You don’t have to be crazy to lead raids; but it helps

Everyone knows that leading raids is hard work. You have to work harder than the rest of the group, and the only reward you get is feeling  more involved and raids happen on your schedule.

And yet.

And yet for a lot of players, raid leading is the true metagame of their MMO. For people who enjoy the extra difficulty, the extra complexity, the feeling of reward for truly understanding how everything fits together, and maybe even the *naches of guiding a newbie raider into a pro, there is no better way.

A lot of raid leaders in WoW ended up there because they were progression minded and felt that the best way to ensure good progression was to arrange it themselves.

But there are plenty of players who choose to lead raids because they love it. DPS Meter writes a heartfelt letter to 25 man raid leaders, and its something that every raider needs to read. Especially if you’re burned out on raiding, or maybe forgot why you liked it in the first place.

One of the definining moments in my WoW raiding came in Vanilla. We were a very new 40 man raid. We’d zoned into Molten Core for the first time and somehow managed to kill Lucifron (the first boss.) And our raid leader said, “Guys, right now you are at a Hogger level of raiding. By the time we get to Ragnaros, you WILL be a proper raid guild.” A month or so later, at our first Onyxia kill, I knew he was right. That’s what raid leading is all about.

*I’m due a proper post about this as one of the big motivating factors in gaming.

Thought of the Day: 10 and 25 man versions of the same raid instance

Last night was a very exciting one for our raid. For the first time, we were standing in front of the Frozen Throne, looking at the end boss of the expansion. Arthas is the fight we’ve been aiming for ever since we first nervously zoned into Naxxramas all those months ago. Reaching this point (and eventually killing him) has been our raid’s mission statement – as much as it has one.

And yet. I felt curiously empty looking around the raid and seeing how many people were displaying their Kingslayer title, to show that they’d already killed him in a 10 man raid. How exciting could this moment possibly have been for them?

I do increasingly feel like an outsider because I don’t have that 10 man fixed group in which I can learn fights at the same time as everyone else. I used to enjoy progression fights, but now it is often listening to other people tell us what tactics they used in their 10 mans, whining (on our tank channel!!!) that us newbies to the fight don’t learn fast enough, and smugly showing off their raid achievements that we don’t share. That wasn’t really what I wanted from being in a raid group. I thought we’d all be in it together.

It’s food for thought.

The slow but inevitable death of 25 man raiding

As widely reported, yesterday Blizzard released their plans for changing the raid game in Cataclysm.

My bullet point summary:

  • They like having 10 man and 25 man versions of the same raids, so that will continue *cough* lazy *cough*
  • They like the Ulduar/ ICC scheme where raid leaders could decide whether to stick to normal or hard mode on each individual boss. (eg. take the first boss on easy mode, and then hard mode on the next one, et al.)
  • They don’t like that hardcore raiders felt forced to run 10 AND 25 man raids on their characters for optimal gearing up, so ….
  • … 10 man and 25 man raids will share the same lock. This is the big one. No more running the 25 man raids with your raid group and the 10 man raid with your friends in the same week. (Or rather, if you want to do that you’ll need separate alts.)
  • 10 man and 25 man raids will also drop the same loot. Just 25 man raids will drop more of it (more per person, I assume).
  • 10 man and 25 man raids will also be of the same difficulty (*coff* pigs, fly *coff* This is probably a subject for a different post.)
  • There will be two tiers of badges, much like at present. One tier will be available via heroics and will be unlimited, the other will be available from raids and heroic dailies.
  • These badges will also be available via PvP. So now the hardcore will have to PvP as well as PvE (or vice versa), instead of running 10 mans as well as 25.

Someone set us up the 25 man time bomb

Leading large raids is a harsh job at the best of times. It isn’t just due to making sure 25+ people each know what they are supposed to be doing and then checking that they are doing it. Nope, much of the difficulty and challenge of leading large raids is behind the scenes work, making sure that 25 people of appropriate classes and specs turn up on a weekly basis and are ready to raid.

