Thursday, April 30, 2009

[Offtopic] Players > skill > gear?

Warning: this won't be all that math-centric. This will be entirely anecdotal and based on my personal experience. There may not be a single spreadsheet even mentioned in the whole thing. It's downright personal, even.

A while back, Kiluia asked for some of the more interesting things I've been asked on this blog. And it wasn't even about math:

Thanks for a great writeup of a great set of comments from a great post!

I loved the spirit of your piece - it was clear you were having a good time, and having fun with the post, and your friends in game.

One thing I would love to see even more than math and hard facts. Whats the role of the player in the game?

Recently, our guild struggled to complete the last 2 bosses in 10-man naxx for the first time. Many many wipes on each, then the kill. Well, last night I was able to lead my own raid. So I hand picked a bunch of people I trusted, and we one-shotted these 2 bosses, to our own amazement & joy. Most of us, myself included, had never seen those bosses. I was well prepared and suprememly confident we'd succeed. Some felt burned from the guild's previous experiences... Then we tried eye of eternity: same experience of prior burn. People were saying "its really hard, we're gonna wipe a lot" Didnt really want to try it. Again, I put out the same attitude. We did 60% on our very first attempt. (previously they managed 95% after many wipes)

So our gear was very similar to the other group's. The only real difference was that I hand picked people I trusted, and I did everything I could to inspire them. And everyone player played really well. In an evening, the guild's perception of naxx & malygos flipped right over.

Those uber-guilds that steamroll content in a couple of days? No one ever discusses their experiences. Clearly, its not about their gear, nor their specs, or whether their classes are broken or not. It HAS to be about the players. They blatantly have no interest in the issues the rest of us noobs spend long lunch-hours discussing.

So tell me more about your experiences of how important the players are. The players who are broken. The players who are OP. The players who learn an encounter as it unfolds for the very first time. The players who cant follow a simple direction no matter how big the deadly boss mods letters are flashing. How do you choose who to bring to a raid based upon the players, assuming you have the luxury to do so? For example, I didnt invite our top guild DPSer, even though he's top every time, better geared than most, and he knows all the content much better from a previous guild. Why? Because he's an arrogant fool who creates a chaotic, fragmented vibe every time he speaks.

Please please please! I'm convinced these issues are the core of success in wow. Tell us more about them from your own experiences. Change names to protect the (not very) innocent! It's the core of the game; we all know it, but we never discuss it.
Kiluia's absolutely right. This isn't something anyone ever brings up regularly on tanking forums or EJ, but it's something you see more on your realm forums and guild comments so I think it's pretty widespread. Ultimately, how successful or bad you'll be is very much dependent on the people playing the game with you. Part of it is how good they are at playing, but another part is who it actually is. And even more than that, a lot of it is how well they're doing at that moment.

I'm sure most of you have been there, but I'll give an example. My wife and I tried to do a 10-man Ulduar the other night. Our raid leader was really nice, knew that I couldn't do it early, scheduled a later-night one so that we could both do it. It'd be the first time since we had our son that we had really raided together for more than an hour. It'd also be our first time seeing Ulduar on 10 man and for most of it, at all.

I was asked to lead it over the raid leader.

And it was not a good time. We wiped on Flame Leviathan as we ended up pulling before we were in position and FL would target people who wouldn't run away. My wife and I had an inkling of what to do, but knowing the path and walking the path are two very different things. There was yelling on vent. There was frustration - isn't this the easiest encounter in an ezmode raid? But we got it together and did it again, and succeeded...and I couldn't even loot the boss.

Then we did Razorscale, and once again - people dying, standing in fires, wipe. This was a fight that I had actually done before, and it was much easier than 25-man - but we still failed due to me being killed when Razorscale officially landed and getting no heals. Bah.

XT went amusingly; we didn't realize that he had trash packs, so when we got him to 75%, his trash comes out with the bots he summons and proceeds to obliterate us. Oops. We killed him after that on a messy kill with only 5 people left alive.

