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.