A (Hopefully) Short Discussion About Coaching Raiders And What Goes Wrong

I’ve been pretty quiet here lately, for a few reasons.

Firstly, talking about WoW is largely rote right now because there just isn’t much new stuff in the game as a whole to discuss. As a player, I’ve done a lot of new stuff – raided with the other team in our guild, done some Castle Nathria achievements (with us likely to finish them tomorrow), worked on leveling my druid and death knight, and did my first Mythic +15 keystone ever, with pretty good results (over time by just under 2 minutes down to a silly mistake that wasn’t mine, thankfully!). I finally got a Sire weapon from Heroic and have brought my gear up to a 218 item level average, which has been the key to a lot of the fun, overpowered feeling I enjoy so much in Azeroth.

It’s also been sort of a time where I’ve been focused largely on streaming (twitch.tv/kaylriene, getting much closer to Affiliate!) and putting in time there both with streaming, but also engaging with other creators and trying to integrate with the community, starting with guildies and real friends to dip a toe in and try to get myself out there more.

But back to WoW, there has been some guild drama over the last few weeks, largely down to a mix of pent-up frustration from the tier (the large number of Sire pulls, coaching to problem players, depression with the other team stopping Heroic prior to getting a second Sire kill as I recently discussed), but also due to uncertainty with 9.1 and that timeframe (a meatier topic for another day), and lastly, other pent-up issues that raiding hid in some ways.

I want to talk about points 1 and maybe 3 slightly today.

Over the course of the tier, from raid split to end, my team has been dealing with a small handful of issues – a mix of normal stuff for a guild like ours, mostly. We have a fair number of the guild’s tryhard players, ones who push parses over all else and are often prickly or passive-aggressive to those with lower parses. I’ve had this happen to me personally from some of these players, and it is something that we work to tamp down on, because it’s dumb – these players often suck at mechanics and so their weird aggression (usually couched in the idea that they could push Mythic raiding, if only the guild they were in was better) is often misplaced. Likewise, we have a few low performers that mix a few types – either depressive sort of self-deprecation, or over-justification when called out on mistakes.

But we have one player who is the intersection of both of these things, and it nears parody at times.

I want to start with a disclaimer – I’ve actually played with this person on-again, off-again since Wrath of the Lich King – nearly 13 years at this point. At that time, this player was a healing officer in the raiding guild I was in then, and I was a healer member – new to the guild, working to prove myself, which I certainly did. This is important to me because of this next point – I’m not a real big fan of this guy, all told. Were the decision left solely to me in a moment of weakness, I would boot him. I don’t like him, plainly. My first direct interaction with him was him as an officer telling me that I needed to reach a healing target of 12.5% of the total healing (based on the number of healers in our 25-player raid) despite the fact that I was playing Discipline priest and was over target based on absorption, which was not counted by most meters at the time. It stuck in my mind as an object example of “what not to do as a raid leader” and within a few years, it became a foundational experience in building how I wanted to be a leader in-game.

But I am diplomatic in-game often, and work to overcome my own personal histories with people, good or otherwise, in order to serve the interests of the guild best.

Leading this player, the shoe on the other foot, is consistently one of the worst experiences I have in-game, bar none – and this is an opinion shared by our entire officer core and dealing with him is often frustrating for raiders who just try to talk with him or take him into groups for other activities.

This tier, he switched to healing with the raid split, and there is a duality to him. He isn’t a bad healer per se, in that he can pump out awesome HPS numbers and keep people alive – great! However, he is incredibly awful at mechanics, easily the worst player we have in regards to mechanical response. He sucks at moving when asked to, but will bounce around like a fucking ball when not asked. This compounds with a second problem – he categorically refuses all coaching and direct instruction. We’ve done everything we can to help him from a friendly point of view – he doesn’t use healing addons, so we discussed how he might save some response time or mental bandwidth using click-casting, or different unit frames. Refused to practice with them in raid. Told him directly to stack on the raid for certain mechanics – has to be life-gripped in by the raid leader. Everyone spends 83 attempts learning Sire Heroic, with every pull still including phase 1? Dies in phase 1 about 33% of the time due to his own failure to respond to mechanics, including on the kill. (fun fact – on the Twitch VOD of the first Sire kill, you can hear me whisper “what the fuck?” when he dies after a direct raid call to avoid the intersection of the Night Hunter mechanic!)