And as if this wasn’t a harsh enough time to be a 25 man raid leader, they now are all aware that if this scheme proceeds as planned, Blizzard is setting them up to fail in Cataclysm.

The particular dilemma of rewards for different raid sizes is this:

  • for the individual raider, 10 mans are often more challenging. Each individual carries more responsibility.
  • for the group as a whole (and specifically for the leader), 25 mans are hugely more challenging. 25 people have to execute the fight correctly, as opposed to just 10. And the logistic overheads of 25 mans are a lot higher. Plus there is often more going on just due to the number of players wandering around.

But WoW is moving towards rewarding individuals for individual effort, and away from rewarding groups for group effort. If 10 and 25 man raids give the same rewards, then the 10 man raids offer by far the easiest path to getting them. At least for the stronger raiders, without whom more casual 25 man raid guilds will flounder.

So raid leaders will be asking themselves now whether enough people will still want to run 25 mans to make 25 man progression viable. To put this in context, you have to understand that for the majority of 25 man raid guilds, there will be a core of players who are more hardcore and a core who are less. It is significantly easier to put together a hardcore progression 10 man raid than a progression 25 man raid because you only have to find 9 other people (assuming that you are one of them). Any time a 25 man raid falters, or wipes more often than people would like, the temptation for the more hardcore 10 people to go it alone and ditch the guys who are holding them back will be there for the taking.

So how many of those more hardcore players will choose progression above 25 mans. The answer is … unknown at present, but never bet against people choosing progression. Or how about people ditching the 25 man because some friends just joined from another server who want to run 10s? Or ditching the 25 man because they found a 10 man group which raids on more convenient days (easier to organise when there are only 10 of you)?

In Wrath, no one had to choose. You could run 10s with your mates or hardcore set and 25s with your usual raid comm. In Cataclysm, everyone will have to choose. Some will use alts for different raids – but still, whenever the 25 man has a hiccough, the danger of people fleeing to the easier to arrange 10 mans will be there, like the elephant in the room.

And now, because hardcore raiders are unable to control their work/life balance – yeah seriously, just say no if you felt you were being ‘forced’ to raid too much —  we’re being forced to choose by being given a choice that isn’t really a choice at all.  The current setup is far better for casual raiders than what Cataclysm offers. There are plenty of PUGs (bored 25 man raiders running 10 mans for kicks or vice versa), casual 25 man raid guilds can flourish … wave goodbye to all of that.

All this has happened before. All this will happen again.

My first reaction to this news was one of those cold flush style flashbacks, you know where you get shivers down your spine? I’d put the trauma of the guild dramas that followed the end of 40 man raiding to the back of my mind.

And now here it is, all over again. People will be ditched from the core ‘clique’ because “sorry, you’re not one of the 10 best.” Guilds that had grown around a 25 man social dynamic slowly losing raiders, bleeding them away until there is nothing left. Drama laden guild break ups.

Will there be a typical Cataclysm guild?

Myself, I view the news with mixed reactions. I have loved running large raids, whether they be the old 40 mans, or the newer 25s. I hope that we can keep running 25 man raids into Cataclysm – however silly it is, I still think there’s a cachet to tanking 25 man raids.

And yet. And yet.

Imagine being in a small scale, tight knit guild with friends which raids together and runs rated battlegrounds together. That will be the Cataclysm model. It does sound fun. But is it worth the number of eggs that Blizzard will have to break?

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Raiding and the Great Tank Problem

One of the most difficult things to do in WoW (and probably any game with similar class/ endgame design) is to get a regular spot as a tank in a raiding group.

The reasons for this are basically a pure numbers game. There isn’t room for very many tanks in a typical raid encounter. Often only one main tank. By comparison, every instance or small group needs someone to tank for it. So by the time you get to end game, you need lots of tanks to work the small group content but there’s no room for most of them in raids. Something’s gotta give.

If you have few enough tanks for everyone to get a raid spot then groups will be sitting around for hours waiting for their tank spots to be filled. If there are enough tanks for the groups to form quickly then most of them will never get to tank in raids.

