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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….

The 10/25 Debate and Tragedy in Norway

July 26, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Firelands, raiding group size

My sincere apologies for the delay in a new blog post. I’ve been quite busy of late with some personal matters. Also while I had prepared a nice blog about the progress race, it seems to need updating now with the changes of last week. If you’ve followed the raid progress, you know that Paragon downed the 25-man heroic Ragnaros on July 19th and went on to down heroic 10-man Ragnaros on the subsequent Friday (July 22nd). So until we have more completion in the progress race (with only Paragon having cleared all of the heroic content so far), I think I’ll hold off on my post about the progress race until more of it is said and done.

So there are couple things on my mind that I wanted to write about: recent events in Norway and the 10-man/25-man difficulty debate.

The Challenge of Difficulty and Comparing the 10- and 25-man raid

This issue seems alive and well, doesn’t it? I think as long as we have raiding instances that are identical in boss names, geography, and graphic design with their only variation being the scale of the fight as intended for 10 raiders or 25 raiders, we’ll feel compelled to compare. And looking at the fight’s difficulty level is the primary way in which we prefer to make that comparison.

As you can imagine (or may have read for yourself), Paragon’s decision to tackle both the 25-man and 10-man heroic content (and clear it all before anyone else) made an impact and prompted some reaction (mainly on mmo-champion but also on other community sites as well). Comments seemed to range from ‘wow, Paragon is awesome!’ to ‘why did they have to take it from the 10-man guilds’ to ‘Paragon was overgeared anyway so it doesn’t prove anything’.

Paragon claims they did it to gauge difficulty between the two raid group sizes. I think their decision to attempt both raid sizes was not just about gauging difficulty, however, but also about proving they can do both before anyone else (so perhaps others can’t claim down the road that Paragon’s world first was on the ‘easier’ version of the end boss?), and this appears to be a valid and understandable approach from a competitive standpoint. But when it comes to using what’s happened here to validly or objectively compare difficulty between Firelands-10 and Firelands-25 I think it becomes problematic. Without a doubt, what has happened lends important insight and perspective into the differences between the 10 and 25 versions, but as Paragon admitted, they had an advantage going into the 10-man fight having spent so much time learning Ragnaros on the 25-man version—so it could never be perfectly objective (nor am I convinced that Paragon is claiming that). They also, from what I can read, have avoided trying to suggest that they thought one fight was ‘better’ than another one or that a 25-man raiding group is ‘better’ than the smaller group–but like any boss fights, the mechanics will lend themselves better (or worse) with the different raid group sizes. Ahh doesn’t it feel a little bit like language (English, in this case) fails us? “Easier/harder”, “Different/different”–what best describes the difference without us falling into the trap of what’s better or worse and thus triggering these contentious responses? These are their posts:

http://www.paragon.fi/articles/10-vs-25-comparison
http://www.paragon.fi/news/10-man-vs-25-man-debate
http://www.paragon.fi/blogs/what-difficulty

So how do you gauge difficulty and how can you compare two completely different raid group sizes? Well I am not convinced we can ever really do this properly. Imagine, if you will, trying to compare the 800 metre and 3000 metre races in the track and field events:

  • They are both running events. (Same.)
  • They will require similar running gear. (Same.)
  • While each race has a strategy, how and when the runner applies that strategy varies significantly. (Not same.)
  • Often a runner’s training process for these events is quite different. (Not same.)

So yes, while these track and field events are both running events and both will often take place around the exact same track, how long they take, the strategies of the runners involved, and the ways in which runners prepare for these races differs greatly. I’m quite certain that most of us would not sit and have a big debate about whether the 3000m race is ‘harder’ or ‘more important’ than the 800m race. Of course we have preferences about what we might watch or prefer to follow and if we’re runners ourselves, we may think about what we could actually viably achieve and prefer doing, but I’m quite confident that a multi-page thread on ‘the 800m vs 3000m debate’ on a random runners’ Web site just would not happen (and please, don’t any of you go and start a thread like this just to be cheeky). What we’d probably more likely find is a discussion about whether the indoor/outdoor debate is valid or if certain training or running strategies are more valid. And if we want to get nitpicky about the ‘but some raiders are just better than others’, well the same thing applies in running. The simple fact that I am physically capable of running 800m or even 3000m does not mean you’ll be seeing me at the Olympics any time soon. There are great runners in both events, after all, and only the best will win.

