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The 25-man decline… a new round table discussion

March 14, 2012 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, podcast, raiding, raiding group size, raiding guild

So the poll I put up a couple weeks ago seems to be confirming that from where raiders are sitting, we’re seeing a drop in 25-man raiding on servers. Where there used to be 15-20 active 25-man raiding guilds, we might now have 5. The shift seems to have come from a couple things, from my observation: a shift toward 10-man raiding, a drop in subscriptions, and a general shift toward casualness. No one has ever doubted the fact that the logistics of 25-man raiding can seem more complex than 10-man raiding, though I dispute the assertion that 10-man raiding is always going to be easier to organize or arrange. Missing 1 player or spec from a 25-man raid may not impair the guild’s ability to actually raid, while that can be the difference between being able to go or not in a 10-man guild with a lean roster. So at the end, I’d say the issue is about scale more than an actual ability to assert which raid size is “harder” or “more complex.” I think it starts to fall into the category of the easy/difficult debate that we’ve gotten into over 10 vs 25 raiding difficulty: it’s a pretty pointless endeavour. So I’m not entirely convinced that the decline in 25-man raiding is simply due to the assertion that “10-mans are easier”. It could other factors as well.

But the fact of the matter is that we’re not raiding at the 25-man level that we were 18 months ago. Looking at guilds on the US and EU servers alone, during Tier 10 we had a 2.9:1 ratio of 10-man to 25-man guilds; in Tier 13 we’re seeing an 8.9:1 ratio. That’s an almost 3 fold increase. And it’s not to say that 10-man raiding isn’t dropping as well, in comparison to what we were doing 18 months ago, it’s just not dropping as quickly or noticeably as 25-man raiding.

Anyway! I assembled a few raiders together from different backgrounds to discuss this issue with me and I wanted to share the round table (in two parts) with you. Participants were Arx from DREAM Paragon, Celeus (guild and raid leader) and  Olog (raid leader) from Bridgeburners, and Maarten (retired guild leader Daenon from Bridgeburners and currently a master’s research student studying WoW from the Netherlands). I’d say we just skimmed the surface of an admittedly complex issue but I was particularly happy to have such diverse voices and insights in the discussion. Plus this marks the first time I’ve been able to include people in the round table discussion that don’t just come from the top tier of raiding, which is a good step for my aims of this Raid Observer series! The invitation remains open for anyone who’d like to do a podcast as we move toward spring… hint, hint.

New poll and audio interview with members of DREAM Paragon

February 17, 2012 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, elite, podcast, raiding, raiding guild

New poll about 25-man raiding guilds

I’ve put a new poll up for you to weigh in on. I’m trying to get an idea how what we’re observing/thinking about what I see as a dwindling in the 25-man raiding numbers. Is this true? What are you noticing about your own server?

New interview with members of Paragon

I just completed an audio interview with some of the guys from Paragon. We talked about Tier 13, membership changes, class disadvantages, the dwindling state of 25-man raiding, and the future of the raiding scene with MoP on the horizon.

And I do get into some fun personal stuff too! Anyway, it’s in two parts and also housed on my youtube channel. Do enjoy. :)

Exodus Interview, Part 2

February 01, 2012 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, elite, media, podcast, raiding, raiding guild, World of Warcraft

Hi again, everyone.. can you believe it’s February?

Anyways! I’ve posted the 2nd part of my interview with Exodus, the US raiding guild that ended up ranked 9th in the overall Tier 13 race and 7th in the 25-man race. I think this part of our interview is particularly interesting. I ask them about their past experiences with bug exploits and bans, and we talk about the ethics around the issue. The guys were remarkably open and unapologetic in their views, which I’m sure will trigger some debate but also just seems to highlight to me the complexity of the issue.

Enjoy and do chime in on your thoughts around the issues raised in the discussion.

So who spends the most time raiding, on average?

January 17, 2012 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, raiding, raiding guild, time

I’ve been thinking about this, and with some helpful input, I’ve got a bit of preliminary data…. but I realised this is a fascinating topic area that I intend to spend a bit more time trying to study–in fact, I may even come to more of you for help!

The question always pops up about who spends the most time raiding: 10-man guilds, 25-man guilds? Casual guilds? Hard core? Elite? Something in-between those?

We looked at the top 600 ranked raiding guilds from Tier 12 (Firelands) and we did find something interesting: US guilds spend 3.9 days a week raiding, as compared to the European server guilds at 4.5 and the Taiwan server guilds at 5.2. Now this was based purely on self-reported information in the “info” posted on a site like wowprogress, so there could be some inaccuracies, but I thought it was interesting.

Another area I’d have to work on in relation to these data is to see how do these guilds self identify (elite, hard core, casual, etc.) and does that result in a variation in days spent. Also, looking at just the top 600 is a bit of a problem as that’s a higher ratio of competitive progress raiding guilds as compared to, say, the bottom 600 which might represent a wider range of casually oriented raiding guilds.

So… I’m just letting you guys know that I’ll be digging into this soon and would love to hear from any raiding guilds–of *any* ranking level or guild type–who’d like to help me with this. Let’s resolve this question once and for all. What type of raiding guild tends to spend the most time (over the course of a tier) raiding?

Mapping progress: A peek at a guild on an upward swing

December 03, 2011 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, raiding guild

So what is life like when you’re not quite an elite guild but you’re also very competitive and driven to succeed? Well, that’s the case for a lot of guilds. Think of things this way. According to current data on a tracking site, we’ve about 21,000 guilds that have killed Morchok on normal mode. That gives us a general idea of the number of groups that are out there forming some sort of association intent on raiding, even at the most casual level. Out of those 20-odd thousand guilds, a lot of attention tends to get put on the top 50-100 guilds, the ones we lovingly (well, I lovingly at least) call the “elite” guilds. And then attention seems to fade away. But what about the guild that’s ranked 200th? 300th? That’s impressive still, right? They’re probably server first at least and in the top 1-2% of raiding guilds.

In my research I’ve not only spoken with the elite raiding guilds. I realise that my blog may have given that impression but that’s because I usually limit my public discussions to those elite guilds (with their permission) as I figured that’s of more “interest” to the reading public. Of course, by doing this I may have unintentionally suggested an elitist attitude toward the different types of raiding guilds out there. Nothing could be further from the truth. I myself have spent a great deal of time playing with and researching casual, social, hard core, semi-hard core, and other types of raiding guilds and find them all remarkable in their own ways. Sure, a more socially driven guild may not be as competitively-oriented as the top 10 ranked raiding guilds, but their orientation toward and expertise with the social and group dynamics can say something just as important about what’s going on in raiding as what we’re learning from competitive raiding guilds.

I had a recent discussion with what I’d term a “hard core” guild named Imperium (http://imperium-eu.com/) on the Nagrand server, ranked 186 on 25-man raiding during the Firelands race. (Note: A more recent check of the standings has them at a 190 rather than 186, but this is largely due to higher ranked guilds changing status, name, or server.) I’d run into one of their co-GMs, Fenchurch, in the Paragon IRC channel and asked to interview them when he showed me something very intriguing that he’d created as a kind of motivator for improvement and a track record of what the guild had done over a period of time (in their case tiers 8 through 12). The graph is below. You may wish to click on it to see it better.

http://imperium-eu.com/images/impproglarge.png

To explain in a bit of detail, the numbers on the graph denote the guild’s worldwide ranking in correspondence with the boss kill or heroic achievement. For example, their Heroic Rotface 25-man kill was completed on March 4, 2010, leaving them with a ranking of 537.

