Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Tale of Two Raids

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities

Lest I come off as too highfalutin, I don’t really think the tale of my two raids is really a matter of good and evil, darkness and light. But the fact that the two are constantly compared against each other for better or worse is definitely the cause of issues, both in myself and my raiders.

Let’s back up a little and dole out a little context, shall we? In the guild that I’m in, I am neither an officer nor a guild leader. We’re a social guild that just happens to have raid teams. It so happens that I’ve led or raid-called the Sunday night raid team for  four and a half years now, since the tail-end of Ulduar, actually. Now, I don’t always run the raid per se, but I find myself doing the raid-calling because I seem to be able to pick up strategies and mechanics relatively quickly and usually (though not always) have the mental bandwidth to direct the raid and perform my role at the same time.

As an aside, push-to-talk is an evil that raid-callers cannot afford. If you’re raid calling, switch to talk-to-talk rather than push-to-talk. It’ll save you an immense amount of grief as far as performing your individual role. My DPS and Healing throughput went way up once I stopped using push-to-talk, and despite the copious fire sirens near my house that seem to transmit more easily than my voice, it was totally worth it.

Anyhow, at the tail-end of Cata I also got into our Wednesday raid as a raider, and naturally (perhaps because I am loud and insistent) I also picked up the responsibilities of raid-caller in that raid. So for all of Mists of Pandaria, I’ve been raid-calling two raids, but actively performing the leadership role in the Sunday raid only, which involves everything from attendance to kicking people for being jerk to helping folks get better at their class.

Wednesday has a core group of 10 raiders, and we have 1 or 2 people on bench who get called up if someone can’t make it, but it’s just those 10 folks otherwise. Sunday we have a rotating roster, so about 14 raiders, and it’s basically 2 weeks on, 1 week off. Both raids only raid 3 hours a week. On Wednesday we just got Thok the Bloodthirsty down (yay!); on Sunday we just got Galakras down a couple weeks ago (and last week barely managed to defeat Sha of Pride despite not having that much trouble on him before).

So this is where things get juicy, I suppose. We’re now in the tail-end of Mists, and I’m looking at the two raids and wondering what I did or could have done differently. The Wednesday group is self-driven and progression-minded, but moderately hardcore in attitude, whereas the Sunday group is split: we have a core of self-driven folks, but we also have a few folks who need to be constantly prodded and wheedled to get better. And they do get better when prodded, but I admit that I tire of micro-managing a handful of raiders. The Wednesday group, all someoneanyone, not just the raid leader or raid-callerhas to say is that DPS needs to get better, or we're not surviving this part of the fight, and everyone thinks about it and comes back the next week better prepared. There's no chasing that needs to be done, no digging for them, people just do it.

This image got me through healing Thok as a Holy Paladin. It still makes me giggle.
But here’s the kicker: the two teams never were supposed to be the A-Team B-Team of our guild, they were just to have different attendance philosophies. However, it’s apparent that many raiders in the Sunday group treat it like they’re in the B-Team, both by what they’ve said and how they behave. And it’s a little bit funny, because at the beginning of Mists the Sunday group was ahead of the Wednesday group for the first couple months. So what happened?

I think part of it can be blamed on the rotating roster itself. I implemented the roster because I was stressed to the max trying to find bodies at the end of each expansion that were capable of raiding. In Wrath, in Cata, and now in Mists, I always got burnt out by the final major patch. I hate dealing with the administration part. Attendance schedules, shuffling people because of personal emergencies, and wasting every Sunday afternoon desperately trying to find someone qualified enough to actually not be a burden to the raid (which is really difficult because most of the folks who are capable of raiding are already locked by Sunday or already in the Sunday raid).

So here we are at the end of the expansion, and I find myself stressed to the max dealing with 14 people instead of 10, but at least I’m not wasting every Sunday afternoon digging for people, so that was a success at least. But between those extra bodies, and the fact that many people only play during raid, the rotating roster seems to have backfired. Instead of raiding 12 – 15 hours a month (if they were to raid every week), folks are only playing 6 – 9 hours a month, and there’s no chance for people to solidify their skillset nor really put boss mechanics to muscle memory. The Sunday raid is completely inconsistent. One week we’ll smash through everything, down Galakras, and get Iron Juggernaut to half health in 3 pulls. The next week, we struggle to down Sha of Pride.

