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The Raiding Pinnacle: Premonition

Article originally posted on Manaflask

Xav, Premonition's guild leader, took some time out to have a chat with us last week, just before Dragon Soul heroic progress started. We talked about the raiding scene, US-EU differences, how to improve the game, Firelands and Dragon Soul, and what makes Premonition what they are.

Introducions!

Premonition formed in TBC, a merger between Titan and Surreal. In T6 content Premonition shot up to top 10 or so US. Since then the guild has steadily improved its rankings, and is still home to members who have been there since its inception 5 years ago. Xav is the current guild leader, and has been a member since T6.


As a top US guild, what are your views on the differences between EU and US raiding? Is your goal still to be World No 1 or US No1? Can US guilds even truly compete with the Europeans?

Any guild can compete with EU guilds, hence Asian guilds crushing them occasionally. The blunt truth is that some cultures are able to support grueling raid schedules (the kind that happen during new content) better than others. Some US guilds have taken up the mantle of the EU/asian guilds that raid 12+ hours a day for weeks on end. It's not a secret, we've seen these guilds starting raids at hours around 11AM in the US, and then they proceed to raid all day, for several weeks. That's something we're only able to coordinate a maximum of like, once per progression cycle. Otherwise, the real life obligations simply make it impossible to raid during the day. That's all I think separates the actual guild rankings. Because of the aforementioned, it may be difficult for us to be #1 again, but that doesn't mean we're not going to try.


What do you think you guys do differently from other guilds?

We really, really think outside the box. We'll do everything in our power to make something easier, as long as it's not a blatant exploit. I also think we treat our member and recruitment process different from practically every other guild out there. Not to divulge too much about it, but we're actually looking to recruit players that are interested in a gaming community for the foreseeable future, and not just something to get their name stamped on an MMO frontpage screenshot or something like that.


Is the guild composed of mostly US players, or even all? Regardless whether you are or not, what's your opinion on single-country guilds like Paragon and For the Horde, do they have an advantage over international ones?

The guild has 1 England chap, 1 NZ mate, and like 10 or so Canadians. The rest play in the US. We've got some ex-TW/CN players. Single-country guilds may have an advantage in that if they're a premiere guild, anyone in those countries that want a guild in their native language would be applying to them. Thus, they may receive a surprisingly high number of applicants. Any Finnish player that is exceptional at the game has probably applied to Paragon, for example. Whereas a fraction of the exceptional US players have applied to Premo.


What do you think of the progress the game has made since it came out, what were some of the crucial moments in WoW history for you and how did they change the game?

Crucial moments, hmm. Raids being downsized from 40 to 25 was pretty huge, but ultimately I think for the better. Another crucial moment was probably the release of Ulduar, as that really marked an end of an era. From that point on, hard modes were a toggle, and not the organic, "natural" feel of those before it. The game's gotten better, but we're all so jaded at this point as many of us have played for 7 years. It's laid down some serious foundations and expectations for how a solid MMO should work. It's also had a ton of time to iterate on the stuff that just doesn't work.


To what extent do you monitor what other guilds are doing and does it influence you?

I bet if we cared to look, we could find some live stream of someone in any of the guilds higher ranked than us or working on the content with us, just because of the constant vying for attention and face time that goes on. Otherwise, they're usually unable to resist dropping hints on their progress to their friends or in whispers or in public channels in an attempt to impress, brag, and invoke wonder. Through the grape vine, stuff gets out. In general, we don't do anything special. It's hard to not notice something like "oh, so and so guild started raiding 6 hours earlier than us today, so they're probably farther along".


Time investment in raiding. Do you think it's basically a necessity to be able to raid almost all day every day now, in order to be competitive in the World First race? What are your thoughts on that?

