Friends and Raiders: How Far is Too Far?

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I’m back after my vacation and feeling very recharged, with that said I bring you today’s post!

This is a question every raid leader has to ask themselves at one point or another. How far can you push your raid before it’s too far? If you push your raiders too far, they drop like flies. Burn out increases at exponential rates and you find yourself actually losing ground. The problem is how does one gauge it? How does a raid leader find the line before they cross it? It’s not easy I can tell you that much. Most people I’ve talked to about this on twitter as well as just passing conversation all have different ideas on how you can find the line.

The topic came up a little over three weeks ago. Our main tank and guild leader (Death Knight) was in the middle of a horrible storm and was making sure his roof was still in tact, needless to say he wasn’t there for Vezax (and understandably so). This left us with our Second highest tank (Prot Paladin). In addition to this we were down a couple raiders due to vacations or family events. If you’ve read up on Vezax you’ll know he has an ability called Surge of Darkness. A Death Knight is able to blow cooldowns every time it’s being cast (part of the reason it’s DK tanking is getting a slight nerf) and makes the ability moot. The other tanks don’t have the luxury of having a cooldown available for every surge. One strategy is to kite him around for the 10 seconds the ability is active, but we like to reduce movement on boss fights as much as we possibly can. After a couple wipes we developed an idea for a cooldown rotation involving the Pally’s CDs, two Guardian Spirits and Pain Supression. The night was filled with all sorts of Murphy’s law. Everything that could go wrong did. After every attempt though I kept trying to push the raid forward. This is an easy fight all things considered, we’ve killed him before multiple times and 90% of what was going wrong was outside of control. No reason to quit right? After 12 attempts we finally kill him again.

After the raid I was talking to one of our warlocks, he commented that the number of attempts we made almost broke him. So I asked him if he though I was pushing the raid too far. He replied with “one more and probably”. The week after we had a similar issue with Thorim. Murphy came out and smacked us around just a little bit with random DC’s and bugged mobs, and after several attempts we were all feeling worn down and called it a night after we toppled him.

As a raid leader there is nothing more frustrating then wiping on farm content, be it through player error or laws of the universe conspiring against you. Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably remember many of my in between wipe comments like “I think I need to kick a puppy”. Being in charge, even just in part of a raid can be very frustrating. When the event fails it’s hard not to take it upon yourself and feel like you failed, or let the guild down. The burden of responsibility comes with a certain amount of guilt and most raid leaders will tell you as much. Sometimes we walk away in defeat and try again later, other times we push harder to meet the goal. Raid leaders have to know though, when it’s time to lick your wounds and come back later.

If they don’t learn when it’s time to call it they run the risk of increasing raider burn out and doing more harm then good to the raid overall. So what do we look for?

Performance

Watching your raids performance is one of the ways a raid leader can tell if they are pushing the raid too far. Are your top DPS getting lower on the charts? Is the raid missing easy interrupts? Are people who normally don’t fail at void zones failing at void zones? Is there an overall increase in the frequency of easily prevented deaths?

When you see your raid’s performance start to dip you have to stop and ask yourself, why. Is it because of bugs or lag? Bad luck with connections and addons? Is it just too late in the evening? If you find raid performance dipping with no good reason or outside cause, it might be time to call it a last attempt and then sleep it off.

Morale and Attitude

Another good indicator is the general mood of the raid. Is everyone still having a good time? Is everyone talkative on vent? Is everyone moping about or seemingly disinterested in the raid? People seem like they are ready to go to bed? If your morale in the raid is slipping, you bet performance is going down hill. Also when morale slips, tension between raiders can rise as well. Sometimes this can lead to confrontation if you’re not careful.

I have a raider who I adore, she’s one of my favorite people in the world. Every now and then I’ll get a tell from her with a statement something like “this isn’t going well is it?” , “grrrrrrr what are we doing different tonight?!?”, “I think I need to lay down =(“. It’s usually at this point I know it’s time to call it a night, or getting there very quickly. She’s usually very chipper and gives it her all. But when I get one of those tells I know we’re going to be winding down soon as morale is starting to take a turn south.