And not only are folks not playing as often, they’re also not gearing up as much, so that also ends up slowing us down. But that’s not even the most insidious thing about the rotating roster. I think what differentiates the Wednesday raid and the Sunday raid isn’t just the consistency, but the attitude. Like I said above, we’re primarily a social guild, which means that we’re aware that folks have other priorities, and real life happens.

With the rotating roster, it gave me a chance to be lenient with those folks. Can’t make it because you have to take the significant other out for their birthday? No big deal, we’ll just pull someone who’s off this week and let them raid the extra week. Car emergency? That’s fine, you’re covered.

But this “no big deal” attitude seems to have pervaded other aspects of the raid, as well. When you’re up to bat, you’re still expected to actually be up to bat. We’re “casual” in that we only raid 3 hours a week and we have the capability to deal with someone having to vamoose for real life, but we’re also technically billed as progression, which means that we have to, you know, progress eventually. And 1 boss every 3 – 4 weeks in a 14 boss raid (9 - 12 hours of raiding!) is really slow. It’d be one thing if we had to clear half the instance first—the Wednesday group locks every other week, sometimes we’ll lock two weeks in a row—but it only takes like 45 minutes to get to the boss we’re struggling on. But it feels like, at least on my side of the fence, that many people don’t look to get better at their class between raids unless I ask them specifically, or that they don’t look up strategies on their own. Granted, this is a bit of a generalization, not everyone falls under this, and different people suffer various gradients of this issue.

I admit that I am definitely part of the problem here. I created this rotating roster, and my behavior has allowed things to get a little out of hand. Or more accurately, my lack of putting a foot down. It was all a grandiose experiment to see if we could reconcile a casual mindset with a progression mindset, and while I’m not ready to say the two are impossible to put together, it’s definitely not as easy as just expanding your roster and rotating the bench. It’s not as if I haven’t approached people. And I dig through raid logs on a weekly basis to see if I can pull out information to help folks get better, and provide actionable feedback, but at the same time, if you can’t practice that, because you’re on the bench and not playing otherwise, it certainly won’t stick.

Next expansion, if I continue to lead the Sunday raid, I think I’ll be going back to a static 10 roster, even with the Flex capability. With only 3 hours a week, we lose too much ground having to switch people up: healers not being able to gel properly, and tanks not necessarily having the same roles each week.

But for today, what do I do? I put the Sunday raid on hiatus this week (today is our week off) while I think about it, but I haven’t come to a good answer yet. Either I cut 4 people so we’re down to 10 and move forward, except a lot of folks signed up under the premise they could have weeks off, and the fallout from such a shakeup could be extremely detrimental to the guild as a whole; or I shake my fist, tell people to shape-up or ship out, and start cutting underperformers, which I probably should regardless; or drop us down to Flex difficulty (which would come into direct conflict with the Monday Flex raid that our guild has); or just throw up my hands, say I’m not having fun anymore, and just pass on the leadership mantle like I do at the end of every expansion, which is kind of lame, but probably the only way I’ve managed to stay sane, but at the same time, feels a lot like running away from the issue.

I said I’d have an answer for people, and after a week of work being an absolute bear and consuming all of my waking hours, I really don’t yet. And I honestly don’t feel that motivated to get an answer either, which may be the answer itself. Perhaps I just need to step down and take a hiatus from raid leading the Sunday raid.


  1. "As an aside, push-to-talk is an evil that raid-callers cannot afford. If you’re raid calling, switch to talk-to-talk rather than push-to-talk. It’ll save you an immense amount of grief as far as performing your individual role. My DPS and Healing throughput went way up once I stopped using push-to-talk, and despite the copious fire sirens near my house that seem to transmit more easily than my voice, it was totally worth it."

    I definitely disagree with this, but your mileage may vary. I'm both GM and raid leader and I use push-to-talk with Left Alt as my PTT key.

    In general, though, I would say that 14 people is an awfully large roster -- we aim for 12-13 but we're also 13/14H and we both want flexibility in our roster (to optimize composition for bosses) and the slack to allow people to miss nights without issue. But for a guild like yours I'd never go past 11-12 people.