It's 100% necessary. It began as an arms race, and I can remember back to TBC when guilds weren't actually raiding insane hours and still pulling world firsts. Then, guilds started to just raid more and more, squeezing in more raiding hours inside of their days, to beat those that used to be ahead of them. This keeps happening until guilds are essentially raiding as soon as the servers are up, and then at some insane hour early in the morning until extremely late at night. I can't pretend to know how this is actually possible for such long periods by so many guilds, but I do know that it's something that we can't do and also aren't interested in doing. We took off one day for Firelands heroic release, and that was the first day. We didn't do too bad, and were content with the progress and firsts we obtained. However, after that, we quickly fell 'behind' due to the raw difference in time we had. We're going to have the same idea for Dragon Soul; taking one day off, but then resuming a mostly normal schedule. You can only get so far or do so well within X amount of time, and apparently that's the rank we ended up at. Time to see if it varies in Dragon Soul!

How did you feel about the Firelands progress length? How did it impact the guild and what would you change about it?

Firelands progress length was about par for most people, but that was solely because of Ragnaros. A more gradual difficulty increase would have been vastly better, but I think Blizzard is acutely aware of that now after the fact. Ultimately, Ragnaros saved the instance for the hardcore, because the first 6 bosses didn't last at all, and then Ragnaros took absolutely forever. It had no special impact on the guild.


How would you say Firelands rated vs. tier 11 in terms of difficulty and in general compared to previous raids (with Ragnaros in mind in paticular)?

If you view T11 as a finished product and not the work in progress it was when most guilds got to it, then I think T11 was much better. T11 content was quite varied, with a LOT of individual bosses being difficult and unkilled for an extended period of time. Nothing was impossible or even conventionally impossible. I was bothered by the situation that was Al'akir and Nefarian though, where they were overly difficult (and in some cases impossible), probably completely unintentionally. Ragnaros was easily the most difficult encounter to ever be made or beaten in its original form. This was cool, but now the guilds that did beat it are probably never going to be punished that hard again... unless Madness of Deathwing has a long life!


Exploits. 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 or previous ones 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? How do you feel about Blizzard even putting you in such a position to have to "choose" between a questionable tactic and laging behind on progress?

An exploit is using Disgusting Oozling macro spam to clear Digestive Acid in C'Thun's stomach. An exploit is spamming mind vision to remove Burning Adrenaline. An exploit is using grenades to rebuild the Lich King's platform. An exploit is running Majordomo Fandral Staghelm away from his Orbs so that they stop hitting people. An exploit is using pets to trigger the exploding baneling spiders on Beth'tilac heroic. The ones in Firelands, at least, were probably discovered on PTR, but not reported by the guilds who used them because they wanted to gain an advantage. Every guild has used a questionable tactic in the past. There's a lot of gray area, and you just have to try and be wise and not scummy about it. If it's something Blizzard has flipped back and forth on several times (ie, spell reflect, grounding totem), then it's probably fine to just use it and wait and see if they're going to fix it or not. If it's something that is just clearly not behaving in a way that makes sense given everything else in the game, it's probably an exploit. Most true hardcore players that are knowledgeable about the game's history are capable of discerning what's an exploit and what's not. But boy do we ever like to play dumb to try and prevent public backlash.


Class balance and class stacking - one of the more controversial issues of this expansion so far, considering alts are now a must-have to be competitive in the top raiding scene, what are your thoughts on that?

Inevitable. No class is equal to another, and there is always some unique ability a class has that can be fully utilized to make them far better than others in their role on any given fight. If you want to have the best chance of succeeding, you should be able to stack those 11 feral druids. Realistically, many guilds can't get quite that diversified. Personally, we just have each person play one alt, often a completely different role from their main, so that we can increase our flexibility a little bit if needed. This is something we only started doing in Cataclysm, but will probably keep on with.


How would you improve on the overall raid design that is currently in place?

- Normal modes would only be available week 1.
- LFR difficulty would be made to not enable gaming the system to funnel loot. (Right now, LFR is the worst thing to happen for competitive guilds, it encourages really stupid behaviour to min/max)
- Heroic bosses would be more difficult early on, (so the scale starts at say a 7 and ends at a 10, rather than starting at a 3 or 4 and ending at a 10)
- Heroic bosses would be gated by time, similar to Sunwell, but with less time spent between each gate (maybe 4 weeks total)
- Raiding for more than 8 hours a day would cause your computer to explode

Firelands

You've been among the top guilds for a long time and cemented that with a top 10 finish. How do you feel about your performance and the place you secured, does it reflect where you think the skill level of the guild is?