Now I can freely admit I’m a bit of a graph geek. This is always something a researcher like me gets a bit giddy about. Why? Well, it shows a pattern of progress and movement and indicates this particular guild’s focus on its own progress. And this was confirmed during the interview I conducted with Imperium. For the guild, their goals are, and have always been, about improving their own performance. While I’m sure they’d be thrilled to leap well above their previous 186th and prove a competitive challenge to other guilds worldwide, they are more concerned with improving their own performance and setting a new personal best, explains Fenchurch. And their goal is to get above 150th. This drive to improve began in the latest expansion, Cataclysm, and appears to have not slowed down since.

I asked Fenchurch if he’d had any goal or aspiration of orienting the guild toward being an elite guild–if he’d ever thought about making that leap from hard core to elite. “How could we do it,”  he mused. “Well, that depends on a lot of factors. I guess I could streamline the guild and try to go for it but I’d rather develop the guild members and improve them so we can achieve our goals together that way.” So becoming elite is not really a priority to the guild, despite the fact that Fenchurch has obviously given it some thought. This notion of concentrating on ensuring the guild itself is improved and its members supported to achieve more in terms of raiding suggests a very specific interest that a lot of raiders have toward personal and group improvement. That a game activity like group raiding can start to sound a bit more like a sports team or a business team really seems to transform the very idea of a game being just a frivolous activity with little goal or meaning.

I learned from talking to Imperium that they’ve played together for almost five years. I found this striking considering that the guild’s average age was early 20s. In fact, quite a few members indicated to me that they’ve been playing WoW (not necessarily with Imperium) since their early to mid-teens. “Growing up” with a game like WoW is not unusual and is also noticeable in guilds like Method, but I was very happy to see how close and amicable the guild was. They share contact details with each other, help each other through the ups and downs in life, and seem genuinely interested in each other’s well being. They’ve also arranged gatherings in real life, where some members of the guild have met each other over the years. It felt, to me, that there was quite a bit of your typical “young guy” humour floating around with quite a few inappropriate jokes and comments made here and there. But despite the rough banter on their Mumble server (don’t let your Gran listen!), I could tell it was all meant in good fun. I would suggest that the guild’s desire to protect its friendships and closeness will always be more important than trying to be “world first” or something, though clearly they want to do better than they did last time.

Imperium is the only really competitive raiding guild on its server and as a result struggles to attract new members from time to time. This can result in the habit of some guilds of coaxing new members from other, perhaps less successful raiding guilds on the same server. Newer member Yuana explained how he had come to Imperium and how leaving his previous guild presented a crisis of loyalty that probably sounds familiar to a lot of raiders who tend to stick with a guild out of a fierce sense of loyalty, even if the raiding progress is not satisfying:

Loyalty was a big issue for me. I  had never really left a guild before. It was kind of different. It’s a tough thing. Then all of a sudden people try and recruit you. The guild I left I wasn’t an officer, but I was helping where I could and I heard they were going to realm transfer because the core players were reduced to 9 players including me.

But for Yuana, since a realm transfer wasn’t an option, the change presented an opportunity to move to a higher performing guild and resolve his loyalty dilemma. I’d say this intense feeling of loyalty is often a reason that many people will stick in the guilds they join–playing with the people you feel connected to can often far exceed the perceived benefit of raiding at a higher level. But sometimes, a change in circumstances will allow the player to make a change that benefits their playing goals without severely compromising their need to remain loyal–and thus Yuana was able to join Imperium and raid at a higher level.

Structurally, Imperium follows a kind of controlled leadership approach. Fenchurch and Essem lead the guild as co-GMs, with Tatsu also functioning in an officer capacity. Many of the core functions and administrative duties of the guild seem to fall on just these few officers of the guild as Imperium found trying it another way (having more officers or delegation) did not work for them. Giving direction and keeping the guild oriented can be quite an intensive responsibility for so few individuals, something I have often noticed can be a bit risky for guild continuity, especially if one of the officers suddenly has to stop their involvement. But that’s not to say that this kind of guild structural construct is not uncommon among many serious raiding guilds, nor does it mean it’s a problematic approach for a guild. I’d say that in a structural arrangement such as how Imperium has it, leadership will often expect a high level of reciprocity by the raiders themselves as a kind of “payment” for taking on the lion’s share of responsibility for the guild. By showing up, doing their part, and building the guild atmosphere, a guild like Imperium appears able to sustain its chosen structure and its leadership appears willing to keep doing their part.

Something I often like to ask raiders is if they’ve see any positive impact from raiding on their daily lives, both at work/school or in their personal relationships. A few of the members mentioned some interesting experiences (with a bit of humour mixed in!):

Taldy: “I took the application from when I applied to Imperium and used the same answers to questions in a job and I got the job. I almost copied my application to Imperium to the job situation.”

Monkeygooch: “I told a girl I downed Ragnaros to get her attention.” (laughter)

Fenchurch: “I manage 35 people in this guild. Managers often manage, what, 4 people? They’ve got nothing on managing in WoW.”

Essem: “WoW and raiding has made me improve my speaking skills. I am getting confident speaking in public too. I am learning to become a teacher. I had an assignment and had to speak to 60 people and I think that helped me.”

I also like to ask raiders what they think are important qualities for being a successful raider and part of a team. The following were offered (again with a bit of humour laced in there):

  • Consistency
  • Commitment
  • Not wiping the raid
  • Make sure you want to do what you’re doing
  • Always be focused, know what the fight involves, know your class and the game
  • It’s about a good attitude; if people show up with a bad attitude, it won’t work
  • Calmness, not flying off the handle
  • People get very worked up about things and maybe they should not—it’s about taking criticism well

Kind of reminds me, again, of what we might say makes for being successful on a new job or while taking a course. Simple thoughts are expressed above but I am sure many raiders nod their head in agreement. We seem to know what works well for raiding and what assets a raider brings to the table–it’s a bit like a kind of code of performance.

I liked talking to Imperium and if I’d not had so many technical problems with the recording I would have even more salient notes to share! But suffice to say it’s been great to get to know an exuberant, fun-loving group that also loves raiding together. They’ve been doing some exciting things in preparation for Dragon Soul (like PTR access and even some preparation for the heroic content next week [and the guys assure me that they did NOT take advantage of that LFR bug that emerged during the first couple days of Week 1]) and I am certain that if they keep this up they will definitely improve their own goals and achieve a new personal guild best. I’d be willing to bet they might pleasantly surprise themselves!

Best of luck, guys! :)

The “saddest world second ever” (Part 2)

November 17, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Cataclysm, elite, Firelands, progress raiding, raiding, raiding guild

If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to peruse Part 1 of this post first.

NOTE: This post does contain some strong language. I apologise to the faint of heart, but I believe that most of those who bother to actually read my walls of text will be capable of coping with a few strong words uttered in the heat of the moment.