    I'd try cutting 2 people first based on attitude and underperformance and go from there -- can cut more if more are underperforming and still have a bad attitude.

    One thing we did is a loot spreadsheet where members rank the bosses they want to be in on -- which helps me because I can basically just pick the people who care about a given boss the least and have them sit.

    1. The thing is I wanted a rotation for every role, so we have 3 tanks, 4 healers, and 7 DPS, which means 4 extras. The DPS has worked out okay, but the healers and tanks... rotating them was a bad idea. They really need to gel, and rotating them prevented that.

    2. But yes, I think there's a couple of cuts in order regardless. I agree with you on that, and the roster size, even if we'll have to agree to disagree on the PTT part ;)

    3. Rather than doing that, you need a DPS or two who can tank if needed and another DPS or two who can heal if needed. With 3 tanks that means at best 66.6% playtime and since many fights are two healed having FOUR healers possibly means 50% playtime at points. Get 2 tanks, 3 healers, 1-2 DPS who can tank, 1-2 DPS who can heal, and the rest DPS to get to 12 people total.


    4. That'd be nice. Casual guild, people don't have the time to gear up/practice two specs in a lot of cases. Getting people capable of two specs like that and who wants to swap is a luxury we don't have :(

    5. Then you're going to be in an awful situations where the tanks and healers are not happy because they'll be sitting 30%+ of the time guaranteed.

    6. Oh, the tanks and healers are *happy* to be sitting 30% of the time. People like the rotating roster because they can raid and still get to do real life things the occasional Sunday night. It's *me* that has the problem that this is affecting our raid's progression.

    7. Interesting. I've never met a tank in any guild at any level who would be content sitting 30%+ of the time by default. Go figure.

  2. I must send that image to all the people ever.

    1. It really is one of my favourite images ever. It makes me giggle. That and Deanna Troi saying "ERM MAH GERD THE BERG". Those two images never cease to make me guffaw.

  3. Schedule flexibility isn't the issue, I think, it's the focus on "casual". For the purpose of this comment, I'm contrasting "casual" with "professional".

    To me, a professional player, regardless of their progression level, shows up on time, with consumables, repaired and reforged and knowing what they're expected to do within the requirements of the particular run. I don't care how much gear they have, what toon they come on, what role they are taking on... they'll be as ready as they can be.

    I know a large handful of players in the game who have this professional attitude... you can usually tell from even 5-man runs, they're performing pretty close to peak even when the content doesn't require it and when I raid with them (whether I'm a regular or fill-in), I know what to expect, bosses will die, mistakes will be fixed and there's an expectation of success. I also know a large handful of players who don't fit this description and when I raid with them, I also know what to expect...frequent AFKs, sketchy performances, noticeable "carrying" from a small core with a lot of folks just along for the ride.

    There's also a lot of grey between the two extremes. Sounds to me like your Wed group has a professional attitude and your Sun group doesn't. I'm not sure what a RL can do about that, I'm not sure professionalism is something that can be taught, although it probably wouldn't hurt to point it out to the group. "This Sun run was created to allow those who need some schedule flexibility to still get some raiding done but it doesn't mean that you can slack off between or during runs, we're all expected to perform and improve when we're here and I'd like to stop having to micro-manage players, I'd like to see more personal responsibility in action. Raiding isn't easy, it requires a level of commitment and professionalism that we aren't currently hitting." Something like that, but hopefully much better. :) It'd also help if you had a few pre-seeded folks to chime up in support afterward, you probably know who in the group has similar feelings to yours... and if there aren't any then you're the one who's out of step with the group, which is telling in itself. The Sun run shouldn't be significant work or mindspace for you... time to step up and ask the raiders to at least carry their own burdens.

    1. See, that's the interesting part. They all do show up on time, and I'm pretty adamant about if folks need the night off, they tell me a week in advance. They come with flasks, food, gems, etc. I also run a tight ship break-wise. People know they'll get a 7 minute break in between hours 1 and 2, then 2 and 3. So generally no wonky AFKs either.

      Your final paragraph, though, is a pretty damn good start, I think. Thanks for the input, I'll keep that in mind!