Thursday, February 11, 2016

4.59. High Time for Heroics

Mature and Mortalsend prepare to execute Lord Rhyolith,

Pokemon Trainers Are Lousy Humanitarians

The next raid weekend of August 5th and 7th gave us an opportunity to bask in the glory of a full Firelands clear. We took our time, relaxed, and raided with the intent on simply gearing. This was an opportunity for some guildies to take a break, if needed. Fred, Turtleman, and even Blain himself took a weekend off. I encouraged it, and appreciated that they were able to wait until getting over the hump before invoking vacation.

Jungard took on raid leadership in Blain's absence, and he, in turn, used the opportunity to boost Bonechatters' real-world experience as melee lead. Training your replacement seems depressing, but it is a necessary evil. You do it when you care about your group, even if it means you won't be a part of the group much longer. For as many virtual flips of the middle finger that guildies gave me over the years, I took comfort that the people I put in charge were the very ones who gave the most of themselves when there was no expectation of personal gain. They wanted DoD to be successful, even if they weren't a part of it.

I took this where I could get it; not all guildies shared the selflessness of Jungard. We didn't all create an account back in Nov. of 2004 and, going in for the first time, ask ourselves how much work can we put into someone else's guild? More likely, we hungered for exploration, killing monsters, doing quests. We found a class that was fun for us to play, and wished to play it the best we possibly could. And in doing so, we'd drape the rewards of our play across that character, adoring them with the weapons and armor acquired from each subsequent victory. Our motivations were entirely selfish, right out of the gate. That wasn't wrong -- that's gaming. When you fire up a game, you're doing it for you.

World of Warcraft is interesting. It starts like that, just like any other game. As time goes on, a potential alternate future emerges. Your efforts are no longer directed solely inward. What you do in-game has repercussions on the virtual community around you. And while it may be true that you are always following a subtle path of self-satisfaction, in growing your own prestige, others reap the benefits of your success, growing in kind. You login so that others may become powerful. 

This notion flies in the face of gaming in general. The first line of the Pokemon theme song is not "I want someone else to be the very best," and championship tournaments would be a laughing stock if the goal was to help your fellow player get the prize. Yet that is what WoW is. When you run a dungeon, other players reap the rewards. When you hop into a battleground, other players share in your victory. When you work with other players to defeat a boss, everyone benefits from the experience (and a few might even walk away with some loot). For a game built on an industry that is, by its very nature, self-serving, World of Warcraft is an extremely efficient medium to helping others.

Replacing them faster than they could leave was the real challenge.

We'd picked up new recruits: Megadoch the warrior, Gharghael the shaman, and they were eagerly welcomed to the roster. But both were DPS, and healing was the ever growing challenge to fill. The constant presence of Fred's holy paladin was interrupted by a weekly need for his resto shaman. And the demand for other healing classes continued to grow. Syphira was one such recruit. Hailing from northern Alberta, she brought priest heals to the table, and had raid experience ready to wield. There was no time to get people up-to-speed. She hit the ground running that lax Aug 5th weekend, and was ready to join progression the week after.

But I needed more than simply "a priest". We needed druids, priests and shamans. I needed a (Vanilla) Dalans, a Breginna, a Kadrok, a Haribo, a Neps. I needed another Kerulak. Not even my own tool,, was able to satisfy this request. Perhaps there was interest inside the roster? 

I put feelers out amongst the core, in the off-chance that any of them were considering a role flip. One such player was Mortalsend. Still new to the guild (relatively speaking) she'd held a dominant role in the roster pouring warlock dps into raids since the start of Cataclysm. But, she confided that she was considering working up a resto druid alt, feeling the tug of the healing meters drawing her in, compelling her to cast some life saving spells for a change. I encouraged her to pursue it, as I had plans for her to assist with another challenge I had to deal with -- a challenge that went beyond simply staving off attrition.

The Irony of Lexxii

Lexxii had grown to become a real problem. Since her demotion from healing lead, she was more obstinate and argumentative. Nearly every healing assignment Fred handed her was rebutted with disdain and a disgusted air of superiority. Every assignment was wrong, and none was good enough for her to not comment on.

It had been months since the "outing" -- the moment I chose to swap Lexxii for Fred. I'd taken great pains to ease that transition, being firm yet fair. The politically correct me spun the demotion with just enough clarity to give her something to think about. Perhaps Lexxii needed to hear a harder truth. Perhaps if I'd demoted her by telling her she hadn't fooled anyone, that her "skills" were manufactured, and that the most telling evidence of this was her staunch denial in the face of irrefutable evidence that she was spec'ing however the hell she damn well felt like, her behavior after the fact would have been a more...reserved. Perhaps a bit more controlled, even (dare I suggest it) mature.

