Do Progressive Nerfs Negatively Impact Casual Raid Teams?
Weird question, right?
If anything, you’d think that casual raid teams are specifically the target for the progressive nerfs we saw first in ICC and now Dragon Soul. (For this post, progressive means nerfs to the content itself or a buff that makes the content easier to complete, and is delivered in incremental amounts – e.g. 10%, 15%, and so on.) Not entirely unlike the idea of “gating” end content, a system of progressive nerfs is designed to give more and more people a chance to clear content during the life of a raid tier. This system is also surely designed to help keep content fresh for as long as possible during the end of an expansion, since the opportunity to down nerfed Heroic fights may keep many raiders signing up when they would otherwise look elsewhere to fill their time before new content is released.
Burning on through Burn Out
As we’ve all spent a lot of time writing about lately, burn out is a natural part of being a WoW player, and probably even a pretty healthy part. Taking time away when we’ve lost interest in our current in-game goals is a good thing, both because it gives us a chance to do something else for a change, and because we will return to the game revitalized once there is something new to do.
Progressive nerfs give us the illusion that there is more to do and more to complete in WoW. They give us an incentive to return to a raid that we thought we had “finished” – meaning that we thought we had completed all the encounters we were capable of and were ready to set that raid aside until new content came along. There are lots of differing opinions out there about to what extent Heroic versions of raid encounters should be classified as content that is “new” or “different” from the raid on normal difficulty. Personally, though I do like some of the challenges presented by Heroic fights, I often find myself content to clear only the normal raid and then call it a day.
Heroic modes have new abilities and greater challenges, but the setting and the players are all the same. It’s like watching the Director’s Cut of a movie – interesting, and maybe you learn something from it, but it’s still mostly the same movie that you’ve watched a hundred times before. It’s not an interesting enough change that would keep me chipping away at it for months on end unless I thought we had a good chance of getting all the way through it – and I generally don’t think we have that chance until the first few increments of the nerfs have been implemented.
A lot of raiders, casual and otherwise, are completionists and want to see that they’ve downed the bosses on all difficulties, done all the achievements, gotten all the gear they need. Progressive nerfs make those desires way more attainable than they usually are – and they make them attainable in what is technically still the “current” raid tier(even if that raid tier has been out for almost a year).
Keeping Up with the Joneses
During most of my childhood, I lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where pretty much everybody was a Steelers fan. (American football, if “Steelers” doesn’t ring a bell.) In Pittsburgh, most die-hard Steelers fans hated the Cleveland Browns and, much later, the Baltimore Ravens, and considered them our two biggest rivalries.
After college, I moved to Cincinnati for a few years. I’m not exactly the biggest football fan in the world, so before I moved there, I couldn’t have even told you that their football team is called the Bengals (I did, however, know who the Browns and Ravens were). It didn’t take long, though, to figure out that Cincinnati fans were crazy for the Bengals and they absolutely despised the Steelers – so much so that I was a little worried about my then-boyfriend hanging a Terrible Towel in our window during playoff season.
Point is, rivalries are subjective, and often not based on anything resembling logic. It’s as true for raid teams as it is for sports. Whether we feel the urge to compete with someone isn’t necessarily about how similar we are in skill or progression. There are plenty of guilds on my server that I feel pressure to compete with – regardless of whether they get a kill 3 months before we do, or 3 weeks after. Most raid teams, even casual ones, compete with other guilds on their server, other raid teams within their guild, and even themselves. It’s a part of identifying as a raider – the part that pushes us to give that new boss just “one more try” before we have to call it quits for the night. We want to progress.
Though my guild didn’t clear Heroic Lich King in Wrath, we did clear every other Heroic fight in ICC, and there’s a pretty clear expectation that we should be able to do the same with Dragon Soul. We have a certain sense of our identity on our server and where we fit within its hierarchy. Since late Wrath, my guild has almost always been one of the top 2 Alliance guilds in terms of progression, and some prideful part of me really doesn’t like the idea of that changing. Though competition isn’t my primary motivator for raiding, it is often at the back of my mind. I want to see my guild finish Heroic Dragon Soul, and I think we have a pretty decent shot of doing so with the nerfs that have been applied.
