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Raiding Outside of the Box: When Guides, Videos and Walkthroughs Get in the Way

Article originally posted on Manaflask

After I stopped raiding in Nihilum and played in a few much more casual guilds later on there was one thing that completely bewildered me about how these guilds raided. We'd come up on a boss for the first time ever and then there was this break while everyone was told to go look at the kill video, followed by a word for word re-telling of some guide on how to down said boss. Of course I knew more normal guilds used guides and videos and all that, but actually seeing it in practice was extremely strange, and I sure as hell wasn't about to ruin my first experience on  that  boss by watching a video and reading some guide that tells me exactly what to do, where to stand and so on. This was a problem, obviously, as I was a burden on the guild the first few tries until I figured it all out. Luckily for me I was allowed to do this since it was a pretty casual guild and I was a good enough player, but there are many out there that are simply forced to play in the most optimal way possible and completely ruin the experience of real progress on bosses for themselves.

Luckily there are still non-top guilds out there that raid "properly" and choose to experience the game as it was meant to be played and we were lucky enough to get one of them to tell us about his and his guild's experiences in this series of articles. So let's welcome Smaj and see how exactly a guild like that works and why they do what they do.

 

The idea for this column occurred to me after reading a couple of articles here on Manaflask, discussions with friends, fellow raiders as well as potential recruits. This series presents a different approach to what I call "conventional raiding", where for the great majority of raiders strategies are copied and adopted instead of discovered. I am, in my eyes, very fortunate to be in a guild, <MM> on Turalyon EU, which goes about raiding very differently. I will attempt to highlight this style of play with the help of my fellow raiders, discussing why we raid the way we do, how we go about it, and in the process hopefully inspire some other raiders and guilds!

Aside from not playing on the PTR, we experience raids in a very similar manner to players in top guilds, creating tactics from scratch based on the dungeon journal, discussions, pulling the boss, wiping, assessing, adjusting, followed by repeating the procedure until the boss is down, though at a more leisurely pace. Our forum has quite a few squiggly drawings and spreadsheets detailing ideas on specific encounters and tactics (details later on!), some of which turn out to be true and work, some of which do not. We are relatively relaxed, raid 9-12h a week, care more about the process of overcoming an obstacle as a group than loot, rankings or racing towards a instance clear; and no, we are definitely nowhere near the top. You might laugh and say, "well, obviously you are just bad" (and/or mad), but bear with me and read on – there is logic to our seemingly insane approach!
 

Speed and Greed, the Killers of Creativity

Several expansions of raiding have led to a specific cycle and approach to raiding that has, to a great extent, become standardised. Whilst the spectrum of raiding guilds is wide, a large proportion strive to clear content as fast as possible, picking up shiny gear and "beating" other guilds to a kill, either on their own server or overall, attempting to make their mark on rankings. The world/region race and the Top10 (ish) play in a league and arguably style of their own; they spend a lot of time testing on the PTR, then, upon release devising tactics based on the information gathered, experience, discussions, pulling the boss, wiping, assessing, adjusting, and repeating the procedure until the boss is down. For the few at the very top this process also includes the "joy" of finding and dealing with bugs, developers and so forth, but I will not get into that here.

Until Siege of Orgrimmar, top guilds did not stream their progress, nor did they release fraps until a certain number of guilds had also cleared the content - however, some guilds based in China (and playing under different conditions), did stream their progress on Paragons of the Klaaxi, causing a bit of an uproar as it affected the top few. The more guilds defeat a specific encounter, more and more fraps, streams and guides emerge. Less progressed guilds study the material available and can, to some extent, bypass the creation of own tactics and instead just attempt to implement what has already been proven to work. The further down the rankings your guild is, the less likely it is that you will be creating tactics for a specific encounter from scratch.

Of course you will wipe as much, if not more, but mainly due to implementation errors, players making mistakes, performance not being as desired, but not in order to work out the mechanics - the overcharge priority system on Siegecrafter Blackfuse springs to mind. Whilst Blizzard’s policy is to bring the player, not the class, set-up might nonetheless be an issue as on most fights specific classes just shine. Whether that affects 10man raiding more than 25man is a bone of contention, however, it is not something I wish to discuss here. I can understand that if you are in "the race", especially up to the Top100ish you are keen on getting better and better each patch, wanting to push your own and your guilds’ limits, proving you belong to the top few. However, going further down the proverbial food chain or rankings, why do so few guilds not just ignore YouTube, streams and other guides? Why has it become an integral part of raiding to follow in others' footsteps instead of making your own mark? Most guilds sub Top500, or even sub Top1000, are generally considered to be in the semi-casual to casual spectrum… or, as some might say, not very good, yet they try to compete and strive after loot.

I want to challenge this notion and encourage more guilds to not be afraid of taking their own steps, ditching YouTube, streams and guides, even if only for the first night of progress on an encounter, or until they get stuck. No need to go as far as the guild I am in does (though it is great fun!). Attempt to sidestep the whole notion of rankings and loot, instead focus on playing with a group of people you enjoy spending time and sharing an interest with, namely figuring out how to overcome obstacles.

Adventures Ahoy!

So why do we raid it if not for the race? Well, in real life, many philosophies centre on the idea of the path being the goal, to quote Ernest Hemingway:

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end."