We're content with how we did. Going forward, we always want to perform better than we did in the last tier - but that's a goal everyone has. I know nearly every guild in the top 10 has the potential to be a world first guild. The difference almost always ends up being time invested, though.


After all the commotion that accompanied the Dungeon Journal's release, did it really impact the way you prepared for bosses and learned about the fights or was it just a small bonus to the process already in place?

Yes. It caused us to have a bunch of forum threads talking about all of the abilities and how we think we'll handle it, and then caused a lot of stupid theorycrafting and preparation for stuff we hadn't seen yet. It also completely removed just about all of the surprise from every encounter. Knowing what Heroic Ragnaros was about before ever pulling it, since it wasn't on PTR, was quite a let down. Thankfully, the encounter was difficult enough that even being handed a strategy on a silver platter wouldn't have mattered. But, final end boss heroic surprises are some of the major draws of being a progression raider.


Favorites!

- Raid instances
* Sunwell, Ulduar
- Boss encounters
* Mimiron Firefighter, Sarth 103D, Yogg0, Heroic Al'Akir, Magmaw Heroic (original version, with all the shenanigans), Heroic Ragnaros
- Expansion
* The Burning Crusade
- Tier set design(s)
* Judgement, Dreadnaught, Warrior Sunwell armor, Warrior Firelands armor, Paladin 4.3 PvP set
- New Features
* The majority of the new features in WoW have been fast improvements. I'm not really sure if I have a favorite. Maybe lowering the cooldown on server transfers? Cross server chat/bgs/instances
- 5 man dungeons
* The Shattered Halls pre-nerf
- Class
* Isn't it obvious?! Warrior
- Game(s) aside from WoW
* League of Legends (Leona!)


Do many/any of your members PvP and is it a part of the guild itself?

A large number of people in the guild PvP, and we have a dedicated team that was extremely active once progress was over, even though it's a new thing for us. It isn't official or mandated by the guild, nor do we recruit for it. But I know they've got their eyes set on going to the top with it or whatnot. I personally don't find there to be much draw for me in WoW PvP.


PTR testing of new raid instances.

Do you hate it as much as other guilds?


It's necessary. I didn't hate it until the most recent few patches where all of the PTR testing is done on Blizzard work hours only. It's more convenient for them, but ends up working out so that a small amount of US/NA guilds can participate in it (those that can somehow raid all hours of the day), and then any EU/TW guild can go to it because the time is very easy for them to attend to.


Do you think that it really is neccessary, could Blizzard test the stuff internally well enough if they tried properly?

It's almost necessary. Even with PTR testing, tons of stuff makes it through live. If Blizzard had a large enough internal raid testing team, that was skilled enough, obviously they probably wouldn't need to release the raid content on the PTR's anymore. However, that's a big investment, and possibly only situationally useful. For the time being, PTR's are here to stay and that's just a fact of life, if you want a better end product.


How much of an impact is it (for you) on the real progression race when it starts?

It hardly impacts us at all because we can't really make the PTR schedules anymore. We raided 1 encounter in 25 heroic, out of the 7 that were available on PTR at some point or another. We were able to raid a few of the 10s. Basically, we're just starting fresh on live, with a few snippets of information we got from the PTR.


Dragon Soul

You've had a good look at the new bosses coming in 4.3, what are your overall thoughts on them?

Seems like we're going to have 3ish challenging encounters, and the rest will die on the first night for all of the top 20ish guilds. I'll sure look like a huge douche if we end up stumbling and not killing the par number of bosses the first night though!


Which one was your favorite and which one do you think is best designed?

Warmaster Blackhorn seems like it's going to be the most difficult and dynamic encounter, since it doesn't seem like there's a strict formulaic way to always win. Corrupted Deathwing will probably be the most difficult overall, but I think it's going to be something that people will be able to repeat kills on without too much trouble.

