Raiding Research Online

Exploring and mapping the MMO raiding culture
Subscribe

Archive for the ‘progress raiding’

Looking for participants and the alarm bells with 25-man raiding…

February 06, 2012 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, podcast, progress raiding, raiding, raiding group size

Good day to everyone.

I’m typing using voice recognition software! What a trip. I managed to hurt my hand some time ago and since I don’t seem to understand the meaning of “rest your hand”, it is still in bad shape. I’ve had to resort to more extremes means to get me to stop insisting on using it, including VSR. I have a new-found respect for people who have to use technology to support a disability or mobility needs. I always knew it was a challenge, but I had no realised how much patience it requires as well. It’s ironic since we always talk about how technology and its widespread use (in the global north at least… yet another First World Problem) seems to result in our not moving at a natural, slower pace, and yet here I am having to patiently dictate to a program that so easily thinks I said “ingot” when I said “I’ve got”. And I tend to speak quite clearly too!

Anyway, that’s why the walls of text have been in hibernation lately. They will come back.. promise!

Since talking is easier than typing right now, I’ve been enjoying doing my interviews/round table discussions with various guilds and raiders. And I want to keep going! I think it’s been fairly well received so far. And now I want to put out a “call for participation”. I also want your ideas for topics to cover. What do you want the discussions to focus on?

Basically… I want to expand my pool of potential interviewees for my Raid Observer recordings. I know I’m known (publicly at least) for being the “researcher who talks to elite raiding guilds” and while that’s definitely true, that’s not where my own research has been limited. I have spoken to casual raiders, semi-hardcore, hardcore, semi-casual.. you name it. And I think their perspective on the raiding scene is also very important. And it needs to be recorded and shared as well.

Since I want to rotate between interviews with specific guilds and discussions on specific raid topics, if you’re interested in being involved or think you have an opinion to share, do let me know. You can speak from your own individual perspective in a group discussion or you can participate as a guild. I’m particularly interested in having folks from casual and hardcore/semi-hardcore backgrounds participate. Since raiding is currently enjoyed–even at its most casual level–by almost 50,000 guilds around the world, we’ve got a lot of us out there trying our hand at raiding and, inevitably, developing an opinion about it, particularly as things have changed or developed over the years. So get in touch–message me here or send an email to t.l.cockshut[at]durham.ac.uk. Depending on the response or interest, I’m not sure I can interview everyone, but I’ll do my best. :)

What’s happening to 25-man raiding?

An area of particular interest to me right now, that I’m following quite closely, is the shifting winds of raiding group composition. While the numbers clearly indicate that groups prefer to raid at the 10-man size, elite raiding at the top has, generally, remained consistent to its originally conceived raiding size. So why has this happened? Does it really indicate the 10/25 split or is it more about the issues of difficulty in relation to raid group logistics and coordination. We like to talk about the raids themselves being difficult (or not) but we often have to win the battle against the notorious Raid Logistics Boss to even get to the raid encounters themselves. Though less complained about than the Lag Boss, the Raid Logistics Boss has a far deadlier impact in that a prolonged problem with raid logistics can actually wipe a guild rather than the Lag Boss’s potential to simply wipe the raid  because Bobraider DCed during the fight (unless it’s a constant, guildwide problem with lag, of course). Is raid logistics killing 25-man raiding? Or is this just where we’re heading? After all Blizzard ultimately has the power to alter the face of raiding–remember when we had 40-man raiding?

Anyway, more to come on this, probably in the form of a roundtable discussion. If you’re interested in participating or have a solid opinion about this, let me know!

Latest Raid Observer interview posted!

January 30, 2012 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, podcast, progress raiding

So I’ve just completed another “for the public” interview with a raiding guild for my “Raid Observer” channel on YouTube, this time with the US raiding guild Exodus. (Feel free to head over to my YouTube channel to see my other interviews, which I started doing back in December.)

It’s been an interesting experience to say the least, asking questions that are both interesting and relevant to the study of raiding while not veering into areas that fascinate only me and might make the ears of listeners bleed…. to call me a noob is an understatement. But suffice to say I am particularly happy with the latest interview. The members from Exodus that I did interview were remarkably direct and unapologetic in their views on elements of raiding and I  hope you’ll appreciate their point of view, even if you don’t share it.

