The Cognitive Dissonance of Raid Finder
Raid nights are a bit ceremonial for me anymore. Our Thursday and Sunday nights progression runs start at 8 p.m. my time, so I usually start preparing an hour or so beforehand. I finish up dinner, do the dishes, and make myself some tea so that I can wind down before I hop in front of the computer. On my second cup of tea, I log into WoW and bring up a couple of browser tabs with blogs and other strategy guides for the encounter we’re working on that night. I check my druid’s potion supply, repair status, reforging. I keep my upgrade list nearby and check to see if I’m likely to need gems or enchants and should bring those along with me. Finally, at about quarter-til, our raid leader starts to send out invites and we all sign into vent and begin to chat.
It’s a process that’s been more or less the same for me since the first time I stepped into a raid instance a few months after the launch of Wrath. It’s deliberate and time consuming, but I enjoy it because it gets me into the mindset I want for progression. It forces me to slow down and look at the details of everything I’m doing. It’s a process that is now as essential to my raiding experience as the actual raid itself, and because of that it feels directly connected to my contributions to the success of our group that night.
It’s a process that has absolutely nothing in common with the way that Raid Finder works.
Raid Finder is all about convenience, and it is amazingly convenient. The queue times are shockingly reasonable regardless of what role you play. I find myself in a situation where all 3 of my level 85 healers have been capped on Valor Points for the past 2 weeks, and I wasn’t even particularly trying to do so. Of those 3 healers, 2 have completed the final boss of this expansion. I don’t think I brought an alt healer along to a Lich King fight until the last month of Wrath. It’s a bizarre feeling.
And yet … the Raid Finder has so little in common with any kind of raid I’ve ever taken part in. Beru had a good write up about this a few days ago as well. She’s right, that no (successful) raid teams out there pull bosses without explaining the strategy first, or at the very least assigning roles. She’s also right that the transiency we see in Raid Finder is not something that happens in traditional raid teams. If we’re working on a progression fight and a member of our team has to leave early, we often call it for the night. Every once in a rare while we may try to find a substitute to bring in, but generally we like to get the kill for the person who’s been working on the encounter all along and we also don’t find it very effective to have to start the learning process over again. Raid Finder just boggles my mind because the team itself changes constantly over the course of 4 bosses, and no one ever stops or bats an eye. A healer’s gone … keep pulling. A tank’s gone … we still have the other, keep pulling. DPS are gone … there’s not even a second thought, keep pulling. Some groups might wait to have a full 25 before pulling a boss, but from what I’ve seen those are in the minority.
Beru is completely right about everything that separates the experience of Raid Finder from that of a traditional raid. Yet what I cannot fail to overlook is that, despite all of this, Raid Finder succeeds the vast majority of the time. Of all the Raid Finder runs I’ve done in the last two weeks, only one failed to complete all 4 bosses – and that was only because the instance server restarted and broke up the group. Raid Finder groups do everything that would destroy a traditional raid team, and they still manage to kill bosses.
Now here’s where I’m really torn.
I love the idea of getting more people to see more content. It’s an fundamental principle of my guild, and it’s THE reason I got interested in raiding in the first place. I didn’t allow myself to be dragged into Naxx because I wanted better gear or more achievements – I did so because I wanted to see how the story ended, and because I wanted to know what raiding was like. I do think there’s a problem when players cannot follow an expansion’s story through to completion merely because they are not in a raid group capable of downing a final boss. Yes, there’s a fountain in Dalaran or a giant jaw hanging in Stormwind that will show you the end of the story if you ask. But we all know that’s not the full story. It’s not the full experience. It’s a consolation prize.
But is Raid Finder a good answer to this problem? I’m just not sure.
Raid Finder surely satisfies the desire to see how Deathwing’s story ends. Plenty of threads like these have popped up on the official forums from players who are overjoyed to finally get a chance to experience content in a way that was totally inaccessible to them before. That’s fantastic. I think it’s great for people to have a chance to really live WoW’s story in a way that could only be done by serious raid groups before. (I’ll admit, I’m still a bit ticked that I’ll probably never see how exactly we defeat Ragnaros since my guild is highly unlikely to ever tackle him on heroic.)
Does Raid Finder give people a good sense of what raiding is like? Absolutely not. In fact, some part of me is worried about the effect Raid Finder will have on my guild’s recruitment from here on out, because I worry that our less experienced applicants may assume that raiding with a guild is like what they’ve done on Raid Finder. Tolerance for wiping may shrink, respect for raid leader’s strategies and authority may be nonexistent, and the willingness to commit a full three hours to focusing on the task at hand may be an officer’s pipe dream.
