A Thought Experiment About Progression Raid Teams

I’m back sooner than I expected – I’m probably not writing much through the week, but I wanted to check in and say things are fine but suck as expected after having to put our dog down, but I wanted to write a sort of interesting thought experiment I’ve been having. Okay, thought experiment is a bit of cover…but I’ll get to why I’m thinking about this here in a moment.

Let’s say you’re putting together a raid team, and you have too many folks for a standard flex raid of 30. That is a conundrum, especially if you’re an inclusive raid team and trying to get everyone who wants to raid into raid and into spots they want to be in as far as role and spec. You might consider splitting – you’ve got DPS players who actually want to tank, an abundance of healers, great, let’s go from 32 players to two 16-player raids.

You split it and try for a tier and it goes…fine. It’s a hard tier – you clear Heroic, so Sire Denathrius kicks your ass for near one-hundred pulls, but you get the fight. One of the raid teams struggles harder against it, and that sucks, but everyone in the raid teams gets the kill at least once and gets their Ahead of the Curve achievement. Awesome!

You then have 3 months of waiting for new content, and there’s this sort of interesting but awful discontent. People will look around and in hushed tones talk about how it might be best if the best players in the guild run as a progression team, with everyone else in another team. Okay, sure – if you’re the person who thinks of this, then you might be enthralled with the idea of it. Surely, everyone who raids or tries to push content in the World of Warcraft wants to be on the best possible team for their mode of play. In theory, this sounds excellent – sure, if presented as an A-team/B-team scenario, people on B-team are going to be a little miffed that they got picked last on the Azerothian playground, but the people pushing for an A-team to exist are happy and you can, theoretically, start shuffling A-team players in once their progression is complete to aid with farming and new kills on the B-team, if everything works as it theoretically should. Right?

Okay, so now this poses a challenge. You have to find a way, objectively, without feelings or any sense of preference, to stack-rank your raiders and split them. Not completely top to bottom, but at least by roles.

This poses a few interesting challenges, on the surface.

How do you rate DPS players?: A quagmire to start, because you could, in theory, just rank based on DPS, but what impact does item level have? What impact does learning curve have? If a player is present in the same role and character for both Normal and Heroic and gets to learn and grow, and someone else just comes in on Heroic, switching for the benefit of the raid, do you rate them the same? Is it best pull overall, an average of the top 2 pulls per boss, is it a full average for the entire raid tier and every pull? Is it a median performance?

What about game balance?: A valid question, if a spec is drastically underperforming, do you weight that on a curve? Do you rate it flatly as player 1 did X DPS and player 2 did X+Y DPS and thus is better, even if the spec of player 2 is overtuned? If someone scales exponentially based on item level, do you factor that into your consideration?

How do you rate healers?: Healing parses are objectively pretty bad measures of raid performance as an overall snapshot on their own, so how then do you even rate a healer? If you stack-rank on HPS, you miss dispels. If someone dispels far more than a higher-HPS player, how do you consider that? Do you look at mana-efficiency and consider a player might be more capable in a late-fight clutch scenario? How do you make that determination effectively and fairly?

How do you rate tanks?: Tanks are likewise hard to just rank. If you rank on damage done, you might miss damage reduction, but if you have a tank reducing a ton of damage but doing like 500 DPS, that’s pretty bad! Can you rate on threat? How does balance play in here? Is there an easy composite of damage taken, damage mitigated, healing done, and DPS that you can use? Is that even better than just raw DPS?

How do you rate character-switchers?: This one is really tough – if you have a good DPS player who switches to heals the next tier, do you give them consideration based on DPS performance? Do they automatically get shipped to the B-team for growth and development? If you put them on the progression squad based on past performance, why is that fair and how can you be sure it is the correct approach? Is there alternative data you can use?

What constitutes “good” data?: To this point, my assumption in these examples has been down to using raid logs, because to me, existing raid performance is the best indicator of future raid performance. But, is that data enough? Could you use dungeon parses from Mythic Plus? What about world bosses? Do you have everyone go hit target dummies for a fixed duration and report back?

How do you balance buffs and debuffs?: Every raid wants a good mix of buffs and debuffs. If you have two warriors, well great, two Battle Shouts, two groups. What if both warriors are in the same performance bracket based on parses? What is the objectively best way to resolve that issue?

That’s all just the cold analytical side of this decision. When you start to warm it up to the human side, it gets far, far messier.

