(Editor’s Note – I’m writing this as I finish the conclusion of this post, over 8,000 words deep. A few things I need to say before I let you loose onto this one – this post is pretty personal, and while it has a fair amount to do with World of Warcraft, it is more of an analysis of guild environments and a particularly pointed analysis of my own. The tone is pretty down and it will be clear why as you read through it, but I also want to say that the post framing was a challenge for me to nail in a way I felt good about, because I think I need to be evenhanded here. Because of that, I would strongly, strongly request that you read the whole thing before commenting. Not to imply that my commenters don’t already do that – but because it will be heavy-handed and one-sided for a big chunk of the post about a portion of the membership of my guild and the bottom of the post brings that back around in a way I found wrapped up my point without sounding like an awful accusatory framing. Also, it’s nerdy and I talk a lot about how my life has been made better for experiences I’ve had in WoW, and I know that sometimes sounds too saccharine and bizarre, but I promise you I stand by those words! If you think I’m pretty far up my own ass after reading some of those points…eh, I wouldn’t blame you.)
This post is something I’ve been talking about for a while, probably over a year now, here in various posts, sprinkled in as bits of filler and viewpoint.
I made the decision this week to quit raiding in World of Warcraft.
In my last post, I queued it up with a teaser finale line as though it had something to do with 9.1, but in truth, it just made a most-convenient breakpoint for a sentiment that has been brewing much, much longer.
On Monday of this week, I was convinced I was going to leave my guild. I told my wife how I was feeling, we discussed it, and then I told my close friends, all of whom are guild officers. They didn’t want me to, but they listened to my viewpoint on it and didn’t make hard or overly pushy calls for me to stay. They asked me about switching raid teams, but in truth, my problems with the current structure of things go deeper than just the raid group split. I spent most of the week until Wednesday morning agonizing over the shape of my decision – if I left the guild, it was going to turn into a bigger thing. If I didn’t leave, I would have this miasma of bad feelings swirling inside me longer and I didn’t want that either. I waffled a lot and I decided the compromise was to try a tier without raiding, to stay in the guild, and to ultimately see how I felt after that.
To start with, I think I should consolidate a brief history of how I’ve been engaging with WoW since 2011.
When I started playing the game in June 2005, I joined a small casual guild with two friends. We spun off our own guild before eventually, two of us went to a raiding guild. It was all strangers, and we were young. To me, the game wasn’t my social environment of choice yet – I played it like a game, dipping in and out and wanting to see content and play it, more than any high-minded ideal about community. My guildies were just people I played with, and while we had guild forums and talked actively, it wasn’t a huge thing. I can still name a few of my vanilla raiding guildmates and tell some stories of that time, but largely, it’s forgotten. 6 nights a week, 4 hours a night starts to blur together!
I spent TBC in equal parts on hiatus from the game and with a guild on a new server with some coworkers at the time. It was…fine, but it wasn’t long before their approach to raiding pushed me away, coupled with some arguments about raid time from my girlfriend at the time. In Wrath of the Lich King, I joined a new guild and began pushing more seriously into the endgame of WoW. I’d been fairly dedicated in Vanilla, but the levels I was going for in Wrath were different. I spent a lot of time playing WoW, friended some of the guildies on Facebook at the time, and WoW became a social environment for me on-par with in-person gatherings or events. My friends were in the guild and raiding with me, and we saw a lot of content. That guild carried us into Cataclysm, with me taking over as the raid leader, because our existing GL/RL left for Rift (remember Rift? I know Shintar does!). That GL was logging in enough to not allow the automated GL replacement feature to be used, so we had no control over the guild bank funds we were building, the guild achievements and experience we were accumulating, and so we finally figured we needed a clean break. We founded a new guild, and off we went.