Then Kologarn. Kologarn isn't a hard fight at all, and on 10-man the damage isn't huge. Yet we wiped over and over again. A tank would die, a person with the laser beam would get stuck on the door, the rubble would pwn someone, someone would die in the grip, healers would die or be too slow, etc, etc. Just people weren't getting it together.

We finally ended on Iron Council, and we did better than Kologarn - only a few wipes. Wipes mostly because of interrupts just not working out. A wipe because the person who was supposed to decurse me was stunning another mob and didn't say. A couple wipes from other tank death. Etc, etc.

Afterwards I was stressed and demoralized, but not because of the raid. During the raid the baby would be upset or crying on and off, and while I was playing in another part of the house I could hear him. Even when I couldn't, I knew that my wife was playing with him in her arm, trying to do her best to pay attention to the raid and him simultaneously. Then I was trying to tell people what to do on fights I had never, ever seen before while other people are telling me what I'm doing wrong but not wanting to lead. I'm making mistakes left and right.

The people that came are usually pretty solid raiders. They've been through a lot of raiding in their WoW lives, they know what they're doing. But this night? We were off.

And we were off almost entirely because of me.

Another story, similar outcome. The night before the 3.1 patch came out, my wife had exactly one achievement left before getting her Glory of the Raider achievement: the 6-minute Malygos. This is one that she should already have had, but she died during the success and then released, which meant she didn't get credit for the achievement even though other people in the raid did. It sucked. But it was the last one she needed, and it was one others wanted as well. We had done it fairly easily before, with a melee-heavy group who all wanted it. Before that, another group had stacked the raid with ranged and done it with over a minute to spare. So I figured if I stacked the group with ranged, we'd have no problem. We brought a couple of people doing DPS in offspec too - they're good players, so I figured again, no problem.

That day, we had to put our dog to sleep. I took the day off to take her to the vet. I had to make the decision to put her down.

I watched her in her final moments. Just me.

And we knew that this was our last chance to get that achievement, so we pushed on. The whole family was miserable and heartbroken. In retrospect, we shouldn't have. Not because we owed it to the dog or anything; just that we weren't in a good position to do well at anything. But it was the last shot, and it was something of closure for my wife with WoW and raiding; her last goal before basically retiring.

What should've been an easy kill took us 3 hours. It took multiple swaps of people, many tries, people buffing us outside the instance. I sucked on phase 3. I sucked getting Maly in position. We didn't get sparks, or we didn't do well on DPS, or we just failed on doing dps as dragons or healing. I yelled, I fought, I argued. Again, it didn't work out almost entirely because of me and where I was at. My guildies were patient and understanding, and we got it done largely because they were willing to persevere and cope with my frustration and anger. But it wasn't easy for them.

The thing is, I know this isn't normal for me. We've had runs when for whatever reason I was the leader at the time, and it went great. Where I pushed people faster than they were used to and we got stuff done in record time and more smoothly than ever. Where we tried new raid ideas and they worked and were damn fun. I've had people say that they really didn't like it when I wasn't around, because things just went more smoothly with me there. I know that people were overjoyed when I came back from vacation and did flame tanking on Illidan; it was something I had researched, seen movies on, and I did a great job almost immediately on it and we made significantly more progression just from my returning than we had before. So it's not always me sucking. :)

Smooth runs happen first and foremost because of leadership. Some times those leaders have a great attitude, are positive and upbeat, and it just percolates down to everyone. It makes people better. Then comes everyone else. Some times people are just on that night. Some times they're positive and eager and doing great, loose and focused. And when you're with those people, you know things are going to work. You know that it's going to happen that night - a new achievement, a new boss down, a big win, a clean win.

Those are the nights where you don't need everyone to have the most skill you've ever seen. Those are the nights where even the terribads do great and the better players shine. And that's one of the times when raiding is really a joy.