Raider input

This is a big one for me at least. I listen to my raiders. If a raider comes to me and says that it’s just too much, I listen. I expect my raiders to be vocal.  If there is a problem or concern I expect that they will tell me. I know my guild leader expects the same as well. As a raider you should be able to go to the raid officers and let them know when you feel yourself slipping for whatever reason. Your raid leaders aren’t psychic (even if we are using Big Brother) and sometimes the only way we know what’s going on is when you tell us. We are after all only human so help us out when you can.

That’s it for today.

Until next time, Happy Healing.

Sig

Image courtesy of  http://images.paraorkut.com

Aura of Command

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Some players have it. Some players don’t. The aura of command allows you to take charge. Having the aura causes you to feel zero discomfort when you impose your views and opinions upon others.

Is it the confrontation aspect?

No. Confrontation does not scare you. It is a means to an end. That end is resolution. Others turn a blind eye or choose to ignore ugly side of things. Possessing the aura of command allows you to present the facts and the truth despite how good or bad the situation may be. It’s a challenge to keep other people honest. The person with the aura of command comes across as opinionated and intimidating. But they’re often willing to differ to them. It’s difficult to explain, but such people attract players. They have this presence around them that enables instructions to be followed.

I’m getting used to the command chair myself. It’s not a small feat to take over the raid leading position when it’s been executed well over the past year. My lieutenants have aided me wonderfully. I don’t show it but I constantly second guess my decisions. I am not the decisive leader that I want to be. Sometimes it feels like I’m a step or two behind.

When you’re in command, there’s two things that have to be balanced.

A correct decision

The right decision. What is the right decision? No one ever knows. Sometimes the path is quite obvious. Other times it’s hidden. Hell, the rest of the time you have to blaze through and make your own path. Command is all about taking the information and resources you have available and then coming to a seemingly logical conclusion. If it’s not a logical one, then it has to be the best case one.

When it comes to raids, there’s all sorts of choices that go through my head. There’s all these conditions that has to be met.

For Yogg, the brain room team needs a Heroism. No Enhancement Shaman available. I do have an Elemental Shaman. But the outside group needs an Elemental Shaman. They also need more DPS. I had to ask Syd to switch to Space Turkey form and do her best. There are all sorts of command decisions, influences and situations. It’s not always easy. Everything is much simpler to digest when you look back at it all.

A swift decision

In addition to choosing the correct path, it has to be done in a timely fashion. I have 24 other players depending on me to not only make the right call, but to make the right call now so that we can get the ball rolling.

I never forget that indecision itself is a decision.

At times I can be slow. I wish I can process information as quickly as others but it takes a few seconds extra for me to digest. I’m embarrassed to say that others are able to come to a conclusion faster than I can. But I chalk that up to inexperience on my part. Certainly I’m eager to learn and apply. There’s no manual or readme for this type of stuff. It comes with practice and exposure.

When it comes down to it, a choice has to be made. Command does not equal clairvoyance. You can’t see in the future. An option is picked, a quick prayer is whispered, and the best is wished for.

But it’s damned great to have a support system and network in place to help you through it. It really is lonely at the top.

Image courtesy of ZoofyTheJi.

So You Think You Can Raid

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I caught the Vegas auditions last week for So You Think You Can Dance (and the results the next day). The judges can be so brutally honest sometimes. They possess a level of blunt truthfulness. Sometimes I wish I could be like that. As a guild master and a player, interaction and feedback is a daily occurrence.

Watching this weeks performance show (Bollywood was amazing, cha cha was really good and samba was just wow) and witnessing the judge comments reminded me that negative feedback does not always have to be harsh. It’s how you respond to it that matters.

Making the cut

This isn’t a post about getting through and making the guild (or raid). This is about the leadership perspective. We’re like judges. We evaluate and assess new recruits based on what we see. Sometimes we have to cut people. What sucks for us is that in a game that is dynamic and long lasting as this is the fact that evaluation is a constant.

