Mourning The Past

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Another Time

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Lately I have been struggling with fits of nostalgia, mostly surrounding World of Warcraft and in the middle of it I had a revelation.  I know the moment I started to distance myself from raiding, and the events that lead up to me ultimately checking out mentally.  When the Cataclysm patch went live, Blizzard in their infinite wisdom decided to deeply incentivize guild-centric raiding.  This was probably a no brainer for them, because in truth this is more than likely how the vast majority of people raided.  If you wanted to raid… you went and found a raid guild… and life moved on normally from that point onwards.  Since the early days of Vanilla however…  we never really raided like this.  There was a clear distinction between “The Raid” and “The Guild” that was significantly harder to maintain after Cataclysm.  The reason being that we raided as an entity that was distinct from any of the guilds that came together to make it up… we raided as a coalition of sorts.  In Vanilla it was the Late Night Raiders, in Burning Crusade it was mostly No Such Raid… and from late BC through Wrath we formed the Duranub Raiding Company.  In each case the “raid” was an organization with a distinct leadership, made up of a bunch of people from different styles of guilds, with the one thing in common… that they wanted to clear content.

There was relatively no pressure to join any of the guilds, though folks did from time to time filter back and forth between them…  nor was the fixed and set number of guilds that made up the roster.  It allowed us to recruit people to fill slots, without asking them to give up everything they knew about the game from that point… just to raid.  It also allowed people who were far more comfortable in five or six player guilds to remain in their small close knit groups, while still having access to a larger raiding life.  It also solved some of the problems that you run into with guild based raiding, where individuals have the impression that if they join X guild they will have an automatic guaranteed spot in X raid.  We were able to keep a completely separate infrastructure, with its own rules and tenets, and then fall back on our larger social guild for non-raiding interactions.  It was a structure that felt so natural to me, and it almost seemed like a personal affront when the Cataclysm changes showed that they would be shifting focus away from this style of raiding, and only crediting kills to the guild with the largest number of members.

Death of Duranub

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When Cataclysm launched we tried an experiment that ultimately failed.  House Stalwart, the guild I had lead since the day World of Warcraft launched… attempted to consume all of the smaller satellite guilds for the purpose of “keeping the raid together”.  So over night we quite literally went from a 600 character guild to an over 900 character guild.  With this came so many different cultures and so many different “norms” that it rapidly became a jumbled mess.  We also made the decision to focus on 10 player raid groups, and ended up splintering the raid into a bunch of teams.  The problem there is that not all teams were created equal, and some of the teams had the deck stacked heavily including more of the seasoned raiders.  So when the progress was not equal, it caused strife and competitiveness between the groups, where it had never existed before.  Previously we were there Duranub Raiding Company… we were a group that made the easy things look hard… and the hard things look easy.  The phrase “Duranub” tied lineage back to a saying that Shiana the leader of my first raid group said about the Late Night Raiders… that we were a “Durable Pack of Nubs”.  In fact Duranub was our attempt to pull out the best things we experienced during Late Night Raiders and congeal them into a modern raid group.

In the process all of the officers sacrificed a lot of their time… and for me a lot of my sanity to keep it going.  So when that disolved and we splintered into smaller raid teams…  it introduced a whole mix of things that I just didn’t care about any more.  I have never been a competitive player, and I have never cared about clearing content first.  I am all about working together with my friends to make bosses dead, and to get new and interesting pieces of gear.  So when I felt like I was in a competition with those same friends, it somehow tarnished the experience.  When Rift launched it became all too easy for me to walk away from World of Warcraft, because the thing that had been keeping me in the game for so long… was this concept that I believe in so deeply.  That you could gather up a bunch of disparate parts and make them into a raid group…  and have fun doing it.  The problem with raiding as a guild… is often times there are people that you end up raiding with…  that you don’t want to share a guild with.  They are great raiders, but lacking in the human being department.  The end result causes you to make compromises…  and either diluting the atmosphere of your guild… or sacrificing talent for the sake of culture.  This is the part that I was never really able to put into words before now.