What about raiding couples?: My guild has two raiding couples. One of them, I would feel safe saying the DPS husband would be in the lower tier while the healer wife is perhaps in our top half of healers. That is a challenge then, because you split them and risk a fracture and losing both, or you keep them together, and the integrity of the idea of a purely-performance-based team is shot. A different scenario for our second couple – both are great DPS and would likely be in the upper half, but tension! – one wants to switch to healing after having not done that before for the next tier. Great, but now you have a big challenge – if you objectively compare performance, there is no healing data for the boyfriend in this BF/GF pair. Do you split them, or do you put the new healer into A-team and hope for the best?

What about self-obsessives who might not measure up?: The people most likely in a scenario like the one I’ve constructed here to agitate for a progression group are people who are self-assured that they’d be in the prog team. Fair enough, right? Everyone, in theory, probably wants to be in the prog team, because it is an endorsement of their skills and lets them get what they want – rapid progression to their goals. Now let’s say you’re a rogue. You’ve historically been top-tier, and prior to Shadowlands, it would easily be you in the progression team. Fine enough. However, in Shadowlands, you’re solidly in the middle. Let’s say, after all that bellyaching about wanting to carry and be the best, you don’t stack rank in the top half. You have no buffs to bring, no utility the group needs in a raid setting, so based solely on prior-tier performance, you are in the B-team now. How do you take that? Is a prog team still a good idea?

Let’s make one more case here on this one. Let’s say you are a raid-leader, a healer, a priest who switched healing specs mid-tier to better suit the group composition. Okay, cool. You’re now the frontline of agitation for a progression group. Great! One slight dilemma, though – your parses in that new healing spec weren’t that high. Not awful, but not high. If we averaged it out over the tier, there is a fairly close chance of you being in either raid team. Again, hey, in theory, prog team sounds great, and I’m sure there are great plans for that team. But if you aren’t in it, based on objective performance, are you still gonna keep on pushing for it, or will it suddenly be a bad idea?

What if a good chunk of the guild are friends in real life and get split?: Not the same sharpness as the couple raiders, but still a problem – how do you handle a raid split where IRL friends get divvied up based on performance? That’s a social cohesion problem, the kind that tear guilds apart!

So, I think it might be fairly obvious by now that most of the latter examples are not simple hypotheticals I cooked up while mourning the death of our dog, but instead, actual examples of the kind of problems a guild might have constructing a progression raid team.

And, here’s the challenge – most of the officers don’t really want this, but there’s one who keeps pig-headedly pushing for it, trying to gin up the illusion of a large consensus about it, when in reality, I think most of us know who would ask for such a thing, and it’s A. Not enough for a prog team in the first place, and B. Ignorant of all of the hypotheticals I posed here. I haven’t gone through and actually done the work to validate for sure what would happen, but my framing here poses the challenges I think such an effort would have – that many of the people asking would be in such a group anyways, but not all of them, and I think that if we were to try creating such a thing, it would hurt the feelings of some of these people, not to mention the people who’d be left out of said team who aren’t asking for it.

To me, this is the core reason I personally am very much against creating such a dichotomy in the first place. Primarily, because it cuts against the spirit of our guild anyways, but then secondly, because it is so transparently a selfish exercise in ego that is unwarranted and might very well not even be supported by data. Like, I’ve grown a lot as a player in general over the last few months, but my raid performance was abysmal for much of the tier. I’d be on the B-team were we to do it, and that is fine – but then, that is the problem, isn’t it? There’s not a really easy, readily applicable, fully objective way to make such judgments and determinations. You’d have to carve out a handful of exceptions against the spirit of the idea, either to save the ego of the self-obsessives or to account for legitimate play improvements that have happened since the raid tier. Right now, I’d have a reasonable chance of being in the upper half, because when we did smashed-group raiding, I was easily parsing 30-40 percentile higher than before, beating all but the very best in our guild in a raid setting. But, fair is fair, and objectively based on progression raid parses, I’d be B-team. We have a fair number of folks in the same boat – all of whom would be B based on raid parses (unless they just barely eke out a win) but likely shouldn’t be there now.

In the end, though, all of this is just me trying to use hard data, evidence, and reasoning to beat back something I find bad and dumb – this selfish, egotistical thought that “I could do better if these losers weren’t holding me back!” Could you, now?