When a guild recruits a player even as a trial, we do so hoping that the player meets or surpasses our expectations. When the challenges that a raid instance offers goes up (such as the gap from Naxxramas to Ulduar), there is an expectation that the player evolves and grows up in the same direction. Some players are able to do it admirably. Others just can’t. For whatever reason, they are not able to fulfill the level of technical skill that the encounter demands.

I especially want to direct this to struggling players who have been talked to by their leadership or fellow guildmates.

  • We’re not calling you dicks.
  • We’re not calling you morons.
  • We’re not calling you dipshits.
  • We’re not calling you assholes.
  • We’re not calling you humanity’s failures.

But we do recognize that you’re struggling. It would be disrespectful if that was simply swept under the rug and ignored. When you’re cut, it’s for a reason.

Why is it so difficult?

Cutting people from raids isn’t a feeling I take satisfaction from. It’s one of the worse things about this GM role. There’s something heartbreaking about telling a prepared raider that they’re not going to get the call up today. And at this point, I expect the whole this is just a game, stop taking it so seriously argument to crop up. Yeah, I understand it’s a game. But you’re still dealing with real people on the other end of it. It’s amazing how many people can lose sight of that. They’re not simple chess pieces on a board to be sacrificed on a whim.

It gets way harder when a person continues to be benched.

Is it the fact that the guild’s invested time and energy into getting them some gear to help out? No.

Is it because no one likes telling people they don’t get to go today? No.

Then what is it?

I’ve acted as a recruiter in no less than four different guilds. We watch new recruits and prospects. We try and carefully screen them as best we can.

What sucks for me personally is knowing that I spotted talent and potential in a player only to realize days or weeks later when they’re in our raids that I was completely wrong about them and their ability. No one likes to be wrong.

All the upper management types are scoffing. Understandable. They’re seasoned at the whole letting go thing. I’d probably be terrible as a manager or as HR. Heh, I’m still in my early 20s and you know that rule where everyone under 25 doesn’t know what they’re doing. I sure as heck don’t.

There is a limit

I hate to say it, but there’s a ceiling to the amount of effort that will be invested to help a player. Gear can only do so much.

Usually when a player is told that they need improvement and a strategy is devised to help them in that path, one of two things will happen.

Improvement: Player reads strategies, watches videos, talks with other players of that same class. Undergoes a noticeable level of change. Actually gets better and is able to respond to the challenges of raiding.

No improvement: Player reads strategies, watches videos, talks with other players. Does not improve at all. Level of skill stays stagnant. No signs of growth. Nothing happens. Doesn’t seem to care.

If a player improves, great! GM’s job or class officer or whoever’s it is is now complete! Mission accomplished! Congratulations! You helped Joe Mage get better!

But what about the alternative? What if they don’t?

You see, no amount of video watching, strat reading, image diagramming, peer discussion, or gearing up can make a player better. A player has to not only learn from what they’re absorbing but they have to act on it. I can watch any number of healing videos or read all the stuff on EJ’s. But if I don’t noticeably improve somehow, then there is no amount of anything in the world that can help. You have to find the way to battle through and prove that you can raid. If you can’t meet that threshold even with all the resources at your disposal, then there is nothing more that can be done. The onus is always going to be on the player to get better.

Not everyone can. Not every player is fit to raid. Hard mode is hard. Not every guild can successfully do it. I can’t arena for crap.

The next step after that is entirely up to you and your guild. Either they find a new role for you or you start shopping for a new guild or accept being permanently benched. I’ve had to reassign players before. They weren’t meeting the expectations that were set for them. Sometimes a change of scenery or position works wonders and they just so happen to fit in.

Negative feedback is hard to give. But it’s even harder to receive.

Friends and Raiders: Raider Accountability

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So, it’s a topic that is always present but not a lot of people seem to want to touch on is disciplining raiders. It’s a topic most people hope to never deal with, but inevitably it comes up, how do you discipline your raiders? My guild has several ranks, the hierarchy goes like this.