And so we continue our exploration of the experience of Method over the summer…

Let me preface this part by explaining that a lot of my observations in this section are based on listening to and documenting the audio recordings the guild made for me of their attempts on both Majordomo and their early attempts on Ragnaros in early July 2011. This was captured by Xabok for me while they were live raiding. Now, unless I’m corrected, I believe I’m the first academic to receive, and Method is the first elite raiding guild to actually make, recordings like this for the sake of research. (That’s the geeky kind of thing that gets an academic researcher giddy…) I’m only excerpting a tiny portion of what was said for the sake of brevity and to try and capture the experiences and feelings of the raiders involved. Method has always been pretty willing to point to their own mistakes (you only have to watch some of their funnier “first kill” videos to see that they will often add on a minute or two of footage showing their fail wipes before getting to the actual successful kill) and I think this willingness to help me out with my research request says a lot about them and about raiders in general, particularly about our brutal honesty about things. We know we usually fail a LOT before we finally succeed. And even after we succeed we’ll often fail all over again.

On some level, reading these experiences of a top level guild might be comforting to those guilds that are further down the raiding path and who might mistakenly believe they are the only ones who have missteps and mistakes along the way. Trust me, we all do,  just at a different pace and in different ways. It’s much harder to be open about our mistakes than our successes, so thank you to Method for allowing me to observe your experiences. I’d have to say it took character. :)

Majordomo: Saddest World Second Ever

For Method guild members, the penultimate heroic boss fight (Majordomo) proved a genuine test of their guild’s orientation toward the competitive and actually allows for a compelling exploration of how competition is enacted in different ways during a contested raiding race. Majordomo took, according to Valiane’s estimates, 71 tries before the group was able to defeat him. This is in stark contrast to the estimate of 23 tries (in total, mind you) on the first four bosses. (I tried to wrap my own mind around the fact that guilds at Method’s level need so few tries before actually defeating the majority of heroic bosses in a given instance. But anyway…) Method determined a tactic early on that they knew would help them defeat the boss as long as it was executed properly. But things did not go so well, according to Trekkie:

We had a strategy… [but] every try was some kind of execution fail one after another. The second try we tried that tactic we got him down to like 30% or whatever and that’s basically the whole fight.

So the guild knew they had a working tactic but their execution of it was letting them down. The frustration over these “execution fails” were audible on the TS recording. Why? Well, the guild knew that every failure on their part meant that the now five-hour advantage they had on Paragon was being squandered away. Sco, the guild master, can be heard quietly but unrelentingly attempting to refocus the guild by making what reads like a prophetic statement:

Ask yourself if you want to kill this boss before Paragon as we’re playing like shit please. This boss is actually not that hard and I think you don’t realise we’re going to lose the world first on this fight.

All is not lost at this point yet, however. Majordomo has still yet to be downed by any guild (it’s some time before Paragon actually get him down). And an attempt to refocus appears audible on the recordings as the group starts all over again. This time the fight is as successful as they’ve been so far. Calm and controlled, members of the group call out information, others inform the group of their actions, some warn the group of the various Gamic devices from the boss. (If you need a reminder of how this boss plays out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh8rZZm_-ng) It appears to be going well, the boss’ health, after a concerted and prolonged effort of about 8 minutes, has been diminished to under 10%–the end appears nigh. The world first is in hand. The group sounds focused, oriented, and animated. Instructions are handed out efficiently, encouragement is offered, pleas are uttered (mostly by the guys who are laying there dead already, forced to watch/listen from the sidelines):

Nuke nuke, come on!

Nuke please…!

Come on…

Oh nice nice…!

Go go go go…!

And then they wipe.

1.4 million.. 0.4% wipe.

Fuck, oh my God…

1.4 million, that’s oh my God…

They had managed to reduce the boss’ health pool by 99.6% and only 0.4% remained. Anyone who’s raided before understands how painful this is. To have gotten so close only to fail at the last moment. The group has failed. They must collect themselves, return to the raiding instance, and start again. General disappointment with the group’s failure to master or exhibit the skill it knows it can are muttered, “We almost don’t deserve a world first with this play, honestly”. This kind of talk is not unfamiliar to any of who have experienced progress raiding. The idea of “deserving” that accomplishment can often come into question when we are not performing to par, even if that par is based on achieving a personal or guild best. I think what struck me the most when I was listening to the recordings at this point was how familiar this all sounded. How often have I heard a raid leader or raid member say something similar in an attempt to jolt some improved performance into the group or at least vent at the perceived inability to succeed?

The group goes at it again. For we’re resilient and persistent if we’re nothing else. And yet…

Another wipe.

And then… simply these words on TS:

Paragon got it.

Fuck.

The TS channel, which had been up until this point quite active with various members of the 25-player group speaking even in the wake of the 0.4% wipe, goes silent for almost 1 minute. For me listening to the recording, that minute felt like an hour.  It is about 01:30 am game time at this point and Paragon had only killed Majordomo a few minutes earlier. The race to down Majordomo first was over.

And then, like a knife cutting through dense air, a singular voice is heard on TS:

If we kill it this night it should still be fine.

This was in reference, I am later told, to the idea that if they can still kill Majordomo soon they would have about the same amount of time to work on Ragnaros, thus levelling the playing field for the final contest once more. So the group must shake off that 0.4% wipe, get over their failure to defeat the game mechanics, and overcome their demoralized state over losing the world first on this boss to Paragon and concentrate on the goal of beating Paragon in the overall fight.

Somehow this statement helps the group. They start up again. It’s not a perfect “getting back on the horse”, however. They have one more wipe. But by the time the group has collected for its second try since learning that Paragon has killed Majordomo, they are a more focused group, although not quite what they had been. Things have definitely changed. I hear a quieter, less animated discussion than I had heard earlier in the recording. Are they more focused than ever? Tired? Fed up? Maybe all of the above. And then:

There he goes… come on…

It’s beserk.. he’s dead, he’s dead.

Finally.

Fucking…

Good job, guys.

It’s done.

The saddest world second ever.

It is. Indeed, indeed.

It is 02:09 am. Method has achieved the world second kill of Majordomo on heroic mode. No small feat for us mere raiding mortals, but it’s a pitiful recompense to these competitively oriented guys. I can feel the disappointment in their voices, the subdued reaction to the kill being indicative of the guild’s failure, at that moment, to achieve its external competitive goals—killing the boss ahead of Paragon. And when I asked Rogerbrown later why he felt this kill was the “saddest world second ever” (as he had said on that night in July), this was his explanation:

Sad because obviously we could have got the kill before them and we had an advantage over Paragon. Not as big as it seemed in our heads, but we had at least 5 hours ahead of them to start with.. so we felt like we lost our chance there to get a world first and it was demoralizing.

So while the Majordomo fight was not the most contested fight in the Firelands race, it proved quite disappointing for the guild.

But at that point what could the guild do? Well, shake it off. They allowed themselves a few minutes of post-kill analysis and then moved on. And that they did—with a dash, that very same night, to clear the trash and get a peek at Ragnaros. Can’t let a failure to win hold you back from continuing to try and win, after all.

And what of Ragnaros? Well, it was not a simple fight and the race, at least at first, appeared it would last a long time. Method assumed every other guild was at the same impasse. But then Paragon got him down. Xabok, guild officer and raider in Method, explains how they learned about the kill, which initially surprised them all:

We were finishing our raid, we had just killed Ragnaros on normal mode and waiting on the nerfs. And the gear reset and Sco is like officers come down and we have a meeting and 5 minutes in Artzie comes in and says Paragon killed it and we’re all like what the fuck because we just said the boss is impossible. So I was like, they did it or they cheated or we just got outplayed. And we waited on the movie and we were like, ok we got outplayed.