On the other hand, I can’t discount Raid Finder’s usefulness as a teaching tool to at least give people exposure to a fight. It was helpful for me to see the last 4 bosses of Dragon Soul on Raid Finder when our progression raid had only cleared up to Ultraxion. Doing so prepared me for what boss abilities look like, and gave me a good idea of when I would want to use my cooldowns to deal with bursts of damage. But I learned those lessons as someone who was going into Raid Finder knowing exactly what I wanted to see to help improve my performance in my normal raid. If you can live through most of the abilities that would one-shot you on normal (Hagara’s ice walls, Blackhorn’s shockwave), then what’s the incentive to pay enough attention to get out of the way of them when you’re in a traditional raid? (And, of course, not everyone going into Raid Finder is doing so with the intention of completing Dragon Soul on normal difficulty at some point in the future.)
Big Bear Butt has something of a solution for this, explaining that the perceived difficulty of Raid Finder will increase as overgeared and experienced raiders naturally filter out of the system. I think he’s probably right, as I doubt I’ll be taking my main to Raid Finder after the first month or so of this patch is over – a 1000 point valor cap is very easy to reach, and there are already only a very limited number of upgrades I can get from Raid Finder’s loot. It is possible, then, that as time goes on and the majority of the avoidable damage on Raid Finder runs isn’t so easily healed through, strategy and precision may become more valuable than they are now.
I can’t manage to wrap my head around Raid Finder as it currently operates, though. I love it for its ideals and I hate it for the way it plays out. It’s like raiding in the most basic sense, and it is completely unlike raiding in so many essential ways.
The only way I’ve found to explain Raid Finder to myself in a way that doesn’t make my grey matter start to meltdown, is to use the following analogy:
Raid Finder : Traditional Raiding :: Random Battlegrounds : Premade Battlegrounds
I sometimes wonder what it must be like for a skilled group of PvPers who are used to a premade, rated battleground team to step into a random battleground. The cesspool that is BG chat, the chaos that is BG “strategy,” the total lack of essential communication because 10-40 random strangers aren’t going to pile into someone’s vent, and the giant spread of players’ gear and skill – all of that is removed when you run with a premade group. I’m someone who really hasn’t been fortunate to get to run with premade groups all that often; unfortunately, I just don’t have many friends in my guild who are regular PvPers.
So that means that most of my battleground experiences happen solo – I zone into an BG and hope for the best. I ignore BG chat as much as I possibly can, and try to help with the objectives to the best of my understanding and ability. I can only imagine how stressful and frustrating it might be for someone who is used to a different style of battleground play (one that actually involves strategies, assignments, and good communication) to be in a place that is visually and situationally familiar, but different in every other conceivable way. Actually – I can do better than imagine. I’m a traditional raider who has taken part in Raid Finder.
(And for those who might argue that Raid Finder is more of a “necessity” for traditional raiders than random battlegrounds are for end-game PvPers, I’d remind you to take a look at the way acquiring Conquest Points changed in 4.3. The only remaining difference between our two systems is that PvE players are dependent upon the randomness of loot tables for our set bonuses whereas PvPers can buy everything using their currencies – and potentially take a much longer time to fully gear doing so. Alternatively, PvPers can go kill the Baradin Hold bosses once a week to get their highest possible gear without having to spend currency on it – forcing them into a raiding situation that they may have absolutely no desire to participate in. If we’re truly devoted to min/maxing, we often do things we don’t consider “fun” to get ahead – but that’s another post in and of itself.)
I wish I could round out this post in a way that demonstrates how I’ve seen the light and understand the necessity and importance of both types of raiding. All I can say is … I’m getting there. I understand why both random battlegrounds and rated/premades are necessary to give PvPers a full spectrum of ways to be challenged and develop their skillset. I am fairly certain that Raid Finder is there to fulfill a similar purpose, and it’s Ok that accepting that means I need to revise my definition of what raiding looks like. I can’t manage to wrap my head around Raid Finder … and maybe that’s just fine.
My raid experience will not change. My raid group isn’t going to rage quit after our first wipe to Madness of Deathwing when we start working on it tonight. My guild will continue to recruit players who share these ideals, and thus our preferred way of raiding will be maintained. Who am I to say that anyone else’s preferred way of raiding is wrong or not equally valid? Who am I to dictate how people “should” spend their time in game? Who am I to say that what’s older was better, or to claim that anyone doesn’t deserve to see what I get to see?