GM

Officer

Class Lead

Raider

Veteran

Applicant

The raider rank offers free consumables for raids and a guaranteed raid spot on our 25 man raid nights. Pretty sweet deal right? The officers thought so too, but we felt it had to come with some requirements. Last year at Blizzcon 08 my guild was lucky enough that almost all the officers were able to attend. We hit up a pub, ordered a few pints and decided to hash out ground rules. We understand everyone has off days, so with that in mind how do we evaluate our raiders? We have three categories which we judge our raiders. Performance, Attendance and Attitude.

Performance

This is judged by varying degrees depending on class and role. We divided out the basic archetypes into 4 groups and an officer looks over each group one for melee, one for hunters, one for casters and one for healers (guess which one I take care of). We don’t set hard numbers but we look for a couple things. Is the player performing well based on assignment and others of their class? Is the player prepared with proper gems, enchants, talent spec and consumables (and using the provided consumables)? Does the player have their resistance gear(if applicable)? Is the player following assignments (healers on their target, interrupts doing what they need to do, the right sheeps going out)? Is the player consistently dying to void zones for no good reason? Is the person looting / herbing / mining etc instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing (ex: picking flowers instead of healing the tank)

That’s a rough sketch but you get the idea.
Attendance

This one is a hard number. We require that those of the raider rank attend 75% of the main raids (we only count our 25 man raids since for us that’s the focus) if you are not going to be able to make an official raid we expect you to give us notice so we can prepare. We understand that life happens and well, real life is more important then the game. We just ask that our raiders give us notification so we can bring in a replacement and keep the raid going for those that are on.

We also require that raiders be at the instance at the time of raid invites. This is not too much to ask, log out at the instance the night before if you have to. We don’t want to keep an entire raid waiting because one or two people are horsing around in Dalaran, or are always waiting for a Warlock to summon them.

Attitude

This one’s a bit of a wild card for some people, but the basics of the concept is as follows. Is the player badgering other players? (this includes harassing classes on the same token if they are going to drop or pass the token to the player) Is the person constantly in a sour mood and taking it out on the raid? Is the person ignoring assignments? Is the person acting like they just don’t want to be there? This also includes personal grievances between players. If one player has a problem with another we investigate it.

For this one it’s more the temper tantrum rule. If you’re being pissy, expect to be called on it.

Punitive Measures

So, now that we’ve metered out the 3 categories to go by how does one go about reprimanding offenders? For attendance issues we review the monthly numbers and people below the 75% mark are brought to the attention of the raid officers. If we see that there is sufficient reason for a demotion (ie skipped two weeks of raids for beer blasts) we will demote the person from raider status. We understand that real life happens and of course won’t hold unavoidable events against our raiders.

For performance and attitude we follow the Three Strike Rule. Each time a raider breaks one of the rules they receive a strike. Along with the strike comes a warning, usually handled in whispers during a break in the raid or if its severe enough during the encounter. We try to avoid public defamation on vent (but that doesn’t keep us from screaming to get out of the damned void zones when needed). Attitude problems are dealt with swiftly and on the spot. Informing the raider that they can and will be removed if the behavior continues (and following through with it). There is an officer in every class channel and usually one per group in 25 mans, so we have a good idea when someone is acting up. When a raider reaches three strikes they will receive two treatments. First is a docking of DKP. My guild still uses the DKP system so this is a major check point for most of our raiders. The degree of the docking depends on the severity of the strikes to be decided by the raid officers. Along with that comes the evaluation of the person’s raider status.  The raid officers decide if the person should be demoted.

Personal grievances are set for investigation. Officers will step in and separate the people in question, find out whats happening and determine what needs to be done, if anything.

To be honest we’ve never gotten to the third strike for anyone. DKP docking and removal of rank act as great deterrents and our raiders are generally pretty adult about most things, our officers are pretty proactive as well. We hold clinics and workshops as necessary if a player decides they need help. An officer is almost always on in game and class leaders are always afoot. We are very active as a guild and work together to bring everyone up, as well as weed out anything that might threaten the stability of our raid and guild.