Paragon’s successful killing of Ragnaros came a week before Method was able to successfully kill him and the guild acknowledged that in that fight that they had been “outplayed”. In my later discussions with the group there seems to be a state of polite acceptance over the Ragnaros kill. It seems to be less painful, less of a sting than the Majordomo fight. I know that placing 2nd is still not good enough for them, but they acknowledged that Paragon just outperformed them to get it done first. I suppose you could say it was good sportsmanship. Shakaroz, with over six weeks to think about the experience, offered the following analysis of their competitive experience in the raiding instance:

It’s like we won the first half of the instance. Against Baleroc we won against them but then they caught up with us at Majordomo. We went into Ragnaros being sort of equal, we had a point each and then it was the final showdown so I think we were, I was at least perceiving Paragon as equal to us at that point and when they killed the boss it really came as a shock to a lot of people because I didn’t expect them to be able to kill it. And a lot of us were talking about Ragnaros being impassable and previously we had been talking about not raiding as much and waiting on nerfs, at least a phase 4 nerf so we could do it with 4 meteors. We did not expect Ragnaros to be killable at that point.

And adding to that analysis, Rogerbrown notes:

When Paragon killed the boss, yeah, we, even though we were shocked or whatever I at least didn’t feel like we didn’t do our best—meaning that it wasn’t skill wise that we failed or anything like that so the only flaw was that we didn’t have the alts or the roster big enough to accommodate the tactics. It was pretty much fail preparation and not fail tactics.

So for Shakaroz and Rogerbrown the failure on Ragnaros was about external factors that they had not planned for or accommodated, “fail preparation” and a belief that “Ragnaros being impassable”. And what I believe made the Majordomo kill a greater frustration to those I spoke with was the idea of a “fail execution”, or the inability of the members of the group to properly execute the correct strategy. This idea of different forms and consequences of group failure is really well represented in raiding, which enables us, I think, to have a varied response to the reasons that we fail, not just in a game but in life too. What’s important to note here is that they did not blame their failure on Ragnaros on the failure of skill or ability, necessarily. If anything is to be “blamed” here, it might be the groups’ acknowledged “fail preparation” for how to handle the boss fights in such a tight race.

The poignancy of the group’s strong negative reaction to the Majordomo failure (despite the fact that the failure did not mean they would necessarily lose the overall race against Paragon) seems to point to the significance that these additional levels of competition and performance play for raiding guilds. It’s not simply about the overall winning of the race, it’s about how they win it and, subsequently, how they lose it. Do you prefer to lose to internal factors that you can control or external ones that you can’t control? What is a worse fate?  And for Method, those factors that they knew they had a control over in that Majordomo fight—the accurate execution of a proven game tactic (Gamic competition), their own performance and ability levels (Internal competition)—had not been successful and that proved to be a significant and unacceptable failure on their part. This illustrates the significance of these types of competitive attitudes amongst raiders and indicates that how you win (or lose) is just as important as winning itself.

The next tier of raiding is almost upon us and, as usual, the race starts all over again. Will Paragon retain its throne? Will Method achieve its goal of unseating them? And what of the other elite raiding guilds that are also hoping to claim their stake and ranking? After all, it’s not just about those two guilds. I’ll be on the sidelines—as usual—waiting to hear how things are going and who is moving up and down the ranks, thoroughly enjoying the rollercoaster ride these guys put me on!

The “saddest world second ever” (Part 1)

November 16, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, competition, Firelands, progress raiding, raiding guild

This is a wall of text. Though I might break things up with some images of cats—everyone loves sending me images of cats doing silly things… I think that’s because there is this idea that we of the fairer sex like seeing images of cats doing funny things; I think it’s also because images of cats doing funny things represents about 83% of the Internet. But before I launch into my (epic) wall of text here, let me just offer a thank you to Method. They are a classy bunch of guys (I bet they never thought they’d be referred to as such!) to let me write up about them, particularly about a somewhat touchy subject.. the idea of coming in “second”. Of course if you consider the fact that we have thousands of groups completing the raiding content, coming in second in the world is actually pretty good. But when you’re so close to being first, second just feels like you missed the party entirely. Will Method come in second during the next content patch? That’s anyone’s guess, but I do know that they are as determined as ever and I look forward to following the race during the next tier of raiding content.. which should start very soon!

I’m also really grateful to all of the guilds like Method for being really active participants in my research. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to talk to raiders from lots of different backgrounds and they’ve really contributed a lot to my work. You may have read the earlier article I wrote back in May where I documented some highlights from my first group discussion with Method. One thing I appreciated about them, and about most of the guilds I’ve spoken to, is their openness. Sure some of us posture a bit, and there’s a fair amount of ego and grandstanding in some, but for the most part, we’re quite honest (I’d even say quite bluntly honest) about how we perform and what our challenges might be. I think as a community, raiders can be quite reflective and self-critical. I think this is due, in part, to the constant stream of data that we have available to help us see how we’ve done: fraps, DPS meters, logging sites. In a way, being open is thrust upon us by our own design. You can’t really pretend your DPS was great when DPS tracking software is telling you (and everyone else!) that it was subpar.

But whatever the reason for this openness and reflectiveness, raiders have been quite willing to be recorded and documented talking about their experiences. And sometimes it also means that the raiders themselves have collected data for me. This was Method. And I think what we did over the summer is historic in nature. During their few weeks of progress raiding in Firelands, the guys recorded hours of TeamSpeak audio for me. Now I did not get the actual recordings until long after the race was over (not until September) so there would never be a concern or any worries that I’d somehow compromise the race by getting access to information that is usually quite fiercely protected.

We are all drawn to raiding for similar reasons, though how important those reasons are will often depend on the raider and the guild to which they belong. I’d say some of the top reasons we get into raiding might be the raiding content itself, personal performance, competition, social interaction, and team play. But the way that we might rank these reasons as far as importance goes differs between raiders based on our own priorities for raiding. If, for example, we want to blow off some steam with a group of good friends, social interaction or team play might outrank competition. Well, in the case of the top ranked guilds that I’ve spoken with (and I’ve had a chance to talk to about a dozen of them), competition seems to be the primary driving factor. This piece explores how competition functions for a guild like Method and how they felt, in the end, about being the 2nd in the world. Again. And now, before we begin, here is the world’s most insulted cat:

Really? I mean… really?

Intermission over. Shall we continue? Let’s….

“The saddest world second ever”

Second place is just the first place loser. –Dale Earnhardt

I’m not jealous, I’m just tired of being in second place. –Unknown

These quotes may evoke that cynicism that sometimes accompanies a reaction from a competitor who’s come in second place. For the second place “loser”, there is no other aspiration than coming in first. This experience of the anti-climax of finishing second is well expressed through the progress race.