The Value of a Guild Environment
Here is where I need to explain the roots of my current philosophy with WoW, guilds, and my engagement with both. For as much as I talk about Ahead of the Curve and Keystone Master achievements, I don’t much care to push the bleeding edge of the game. I’ve never done Mythic raiding at the correct level and gearing, although I did lead my guild to several Heroic kills in Cataclysm, which was the precursor to modern Mythic. More importantly, my ethos with my guild has always centered on a few ideas:
-The game is a team sport and no one should be left behind
-I’d rather play with people I like over the very best
-Elitism is a virus and it should be stomped out
-Everyone’s time is their own and I won’t shame people for just raiding
-Everyone has their part in a guild run, no one is a carry
To be frank, at the time, I wouldn’t have had a list (look at this fucking nerd with his ethos list!) but they were things I believed in and built the guild around. To be fair, it wasn’t just my effort either – everyone I brought with me from our old guild offered something in terms of mindset, contributed to what we all built together, and paved the way for our success. One of the key reasons I was able to stay so into WoW for so long, even over the troubled years of Cataclysm, Warlords of Draenor, and the opening of BfA was that my guild ran smoothly without a lot of intervention. As officers, we didn’t have to be heavy-handed, we didn’t need meetings multiple times an expansion or tier to build out a roadmap – it was all very casual (in that we weren’t doing organized meetings with a secretary taking minutes or anything of the sort) and it just kinda…worked. Part of that was that the meat of the guild roster was two friend groups – a west-coast US based group of my close friends, and an east-coast US based group of friends with the original GM, who returned to WoW around the time our old guild had started imploding to rejoin his old friends. It didn’t take long for everyone to grow closer – I could name most of our players by their real names, I went to that original GM’s wedding in 2013, we all spent time hanging out at Blizzcon 2017, and then of course, there was my friend group – with varying degrees of closeness over the years, but an easy environment to find comfort in.
What suited me so well in that configuration is that things rarely felt confrontational or problematic. Even when I stepped down from raid leading in 2013, the person who stepped in was someone I saw multiple times a week. If we had problems or drama in the guild, we’d hash it out in-person, whether at prime rib night on Thursdays or at some other point when we’d hang out. We added new members slowly over time, so each new person added to the guild was someone who was a good fit for the culture, such that we only rarely had bad fits, and those people usually churned themselves out relatively quickly – we didn’t have to be in the practice of kicking players out of the guild. We all were on a similar wavelength and people could feel when the end of the tier was for us, so we didn’t have people feeling left out or lost in-game. We dipped in, got our progress, and got out. When the raiding paradigm for difficulty changed, it got easier – we no longer had to manage a tight 10-player roster and could instead bring what we had, balanced for group composition, and that made life so much easier.
I talk about this era a lot as sort of a perfect time in WoW, and I think it was for me. Even when real life pushed me out of the game for much of the middle of Mists of Pandaria, I never had to feel like the guild was changing that much. When I came back, I met maybe two new people and everything settled in really easily. Even when I was not thrilled with WoW, it was my social hour(s). I could hang out and chat with my friends, we could run some content, our raids were the main focus, and everything went really, really well.
When I think about how I lasted in WoW as long as I have, a big part of it is that era. If I had a weaker guild around me in Cataclysm or WoD, I probably would have given up on the game. I don’t mean weaker in terms of ability either, but in terms of character and coziness. Not to say it was perfect, because…
Personal Growth and Conflict
At times during those golden years, as I have framed them, there was conflict, and I know that I often managed it poorly. The raid leader that took over for me during my MoP hiatus is somewhat over-cautious, and that’s fine, but it sometimes creates challenges in the guild. He likes to play it safe, over-training on old content for patch changes, running Normal into the ground before trying Heroic, and generally structures the way he leads raids differently than I did. When I was younger, sometimes that would be a problem for me in a bigger way. There were a couple of points during Warlords of Draenor where I snapped, threatened to leave the guild, and we then had to have long talks in voice comms to patch things up. Of course, that always helped things – at the end of the day, we’re friends, so whatever guild shit is going on needs to be patched up because these aren’t just disembodied internet voices – they’re people, people I know and care about.
One of the greatest, no joke, things that has aided my personal growth over the years has been the experiences I’ve had in WoW. Not like, the game itself or anything, but the experience of leading raids, of managing a guild, of keeping a group of people together through challenges and growing in the adversity. Raid and guild leadership are a microcosm of these experiences in reality, of course, but I came to appreciate it as a sort of vaccine – a small dose here for better protection against the full-fledged challenges life can bring. I started raid leading when I was teaching classes for new hires at my job at the time, and the skills I learned in each avenue made me better at both. The beginning of Mists of Pandaria had been challenging due to healer underperformance, and the skills I learned in vocalizing those feelings as gently but firmly as possible helped me when I ended up breaking up with my fiancee at the time. These things might seem sad or weird, but it is the honest truth – the experiences I’ve had in WoW have helped prepare me for life challenges, and no matter my opinion on the game, that is always something I’ll have gained from it, even long after I can remember that Horridon was the boss that broke the healers.