Here’s my personal experience with large groups of strong individual performers in a team environment – they fall on their fucking face because the kinds of things that make individuals strong on their own tend to take away team cohesion. Ask them to hold DPS, to adjust to mechanics that hurt their individual performance, and they will make mistakes and fuck up – not always, but enough to be an obstacle. Part of the reason I loved my guild’s old environment is that it was a group of misfits, in a way – but that made it better. Like, we have almost a decade of AOTC achievements at this point, and it’s not that anyone was carried, but that the group coalesced and came together to meet the challenge in front of them.

I won’t deny that the last raid tier was hard on us. Sire on Heroic drained a lot of folks and instilled some small amount of this feeling in people, because it took so many total pulls to get to a full slate of AOTC, and one of the teams didn’t get a repeat kill. At the end of the day, though, this kind of idea is just so short-sighted, so narrow-minded, and just fully against the spirit of what I want out of my gameplay and guild environment. I’m glad that it seems shut down (for now) but my fear is that it will keep coming back, as a lot of the downsides of our current guild environment have for the two years we’ve existed in our current state. Things are getting worse and more fraught, at least from where I sit, and it’s been a lot harder to want to continue knowing that some portion of our group, however small, looks at their fellow players not as guildies or raiders but as “carries,” “raid loggers,” and incapable of holding their own in a group.

Which is why I’m likely to make a really hard decision this week, and one that might affect my writing about WoW for the foreseeable future.

But hey, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

7 thoughts on “A Thought Experiment About Progression Raid Teams

  1. Oh, man. I don’t envy anyone needing to make this kind of call. Though I get it — being held back by dead weight (or even just relative dead weight to the other players of the group) is a terrible feeling, especially if it reaches a point of the same person or people wiping on close attempts again and again and again.

    On assumption you don’t have enough people that would volunteer for a more casual raiding group (be it the attraction of less days, of doing normal modes only with perhaps just some of the easier heroic modes, or something else) I think you need to be prepared for the ‘lesser group’ to fall apart and leave / stop logging in before long at all.

    And then for the ‘better’ team I think there is a risk that you’ll have some players change how they look at everyone else. Mistakes will take on new meaning. Those who make a mistake even if its while learning are potentially going to feel a lot more pressure.

    You know, I wonder if it might be a lot less drama on the whole to simply drop the two worst performers (or maybe take the opportunity to drop the guy with the terrible attitude mentioned a while back, hah) if not entirely then at least back to a permanent reserve status.

    There is still going to be a lot of subjectivity to it, but it’d sure be a hell of a lot easier to determine than a split with all the considerations you mentioned and the accompanying dynamic change such a split would bring with it.

    Also? Take the time you need to mourn your puppers. We’ll still be here.

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  2. Okay, I’m not a pro spec raider or anything like this, but this has nothing to do with that. If we take the goal as “progress a far as quickly with fewest wipes and fastest uptake” then there are answers that are easy to type, not so easy to implement, and a lot of these questions end up having the same answers. AGAIN, I am focused on the goal, not anyone’s “feelings”.

    >> How do you rate DPS players?:

    Performance, performance, performance. No, gear level isn’t a concern, if you perform less because the other guy has better gear, go get better gear.

    >> What about game balance?

    That’s a personal decision. If one chooses to bring an underperforming spec, that’s their call. I’ve been there. I switched. For the team.

    >> How do you rate healers?

    HPS and the numbers associated with are the numbers you have, and I’m basing on performance here. There are PLENTY of sites that provide objective numbers. Pick one and use it consistently. The RL can make other calls around those number, but better be on fleek or there will be hell to pay.

    >> How do you rate tanks?

    That IS a tricky one, I’ve never had to deal with Tankiness scores but I bet there’s another site out there that does. Of course, tanks are even bigger divas than DPS so good luck there.

    >> How do you rate character-switchers?

    I appreciate one’s willingness to take one for the team, and have been. But if either class suffers performance wise because of this then is the player really doing the team a favor? Maybe the player is switching to cynically get in on a tier s/he couldn’t as pure DPS? That’s fine, but if you don’t bring the alpha heals, it’s probably not optimal to do so. I’m not a believer in “bring the player not the class” in this regard. If you’re filling a slot, you need to be excellent at your job.

    >> What constitutes “good” data?

    No easy answer, but I suggest consistency. You take characters into dungeons and raids to test them out. You evaluate the score based on the score. That’s the baseline. Then the RL gets to make the call on things like “plays well with others” and “follows instructions” and things like that.

    >> How do you balance buffs and debuffs?

    Unfortunately I am not at the level of gaming where this is even a consideration. Back in the day I’d spec my pet to bring the right buffs based on composition, but those days are past, and that was a personal choice besides. I don’t know if maybe the answer is “you do if you can, but performance is the king”.

