Sunday, January 12, 2014

WoW: Talents, GearScore, Proving Grounds. Heuristics for the Time-Pressed Raid Leader

Liore of Herding Cats recently talked about the idea of “Gatekeepers”—a mechanic, test, statistic, or other such thing that could be used as a proxy for player skill—and how she believed that folks “are looking for automated solutions to what is essentially a social problem.”

I agree 100% when Liore suggests that “Forget an automated score, any score, that will tell the world how good one is at WoW. Instead, read logs and watch your raid team.” Gear and automated skill tests at the end of the day are no substitute for understanding your raiders as they raid. You learn their strengths and weaknesses, how well they mesh with the team, and whether or not they can think for themselves.

However, the very next sentence she states:
“And if they’re not on your raid team.. then you don’t really need a skill score for them, do you?”
And that’s where I vehemently disagree.

Gatekeeping, in my mind, isn’t about existing raiders, but potential new recruits, so a skill score for those folks is absolutely an excellent place to start. The problem being that you can’t really measure if they can think for themselves, or their reflexes, or what their strengths or weaknesses are directly. Some Raid Leaders use interviews and others give folks an opportunity to raid with them (perhaps in a Flex or Alt run).

Recruiting new players for raiding is vitally important work, but it’s also incredibly time consuming if you have to let every single applicant raid with you to understand if they’re even remotely qualified. When an employer is sifting through resumes, they’re looking for the small things that can narrow down their decision to a handful quickly before digging into each candidate, and as a Raid Leader, we need tools to do the same thing, so anything we can do to make our jobs easier and eat fewer of our resources is a good thing.

Time is one of the most important resources. Raiders don’t want their time wasted (if you pull in a bad candidate, you may have done just that), and as a Raid Leader, I don’t want my time wasted. I only get 7 to 8 hours of WoW time a week, and 6 of that is used up in two different 3 hour-a-week raids themselves. The other 2 are for me stuffing about running the occasional LFR or Proving Grounds for fun. I then spend anywhere from 1 – 5 hours a week outside the game dealing with raid administration: log analysis, studying strats to apply in my raids, attendance issues like bench rotation and finding subs, posting raid feedback and loot lists, let alone adding recruiting new raiders to that list.

Sure, I could add more WoW time to put in more effort for recruiting, but I also like to do other things, like my blog, work, or crushing Egypt in Civ V when I really ought to be sleeping (and England totally had it coming, too, I might add). When it comes down to it, we want heuristics to judge at a glance whether someone is even remotely worth spending time on, and the better those heuristics, the more likely we’ll find ourselves with candidates that are competent.

Back in Wrath, before GearScore became a thing, we used things like Health and Mana as a proxy for ilvl, or how geared the player was. Along with gems, enchants, and talents points, one could make a reasonable guess as to whether that player knew their class or not. It wasn’t a great proxy, mind you, but it was better than taking someone sight-unseen who was woefully undergeared for the content, or if they were a Death Knight wearing intellect plate, or a Hunter with a +Heals weapon.

Then came GearScore, which effectively automated that task for you. No longer would the Raid Leader need to dig: they could, at a glance, compare raiders to one another to determine who the best candidates were. It still wasn’t a great substitute for skills and it really wasn’t useful for recruiting new members, but if you were building a PUG raid? It worked in a pinch. But for actually bringing in someone to your raid full time? The tried and true method of checking to see if they’re geared and specced appropriately was still king, and continued to be so up until late in Mists of Pandaria.

Enter the Proving Grounds. Now we have an actual role-specific test that gives an achievement per-character, so you can tell (if the player has attempted them) how decent that player is on that character. So where Blizzard may not want to use the tool to shut people out of LFR, for example, as a raid leader I can use said tool to determine if someone is good at their class. Make no mistake, Normal (soon to be Heroic in WoD) raiding pretty well requires you to know your class at a somewhat intimate level to be successful. Sure, you can pull a crappy tank through with great healers, or you can pull crummy healers through with better tanks or enough off-heals—never underestimate just how much raw healing an Enhancement Shaman can pull with the right glyphs/talents, it’s like having an extra 0.5 healers on some fights—but at the end of the day carrying people will end poorly once you hit a personal responsibility fight like Norushen.

I one-shot sight-unseen the Gold Healing Proving Grounds on my Paladin. Was a lot of fun, and a little difficult. Endless Mode, however, is freaking hard O.o

Now as a Raid Leader, I can tell folks when they apply that hey, they should have at least a Silver in their role in the Proving Grounds. Gear scales down, legendaries don’t proc, and neither do tier sets, so it’s largely gear agnostic, and everyone has the same test which is completely doable regardless of class. Endless mode is a different beast, but I don’t think I’d ever want Endless anything as a requirement. But to get Gold requires smart use of burst/throughput cooldowns for both DPS and Heals, as well as correct positioning, dispels, interrupts, stuns, getting out of the bad, and so on. If you can pull off a Gold, you’re more than ready for anything Normal mode will throw at you. If you’ve got Silver, you’ll likely be fine. If you can’t pull a Silver, you’re probably missing a few things about your class that will manifest itself as poor performance later.

As a result, we now have an automated tool to use to save Raid Leaders time and raiders the grief of having to pull another raid with Joe Schmoe who apparently cannot for the life of them think for themselves or bother to learn about their class and wipes the raid because they’re only pulling 20k HPS on Flex Thok, and saves my time so I can spend more on folks who are more likely to pan out. Because I can say definitively after 4 years of leading raids that the number of folks who got accepted sight-unseen and turned out to be awesome raiders make up less than 10% of the total raiders who have been in my raids. That’s not a good return on investment time-wise.

Yeah, it seems a bit cold, but at the same time, my life isn’t entirely about raiding, so to ensure that I can have a life outside of running raids, I treat the raid like a job and try to be efficient about the administration of it. I still get the fun of downing bosses with friends and new folks, and I ensure I stay sane running it. And tools like the Proving Grounds do precisely that.


  1. Absolutely agreed on the pain of recruitment and not wanting to waste time.

    One thing I do want to point out about Proving Grounds, though, is that Endless is not a good judge -- some classes/specs have a much easier time getting further than others. Everyone should be able to get Gold without an issue if they know what they're doing, though, and certainly Silver.

    Not that you claimed Endless was a good standard, just trying to head off that line of thinking from readers making the next logical extension!

    1. Agreed 100%. Oh god, Endless is actually really difficult. I think I got to Wave 17 on the third try on my Holy Paladin? The first time I ran into 4 casters at the same time they just WTF pwned my entire party.