I really like the new ideas used on Zon'ozz, Yor'sahj, and Hagara, but due to their position in the instance it seems as though they're destined to not be tuned that strictly.


Do you think Blizzard is doing a good job of fixing the issues you encountered, and do you think the raid will be bug-free when it releases?


It's a matter of testing audience/exposure/probability. There's a small amount of people that see the content on PTR/internally. There's magnitudes more that raid it once it goes live. If an issue is one that is rarely encountered, it's entirely possible that we never see it while we're raiding it on the PTR, yet we will see it on live, as well as many others. There's nothing that can really be done about that, it's just the way things work. A ton of issues are always fixed on PTR's, and yes, some definitely still get through or slip through the cracks. Raid content has been getting less and less buggy as the game ages, so clearly something is improving!


Do you think this will be the right amount of bosses for progress?

8 bosses is a fairly good number. Anything like Naxxramas or Ulduar will likely never happen again, so 7-8 is probably the sweet spot. What's a better indicator, though, is the difficulty granularity, and whether or not everyone goes 7/8 right away and takes forever on the last boss. We'll just have to see if there are multiple bosses that draw raider attention for more than a day.

Mists of Pandaria

With the new expansion having been announced and a lot of info spilling out already, what are your thoughts about it overall? What do you think about the new talent system?


I am eagerly awaiting the chance to play as a monk so I can tank, heal, and DPS all at the same time, and be horrifically overpowered while doing so. I think it's going to be a fun expansion with a surprising amount of new stuff and revamping. The new talent system is incredible, and should open up tons of possibility for people. It makes me wonder if respeccing is going to become something you can do out of combat anywhere, and not need to be in town or whatnot. (So there wont be a need for a dual-spec or whatever)


Will it matter whether the raid instances and bosses are completely new to the lore and not iconic villains from the Warcaft universe, or will it be business as usual?

Business as usual! I don't think Lore really ends up being a huge concern for raiders - they're either raiding to see their names on the shiny scoreboards, raiding for loot, or raiding because they are doing it as an activity with buddies. As long as we're having some major lore characters pop up in the expansion in some way, we're good to go. Blizzard's always been good about putting major lore characters in to all of the raids as it were, anyway.


Casuals and Hard-corers (it's a word), do you think Blizzard are doing a good job of catering to both?

It's mostly catered to the casual gamer now. Hardcore players are starting to realize, I think (at least the older generation of hardcore raiders) that there is always going to be limited content for us, it's the nature of why we're hardcore. As long as we're able to do other things to occupy our time, but want to keep coming back to WoW on a 'seasonal' basis, then it's working fine. So far, it is. Just don't do anything too drastic like completely gloss over any semblance of difficulty curve or allow the casual gamer to achieve gear, rewards, and prestige equal to a hardcore gamer, and we'll be fine. Thankfully, that hasn't quite happened yet.

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'm refering mostly to the long hours and alts etc required now as top end guilds)

It's not required. It's just what you should do if you want to stack everything in your favor. There's nothing Blizzard can realistically do to stifle the desires of the hardcore to spend every waking hour on the game to gain an advantage. It's up to the players to think about where the line is drawn, and if they want to jump on the boat. Think back to TBC - SSC and TK saw world firsts from US and EU sides, and on the US the raids were about 4 or 5 hours long. Nowadays, that's nothing. If you put the mentality and mindset of a guild of present back to the content in TBC, you'd see everything cleared in one day. People are spending close to infinite time on the game, ie playing it endlessly. How can you realistically support that player?

I find myself still playing WoW over 7 years later. I've long since not played it due to the intense interest in PvP or raiding, but because of the social connections I've made through the game. WoW strongly supports and encourages playing with groups of people, and so once people find a guild - hopefully one that they like - they may end up wanting to just exist and be online in WoW to socialize with that group of players. The game continues to support that in better and grander ways, and so I feel it's doing well.