    >> What about raiding couples?

    Well, if it’s stated clearly that performance is the baseline consideration in order to even be considered as part of the raid team, I think it’s fair to say that they’ll need to perform at the same level to keep up with each other. Again, I’m focused on performance because the level of raiding you’re settng yourself up for trumps the social aspect.

    >> What about self-obsessives who might not measure up?

    Ah, the divas. Again with the performance. I like numbers, provided they’re obtained clearly and consistently. And as a member of a raiding team I want to KNOW if I am falling short. I’d gladly drop my Hunter and take up my Warlock if I could eke out better numbers. Sorry bout the rogue but Blizz has work to do. Of course we all know that divas gonna diva.

    >> Let’s make one more case here on this one. Let’s say you are a raid-leader, a healer, a priest …

    Our GM in one guild I was in would take herself out of the lead team, or sub out to something that could contribute better. I’d do that too. I’d hate it, but I’d hate being the subject of disparagement or the cause of a failed run even more.

    >> What if a good chunk of the guild are friends in real life and get split?

    Is it a social team or a progression team?

    Now my responses are pretty heartless, but not to put too fine a point on it, but top raiding groups seem to be pretty heartless too. So I feel my answers are in the right spirit for that kind of environment.

    That said I feel that it usually falls apart in the execution. Not many RLs are very good at keeping consistency in the management of the team. This is a problem. The social aspects usually leak in and now we have drama.

    In the end of it all, I raid with a team that I enjoy raiding with, and do what I can in the time allowed to keep up. I don’t feel dissed if someone better replaces me if I can’t do the work. I’m sure others might and have. It isn’t in keeping with a guild big enough to field two or more raiding teams, I imagine.

    You can call this “best view from the cheap seats.” 😛

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  3. In my opinion, the real issue here will be Mythic. Of your 32 raiders, some will wonder if they could take the top 20 raiders and form a Mythic team and get better gear. Now it’s not just an an A and B split, but 20 and 12. In some ways it’s better, because the heroic raids will get help from the mythic raids. But in other ways it’s worse. In my opinion, Mythic raid guilds need to be structured a bit differently from Heroic guilds.

    My last guild did this. It was a successful heroic guild that wondered if we could take the top 20 people and jump to Mythic. And it kind of worked for a bit, until it didn’t and the guild fell apart.

    Also, there was a precursor to this where we asked the weakest players to step out on difficult fights. I talked about it here:

    https://blessingofkings.blogspot.com/2017/04/success-is-hardest-thing-to-argue.html

    Perhaps the best thing you could do would be to encourage your progression-centric officer to apply to a Mythic guild. Tell him he can still raid with you guys, but he shouldn’t sacrifice his personal needs to the guild. He might be happier playing at a higher level, and that’s better for him and for your friendship.

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  4. My condolence on losing your beloved dog. Been there myself. Virtual hugs sent your way.

    Looks like you are a victim of your own success as a guild here and it’s a tricky situation. I like a lot of what I see in the replies to your dilemma and agree with almost all of it. Maintaining a social AoTC raiding team as you have been doing, vs. starting a progression team (A Team) and more casual team (B Team) is a tough call. I’ve seen it in several of the guilds I’ve been in and cannot advise you, although I think Rohan’s suggestion might be worth a shot.

    My favorite raid days were from the old 10 person Heroic era. If they needed someone you were in, if you performed well you stayed. We played whatever class/spec the team would get the most out of. Despite this being less of a “social” option I had great fun in those times. FFXIV’s 8 person raids seem very similar. Flex raiding was supposed to be a more inclusive option for guilds, but while it has its pros, it also comes with downsides being in a middle ground which is somewhat hard to define. Good luck!

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  5. I wanted to run a few mythic bosses with my casual AOTC guild but the GM and officers were clear – this is a casual AOTC guild.

    If you have an officer that is trying to change what your guild is, you need to go back to the basics and reaffirm the guild charter. I’m guessing most people in the guild didn’t sign up for mythic progression if you only got your sire kill three months ago. It’s normal to want to keep pushing the boundaries, but if that means strongarming your guild and officers into doing something they’re not ready for or don’t actually want (for the reasons you stated so eloquently), you need to leave.

    To offer a perspective from the officer’s POV, less adversarial though – I left my Normal guild for the same reason and jumped to a Heroic guild at the same progression I was at via pugging, and was very happy with my decision.

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