I made it to the end of AQ40 under these conditions, no NAXX experience unfortunately. Once you adapted to the ping, you could at times use it to your advantage, moving before casts had completed but still causing the spell to go off by using the Quartz bar latency compensation feature.

BC things got a bit better, 3rd party companies would offer "Tunneling" services for a monthly cost which would re-rout your connection, lowering pings to 250-300 from 500, it was a godsend but also an additional cost on-top of the subscription; a cost a university student (college for you Americans) struggled to justify. I managed to raid into Sunwell under these conditions, only up to Muru, never got the KJ kill.

It was largely the same for wrath, 250 ms felt as good as we were going to get, but in 2014 when the Aus servers were brought online it was like night and day, going from 250ms to 30ms. Interrupts are so much easier to land you had entire seconds to hit the button what a luxury! Mechanics became easier to dodge, the game became easier overnight, however i would still go back to vanilla/BC content with 250-500ms in a heartbeat.

Thanks for the blog Shawn, the level of detail you remember is amazing, really has been a trip down memory lane for me, Thankyou.

-Peacan Blackrock-US

Anonymous said...

First of all great blog, very entertaining. I just had to reply when i read this one. iam part of those internationals in north american servers, me and my brother are from venezuela, and we played with a great guild during burning crusade, the hour differences werent so bad (the raid started at their 7:00pm while we were at 10:00 pm, but like your international raiders we wouldnt change it for anything, cuz the guild was just great. Played during burning crusade and a little of wrath until work crit me in the face and had to leave wow forever. but my brothers still keeps going.

congratulations on the blog, certainly reminds me of some of my experiences back in my wow era.

Greg Mastin said...

This post reminded me of a guy we had in our North American server from Russia. He was as sterotypical as they came. OF COURSE he played a BEAR tank. OF COURSE he had a deep voice and nearly intelligible slavic accent. I would bet a years salary he had a long beard, a big belly and stood at least 6'4". He was awesome...sitting on Vent chatting and suddenly in that deep, Slavic voice "You need Russian Bear??" MF could tank like a BOSS, too.

Damn you Shawn you are single-handedly making me consider coming out of WOW-Retirement for TBC Part 2: Legion

Zanshin said...

Man, kudos to Blackdodge for making High Warlord - that takes a level of dedication rivaling sheer masochism. I pvped plenty in classic, but even then I knew my limits, and there was no way I'd ever make HW.

Kudos to everyone chiming in who played from overseas! I stayed with my US server while working in Japan, and the connection issues were incredibly painful in large groups (I was also cheap and my internet had a terrible connection on its own without the overseas server). I can only imagine the frustration of pinpoint raiding needs with that sort of connection.

Zanshin, Kil'Jaeden