|Mature and co. pull out a clutch kill of Heroic Hakkar,|
The lay of the land hadn't changed much. Trails snaked through the brush in familiar patterns. Large creeping voodoo masks and totems peered out from behind hunched over trees and epiphytic ferns.
"This is a lot easier than I remember it."
Both Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman got a face-lift at the end of April (via Patch 4.1). Exploring the changes hadn't ranked highly on my list of priorities. A month later, we were teetering at the precipice of Patch 4.2, and I couldn't shake the feeling we'd been shortchanged. DoD had run out of time. The 25-Man progression team had missed its quota.
"Yeah, remember when 10s were hard?"
"10s were never hard."
I compared our current predicament to the freshest tier in my mind: the last one, the end of Wrath. Icecrown Citadel: all heroics completed, save The Lich King himself. 11/12. A respectable 92%. Tier 11, by contrast, had not gone nearly as well. Five full months of raiding yielded 4/6 in Blackwing Descent, 1/6 in Bastion of Twilight, and 0/2 in Throne of the Four Winds. Fourteen heroic bosses, and we hadn't even hit 50%.
That wasn't the most embarrassing part. The 25-Man still had two unfinished normal encounters.
Unable to complete normal modes? Way to scrub things up.
I shuddered, thinking of the effect it would have on the guild, its members, and its morale.
If you can't hack a normal mode, why are you even here?
"Not the ones you grew up on, skippy. I don't mean 'Ulduar' hard, I mean 'Karazhan' hard."
"Ulduar wasn't hard."
"My point exactly."
The tier 11 normal modes were a stark contrast to the the cakewalk handed us in Wrath. Cataclysm's top-heavy design forced raiders to digest the complexity of each encounter at the onset. A barrage of mechanics were force fed down our collective throats. And while the truly old school veterans of WoW reveled in the return to glory days, those lacking a pre-WotLK perspective were unprepared for their egos to withstand that much damage.
I dare say they were coddled.
The realities of raiding in Cataclysm slapped them silly. Like clockwork, indignance followed, precipitating the demise of an increasing number of 25-Man guilds throughout those first five months. Even DoD hadn't been saved from this outcome. But in a cruel twist, the 10s did not flourish as I suspected they might, and for a reason I did not see coming. Blizzard's struggle to maintain parity between the difficulty of both 10- and 25-Man raids produced something far more disruptive to their community.
|Mature and co. maintain tight positioning as |
they defeat Daakara, earning "Ring Out",
Perception vs. RealityGamers demanded that WoW return to its former, more challenging glory, as it was in the days of pre-Wrath. Blizzard responded in kind, and the resulting raids of tier 11 were decidedly tougher. And, since the men in the high castle mandated that Cataclysm's raid design be such that both 10s and 25s provide an equal experience, Blizzard took great pains to ensure that same "front-loaded difficulty" design was present in both the 10 and the 25.
Any raider you speak to that's worth their weight will tell you that an encounter's margin of error is inversely proportional to the difficulty. As the challenge increases, your chances of recovering from mistakes decreases. 25s have the numbers on their side (so the naysayers claim), and it is of this skewed reality that was borne the sentiment that "25s have it easy, the 10s are the real challenge." They claimed we straight up had more opportunities to recover from a failure than a 10-Man raid.
Honestly, I can't disagree with that sentiment. We absolutely did have more opportunities to recover from emergencies than 10-Man raids, and it absolutely was a major factor the community used to differentiate the 10 from the 25. But raiding is complex; it literally involves thousands of variables that combine to paint a complete picture of what is easy and what is hard. "That we had more people to recover from an emergency" alone is not enough to declare the 10s the winner in the which is more difficult? contest.
But it was enough for the majority. So they did.
The widest cross-section of raiders, those holier-than-thou ego maniacs that were fresh off the slaying of the Lich King, were now hitting brick walls after giving their former 25-Man guilds the middle finger. Rather than stick with the tried and true strategy of practice makes perfect, they opted to take the easy way out: re-assemble as a 10-Man guild, and target the smaller, "easier" versions for equitable loot. After all, that's exactly how it worked for them in the previous expansion.
