Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

Posts tagged ‘the social aspect’

Blizzcon Recap

I’m home! What a whirlwind of a trip that was. I’m going to do my best to hit the high points in this recap but I have a tendency to be verbose so… It’ll probably run long. Consider this fair warning!

Voss and I had decided to roll into Anaheim a day early (Wednesday) just to give us time to get settled and ready before the lines, crowds and social whirlwind commenced on Thursday. We were also staying a day after, not leaving until early Monday morning. This was in large part so that I could go to Disney(!) with friends. Big caveat: I am going to really, really try to remember who I met and when but if I happen to overlook you it’s not because I wasn’t happy to meet you! I loved meeting everybody. But I also tried to make a list on the plane and at last count I had met 56 people, and that’s just the ones whose names I knew or learned. I also talked to some people and I have no idea who they are.

Day 1 (Wednesday, Travel Day)

Our trip from home to San Francisco and then finally Anaheim seemed disproportionately long. If we go again I am going to really try to find a direct flight. But we flew into John Wayne (SNA) which was nice because it’s pretty close to Anaheim and the convention center. We flew United and I found them really disorganized from the very beginning. So that’s good to know. I’m hearing good things about Delta so I may seek them out for next time. We made it from the airport to the Hilton pretty easily. The only downside of this was that it was 12:00 PM PST and we couldn’t check in yet.

So instead we had them keep our bags for us and caught a cab over to the outdoor outlet mall, “The Outlets at Orange.” This was really surreal for me. Coming from Canada, where obviously an outdoor mall isn’t feasible, it was really weird to be walking through the “mall” in the sunshine. Also, to add to that feeling, the speakers were piping Christmas music throughout. I accomplished my goal of finding a pair of jeans (and an extra pair for 50% off!) so the trip was deemed a success! I wish I hadn’t been so tired from traveling as plenty of other stores looked interesting but I just didn’t have the energy to drag myself through them. We said maybe we’d come back but clearly we were dreaming there.

By the time we got back to the hotel, though, some of our people had begun to arrive. We met up with the pally group in the food court – Rhidach, Antigen, Theck and Mel, and also Anafielle for a little bit. It was the first time we were meeting our guildie and Voss’ co-tank, Rhidach, as well as Antigen (former and honorary BT member) so that was great. I think we got over any awkwardness pretty quickly. We spent quite a bit of time with these folks over the course of the week, forming an unofficial posse. (Voss surrounded himself with paladins. I’m not really sure why since he’s such a vocal opponent of them).

Anyway, we all retired to our rooms to freshen up and wash off the travel grime. Afterwards we went down to the lobby and had a few drinks while waiting for our dinner reservation at 8:00 p.m, which turned out to be at 8:50. The steak and everything else at Morton’s was really, really good and the conversation was great too. Most of our party was fairly drunk-ish by this point, excluding Theck, Voss and myself. Theck because he doesn’t drink very much, me because I couldn’t drink at all during this time, and Voss because of solidarity. I think we were in our rooms and sleeping by 11:00 PM.

dafs

View from our hotel room!

Day 2 (Thursday, Pre-Con Day!)

I woke up bright and early on Thursday morning at 6:08 AM and was completely wide-awake and felt well-rested. But hungry. So I took to Twitter, assuming nobody else could possibly be awake that early. But fortunately (for me, not sure how they felt about it) due to time differences, Theck, Perculia and Hamlet were all awake and willing to meet up to have breakfast. It was really great to meet Hamlet and Perc; we’ve interacted some on Twitter but I don’t know them really well. We got to thank Hamlet in person for his challenge mode videos that helped us while we were working on our CMs. Later, Rhidach and Antigen joined us at breakfast as did Ilaniel who it was also great to meet! I had a brief “duh” moment after forgetting my Metformin and having to run upstairs for it after I drank a glass of orange juice. Whoa, blood sugar. I tried to be more careful about it after that and keep in mind that even though I was on vacation I couldn’t really just eat or drink whatever, especially things like juice. But it gave me a chance to grab the cookies from our room that I’d brought for the WoW Insider team’s headquarters, which I passed off to Ilaniel who kindly delivered them for me. We sat and talked for several hours before we started moving in separate directions to prepare for the day.

Around lunchtime we were getting hungry and my guildie Elfindale had just landed along with her work friend so we met up with them at their hotel and walked until we found some lunch. The lunch wasn’t outstanding but the company was great, I love meeting my guildies and Twitter friends in person!

Actually, I want to take a moment to talk about that because it’s one of my favourite things: Having known someone online and then meeting them in the “real” world for the first time and just observing how they are. The way they smile or laugh, their mannerisms, even just their way of moving. I hope this doesn’t sound creepy because it’s not like that, it’s just really so nice and enjoyable to put faces to names and really get to KNOW a person. Hear their voice without a microphone and hug them! I love it, and it was really the highlight of my trip for me, every single person that I met. I learned that Aerix88 gives great burly hugs and looks a bit like his Pandaren avatar, that Matty is just as exuberant in real life as she is in her writing, and that my own friend Rhidach isn’t even exactly how I’d expected him to be. He’s usually a pretty calm guy (online) and he’s calm in person too but he’s also more expressive than I’d expected, dramatically gesturing to accompany his outbursts, it was fantastic. Now when I talk to these people online I’m going to have a much better sense of who they really are, and that’s amazing to me.

So, we had lunch with Elfindale and then went back to the lobby at the Hilton where people had started to arrive en masse. I got to hug the Sha of Happiness (as happy as advertised), Angry Orc (actually happier than advertised, declaring “C’MERE AND GIMME A GOOD HUG,” he sort of does talk all in caps though). I also met Alinea, Jezi_Belle and StarmHW and Ailinea from Twitter which was cool. Ailinea would later rock her fantastic Ashes of A’lar costume for the costume contest!

This was the day a few of the people I had done badges for found me, too. For various reasons: Timbersham had forgotten his badge and I offered him one of my business cards with his picture on it as a substitute. Marconin needed his painting signed (/sigh at myself). Arielle found us and hung out a bit too. It was great to see my badge paintings in action and know that people were really enjoying them. I think they were a good mix of visible and useful souvenir for afterwards. We also ran into Jasyla and Serrath in the lobby after they had arrived, we didn’t get much chance to talk but it was nice to catch up a little!

That evening was the WoW Insider/Wowhead party and we planned to get there really early so that we could get in. It turned out that 5 pm wasn’t quite early enough as people were already starting to line up for the party. Though we probably could’ve skipped the line due to working at WoW Insider, we waited anyhow and it didn’t take very long. This day began my day of Regrets About Shoes, as my cute dress flats are…well, cute, but not very cushioned and not great for standing around on hard pavement/tiles for hours at a time.

The party itself was really enjoyable. We met Matticus soon after coming in, and, definitely a man of priorities, he showed us over to the bar immediately. We also went to meet Alex Ziebart. Ilaniel (Sarah Pine) and Lisa Poisso were taking tickets at the entrance but I didn’t get a chance to really “meet” Lisa until Saturday. After we got drinks and as we were standing there, a lady nearby me kept kind of turning her head to look at me, then looking away, with a big grin. I thought she looked a bit familiar and then I saw her tattoos – it was definitely Hestiah! I went over, “Hestiah…?” “VID!” and she gave me a big hug. Nearby was also Apple Cider Mage, and we also met and hugged! Soon we were joined by Tikari and Kristin, and I also got to meet Orkchop, Mrs. Orkchop, and Tree Buddy. I can’t remember if I met Corv at this party or if that wasn’t until later. I know I definitely saw Ophelie again which was great! We see her at least once a year usually since we live in the same province, but still it’s always nice to catch up!

We left the WI party at around 8:00 p.m. to go and line up and get our badges for the next day. It was funny, as we came out of the party there was a huuuge line of people waiting and hoping to get in. We walked by and I heard some guy mutter to his friends, “Must be VIPS,” haha. We also found our guildie Tassager waiting in the line and got to meet him for the first time. He left and came along with us to pick up badges.We’d surmised that if we waited until later there’d be no line – we were WRONGO. But the line wasn’t too terribly bad, it moved very efficiently, and I limped through it, a martyr to Poor Shoe Choices. Apple Cider Mage and I got a chance to hang out and talk during this time which was great. HayFayFay from Twitter also went out of her way to find out who I was through Hestiah and we had a brief moment to chat.

The line itself was pretty much cattle herding. Long, narrow single-file rows that we had to briskly walk through, up and down, up and down. By the time we hit the end they printed our badge, handed us the swag bag, and sent us on our merry way. When we got back to the Hilton the lobby party was in full swing and it was way too much for me so we took some folks up to our room. I did get to see Sara very briefly though, as she practically knocked me across the lobby with a hug! We’d taken advantage of an offer the hotel sent us to upgrade to a suite, so we were able to fit fourteen of us in there actually reasonably comfortably. We had to sit on the bed and some on the floor but we made it work. We ordered a couple of pizzas from room service, which they sent up along with some glasses of ice cold water. I realized I’d have to get up onto my battered feet and play hostess and so I started bringing people water and someone shouted, “VID HAS CONJURED US WATER!” and everyone laughed while I swore at them that they had me CONJURING WATER ALREADY. Ah, the life of a mage.

This was the evening we got to meet Beru and Brade as well! Beru was already lined up to be my Disney guide on Sunday but it was super to talk a bit in person. We didn’t stay too late in the suite, everyone cleared out to go and get some rest because the next day was officially Blizzcon!

IMG_1039Hey it’s me with my FDWL stickers, ready to roll for the con! I put this picture on Twitter so that anyone looking for me could find me!

Day 3 (Friday, Opening Ceremonies)

We woke up pretty early to start getting into line but not before getting breakfast at the buffet. To our dismay, the line wasn’t a line so much as it was a mass of people crowded in front of the convention centre. It seemed unruly and like it would be a huge mess. They weren’t supposed to let us into the con until 11:00 AM (I believe) but somewhere around 10 AM the line had reached the street and organizers made the call to start letting people in to get settled. I am so glad that they did. Everyone streamed to either the right or left and we started going in the doors. Once inside, we waited a bit longer before they started checking bags/purses and then letting us into the hall. We wanted to be in the main hall for the opening ceremonies, and so we scrambled to get seats. It was just Mel, Tass, Voss and I because Rhidach and Antigen had been way ahead of us in the crowd/line but we got some decent seats at the front of a section with a good view of a screen.