Dealing with the refusal to engage is the biggest problem, and something of a real challenge with this person as a healer. We have a few sub-par healers in the guild, but what they do that he does not is that they listen and learn. If I tell our resto shaman, who underperforms, to do a mechanic, I can expect that it will be done correctly and reasonably well. I don’t have to babysit him and remind him of every mechanic – he takes longer than the raid’s average to get to that point of competency, but he gets there. This problem healer does not – our Sire kill was him still failing to mechanics we’d seen in literally every pull!

Our raid lead spent literal hours with him discussing things, pulling in our other players of his spec and class, discussing improvements to user interface and playstyle that could help, noting when he would ask a question in raid that we’d already discussed literal minutes before.

But we made two mistakes that he kind of zeroed in on when coaching him in the later days.

The first was simple – we focused on his mechanical failings as a point of his healing performance, where he often is his own number 1 healing target. Now, with his class, spec, and talents, some of this is unavoidable – smart heals, automatic free healing, etc – and that is fine. The real issue was with mechanics and execution, and when we couldn’t get him to engage there, instead of pressing, we pushed into that second point as an extension of it, which created a fixation upon that which he notes over every other thing we discussed with him.

The second is something I think can actually help others, though!

Healing parses are, frankly, bullshit. Not because they mean nothing (they can, all else being equal, represent the relative performance of a healer and be useful in comparisons to each other) but because it isn’t anywhere near the same as a DPS parse. For DPS, the whole point of execution on a fight is to minimize disturbances to your rotational mastery – if you’re melee, managing positioning such that you lose as little uptime on the boss as possible, executing cooldowns effectively not just in general but in sync with mechanics on the fight to improve raw throughput (Sludgefist is a huge fight for this, because you might want to pop everything off the bat and that is wrong given the boost to incoming damage the boss has on pillars). A DPS parse means something because the metric is always the same – your goal is to push your rotational perfection and uptime as high as possible and the boss is (for the most part) the same every time. Week-to-week, DPS parses should trend upwards.

However, for a healer, think about what a parse even looks like for a moment. If the raid does well at managing incoming damage through their own use of defensive cooldowns, proper healthstone management, gear improvements, and simply executing the fight to a higher degree of precision, where does that leave healers? With less to do, clearly – and with potentially lower parses for it. If I can spam heal and get to 12,000 healing per second, well golly, that means something in terms of spec mastery, but what if that healing is largely wasted? What if that HPS comes at the cost of execution of mechanics? In most raid teams, healers will snipe each other in moments where there just isn’t much to do – smart heals will do it accidentally, and sometimes players will do so purposefully to pad – or they just don’t have super-fixed assignments and end up casting on whatever is low, at which point effective HPS is just who gets the first cast off.

So if you’re a healer, focusing on HPS is not a wise play. It means something and it isn’t a non-factor in healing, but it doesn’t really mean that much, unless there is a clear gap. In our raid, all of our healers could cherry pick their best log relative to the other healers, go to their class discord and say “hey, my raid lead is telling me I need to improve, but look at this!” and get the feedback they want – your HPS is high, your self-healing isn’t representative of error or over-emphasis, and then say to us “your feedback is invalid because of these reasons.” Which is, humorously enough, exactly what happened!

Where I feel we did go wrong here is that we didn’t stamp on the parse talk enough. Like I said up-top, I don’t think this person is a bad healer or player – they just suck at mechanics and where they actually go bad is in responses to us when working with them, either by refusing to engage or simply not paying attention, which then makes us go “this is a waste of time” and everyone walks away irritated for the exchange. I see this now because it was a point of being nice – we didn’t want to say “you’re bad” because we didn’t believe that – but by not addressing why he thinks he’s beyond reproach, it instead allowed him that wiggle room where he can say that his parses are high “better than the other healers” and then insist it is singularly targeted at him, where we’ve had these discussions with pretty much every healer. Our raid lead switched priest specs to meet the meta better, for crying out loud, and no one was even questioning his play as Holy in the first place! The difference for us at a leadership level is that the other players listened and did things differently. I won’t say our resto shaman’s output is super high or amazing, for example – but he focuses on mechanics more than before and listens to instructions. Our other resto druid improved drastically over the tier, and while there’s still room there for improvement, he’s also responsive to that feedback.