So we turn back to the 10/25 raiding comparison debate. Can we actually set up an unbiased, measurable experiment to truly gauge difficulty? Can we really ever know perfectly what’s more or less difficult? Well, I’m not sure I can even sort out the problematics of the methodology, but here goes:

  • Blizzard would have to buy into this. We’d need them to help set up and design the test as it would need to involve certain game mechanics like allowing the same group of players to do two versions of the fight during the same period (to help minimise the ‘they had 500 wipes on the boss in 25-man but only 32 wipes on the 10-man version’ disparity).
  • We’d need the same group of players, or at least as closely similar as possible. This relates to a lesser extent to class, spec, and gear, and to a greater extent to skill set.
  • We’d need to run the test concurrently, or as close to concurrently as possible. To keep things fair (and avoid a stacking of wipes or attempts on one raid size) the test should be run simultaneously, which makes the previous element difficult to achieve unless we have…
  • Cloning. Yes, we’d probably need to clone the raid group.

I don’t mean to be a smarty pants here but I think ascertaining complete, unquestioned parity that everyone will be happy with may require cloning. And that may take a while for us to develop. But maybe one of you programming geniuses out there can design a simulation of the fights using virtual raiders… that could work. But I’d rather we invented teleportation first, honestly…

So from where I sit I believe this debate about ‘what raid size is more difficult or worthwhile’ seems like a somewhat futile endeavour. It will always come up as long as Blizzard opts to use this financially prudent approach to raid instance/boss design. Having to face the exact ‘same’ (sameness here referring to the fact that the boss does look the same and have the same name, but ‘same’ also hinting at the fact that it’s been adjusted to accommodate the two raid sizes and thus not exactly the same) boss in the exact same location but with two different raid size groups will always cause us to wonder what’s more legitimate or important as far as the difficulty issue goes. Comparison appears inevitable. And after all, difficulty is paramount when it comes to valuing the raid bosses. The competitive core of raiding wants to ‘win’ the race on what is considered the more difficult version of the most difficult fight. I believe that’s viewed as more satisfying. And for all intensive purposes, the more ‘difficult’ way to do it appears to be viewed as the 25-man raid composition. Whether that’s true or not is impossible to determine, but we do make a lot of decisions based on what we think about something versus what is actually happening. I think another reason this debate is alive and well is due to how Blizzard has opted to give achievements and, as a result, how player-run ranking sites lump together the 25-man and 10-man raiding guilds. And while the latter can be addressed by these sites to some extent, the former issue is really up to Blizzard and I honestly have no idea if they’d put any priority into resolving that particular issue.

And what we’re not even factoring into the ‘difficulty’ debate are things like skill, experience, play schedule preference, social commitments, raid composition, and other ‘messy’, intangible, and unpredictable details. Certainly something may seem a lot harder to master if I spend maybe 5 hours a month devoted to it versus if I spend 5 hours a night on it.

I would rather not engage in the heavy debate here about the 25- vs. 10-man raid but I think it’s interesting and probably inevitable that it will keep coming up for us–which is why I’ve posted all of this here. I did like what Synti wrote in one of the Paragon blogs over the 10/25 man debate in relation to how 10-man raiding keeps being regarded: “The competition in that bracket… is still in its infancy.” Maybe we just need to settle down and let 10-man raiding be 10-man raiding and 25-man be 25-man and stop trying to compare them or debate them. But… that’s too easy, isn’t it?

I’ll probably post more about this, but wanted to just get these initial thoughts down.

Tragedy in Norway and An Unwelcome Link to Gaming

First of all whenever a human being chooses to perpetuate acts of such violence such as what occurred on Friday in Norway, it is deeply saddening. I’ve spent quite some time in Norway myself and its calm and beauty are notable, as well as its good-natured and down-to-earth people. (My profile photo above was taken there.) It feels particularly disappointing that in a place that is regarded as so developed and advanced (according to the UN, Norway had the top-ranked Human Development Index in the world in 2010: http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/NOR.html), something like this could happen. I suppose it just proves (as many would remind me) that nowhere is immune. And add to this the fact that I’ve spent my time in recent years studying a fun and uplifting thing like a game—with its environment that is all about community, game play, skill, competition, and teamwork—and when I learned that the suspect in custody had manipulated (in his rambling ‘manifesto’) WoW gameplay and even suggested using it as a kind of ‘cover’ while planning his activities, well I admit I was disheartened. We have a hard enough time providing the non-gaming world with a realistic picture of what the gaming community is really like (with its pros and cons, not just the cons), and this kind of madness could potentially just reinforce the anti-gaming sentiment that’s alive and well out there. Of course, the attack suspect made other equally outrageous suggestions—like pretending you are questioning your sexual identity as a way to get people to ‘leave you alone’ or investing in a farm in order to acquire goods in an allegedly legitimate way—so I ought not to be overly disturbed by his links to gaming, but it is still disappointing. I’m sure the media will spend more time on it at some point, but so far the bigger, more troubling elements of his actions appear to be taking centre stage. What a horrible, sad thing. :(

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!