Like other competitive raiding guilds, Method was formed by WoW raiders that wanted to be the first to defeat the raiding content ahead of other guilds. This assertion is made clear on the guild’s promotional material, where they solicit new members, the goal being, “to be among the first to witness, participate in, and down new raid boss encounters.” Method’s success as a world-ranked progression guild began in 2007 when it had the world second kill of Lady Vashj in a level 70 ranked raiding area called Serpentshrine Cavern. Its success continued off and on until it reached a more consistent level of prominence in 2009. It has sustained a world #2 ranking since December 2010. In fact, its history of being second seems to be quite predominant for Method. On its self-written guild description posted on wowprogress.com, it lists 31 achievements of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place finishes on specific important game achievements over the past four years. Out of those 31 achievements, 22 (or 71%) are listed as second place finishes. This notion of seemingly perpetual runner-up-dom has not been lost on the guild or its members, best expressed through Rogerbrown’s (officer and raider in Method) statements in May and July, respectively:

On not achieving first place: “It’s the one thing Method hasn’t done yet.” (Rogerbrown, May 2011)

On losing the Majordomo (the penultimate boss in Firelands) kill to DREAM Paragon by 45 minutes: “The saddest world second ever.” (Rogerbrown, July 2011,)

Progression racing is seen as challenging, both by design and circumstance. It requires a lot of time, focus and speed. For example, over the 26 days in Firelands that Method was clearing the raiding content, Valiane, one of the raiding members of Method, estimated that the raiding group spent approximately 200 hours working on clearing the content, with about 180 of those hours spent on the final raid boss, Ragnaros. This works out as an average of 7.3 hours being spent per day. While this kind of speed and concentrated time spent in raiding can contribute toward success in the progress race, it can also often present a series of unexpected events for the groups involved. One example is the situation where most of the top raiding guilds—due to the speed at which they progress through the content—face the raiding content while Blizzard’s game designers are still fixing bugs in the gameplay.

In July, like everyone else, Method began its pursuit of the world first completion of the newest raiding content in Firelands. During the discussion of how the Firelands race had gone, Trekkie, a raiding member of Method, indicated that the primary area of concern was the perceived race between their guild and Paragon, “Yes, pretty much only cared about Paragon’s progress in the race.” This could piss off other guilds that are also hot in pursuit of a world #1, but I think I can understand the logic. Paragon was #1 going into the race and that makes them, by default, the team to “beat.” It’s very likely that most of the other guilds in the top 10 or 20 were just as oriented toward beating Paragon.

My research has led me to define the types and forms of competition that exist in raiding. I’ll outline them briefly here: Gamic competition (this is the competition we experience against the game and the game designed challenges); External competition (competition between raiding guilds); and Internal competition (this is represented by how we compete with or against each other in our own raiding guilds). An example of Gamic competition would be how a group competes against a raid boss’ tactics and mechanics to down the boss; an example of External would be how guilds race against each other to complete raiding content ahead of everyone else; and Internal could be represented by the friendly rivalry to see who tops the DPS meters during any given raid.

Time for another cat photo:

“Don’t you people have anything better to do?”

And onwards we must march….

Method is highly focused toward External competition. This is indicated by their desire to “win the race” and surpass their long-held 2nd place spot.  In fact, even during the 3 weeks of the contested Firelands race (until Paragon defeated Ragnaros on July 19, 2011), while Method’s interest was in their own raiding performance and tactics against the raiding challenges they were also oriented toward how they fared against Paragon. Shakaroz, another member of Method, made that clear in his statement:

You asked if what we knew about Paragon at that point [during the raiding progress] was affecting our raid? Yes, we knew their set up on Majordomo and I’m thinking it might have given us a feeling of security because we thought we knew what they were doing because at some point they swapped in like 7 to 9 rogues trying some weird strategy. So we were thinking they didn’t really know what to do with this boss and they were trying all sorts of weird things and they are not close and that gives us that sense of security so that personal mistakes and poor play isn’t really looked on as harshly because we think that we were further along than we were. With [Major]domo we could have taken the world first. We had some silly wipes and some time wasting.

So in effect here, while Shakaroz concedes that Method was externally oriented toward the progress and activity of Paragon, he felt it could have adversely affected their own guild’s performance. Perhaps this highlights the ways in which a network and series of events within it can conspire to negatively impact its attributes depending on how the network’s entities (in this case a raiding guild) react or respond to the dispersal of information. But this close focus on Paragon’s progress is understandable considering how easily accessible data and information was for raiding guilds. In the table below, you can see how close the race was and why it made sense that Method (and Paragon too) were so oriented toward the external competition.

DREAM Paragon (with dates and times of kills)
Method
H: Ragnaros–Jul 19, 2011 20:50

H: Majordomo–Jul 8, 2011 01:17

H: Baleroc–Jul 7, 2011 14:52

H: Alysrazor–Jul 6, 2011 15:54

H: Lord Rhyolith–Jul 6, 2011 13:51

H: Beth’tilac–Jul 6, 2011 12:15

H: Shannox–Jul 6, 2011 10:11

H: Ragnaros–Jul 26, 2011 21:52

H: Majordomo–Jul 8, 2011 02:06

H: Baleroc–Jul 7, 2011 04:42

H: Alysrazor–Jul 6, 2011 13:37

H: Lord Rhyolith–Jul 6, 2011 11:07

H: Beth’tilac–Jul 6, 2011 10:04

H: Shannox–Jul 6, 2011 08:52

Access to information like this, available to any raider or interested party, can help spur on the race and also motivate the teams involve to either pick up their pace or, possibly, relax with a false sense of security, such as what Shakaroz indicated above. While the significant part of the race did not come until the attempts on Ragnaros started, the momentum gained from speedily killing the earlier bosses did allow the teams to focus on that final boss. A careful review of the dates and times of the boss kills shows a very close race. Mere hours separate the successful kills of the earlier bosses, with Method ahead of Paragon’s progress until Majordomo. But the Majordomo fight was the first indicator of a change in the race between the two guilds. It’s worth pointing out here, however, that for guilds like Method and Paragon the race is not so much about the earlier six bosses but more about the final one. As North American servers get access to the game a day before European servers, for example, all of the first four heroic bosses had already been killed for the first time by the time Method and Paragon logged on. But Method and Paragon quickly succeeded those early kills and began to progress to the last bosses. It seemed too close to tell.

So what happened at Majordomo? Well, the race seemed to shift. Part 2 looks more closely at that experience and the impact it had, at the time, on Method. In some cases, it was more significant (at least from the standpoint of the “race”) than the Ragnaros race. Stay tuned!

Oh and here’s another cat image. Someone please send me nomz too….

A guild by any other name would still smell sweet…

August 10, 2011 By: Ladan Category: raiding guild

…or would it?

You’ve seen them before. The quirky guild names, the epic guild names, the questionable guild names. There have been times when I’ve actually whispered to someone in game to ask them what their guild name means or to compliment them on the wit of their guild’s founders. While I haven’t actually chosen not to be in a guild, however, because of its name, I will admit that I’ve been a bit judgemental of a guild name that I may have considered foolish or grammatically incorrect (I can’t help myself, it’s a professional hazard!).

So for your reading pleasure, I have created my first ever Top Ten List ™ of the most popular categories of naming conventions for our guilds. My very unscientific study (yes I skimmed through 50,000 guild names) could not determine a clear correlation between names and the seriousness of raiding guilds, but I will make a few observations about the names of our topmost guilds in an attempt at answering the following question that I’m sure you’ve all stayed up at night thinking about: “Does the guild’s name help ensure raiding success?”

So in no particular order, here is the Top Ten…

1. The one word guild. Just like our love of one word movies (“Inception”, “Avatar”, “Matrix”, “Gladiator”, “Armageddon”), we seem to love single name guilds. In the top 50 ranked raiding guilds alone, 27 guilds are single word-named. The More Epic The Better! A few notable examples of the single word guilds: “Paragon”, “Method”, “Adept”, “Hypnotic”, “Eternity”. Single named guilds: concise, to-the-point, and epic sounding! Just make sure you are absolutely sure you know what that epic-sounding word means before you pick it for your guild name. Oh a personal favourite:  the Russian guild “Феникс”, which means phoenix. How epic does that look?