It sucks because despite my personal history with this guy, we’ve been very accommodating to a point of frustration with him. I’ve taken turns when the raid lead was exhausted of dealing with him, and we’ve worked so hard at trying to push him to do better mechanically and focus on points of improvement to sharpen up his gameplay, because as a healer, his failures to execute become a lot more challenging. When we had him back in the guild after a long break, he was DPS, and there, his refusal to learn was fine enough, because it wasn’t 25% of the healers dying, it was 10% or less of the DPS players dying. One of those is a lot easier to make up for!

In the end, we asked him to switch roles for the next tier, because having him as a healer at this point is untenable given that he refuses to engage with mechanics and refuses to take on advice, coaching, or anything done to help him improve. He’s convinced, somewhat egotistically, of his own greatness based solely on how high he can parse – which isn’t even particularly high by item level or spec and aren’t even particularly useful as a measure of healing prowess! He’s also clearly not happy with that ask, but at the same time, he won’t directly address us on it (instead going to the other raid’s leaders, presenting his case as though we haven’t talked with them previously or asked them for help/advice with the situation, which is funny to me in a weird way) and the aforementioned class Discord bandwagoning (which, I mean, all class Discords are hives of players commiserating about how their class/spec is the worst balanced, which is why I don’t go to the DH discord often unless I want the raw theorycrafting).

I guess that besides ranting for content, my object lesson here would be this – if you’re coaching anyone about the game, you always need to try to find the root cause all the way deep down and stick to it, and work to a common definition of performance to which you can adhere and bring the conversation back to over time. Had we focused on mechanical execution in other ways (like number of deaths, effect downstream on fights when battle rez has to be used on a failure to execute for a healer instead of being saved for a critical issue like a tank death, and lessened his own focus on effective HPS and parse values) we could have maybe gotten where we needed to.

Although, then again, maybe he’s just a stubborn and challenging jerk to deal with and no amount of sweetening or refinement of message would or will ever get us where we need him to get.


7 thoughts on “A (Hopefully) Short Discussion About Coaching Raiders And What Goes Wrong

  1. “Although, then again, maybe he’s just a stubborn and challenging jerk to deal with and no amount of sweetening or refinement of message would or will ever get us where we need him to get.”

    This is certainly the impression I’ve come away with, along with one of wonder that this person has lasted in your raid guild for so long.

    Not being immediately great at mechanics, sure, that’s tolerable. But being bad and ALSO being an asshole? Sorry, we play this for fun and you do not add to this. Ciao!

    It sounds like a lot of effort has gone into this guy but at some point enough has to be enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All of that’s a fair point, and I think most of us probably agree! We’ve only booted a single player from our raids…ever, and it took more direct trolling of everyone to get there. I think we might get there given another few raids like we’ve had with him, but I also try not to let my own personal biases against him cloud my judgment on that decision.

      Which is probably more restraint than is warranted at this point in time, but hey!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I think the desire to keep any personal biases out of it (which is admirable, don’t get me wrong) has possibly led to a space where overcorrection has happened.

        My raiding guild is very much a friends-first sort of deal. We do bring in some recruited people from time to time (and have done this expansion for filling out the 2nd tank spot) and we have plenty of tolerance for those who might not yet be up to scratch on either gear or mechanics.

        But a sustained bad attitude, no thank-you. Fortunately, we’ve been pretty lucky and have only had this be an issue a couple of times I can recall over the past few expansions.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Likewise, we have a few low performers that mix a few types – either depressive sort of self-deprecation, or over-justification when called out on mistakes.

    I know this is only a side comment but it immediately made me think of two sometimes difficult players I raid with.
    “Oh no, I’m sorry. I’m a terrible healer. I just can’t keep up. I should just give up. Do you want me to swap me out for someone else?”
    “I was knocked back, there was nothing I could do! I mean I have to save my cooldown for the next phase and I had to dodge that over there…”

    There is something comforting about knowing that many guilds have these same “types”… 😅

    Liked by 1 person

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