The following is the first part in the series. I’ll be posting the next two parts in the next few days. If you’d like to be kept informed of my podcast/youtube interviews, please do subscribe to my channel on YouTube, “TheRaidObserver”.

also, do let me know if you like this format and if you have any other suggestions for interviews. I’m going to rotate between doing interviews with a particular raiding guild (and this is not limited to elite guilds only!) and interviews with a group of raiders on a particular topic (like the quality of raiding in Cataclysm or whether achievements really matter for raiders).

Enjoy!

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….

And the dash has settled into a bit of a gallop with trolls and stalkers…

July 11, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Firelands, progress raiding

I’d not suggest that we’ve slowed down as much as our front pack runners seem to have settled into a comfortable but energetic pace, with more runners (aka guilds) joining the ones who got to 6/7 HC on Friday. We now have 14 guilds (as of this writing) that have cleared 6/7 and are, presumably, working on Ragnaros HC. I spent most of my weekend in the Method and Paragon IRC chat rooms (I know, a bit saddo). They are usually quite mellow and quiet on any other day but last weekend it was quite noisy! We had the trolls (apparently the #1 troll joke was ‘Ensidia disbanded’ with the ‘XXXXX guild just downed Ragnaros HC, congratszzz!!!’ coming a close second–I’d have paid money at one point for a more original troll joke), we had the curious onlookers (‘How is Raggy coming?’ ‘What % are you?’, etc), and the regulars. I talked to one of the guys last night and he said he had lost count of how many whispers he’d received in game along the lines of ‘what %’ or ‘r u on Rag’ (if any of you reading this are familiar with American slang, this last question is kind of hilarious). I suppose we yearn for progress and status updates, like the kids in the car on a long car trip asking their parents endlessly, ‘Are we there yet?’ And the IRC room has often served at the best way of finding out where things stand. And in the case of the elite guild chat rooms, it’s not just where the members of those particular guilds hang out, but other elite raiders hang out there too. It’s the closest thing we have had to a kind of live update. But that’s before Lolisa came into our lives.

Yes, Lolisa: Play-by-play tracker, armchair stalker, and add-on creator. And unintentional research assistant to me! Who is this, you may ask? Well, here is a link to the thread. It started as a quiet bit of information that Lolisa posted on Friday evening and within several hours, word had obviously spread as more people were posting about it and commenting (mostly in a humourous or positive way) about the ‘stalker’ like quality of this tracking–when had they wiped, what class/spec composition was in the raid, etc.  By Saturday afternoon it was jokingly being called the ‘stalker thread’ with people checking up regularly and even members of Paragon and Method joined the fun by giving added updates about their toilet runs or Web browsing habits. The excitement started to die down around Sunday afternoon when Lolisa explained that he or she had found the tracking process a bit boring. I can empathise. Data collection can be quite tedious after a while.

Well, naturally I wanted to talk to Lolisa about why he or she’d done this and what he or she thought about the somewhat bemused reaction in the community. This was fascinating stuff. Progress raiding is, out of necessity, quite a secretive process as each team has to protect its strategies and approach. So giving us all a closer view on what kind of team substitutions and possible progress was being made was quite interesting. This was not information any of us could not have tried to gather before, but for a player to independently collect it and then post it for the raiding community to follow was compelling. I found it intriguing that people were calling this stalking as Lolisa wasn’t doing anything any sports sites don’t regularly do when they report substitutions or time outs during a sports event. But we called it stalking.

But Lolisa was quite hard to track down! I became a kind of stalker myself trying to track down the stalker. Lolisa is obviously not his or her main character (it was a level 1 gnome alt) and while I had a few theories about who he or she might be on Paragon’s server (probably a low level alt), I never could pinpoint him or her or they had opted to ignore my whispers. I can’t entirely blame them–who am I after all? But this was a new and fun element of the progress race that I’ll definitely be integrating into my writing around the Firelands race. :) And Lolisa, if you ever read this, get in touch with me! (My email is on the About page.)

And so it’s Monday and our intrepid elite raiders are getting ready to go at it again. Some may have the day to devote to the venture, others may be resuming later on, but with 14 guilds working on Ragnaros, we may have a world first before we know it! And who knows, it may be one of these ‘dark horses’ that have quite pleasantly surprised us by sneaking into the top 14, it could be one of the predicted favourites, or it could be one of the guilds that is still in the running but has had less success than the previous tier. I suppose we bystanders just get to wait and see!