2. Dead language alert! We seem to love Latin for our naming conventions. “Ad Infinitum”, “Semper Fidelis”, “Memento Mori”. So if the guild name evokes the Roman era or a dead language will it somehow feel more epic? I think it could also be a nostalgic notion evoking images of tradition, establishment, and association.

3. The guilds named for an inside joke or reference. A lot of guilds give themselves names that may only make sense to themselves: “chicks n onion”, “Did It For Whitney”, “Hug Vendor”, “Strawberry Puppy Kisses”, “shotguns and beercans”, “sea cub clubbing club”, “sapped cows dont say moo”. Of course it could just be me that doesn’t get it–fill me in, guys!

4. Typo’ed names. Sometimes this happens on accident, sometimes it’s on purpose. And sometimes maybe it’s accidentally on purpose? Either which way, we usually stop, look twice, and then wonder. Some might ignore it, others find it frustrating, especially if they’re fussy about spelling. For some, the accidental typo might become a kind of quirky badge of honour. A few notable examples: “Covert Activitity”, “Stelth Kilers”, and nothing commands respect as much as a guild that uses all caps to shout, “WHATEVER WERE AWESOME”. Really? Were they? And here is an ambiguous one: “Cats Game”. Does that mean it’s a cat’s game? Or does it mean that cats actually game? Can you teach my cat how to game? Would get her to stop pestering me for food.

5. Witty or tongue-in-cheek names. These are proof that some guilds refuse to take themselves too seriously. I often find these amusing and indicative of our playful gaming culture. Some examples (including a few suggestive ones, so apologies to those of you with delicate eyes): “Older gamers”, “Grumpy old gits”, “Potato cave”, “Fellowship of the Cave”, “The Squirrel Mafia”,  “Orcgasm”, ë‹­ ë‹­ ë‹­ ë‹­ ë‹­ ë‹­ ë‹­ ë‹­ ë‹­ (Korean for “chicken chicken chicken chicken…” you get the idea), and my personal favourite (please give me honourary membership in your caffeine loving guild!): “Operation Latté Thunder”. I have to give a special shout out to the US server guild that knows its political humour: “Misunderestimated”. Not sure what I mean? Just google the word!

6. The cultural/language/national pride guild names. Nothing says you’re from Mythicland more than calling yourself the ‘Mythicland Raiders!’ Let’s see… what examples can I offer? “Finnish Design”, “Swedish Raidtime”, “The Great Danes”. For some of us, we want to make sure people know we’re from a particular cultural or linguistic background. And one of our notable German guilds: “Affenjungs INC” (it means monkey boys).

7. The how-many-quirky-diacriticals-letters-and-accents-can-we-put-on-a-word guilds. Yes somehow English words can look way cooler if we use accents or sexy letters or a mix of lowercase and uppercase letters for regular words: “Dispøsed”, “Pandemønium”, “Øne Shøt”, “BlòódGuard”, “SpêciâL”. I don’t actually understand this one but I can’t seem to stop staring at it.. “”llIlIIlIlIlIlIlIIlII”.

8. Pop culture, literary, game, or film reference guild names. We love our Usual Suspects or Lord of the Rings! We also love “Oprah” and “Gwen Stefani” and “Pollo de la Muerte” (chicken of death),”Super Smash Bros”, never mind “Shai Hulud” or “Valhalla”. In some cases one can only ask “why?” This one is a nice link between popular culture and the next category: “My Little Pwny”.

9. Names that clearly reference an aspect of WoW, raiding, or gaming. I suppose you could say that these are kind of an inside reference.. to us gamers that is. Anyway, here are a few examples:  “One Percent Wipe”, “I am Murloc”, “Raid Warning”, “Gank for Cookies”,”Sons of Hodir”, “Wiping as Intended”, and the ever popular all caps guild name that has a dose of typos and game lingo: WHAR LEWTS PLZ HALp”! Seriously? And this one is a good reminder of how some famous Web sites or addons had their beginning as a guild: “Elitist Jerks”. And huh?: “DotA AR BR Banlist ON”. C an someone explain that to me? Oh and what’s with the excessive focus on Gnomes in our guild names? They pop up more than any other race! “Gnomish gigolos”, “No Taste like Gnome”.

10. Alcohol, food, or other substance names. I actually got hungry and thirsty with some of these names. “The Sauce” seems to come up a lot… as well as a lot of baked goods (particularly the US server guilds!): “vodka”, “Vanilla Cupcakes”, “The Cuppy Cakes” (come on!), “Blow” (yes, I realise this can be taken two ways… saucy!), “GefilteFish” (an Israeli guild!), “Cookie Monsters”, “Cookie Brigade” (really?),  “Taco Stand Bandits” (yum), “WhiskeyToblerone” (hmm…), “Kebab”. Yum. And why?

What are some memorable guild names you’ve seen? I may actually start a ranking site for the best/strangest/quirkiest guild names.

“Pangalactic Gargleblaster”?

“Twenty Percent Cooler”?

“I’m with stupid”? So 2003!

“Team Pants”?

“World Wipe Formation”?

“HottieHamsters”?

“PeanutButterJelly”?

“WittyName”?

Getting Inside Inner Sanctum and Raiding Rankings

June 24, 2011 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, raiding guild, raiding research, rankings

I had originally planned to start off this blog post with a bit of a rant about my brain hurting from trying to muddle through the variation in raiding guild rankings on the different sites… but I’d much rather talk about something nice and then (if you make it that far) you can read my musings about what I find are challenges with our ranking systems! So let’s start with dessert…. my discussion with Inner Sanctum.



Talking with Inner Sanctum

I have to say that it was really nice to talk to Inner Sanctum and I’m grateful they allowed me access. They’re a very relaxed guild that seems to really enjoy having fun together while competing. They are also not afraid to ‘think’ about what they are doing. I would also describe them as quite private. I sensed a strong desire for a drama-free, socially positive environment that is focused on the needs of the guild and not so worried about what other guilds or the raiding community thinks about them. I think, on some level, they may have found my interest in their guild and their thoughts on raiding somewhat bemusing. Well, I for one am really glad they were willing to talk to me! Here are a few highlights:

Inner Sanctum (IS) is an elite raiding guild with a history that reaches back to ‘vanilla’ WoW. It has long been ranked amongst the top guilds and is still active on the scene, holding the current rank of 22 (according to wowprogress’ 25-man raiding guilds ranking). They’ve been as highly ranked as 6th during Ulduar and have enjoyed a number of world firsts over the years. Considering the thousands of guilds out there, accomplishing such high rankings and for such a long duration makes one pause and ask how and why. And when I interview top guilds, I usually ask them what their secret is. And the answer is often quite similar and not (I’m afraid) particularly revolutionary or dramatic, nor is it a quick or easy fix. It’s really just like our parents used to tell us when we were kids: most good results come from hard work and perseverance.

And in the case of Inner Sanctum they do have a few noticeable features that have allowed them to enjoy solid success. I should note that these methods are not completely unique to IS, but they did stand out for me in relation to how IS has been successful.

