Growing your own raiders. And I come not to damn TotC but to praise it.

LoadScreenArgentRaid

This weekend, I had a revelation.

DREADSCALE IS THE FIRE SNAKE!

I had a post half written when patch 3.2 went live to list why I loved Icecrown Citadel; and the number one reason was because I no longer had to remember which snake was which. Anyone who ever tanked Trial of the Crusader will be familiar with this conversation in the tank channel before the start:

Which snake do you want to tank?

I’ll take the fire one, is that acid… dread … whatever it’s called?

Is that the stationary one?

No, moving one. It’s on the left. I mean right as we’re standing.

Could I have that one? I always take the one on the right

((etc))

But we were back in the Argent Tournament arena this weekend, and I remembered the gorram snake’s name. It feels like a major achievement.

Raiding with less experienced raiders

As to why we were there, that’s a longer story. Our raid group has been more progression focussed in Wrath than we ever were before. We have class quotas, and role quotas, and all that sort of gubbins which means that raiders don’t have to sit out too often.

But our member guilds (we are a raid alliance) also have members who don’t raid with us. Some are more casual players, or unable to commit to a timetable for RL reasons, or just don’t have much interest.

I think we all have been aware recently that some of these guys would love to raid with the alts, or in the non-25 man raids. But it has been difficult to arrange because ICC-10 is simply not a welcoming environment for new raiders. No matter how much people say that the game is dumbed down, it’s not easy for new players to fine tune their dps while getting out of fires, avoiding adds, target switching, and paying attention to the threat meter.

And the instance simply isn’t tuned so that experienced players can carry the less experienced ones while they learn. It is after all the last raid instance of the expansion, and if it was undertuned, people would definitely complain that it was too easy.

Moreover, it’s not possible to really learn how to play your class in heroics any more. They are AE fests. I don’t recall much in the way of target switching requirements, and healers will usually heal through fires anyway. (I’m not saying it’s right, but that is how things tend to go.) Or at least, you can’t learn to play it well enough to raid endgame, unless you are already an experienced raider and it is an alt.

So that’s where Trial of the Crusader comes in. It was suggested that maybe a 25 man TotC run would give us the chance to bring both experienced and inexperienced raiders. We all agreed that in theory this might be a good chance for the newbies to get their feet wet. But would we get enough people to sign? Would we get the mix of experienced players (who probably didn’t need any of the drops on their alts) and newbies? Would newer players be able to follow instructions – you can’t just steamroll TotC in the gear they’d be wearing?

And I foolishly said, “I’ll run it,” and put the run up on the calendar

And people signed. Not just the new guys, who were very excited at the prospect of a 25 man run where no one would shout at them, but also some of the more experienced raiders who were willing to come and help out. Also some people brought well geared alts along who don’t often get a look in on the 25 mans.

I had said from the beginning that if we didn’t get 25 signups, I would cancel the run due to lack of interest. I knew last Wednesday (the raid was scheduled for the weekend) that I wouldn’t have to cancel it.

At that point, I put up a prospective raid list (i.e. list of people/ characters who were picked) and the boards lit up with new people starting threads asking for advice, experienced raiders writing up guides, and threads about addons and consumables as well. I don’t remember if TotC was this well analysed when we were running it as progression content :)

When we all rolled up on Saturday night – everyone was on time, by the way – I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I think I’d assumed we’d wipe a few times on Icehowl as people got the hang of moving out of the way, and that Faction Champions might also claim a few scalps.

What actually happened is that we were successful beyond my wildest dreams.

We one shot the first four bosses (IIRC) and got Anub’Arak on the third attempt. I reckon about two of the raiders had never been in a raid, three more hadn’t been in a Wrath raid, we had a tank and a few healers who had never been inside that instance before, and about 8 of the dps were undergeared (i.e. undergeared for TotC). Some of them found PUGs so intimidating that they didn’t dare sign up for them at all, even 5 mans.

