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Archive for June, 2011

Getting Inside Inner Sanctum and Raiding Rankings

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

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



Talking with Inner Sanctum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trouble with Raiding Guild Ranking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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! :)

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.

Summer’s coming…. and the ABBA raid-themed musical medley

June 03, 2011 By: Ladan Category: music, raid-themed musical medley, raiding

Can you feel it? I can … a spectacular day where the air smells fresh, my flip flops are on, the birds are frolicking, and being outside just feels so much nicer than inside…. summer’s coming. We’ve had a pretty amazing spring so far in the UK at least, and if today is any indication, summer should be just as lovely. I for one have taken my laptop outside to sit in the grass while I type this…. Now I know that summer is only coming to us in the northern hemisphere… with winter about to hit the southern hemisphere, it could be an ideal time for staying inside and hugging our warm CPUs.

So how does summer weather impact us as a raiding community.. particularly considering Firelands is about to make a summery appearance. Can we even blame people who have holidays or want to spend time on the beach? Especially for those who live in seasonal, northern climates, we really should be outside enjoying ourselves. But this impacts progression quite acutely. No one wants to let their teammates down, but real life does happen and–I don’t think I’m making any shocking statement here–I think we don’t do our community any credit if we don’t let real life in sometimes… It just perpetuates some of those unfortunate stereotypes that get thrown around about gamers–that we never leave our computers or consoles.

So I’ll be watching and seeing how we fare through  Firelands in the summer. Maybe we can set up our desktops outside…. let me know how that goes.

This Week’s Raid-Inspired Musical Medley: ABBA

I have to thank Olog from Bridgeburners for this week’s musical medley. I asked for some challenging suggestions and ABBA pushed my limits. I think I gave myself a pressure headache trying to figure this out! I have employed an abstract approach… thinking more about the daily life of a raider and what goes on *around* raiding to inspire the musical selections. A particular ‘shout out’ goes to those WoW raiding widows and widowers who often have to wait until around midnight to get their men/women back. They really do love you… and they say thank you for understanding their love of The Game.

First up is what I like to call the ‘Sat out Raider’s Lament’. This song the raider sings when he has been sat out. Apologies to those in countries that can’t view this. It’s ‘ABBA: Take a Chance on Me’. Listen to the lyrics to get the link…

Next up is a song for those raiding widows/widowers who have to wait until around midnight for their men/women to return to them after a long raid night. (ABBA, ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’)

And finally… this song is a nod to the raid progression race and the pain of loss experienced by the guys in 2nd place, 3rd place, and so on is palpable… the ‘Winner’ really does take it all…. Of course, this could also be the song the raid boss sings as he has to run back to find his corpse… (ABBA, ‘The Winner Takes it All’)