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.'”
“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.