I was very proud of everyone, because it was a true team effort. We could not have done it without some experienced guys being willing to take one for the team and give it their all. We could not have done it if the newer players had not been totally focussed, listened to instructions, and done their homework.

After the second wipe on Anub, where we wiped at 5% (due to hitting the enrage timer), we discussed the fight in detail on voice chat as everyone was running back. We discussed why we used bloodlust when we did, how the spikes worked, what had gone wrong and what had gone right in previous attempts. And everyone, new guys included, was brainstorming how we might be able to find that extra 5% damage on phase 3.

At that point, the difference between them and hardcore progression raiders was simply a matter of time, practice, and gear. Job done. (The fact we got Anub on the next pull was icing on the cake.)

And TotC succeeds as a training environment in all the ways that the heroics fail. You cannot ignore the proper strategies there when half the raid is undergeared/ inexperienced. People will have to move out of the fire, switch target neatly, and listen to raid leaders. It is in every way a true raiding experience.

In retrospect, I’d been playing with fire when putting that raid together, and fitting in as many of the less experienced guys as I could. But what is life without a little risk. If we’d known that it was going to be a walkover, then it wouldn’t have felt like such a good achievement, and we’d have been cheating the new players as much as the old ones out of that. As a raid leader you have to balance up the raid’s objectives:

  1. Run a successful raid, lots of loot, happy raiders.
  2. Get as many of the inexperienced raiders and raider alts in as possible.

You know how some raid leaders are talented at running different types of raids. Some people run awesome farm raids, or are really good at getting people to optimise their performance. Some people are amazing progression raid leaders and can analyse where the group needs to improve on a new fight by some form of psychic ability.

I suspect my strength may be dragging mixed ability groups through content. I admit this is … marginally useful. But hey, it’s a thing. I cannot honestly say that I had to work hard – people taught each other. But still, you cannot teach someone who isn’t willing to learn.

We can do it, but why should we?

So what have we proved, at the end of all this? We can set up successful raids where both experienced and inexperienced raiders play alongside each other. And where the new guys can get some support, coaching, and encouragement. And, more importantly, where everyone can have some fun and even the old guard has a chance at some loot which they wanted.

But in order to do it, we have to flout just about every pointer in Warcraft that directs players towards the latest, greatest raid instance. We have to ignore the pressure to do everything as fast as possible, to focus only on our own goals, and to ditch the weak to make room for the strong. It may be possible to have everyone playing nicely together, but there’s no in game pressure, or encouragement, or reward. Only the social reward of making a lot of people very happy, of knowing that you have a guild/ raid that is socially cohesive, and of rising to meet a challenge together. It’s an achievement for our whole raid group that we were able to pull it off, but not an achievement recognised by the game.

I was comparing this mentally to Gevlon’s undergeared challenge. I see our newbie raid as the social equivalent to that, where we deliberately handicap the raid by bringing weaker players. I know I’m not the only one who pondered that, since at least one of the other raiders commented on it to me also.

Ultimately, I think this highlights a weakness in Warcraft that will pull the game down. If Blizzard cannot encourage players to teach each other in game, then all they can ever do is make things easier so that there is less to learn.

Even though it was a fun raid, and felt like a good achievement, I cannot run these newbie raids every week. I cannot ask the experienced guys to keep doing this week in and week out for no real reward. No one is that altruistic (I’m certainly not) and whilst I’m proud of my friends and raid allies for pulling it all together, I also don’t particularly want to run TotC every week.

Maybe guild achievements in Cataclysm will help to plug this gap, and perhaps there will be perks for the guild that is willing to grow its own raiders, and teach its own newbies.  But I suspect that they will choose to reward the hardcore instead. Who will continue to rely on ‘social’ guilds to train their new recruits for no reward, because the things they enjoy doing (supporting each other, building community, teaching and mentoring) are outside the achiever’s purview.