The mad dash…

July 08, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Firelands

So if you’ve been under a rock, busy with work, on holiday, glued to the tv watching the Tour de France, or elsewhere for a couple days you’ve almost missed it! The progress race, that is.

Starting on Tuesday on the US servers, WoW raiders who had cleared all of the normal content for the new Firelands raid, were able to unlock the heroic content. By the time the servers had gone live in Europe (11 am CET on Wednesday), many guilds had cleared the first boss or two, with several US guilds having already defeated 4 of the available bosses on heroic mode. How could this be, more than half of the bosses cleared in under 12 hours? Well I’d like to say it was a big surprise but most of the elite raiders I’ve spoken with were predicting a very fast turnover of heroic boss content within just a few days. So here we are on Friday and this is where things stand (as of this writing): Method (EU) and Paragon (EU) have both cleared 6 of the available 7 heroic bosses, with only Ragnaros left. Another four guilds (vodka, Blood Legion, and Premonition [all US guilds] and Inner Sanctum [EU]) have cleared 5 of 7. And finally an additional fifteen guilds have now cleared 4 of 7 heroic bosses. Things may have changed since I started writing this, too!

This is fast. To give us some perspective, let’s look at the first 4 heroic bosses in the last tier of Cataclym raiding: Did we clear those in just hours? No, we did not. Paragon, for example, took seven days to go through the first four; this time it took them five and a half hours. (Other guilds did clear those first four bosses faster than Paragon but none were faster than 5 days.)

How did we move so fast? Was it the PTR? The dungeon journal? The better gear? The skills of the elite raider overpowering the complexity of the encounters? The streamlined approach to strategic planning on the part of these elite raiding guilds? I’d like to say all of these, but there is more to this situation. It’s not just the elite guilds that are burning through things quickly, either. A lot of guilds–even the more casual ones–had cleared much or all of the normal content within the first week of Firelands release. We obviously do have a new feature on the scene, the dungeon journal, so that may be the most likely added contributed factor to this high speed race, but whatever the cause is, we can be sure that it will be a matter of days (maybe even hours?) until the first guilds will have completely cleared Firelands.

Poll results, Firelands is a’coming, and the weekly musical medley :)

June 17, 2011 By: Ladan Category: boss fights, Cataclysm, Firelands, raid-themed musical medley, raiding, raiding content

Happy Friday, everyone!

We’ve got one poll wrapping up here and a new one to introduce.  I also have my weekly musical medley to present. Thanks to Lerue for this challenge! :)

Polls: Nerfing of normal mode content and reflecting on the upcoming Firelands content

These are the results from my last poll:

Please select to which degree you agree or disagree with the following statement: The planned patch 4.2 nerfing of normal mode raids is suitable in light of the release of new content.

  • Agree. (30%)
  • Somewhat agree. (22%)
  • Disagree. (17%)
  • Strongly agree. (16%)
  • Strongly disagree. (15%)

I’d say the response to the last poll was quite well dispersed, with only a modest majority ‘agreeing’ that the nerfing of normal mode raiding is suitable. I think this will always be how we respond to nerfing as it depends largely on where we are in the progress and what our guild’s priorities are. But is nerfing ‘good’ for the game or gameplay? Hard to say. Yes we need to keep things moving so more players can experience the new content, but just because you are in a more casually oriented guild it does not automatically mean that you want things to be ‘easier’.  Nerfing truly is an inexact science and, like many elements of a complex, persistent gaming environment like WoW, it’s not going to be uniformly accepted or appreciated by all of its players.

Which brings us quite nicely to the new poll. What do we think about our own or our guild’s progress as we reflect on the conclusion of this phase of Cataclysm raiding content? For the elite/top ranked raiding guilds, tier 1 is old news. Those first kills are long gone and you’ve been farming the content for ages now, gearing up alts and wrapping up any last bits in preparation for the next race. Even hard core or high-end guilds are mostly done. Perhaps you’ve got just some achievements to bag or a boss kill that still eludes you. For the casual raiding guilds, completing all the content may be a ways away or not even a priority but you may still have some content you would have liked to finish before Firelands and the content nerf. So where are you and what (if anything) do you still need to get done?

Raid-themed musical medley: David Bowie
And finally here we have our weekly raid-themed musical medley ™! This one is based around David Bowie and the raid theme is ‘the life course of a boss kill’. We all start off learning a boss fight as absolute beginners, then we spend a lot of time dead (ergo ‘ashes to ashes’) , and finally… success! And we get to feel like heroes, even if it’s just for one day. And I’ve selected all live performances because raiding really is a live sport… :) And I had no idea so many David Bowie songs could have an affinity with elements of raiding. Go figure. If you know and love Bowie, enjoy. If you have not heard of him before, I hope you can appreciate a classic! :)