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Saturday, March 19, 2011

[4.0.6] Tolerance, Patience, and Support


Note: I will speak from the perspective of a 25-player raid guild, as that is my experience.

Keeping a raid guild operating effectively is challenging.  You have to keep well over 25 people not only engaged, but performing at a certain level.

In an ideal world, you would just express your interest and 24 other people, which perfectly fill out your raid with the necessary roles and a good mix of classes, would show up on your doorstep, ready to raid at the times you want 100% of the time, and play as hard as you want to play.

Well, that's not how it works out.  In any given raid/guild, there will be people that are relatively more hardcore than the average and those that are more casual than the average.  The trick is finding a path that works for all of them.

When the 2010.08.31 WoW Insider article on playstyles came out, the officers of the Grim Legion concluded that we were best described by the author's definition of "serious":
I participate in endgame content and push myself to be better. I play in a group with endgame goals, whether it's battleground wins, arena points or boss kills. I'll spend time out of the game doing research for my in-game goals. I "don't always approach fights 100 percent optimally," but I still get good results! (Credit to Celendus' comment on Rhidach's post for the term.)
While that works great for most people, we still end up with some folks that are more casual or more hardcore.  So, there can be tension as we aim for this middle ground, in that we will likely frustrate those on the outer boundaries to some extent.  Some may find reading strategies and watching videos ahead of time tedious or even a spoiler, while others might consider it the bare minimum.

So, how do you keep a group like that going?

Tolerance, patience, and support.

Support

If you had a clone army raiding with you, then they would all be equally prepared and geared, and their expectations would be identical.  So, you would all hit the content and progress at a pace that makes you happy.

But until then, we need to deal with other people of varying expectations and capabilities.  That means someone (or more than one someone) will always be a relatively low performer.  The success of the guild begins with how well you handle this.

Pointing someone at a web page and washing your hands of the problem can work sometimes, but generally you have to realize that a low performer can have a multitude of causes for their performance:
  • Not enough study: Not really interested in following the latest theorycrafting on their class
  • Not enough practice: Don't have the time or interest to play enough to maintain their performance
  • Physical limits: They have a crappy rig, slow connection, disability, etc. that fundamentally limits their ability to perform
The last ones are hard to deal with and in those cases it may be reasonable to ask if membership in your guild makes sense for their overall happiness.  Being forever consigned to be the person holding everyone back would suck.

In the first two, you have some obvious paths to success, which is nice.  However, you have to handle it respectfully.  Never forget that the person on the other end of chat, Ventrilo, etc. is a real live human being.  They are upholding a commitment to sacrifice their valuable time routinely to attend your raid, and they have probably already spent a lot of time just getting geared for the experience.

So, before you even start, if you cannot wrap your head around the fact that the person is already doing you a favor and you should treat them accordingly, you probably should let someone else handle it.  People matter and time is precious; those reasons are part of why you are talking to them and they are why you should do it with respect.  The $15 per month is generally irrelevant, but when you start looking at the time you have to dedicate to raid, prepare for raiding, gear for raiding, re-itemize and augment your gear when you upgrade, etc. it easily hits 40+ hours per month.
  • Objective data is nice: [Speaking to a Fire Mage] "Hey, I was searching World of Logs and I found this Fire Mage with similar gear to you; here's the link.  He seems to be putting out 75% more damage on the same fights.  When I looked at the spells/Talents he was using, I noticed some differences in how much he used certain spells and there were some key difference in Talents he chose...what are your thoughts on those?"
  • Remain solution-oriented: No one spends $15 and 40+ hours per month so that some douche bag on the other end of Ventrilo can make them feel like a loser.  As far as you know, this person is playing their heart out and simply falling short because they misunderstood some prioritization, or they are missing a key addon, or whatever.  Focus on ways to improve, not ways that they suck.
  • Be diplomatic: The typical things, like being careful of your language choice.  For example, try not to hammer them with a lot of "You do this badly", when instead it could be something like, "From what I understand, Fire Mages use [insert spell] a lot more often than what the logs show for [insert character name, not "you"], do you think there's anything to that?"
  • Socratic method:  Well, my examples already reek of it but using probing questions instead of declarations, in the fashion of the Socratic method, can be very useful for this.  There are two key benefits - 1) you avoid preaching ("Elitist Jerks says you should do this; you should do it" is more likely to push the discussion into a conflict and you might be wrong, the info outdated, etc.) and 2) you increase the chance that more subtle issues might be identified as the person is prompted more to examine their practices and discuss them more fully.
Patience

Well, if it's not already obvious from the above, you need patience.  As time goes on, it's easy to become more impatient with people and progress.  You need to be able to reset your patience meter when a new person joins the raid or a new problem appears.  I am not saying it's easy, but you need to consciously make an effort because the little monkey in the back of your brain wants what it wants, and it wants it NOW.