We killed time for awhile until the opening ceremony. Once it started we were completely sucked in. I, of course, was over the moon at the announcements. Rhidach remarked that I began “barfing rainbows” when they showed the cinematic but I’m here to tell you it was actually more like cheering myself hoarse. Going back to Draenor! Draenei! KARABOR. Oh man. After the ceremonies Voss got up to go and find where Rhidach and Antigen were (they’d procured some more seats closer to them) and I got to chatting with the guys sitting next to us during the ceremony.They were also excited about the expansion and we had a great chat. So when Voss came back and said, “Okay, let’s go,” to meet up with Rhi, I worked up my courage to give the one guy a card and said “I do the art for the comic From Draenor With Love…” and he shouted, “I READ THAT ALL THE TIME! I just went on an archive binge!” So that was pretty awesome. Then his friend further down the row was kind of like, “What? Who?” and Voss said, “She’s Vidyala” and he was there going, “No way! My guildie is a huge fan, can I take your picture?” …yes seriously, so that happened.

I gave them some cards and stickers and went off to our new seats with a big grin and a really surreal feeling. I told Rades about it and I surmise that if we just happened to be sitting next to some folks who read FDWL there must have been many more than I think. So, I didn’t get your name but whoever you are, that was one of the best experiences of my Blizzcon. Just to chat with someone who reads the comic and get feedback about the new format in person was great.

We stayed in place for the WoW: What’s Next panel to get some more details about what the expansion entailed. My excitement level reached new heights as they announced things. Garrisons! A mage tower! KARABOR.

By the time the panel wrapped up we were pretty hungry and so we opted to go and find some lunch. We hadn’t counted on the hordes of people swarming every available restaurant, though, and so we kept walking right past Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co. and ended up at P.F. Chang’s. They don’t have that in Canada so I’d never been there, it was really good though! Now I wish we did have it. By the time we finished lunch we would’ve had to sprint back in time to make the art panel, so I opted not to go and to just watch it on the Livestream when I got home. My time inside the actual convention is a blur – I completely forgot to go to the Apotheosis meetup, because we ended up hauling ourselves off to the hotel room around 4 pm. I was pooped.

We relaxed and killed some time until the Twisted Nether party was to start at 8:00 p.m. We skipped on supper and went to the party where I got to meet Fimlys and then Hydra, some other folks who were new to me. Rilandune arrived and I met him. I chatted with a few other people from Twitter including Lorekeeper Glaci and then Chronis and Kaleri showed up! It was great to have the time to sit down and chat with them and reconnect since we’d met in Toronto back in April. Later on in the evening I was found by Jed from Jed’s Blog as well as Navimie! We stayed pretty late, leaving the party (completed) at midnight. TNB had some bags there you could buy that had loot in them and a chance to win special loot that they had on the table! I won a signed copy of this Samwise print:

Artist Template_Scaled

Day 4 (Saturday, last day of the Con)

The next morning was the second day of the con, Saturday, and it was much more relaxed than the frantic lining up of the day before. We slept in until about 9:00 AM and had a leisurely breakfast at the Hilton buffet. I’m sure we ate breakfast with someone, but I can’t currently remember who. Saturday was the day to see anything else we wanted to see at the convention and buy some swag. We went to the J!nx store as well as the official Blizzard store. I got the Art of Blizzard book, some WoW cookie cutters(!) and a Hearthstone tee. Voss and I also picked up new mousepads at the Steelseries booth. On either Friday or Saturday we noticed that the line to try out WoD was short/non-existent and so we went there and were immediately ushered to a bank of computers. I spent the next twenty minutes frantically absorbed in trying to be a mage without any keybinds and not knowing where on the bars my abilities were. Somehow we still managed to defend Karabor in the time that we had, and I struck out into Shadowmoon to do some more quests. Shadowmoon is lovely. I think I know where my Garrison is going to be! I tried to get some screenshots with my phone but they came out blurry. It also turns out you’re not supposed to take photos, oops.

Here, have a blurry screenshot anyway!

Here, have a blurry screenshot anyway!

At 4 p.m. at the Meeting Stone was a meet-up I couldn’t miss, the WoW Insider/Wowhead meetup. The way the stone area was set up was maybe not 100% ideal – everyone kind of ended up crammed into this roped off area and it was an impenetrable sea of people I didn’t want to plunge into. I still met some folks including Anne Stickney, Noxychu, and some of the WI people I had seen on Thursday in any case! Perculia and Hamlet were here as well but we didn’t get to talk very much. Earlier I had run into Cadistra and I’m glad we happened upon each other

This was when I got to meet Aerix88 and Logtar along with Matty. Technophobia and his wife Frito_Kal brought us cupcakes! They were deliiiicious. I saw Apple Cider Mage again and talked a little bit! Mostly I chatted with Matty and then her husband for awhile, both super nice people. I want to say at this point I met Nyxy and ProbablyAero. Voss practically had to drag me away from the Meeting Stone because we kept getting involved in another conversation and he wanted to go back to the hotel before supper. We still had to figure out what we were doing for supper specifically, we had the day earmarked for a guild supper.

We ended up making (unnecessary) reservations at a sushi place that was as fair cab ride away. As the surroundings grew more desolate and we pulled into the dark and empty parking lot I started to wonder if we’d made a mistake. The feeling didn’t leave as we went inside the restaurant where there was no one else at 7 p.m. My fears turned out to be unfounded though, the sushi was good and fresh and no one got sick to the best of my knowledge. It was really a blast to sit down with all our guildies at the same time and place and just talk about stuff, mostly not guild related at all. But again this was a highlight for me because we’d been so scattered at other times. We talked about politics (Canadian & US) and a million other things. I got Rhidach to try beef tataki (not a hard sell) because I’d been telling him about it just a few days earlier when he was talking about how much he liked filet mignon.

The empty restaurant turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we enjoyed having the place to ourselves and not worrying about other people listening in on our video game talk and wondering, “WTF?” After we finished eating we got the restaurant owner to take a picture of us. I can’t believe it’s the only picture we got of all of us. It’s not a very good picture, but I guess it’s better than nothing. That night, we couldn’t really handle the bustle of the Hilton lobby (again) and so we went up to our room with some more folks. I knew I was going to Disneyland the next day very early but I also knew it might be my last chance to see some of these people so I’m glad we had them up. Even though Jed brought his warlock guildie with him.

Day 5 (Sunday, Disneyland!)

This was the day I met up with a friend of mine (not a WoW-friend) for breakfast and then we headed to Disneyland to meet up with Beru, Brade, Tikari, Kristin, Elfi and her friend Kim. I had wanted to go to Disneyland just because it seemed silly not to go when it’s right there, but I surprised myself by having a really good time all day and on all the rides. I didn’t personally do anything too daring, but I loved the Haunted Mansion (Nightmare Before Christmas) ride and had fun on the Buzz Lightyear ride too. One day is not really much time to see all that you might want to see at Disney, and I know this now for the future! We had a blast watching the Jedi Training Academy where they take kids from the audience and teach them how to be Jedi, it was great. I was glad to have more experienced park-goers (Beru and Brade) because they always knew the right way to go to get to something.

Still, by the end of the day my poor battered feet and ankle were displeased with me. I limped home tired and said goodnight to my last batch of Blizzcon friends. Our time together had been so short! The next day we were flying back home which was a whole other adventure but it’s boring. Tl;dr – we made it home. The best part of traveling is always coming home.

Blizzcon Lows:

Honestly, I’m still mad at myself for failing to get enough pictures. I could’ve had tons of pictures with our guildies, with other friends, and I barely took any. I wish I had, now.

Crowds continued to be a theme as I just couldn’t handle the Hilton lobby afterparties. I know I missed out on meeting some great people because I wasn’t there, but the cacophony and mass of people just sent me scrambling for the relative peace of our hotel room. It probably didn’t help that I wasn’t able to drink during the time of Blizzcon – there were a few occasions when some liquid courage would not have gone awry, and I might’ve been able to stay in the lobby for longer.

My shoes/feet/ankle. It took me a few days to recover fully once I got home.

Blizzcon Highlights:

Meeting all of the people! I’ve really tried to include them all here so that I don’t forget meeting them but it’s tough because I met so many. My guildies and close friends especially, but everyone I met was really nice and I was thrilled to have the chance to talk with folks in real life who had formerly only been an avatar to me.

Meeting people wearing my badges! It’s just a neat feeling, and knowing that they are enjoying the art and will be happy and maybe frame it later. A tiny keepsake from Blizzcon.

Going to the panels was pretty fun, it’s really neat to feel the energy in the room. I’m also reasonably confident that I started the cheer that went out when they announced Karabor would be the Alliance capital. It was silent for a few seconds before I shouted “WOOOO” haha.

Really, the best part of the entire trip was just the people. The con felt almost secondary to me, though parts of it were fun, it was the social events and people that were unbeatable. I’m glad we went. I’m not sure whether next Blizzcon is in our future or not – as always, it depends on circumstances, and it is also a very expensive trip – but I’m tempted. I’d like to do it again if it means seeing all the great people I got to meet this time.

If you actually read this far, thanks for sticking with me. I know, I’m longwinded.

The Greatest Night

There have undoubtedly been rocky parts during Business Time’s transition to “casual” guild from “reasonably hardcore.” It felt really smooth back in Dragon Soul because we already had the entire place on farm, so it was no problem to reduce to one night a week and smoke through it. Then it wasn’t a problem to take a break altogether. When Mists launched, it was the first true test of our new reduced schedule (two days a week, two hours per raid for a total of four hours). We’d never tackled new content this way before. To me it was a raid tier of fits and starts. We progressed easily through the first four bosses in MSV and then slammed to a halt on Elegon for a lot longer than any of us would like. When we finally downed Elegon, we killed Will the same night. Moving into Heart of Fear, we hit another wall in the form of the second cyclone boss and we spent a good amount of time on him as well. Throughout this all, roster changes and recruitment were dogging us and making it hard to have a steady pace. When we finally got Tay’ak down, it didn’t take very long to kill Garalon or the council style fight and then we encountered our ultimate nemesis – Amber Shaper Un’sok.

I could tell you how I feel about this encounter design, but I don’t want to sour my mood. Basically, Un’sok is my least favourite fight EVER, in any expansion and any tier. We wiped to him more than any other boss in T14. But he did die, like all the others. Unfortunately he died at a time when it was starting to look like we wouldn’t have time to finish the tier. Patch predictions were for March, and we hadn’t even touched Terrace. It seems that two hour raids were taking their toll. I know there were many nights when it felt as if just a few more pulls would’ve made the difference between a kill and no kill.

We killed Empress Shek’zeer very easily (14 pulls total, I believe), and launched into Terrace with a vengeance. Everyone knew that we had to clear it fast if we wanted a chance to actually finish the raid tier as well as earn ourselves a feat of strength. I’m not sure if it was the urgency of knowing we had a deadline, but everyone really showed me what they could do. We one-shot Protectors and killed Tsulong the same night, cleared Lei Shi and spent some time on Sha of Fear during our second to last raid. Everyone knew that yesterday’s raid was our last chance to finish “on-time.”