This is the real secret between good raiding guilds and bad ones: good leadership. Good guilds tend to have better players and a core of players that have been around for a while and share similar goals and values. This is probably as important as good leadership for a raid in general; it means that the feeling of the guild doesn't significantly change, the goals don't change, the value doesn't change, and consistency is important. But leadership is what makes individual raids shine. And it doesn't need to be the raid leader that does this leadership; it can be a calming voice, someone who makes good decisions, who makes jokes and light of bad situations. Who handles things well or thinks well, or has simply done their research and can defuse stupid questions.

The antithesis is that there are those who are just poisonous. They might be bad players, and those can't be brought to some things either. There are the bad players who don't listen to directions, who go out and wipe the raid because they fall off the ledge of Eredar Twins because they just couldn't be bothered to listen to someone. We've kicked people from the raid and from raiding for things like that. They're the ones that think that they can sit and eat food near the entrance while Kaz'Rogal marches up to them (and ignoring the raid leader), causing a wipe and 30 minutes wasted time. But they're not the real problems; they can just be replaced with less bad players. Heck, they're fun to talk about sometimes; we have many joys about laughing about dying to Walking Man (Thaladred from Kael'Thas).

No, the ones that cause problems are the ones that are always pessimistic about chances, the ones willing to point blame at others and directly insult them. The ones that get frustrated enough with those bad players to openly cause drama and divisiveness. The ones that will always argue with raid leaders and make suggestions regardless of whether it's asked for. The ones that will relish pointing out how much other players suck and keep harping on it. The ones who don't listen to directions no matter how many times their name is stated. Who don't have any problem holding up a raid for 30 minutes while they buy something from some guy in Orgrimmar for their own personal use.

The thing is, pretty much everyone at one point or another has done both things. You've been that voice of reason, made that awesome joke, or made that one suggestion that brought everything into place. Or you've been the one that couldn't stand that asshat who kept sucking, who kept mocking someone, who just couldn't follow directions to save your life. The difference is frequency. You know those who are on most of the time and those who aren't.

So how does FnB decide on who to bring? We try and get in as many people as is reasonable for a night. We try and emphasize whether or not someone needs an item or an achievement from a boss and whether or not they could reasonably win it via our loot system. We do a lot of swapping and juggling to keep people on backup in the game. And when we absolutely need to, we bring things primarily based on two aspects: how good the player is at execution of their job, and how much we like raiding with them.

But honestly? It's mostly the former. If we really need to work on something hard, we'll bring our 25 best players. Those aren't always the most positive ones, but they're still the best.

Is that right? I don't know, always. More often than not it works out, but sometimes I think sitting people because they're just not having a good night or are being real dicks would be warranted. And we've done that when we had to; putting the guild leader and the raid leader on ignore is not a good choice if you want to be in the raid, in case you're unclear of What Not To Do. It's a tough balance.

At the same time, I know of my old friends on the EU server who finally got tired of being forced to deal with 10 other asshats and just made a small guild of the people they get along with best. Are they as well-progressed as FnB? No. But they've done things that are incredible; they've 12-manned most Naxx-25 content. Are they the best players I've ever seen? Nope. But they get along so well and have such a good time together that it overcomes a lot.

So yeah, that's the big deal behind successful and unsuccessful raids. And we all know it. We just don't say anything, and we talk about tweaking our performance by 5% or maximizing our time to live, when in reality most of the time this isn't as crucial as whether or not you're a positive force in your raid.

I'm curious whether this'll create another shitstorm. Mostly, I'm curious about what other people's experiences are.

And tomorrow will be at least one post that's more mathy. I promise. :)


Dave said...

I agree wholeheartedly. A grumpy raider (or leader) can kill a night easily. "Poisonous" is really a great term to use to describe those players that are always complaining or venting about how the raid is doing. Everyone is guilty of being off their game some nights but those that are consistently negative bring the whole raid down.

But, with all of that said, it's the job of the guild/raid leader(s) to keep that stuff in check and try to keep the balance of fun/success as high as possible. Downtime, wiping, and dumb mistakes aren't fun, but neither is being yelled at for your mistakes.