It would probably be around late Mists where I realized that I really appreciated the guild we had built – not that I hadn’t before, but returning to the game after my time in the wilds post-breakup, I had a newfound appreciation for the environment I had helped to build.
In my perspective, the guild had a bit of me in the foundation, these pieces that I had baked in as I came to realize what it was I really wanted out of World of Warcraft – a fun social environment with light pressure in which I could enter a raid with some friends, shoot the shit, and kill some bosses. Of course, I say “I” here but it was the work of everyone – all of my friends, all of our raiders – that built it. I’ve never really sat with them and contextualized it as I have here, but I know some will read it, and I think I need to say here (and directly at some point) that I’ll always be thankful for their help in building that and making it so easy for us.
Oh god, this is starting to sound like a deathbed speech, isn’t it? Let’s get to the juicy part everyone loves – spilling the tea.
We existed as a guild for nearly a full decade without any major shifts in personality or character until early Battle for Azeroth. Our numbers were getting lower – not low enough that we were unable to field a raid, mind you, and we were progressing on-pace through Battle for Dazar’alor, but one of the officers wanted to recruit a little bit. He was going to manage it, because, well, to be honest, I and many of my friends in the officer core including the GL were isolationist in that way. We had our core, we had what we needed, and there was no reason to push much harder. Maybe 1 new recruit to keep ratios balanced, so hey, if this other officer was going to manage it for us, great.
The idea came about quickly that we might instead merge with a smaller guild, one that hadn’t been as successful in managing their numbers through BfA and needed more players to just continue raiding at all. We tried two resets of raids together and it went…pretty alright, all told. It was a little awkward – as any first date is, really – but after the second week, we settled on a plan to merge, with the other guild coming in and joining us. One of the things I had been keen on is that this not result in changes to the guild culture, such as it was – I liked what we had built, as I detailed above, and I wanted that to stay the way of things for as long as possible. I was against the merger – but, I didn’t have objections other than a vague sense of foreboding about what the long-term implications of the merger would be, so we moved ahead.
Of course, the problem with adding around 9 people to your raids immediately is that you can’t really promise anything of the sort. I know this very clearly now, but I didn’t back then – the guild we had merged with was considerably more focused on progression in a sort of “at all costs” way. Their players were individually good – at the individual level, probably better on average than our players, but as I sort of hinted at in my recent post about progression raiding teams, this comes with some challenges too. Sure, on an individual level, they could often outperform our players, but when it came to teamwork and mechanical cohesiveness, they’d often not do as well. We still got our AOTC and the rifts weren’t quite that bad yet, although I could feel what I liked about our guild slipping through my fingers slowly.
In Ny’alotha, my feelings of dread escalated, between one of the merged-in players being a socially inept dick-waver about his rogue’s DPS, and another one of them being…well, the same (a DK instead of a rogue, though!), but also weirdly homophobic and confrontational in a bad way. This is where I learned that the guild was no longer what I really wanted and had worked towards – on the night I found out my wedding had to be rescheduled for COVID issues, the latter player decided it was a good time to workshop jokes about me being gay (which I’m not and so what if I was?) instead of showing, you know, basic fucking human empathy for a shitty situation. In the past, I never would have had to think about sharing personal struggles with the guild – it was a good environment for that – but now, no such luck. It really bothered me in a big way, and it happened so close to the end of the tier that it made my choice to dip early and not keep with farming for a prolonged time really clear in my mind, especially as that incident had made clear that no one had my back.
Shadowlands, in my head, was a new chance for me to try things out and I committed to trying again, to letting things be and seeing where the chips fell. I came ready to raid, as a healer so I could avoid the parsing dick-waving contests, and that felt pretty alright for a while. We had a new challenge to us though – because the merger of the guilds happened in the doldrums of mid-BfA, when Azerite and scaling had made the game feel pretty awful to play, the merged-in guild had a lot of people on breaks coming back for Shadowlands. Our numbers swelled higher than they’d ever been, with more actively-interested raiders than ever before and people on at nearly all hours of the day. This came with a challenge, as our one raid group approach was no longer cutting it against a roster of raiders that was over the max flex roster of 30.