Extended Family

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I have been nostalgic lately, and it seems to be far less about what we did in World of Warcraft, and more about who I was doing it with.  When I said the other day that I didn’t wan’t World of Warcraft, I wanted the WoW that existed in 2009 during the Wrath of the Lich King patch cycle…  I meant more than just the game.  I experienced that game with a certain set of individuals and a certain feeling of togetherness… and that is the game that I want back more than anything.  So many of the people I’ve raided with, I keep in touch with today on a regular basis…  definitely more that any other group of people that have been in my life.  I don’t talk to anyone from High School, and there is only a couple of folks from college that I keep in touch with other than my wife.  I have a notoriously bad track record at keeping in contact with folks I have worked with in the past… but when it comes to folks I have raided with…  three of the five other people in the AggroChat podcast are folks I have raided with since Vanilla.  Rae and Dallian I’ve raided at least on some level with since Burning Crusade.  Other than that there is a huge list of people that I have raided with in one fashion or another that I talk to on IM or Slack, which shows how much more important this group is to me than pretty much any other.

When you spend year after year with these people, even though it is only on voice chat… you develop a bond that is forged in shared struggle towards a goal.  Having never really been serious about sports, maybe this is the same sort of bond you develop between your team mates, or the same sort of bond that soldiers come out of conflict with.  Whatever it is, it is important to me… and what Cataclysm and our decision to abandon 25 player raiding did was to force me to choose between which group of friends to play with.  House Stalwart forged on without me, and when I came back during Warlords out of the ashes of numerous groups was forged a really fun raid team.  I got to experience the content with people that I had not played with in years.. and for a moment it was magical.  The problem being… even then, it just wasn’t quite the same.  It is impossible to sort out guild drama and raid drama… when both are mixed into one big amalgam.  So as I sit back being nostalgic… I miss the era of non-guild raiding.  If I could bring back any one element of the past, it would be that… and even put in systems like formal raid alliances to bolster that style of game play.  If there is one thing I have learned throughout the years… it is that raid guilds are just not for me.  What I want is to be able to have my friendly social guild… and raid effectively at the same time.  While that might sound like wanting it all at the same time…  I did have it for years, which is why I miss it so much looking back upon it.

The Bunny Incident

I have a pretty bad habit of wanting to spawn a feature on my blog and then having it die after a few posts.  Anyone remember Steampowered Sundays for example?  That one I still want to get back to eventually, but with the whole editing and posting of aggrochat often times spilling over into Sunday morning I simply ran out of available time there.  All of this said the other day I was working on providing some information for Sypster on a feature he is working on.  It got me thinking how many tall tales from the mmoverse I have in me.  There are many stories that at the time were frustrating but become more humorous through the lens of nostalgia.  I think we as gamers all have thousands of such tales in us, and with this new feature my goal is to try and devote some time to committing these to paper.  Nostalgia is a powerful force, but one that is fun to wallow in every now and then.

The Bunny Incident

Wrath of the Lich King was both an amazing and an extremely frustrating expansion for my raid.  We had some of our greatest moments, but also some of our most frustrating experiences.  All of which lead me to be a very grumpy person a good deal of the time.  Most of you know me as the generally positive person that I portray on my blog and through social media.  This is all an act, or at least it was when I first embarked upon the journey.  By nature I can be pretty cynical and pessimistic, and it is a sheer act of will that I fight this every day striving to find the silver lining in every cloud.  I spent a good deal of time “faking it until I made it” as it were, and for the most part it worked.  It helped to pull me out of one of the greatest funks in my life.  Today I am going to uncork the events of what lives in infamy within the guild has come to call “the bunny incident”.

When Wrath launched we hit it by storm and our twenty five man completely wrecked Naxxramas 2.0.  We thought we were awesome… but the problem was that the content was way easier than we were used to.  As such our raid got soft and too used to being able to walk into the zone and destroy everything around us.  So when Ulduar launched… it was like a harsh reality check.  Everything about the raid was infinitely harder, and required every single player to pay attention and perform to the best of their ability.  This was not helped by the fact that during this time we had a lot of politics in the decisions behind our raid composition.  We had a number of situations where we had one extremely highly performing raid member, tied to a piece of dead weight… that we were forced to drag along with us in order to get the high performing member.

