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!
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…
And then… simply these words on TS:
Paragon got it.
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.
Good job, guys.
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!