The holy grail is being able to get the raid to have the right expectations set. We've recently been prioritizing getting our DPS to do better (sometimes with a little too much grumpy lecturing), but it looks to be paying off. The guild has taken it on as a challenge and our members expect themselves and each other to do better without requiring too much brow beating. There are still a couple people who aren't great at channeling those desires or criticisms in a useful way, but it's the leaders job to keep those guys in check.

I dunno, I think I'm just saying what you said. So, again, I agree.

Taran said...

I've encountered this scenario quite a bit. I'm generally the raid leader for my guild (we're small, so we only do 10-mans), and I'm pretty much it. I have a wife and two young sons, so I have responsibilities outside of WoW. I've told guys that they can go ahead and run something without me- I don't mind.

But it never happens. The times they've tried, they just can't keep it together. And I've realized it's because of three main things:

1. Leaders have to be skilled and knowledgeable. You need to be able to lead by example. No one will follow you if you don't know what you're doing.

2. Leaders have to be flexible. If something doesn't work a couple times, try something different - something that may not have been shown on that tankspot video you watched. Nothing is more frustrating than wiping 7 times in a row when you're doing the same thing over and over. Sometimes it's not even that your method is wrong, but people get stuck in a rut and can't figure it out. Just introducing a new method can be enough to get players over that mental block.

3. Probably the most important, you have to be able to lead PEOPLE. You need to be able to manage those petty squabbles that always occur so that they don't escalate. You have to keep things loose while making sure people are paying attention. You have to find ways to motivate everyone towards the same goal. Some people make this easier than others, but there are always those players who you pray won't be having an "off night."

Anyway, good post. I just wanted to share that from my experience. I enjoy the responsibility of leadership, but it's tough sometimes. The reward is worth it, though.

Kiluia said...

Just saw this. Thanks for an awesome post. I am humbled you took the time and I thank you deeply & sincerly. Now I owe you. If I could give you a piece of my phat lootz (heart of iron?) I would, just because you dont get as much raid time as I do, and because I was pretty desperate at the time I wrote that. Couldnt have asked for a fuller response.

I'm not as desperate now. Eventually, I couldnt stand the suffocation, and moved to a better raiding guild on a better server. Promptly got "of the nightfall" - a first for me, and the guild. My gear was the same, my skills were the same, and no-one thought I was holding back our attempts. They needed a feral for that fight after having lost some players... one of the reasons they had an open tank spot.

A couple of my good friends came with me, though I didnt ask them too. Its been rougher for them than for me; they dont respond to personal criticism as well. But that's a big reason why this guild is so much better. First thing I noticed that shocked & gratified me: they had identical gear, but a significantly higher clear time for naxx. That in itself was worth the $50 and the emotional turmoil. I'd read about guilds like that on blogs. Now I was in one!!! The guild has been blessed with great leaders, of course.

I have off nights too; had a really humiliating one on iron council last night in fact. I wiped the raid within 20 secs three times in a row. I wanted to crawl into a a deep deep hole. Dont think I ever screwed up so badly since I hit 70, decided to try tanking, and pugged MagT!

Anyway, thank you again for your article. I felt pretty alone for so long, just because people hardly ever discuss these issues, and I love reading blogs. We have these conversations in private with our friends. Public perceptions - even after really pathetic wipes - are often still about class, spec & gear.

I always remind my two friends - when they get upset - that leading a raid or a guild is the hardest job in wow. I /bow and /bow again to all the great wow leaders out there.

Loorii said...

I agree with some people being "poisonous" to a raid. I was told to lead the raid a number of times, because otherwise we wouldn't have the numbers, due to no one finding raiding enjoyable under one person. He did then go on to fracture the guild in half, which landed me in my current 10 man raiding guild with my gf, which is pretty sweet.

Everyone acknowledges when they have made the mistake. After beating our heads against mimiron phase four for two hours,everyone had made a mistake, and were willing to admit it.

Jheusse said...

Very timely and accurate post.