The raid started out in the best possible way for me. We were all hanging around the summoning stone getting everyone there when our monk, Zhem, told me: “Millya, check your mail please.” Mystified, I checked my mail and there was a letter from him with a wrapped gift. It’s my birthday on Sunday and I am turning 30, but I wasn’t expecting a gift! The accompanying letter said it wasn’t just a birthday present, but also a token of appreciation for everything I do for the guild. I opened it up, and this is what was inside:

!!!

!!!

It’s a Jeweled Onyx Panther. My own VOLTRON. To say that I was flabbergasted is the most extreme of understatements. Honestly, I teared up a little bit. It seems that Business Time had been planning this for weeks, since the start of February. They helped gather the materials to make all four panthers using a communal spreadsheet and they made this for me. Oh man, I am tearing up again. I am overwhelmed and humbled. It honestly means so much to me, and not just because “ooh shiny mount” but because the mount itself is indicative to me of the power a raid group has. Not just to kill internet pixels, but to support each other and to be friends over long distances and different lives. We are all greater than the sum of our parts, just like Voltron and the Onyx Panther. We’re always better together. I can’t say anything more about this than thank you, thank you, thank you. Even when we’ve moved on and the servers are dark, you’ll always have a friend in me. You all are the true gift.

I promised them all a sappy blog post, which is something of a forte of mine. But honestly, the night just got better from that point on, this was only the BEGINNING of the raid after all! Because we went in and read Sha the riot act; it was only our second night seeing him and we all felt the pressure to perform and make this a cleared tier. We did it!

And Itanya set Ullariend on fire.

And Itanya set Ullariend on fire.

This was pretty much the best conclusion any of us could have imagined to the tier. I couldn’t stop grinning all night. I’m so proud of these guys (and lady). We are set to go into the next tier with a clean slate, if you will, and no obligations to this content. We will go back and get kills for some people who unfortunately missed them, but we’ll have a solid footing for the new stuff, too. Incidentally, we are still looking for a hunter to finish off our roster. We’re sitting at thirteen at the moment but we’d prefer fourteen. Even when our numbers dipped we didn’t cancel any raids in the past tier, but we’d like to continue in that direction.

You would think I’d be satisfied with a night like that. An amazing gift from my guild, a Sha of Fear kill just in time for patch day… but no, there was more yet to come! After the raid I realized that I wasn’t VP capped. After doing a heroic, I was still 95 points short. So Pargath, Zierlyn and I headed into LFR for the 90 VP. We chose Vault of Mysteries because that’s the only thing that Pargath hadn’t done. We waited a little while in the queue but it eventually came up, as they do. Spirit Kings was fairly uneventful and I thought the raid was going to be generally fine, until we got to Elegon.

It has been pointed out to me that waiting until Monday night before a patch to do my last LFR guarantees there will be shenanigans. I hadn’t considered this exactly, but it was only a minute or so on Elegon when we realized we’d be in trouble. Neither of the tanks was bothering to tank the adds that spawn and they ran around freely trying to kill people. We were able to get four spark “cycles,” but as soon as the floor disappeared, so did a number of our raid. (I want to say five, off the top of my head, including a tank). But okay, no matter, we could still do this. Until after the second add phase when our OTHER tank plummeted to his untimely death. We were heading into Elegon’s last phase, with no tank. You might think at this point we were guaranteed a wipe. I say: NEVER SAY DIE.

I hit Time Warp as we pulled and started DPSing Elegon as if my life depended on it (which it did). I thought that at least I could do enough damage to him and possibly keep him busy long enough with Mirror Images, Cauterize, etc. before my inevitable death. We might manage to kill him yet. Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that I never died. Cauterize didn’t even proc! Sure, my health was crazy spiky, but the incredible healers in LFR (most prominently, a paladin) kept me alive. I TANKED ELEGON.

Hilarity ensued (you’ll have to click to read the raid chat from right after we killed him).

I TANKED THAT

I TANKED THAT

I was pretty proud of myself, haha, but really it’s the healers who deserve the props (and you’ll note that I said that, too).

elegon02

elegon03

LFR was suitably happy about the whole thing. Maybe I should just retire now on that note, the highlight of my illustrious mage career. Forget Krosh Firehand, I tank star dragons. I think it’s only fitting that I happened to be wearing the title Dragonslayer Millya at the time.

So that’s it – an account of the greatest night I’ve had in WoW in a long time. Possibly the greatest night I’ve had in awhile, period. I am really excited for the T15 content now. I hope there are no repeats of the Un’sok debacle. But mostly I know you can tackle anything with a group of friends, or barring that, exceptional healing strangers who can keep your berobed body from going splat!

The New Guild Order: Why Your Guild Tag Matters Less All The Time

It’s been quiet around here because generally things with me have been status quo. I raid with BT once per week on our “new” casual schedule, and enjoy it a great deal. I play WoW on the other days when I feel like it, but otherwise all of my management responsibilities have been greatly reduced. I don’t have to stress out about performance or progression because we aren’t pushing for it like we used to. I hope the rest of the guild doesn’t mind, but if anyone does mind they haven’t mentioned it to me! On the contrary, the past month has seen an explosion of guild activities, more than we ever had before outside of raiding. There was a brief lull after we slowed our pace, and then all of those free raid days began to fill up with other activities organized by other people. There’s an arena team that runs Tuesdays, people run BGs together a few times a week. I started a Firelands run on Saturdays which is a whole entry unto itself, and Fsob has been organizing what he dubbed “MMLA” runs (you heard it here first, people). That is: Mounts, Mogging, Legendary and Achievement runs. Because Real ID now allows for grouping up to do old content, we’re no longer limited by the number of people available to us.

These runs started off small – a concentrated group of BT people and a few friends doing Sunwell, Black Temple, etc. But the changes to Real ID have allowed it to explode into almost an entire group of people running Ulduar 25 for achievements, a shot at Mimiron’s Head, transmogging gear, and meta-achievement drakes. A few people even brought characters locked at level 80 because they need the gear to eventually do a Herald of the Titans run. I was thinking about something as we were doing Ulduar last night, hanging out on Mumble and “meeting” some of the people I’ve known via Twitter for a long time. Business Time’s footprint is small – I mean, we are a small guild, kept that way intentionally. We have maybe twenty members, tops, at any given time. (Probably less). But our reach is wide. Through Twitter networking, blogging, and runs like Fsob’s run, we interact with a great many more people than our small guild size would seem to suggest. The fact is, the guild we are in almost doesn’t even matter anymore, and will come to matter even less after Battle Tags are implemented.

Think about it. Via Real ID, I have been running Firelands with a holy paladin from Apotheosis for a month now. We were friends before, but now we also raid together. Likewise, the guild leader of Waypoint on Medivh has been running with us each Saturday. Last Saturday we brought Tikari (also of Apotheosis). Now of course, Nowell and Tikari are still members of Apotheosis, and Karanina is the guild leader of Waypoint. But what are they to me, and what is BT to them? It’s not exactly nothing. You might call them “friends of the guild.” If they wanted to make an alt and hang out in BT, I would absolutely say yes. The bonds of friendship online, in a game like Warcraft, are forged through three things: communication (via text), communication (via the spoken word) and shared experiences. I’ve been raiding and talking to all of these people once a week for a month now. I raid with my guild once a week. So how do the two groups differ?

I think in many ways, they don’t. The most important and key way, obviously, is progression raiding. Apotheosis is raiding hard-mode content with a group of 25 people. Their policies and involvement may differ considerably from Business Time’s. But in the space that we intersect, we get along famously. I also cannot overstate that this is absolutely the best thing that could possibly happen for guilds of any size or goal. Guilds have typically been (largely) insular operations. You have your own guild chat, you have your guild events, you may sometimes invite “outsiders” along but generally it’s all about what happens within a guild. Thanks to the new connectivity between guilds, this mentality has been exploded. Small guilds (such as ours) can tap into a much larger resource of players. The challenge to keep your guild engaged and interested has just been greatly reduced! It used to be that I worried if I wasn’t online every day, or I worried if we didn’t have enough events being planned outside of raiding that people would get bored, or stop logging in, or even leave. I imagine that other guild leaders may have the same fears. It’s tough to maintain a community of people when everyone has commitments outside of playing a video game. Especially in smaller guilds players can be like ships passing each other in the night – never even seeing another soul online for hours at a time. That may still be a true, but an influx of organized activity that members can participate in keeps people happy and engaged. As far as I’m concerned, there is no downside to this at all. I get to meet and raid with friends that might not necessarily share the same progression raiding goals as I do, and we don’t have to be in the same guild, but we still have a good time!

It also means opportunity for everyone involved. Cross-pollination of guilds widens the community, and bridges the gulf that’s always existed between isolated guild communities without impacting the singular goals of the guilds themselves. Thanks to the contribution of these folks, I am making progress towards building a Dragonwrath. Yes, I decided to go ahead and get it done, no matter what it took. That wouldn’t be possible without the help of these friends. We usually have a critical mass of BT players each week, but are just 2-3 people short of a “guild” run. To me, it’s been pretty amazing. We’ve been doing heroic modes and having a blast. I think everyone has fun. (Although ask them how they feel in a few months…) On the flip-side, Val’anyr shards have been going to Jasyla in the Ulduar 25 runs. Somehow it seems “right” to me that our guild members can help her build a legendary while some of her guild members are helping me build one, too. I’m not a member of Apotheosis, and they aren’t members of Business Time, but as I said – we aren’t nothing to each other, either.

Meantime, I haven’t even touched on the raiding communities that have sprung up as a result of this Real ID change – people who want to make cross-server raiding their primary game activity! The guild that you are in at that point matters even less, because there is not likely to be a “central” guild organizing an event, rather it’s an individual bringing together raiders from all over. It’s radical to suggest that you might not even need a guild to enjoy raiding content, but with Looking For Raid and cross-server raiding, that has very quickly become our reality.

