Our Finest Hour, Our Darkest Hour

15 November 2010 § 3 Comments

So, Heroic Lich King is dead – and it’s about time. We have been working on this encounter since May. In the meantime, we had to change one of our tanks multiple times, recruit a new dps, deal with holidays and business trips and frustration, and just as we got close to killing him, 4.0.1 dropped and changed just about everything. I have a strategy post that is almost ready – but that can wait: I am not sure how many people are still actually working on progression encounters, given we’re 3 raid lockouts away from Cataclysm (and Thanksgiving is bound to mess up raiding for most people). What I want to do today is to reflect on the frustrating 6 months, and see if I can take out some lessons which instead are going to still be useful in Cataclysm – about fighting on progression encounters, raiding with 10-man, strategising. Both Beru and Kae have used the death of LK heroic as an occasion to reflect on raiding more in general, and given I admire both ladies enormously for their blogging efforts, it is no surprise I am trying to do the same. Some of the stuff I’ll say will be a repeat of what they said, but I think enough of it is different to warrant a separate post.

The Finest Hour

So, let’s start with the good thing. HE’S DEAD! After plaguing our dreams and nightmares for all this time, the Lich King is dead: the reason we came to Northrend, the threat to the whole of Azeroth is no more. Outside of the lore excitement, the fight is so hard and so finely tuned that it is really a tribute to the skill of the group of people I raid with that we managed to get it down. The fact he’s the end boss of the whole expansion just adds a cherry to the cake: Tsark has now managed to complete the raid content of two expansions at level, although our completion of Burning Crusade is fully the merit of the big Sunwell nerf of Sep 08. In many ways, this time it is more satisfying, because I dare anyone to say that 4.0.1 made LK easier: while it did increase the dps of some classes and made some mechanics a lot easier to handle, other classes (and especially paladin healers and tanks, and in some ways Disc priests and Enh Shamans) got nerfed, which made OTHER mechanics a lot harder to deal with. The fact that we had to relearn the fight after 4.0.1 and for two weeks we could hardly get out of P1 says a lot to me about this.

The fight is definitely a testament to our skills as raiders – and I’m sorry if this sounds as gloating, but I am in honest awe of everyone in my raid group. It really felt that hard, and we all should be proud of what we accomplished. Jarbel, Wormwart, Shukir, Killetheth, Geeza, Tildie, Jahag, Strongbox, Lyshai and Loshanas – thank you for showing me how hard people can push their respective classes. Kill, if you’re reading this – our first thought when we killed Arthas was about you, and we swear we will get you the achievement before Dec 7, as soon as you’re back from your trip: we all know that we could not have done this without you, and are sorry you could not have been there. A special shoutout to Geeza, who agreed to come as a replacement, learned the fight (exceedingly fast) on his hunter, then was asked to switch to his even worse geared druid because we tried out three-healing it, only in the end to switch again to his hunter. The crossbow and the staff are your just reward for being an absolute champ about it all, Geeza J

The second, probably even more important factor that contributed to our kill was our perseverance. I mean, seriously? Six months of wiping on one encounter, and the last 3 weeks of extending and doing nothing but Lich King, and we still ALL showed up as much as real life allowed us. Many, MANY guilds and groups would have imploded, but we somehow kept plodding along. I am sure I was not the only one who sometimes dreaded raid time, and yet we managed to keep grumbling to a minimum, at least during raid time – that basically meant it all remained manageable, instead of exploding into whinefests of frustration (which, sometimes, could well have been justified). There is a famous aphorism that innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration – well, I think the same applies to raiding: 1% skill, 99% perspiration and just keeping at it.

Finally, I’d like to think that we’ve been helped by the way we encourage raiders to admit their mistakes, but then do not dwell on that, and move towards a more general “how can we make sure this does not happen again?”. I know that personally I get angrier when people try to find stupid excuses rather than admit to stupid mistakes – probably because I actually lead the “fail” charts, and we all know I am the slowest learner when it comes to those mechanics. Sometimes we probably slipped, but mostly, we managed to keep discussion on a constructive level, and this is something I always worked hard to build in the group, so I’m glad to see it working.