I run in the Leftovers community on Silver Hand, you may recall the Wowinsider articles on them last year. We have separate charters that can draw raiders from the overall pool of the community, so you can see content with many different groups.

Aside from raw skill, I have noticed the variance in results across various charters even with minimal variance in gearsets. Stability among some key roles plays a part, but a positive, energetic raid leader with some focus and discipline is such a separator.

Better dps and clear/kill times will come with repetitions and better gear, the mindset and demeanor is almost an innate thing.

Shamad said...

Nice bit on the importance of good leadership and a good attitude, however I think these are more the basic things for all guilds to cover. A guild with too much strife and bad leadership won't stand together and will disintegrate over time. It's the fundamental hurdle.

Beyond this there's "raiding awareness", a key ability everyone has to have to tackle proper content such as Ulduar. Those who lack it need to be sorted into people who can learn, and people who can't. People who can't are more of a burden than it's worth, and you're better off running a 24man raid than a 25man with someone who's going to run thought the raid with eyebeams on him or the likes.

After this each players individual skill with their class becomes an issue. Again, teach the ones with potential.

Something better guilds tend to do is post-raid analysis in order to improve strategies and figure out who was actually doing how well on the encounter, what people were doing wrong, and what can be done to improve overall performance. Really fallen in love with WMO's realtime HPS feature for comparing healers f.ex., there's more to it than just a high overall DPS, when one raidhealer can pump out in excess of 20k HPS when needed and the other sit at half that, there's the reason you were looking for why you were struggling on Mimiron etc.

And finally, guilds of a real top level, and this was sort of the reason I started to reply, don't need to bring the player. All their players are of the highest standard in terms of raid awareness and personal skill. Therefore, they bring the class, and they theorycraft their raid performance based on setups to a far greater extent than the rest of us. Don't believe me? Go read up on Ensidias work on Hodir hard mode, they crunched the numbers, tried stacking up to 8 mages at a time(using alts as well I presume) and when they came to the conclusion it was impossible to do, they found an innovative way of using available content to beat the encounter(Flower Power buff).

rivendael said...

Since you asked for sharing of experiences, I'm going to pen down some quick thoughts here :)

On the whole I do agree with your conclusion. While my GM/RL, at least on the surface, always says that he brings people to raids based only on performance, to a certain extent performance is also an indication of attitude and dedication to making the most out of your character (i.e. skill and gear).

We lost 2 players recently after some minor drama. One was generally accepted as a very skilled DPS warrior. However, he also gave unwanted advice yet took umbrage at the fact that we told him his rampant whirlwinds were killing him too much on trash (to the extent that the healers refused to heal him after a while) and also happily withdrew daily quotas of bank mats without contribution. (When reminded, he put in 5g.)

The other was a very well-geared but mediocre healer who got upset after we had to sit her out for progression fights in the first 2 weeks, as she really believed she healed well. She'd also make snide remarks in the healer channel like "How's the wiping going?" when not invited.

You can imagine our relief when they finally decided to go. (They came as a package too.)

On the other hand, we have some folks who may not be as skilled as the warrior but have been with the guild since we started in 2006. They are unfailingly positive, always staying humorous and boosting morale even after some nights of horrible wipes and the officers themselves are feeling down, and are always willing to learn and do better.

In the end I guess my point is, while the leadership is indeed important, your members do make up the real base of your guild and having a good strong relationship, based on trust, between the two will do more than having the right ilevels, in the long run.

DruidDensity said...

This is a complicated subject. I can't say I agree fully on any views presented on this subject but my own.

I am in a guild that has already downed Heroic Ulduar (ranked 589 world on wowprogess currently; and let's just say we are very, very, crude. This is mainly due to the relatively younger age of the guild. 14-30ish. However, it often gets to the point of rudeness. We don't always get along. Yet we will still down the content quickly, and don't struggle.

The majority of us get along, but there are a few bad eggs. But they don't throw us into disharmony.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, I guess it's that as long as the players are good, and know the others are good as well; despite any differences that the players may have, the content will go down.