So where do we go from here? Let’s break down even more barriers. I wish I could group with people from the EU. I wish I could raid with my cross-faction friends. Let me invite friends from other servers via the in-game calendar! Consolidate these things so I am spending more time in your game. Let me offer guild repairs for everyone in my raid, the same way I can drop a feast and provide flasks for them. The final one, I’m a bit more trepidatious about: the ability for Real ID groups to join raids for current content. If that one becomes a reality, your guild tag really might cease to matter in a way that’s dangerous for guilds, although it might also really help to be able to fill a raid last-minute with a friend. The structure of guild and group play in WoW has been fundamentally altered. I’m not quite sure where it’s heading, or where Blizzard will draw the line, but for the time being I am pretty happy about it. The recently announced Scroll of Resurrection plays into this too. Characters and guilds and play are ultimately malleable at this time. It’s as easy as snapping their fingers for Blizzard to create a level 80 character, to race/faction change a character, and send them to whatever server they want. All of this is accomplished usually in a matter of minutes – I know, because I’ve poured money in that direction before. Now that the floodgates have been opened to allow us to play together, I predict that people won’t be content to stop there. We’ll probably see current content Real ID raiding, guild raiding coalitions, possibly even guild mergers. (It’s possible to server transfer a guild now, too!) More and more, we’re going to be playing together however much we want to be.

So how about you? How have the Real ID changes impacted your gameplay? What do you think about the “new” social reality of World of Warcraft?

Business Time, Hard Modes, and the “C” Word

I thought that it started when our most recent tank recruit went missing. Voss pointed out that actually, it started when our DK tank stopped raiding about a year ago, and thereafter followed a cascade of turnover such as we’d never tackled before. Constant recruiting is wearing on a team, and the subsequent struggle as new players joined and the recruitment pool shallowed have made this a fairly hellish year for one small tens guild. Obviously, I can’t claim to speak for all guilds, and never have. I’m sure many guilds have had great years, and I’m happy for you. But not in this post, because this post is all about me, and my guild.

Players dropped out one by one, with expressions of regret. They weren’t leaving for greener pastures, they were just leaving. “Tired of raiding,” “Not really feeling it,” “Would rather be doing something else.” I used to say to Voss jokingly, “We’ll stop recruiting if we lose x number of players at a time, or we’ll stop recruiting if we lose x percentage of our original team.” (I never followed through on that, by the way). Each time we lost someone, I’d hit the forums and WoW Lemmings. I’d refresh tirelessly throughout the day in-between work I was doing. I’d write personalized messages to convince people that BT was the guild they wanted to be in. For the most part, it worked. But it was like a full-time job. I spoke to potential applicants, fielded questions, did my best marketing pitch. I was always positive about the guild, and always happy to bring people to it, because I believed in the small community we’d made and wanted people to join it.

Meantime, our progression started slipping. From a One-Light and a Tribute to Insanity to an H LK guild we slipped – to a 7/13 H guild, then a post-nerf 6/7 H guild, and finally, in this tier, a 0/8 H guild. Vosskah was right – the missing tank was only the last straw in an uphill battle I feel I’ve been waging all year, a struggle to stay above water.

I’d committed to raiding Dragon Soul despite a deep tiredness that was underscored by the loss of my Grandfather at the end of November. It caused me to question many things personally – was I spending too much time on what is, ultimately, a video game? Did I want this to be such a major feature of my life? Could I reinvest my energy in another area? Who would I be if I wasn’t the guild leader of Business Time? How central was it to my identity? And more importantly, to me, how could I let everyone down like that?

It was a question that pushed me to start out in Dragon Soul even though I was tired, even though I knew I wasn’t doing my best as guild leader any more. I wasn’t logging in as often as I should, I wasn’t pursuing applicants as aggressively as I should. I wasn’t keeping up with the standards I had set for myself, and when our tank failed to show up for last Wednesday’s raid, I had a sinking feeling. A day went by with no word from him, two days. We still hadn’t heard, and I realized as the weekend loomed, two facts:

He wasn’t coming back.

I didn’t have the heart to replace him.

In a moment, just like that, I was done. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, as if a lethargy had settled over me. I knew that if that’s how I felt, I had to come clean to the guild and tell them exactly how I felt. So I did, in an epic post that will remain for BT’s eyes only. I talked about our struggles, I talked about how damn proud I was of them, and more than anything I told them how sorry I was that I just didn’t have any more left to give. I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be, and I couldn’t even clearly articulate what had driven me to this point. I knew that by posting it, I was acknowledging the possibility that the guild would disband, or at least dissipate. It was a hard realization, but it was a choice between the dissolution of the guild and the continuing impact on my personal life and I think, my health. Please note (because guildies do read) that I have to write this for myself, to get it all off my chest and to sort through it, and none of it is meant as an accusation or a criticism of the folks in BT. Of course they aren’t perfect, and neither am I (duh) but really, there’s no hindsight ‘if only this’ or ‘if only that.’ Burnout happens. I think that ‘victims’ of burnout are probably often to blame because they failed to delegate properly, or even to give warning signs that they were feeling that way. That is absolutely my failing. I’m a firm believer that strong leadership doesn’t show weakness because as soon as you show signs of faltering, the entire team begins to doubt. In this case, I did us all a disservice because there was little warning. I posted that I needed some help, around the end of November, and then the beginning of January I was saying: I need to not be guild leader.

I blithely pretended that our slow progression through heroics didn’t frustrate me. Of course it did, it frustrated all of us. What we were selling (a hard mode progression guild) wasn’t matching up with the reality: a guild that did hard modes but not all of them, and lately, a guild increasingly struggling with hard modes. Our new tank was very green and hadn’t done hard mode raiding at all. It was evident that he would have to learn, even before he disappeared. Underscoring all of it, I felt, was a sense of ennui.

Forums that used to be hopping with activity in the strategy threads slowly dwindled to very little discussion. Mumble grew silent on progression nights. Voss admitted to me that he didn’t have the interest in hard modes that he’d once had, and I had to admit I felt the same. Was Business Time doing hard modes because we liked to do them, or were we trying to do them because they were what we’d always done? I asked myself this and many other questions. In the wake of my massive forum post, a few guildies spoke up. They wanted to have a meeting so that we could talk about what I’d said, and what the potential outcome might be.

I prepared for the meeting with open eyes: There were three potential outcomes to this kind of guild shakeup.

1) Someone could step forward and assume leadership of the guild, with the realization that it would take a lot of time and work and recruiting. With Vosskah and I ceasing raiding, at the least, they’d need two new tanks and another DPS and a healer who’d also declared his intent to slow raiding.

2) I considered this a compromise between the two options; Business Time could decide to go casual, scale back our raiding operations significantly, and no longer attempt hard mode progression.

3) We could cease all raiding completely (effectively an end to the guild).

Option two was my favourite, and I even admitted that in light of the reduced requirements of option two, I would be willing to remain guild leader. We wouldn’t really recruit except friends and social members if folks had anyone they wanted to bring aboard. Every single guild member attended the meeting, and every single guild member voted for option two. (I am not so secretly pleased that, like a true DPS, I tricked my guild into spamming “two.” That might only be funny to me.)

So from there we had to figure out just what shape option two would take. Would we raid on the same day? For the time being we’ve agreed to make it a variable day based on availability each week, as well as tracking who has to sit (because we still have a roster of thirteen) so that nobody has to sit unfairly. This week we’re raiding Monday, and I’ll admit, it feels completely weird to be writing this on a Wednesday. Wednesday is Raid Day. All night I’ve been wandering around a bit lost, cooking supper at a leisurely pace, browsing the internet, chatting with Voss, and letting it sink in. For two years, we were raiding any two to three days of Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. He’d come home, we’d cook supper hurriedly (or I’d have it ready beforehand) and we’d race to be online a half hour before raid time. Even on a night when we were on standby, we’d often check in to make sure we weren’t needed. We’d check the forums for any “I’m not going to be able to make it” messages. We’d prepare the raid roster, although in recent weeks that task has been assumed by another officer. We’d talk about the roster and any difficulties. Every day may as well have been an “officer meeting.” I don’t feel at liberty to go into Voss’ personal reasons, but we were both exhausted.

What made it even harder though, was that we were tired of the raiding, not the people we were raiding with. I think many hobbies do have an expiry or a limited time on them. Gaming in general is a life-long hobby for me. Even WoW itself I have played for almost four years now. I couldn’t turn my back on the raiding without feeling that I was turning my back on ‘my guys.’ So to say I was absolutely astonished at the guild meeting is putting it mildly. I steeled myself to this decision. I wrote the post. I sat there crying for five minutes while my mouse button hovered over the “submit” button, feeling like I was pulling the trigger on something I loved, that had been a huge part of my life for two years.

I was pretty shocked when I decided to turn away from my guild, and they wouldn’t let me.

We went down the list of people, giving each a chance to talk about their feelings and goals. Many admitted that their life circumstances had changed since we first started raiding. Their enthusiasm for hard mode content had waned, their time available to play the game had been reduced, but they still loved playing with all of us. “I love you guys,” our rogue declared.

“You’re going to make me CRY,” I admonished them all. (Cry AGAIN, that is).

“Yeah, we actually agreed to do that beforehand, it was an e-mail FWD titled, ‘Let’s see if we can make her cry.’”

*pause*

“Voss was in on it.”

I don’t want to get into my feelings about hard modes in general, encounter design, or why I think Ulduar was still the best raid I’ve ever done. Perhaps that’s for another post, and anyway, that strays into “maligning the way other people play” territory. I still respect hard mode raiders, it just took a great loss and a potential second loss to make me realize that I’m no longer one of them. I don’t have the drive to succeed at that level of content that I once did, and you know what? For the time being, I’m okay with that. Ironically, considering my last post, we had just as much fun messing around in LFR last week when our tank didn’t show up. We like the time spent raiding together, and that’s not dependent on the content we’re doing.

All of this to say: I’m still a guild leader. I’m now the guild leader of a one-night-a-week, social and casual raiding guild. It feels a bit odd, but I’m sure it will grow comfortable over time. I don’t know what the future will bring – there may come a time when commitments or other interests drag people away from the game altogether. But as I told Business Time at our guild meeting, even if they quit to play Diablo III: Battle.net allows us to play that together. Those who are playing SWTOR have made characters in our little sister guild. I have a lot of the guys on Steam. If I’m playing any multi-player game, I want to be doing it with them. If that’s what I take away from this game the day the servers go dark – friends that transcend any particular game, any specific pixels – that’s more fortune than any person could ask for. I’m humbled, I’m proud, and as of this week – I’m also casual. It feels good.

Looking For: Community

I was a bit late getting my Christmas shopping done this year, so I found myself in a department store at the jewelery counter. You can imagine the kind of swarm that exists around any department store’s jewelery counter at this time of year. (Vosskah and I have been laughing at a radio ad we heard in which a middle-aged lady is listing all of the possible gifts to be found at [Store], “Sweaters! Perfume! Jewellery,” and she utters the last word with the kind of lusty eroticism I never expected to hear on the radio. Jewellery is a Big Thing, apparently).