I doubted it. For the secret was not that Lexxii had grown to become a real problem -- it was that she always was a problem; a problem protected by a thick gamer shell that had been slowly peeled back over the course of her stay. Whether it was discussing JavaScript library or holy priests specs, it wouldn't matter. Once her mind was made up, it became truth to her. And everyone else was full of shit.

The most recent protective tissue peeled from Lexxii revealed a fantastic new feature. For the first time since her induction into DoD, Lexxii was showing up late to progression with inexcusable reasons she didn't even bother trying to hide.

Late night partying. Drinking. Dates. Movies. Whatever.

I'm fine with guildies changing their priorities. I'm not fine with them leaving me out of the loop. Party animal or not, Lexxii had twenty-four other human beings relying on her. I guess its easy to forget that. After all, it's just a video game.

Lexxii was most certainly on her way out. Yet in an ironic twist, I forced myself to stick to the guild rule of three consistent lates as grounds for expulsion from the roster, even after I broke my own rules in order to accelerate her acceptance -- a choice that ultimately backfired, and one I regret. 

The Lexxii situation was rife with irony, in fact. A long standing guildy that suffered his own expulsion as a result of mistreating her, Bulwinkul, was now a model citizen, and diligently brought his shadow priest Stimpi to progression. He spoke not a word to Lexxii, which was probably for the best. Bul was simply a good guy with a bad temper (I could relate), and he'd cleaned up his act. 

For Lexxii, there was nothing to clean up. This is who she was.

I gave Mortalsend the green light to start gearing her resto druid, as it was very likely she may be called upon to replace a certain holy priest.

"But you're still looking for healers, too?" Mortal asked.

"Whatever I can find."

Mature poses next to newest recruit Gharghael the Shaman,

Doggy Daycare

Heroic: Firelands work officially began August 12th, starting with the very first boss, Shannox. In moving from normal to heroic, our attention shifted from dogs as ancillary annoyance, to dogs as the primary focus of the strategy.

Killing Shannox's twin devil dogs was no longer realistic. Rageface's health grew astronomically, and Riplimb gained the ability to self-rez if dispatched. Not only were the mutts perpetual thorns in our side for the duration of the heroic attempts, their attack methods changed. Now, they each gained a stack of Feeding Frenzy each time they sank their teeth into one of our players. Feeding Frenzy increased their damage by 5% per stack, lasting 20 seconds. Any viable strategy had to be constructed in such a way as to assume both dogs were constantly alive, yet still allow us a way to drop those stacks.

Twenty seconds, in raid time, feels like an eternity, so strategizing a way to avoid attacks for that amount of time meant bouncing the dogs from target-to-target -- easy when you are a tank, not so easy when you are a caster, and only have a thin layer of cloth between you and demonic fangs. There was another option, however: turning Shannox's own attacks against his pets.

As in the normal version, Shannox tossed Crystal Prison Traps across the play field. Arming in a mere two seconds, these traps would encase anything that touched them in a block of ice...friend or foe. More than one DoD raider found themselves frozen solid, forcing DPS to peel off and shatter the ice. But if we could somehow lure the dogs into the traps, we could move people away from Riplimb and/or Rageface long enough to allow the stacks of Feeding Frenzy to drop.

Trapping each dog required separate tactics. Blain handled Riplimb, ensuring he trapped his attacker by dragging the creature over Crystal Prisons that were called out throughout the fight. Timing was crucial: Blain had to trap Riplimb before Shannox tossed his spear across the terrain. During this hellish game of fetch, Riplimb was immune to traps during the return trip to its master. So, in preparing for a Launch Spear, Blain would find an ice trap and drag Riplimb into it. Success in this tactic allowed us to double-dip: Blain could drop his stacks of Feeding Frenzy, and Amatsu could similarly drop his Jagged Tear stacks (as Shannox would be unable to Arcing Slash without his spear).

As for trapping Rageface, the rest of the raid inherited dog duty. Untankable, unkillable, constantly moving and sewing pandemonium throughout the raid, he was the biggest threat to the unravelling of the strategy. Face Rage would pin and kill players in moments if DPS did not switch fast enough to break him loose from a target. Rageface could also trigger Shannox's other traps, and an accidentally triggered Immolation Trap granted Rageface the "wary" debuff, preventing him from being trapped in a crystal prison for a short amount of time. 

A raid strategy that carefully alternated between trapping each dog could quickly come apart when you discovered your dog was untrappable.

Suddenly, stacks of Feeding Frenzy metastasized across your roster. Exacerbated by any fire damage incurred from the spiraling death explosion with every Launched Spear, death was quick. A wipe was guaranteed, the most painful kind of wipe. You enjoyed the luxury of watching your raid unravel at the seven minute mark, as one mistake lead to another, eventually collapsing in on itself.