The Darkest Hour

Counterbalancing these three very positive traits of our raids, I think there’s two aspects that we need to become a lot better at.

The first one is flexibility. We had two big jumps up in our performance: the first one when we switched from three healers to two (and finally could consistently kill valkyrs in P2), and then this week, as we switched from soaking the Vile Spirits to killing them (and thus managed to survive P3 long enough to kill Arthas). Both times, the changes happened after weeks of butting our heads against the brick wall of our limits. We simply tried to work harder, instead of working smarter – and this is where our perseverance came back to bite us, because instead of looking for ways to get around the obstacles we just tried harder. Some of our raiders did suggest alternative strategies, but after a cursory consideration they were not adopted and fell by the wayside. This points to a difficult balance that we need to achieve: on one hand, we need to be able to say that no, a strategy really doesn’t sound promising; on the other, we need to be able to take a step back more and think out of the box. I probably am one of the people shooting down ideas as they are proposed – I think because I’m far too conscious of my limits I tend to think that if we fail in an attempt is simply because I have not tried hard enough (and by extension, the few times it’s clear it’s not my fault, because the raid has run into a hiccup that will not be present the following attempt). So, to improve this, here’s what I suggest:

  • Use the forums more. Changing strategies, and evaluating the merits of different strategies, is something I personally find very difficult to do in the heat of the moment. Offline, when I’m not frustrated because I just jumped into the latest Shadoxtrap, I can give alternative strategies a fairer examination. I know people work differently, and I know some of our members have hardly visited the forums, but I think it may help me think about strategies, so I may just post long monologues ;-P
  • Try not to dismiss ideas out of hand: it may sound weird now, but you never know when things will change enough that an idea you dismissed before becomes relevant. Case in point: we had briefly considered killing Vile Spirits when we were doing normal LK, but realised it was not working particularly well – fast forward to 6 months later, when, with patch 4.0.1, it is possible to do that on Heroic with one less ranged dps
  • If you suggest an idea, and it’s shot down, please insist a bit – maybe not during the same raid, but certainly once the raid is over, in whispers or in conversations. I admit my inability to think about strategies during raid time: I just am too inflexible for that. But I think I can be pretty open minded if people approach me outside of raids.

The second one is an issue of atmosphere. We have done relatively well, considering we have not had toxic members or serious disagreements in a very long time, but I know there is some tension simmering below the surface, and though I am trying to bring it in the open to resolve it, and change the behaviours which seem to be causing this tension, it is just not happening. So, I would like to ask all of our raiders to do two things:

  • Go easy on the sarcasm: we have an environment that is fairly open to criticism, but there are ways to criticise each other’s choices of talents/gems/gear/rotation without implying that the other person is an idiot or doesn’t know the class. Most of the times, these implications are not meant to be there, and just slip because of an attempt to be sarcastic and cutting: if you realise that something you said may be misinterpreted that way, just joke about it (“YES I DID MEAN THAT YOU ARE AN IDIOT ;-P” works wonders)
  • On the flip side of that, please let’s all give each other the benefit of the doubt: if we look for excuses to think the others don’t like us, it’s not going to take long to find them, regardless of whether they are meant or not. So, always take whatever is written in the best possible way, and if anything try to clear the air after a raid.

I know this second issue will look strange, and I don’t want to blow it out of proportion: so far, the tension is still kept at a manageable level. I just want to make sure we don’t let this blow into any full scale drama before we have a chance to fight Deathwing ;-P

Broader lessons

This started as a generic post about raid dynamics, and turned out to be a far more specific discussion of my own raid’s situation than I expected. I still think it may be valuable for other raids: too often we post screenshots where everyone is happy, and spend a lot of time thinking about strategies, but I’ll contend that the biggest killer of raids are not the game mechanics, but the interpersonal dynamics of the raid members. I think our raid can be considered pretty successful, and we certainly have a better rapport amongst ourselves than a lot of raids I’ve seen – but this is not, unfortunately, something that stays that way. Like any friendship, you need to keep working at it, which is exactly what I’m trying to do here J


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