So the department is crowded; I’m only there to find some clip-on earrings for my Grandma, and a kindly lady shows me how they are mixed in and where I can look, etc. I feel for this woman because she is clearly petrified and it’s her first day on the job. When I find the earrings I want and am paying for them, she is taking the time to get gift boxes for them, and tissue paper to go along with the sweater I was also buying. She’s not moving at light speed, but I think it’s a reasonable length of time for a transaction. Before my things have even been bagged, though, the lady behind me has moved up to the jewellery counter and is placing her items while impatiently asking, “Is it possible to get some service here?” I’m still inputting my PIN into the machine at this point and the lady is almost shoulder to shoulder with me. The poor woman helping me finishes up our transaction while the woman training her takes over for Ms. Can’t Wait Two Minutes. I walk away from the jewellery department exclaiming to Voss, “Did you SEE that?”

As far as these stories go, it’s a pretty mild one. Entitled lady doesn’t think that waiting in line is necessary, she wants service and she wants it now. She’s the real life equivalent of a “go go go”-er. However quickly things are moving, it’s not fast enough for her. They’re unpleasant in real life as they are in a video game, and I’m afraid that more and more the game is tailored to them.

I've been taking screenshots of LFR chat here and there since the patch, here's one of them with more to follow.

This is fairly radical for the erstwhile Pugging Pally to admit, but I don’t like LFD. I don’t like LFR. Wait, before you scroll to the bottom and start typing an angry comment, let me clarify. I understand the dilemmas that LFD and LFR were introduced to address. I’m not one of the elite raiders who feels that only 1% of people playing the game should see end-game content. I don’t need other people excluded from things so that I can feel awesome about myself. It turns out, it is possible to have your internet dragon and loot it too. No one else can take away from your accomplishments in-game because they’re yours. So that’s not my problem. And on the surface, LFD and LFR work. You want a dungeon? You can be doing one anywhere from instantly to twenty minutes later, most any time of day. It turns out that the same is true for LFR; you probably won’t wait in a queue longer than twenty minutes and probably less for that, too. I have run LFR solo, I’ve run it with my guild, I’ve run it with just a few friends. I’ve done it as a druid, a paladin, and a mage. I’ve had plenty of experience with it. And here’s where I think the problem lies.

What it purports to do, and what it actually does – are two completely different things. In theory, LFD and LFR lets you get together and cooperate with a group of people to achieve a group goal: killing internet dragons of various ilks. In practice, they mask singular goals with the illusion of group play. Yes, you have to more or less cooperate to successfully complete an LFD or an LFR run. But are you there to cooperate, or are you there to acquire loot/VP? Herein lies the problem. Once upon a time, I used to run dungeons yes, to acquire emblems or points or gear or whatever, but also because just running dungeons was fun. On my old server, I had a massive friends list of people who might want to run a dungeon at any given time. If nobody felt like trying to run a dungeon, I would hit Trade or the now-defunct Looking For Group channel. It wasn’t elegant, but generally it worked. More importantly, it allowed me to make friends and build a reputation for myself as a nice/fun and competent person to run with. I did this across several characters. Usually, if I felt like running a dungeon, I could make a group to do so. If I couldn’t manage a group, I’d put it off and do something else.

Now before you counter that it’s still possible to assemble groups this way, it’s true, but unlikely. I’ve tried. I can usually gather up guildies to run things if enough are interested and perhaps if I wait a bit. I’ve tried different channels to ask if people want to run something, with very little response. I can check my same-server friends’ list and usually folks are raiding or already IN a dungeon. And why wouldn’t they be? Joining one as a tank or a healer takes all of ten seconds. You can’t blame people for taking the path of least resistance. I’m more likely to group up with friends on other servers – many times, friends I have made via this blog and Twitter. So I’m in the interesting position of having to build a reputation as a good player outside of the actual game in order to run with people I enjoy playing with. I’m sure my server has such people, but it’s unlikely I will find them because they’re either running with their own guild, or running quick pugs with LFD.

This was a guy raging on Zon'ozz because no other healers were dispellers (I joined the group after they'd wiped on Zon'ozz).

So it goes with LFR. And I will be completely honest – yes, there are good parts of LFR, but overall LFR alarms me because of what it represents, and because of its potential impact in many different ways. First of all, if someone gets their introduction to raiding through LFR I fear for what they think raiding actually IS like. A raid full of people face-pulling the boss, ignoring strats, backtalking each other and constantly squabbling, ninjaing loot they shouldn’t have (feral druids winning Int gear, I’m looking at you). LFR is a bad LFD pug writ large, with a proportionately larger number of Go Go Gos and bad attitudes. The issue with LFD and LFR both are that the majority of people feel that they’re being put in a position where they have to ‘put up with’ other people to get what they want. It’s not an opportunity to meet new folks or make friends, how could it be? There is no additional benefit to befriending people via LFD, and even if there were, you’d need to be willing to add that person via Real ID to take advantage of it. Most of us won’t do that.

Now, Blizzard has taken some steps towards addressing these issues. They acknowledged the erosion of server community by coding a preference in LFD to group you with same-server folks wherever possible. I think it was a bit too little too late, though, because most of us are already conditioned to join the group, begin killing things with the other four, faceless and anonymous people in our group, hope that it’s a “good group” so we collect our loot, points, or whatever and then move on to the next group. I’ll sometimes remark, “Hey, we’re both from this server!” and the reaction is almost always the equivalent of a shrug. If I don’t mention that we’re from the same server, then it usually doesn’t get mentioned. There’s a confusion of paradigm in what exactly is being awarded. So we’re grouped with people from our server; but tanks and sometimes healers can also obtain a satchel of loot if they are willing to join on their own. Even if a pug tank likes the group of four he/she is put with, there’s no benefit to them for staying with that group, and there is benefit to dropping group and re-queuing to obtain another satchel.

The second thing Blizzard is doing is introducing the “Battle Tag” system (currently being tested in Diablo III) that is probably what Real ID should have been all along. You’ll be able to choose a pseudonym that others will see if you choose to friend each other mutually, and gain the benefits of Real ID without letting people know your real name. This has the potential to enable friends lists to transcend server restrictions, and possibly even make reputation matter again to a certain extent. You could build a network of folks you’ve run with and would like to run with again, no matter what server they are on. For me this has great potential, and I’m watching it with interest to see what develops. I don’t just want to whine about things uselessly – I recognize that LFD and LFR were introduced with a purpose. Especially for smaller population servers, and for dungeon grouping while leveling, these systems have been a great boon. They enabled myself and other players to see lower level dungeon content that we probably didn’t have the opportunity to see before. Assembling lowbie groups was always a bit of a crap shoot – find four other people near your level, traipse out to the dungeon (possibly located in a place you hadn’t been, or you had to get there without a mount). Now we get mounts at level 20 so that’s much less of a concern, but LFD has made that completely moot anyway. It’s never been easier to join a group to do a dungeon, or as it turns out, a raid. At least, something raidish, with a raidish shape.

The overall DPS of this group WAS pretty low. I wasn't going to say anything about it, though.

I am concerned that LFR takes my favourite part of the game (raiding) and makes it so effortless yet empty to me. When you can roll in and kill Deathwing in under two hours, where is the impetus to join a long-standing, dedicated raiding group? Is it going to be worth it to the average player to say “I killed it on normal mode,” or “I killed it on heroic mode?” It was already reasonably tough to find people driven to complete heroic modes – what about now, when there seems to be three options of difficulty? I’ve had at least one friend privately confide to me that they weren’t much inspired to kill Deathwing on normal mode, having ‘seen’ him on LFR difficulty. Hard modes always stretched the veracity of the game for me in terms of lore considerations, which is more of a concern for RPers, but it does matter. There IS a “roleplay” in this MMORPG we all play, after all. Does Deathwing care if we killed him on “Looking For Raid” mode, normal mode, hard mode?

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I was already a bit worried about LFR when it was announced. How will that work, I wondered? It’s the size and scope of a raid, and all of the art, without the heart. It doesn’t have the voices of my guild friends along with it; it has random and unpredictable people. It has that guy who will queue as a healer and then go ret instead and win the caster ring from Hagara and never say a word. It has mercenary people who are just in it for themselves, it has verbal abuse. (I’m not excluding myself from the mercenary people category, by the way). There is no benefit to being magnanimous or sharing loot or anything in LFR. It doesn’t have the jokes or the camaraderie or the time or the dedication. It doesn’t have what makes raiding fun for me. Yes, I know, it’s 1) not for me and 2) so just don’t do it then. I will stop doing it when there is no benefit for me, or I will do it and quietly do my job. But what worries me is the people who are doing it who might get the impression that they’ve experienced all the game has to offer and don’t need to seek a guild who will help them to reach those goals on ‘normal’ mode, or worse, the people who’ve never raided and are left with the impression that this is what raiding is. There’s no question whether Blizzard has managed to make a random grouping tool that enables pugs to down ‘raid’ content. For me, the question is really whether or not they should have.

What do you think? Please don’t hesitate to respond and say that you love LFR and are really happy with it, and your reasons why. I don’t consider my opinion any kind of definitive one here, it’s just mine, nor am I going to argue or get defensive with you. LFR has enabled me to get three pieces of loot I wouldn’t have obtained from our regular raids – and I’ve been doing it because I know it can help me perform better for my actual raid. I know many of my guildies have been doing the same. I’ve already seen a marked drop in overall LFR speed and efficiency since the first week, though. I wonder what it’s going to be like a month from now? I’m interested to hear what you have to say about all of this, whether good or bad.

DO IT THE RIGHT WAY

Guild Culture & You

Last week, Alas celebrated her second anniversary of blogging! As the kind tradition goes, she offered to think of a blog topic for interested parties. Of course, I couldn’t help but take her up on this offer. More topics to write about? Yes please, always welcome! Here’s the topic she gave me:

As a GM, how directly responsible do you feel for your guild culture? If a new person were to join, would they be right to credit you for the overall shape of the culture since you are in a position to dictate policy? Or do you think your members shape culture more?

It’s an interesting question, because it doesn’t really have a definitive answer, unless you want to go with: “Somewhat, yes and no, and maybe.” First off, the ‘culture’ of a guild (as I read it) encompasses many factors. Most obviously, it’s the interactions between members (that take place on both the forums, in guild chat, and via voice chat, and these can differ). As well, the culture is the implicit expectations of all the members. What can they expect from their fellow members, from the leadership, and from the activities we do?

The culture of a guild is a nebulous and fascinating thing. I’ve seen the culture of our guild change quite a bit over the past two years – in fact, it’s fair to say that it’s constantly changing. Shifts in culture can happen in two directions – from both the top down, or the bottom-up. The most direct way to influence the culture of your guild is pretty simple: Recruit the kind of people who espouse the culture you want. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, and people aren’t that simple. But no matter what guild you’re in, all it takes is one drastically different person: drop them into the center and watch the sparks fly!