This led to the raid split we started early this year.
I raid, and have raided, for as long as I have because it is my social time with my friends. When we can’t get together in-person (like, say, during a global pandemic), it’s a time where we are all in the same (virtual) place and can catch-up on each other’s lives. The split raid took that away from me, in a sense, in that I was never in voice comms with my actual friends, my raid group had only two other people that I had played with pre-merger (one of them being someone who grinds my gears, so…yeah!) and then had not one, but both of the people that had driven me away from farm raiding at the tail end of BfA. I told the GL, my friend, that the roster split might be a breaking point for me – I wasn’t happy with it, and I wondered aloud if that would be the end of my raiding time in the guild.
Trying to Make It Work
But, I’m a guild officer and leadership is a thing I profess to sometimes be pretty okay at, so I sucked it up, muted the two dickheads, and went with it anyways. To be fair, it was sort of a mixed blessing – I wasn’t as excited for raid nights as I had been when it was just chill time with the bros, but hey, I was still excited for content. I was back to playing my Demon Hunter as DPS, so short of the dick-waving parse contests, things were fun (I love healing, but the pace of Havoc DH is just really viscerally satisfying to me). The dick-waving meter contests were helped by the fact that the socially-inept muted rogue was not doing so hot, as whatever changes Shadowlands brought to his class were hamstringing his performance bad, so he was less vocal about the meters for fear of shedding light on his own. Even the DK I loathed was often better in raids than he had been in BfA – both more mechanically sound, and also a bit more polite and nice, although still with moments where his virulent homophobia would poke out.
Getting to Denathrius and getting the first normal and heroic kills on him in the guild were great feelings, and I think that was one of my peaks this expansion. It was nice to have been the leadership of the “winning” team, to have pulled out a victory when things looked very uncertain. Getting the repeat kill on him, likewise, felt really good. Having won the inter-guild progression race masked a lot of the doubt of being on that raid team, of being split from my friends, but at the same time, I also had to be mindful of not being too gloat-y, because my friends, people I know and care about, were stuck grinding through to their first and only kill. Eventually, everyone got their AOTC, and the wear of Sire had taken a lot of sheen off. Still, I was happy with my team’s progress and I thought we’d make some small adjustments and move into the next tier.
Of course, we know what came next, sort-of. We got AOTC in March, not really early by most standards, about where I’d expect us to be in any normal tier, and the patch that followed was still not out, and is, as I write this, still not out! Without the sheen of raid progression propping up my desire to continue in the guild, what was there?
First, I turned to individual performance. I’ve never been much for tryhard gameplay – I tend to use cookie-cutter builds, try to learn the basics of the priority list and rotation, and then play to a fairly casual, competent level. I focus more on mechanical execution of fights than my own personal performance, because as a raid lead, the thing that would bother me most is when people were clearly too wrapped-up in their individual DPS rotation to pay attention to huge boss tells that they were about to have their face blown off. But I also knew that my personal performance hadn’t been great that tier. I’ve never been much concerned with my parses, but I know that I’m a good overall player – I got my 36 Mage Tower appearances before the end-of-Legion power burst from Concordance, and I’m usually in the upper bracket of my raid’s DPS bands, which is all that mattered to me. I wasn’t at that level for most of Nathria, so I made focused improvements. I tightened up my talent build, got a better legendary for single-target to shore up my weak spot, and I installed a rotation helper addon to challenge my default habits with my spec.
I went to a couple of raid nights with the other raid group, and they were a lot more fun and chill. Some of that is down to not being one of the raid leads, surely, but a bigger part of it was that it was just more relaxed (until Denathrius…). The other thing that was great was my personal performance – I was topping the meters even with Havoc DH’s gimpy single-target numbers and that felt great. I brought my parses for the tier up to high blue/low-to-mid purple levels on Warcraft Logs, and that felt really satisfying to me – no one could dick-wave at me again.
So I thought. (dun-dun-DUNNNN)
The next goal was to work on Mythic Keystones. I hadn’t really cared all that much for them before, because it was just not something that fit into my time in the game, that my guild cared about much, and so we’d have a head of steam to run them at the start of an expansion and that would completely fall off later. Short of an experiment late into Legion where I’d solo +4s on my DH for fun, the vast majority of my keystones are done about 1-6 weeks into the first season of a given expansion.