You’ll find most raiding guilds have something like this set up. Ours is probably more lenient then some, but it works for us. We have a pretty long app process so people who make it through generally are good seeds and mesh well with the way we do things, so disciplining raiders doesn’t come up very often.

So how about you? How does your guild handle your raider? Do you Handle them at all? How do you handle personal grievances among guildies/raiders?

Until next time, Happy Healing

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Image courtesy of Guardian.co.uk

Friends and Raiders: Becoming a Leader

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Where do all the officers and leaders come from? I mean, they all started somewhere right? As people become leaders the workload shifts and changes for them. The community over at PlusHeal has an entire section devoted to leadership. Tools of the trade, tips and tricks, and most importantly in my opinion how to make the transition from raider to officer or healing lead. Today I’ll talk a bit about making the transition and some of the obstacles you will face as well as share some of my personal experiences with you.

A little background, I spent most of my time in Vanilla WoW and in Burning Crusade as a raider switching from DPS to Healing when Burning Crusade came out. Partway through Burning Crusade our Heal Lead and Raid Officer left the game. In his absence I was asked to take over Heal Lead and shortly thereafter was awarded the rank of officer in his place. It wasn’t expected and I had to make the transition quickly. We finished out Burning Crusade and then headed off to Northrend to go say hi to Arthas. Here’s some things that changed.

Addons

One of the first things most people tackle is the list of addons they run. After being put in charge of healers or a raid you’ll find yourself having to monitor a lot more things. It’s imperative you sit down and decide what information you need readily available to you at all times. Here’s some addons I found useful when I first started out

  • BigBrother – Like Orwell’s 1984, this see’s all and then reports it to you or the raid. This mod lets you check for buffs like flasks and other consumables as well as lets you know when CC like Shackle or sheep has been broken and by who. This is a great tool to make sure you’re raiders are using their consumables.
  • RaidCooldowns – This addon allows for you to track all the abilities with cooldowns in a raid. This will display battle rezes, innervates, Divine Hymn, Lay on Hands etc. For a complete list click the link and visit the site. Some trackable abilities like a Shaman’s Reincarnation require members of the raid to be running oRA2, CTRA, or RaidCooldowns itself  in order to display properly, however if you’re in a raiding guild, chances are your team will already have one of those.
  • CastMonitor – This lets you place a movable list of players that you can then monitor their target, as well what spell they are casting. This is great when you want to double check your healers are on the right targets or doing what they are supposed to.
  • Cellular – In your new position you’re going to be getting a lot of tells, no two ways about it. People will be confirming assigments or just checking to make sure they did ok. Cellular (or any similar mod) lets you keep them like AIM message windows and they stay nice and tidy. Helps make sure you don’t miss any important tells.

My UI is constantly changing. I’m removing and adding items frequently to find a mix that will give me all the information I need in a pretty package. Find what works for you to give you what you need.

Knowledge

I’m going to focus more on the healing aspect of it here, but the ideas stay the same for all of a raid. You are now responsible for the instruction and care of a team.You’re not going to have eight of the same class with the same spec (if you do please let me know I’d be curious at that one). Take time to familiarize yourself with the various healer classes and specs in your raid. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of each of the Specs present in your heal team and take the time to learn the encounters your team will be facing. Learn the mindset of your healers and don’t be afraid to ask them questions., after all they should have a commanding knowledge of their class. You’re in a position where you need to know whats going on and need to tell people to do. Knowing your healers mindset and asking for their input goes a long way. I make it a point to encourage my heal team to offer constructive ideas when things go wrong or are not working as well as they could be.

There are several threads over at PlusHeal that deal with how to assign people, who is better suited for what and more of the ins and outs of the various specs. My suggestion, spend time on forums like PlusHeal and see what you can learn. There is a plethora of information available to help you fill in your knowledge gaps from various strategy sites and different forums all over the internet.