This could be someone whose attitude is more “hardcore” than the members of the prevailing guild.

It could be the opposite – someone who doesn’t quite catch on with regards to what’s expected of them.

It could easily be someone who just doesn’t quite “get” it socially – they tell jokes no one laughs at or they never say anything at all; they just don’t “fit.”

Who fits? In answering that question, mostly, I go with my gut. I’ve ignored it on a few occasions, always to my detriment. (For more about this, I recommend reading “Blink” by Malcom Gladwell). If I have a good feeling about someone, I am usually pretty confident that they will fit in. This feeling begins from the moment I start to read an application. Maybe it makes me chuckle, and contains complete sentences with punctuation – whatever it is, I seldom write more in our applicant discussion thread than, “I’d like to talk to this person a bit more at an interview,” or “I don’t really like [xyz].” A few times I’ve been persuaded to talk to someone whose app didn’t immediately grab me – and even given a trial to someone I was on the fence about, but that’s always turned out to be a mistake for various reasons.

Similarly, I trust the gut feelings of everyone in the guild when it comes to reviewing applicants. If someone says, “I’m just not sure about them,” I’m less likely to want to talk to them. So in a very real sense, the culture of the guild itself is fairly self-regulating when it comes to new people. We’re pretty egalitarian. Everyone weighs in on applications, and everyone tries to be there for interviews on Mumble, too. This makes for especially grueling fifteen-person interviews that are pretty nerve-wracking. I know because I’ve been on the other end of one. If you’re a shyer person it can be scary to know there are so many people listening to what you say – but it’s absolutely essential for us that everyone gets to hear an applicant and give an opinion. At the end, we go through the list of people on Mumble after the applicant has left and vote. Everyone has a chance to say yes or no (and why). Most folks who get in have received a unanimous “yes.”

The only exception to this process are social members – friends and family, and curiously they can prove to be the most potentially unbalancing, because 1) they didn’t apply and weren’t interviewed as we do with other people, and also 2) they already have social ties within the guild so if they don’t fit in or are disruptive, it’s delicate to handle because you risk offending both the newcomer and their friend. I’m pretty welcoming of social members, really, despite what I wrote about them before – I love having people to chat with in guild, and I think especially in a smaller guild they can add some action on nights when folks are busy with other things. More people to hang out with are welcome, but again you have to be careful with expectations. What happens if a social member offends or gets into a fight with a raiding member? Fortunately, I’ve never really had to deal with this and people tend to play nice. I’d like to think that we could resolve any conflict like adults, which is pretty much what the guild is founded upon.

So, I think that the largest determining factor of guild culture is the people in the guild (duh) and in my guild, everyone has a say in deciding who the people are. That’s pretty big. In terms of me personally affecting culture, I think a GL affects culture the most through their own actions. That can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. We don’t really have a lot of policy per se, although I’ve added to it in the year and a half that I’ve been GL. I like to have things set out so that you have something to fall back on in case of disputes, but it’s important for me to remember that I’m not managing juniors.

You have Voss to thank for this bit of manager-ese; he likes to explain that when you manage someone who is pretty green or new, they will probably need a lot of hand-holding. You can’t necessarily entrust them with things you would trust to a more senior person, nor expect the same things from them. But our guild is built around the expectation that members are already pretty senior. They have prior raid experience (in many cases, raid-leading, other hard mode guilds, etc). The thing is, if you manage a senior like a junior, all you’ll end up doing is pissing them off. Have you ever had a manager at any job who treated you like you were incompetent, breathed down your neck, or tried to micro-manage everything you were doing (despite your being competent and capable?) They were treating you like a junior. We try not to do that. So there’s a fair amount of trust there that precludes a lot of policy or a lot of dictating. Expectations are clear – how we raid, how we prepare to raid, and so on. What happens within that framework is up to all of us, and it’s understood that we’ll do it without raising our voices to each other, and we’ll handle any conflict with the least amount of fuss.

The end result is (I hope!) a guild that knows I care about what they think and feel, and that I’ll take their opinions and desires into account when making any decisions. It’s not completely a democracy, but there are definitely strong democratic leanings. It’s a guild that gives respect and receives it in turn, one that knows what’s expected of them (and knows they can let me know if I’ve fallen short in their expectations). Mutual respect, dragon killing, serious business time, many jokes and general badassery make up BT’s culture. I think it’s owed in large part to the excellent people that comprise it, and perhaps I clarify it where necessary. If it’s an unconscious partnership, it’s an awesome one. I think any new member joining would be right in thinking that everyone contributes to the guild’s culture, and my primary responsibility is to find negative contributions and make sure they don’t sour the good thing that we have.

I think I answered that question. Maybe. Sort of, yes and no. What do you think? Does your guild leader shape your guild’s culture, or do you think that’s mostly up to the members? I think it’s probably true that the personality of a guild leader is a larger determinant of culture than I’ve admitted here. I favour collaborative and cooperative environments, so I do my best to recruit people who suit that and to encourage it overall. Perhaps a different guild leader with the same members would create a completely different culture. I’m definitely open to opinions!

Guilds, Cliques, and You

It may surprise you to know that I was once a horrible guild member. It’s true, I was. No, I wasn’t overtly rude or mean. I participated in guild chat. I greeted everyone with a friendly hello! But I was also part of a clique. There were five of us (not coincidentally, a five-man group). One rogue, one resto shaman, one mage, one protection warrior, and one hunter. We were inseparable, spending most nights running dungeons, doing battlegrounds, or hanging out together on Vent. We snickered about other guild members in our private chat channel. We were very “us versus them,” and unsurprisingly, we ended up leaving the guild in question – all at once, en masse.

I’m not proud of this, by the way, but I am using it as a perfect example of what I want to talk about. I believe that the story could have ended differently, had the leadership in that guild been paying close attention and made any efforts whatsoever. There were warning signs. Here are the circumstances that led to the situation I describe above.

First, Voss and I joined this guild at a fairly low-level. We were about level thirty, while of course the majority of guildies were 70. It’s difficult to run things with people who aren’t even your level, and a few guildies made an effort but for the most part we were very much on our own. So that’s an unavoidable circumstance (although one that’s readily ameliorated, given time). We were so sure that if we just got to level 70, we would fit in! We would have people to do things with!

On the surface, this guild was “friendly.” In actuality, most of the people in it were primarily interested in hanging out with the people they already knew. That’s natural, and it happens. What it did was serve to isolate us further, but around that time a new member joined the guild – a hunter, just a few levels behind us. He deliberately sped up his leveling so he could be of a level with us. Then, a couple that had been in the guild before us (but taken a hiatus) came back. They were around level sixty, which is where we were at the time. We thought we might try some five-mans. We went through each of the Burning Crusade five-mans with our hunter friend driving us. He had greater game experience than any of us, and had left a hardcore raiding guild to reroll on an RP server in order to take it easy. Little did we know, he was honing us to be a very efficient five-person team.

By the time we hit 7o, we geared up very quickly (again, I didn’t realize this at the time, but our hunter suggested instances that would have upgrades for all of us.) By the time we moved on to heroics, we really worked well together and we’d found out something, too: we no longer needed our guild. For the most part, if all five of us weren’t around, we simply didn’t run anything. The attitude of most other guildies towards us hadn’t improved. We expressed interest in raiding and the guild leader said that perhaps an alternate Kara run could be put together. Another guildie we didn’t know remarked on the forums that it could be like “Kara on training wheels.” This air of condescension didn’t improve matters.

Each week at the guild meeting (held in a spooky location in Duskwood) we attended and crammed ourselves onto one long bench, all five of us. As I said, all of the signs were there. We weren’t integrated with the rest of the guild, frankly didn’t care what they thought, and eventually grew so fed up that we left (and when we left, of course, we all left together).

One of those friends has since been lost (MIA), the other two both stopped playing the game. Naturally, Voss and I still play together. I have fond memories of them. Here we are in another guild (guild name pictured is not the guild discussed above. I’m trying to be classier than that). Besides, I know that we were trouble for that guild. It isn’t all, “Oh, how we were wronged.” We stopped trying to be friends with them and instead opted to be the bad kids at the back of the room, doing entirely our own thing. It’s a tough thing to handle, as a guild leader or officer, but I do have some suggestions.

Set Expectations

Have a clear vision for what you want your guild to be. I’m sure in larger guilds it’s harder to manage cliques, because you do have so many people. People are going to naturally want to split off into smaller groups. That’s fine. The expectation in my guild is that everyone is going to get along (even if they aren’t the best of friends, we are all going to be civil and friendly to one another). Anyone will run five mans with anyone else. We’re all in a smaller guild because we want to get to know our fellow guildies, and know them well. It’s part of the experience we’re seeking, so we have the advantage of a very clear bottom-line: you don’t have to best friends, but you do have to get along and be inclusive of other members.

Make sure your guildies know what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them. I think our biggest problem with the guild above was that we joined it expecting to meet people we could spend time with (it was, after all, an RP guild on an RP server; even at lower levels we could have gotten together to RP) and I’m not actually sure what they expected of us. Probably they didn’t expect that we would leave and take five people out of the guild at one time.

Divide and (Befriend)

Cliques usually become more of a concern when:

1) members have a pre-existing attachment to each other, either from a former guild or real-life friendship or both,

or 2) some circumstance in the guild drives people towards each other in the face of adversity.

If anyone feels under attack, isolated, or otherwise excluded from guild activities – they are liable to gravitate towards other people who feel the same way.

What’s the solution to this? Be as inclusive as you possibly can. Make an extra effort to get to know specific people. You don’t always have to be the one spending time with them, but bringing them into a five-man group with other guildies might make those guildies more inclined to run together later. One of the best officers I ever had was a lady from the guild pictured above. Each week she’d say to me, “Oh, so-and-so is my ‘project.’” She meant by this that each week she was focusing on getting to know one person specifically, to talk to and include them. Of course you have to do this with moderation. If someone is an introvert, being badgered constantly is probably not going to earn their friendship; it might get them to stop logging in with exasperation. So this is your first step, you must get to know people and include them. The second component to this (if a clique already exists) is to try to do it without existing friends around.

See if you can get the guy who is usually quiet in guild chat into Mumble to run some five-mans. Most people will open up a bit more in that circumstance, plus they get to know you as well. Do this with everyone you can – separately. People who realize that you care about getting to know them as individuals are much more likely to feel at home in your guild, and much less likely to only talk to their close friends.