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.

The poll where I asked you to tell me if you’d paid to raid

January 31, 2011 By: Ladan Category: Polls, progress raiding

So I will admit I’m a bit surprised by the results here. I honestly thought more of us had spent money to change our races or servers in the pursuit of improved raiding performance or experience. But, this was how we responded:

Have you paid (beyond your subscription) to change your main raiding character’s race to improve raid performance and/or changed servers for better raiding opportunities?
    • No. (46%)
    • Yes. I’ve changed servers for better raiding opportunities. (20%)
    • Yes. I’ve changed both servers and my race for raiding. (20%)
    • Yes. I’ve changed my race to help my raiding performance. (14%)

But a modest majority of us, 54%, have spent money above and beyond our subscription rates to improve raiding performances or experiences. And 20% have actually spent money to change servers and races. I am curious, of that 20%, how many have done it more than once, too. I also wonder whether the 46% of us who have never paid out money would be willing to pay to move servers if their raiding guild fell apart and the only way to continue raiding was to change servers.

I think this tells me that for raiders, paying to move servers or change races is a small price to pay if it results in a better raiding experience.

Winning: Is it an exploit or just working around bugs?

January 18, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Cataclysm, progress raiding, raiding bugs

As you can imagine, when you research raiding and raiders, the idea of competition has to take centre stage. We’re a community driven by outcomes. We want to be best at something, even if it’s just a personal best DPS output or seeing our team complete a flawless boss kill. This makes us quite competitive by nature. And the competition is nowhere as contested as at our elite levels. And boy do we get passionate about it! Even if we aren’t elite raiders ourselves, we have an opinion about what “they” should be doing or should not be doing and we especially have a heightened sense of right and wrong when it comes about what type of behaviour we consider acceptable in relation to raiding progress.

If you’re following any of the discussion forums on any of our major community sites out there, the issue of fairness in play has been coming up. And we’re all drawn into the discussion. This doesn’t directly impact the vast majority of us raiders as most of us aren’t even doing heroic raids yet. By the time the rest of us get there, the playing field will probably be more level (though inevitably there are always going to be problems–lag, player-related bugs, server crashes–that never make the playing field feel perfectly level) and we just focus on our own performance problems learning a particular boss fight strategy.

But for this tiny percentage of us–the elite raiders–it’s a tumultuous time. One particular guild managed a world first kill on a boss that is now being viewed as controversial. Some have viewed their successful kill as an exploit of a bug that Blizzard hotfixed immediately after their kill, making the fight “harder” for subsequent guilds. I put harder in quotes there on purpose. Harder is up to interpretation, of course. From a post I just read by a Paragon member, his description of the fight in question still sounded quite complicated to me! So was it an exploit? Unfair? Is it their fault? Did they get there too fast? If we were in their shoes, would we do the same thing? It’s a “win or nothing” race, after all. Do we let all the other raiding guilds do things the same way? Or do we just accept that people will try to down a boss in any way possible. Being armchair raiders it’s easy for us to tell “them” what they should do…. what if it’s you vs. that boss and this is the bag of tricks you’ve been given to play with. And what if you don’t know it’s a bug? I have to quote Manni (from Paragon here) from his post from mmo-champion, where he speaks about their realisation that the Ascendent Council fight was anti-melee (which was subsequently addressed by Blizzard):

When we were closing in on the kill our retpala himself said that he was being completely useless there and that we should have a hunter spec BM instead of having him in the raid. So as much as he wanted to be there killing the boss, he had to point it out himself that having him there was pointless. So overall the options we had there were to sit around and whine about the boss imbalance, or just try to take our ranged alts and see if we could kill it with the gear they had. So we overcame this design flaw and killed the boss, managed to get the attention of Blizzard so they hotfixed it a day after, and got portrayed as “stackers.”

Riddle me this: If you had a bug in the game that let you (and only you!) do something unique and special (your horse could suddenly fly!), would you report it right away or would you enjoy the benefit? Hell, it’s not hurting anyone, is it?… although maybe it is, especially if it gives you an unfair advantage over everyone else. I think it’s hard for any of us to know what we’d do if faced with a similar issue, especially if it’s not something we tried to create or figure out on our own. And keep in mind, maybe we don’t even know we’re “exploiting” something–we’re just using the resources we have available. So when is it an exploit and when is it us being resourceful?