The Bad Times

Additionally during Ulduar we went through a revolving door of tanks, making it a constant struggle to try and teach a third tank that was drastically undergeared how to survive the completely silly amount of damage that the encounters in Ulduar were heaping upon us.  None of this made for particularly happy times for me.  When the going got tough…  people started flaking out and simply not attending.  There were many nights that people would be available for the farmed content, but when it came to a progression night full of wipes we were barely able to scrape together twenty five people.  It seemed like every step forward, caused us to take a giant leap backwards.  We spent a lot of time during this period wiping to content we had already had on farm because we lacked the resources to really keep going.

We did what any raid would do… and went into overdrive trying to recruit solid people to bolster our waning numbers.  With this came a clash of cultures, because quite honestly we were a much more forgiving raid than most.  This caused some of our new recruits to not really take things as seriously as they should.  At times it felt like trying to teach a kindergarten classroom how to file their yearly tax returns…  but we mostly struggled through at the cost of my own sanity.  We had stabilized and were pushing forward, and one night we were making some very serious progress on Kologarn.  In fact I would say the mood in the raid was pretty jolly as folks were finally starting to get how they needed to move, and when we needed to break people out of the hands.  I felt pretty confident that we would be able to beat the boss that night.

The Event

I believe it was Thalen that had just finished delivering some advise to tweak things up a bit… and I in my normal antsy fashion was pacing back and forth asking if I could pull yet.  I tend to get super impatient before a pull, because I pump myself up for the fight and get the adrenaline coursing… and then have to do something with the nervous energy until go time.  I had just started running in when it happened.  On of our players decided it would be funny to use the the Blossoming Branch on me as I ran in, turning me into a bunny.  The problem is while in bunny form you can take no actions, and I could not click it off in time before Kologarn destroyed me, and subsequently wiped the raid.  Looking back upon it now…  it is kind of funny, but at the time I was not amused at all.

I don’t really know what I said exactly, in some way I almost blacked out during the event.  All I do know is that I apparently proceeded to curse and rant on voice chat for a good ten minutes about what just happened unleashing all of the pent up frustrations I had about the raid group, the lack of effort some individuals were putting into it, and wrapping it all up in a neat rage fueled bow.  I do remember saying that I would be going through the logs line by line after the raid to find out who it was that did it, and they would no longer be welcome in our raid from that point on.  I think I went on to say that I would go so far as to tell the other raid leaders about the incident, because at that time in our servers history… pretty much all of the raid leaders knew each other and talked regularly.  When you got blacklisted by one, you often times got blacklisted by all of them.

The Coming Down

While the guy who did it did not fess up during the heat of the moment…  he did come to me later and apologize.  He went so far as to mail every person in the raid some gold for the repair bill he caused.  He truly felt sorry for doing it, and we didn’t end up kicking him from the raid, or anything severe.  Basically this was the moment I realized that I needed to change something, because I was feeling entirely too much stress and frustration over a game.  I apparently scarred some of the raid members for life, and for the rest of that expansion it was like they were gunshy that “Angry Bel” would come out again.  It is still talked about in our guild, as a sort of cautionary tale…  like “Don’t make Bel mad, you won’t like him when he’s angry” sort of thing.  Its all in good fun now, but I know at the time I quite literally scared some of our members.

I tried really hard to take less of a direct role with some of the raid decisions.  This was the era when I realized that I could not be both the friendly happy guild master everyone knew.. and be the raid leader that everyone needed at the same time.  I think this was really the beginning of the end with me and World of Warcraft, but I ultimately did not leave until Cataclysm.  I kept changing things up trying to keep the game viable.  During Crusaders Coliseum for example I switched from Warrior main to Death Knight main, but regardless of what I did there was still a pool of bitterness there.  This has been the event I think of every time I consider leading a raid again.  Ultimately we have to know the limits, and know what will happen to us deep down inside when we push those limits too far.  Now I am happy to be the cruise director of the guilds I am part of, and the man with the recruitment van.  I strive on a daily basis to remain the “Happy Bel” folks have come to appreciate and keep the “angry wrathful god of vengeance” locked up deep inside.