Communication

This is something that I thought was the easiest part of the transition. You are a central point of communication for your raid. If you are Heal Lead, all of those healers report to you and you in turn report to the raid leader. It’s important to have ways to get information to everyone that needs to have it quickly and efficiently. For healers having a dedicated healing chat channel helps. In the same vein, class or role specific chat channels are a good idea. My guild has one channel for every class as well as one dedicated to healers and one for tanks. This allows us to easily hand out information and gives collective spots to have questions asked and answered. As a heal lead you’ll want to sit in the tank channel too. This lets you know who is going to be eating what hits and allows you to quickly and effectively assign healers for maximum effect. You are the communications hub, keep that in mind.

Sometimes raiders need to call in sick so to speak, or they’ll need information that isn’t readily available on the forums and needs an immediate reply. For this reason I have my contact information posted on the guild website. This includes my email address, AIM (msn, icq and yahoo as well),  and phone number. I’ve had several instances where I’ve been thanked by raiders for being so accessible. As another rule of thumb I have an open door policy. Anyone can come to me at anytime for anything and I’ll do what I can to help, and if I can’t I’ll do my best to find what they need or point them in the right direction.

Finding a Balance

This to me is the hardest thing a new heal lead or officer needs to do. You have to keep in mind that this is a social game. You have been dealing with at least two dozen other people for a long time and have more then likely made a few friends. When you get elevated to a position of authority sometimes it’s hard to find the line between what a friend would do and what an officer would do. In the same vein it’s often hard for people to distinguish that when looking at you. They have to understand your dual roles. Keep in mind that you are in a position of authority. You have a responsibility now to keep things moving and working at a good pace. Sometimes you will have to put friendship aside and tell a person no, but at the same time you don’t want to be so much of a jerk that no one likes you. You have two distinct roles, a friend and a leader. Let me give you an example of what I mean by finding a balance.

In BC when we were still clearing Mt. Hyjal, I was new to being a heal lead and officer. I was fairly quiet in vent aside from the friendly jibes and conversation, and I had a little less authority in my assigning of healers. Plainly put I was too nice. This came to a head when we were wiping on Archimonde. I kept seeing the same 4 people standing in the fire. After a night of wipes that had followed a week of wipes, I finally dropped a set so to speak and piped up on vent. I was assertive and authoritative in my tone. I thought I edged past normal limits and into jerk territory when everyone on vent was deathly silent. The statement was something like this

“Really? Seriously? You’re still standing in the fire? Come one people! Turn! Move! Stop whatever you are doing and move. Don’t finish your cast, don’t try to get one more instant off just turn on your heels and run. It’s not rocket science just do it. That’s all this fight is. Move. Out. Of. The. Damn. Fire.”

Next attempt saw a 25% improvement in dps on the boss (from 49% to 24% boss health) then we called it for the night. We came back and stomped him into the ground the following attempts. I received a lot of thank you tells that night. I still thought I stepped out of line. More recently I had a raiding healer whose spec was brought to our attention as not being ideal. It was missing key features we needed from that class. I was real life friends with this person for many years. The guild leader and the Class leader approached him about it before I was out of work, and he was quite upset. He turned to me on AIM and I told him I’d talk to them and see what’s up. After a lengthy discussion I agreed something needed to change. I informed the raider that yes, it would be appreciated if he respeced as the raid needed the particular talents he was missing. As a friend he expected me to back his position fully, but as a healing lead and officer I had to agree with what was better for the raid and for progression. Notice the word “was” I used when referring to my friend? He was unable to see that I had two roles and has decided that speaking to me in a non official capacity isn’t to his liking any longer. He still gets the job done and responds well to assignments, but holds a bit of a grudge. It’s very difficult to find that balance of being someone’s friend while still being an authority, its something we all constantly have to recalibrate.

How about you? Any tips for new leaders you’d like to share? Any stories about your own rise to being a leader?

That’s it for now. Until next time, happy healing!

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Image Courtesy of su.wustl.edu