But Shadowlands Season 1 was running long, so it was time to focus on them. I had the gear level and relative skill to start in the upper range, and I spent some time working my way through 10-14 keys, but getting into 15s was a struggle. I knew the only way I was going to meaningfully progress 15s was with a guild group. There was just one problem – I needed guildies to be willing to take me. One night, the night I tried my first 15, it was relatively late, and a group of 3 people, all merged-in guildies that I do like, were trying to start a group. They already had a tanking druid, a DPS DK (different than the one previously mentioned!), and a resto shaman, so all they needed was DPS, and we were all hanging out in a Discord channel with one of them streaming as they formed. The chat in the stream caught my eye, because it bothered me to a fairly large extent – basically, only one of the people online – a newer guildie – was deemed as worthy of being invited if they intended on timing the key. That person wasn’t available, and so they basically typed into their chat that they just wanted to run it for the vault and knew they wouldn’t time it if they had to invite anyone else, and then offered me the spot.
Now, obviously, some of the choice to be bothered by this is on me – they didn’t make an effort to say to me specifically that they thought I was underperforming, but then, even in voice after I joined, it was very obvious that they felt they weren’t going to time it and that was presumptively placed at my feet. Which then made me quite angry when that druid tank fucked up the last boss (it was Spires and he was a baby about being the spear thrower on a Tyrannical week where a non-tank would be killed by the DoT) and my performance was great. I made a point at the end to emphasize that I was very well aware of their expectations and to note that I hadn’t made the fatal mistake and all they had to do to find out our level of play was be open, be good guildies, and try. I was consciously telling myself not to make them feel bad, but subconsciously, I know that I wanted them to feel at least a little guilty, because it had hurt me to see them be so dismissive of my skills (as part of a general dismissiveness to anyone they had seen as not worthy of their run). And, to be fair, after that, they did start taking me more and generally trying to take others more, and I do think that was good – but that event has always stuck in my mind.
I got my KSM eventually, all through guild groups except the last dungeon, a pickup Plaguefall +15 that was my best run of the season (my only two-chest 15). I made a lot of effort to be a part of the guild groups – I hung out in Discord when not in groups, I talked to people for long stretches of time, I screen-shared my runs for people to watch and backseat with us in Discord, and I tried really, really hard to be a sort-of zen, “water under the bridge” kind of guy. It worked for a while too – I wrote after getting KSM that the focus on a new activity had brought the guild closer in some ways, and I did genuinely believe that at the time. A lot of my writing in this post has been very focused on a clear divide, but it wasn’t always so clear – and the moments where I felt like I had built a camaraderie with them were actually quite nice and made me think really hard about if I had been wrong about their influence on the guild.
But there were always little reminders that there was a clear split. The DK who was just a jerk to everyone made his little remarks here and there, and his tank friend would do the same, but when the tables were turned on them with jokes about little failings in raid, they’d get quiet or be mad. My berserk button rogue would make dumb mistakes and then argue loudly about not being at fault, somehow – and then there was the week where he said he wanted a raid break “because he couldn’t carry the team like he wanted to” and then the night he was out, we had our fastest 9-boss, clean one-shot gauntlet through Heroic and he was back the next night.
The thing that started to bother me the most, however, is that I started to cross over the divide in a bad way. I felt myself becoming more judgmental, looking at players as “carries” and thinking about if I wanted to run in certain groups based on that. Sure, I was getting along better with the new guildies I liked and even the ones I disliked, but I was finding myself just not liking the way I was thinking about the game and the people I played with. I’ve never regarded myself as anything special, and I liked that about myself – I’m just an above-average player who has a good AOTC streak thanks to the collaborative work of my friends and I. I didn’t want to see my time in WoW as an obligation to carry someone – I wanted to teach, to learn, to help, and to come up through challenges together. I didn’t want to spend my hours thinking about underperforming players in negative ways – I wanted everyone in the guild to have a good experience, at least to the extent I could help that.