In essence, we have adopted that idea to raiding: to figure out an encounter, enjoy the mechanics, improve as players and, most importantly, have a lot of fun without the stress that top level raiding brings. That does not mean everything in <MM> is full of rainbows, unicorns and perfection, nor that participating in the race cannot have its own challenges and rewards. It is a choice guilds make, and <MM> has been this way since Vanilla, regardless of the changing times - it is what makes our guild.

Waaaaaaaaait… what about loot you ask? Surely we want the same as the majority of raiders; we want to be able to say "my preeeecious". Sorry to disappoint, but we have a general disinterest in loot as a personal reward - it is a tool, nothing more, nothing less (there might have even been instances of us forgetting to loot a boss… ahem). Of course we are still happy if an item drops and similarly utter curses at the gods of the random number generator, but it is not what we raid for. So how do we handle loot? Well, we /roll to denote interest in an item. At that point, we either actually sort it amongst ourselves  asking each other regarding set bonuses/BIS/level up upgrade, often resulting in someone saying "actually, I will pass, it is all yours", or, in case two (or more) are in an equal position, Tyvi, our raid leader and his system takes over. In Ozzen’s words:

Another reason why I think loot, sweet as the colour purple might be, is of secondary importance to us is that it's all in the hands of our malevolent raid leader, who just so happens to be German. Perhaps the loot priority/point system was once explained in some backwater thread in our forum in days gone by, but I for one do not for the life of me know how the system works or where my standing is within the system. And you know what? I don't care.
Perhaps I speak only for myself here, but it seems to me that loot distribution never gets contested. At no time since I came back to raid here have I seen anyone getting pissed off at not getting their ring or their trinket when seeing someone else get it instead. To me this is another indication that this raid is comprised out of equal and competent individuals, who realise that no matter who gets what item first, the raid as a whole will benefit nonetheless. I think that it cannot be understated how much grief something like this would cause many other raiding guilds out there.

I would like to add that actually, I have seen "loot fights"; however, they should more aptly be called "passing fights", along the lines of "you take it", "no, you", "no, no, you" and so forth.

Right, so, you are still reading and have digested our disregard for the race and the lack of loot obsession. But you might say… rankings! Everybody wants to rank and compete, just to be able to say "omg look at me". Yet again, I have to disappoint, and before you say, "aha, well, you are probably just not good enough", I can assure you that is not the case - several of us rank regularly, including in the Top5 on World of Logs on some encounters. But, so what? Sure, good healing and damage are always needed, but it does not tell the whole story. I will not get into the whole discussion of right target damage and healing, over-healing, efficiency and what not at this stage, but I will touch on elements of that discussion later on, however enough has been written about that elsewhere. This does not mean we do not use logs and value them, quite the contrary: they give us an opportunity to analyse what went well, what went wrong as well as how and where we can improve, as individuals and as a group.

 

But learning is hard!

So, knowing our classes/roles, working together, having the dungeon journal and for example boss mods, it is easy, right? Wrong - a heck of a lot of things can go badly. I have outlined three main factors below, and whilst most guilds are affected by them to some extent, I believe they have a greater impact in our style of raiding.

First off, we are human and we will all make avoidable mistakes, at all levels of raiding. However, the main difference is how many are made, for what reason and how they are dealt with. Hamlet has written a great article on that matter, discussing the above better than I could. Therefore, I will only quote a section I believe is particularly relevant:

With 10 to 25 people having to play for many consecutive minutes, and a win only being likely if virtually all of them make no death-causing errors on the same attempt, you can’t avoid the math of the situation. Even if you think your problem at a boss was “bad strategy”, realize how much this implicates your raiders’ error rates. Without mistakes, any strategy would take only one attempt to try and reject. Any wipe could be followed by a raid-level strategic improvement. Errors in play during the attempts are the reason a strategy persists for many attempts or even whole raid nights before enough evidence is gathered that something needs to be changed.

Secondly, consider encounters like Dark Animus in Throne of Thunder or Siegecrafter Blackfuse in Siege of Orgrimmar. Coming to those "unprepared" feels like having a blindfold removed and being stuck in the centre of a maze, having a seemingly endless number of potential routes, yet having to pick ONE - only to be faced by another set of options two corners further, whilst not being sure whether the choice made would lead us to success or just down the garden path. We were, in short, dumbfounded and, at first, overwhelmed by the sheer possibilities. Now taking the first point into consideration and combining it with the above, you create a very volatile concoction, resulting in a lot of corpse running and relatively "slower" progression, especially if you only spend a couple of hours a week on it. Lastly, we often have a slightly changing roster for a given night, given we respect and embrace real life commitments. Whilst it does not cause any great problems overall, it does sometimes affect specific encounters and progression speed, given it is another new variable.  

"As a PhD mathematician I have deduced that the best tactic is to kill DA and not be s**t" - Plog

By now you are most likely wondering how we actually implement the above, and I can assure you, you will be in for a few more surprises, however, you will have to wait a little! When I asked Tyvi to write the next article about tanking and raid leading us, I immediately (and of course jokingly) wondered whether that had been wise…. He responded with “Despair. Anger. Annoyance. Grief. Relief.” - yes, he does have a sense of humour, and yes, that convinced me it was a good idea after all! Thus, the next installment will be written by Tyvi, before I am back touching on topics such as role specific perspectives and raider autonomy. I hope you enjoyed the read so far and might be inclined to give this a shot. It is a brave new (or should it be ancient?) world out there, yours for the taking!