We figured it was time to do a full feature on our favorite guild, to get a centralized overview of what the guild is about, what it stands for and how it came to be. Lucky for us Mek was around since the founding (with some notable breaks!) and agreed to clue us in on some of the less known stuff, as well as what's going on in the guild today, and Ekyu volunteered some of his screenshots from way back when.
Let's start with some history. While the merge itself at the beginning of WotLK is a well known event, the details around it, the integration of the guilds etc. aren't. Seems like a good place to start!
Well, in SK we were not that happy with our relationship with the organization and we had organized some new investment for them based on our recent PvE progress. SK didn't want to focus on PvE though, so we talked to the investors and they decided they would be interested in backing a new project. We wanted to really make a good website and felt it would be very hard to do so with Nihilum around since the community would be very split then between the two places. As a result Mackzter and I approached Nessaj and Kungen about a merger and things went from there.
The first few months of the guild were pretty intense since there were around 46 members competing for 25 raid spots and a lot of extremely good players were sitting on the bench. As time went on the weak were weeded out and we ended up with a strong roster going into Ulduar. We did very well there and I personally believe Mimiron was the highlight since we killed it a long time before any other guild and it had a very high personal skill requirement before the nurf compared to any other boss. It was a strange environment though, and it took time to adapt to how the guild would be run for a lot of people and we had to balance the needs of both sides. I think it took around 6 months for it to really feel like 1 guild rather than 2.
After that initial period of dominance something changed in ICC and ToC. What was it that made you lose your No.1 spot?
In short, limited tries had a huge negative effect on the guild. Many of our best players played the game to be hardcore. Sitting around doing 3 tries on a boss over many hours rather than consistently doing tries was very frustrating.
I think we rushed too much and squandered tries without thinking things through properly. A lot of our best players were demotivated and this lead to at times a very negative raiding environment, which had in turn a serious effect on the quality of our raids.
In the first tier of Cataclysm things didn't improve much, and even though you weren't there yourself, what were the major issues?
Well, now the problems had changed. We had a very strong roster before but no motivated players and now we had quite a lot of new motivated players but the skill level was not high enough. Good enough recruits were not found and we had to at times rely on older members not capable of putting in the hours. We didn't raid anywhere near as much as we should and all this, combined with a leadership that was bored with the game, resulted in 3rd or 4th or whatever it was!
I returned towards the end of progress and a few months later Mackzter and Kungen quit, leaving me to take on the guild again. We didn't have a lot of time to try and fix the issues that were there but we did our best and honestly, I think we did pretty well in Firelands considering.
How do you feel about the much shorter length of the progression race this time around, specifically for the first 6 bosses?
I like it because it means that WoW takes over your life a bit less. I have a lot more IRL commitments than I did back in earlier Tiers and you have to put everything on hold to progress. I think most players would say it is good because 24/7 raiding is extremely tiring and if you look at T11 most people were just about dead in top guilds when it ended.
Do you think you performed better this tier than the prior ones, regardless of the rankings?
I think with the roster we had we did pretty well. We raided a lot and only made a few strategic mistakes along the way. I think we did about the same as the last 2 tiers which, honestly, I find quite suprising because, especially in ICC, we had a better roster. It was also hard because it was only myself left from the original SK/Ensidia leadership and the guys leading with me have never had as much responsibility. I think they did a really good job under the circumstances. So I would say as a guild we did very well but as individuals we need a lot of improvement to get back to number 1.
The thing is that guilds go through phases with their rosters. I can give some good examples to show my point. Rosters that do very well tend to just hit a sweet spot with the roster and it is all about how long you can hold onto that group of players. Nihilum hit theirs during TBC content and started to lose it during Sunwell. For SK it was the opposite hitting a sweet spot in Sunwell. Ensidia had it in the first half of WotLK and when the top people started to quit and be demotivated, the roster got worse and the rankings went down. Method was a complete mess at the end of WotLK and through strong recruitment is now doing well again, and will most likely continue to do so for a while. Paragon hit their sweet spot when the 10 man guild Underground Kosmanauts (no idea on spelling) joined up with them at the end of Ulduar. I am almost certain they will retain their ranking now until some of their current roster start quitting or another guild somehow amasses an extremely strong roster.
With Ensidia right now we are in the rebuilding mode that someone like Method went through a year ago. We have a lot of good things about the guild, especially motivation and a more structured leadership. We have very strong backing with Manaflask and our sponsors. We have some great players, but we also need good new ones to help us get back to our old strength. It is just a cycle that all teams go through in all games/sports and things will always change. I think it is quite funny that people get so flamy and stupid about all these things when it is pretty obvious how it all works. That is a large reason why I don't get involved in any public discussions. I think a lot of people (even some that used to be in Ensidia) get too cocky and flamy, and you have to remember you will always be on the other end of it all one day. I think it is very important to do things as professionally as possible and have some honour.