Ultimately, that, more than the content draught, is what led to me starting a multi-week WoW break at the beginning of June. I was starting to really dislike what I was feeling, how I would refer to players, and it was showing too. We have a Demon Hunter coming up in our guild who is a perfect template of the kind of player I would have sought out under my ethos as stated above – older, a little rough around the edges, eager to improve, and able to be coached – and I was making jokes about him being number 2, saying “we’ve got one good Demon Hunter,” and like, man, what kind of a dickhead was I being? It kind of snapped me into focus on how I’d been coping with how I felt since the merger – I went from being evenhanded, wanting my values to still have an influence on the way the guild progressed, to just being what I saw that I didn’t like about the people we had merged with – overly judgmental, arrogantly convinced of my own performance over others, and irritatingly mouthy about it. It felt really bad, and ultimately, it was my own fault. I wasn’t living up to my own values anymore – and that was a shitty realization to have.
That brings us neatly to last week, when, with a patch date announcement, our guild began planning. Sign-up sheets for raids went out, and the talk began about how teams would be distributed. My assumption, foolishly, had been that we’d remain as we were in March, minus any leavers, plus any newcomers, with maybe a slight rebalancing for spec/role switches. Instead, my co-raid lead immediately pushed for a progression team – A team and B team. Logically, I get it – in a vacuum, everyone wants a progression team because if you’re on it, you theoretically have an easier time getting where you want to go, and a rising tide lifts all boats. Philosophically, I fucking hate the idea, because it just breeds discontent with the B team, the people who think they’ll be A team won’t all make it, and there isn’t a single really reliable 100% mechanism for putting people into their places, given the number of exceptions for role/spec switches, couples, and raid size you might need to make. Luckily for me, that officer was one against 6 firm no votes including my own, so the topic got dropped.
However, there was a lot of discussion that did make traction about sitting people for certain fights based on performance. I loathe this for a few reasons, and they all relate back to that ethos I put in this post like a nerd. To me, sitting people is not a good idea – people need practice on fights, they need exposure to mechanics to learn and grow, and the only way for someone to get better is to practice and learn. At the same time, I’ve been open to asking people to change roles or try and practice things more outside the raid if they are failing hard – and in our extreme case, making that person change roles because they are not engaging with our attempts at helping them learn in good faith. I made my position clear – I was against benching for performance, because it felt like shortchanging someone’s learning time was a pretty poor way to fix things and would just lead to resentments and hurt feelings, and we haven’t talked much about it since so I think my levelheaded perspective may have won (I can be a convincing orator if nothing else, heh), but I felt these discussions have been on repeat a lot since we merged.
We had more this week about how Mythic Plus would be a good activity, and that led to a smaller scale acrimony between a couple of officers, and I kind of had this epiphany – so long as things continued as they were, I’d just be stressed out and rearticulating the same arguments for my position every tier, and I was starting to feel very, very tired of it.
But there was a second point of clarity for me last week that put things into a sharper focus.
As I put at the end of the Shadowlands 9.1 release date post I wrote quickly, one week ago now my wife and I had to put our dog Shadow down. It was pretty emotional (it was my first time having to put any pet down, and we were in the room for it like good pet owners, and man, the image of that is going to haunt me for a while) but it felt really particularly weird to me for one reason.
Throughout most of the last decade, my guild has been my friends. Even the people I haven’t met in person have been my friends, and I would happily call them that and stand by it. My guild was my social home – I had and have a good social life outside the game and in real life, but I’d see my actual IRL friends in game more than in real life just because we’d be online two or three days a week together and might only meet once or twice a week, and less frequently as we grew older. I never hesitated to talk to my guild about things that were hurting me in real life – I told them about my breakup with my ex-fiancee, about the various relationships and flings I had that summer, about losing my job that same year, about my first trip around the world, about my wife when I first met her, and about all the things that were happening with me. We built a space where that worked and where that was accepted and embraced.
Post-merger, I tried sharing one thing that was bringing me down – the cancellation and rescheduling of my wedding – and the fucking DK comedy hour came to imply that I was gay (as if that would be bad if I were) and joke and laugh at my suffering. The thought of that rang through my head – should I tell them that we just put our dog down? What stupid fucking jokes are they going to make out of my misery this time, while my co-lead tells me that this DK “isn’t as bad as you think?” The thought of that made me sick – typing it just now made me sick again. The fact that people from the merged-in guild would stand by this, not necessarily to defend it but instead to soft-peddle excuses about how he’s “not a bad guy even if I disagree with him” or stand silently by while he’s an abrasive dickhead just made it worse – no one is going to have my back because they didn’t then and they wouldn’t now. And, to be fair, who even knows if he would have made a joke or if the others would have let it slide again – but I didn’t want to see the worst-possible scenario play out. I didn’t tell my guild what I was going through, I just let it be. I did tell the officers, mainly to exempt myself from the firestorm about prog teams until I could collect my thoughts and condense them.