All four hours of August 12th's raid were sunk into learning the Heroic: Shannox encounter. Returning on Sunday, August 14th, We spent two more hours on Shannox, yet a kill remained just out of reach. After the bio break, we dumped the raid lock back to Normal, and cleared Shannox, Beth'tilac, Lord Rhyolith, Alysrazor, and Baleroc, to keep spirits up, and get a shot at gearing the new warrior.

We'd be back. The salamander's heroic days were numbered.


Strategos said...

@Shawn Holmes

Just wanted to say I’m still checking on your blog weekly. I wasn’t around for Cata and never had to deal with being in a constant state of recruitment. Maintaining a 25 man roster seems like a steep uphill climb…I can somewhat relate. When we came back for MoP our small guild had around 15 raiders, long story short we didn’t have to recruit. WoD has been a completely different animal. At first we were going to continue what worked for us. Maintaining our small roster and just running heroics. But the mythic bug ended up biting us. I mainly had the GM in title and lead our raids. I was no longer the person that did it all; responsibilities had been doled out well beforehand. I will say managing the roster during Sunwell (when I took over) and Wrath was so easier. It seemed that our biggest problem was that we raiding two nights a week, 7 hours total. So while we got things done, it was never cutting edge. We ended up 6/7 mythic Highmaul and 7/10 mythic Blackrock Foundry. Those of us that played together Vanilla through Wrath made a decision to call mythic progress the end of May. By the end of that summer, having cleared heroic Hellfire Citadel we decided to call raiding as well. I don’t know if we will give legion a try or not. I personally let my sub lapse in Sept. Back to the wait and see holding pattern!!!

Shawn Holmes said...


Good on you and your old-schoolers for at least giving it a shot! 2 nights/7 hrs per week is nearly on par with what we ran for almost eight years. It'll never be world-first/server-first, but with discipline, can be very competitive. We stayed ahead of many fly-by-night guilds with that schedule.

Strategos said...

I don’t know if you ran into this during Cata, but my feelings on Wod are somewhere along the lines of the following: Around 8 of us made just about every raid during MoP, so we figured we’d need to recruit a roster of around 30 people. It was not easy by any means. At times it was a revolving door. We’d have 5 that would server transfer and a few weeks later we might have one that stayed. We made it clear, that the majority of us are 32-40 and will not be on every night and we raid two nights a week. You will need to entertain yourself at times. If someone was kind enough to notify us they were leaving and why it was usually along the lines of nobody is ever online but raid night or you aren’t progressing fast enough, you need to add another raid night……you knew that we had 2 nights coming in?! It also seemed that “everyone gets a trophy” played into it at times. The amount of complaining that the boss wasn’t dead after 20 pulls was astounding. Mythic Tectus took us 83 pulls. I’ve slept someone in between Wrath and WoD, but I want to say it was somewhere around 150+ pulls to take down Heroic LK…Heroic Garrosh took us 94. Maybe it’s me, I’ll be 37 in June and have low tolerance for BS now!

Kizmet said...

Cata and MoP were strange experiences for me. As I moved some toons to a PvE server to maximize my diminished playing time. Finding anything that even resembled DoD was impossible, it was helped by raid finder. Though raid finder made it so I didn't want to play tank anymore.

WoD made it easier for the solo existence but I still miss DoD. Let my sub lapse until legion. I preorderered so looking forward to demon hunter.

Angelo said...

What happened in Cata/MoP? Seems like this was the period in which people just didn't want to wipe anymore. I think that has a contributing factor in the loss of subs.

Shawn Holmes said...


My own theory is that:

1. WotLK set the stage for a standard easy-to-difficult curve on raid content (it was not this way in TBC or Vanilla),
2. WotLK grew its customer base, adding another 7.5m subscribers who only knew this easy-to-hard curve (they were never exposed to TBC or Vanilla),
3. Cata doubled down on difficulty, returning to TBC-era style raids, which dissatisfied the new base.

Those subs either left, or dumped out of raiding guilds in lieu of LFR (and then dumped out, after they got what they needed, then grew bored of the game/didn't care about the social aspects).

Aedilhild said...

Shawn has it essentially right. Additionally, from my understanding of my guild's history and progress, corroborated with other evidence, Wrath's change in philosophy paralleled the gradual advancement of many players who started in 2004 and 2005.

In Vanilla, these players ran dungeons and saw a few raid bosses. In Burning Crusade, they slowly progressed in lower raid tiers. And in Wrath, five years after entering Azeroth, they used Strength of Wrynn/Hellscream's Warsong to finally defeat Blizzard's biggest villain since 2002.

They had arrived!

And then Cataclysm launched. They were going OOM in 5-mans. They were wiping for two weeks without a single raid boss kill.

Whether it was right or wrong, it was a total obliteration of expectations. What I saw, personally, were players 35 and older look at themselves — their job, their children now old enough to interact — and to whatever degree they had to, distance themselves from the game. And I think they did it by the millions.