Pride in my guild is one part of what’s keeping me raiding right now, so knowing that the nerfs are making it more likely that some other teams may catch up to us is inspiring that healthy competition. It’s both a blessing and a curse, because it’s something that encourages me to raid when maybe I’d rather not be, but also reaffirms my bond to my guild and teammates.
But why do we think that a casual raid team that struggled through many of the more challenging fights at the end of BC and the beginning of Wrath should be pushing Heroic content in the final tier of an expansion?
Because we established that expectation when we were successful in Heroic ICC.
The Rise and Fall of Raider Egos
The length of time between ICC’s release and the beginning of Cataclysm meant that a lot of people had a lot of time they could spend working through every single fight in the instance. By the time the final of the progressive nerfs came out, we were doing 30% more damage, 30% more healing, and taking 30% less damage. The much-maligned Ruby Sanctum was something of a violent wake-up call as we watched our DPS and HPS numbers plummet because we were used to the artificial inflation we saw in ICC.
This is part of the issue with progressive nerfs - they have only happened during final raid tiers (and not mini-tiers like Ruby Sanctum). Nerfs to other tiers such as Tier 11 or Firelands targeted specific bosses or abilities that appeared to be giving a lot of teams trouble, and while Blizzard may eventually nerf an entire instance, this is not done incrementally.
What we end up with are two totally contradictory messages:
- For most raid tiers, do as much as you can and then never return to it once a new raid is released.
- For final raid tiers, keep running the raid over and over again until you have completed it on every difficulty.
For casual raiding guilds, that can create a lot of tension between the expectations of our raiders and the reality of our skill level. It’s a jarring change to go from feeling like you can down any Heroic boss in ICC to barely being able to clear the early bosses of Blackwing Descent. It’s easy to end up with a guild full of people who honestly can’t understand why we weren’t working on Sinestra yet when we’d only barely managed to scrape out an Atramedes kill.
Progressive nerfs also make it difficult for raid leaders to assess what our teams can actually handle. If we can beat an enrage timer on Heroic Ultraxion because his health has been reduced by 30%, does that mean we’ll have enough DPS to beat a Mists boss with a tight enrage? It can be pretty difficult to be sure until we get a full team into the new fight and risk completely demoralizing them if it becomes apparent that we are totally unprepared.
Nobody likes to lose; everybody likes to win. Progressive nerfs make us feel like we can just keep winning – even if we don’t one-shot new bosses, even if they’re still challenging – we are making our way through Heroic content that’s often out of our reach during the rest of an expansion. Then, when we hit the reality of the next tier without our inflated stats, it’s easy to feel like we’re losing all the time. The radical ups and downs of casual raider psychology from one tier to the next make it extremely difficult for raiders to understand their true skill level and for raid leaders to know how hard to push progression.
Solutions! (I have none.)
Ideally, the best way to make the transition from one raid tier to the next as smooth as possible would be for all tiers, not just final ones, to have progressive nerfs. For casual raiders, this would give us more opportunity to work through raid tiers when they are still current content, hopefully doing this before the inner-workings of raiding encourage us to abandon old tiers when a new one is released. This would not, however, solve the issue of feeling god-like at the end of a nerfed raid tier and then being reminded of what puny weaklings we are at the start of the next.
It would also not solve the problem for bleeding-edge progression raiders, who are often firmly opposed to progressive nerfs. Many progression raiders object to this system because kills completed after a nerf are often considered lesser than kills that occur before. Though the suggestion is often made that raiders have the choice to “turn off” the Soul of the Aspects buff, many progression guilds do not consider this to be a real option.
I don’t have an answer for this one. I like the thrill of downing new content, and I like the morale boost my guild gets from each new boss kill. I hate, though, that feeling of being completely outclassed when we pull the guild’s casual raid team into a new tier for the first time. The skill and gear gap is thrown into the harshest possible light, and that temporary morale boost is quickly forgotten.
Are progressive nerfs good for your raid team? Why or why not? Would you nerf content differently to make the raiding experience more consistent across tiers? How so?