That was the thing that sealed me on Monday about leaving the guild. I no longer have a “my guild.” I have “a guild that I am in” and the difference in mood, tone, and excitement is sharp. I don’t have a guild of friends, I have a guild that includes some of my friends. For me, that was a breaking point – it wasn’t a good environment for me anymore, and I’ve known that for a while, but I made a lot of effort to try and stick it out, to see the good, to integrate with the new group, and I was just throwing myself on the rocks for a fucking game.
I like a large number of the people that came into the guild with the merger, to be honest. At their best, we can laugh, joke, post memes, and talk about the various ways in which Blizzard fucks up the game or celebrate when it’s good. At their worst, though, nearly all of them default back to this same hardline progression attitude, stack-ranking everyone in the guild, scoffing at those underperforming, dishing out jokes they can’t take in return, and just generally being unchill in a way that is off-putting to me.
And leaving the guild would have been a severe step – an admission of defeat in some ways, that the problems I have are unfixable, that the guild I worked with my friends to build for a decade is dead – and in some ways, I do feel that way. However, I’ve spent a lot of time here framing the specific things that bothered me to the extent that I wanted to quit – and I feel like it would be a disservice to end without saying something else.
It’s Not Just My Guild
One of my chief concerns in all of this is that, to a point, I can’t argue that they are wrong to want what they want. Wanting a progression team isn’t a grievous wound – it is a normal thing (as many of my commenters pointed out on my Thought Experiment post) and a lot of guilds have them – hardly a unique struggle. Wanting to bench people isn’t a moral failing – it’s a social problem and a shitty situation that I personally dislike. I have an aversion to these ideas and would rather see the guild continue without this kind of micromanagement of performance, but it isn’t just my guild. The terms of a merger are that both guilds should see a compromise position, and to date, we’ve largely continued as we had previously in terms of raiding, extracurriculars, and the like. My complaints boil down to the social environment and those changes – one of which I have a clear leg to stand on and a clear conscience in feeling like I dislike the way things have been, and the other of which is down to a consensus vote and expectation management. If the guild moved to a progression team at the vote of the officers, I am fine to dislike it for the way it shapes the environment around the guild, but I can’t say the process was questionable if we set forth with proper expectations and manage it well.
I presented them as halves of a whole story because one informs the other – what I would identify as the deterioration of the social environment in the guild is driven and exacerbated by this tryhard emphasis on progression at all costs – this focus on individual player performance at the cost of group cohesion, the sharpness of the social environment driven by the same factors, and my inability to find comfort in the guild largely boiling down to my desire to fight against these things taking over the guild while being judged as unable to play to a satisfactory level, then having to prove that wrong. If there wasn’t that personal element to it – the insults and jokes directed at a dark moment for me and the loss of the ability to have those weaknesses and vulnerabilities expressed to the guild as my friends – I’d probably be fine. I wouldn’t necessarily be thrilled, but I’d be fine.
So I find it hard to bring up in shorthand, because in a way, most of my problems are from a sort of ambiguous them – the whole of the merged guild, individuals that came from it, etc – but on the other hand, many of them are just sometimes socially abrasive and they have a right to be that, to attempt to make jokes and to integrate themselves into a full guild. And honestly, sometimes, I know I have thin skin and if I am having a bad day I might take things too personally. I think there’s a line there, which is often pushed (and in the case of the DK I’ve been mentioning, he steps over that line far too often and at far too severe of moments) and they also sometimes fail to take as well as they give, but that isn’t unfixable. I need to recognize, for myself and out loud since I’m putting this here, that the social environment will inevitably change in a guild merger situation, and that such a thing isn’t unreasonable on the face of it. How I choose to react to it is in my control, and I can make choices to be a better officer in that way. I am proud of the fact that I tried to push through, and I do think I made my points clearly while becoming better-acquainted and integrated with the new guildies. There is a limit to that, obviously – I wouldn’t argue that I should adjust to having my personal dark moments made into bad regressive punchlines – but that’s one player out of like 15 new faces and a total of like 35 people.