  • They make their social, positive atmosphere a priority for the guild. As Phailia, the GM of IS, says, “I think we have something that’s quite rare in top level guilds, which is a very good social atmosphere. You don’t want to be raiding with people you don’t like or like spending time with. We have a balance between having fun and being laid back and then putting your head down when it suits the guild to do so.” From my direct observation and interaction with other top level guilds, I’ve actually found that a good social atmosphere often exists in most of those guilds, but to acknowledge what Phailia says, I did notice that in the case of IS they really do make this a priority. It’s not just that they enjoy the nice social atmosphere that just ‘happens’ to be a side effect of playing together, they actually concentrate on making sure it’s there and won’t recruit members who aren’t also committed to this mindset.
  • They use a “groupthink” approach to problem solving and planning. Enk, one of IS’ officers and the raid leader, speaks about the way that IS  works through the challenge of progress raiding: “Being the raid leader is more like being a tactical leader and mostly listening to what people think and mixing and matching that to our strategy,” he explains. “When we brainstorm we make sure everyone can speak and no one speaks over each other. No one butts in and everyone gets time to talk. If they say something right then we try to incorporate it into our tactic.” This kind of collaborative group approach to raid planning and strategizing is not entirely unique to IS, but again speaks to the distinctive way in which most of the elite guilds try to problem solve while progress raiding.
  • They do things their way, including the use of some internally designed add-ons for boss fights. IS has its own boss mod that it uses during boss fights–this allows them more flexibility to adjust and respond to a boss fight while they are learning it, they explained to me. In addition, IS members spoke about how the guild does things their own way, not generally relying on any other tactics they have heard about but just figuring out what works for themselves. Daewyn, a newer member of the guild, talked about the learning curve he underwent while getting used to the ‘different’ way that IS liked to do things: “When I started raiding with the guild, I saw that IS did every boss fight differently,” he said. “The first week was quite hectic. Even with the fights I knew well, the tactics were quite different so it took me a while to be able to bring my performance up to the level I was used to.” This kind of unique approach is always going to be an adjustment for a new member of the guild but IS seemed quite protective of its desire to raid for themselves and not to be concerned so much about how every other guild does it.

IS noted that they felt that their ranking has been negatively impacted in part because they are determined not to work around a game mechanic in order to progress faster. This is an admittedly touchy subject amongst the elite raiding guilds. The question comes down to… if you use some element of the game (“a clever game mechanic” as Smasher from the EU-German guild For the Horde described it to me) to give you an advantage in a boss fight, is that manipulating or abusing game mechanics or just a creative response to a competitive situation? The question is hard for us to answer and often comes down what is seen as an ethical choice. Again, Smasher from For the Horde really put it succinctly to me in a recent interview saying that his guild (ranked #4) has the philosophy of wanting a ‘clean kill’ even if that means they have to sacrifice a world first to ensure they stay ‘clean’. This point of view is shared by IS. Of course this raises issues that can’t be addressed in this interview, but I think it hints at the complexity of this issue for the elite raiding guilds.

IS’ approach to recruiting raiders for their roster is quite strategic and restrained. As Phailia, the guild’s GM puts it, “We run with a small roster compared to other guilds; we don’t like to over recruit as a guild,” he explains. “We don’t see the point of having too many or sitting people out during a raid.” And like other competitive guilds, off specs are widely used to balance out their tight roster: “We do expect people to play off specs which hasn’t really been a problem for us so far.”

Their mature approach to scheduling and planning was particularly noteworthy in my discussions with IS. More so than in some of the other elite raiding guilds I’ve spoken to, I noted a more noticeable number of raiders who manage fulltime jobs/studies and personal lives while still maintaining the demanding (but not impossible, from their perspective) progress raiding schedule. ‘To me it comes down to planning your time well,’ explained Hentrenson, one member who indicated that he had a ‘regular 9-5 job’. And Kibu, another member, added, “I have a girlfriend and a normal job. You just find the balance.” Their schedule is somewhat unrelenting (7 pm-after midnight most nights), but still allowed members to maintain a degree of normalcy in their lives at least according to those I spoke with.

One area that I wanted to ask the guild about was the notion of being a ‘stepping stone’ for an ambitious competitive raider, meaning had any raiders joined IS as a way to improve their chances to jump up to one of the top 5 or 10 ranked guilds. The guild could not find any clear cut examples of raiders who had used IS in this manner. The main reason raiders had not lasted with IS, Enk explained, was that the player had not been prepared for the way that elite raiding works. And another area, as explained by IS member Kibu, was in relation to the learning curve that being in a guild like IS presents. “We had players that came to IS as maybe average at best,” he explains. “But when you spend time in the guild you automatically get to be a better player. We are not really a stepping stone in that people use us to go to a better guild but it’s a stepping stone to improve as a player.”

So what else makes Inner Sanctum special? The linguistic diversity stood out for me, too. It may surprise you to learn that currently we only have 8 EU English-language raiding guilds in the top forty ranked raiding guilds. Linguistic cohesiveness is becoming a more common feature among the top raiding guilds–even on the EU-English language raiding guilds–with guilds like Paragon (Finnish), For the Horde (German), Wraith (French), and Accidentally (Polish) becoming more prevalent. But like Method or Ensidia, Inner Sanctum boasts a nice diversity of members from all over the EU, a fact I’m finding to be less common amongst our top ranked guilds. I will say that it can be a challenge and a strength to have to overcome the linguistic and cultural differences that players from all over the EU might face when trying to raid together, especially if they are aiming for world best.

At the end of the day, IS comes across as a polished, positive and realistically oriented raiding guild. They love to compete but they are determined to do it on their own terms and in their own way without sacrificing their particular ideals along the way. And the fact that they’ve maintained such a high level of success over such a long period of time says something about the positive impact that their unique culture and point of view has had on the guild’s members and on their achievements. As far as Firelands go, IS is geared up and ready to go–I can only wish them the best of luck and will enjoy monitoring their progress (along with everyone else’s progress) in the coming weeks! Oh and Paltos, don’t think I forgot you–I hope your world record plans are going well. ;)

And by the way–if I had to cast a vote for prettiest/coolest looking logo, Inner Sanctum gets mine. I love it!

Some music, you say? No time for a raid-themed musical medley, but here’s something nice I heard this week. :)

And this song reminds me of the summer… and having a good day!

The Trouble with Raiding Guild Ranking

Quick update: I am arranging some time to speak to one of the designers of these ranking sites, so perhaps they’ll be able to shed some light on this issue for me. I’ll update later but the notes below still apply! :)

So I need to get something off my chest. I realise that it’s a little unreasonable to complain since most of these sites are player run and based off of varying data sources and tracking definitions, but I really do wish we could have a more uniform approach to determining guild rankings. Every tracking site I visit–guildox, wowtrack, wowprogress, etc–has slightly different information on guilds based on the tracking and ranking criteria that that site’s designers have opted to factor in. And not being a whiz at crunching numbers like this (or whatever those smartypants at the raiding progress sites do), I am left stumbling over why a guild might have 3 or 4 different positions in the ranking tables. Apparently it is based around the ways in which something is weighted–a Sinestra kill vs. a HC Nefarian kill, for example. I won’t get into the minute details of the differences between the systems, but suffice to say there are differences and sometimes, depending on where you look, one guild may be ranked 28th on one site, while they appear as 43rd on another, and 23rd on yet another. How can that be so? Obviously without a uniformly agreed-upon scoring system for ranking guilds, this kind of variation is inevitable. But it certainly makes it difficult to really know what rank you really have.