Limit New Folks

This one is easier said than done. One guild I was in actually had a hard and fast limit of members they would accept within a given time frame. This ensured that before new members joined, others would already be a part of the guild. The needs of a raiding guild can sometimes preclude this, unfortunately, but it’s still important to keep in mind. Each new person you introduce into a group will unbalance it simply by being there. Everyone has to get to know the new member, and assert their role within the group. It takes time to settle down. When you have many new people at one time, you run the risk of completely unbalancing the preexisting social dynamic. You can even isolate the guildies you already have, because things have changed, and they may no longer see themselves in the change.

For this reason I’m especially wary of groups of players. You see these ads on the forums, “Mage, H Pally, Druid LF Raiding Guild.” Sometimes, maybe these will be a great find. Just be aware that you may be letting yourself in for a ready-made clique that could prove difficult to integrate into your guild.

In Business Time, we all get along, because we're all Voss.

Respect

This may seem overly simplistic, but if you respect your guild members are a up front with them about any issues or problems, I have a naive belief that you can’t go too far wrong. It’s tough, because you can’t exactly tell someone “I notice you only hang around with these two other people. Could you try to spend time with other people too?” Small cliques and groups will naturally form in any group of people. They aren’t even necessarily something you want to avoid at all costs, so much as be aware of. Does it matter if Jim, Jacqueline and Joe have an arena team together? Probably not. Do they have an arena team together but also never run five-mans with anyone but each other? You might have a problem there. What you CAN say is, “Hey Jim (or Jacqueline, or Joe), want to come run this five-man with us?”

If folks are still sticking to themselves primarily, you could just ask them separately if there is a problem they want to talk about, and whether everything is okay. Maybe they had a conflict with another guildie and are specifically avoiding him/her, or maybe they are shy and haven’t known how to expand their social circle within the guild. Whether there is a problem or not, you won’t know unless you ask. Taking the time to talk to someone is far preferable than saying later, “I am always available to talk! Why didn’t you come talk to me?” Plenty of people aren’t comfortable approaching leadership about anything “official,” or they themselves may not know their problem is big enough to need addressing. If you take the time to check in with your guildies periodically just to see how they are doing, I guarantee you’ll have a healthier guild as a result.

I should add, as an aside, that I sometimes feel a bit odd writing posts like this when I know that some guildies read my blog. Yes, I think about “management stuff,” but it isn’t motivated from a place of wanting to manipulate guild folks. I’ve seen this attitude of “We are such a small group, so we don’t need rules” or “We just want to have fun, we don’t need any management BS,” but I actually think that having people who do consider these things is what helps to ensure that everyone has fun. Most of the time, I’m just thinking, “Hey, let’s go kill some internet dragons!” and having fun with the people in my guild. But I do stay attuned to the social currents, if you will, to make sure that potential problems are waylaid before they ruin anyone’s good times.

So have you had the trouble of cliques in your guild before? Were you a member of one (like I was?) What did/would you do to handle them?

6 Reasons To Sign Up For Twitter

The bird is the word.

You may have heard of this newfangled social media thing. Like me, you might be initially opposed to it. I thought that Twitter was mostly people talking about what they had for lunch (in 140 characters or less). I suppose sometimes someone mentions lunch. The breakthrough for me with Twitter came when a blogger I liked and respected (hi Anea!) suggested I ought to sign up for Twitter “because I seemed like I’d be fun to talk to.”

“People talk to each other with this?” I remember thinking. They do! It’s like a big IRC channel where WoW nerds hang out. Whether you are a blogger or an avid blog reader, a knitter, a runner, or just someone who enjoys MMOs, there are people who share your interests that you can talk to. You’d be surprised how many of those interests often intersect. I think there are many reasons to sign up for a Twitter account and start tweeting. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. You can unsubscribe from the major MMO news sites, because you’ll never miss news again. I’ve truthfully ‘heard’ more breaking news on Twitter than anywhere else. Of course, it’s not a ‘news source,’ (do your own research!) but if a new armour set has been released, if a Blue has said something noteworthy, or if some major change has been announced – you’ll usually hear about it in under a minute. Sometimes controversial news is marked by what I fondly think of as a twitsplosion – a flurry of incensed or astonished tweets from different people.

2. Get to know your favourite bloggers, or get to know your readers. Often, discussions on Twitter can be similar to blog comment discussions (albeit a bit truncated). Most bloggers and WoW folks have a Twitter account – everyone from Big Bear Butt to El from El’s Angling. (I really like fishing!) People use them to various degrees, but it can be really fun to see the person behind the blog or site, as most folks are a bit more personal on their Twitter.

3. Take advantage of a resource in its own right. Usually, if I have a question that Google doesn’t immediately answer, someone (or multiple someones) can answer it for me on Twitter. Does anyone have good links to warlock guides? Does anyone know of a holy paladin leveling guide? My guild has been wiping to phase x of fight z, can someone give us some pointers? The people on Twitter in my experience have been incredibly helpful. You can probably find anything from a recipe for a good bean soup to a boss strat just by asking, and there will be someone willing and able to help.

4. Find new reading material. Most bloggers will tweet about any new blog entry they make. People who read their list can then choose to “retweet,” or repeat that message to their own list of followers. In this way, you might see a blog entry whose name or subject matter catches your eye. I have found many new blogs via Twitter, just from following people who follow me, or clicking on interesting sounding blog articles. This doesn’t just have to be WoW-related, either – I also follow a few Canadian newspapers that tweet new articles as they happen. I definitely read more news because of this than I would otherwise.

5. Gather around the virtual ‘watercooler.’ Especially if – like me – you work from home, you’ll know that sometimes it can get a bit quiet on your own. Sometimes saying hi on Twitter in the morning can feel like strolling into an office, with fellow telecommuters and at-work people alike. There are people to commiserate with about the weather, or in my case to remind you that spring IS happening somewhere and will eventually come to the frozen north as well. (It did happen eventually. We have sun now instead of snow). If you have any kind of smart phone, you will find Twitter is a boon when you have to suffer public transportation or other boring necessities.

6. Customize your Twitter feed to suit you. By this I mean, you can follow five hundred people, or you can follow five. You can limit it to people you ‘know’ really well. I know people who follow three thousand folks, and people who follow forty-five. It’s entirely up to you how you choose to use it, and you can say as much as you like or as little. I guarantee you, it’s more fun if you join in the conversation, though. To find new people to follow you can always just look through someone’s Twitter friend list and see if there are any familiar faces. Don’t be shy; if you do decide to give it a shot, make sure you say hi to @_vidyala!

Twitter Basics

Hashtags: are used to separate subjects or topics people want to talk about and keep separate. For example, #wowarttrade2011 might be used for a specific purpose. Sometimes people use a hashtag ironically to comment on the subject matter they’re discussing or just to be silly. (e.g. #shitmyguildsays or #needcoffeenow). I don’t drink coffee, though, I’m just making this stuff up.

@s or “Mentions”: When someone ‘mentions’ a twitter name by including it in their tweet in its entirety, that tweet will appear in their timeline as a mention. You can mention multiple people in one tweet (reply all is the easiest way to do this). Even celebrities see their mentions and sometimes reply. Yes, I had a total fangirl moment when Brandon Sanderson answered a tweet of mine, what about it?! Anyway, make sure to check your mentions so you don’t miss when someone is trying to talk to you. It’s considered polite to reply if the tweet is a question, but depending on how many people you follow sometimes it’s not possible to reply to everyone.

DM or “direct message,” Twitter’s equivalent of a whisper. You can only direct message someone who is a reciprocal follower.

The specific tag “#FF” is used on Fridays to denote ‘Follow Friday,’ when people recommend others that you should be following. The Oatmeal summarizes what actually happens on Friday. For this reason I try to limit my #FFs and actually explain why the person is fun to follow.

Twitter applications: There are better ways to use Twitter than via the website. Personally, I use Tweetdeck on my computer and HootSuite on my phone. (Twitter itself has an app for the phone but it had a few bugs that were driving me crazy). These allow for more customization in the feeds and tags that you might follow, as well as easy ways to reply to everyone, block or report spam, etc.

Which brings me to: bots and spammers. Not everyone that might follow you on Twitter is a real person. It has more than its fair share of bots and spammers, unfortunately. I always go to someone’s home page and glance at their tweets and description. If there is no description, no avatar (the default Twitter ‘bird’), a page full of links with no commentary – or all of the above, then it’s quite likely they are a spammer. Tweetdeck has an option where you can block and report spam in a single click. On the persons’ avatar, it’s under Other Actions and then Block & Report Spam. Use this feature liberally. Death to spammers!

A final note about Twitter privacy and etiquette: You can opt to have your tweets “protected,” i.e. visible to only those you allow to follow you. Be aware though that if you want to acquire many followers of your own, this isn’t the best way to do it. If someone follows me and I have to request to follow them and I can’t see what their tweets are like, typically, odds are I just don’t follow them back. If you are uncertain about privacy, at least consider staying public until you find the folks you want to chat with and then go private later.

Remember: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, and nothing you say on the internet ever goes away. Your tweets are searchable, so I’d advise not saying anything about someone you wouldn’t say to their face. But that’s just plain old life advice anyway! The only trouble I’ve seen on Twitter are when people start talking about religion, politics, and sometimes mages vs warlocks. Don’t assume that everyone who also likes to kill internet dragons shares your politics, and above all be respectful. If someone really bugs you, you aren’t obligated to keep reading what they have to say. The number of people you will love reading greatly outweigh the few though, I think.

What do you think? Are you still a Twitter holdout? Are you thinking of giving it a try?

On Leadership

I arrived at the guild leadership position pretty reluctantly. It wasn’t something I ever sought out or campaigned for. I didn’t start my own guild from the ground up. I took the position because – and I suspect this is more common than you’ll hear – nobody else wanted to do it. Nobody wanted it, and I wanted the guild to keep going and to do well. So I agreed. I don’t think I was the popular choice at the time, some people even going out of their way to let me know that xyz would have done it better.

I’ve made mistakes. Learning on the job will do that to you. One of the mistakes I made was not doing enough, thinking I could withdraw, stay everyone’s friend and let someone else do the dirty work. I’ve taken steps to rectify that since, and I like to think I’m succeeding. At the end of the day, the responsibility for the success and failure of the guild rests on my shoulders and I take that very seriously. I don’t consider my fellow guildies lightly. I’ve only been at this gig for a year and a bit now, but I’ve learned some things along the way. I’d like you to listen to these things, for just a moment.