Was the raiding pace better, worse or the same as in Tier 11, just based on hours a day raided?
We raided a lot more than in Tier 11 at least. We did have some downtime making sure we had the perfect setup online to attempt Rag towards the end though. I'm guessing that a lot of guilds probably had some similar issues. I think we had some problems perhaps with tries per hour we did, but we have identified this and will rectify it for the next progress.
How would you rank the instance overall in comparison to the other ones so far?
Maybe some double up here but in my opinion it goes something like: Sunwell > Ulduar > BT > Firelands. That probably isn't perfect but it's quite hard to rank!
If you could change one or two things in the Firelands, what would they be?
Actually I wouldn't change much. I think it was the best instance Blizzard have done in a long time. It wasn't buggy and the bosses were quite well tuned before the nurfs. The earlier bosses could have been a bit harder though.
To what extent do you monitor what other guilds are doing and does it influence you?
Quite a bit I guess, you always have to. We obviously saw that Paragon used a lot of Moonkins on Ragnaros at the start but we had already planned to do that anyway. I think a lot of guilds try to troll with their setups on armory and such, so it's hard to read anything into it. I tried to focus as much as possible on our own game this time and I think, strategy wise, especially on Ragnaros, we did well.
What's the most ridiculous strategy you tested on any of the bosses?
I don't know if it classifies as ridiculous but we had a strat on Baleroc where you could use just 2 soakers for each crystal. If one guy stands still and another strafes back and forth in a certain timing then you can heal those 2 and only have 4 people ever with tormented. Unfortunately it's quite hard to do it perfectly and you don't get enough stacks to heal the tank. Other than that I can't think of anything really crazy we tried.
What's the funniest whisper you got during progress?
If you mean Firelands I don't remember anything standout really!
Time for some Ragnaros questions.
How do you feel his difficulty was handled, in general and in relation to the other Firelands bosses?
I think it was perfect, he was as hard as he should have been. I think that personal skill wise there have been harder bosses, but the DPS requirement was tough for the gear we had. It's a stamina fight more than anything, since it is so long. There is a lot of time to make small mistakes and it was difficult to get enough time on the last phase to practice, since too many tries were lost on the first 8 minutes or so. I think that if you took our Ulduar roster (with perhaps some choice players we have now) we sould have killed it pretty damn fast though.
I think the other bosses could have been slightly harder, but I don't really mind that much because nobody has ever cared about any boss that wasn't the final one. M'uru and Mimiron are probably the only ones I can think of.
How does he rate versus other bosses in WoW's history, end bosses in particular?
I think he is well designed, it has an epic feel to it which has often been missed on previous bosses. The big problem is that it is recycled content in the end. Unless you are in Paragon I seriously doubt you enjoyed killing this Ragnaros more than the first.
I also liked the fact that he wasn't tested on PTR. Generally I feel like Firelands might aswell have been a 1 boss instance. I don't think he was that fun though, because the first phase is really boring to do over and over on progress and the really epic part of the fight starts quite far in. I think he is certainly the best boss Blizzard have done this expansion but TBC is still certainly the best expansion pack by a considerable margin.
Overall I would put it ahead of any boss in T 9 / 10 / 11 because Tier 11 was flat out bad and T 9 / 10 are rendered a joke in my opinion due to limited tries. Ulduar and Sunwell are better than Firelands overall but Ragnaros alone is on a similar level if you consider him as a completely new concept.
What was the key to finally downing him? Was it a crucial piece of strategy/positioning that you found out at the end or was it just a matter of everything clicking, favorable rng and everyone playing perfectly?
People playing well. Our roster was quite weak compared to previous years and some people really struggled on the fight with personal skill issues. We actually had a very good strategy and were clearly in second place but failed badly after that with personal mistakes.
Do you think it would have been possible for Blizzard to make all 7, or at least more of the bosses the same difficulty as Ragnaros?
If they had it would have been an extremely long progress and a lot of guilds would have disbanded due to lack of progress. Maybe making domo a bit harder and not nurfing Baleroc would have been ok, difficulty wise. As I said before, it really is only the last boss that matters.
What do you think is unique to the guild, what sets it apart from others?
I think the strength has always been a good social side. We have only ever had 2 or 3 players leave the guild and continue playing in another guild and most of those were in the guild for a very small amount of time. I think it's important to have fun in the guild you are playing in and bond well with the other members because you have to spend such a large amount of time playing together.
What do you think of the time investment required for raiding, considering it has gone up significantly since Cataclysm with all the alts etc.?
I think alts are important and personally I enjoy playing them. It has become a big part of the game now because you need to have options. For example I think if you went back to Ulduar times you would probably have guilds using 5+ feral druids on a lot of bosses because they were so strong, but back then most guilds only used 1 or 2. It is just another development of the game and if you want to keep up you need to adapt. Paragon has handled this very well using a number of alts in top kills and I really believe they "paved new ground" in this area. I think the new structure we have in the guild to deal with this covers any need for it in the future though.