In other contexts, ranking tables exist for different reasons. Consider these examples: tennis and university rankings. There is a single ranking table for professional tennis. But when it comes to universities, there appear to be multiple guides/ranking tables. In the case of tennis, apparently there was an attempt to have two rankings systems for a while, but, according to the ATP they discontinued the use of both because “having two, simultaneously running systems – the rankings and the Race – was confusing and difficult for fans to follow.” [ATP, 2011] Sounds familiar. And then we get to the university ranking tables. Off the top of my head, in the UK we have several ranking systems that people turn to (and universities will often highlight the guide that gives them the most favourable ranking): the Guardian’s university guide, the Complete University Guide, the Times’ World University Rankings, and so on.  And when I checked my own university’s rankings, we varied. Sure, we’re in the top ten (or top five) most of the time, but it’s not consistent. This, I know, is based on the priority the ranking table designers place on certain aspects of the higher education institution. Does impact of the research matter more than the quality of education? Is it about the number of citations of academics in the university versus the successful placement of university graduates into jobs? Does student satisfaction matter more than entrance exam scores?

So which is better for raiding? One system that tells you who is getting results or a system that indicates the quality of work produced? I’d have to say, based on the way that I view raiding, the former seems more applicable. If, for example, we were going to rank the quality of raiding guilds or the quality of the performance during boss fights, a system similar to the university ranking tables would make more sense since there are more factors that go into making for a ‘good’ guild: results produced, social atmosphere, schedule, stability, etc. But when it comes to progression raiding, we’re quite limited in what we want to know: who gets there first. This would seem more in line with a single ranking system–but one that we can all agree on.

But this doesn’t really solve my dilemma in the meantime. Which site can I rely on for the most valid depiction of raiding progress results? The most popular? The most cleanly divided (separating 10-man and 25-man results)? The most well designed points system? I have no idea. I suspect that we may never completely agree on this as there are differing opinions on what counts most with progress raiding and what results are seen as more ‘important’. But you can’t always reward fairly or realistically for the most ‘difficult’ fights. After all, if we go back to a sport like tennis, it may not be the final of a tennis tournament that’s the most compelling or ‘difficult’ for the tennis players involved. It may have been a quarter final or semi final. (And yes I know this is not perfectly in alignment with raiding as each boss fight is different, whereas tennis matches in the same tournament will be identical as far as rules and scope are concerned.)

Maybe it’s time we formed a kind of ‘World Raiding Committee’ (like the Olympics Committee?) consisting of ranking site designers, raiders, and more to help us come up with a fairly designed system we can all turn to? Is that even possible in our community? It sure would make life easier on me! :)

What makes a raiding guild ‘elite’ and this week’s raid-themed musical medley

June 10, 2011 By: Ladan Category: elite, progress raiding, raid-themed musical medley, raiding guild, raiding research

This week’s topics will cover some thoughts I’ve been having about what makes for an elite raiding guild and will wrap up with this week’s raid-themed musical medley.

What is an elite raiding guild?

If I’ve spoken to you about my research, you know that I’ve been speaking with raiders from all sorts of backgrounds and rankings. This is helping me document the most complete picture of what we are doing in the raiding community and how we like to pursue our love of raiding. In addition to casual, social, hard core, and high-level raiding guilds, I’ve also had a chance to speak to quite a few of what I call the ‘elite raiding guilds’ about their experiences. These experiences have been extremely rewarding and the next few blog posts will be about my time speaking to guilds like Inner Sanctum, For the Horde, and Ensidia. I also have a very long overdue post about the amazing interviews I did with Blood Legion and Premonition many moons ago.

So what makes an ‘elite raiding guild’ elite? Well this brings me to some interesting ideas about what and how we describe guilds in raiding. For example, a guild might be called social or casual while another could be called hard core or elite. These descriptive terms are often based on two factors: level of success and raiding schedule. One might also add in skill level, but that’s somewhat problematic as I’m finding variation in skill at different levels. But in the case of what we often refer to as elite raiding guilds, I’d say they generally fall within the top 50 or 100 of the world rankings (though these numbers seem arbitrary and are even contested by those who fall in the top rankings). But more than that I’d say that the designation of elite could relate to the pace of progression. If a raiding guild has successfully cleared all of the latest tier or heroic raiding content and has been comfortably farming the content for a significant period of time (like the past few months), I’d say that puts them in the area of elite, moreso than hard core. Another criteria for an elite raiding guild would be competitiveness. On some level these guilds are looking for top rankings in the world or their region. They gear up for this strategically and are often found on the public test realm (PTR) before new content comes out to give themselves an added advantage once the content goes live. If we look at the current pace of progression, for example, and consider the two least killed bosses–heroic Al’Akir and Ascendant Council–we’re only in the hundreds as far as guilds who have cleared all of the content. And I’d say that the number of those who are actually comfortably farming raid content is even smaller.

I think I’d be hard pressed to find someone who’d argue with me about the fact that guilds like Paragon, Method, Adept, Ensidia, vodka, and For the Horde are clear examples of elite raiding guilds. I think I could even safely say that every guild that cleared the content within, say, 2.5-3 months of release are elite raiding guilds. But does it have to stop there? Is it about the activities of these guilds? Their skill? Their mind set? Is it a title of distinction that we (or Blizzard’s achievements) bestow on the select few? I recall back in November/December when I did the raider personality test with Paragon that when I asked the raiders responding to identify what type of guild they were in, some members of known elite raiding guilds (Paragon, in particular) were a bit concerned about being able to verify if the raiders who reported they were in elite guilds were in fact in those guilds. Why do we need to verify it? Is there a kind of status or identity that we have associated with the term ‘elite’ that needs protecting or preserving for the deserving few?

And what about the elite raider him or herself? Do they only exist in elite raiding guilds? Haven’t we all got raiders in our guilds–even at the most casual levels–that just seem to significantly exceed the skill and mindset level of the rest of the team? Those guys who just seem to get the fights without even having to think about them very much or who never ever seem to make mistakes? I can say that from speaking with and observing raiders in casual/social guilds and even more so in the hard core or high-level guilds we definitely have ‘elite’ raiders in those guilds too. They just seem to have an innate ability to raid well. Their decision to remain with a lower ranked guild may have more to do with the social side of raiding than the performance side. They want to play with their friends or don’t want to let their raiding guild down.

So what makes an elite raider elite? Or an elite raiding guild elite? I’m not exactly sure but they are definitely questions that are on my mind! And you can imagine that this leads to a whole other level of questions about what it means to call a guild social? Casual? Focused? Hard core? High-level? Hybrid? We may never have a perfect definition, at least not one that will ever satisfy all raiders out there.

Raid-Themed Musical Medley: Grunge!

I am taking a slightly different approach to this week’s medley, but hey this is my idea so I get to make the rules, right? Anyway, it’s a grunge music themed medley! This medley was created for someone dear to me who is going through an extremely difficult time right now–you know who you are and I hope you enjoy these selections; I even got Pearl Jam in there! ;)

First up we have the lords of grunge, Nirvana, covering a Meat Puppets’ song ‘Lake of Fire’. I believe the concept is quite self explanatory, particularly with Firelands coming! Just remember: lake of fire = bad.

Next up this song reminds me of those days and days of wipes during progress raiding: Soundgarden’s ‘Fell on Black Days’. We keep falling and falling, failing and failing… until something finally clicks and we get that pesky boss. What’s next?

And finally, to round us up, we have Pearl Jam’s ‘Alive’. This song immediately reminded me of that classic fight scenario where everyone is dead except for a single tank and healer. The boss is at less than 1% and manages to die from the remaining dots and whatever damage the tank and healer can do. Yes, mr. tank and ms. healer–’you’re still alive…’ Now go raise the dead.