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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! :)

1 Comments to “Getting Inside Inner Sanctum and Raiding Rankings”


  1. DiamondTear says:

    It’s possible to modify the popular boss mods heavily, so I’m not sure how much of an advantage using their own boss mod gives.

    In the end, it’s all up to the player coding it, though.

    1


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