That’s really the wrinkle that pushed me to not leave the guild. On the one hand, I think I am basically taking coward steps towards the door, making small moves like transferring the guild’s Discord ownership to the actual GM (I had been the owner since we started the server in 2016), removing myself from the raid signup sheet without saying anything, and then, when questioned by my co-lead, advising it was for personal reasons but I was planning to sit the tier out. And that is true – ultimately, my plate is pretty full through the end of the year. We’re moving in a month, I’m working on 3 writing projects to publish, I’ve started learning Unreal Engine to make a game concept that is simple and I think I can pull off, I’m working on getting back into the gym to work towards trying pro wrestling one last time (and to fix the impact COVID and Doordash have let me make on my body because Jesus Christ it’s bad folks), and we have planned fall trips to Denver and Aruba. My break from WoW has been nice and the thought of even trying to raid in isolation, absent the guild drama and my personal feelings, is not one that fills me with glee because I find myself looking at the hours of commitment it would take in any scenario, even our very-limited 4 per week, and just find myself wanting that time for other things.
But on the other hand, I don’t think that leaving immediately would be the right call either. For one thing, it does sort of feel like giving up, admitting that the guild is a failure to me, and sprinting away from it full-speed. I’m not sure that I feel (or don’t feel) that way just yet. I’ve worked with the officers in the past on trying to address what I saw as systemic issues like that DK’s homophobia or the rogue’s abrasive attitude about his performance, and I got some positive responses, even if it also came with hand-wringing over how good of a player they are or that the DK just isn’t that bad, which I find…false, even though he can sometimes be charming in a weird, bad way. I ultimately still feel like I don’t have the support I would want and expect and it feels a bit like fighting a losing battle with slow, steady attrition.
In honesty, I’m not really sure where I go from here, all told. To those outside of my core friends that I have told (I haven’t actually told the whole guild yet), I’ve presented it as a tier-break, with my theoretical return in 9.2’s raiding tier. I still plan to play casually because I am excited for a lot of elements of 9.1, even the raid – but I couldn’t keep trying to just stuff down my feelings, grit my teeth, and just play – I needed to do something different and taking a break felt right. Honestly, it has been 8 years since the last time I took a real, honest WoW break and that was a transformative time in my life. If I could recapture even a fraction of that energy and growth now, my life would be measurably better! If I intend on staying in the guild, I cannot just keep going without being more direct about the way I feel about the guild environment and how it has sapped the energy out of me – and a part of that means being ready for things to get more sour quickly followed by exiting the guild.
For sure, a big part of the time away is focused on me getting to a better place in terms of my relationship with the game and my goals within it. I absolutely hate the way I was feeling a couple of months ago and how that was manifesting in how I looked at and treated other players in my guild and if I were to come back, it needs to be addressed as well. Maybe if I just run Mythic keys with the guild, the environment would be different – but I have to know that I can check the elitist streak I was starting to gain.
And hell, there was a part of the fiery talk I had with my wife where I was determined to quit the guild where I thought about being a revolutionary leader, pulling guildies I wanted to still play with into a bank guild I already have (as a bank guild, it is named <In Syl We Trust> after my original raid main’s name, which is also funny in this context!) so we could build a new thing together, but that also feels shitty in a different way. I don’t want to create a divide where others don’t perceive one, and so that idea doesn’t feel great, especially if the majority of my original guildies don’t feel the same way (and we haven’t discussed it much, so I mean, maybe they do, maybe they don’t, I don’t know).
Ultimately, I think I have some legitimate issues that need to be resolved fully if I am to return to raiding, but the flipside is that I also have to think through and understand how I feel about possible changes to our raiding outlook and approach and if those things are red lines for me or not. At the end of the day, it’s a game – and regardless of the value it has given me, if it isn’t fun, well, I need to evaluate why that is. I also need to make sure that I am not being an obstacle to change for others myself – that the largest possible portion of our raiders can get the majority of what they want out of the game and guild. I’ve let it percolate for a long time, and I know that I need to work to a solution on these problems if I am ever to want to return to WoW in the capacity I have played it for so long.