So there we are with these pesky, annoying, hard to eradicate things we like to call “bugs”. Or as others like to say, “bug exploits”. Bugs are interesting things–at least from the perspective of a game like WoW. They are both an excuse and reason for failure and a constant companion; maybe it’s impossible to have a living and breathing game like an MMO with no bugs at all. We don’t always know that we’ve been infested. And we don’t necessarily know how to get rid of them. Sometimes we have to do something more difficult to “work around” a bug. Does that somehow make it more acceptable? If the workaround to deal with a bug requires an almost impossible strategy (which can feel unfair) that makes the fight harder, does that make the bug “worked around’ versus “exploited”? (“Yes, if you all stand there and hop on one leg for 63 seconds EXACTLY, the adds will despawn….”)

This is all relevant to our raiding experience because it really does pervade our culture and attitudes about ourselves. A lot of times we form opinions (both negative and positive) about the game and our fellow raiders based on how we approach and respond to these unplanned problems in the game. But for better or worse, bugs are probably here to stay. No planning and design process is perfect and perhaps it’s inevitable that the first among us to encounter the bosses will encounter the bugs first–I suppose what our subculture seems to be grappling with is not so much the fact that we have bugs, but HOW we deal with the bugs. And we’re hardly on the same page about it.

Does it matter if you progress on 25-man or 10-man?

January 04, 2011 By: Ladan Category: progress raiding, raiding group size

There’s been a bit of a storm brewing lately on some of the big forum/community sites. As the top guilds are making their way through the progress, there have been comments like the following:

1. Oh well they used an exploit. So it’s not a legitimate kill.

2. They are killing bosses on 10-man or a combo or 25-/10-man, so it’s not as good as the guilds who are doing it all in 25-man. That’s more difficult.

Are these things true? Does it really matter how we get a kill down or what kind of group size we’re using? The game mechanics are designed to say “no” but I don’t think that correlates with our own opinions about what’s considered legitimate.

So what are you hearing out there? Are people buzzing about the rank of 10- or 25-man? Is 10-man too easy? Does complexity in group size (and the complexity involved with getting the numbers to do the bigger group) translate to a more significant accomplishment? Do you have your own biases about this?

Please participate in the vote! :)

Watching the ups and downs of early raid progress…

December 16, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Cataclysm, progress raiding, raiding

I assume you’re all tracking it, too–the ups and downs of raid progress at the top. Not all of us are raiding yet but we’re close to starting, even if we’re not quite there yet. Some of us are already making our way through the heroic modes (well, only a dozen or so guilds have done that so far…). I have to admit I’ve been quite excited by the progress so far; I keep checking the Web site and sometimes gasp at the dramatic shift over the course of the day! I like seeing the old faces and new ones staking their claim too. Like a predominantly Australian/NZ guild doing so well and a couple up and coming Russian guilds… and a few other guilds improving their performance over their WotLK rankings. And I’m super pleased to see the regular “dropped names” of raiding fame (Ensidia, Paragon, Premonition, etc.) still sustaining their level of achievement. It tells me that we have consistent skill at the elite level, not just luck. I do know it’s very early days yet and the guys who are in the top right now will probably see some changes over the course of progress raiding, but it’s impossible not to watch! This is our own, virtual kind of Tour de France with its teams, in-fighting, strategic placements, early “leads”, and different types of jerseys! And never mind the injuries–wrists, hands, bums and eyes are all susceptible! And don’t even get me started about the sheer amount of energy drinks being consumed… I hate to imagine what that does to our bodies.

Excitement aside, I still can’t believe we’re already getting into heroic content TEN days after the new expansion, though maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised considering how fast we burn through everything else. And it looks like it’s the drive for competition that makes us so hungry. The current poll I’ve got going seems to be suggesting that with the slight majority of us (40%)  stating that the competition is what they enjoy most about progress raiding.

Do you agree? Take the poll if you haven’t yet and add your comments. Are you following things as closely as I am? Do you have a favourite? I’ve got my underdog guild that I’m rooting for and my “shining star” guild that I always expect to do well. :) Maybe you do too?