I think the real test of patience comes from the fact that you are going to need more than just 25 raiders to be successful.  You need extra everything to insure you can raid regularly.  More Tanks, DPS, and healers.  Aside from the myriad logistical and morale issues that brings up for you to manage, it brings up one very key concern - variable levels of experience with a fight.

It's just simple arithmetic that the less someone raid, the less experience they have with the content.  This can and will lead to nights where you show up with 23 people that are jaded veterans of a boss fight, but the other two people have never seen it and, lucky you, it is one of those fights where one weak link means everyone dies.

EVERYONE needs to be patient, it's in their best interest.  Whether your technique is to explain it first then fight, or just go ahead and pull and give them point instructions on the fly, there is a very good chance you will wipe, and if it's a progression boss, possibly many times, especially if they are in a critical role.

This a test not only of the leadership, but also the guild as a whole.


And you need to make sure you pass this test, because there is no raid heaven where you have 25 players with a perfect mix of classes and roles that can attend 100% of the time and be just as prepared/motivated/skilled as you.

Without those people, you are not immune to raid cancellations due to inadequate attendance and that means less raiding and less progression overall.

Moreover, people come and go in any guild.  If you can't be patient with new folks, you will stumble and possibly fall.

Tolerance

The overall meta-lesson is tolerance.  And just so we are clear on what I mean by tolerance, I am focused on the following meanings:
  • 2a : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own b : the act of allowing something
  • 3 : the allowable deviation from a standard
This means that even though you might show up to a new boss having critically analyzed a strategy for how to defeat him, to include carefully watching one or more videos, you need to accept that not everyone in the raid may be as intimately knowledgeable as you.  Perhaps it is not a requirement, or perhaps they simply skimmed the strategy, and watched the video once (no pausing, no looking up what that strange effect they saw in the video was, not taking careful notes of where they should stand at every moment of the fight, etc.).

Now, you may notice that I have leveled this mostly at the perspective of the hard core players.  There's a really good reason for that.  Five years of raiding has taught me that the casual players will keep doing their thing and are more likely to just stop.  It's the nature of the beast.  The person that wants to spend twice as much time preparing for a fight is also the person that is most likely to be passionate and vocal about their frustrations or "helpful" advice.

Where Did Everyone Go?

I am not going to pretend the above is easy, but that's why guild leaders get paid the big (nonexistent) bucks. :)

Left to their own devices, I have seen a common tendency for the more hardcore players to start turning inward, e.g., forming private chat channels to commiserate at how much everyone else sucks, and then something breaks.  In other guilds, I have seen the leadership get sucked into it and start increasing the requirements, abandoning anyone that did not want to be that hardcore; in essence, retroactively un-recruiting them.  Eventually, one group starts showing up less, are less interested in performing at the expected standards, they leave because they guild is too serious for them (or not serious enough), or they leave so they can "do it right" (usually the hardcore folks).

A LOT of the people that came to our guild did so under the above circumstances.  We have watched so many guilds, which seemed to be fine, crash and burn.  They all had varying levels of progression, but in most cases, it was stunted progression for a variety of reasons.
  • Recruiting stopped - people come and people go; you need more than 25 people to maintain 25-player raiding; that means recruiting when you dip below 30-35 (tune to taste)
  • "A Team" and "B Team" - ah, yes, the most effectively way to insult, alienate, and encourage all but 10 of your guild members to look for another guild.  If you want to accelerate the fracturing and destruction of your guild, this is an excellent choice.  We gained a good chunk of members from guilds that did this
  • Ineffectual or token leadership - There are so many flavors - the person who is guild leader simply because they bought the charter, and that is where their leadership of the guild ended; a fracture among the officers for any number of reasons that leaves a potentially disillusioned and overwork skeleton in its wake; and many others.
The Grim Legion is far from perfect.  Around the time Ulduar came out, we saw one of the above scenarios play out.  We let a small group of intolerant hardcore players build a lot of momentum and the resulting fracture reduced our ranks by almost ten people.  That set back our raiding for a few weeks.  It would likely have been a lot more, but we had a good number of people on our roster, so the hit was not so damaging.

WoW exists in a medium that provides ample opportunity to be a completely intolerant, bellicose douche bag.  However, to be successful with raiding, an activity that requires a significant, persistent, long-term commitment, you have to rise above that and foster an environment where everyone else does the same.

Holding hands and singing Kumbaya is probably not neccesary, but being tolerant, patient, and supportive of all of your guild members is a great start.

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