There are other reasons too. Because the main tank is such a singular position, it makes sense for them to need the best gear, the most practice, and be among the most reliable in attendance. Raids are really far too dependent on their tanks, which makes it tough for more casual players to break in.

Add to this the fact that tanks tend to stick with their raid groups. They all know how difficult it is to find a spot as a raid tank so they hang on when they have achieved one. Mature raid groups rarely seek tanks. So as well as struggling to find a spot at all, it’s also not a very mobile role. In a game where you can argue that it’s sensible to move around until you find a group that suits your needs, being a tank is a real detriment. The group you want may not want you (and probably won’t.)

Unsurprisingly, a lot of endgame tanks quit once they give up on getting raid spots. They may respec and try out a different role, but they mostly stop tanking. After all, what’s the point in gathering gear that is intended for content where you’ll never be able to use it? So there is a shortage of non-raid tanks, and then new people roll alts and the cycle starts again.

I’m quite sure that this is why so many people have unplayed warriors and that as soon as the class gets buffed they’ll quite likely switch back to them. There’s an underlying demand from people who want to play the role but can’t, due to numbers.

If you think WoW is bad, EQ2 is worse

This is a post from the EQ2 boards where Nutznichts looked at the class balance in some of their top raid guilds. Four out of the least common eight classes are tanks. It’s worse than it sounds because the most common classes are significantly more common than the least (23 times more common in this sample!)

This is like saying, “If you think you might ever even vaguely consider raiding, don’t roll class X.” And to add insult to injury, the most common classes in raids are not the worst soloers. It is absolutely possible in that game to pick a good soloing class that is also needed in raids. Just make sure it isn’t a tank.

EQ2 is working on the class balance in the next patch, making some of the same decisions that the WoW designers made at the beginning of Wrath and letting buffing classes buff the whole raid. That should even some of the imbalances out. But it won’t help the tanks.

How WoW is trying to help

In Wrath, the situation is better than it has been since vanilla WoW. Ten man raids really do help a lot, because they require tanks in the same ratios as 5 man instances. i.e. a 5 man instance needs one tank, a 10 man raid needs two. So that works. I’d recommend anyone who want to try end game tanking to get into some ten man raids. It’s a good way to learn the encounters, the more geared tanks are probably bored of them, and they do need tanks.

Dual specs helps a lot also. It’s easier than it has ever been to play a character that is dps or healing in 25 man raids and switching to tank in 10 mans and instances. There’s still a lot of work involved, you need to gather two sets of gear, but the game caters much better to that playing style than it ever did before.

But still, tanking for a 25 man group is pretty much the premier tanking content in the game. And it is an experience reserved for very few people, excluding casual players by the intensely competitive nature of getting a spot.

Sure, you can tank for a casual raid group (like I do). But the process of getting that spot is connected with the fact I’ve been playing with them for the last two years. It’s hardly easy.

Is the tank/heals/dps model the problem? Or is it the raids themselves?

It’s the combination of raiding and the standard PvE class model that raises the issues. There are very few games which allow tanking to be a coordinated and shared role in the same way that healing or dps can be. DaoC allowed a tank to block for someone else as long as they were nearby. So raid tanking always involved two people. One main tank and one specialist shield tank who was blocking for them. The shield tank job wasn’t especially exciting but it did let another person have a role in the raid.

You could imagine a game where tanks (or anyone who can pick up a shield) could execute complex roman army-style formations with actual shield walls, wedges, tortoises, and squares.

You could imagine games where tanks have to swap aggro a lot because they can only tank for limited amounts of time.

But I wonder increasingly if tanks are the real problem in the tank/heal/dps model. I enjoy the role, but I also know that I get the lion’s share of the complexity in most encounters. It’s fun, but is it fair that I do all that while dps are getting bored at the back?

The best designed raid encounters keep everyone busy on useful tasks. But I think current class design makes that a tougher challenge than it needs to be. If we got rid of the idea of the main tank and the main tanking classes altogether, it might be that games would become more fun all round.

Otherwise, the majority of tanks are doomed to never see a raid spot.