I’ve spent countless hours worrying, talking, planning, and labouring for my guild. I’ve lost sleep. I’ve shed tears. When we’re in recruitment mode (and we are right now), I refresh forums every five minutes looking for suitable candidates. I try to write ads that will catch people’s eye, make us stand out in a sea of guilds with the same progression, with similar goals. More than anyone else, I have to believe in what we are doing because I have to convince others of that vision. I pay attention to who comes online, I get concerned when I haven’t seen someone for awhile, and I can tell when someone’s interest is waning. I can gauge the mood of a raid. I can tell you how many days it’s been since we last had a new boss kill, and I can sure tell you how I’m afraid that people will lose interest. I try to keep things upbeat. I make unpopular decisions. I know the ‘real’ names of every person in my guild and I genuinely care how things are going in their lives.

I think we have something truly great, and I don’t want to give the impression that it’s just due to me. I am terrible at vent interviews – I have a fantastic officer who  leads them. I don’t really like tweaking website code or colours – I have a savvy officer who handles that for me. I don’t have the best demeanor for raid leading – all the other officers take turns doing that. One handles sign-ups and scheduling, and we have a bevy of knowledgeable raiders who help to refine our strats and call things out mid-fight so that we can kill internet dragons. These things don’t run themselves.

What I’m skirting around saying but really want to say, is that there have been times when I really could have used a break. Times when my real-life was crazy, or sad, and people have stepped in to help keep things running. There have been times when I wanted to throw up my hands and take up a WoW career of pet-collecting. (The course of a true guild never did run smooth). I never did those things because ultimately the value of what I had – and the trust, and the expectations – were worth more than a brief break, even if I needed it. You may have stopped logging in for a week or two because you’ve grown bored of the game – the guild leader can’t do that. You may decide you don’t want to raid anymore  – the guild leader can’t do that. You may have a conflict with another member – the guild leader definitely can’t do that. Or if they do, they have to remain completely professional because it’s not just about you and them, it’s about what they want their guild to be and the respect they have for the people in it.

I don’t tend to lose my cool in pugs because I want the world at large to think well of my guild, and I am a representative of it. I don’t get in trade chat disputes, I try to establish contacts with other guilds on the realm. I do all of this because of how damned much I care.

You might wonder where I am going with this. I’ve read some things lately that have made me sad. Keeva is frustrated because she can’t find raiders who care the way she does and ultimately it may drive her to quit. Beru wrote something today that was subtle and poignant to me. The job we do is time-consuming, heart-wrenching, and often thankless. No, I’m not playing the martyr, it’s just a fact. There is no single person in your guild who cares as much as the guild leader cares, and if that’s not true – then it’s time to find another guild. I’ve been asked to expand on this statement because it could be vague and a bit misleading. I don’t mean that people in the guild don’t care. Of course they do! That’s what makes a guild great. I just mean that the extent of it comes with the position. Any guild conflict that arises is considered appropriate dinner conversation in our household. There’ve been times when one or the other of us will say, “Hey, let’s talk about something that doesn’t involve WoW.” I’m not even necessarily complaining there, either. It’s a volunteer job and a hobby and a passion that we share, and when things go right I am so proud. If a guild leader begins to care less than their members, they should seriously consider whether they do need to take a break or pass on the torch, because you have to care that much. Voss and I once had a discussion about what we’d do if any of our guildies were in trouble somehow, in real-life, and we could help. Would we help? I would help, every single one, because these are my people.

If you are in a guild that is struggling in any way – progression, conflicts, stagnation, lack of interest – before you complain (to the world at large, or to other guild members, the guild leader, or the officers) – first ask yourself: What have I done for the guild lately? Have I been logging in and chatting? Have I organized an event? Did I volunteer to take on some onerous task, run a guild five-man, write out a boss strat on the forums, or even just ask the guild leader or officers, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” or god forbid, “How are you doing?” There is no guild leader that can keep a guild steamrolling forward in the face of apathy and unrealistic expectations. The people in a guild are its lifeblood. If you aren’t part of the solution, there’s a good chance you are part of the problem.

Be part of the solution instead. And hug your guild leader (metaphorically) or just tell him or her what a great job they are doing and how much you appreciate them. I guarantee you it’ll make their day, and they don’t hear it nearly often enough.

Knowing When It’s Time To Let Go (Redux)

This post originally appeared in my old space, Pugging Pally – last June. At the time I posted it I had a guildie ask me, “Uhh, is there something you want to tell us, Vid…?” There wasn’t, I just felt like I had something to say about the topic, and now I’m going to say it again!

It'll make sense in a minute, I promise.

It was my brother’s 25th birthday party, over seven years ago. We had only a stay-at-home affair planned – my Mom had baked a cake and we’d had supper in. It was just myself, Mom, and my brother’s (current, this is important, trust me) girlfriend, and my brother. We hadn’t yet actually had the food, or the cake, when the doorbell rang.

The girl at the door was his ex girlfriend. She arrived without having phoned beforehand. With her, she brought three things:

  • a birthday card
  • a framed photograph of her and my brother
  • and a gigantic cookie she had baked for him.

Needless to say, the following hour was not a comfortable one. It was so uncomfortable, in fact, that my Mom likes to remind me that I phoned up a friend on the sly and said, “Hey, want to go for coffee?” and then pretended that I’d planned to go out all along as I sped out the door with a breezy, “See you later!”

I remember leaving them all sitting at the kitchen table, current and ex girlfriend on either side, and my brother in the middle.

Say it with me now:

Awkwaaaard.

I don’t bring this up now because I’m the world’s meanest person, or I want to reflect on the feelings that would drive someone to come across as so, well, let’s face it…desperate. She knew my brother had a new girlfriend. They’d broken up over a year before, but she chose to drop by, hoping to…win him back? Remind him how awesome she was? I’m not sure. But I can relate to the feeling of clinging to something that’s probably run its course. In fact, when it comes to WoW it can be all too easy to do.

Friends

Very strong ties can be forged online, I think (I hope) we’ve all experienced how great it can be to play a game you enjoy with people you’ve met. But as Voss is constantly reminding me, the internet is a nebulous thing. In the two years that I’ve played WoW, I’ve had good friends, and they’ve gone on to do other things. Sometimes it’s harder when you don’t get any closure – someone just goes offline, or server transfers without a word. It’s not like there was a huge blow-up or fight, but they’ve clearly moved on. My unofficial rule is one point of contact, and then it’s over.

When we “split” with our former server and transferred to raid on another, not all of our friends were too happy about it. I hoped we could stay friends, but some reactions were pretty unpleasant. I did send an e-mail or two, before I realized that it was pointless to pursue something that really had no future. The biggest thing we had in common was the game – why belabor something that had run its course? It was better to just let it go. Even now I occasionally miss some of those people, and I think about e-mailing or dropping by their server to say “hi,” but I always stop myself. The friendship can’t exist the way that it did, and so it’s better for all of us to just not go there.

This isn’t to say you can’t stay friends with people if your server, guild or even faction affiliation changes. Sometimes you can, and sometimes it’s better if you just don’t. The trick is to learn to discern the difference between the two.

Guilds

This is somewhat related to the previous point, because naturally you often become good friends with the people in your guild. But the guild exists separately from the friendships, an entity unto itself. Whatever the guild’s focus is – PvP, PvE and raiding, or roleplay – people change, and so do their goals and wishes within the game. The casual, friendly guild you joined to level up when you first started playing may no longer fit your burning desire to raid end-game with like-minded people. It doesn’t mean you suddenly hate everyone in the other guild, but you may have to make a choice to change in order to do what you want to do.

It’s not an easy decision to make, but in the long run both you and your former guild mates will probably be happier for it. If you’re staying in a guild out of a sense of obligation or inertia, people around you can sense it. If you leave before things start to sour, there’s still a chance you can retain the friendships you value.

Activities

Maybe it’s that arena team you agreed to join, or the raiding you were really gung-ho about, and unfortunately you found out that you don’t enjoy it the way you thought you would. I don’t advocate leaving people in the lurch – if you’ve made a commitment, you should honour it. But your first priority should be yourself – if it’s not fun any more, set an end-date for it, or talk to the people your decision will affect, and try to come up with a compromise. Don’t keep making yourself do something you don’t want to do. It’s a game, and you should be having fun.

Naturally this can intersect with either of the previous topics; you joined a raiding guild, so you can’t really get too bent out of shape to realize that… it requires raiding commitments. But if it’s not working for you any more, most raiding guilds have some provisions in place for social members. You can always step down from the active roster but remain in the guild.

Blogs

Most people who write blogs are usually avid blog-readers. I’ve definitely heard an ongoing complaint from other bloggers about their massive, unwieldy blogrolls. What I have to say might sound a bit callous, but I’m going to say it anyway: cut that thing down to size! Feel no guilt. I think the problem is that we tend to associate a blog more with a person than content. So taking them off the blogroll might feel a bit like, “I don’t like you any more.” It isn’t, though.

I don’t know about you guys, but my work and other commitments can severely limit the amount of time I have available to read blogs in a given day. I have to be pretty ruthless about what I take the time to read, and it was an adjustment for me. When work wasn’t busy, I had all the time in the world, I could read any blog I liked. Nowadays, I’m pretty judicious about new blogs I add, and I do sometimes regretfully remove (usually inactive blogs) or blogs that aren’t speaking to me any more.

It’s cliche, but “It’s not you, it’s me,” really applies here. It could be a blog about a class I don’t play as avidly. Speaking from my own point of view, I’d rather someone not read my blog than feel they have to read it but it’s kind of boring to them. I get that you don’t hate me. It’s okay.

Even when I don’t actually remove a blog – I’ll admit, I use “Mark all as read” liberally. Some blogs update more often than I can keep up. I might skim to see if a topic really interests me and then read more in-depth and comment. I know everyone loves comments. But when there’s no time for that… there’s always Twitter, right? (140 characters is just right for small procrastination breaks).

This section applies to writing a blog, too. Sometimes your interest may have waned, and you just don’t have anything left to say. I know many bloggers have recently been hanging up their hats, and while it makes me sad I can’t do anything but respect their decisions. It’s better to walk away knowing you made the right decision than to just let your blog fade leaving people wondering what happened.

No, Really

So whatever it is… if you feel you might be clinging to something that’s just over (or should be), take steps to rectify or change the situation so that you can have fun again. It might be something I didn’t cover here, I don’t know, but I suspect you will.

In the situation I described before I left a bad situation on my old server, the stress and drama was making me physically ill. I had recurring, painful migraines and bouts of inexplicable nausea. Yes, I know, it’s “just a game,” but it can have a way of making itself pervasive. We can all take this game pretty seriously sometimes. But your subconscious often knows what’s best for you, and it’s telling you somehow or other. Don’t be a “quitter,” but don’t jeopardize your own health and well-being either.

And don’t drop by to visit any ex-girl or boyfriends. You’ll thank me later.

I'm so over you. But you don't know what you're missing!

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