But these new 10-Man raids were more difficult than they imagined. At least, at the onset, anyway. The normal 10s of Cataclysm were eating WotLK raiders for lunch. And, being the lackluster players that they were -- already good at finding excuses as to why they shouldn't have to participate in a 25-man -- were equally good at blaming everyone but their own laziness for their own 10-Man's downfall. The vast majority of them quit raiding, and in some cases, walked away from WoW altogether.
And reader, we're not even at the cruel twist part yet.
For those elite few raiders who remained in their 10-Man guilds, carrying the hardcore torch, channeling the tenets of effort and skill, when those guilds punched through the normal modes...well, that is when the tables truly turned on guilds like DoD. Because when those same players stepped into 10-Man heroic raids, they enjoyed a decidedly easier time than the 25-Man guilds -- ironically, for exactly the same reason whiners claimed the 25s had it easier.
Remember the Cataclysm raid design: front-load the difficulty in the normal mode. Force players to learn 85-90% of the mechanics, right out of the gate. We saw it. We lived it. Heroic: Magmaw, Heroic: Chimaeron, Heroic: Atramedes, and so on, and so on. The shift from normal to heroic only ever involved slight adjustments to the original design. It meant we only had to practice and refine small bits, added in to the mix. Things could certainly go wrong in Heroics (and when we failed, we failed spectacularly), but over time, those weakest links in the raid, those outliers -- they'd get it.
Which meant the faster you could identify the weakest links and fix them, the sooner you could close out a heroic kill.
And, by comparison, how many weak links do you think a 10-Man raid would have, in comparison to a 25-Man?
The defense rests, your honor.
To the layperson, raiding looked exactly the same as it had in Wrath. 10-Man raids were being completed much faster than 25-Man raids. The difference between the two, however, was subtle, and only the hardcore nerds could be counted on to take a magnifying glass to these nuances.
Raids were more difficult, period. When distilled down into two different sizes that were meant to equal one another, 25-Man (normal modes) ended up being easier than 10-Man. And since the 10s made up the majority, this was the most vocal group dominating forums with their complaints. The echo chamber only grew larger.
Meanwhile, attention to actual raid progress was measured only by those who had punched through normals, and were enjoying healthy success in heroics. These were the most dedicated, most skilled players...that simply chose the 10-Man as their preference of raid size. For these elite players, just as it was in Wrath, their execution of content came noticeably quicker than it did to their 25-Man brethren. Because these 10-Man heroics were also tuned to be as close in difficulty to their 25-Man heroic counterparts, there was far less complexity for them to have to refine, shifting from normal to heroic. The 10-Man argument went both ways. Yes, we 25s had more opportunities to recover from emergencies, but conversely, the 10s had less loose ends to tie up when mastering a heroic strategy.
The verdict, then, read as follows: From easiest to most difficult, it was 25-Man normals, followed by 10-Man normals, then 10-Man heroics, and finally, the 25-Man heroics. Yet the community remained eternally locked in conflict over which size was easier, passionately defending their "preferential size" while failing to acknowledge the nuances of how a normal vs. heroic ended up manifesting in Cataclysm's front-loaded design.
Sadly, neither the community nor Blizzard would paint clarity around these nuances. And why would either of them choose to vilify themselves?
The vast majority of the community (read: the most vocal, via the forums, blogs, etc.) overwhelmingly claimed 10s were harder (referring, of course, to the normals). To state the opposite would be admitting they were wrong, that it was they themselves who sucked at raiding -- not something gamers would readily admit. Blaming others for their own injustices is something gamers have become quite adept at.
And as for Blizzard, whose design vision for Cataclysm mandated they aim for equality in the difficulty of both 10s and 25s...to admit the opposite would be to go against their "commitment to quality", an edict their designers live and die by. "We promised the WoW community an equal experience to 10s and 25s, and by the GODS we are going to stick to that path...even if we're still actually sort of turning dials, and iterating over certain choices...WE'RE ON THE PATH!"
That's what's most important, right? That the intent is to deliver?
Blizzard has a good track record of admitting defeat and back-pedaling, but only when there is nothing left to try, nothing left to tweak, no final recourse. There was still plenty of time left in Cataclysm to try new things.
Plenty of time left...for Blizzard.