As for the time aspect, well, if you are motivated for World Firsts it shouldn't be a big issue. It's like anything, it takes a lot of time at the start but once things get settled it actually doesn't require a large time commitment, especially in a very short instance like Firelands.
Now, no one wants to talk about this, but what are your thoughts on this matter? What exactly IS an exploit? What things in this particular tier do you think really were crossing that line between "creative use of game mechanics" and a straight up exploit? Did you have any dilemmas during the race about whether to use a certain tactic becuase you were unsure of whether it's ok or not?
That's a big question. I think the big problem is that there is nobody really enforcing anything in a consistent fashion. Sometimes action is taken and sometimes it is not, for very similar offenses. For example with the Saronite Bombs drama I know that Blizzard have seen the logs and they know we didn't know what was causing it. I've also heard that ban was initiated by a single person and that most people did not consider it a banning offense. That may or may not be true, however, if you compare it to many other things that happen it lacks consistency.
By this I mean events like Paragon keeping adds on Anub perma stunned or the mess that was Atramedes. These are both things where a core part of the fight that actually is what makes it hard is cut out by something not intended. I believe that if you do this knowingly it should be a bannable offense. There are lots more examples, but if you don't have anybody to accurately police it, it will always be a big mess. We actually could have killed Lich King Heroic very early with an exploit we found and we didn't, so I think you know when you are doing something wrong and when you aren't. It's all up to if you want to risk it or not.
I don't know, I don't really want to write too much on this, it's a massive grey area that will never be resolved.
I guess random loot is enjoyable for some since it's a gambling aspect. You are happy when what you want to get drops. Personally though, I think every boss should just drop a non descript token and you can turn it in for whatever item you want on an instance loot vendor. This would mean that guilds get the same levels of loot based on their progress rather than it mainly just being about luck. For example, during the first weeks of progress if you get no weapons or tank gear you will be at a severe disadvantage.
- Classes and balance
Restoration Shamans have been treated so badly over the years I just find it incredible Blizzard has done so little. Every top guild knows they are awful and don't use them on anything hard. I have had to switch to Elemental ever since Sunwell ended. For all the Shamans out there that still play (hi Barrel <3) I admire your persistence but I have now given up and rerolled. This should probably mean they get buffed a lot now!
I don't know that much about Lore. Most of my knowledge comes from playing Warcraft 1/2/3 RTS games. Yes I am much too old. I wouldn't change anything really since it doesn't influence me.
- New questing areas
I prefer linear questing because you have to think less and generally it's nice if you can just level up on autopilot and get it over and done with.
- Old questing areas
Again, I'm pretty indifferent but the main annoyance is just if you ran out of quests and had to grind or something in the really early days.
- Raid instances
- Boss encounters
M'uru slightly ahead of Mimiron
TBC, they really need to make another TBC.
- Tier set design(s)
Warrior set in BT was really nice I think. Shaman wise nothing was that amazing, it was just a relief if you had a kilt rather than pants!
- New Features
25 man raids are certainly better than 40 or 10. I think that the worst thing was having normal modes and hard modes and also limited tries. It should just be one difficulty and you nurf the content bit by bit after the first 100 guilds have completed it. The biggest problem is there is nothing epic among players anymore. Days gone by you would come across a player and he would be decked out in gear and it would make him a god. Now everyone is the same and anyone can get gear. It's very difficult to make your character special in any way.
WoW is just not a PvP game, you should just go play Starcraft or Quake if you want to PvP.
- 5 man dungeons
Heroics at the start of TBC were epic. I doubt 5 mans will ever be that good again. I think doing them for raiding items is really bad for the game.
- Game(s) aside from WoW
Starcraft 2 is the only other game I play at the moment. I also enjoying watching it when I get the chance. I played Quake for 8 years before I played WoW and haven't played any other MMO's.
Casuals and Hard-corers (it's a word), do you think Blizzard are doing a good job of catering to both?
If you want to cater for both you have to have content specifically designed for both. At the moment it is just 2 versions of the same content which creates a world with almost no gain being hardcore other than the competition aspect.
In closing, do you think we're headed in the right direction in top-end raiding, on Blizzard's side and on the guild's side?
I think the guild is certainly doing a good job in trying to rebuild. You have to acknowledge your weaknesses and improve rather than trying to beat a dead horse. I don't think we will instantly return to rank 1 but I do think we will steadily improve from this point on and I look forward to seeing some new unknown talent coming into the guild.
For Blizzard Firelands is certainly a big improvement. We need to tone down the PTR testing, through, and try to widen the gap between hardcore and casual. The gains for playing the amount we do are not enough, right now most people play for Wowprogress rather than what the game actually rewards them with and I think that is quite sad.