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The School of Hard Naxx

August 7, 2012
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Awful pun.  Thanks for clicking the link anyway.  I promise it will get better from here.

I often wonder how exactly new WoW players learn to raid in the post-WotLK world.  WoW was my first MMO experience and the time I’d spent playing console games with friends before getting into WoW really did nothing to prepare me for working within a complex co-op environment.  The games I played were usually only for 2-4 players, not the 10-25 it takes to raid now, and no multiplayer game I tried had anything like the holy trinity of tank / healer / DPS.

For me, all of my initial knowledge about how to raid came from one quiet weekend in February of 2009 when my guild offered to let me tag along on their weekly Naxxramas run.  I’d expressed some interest in learning how to tank on my Death Knight when she hit 80, so some friends helped me get enough tanking gear to be defense capped, took me through heroic Utgarde Keep to give me the most basic instruction in tanking mechanics like using line-of-sight, and within just a week or two I was scheduled to raid with them.  The first time I tanked Naxx, I think I had about 17,000 health.

The title of this post isn’t just a terrible pun, it’s also not exactly accurate.  The WotLK version of Naxx wasn’t hard, particularly for raiders who had just come from Sunwell at the end of BC.  Even for guilds like the one I was in at the start of Wrath (for which raiding was not a top priority), Naxx wasn’t particularly difficult – we could usually clear all of its 15 bosses within 2 or 3 hours.  That was nothing compared to the speed runs dedicated guilds pulled off shortly after the raid launched, but we also had a different agenda in mind.

Long after Ulduar and Crusader’s Colliseum released, that guild continued to come back to Naxxramas most weeks.  It certainly wasn’t because we loved the place; it was because Naxx was the ideal environment to train future raiders, and to give people a chance to raid who never thought they could.

Raiding 101

Naxx was such a perfect training ground because it had a wide variety of boss mechanics but still managed to be extremely forgiving to beginner mistakes.  Though there were a lot of complaints that Naxx was under-tuned, for a group of people who often had to worry that a tank or healer might die, or that 2 skilled DPS might have to carry 4 others who were well below average, this relative ease gave us a chance to learn how to play.

Tanks learned about taunt-swap mechanics on fights like Gluth and Razuvious, picking up adds on Anub’Rekhan and Grand Widow, and complex movement on Heigan.  My first sense that I was going to love tanking came when I saw Grand Widow for the first time.  I was given add duty and told that all I needed to do was keep agro on the adds but not kill them (more difficult than it sounds for a DK tank at the beginning of Wrath), until somehow our main tank died.  I ran over to the boss and managed to pick her up, along with the remaining adds, and we still downed the fight.  It was my first experience of getting to “save the day,” and I was hooked.

Months later, when I leveled my druid because our raid group needed a healer, I got my first taste of raid healing in Naxx - even though Ulduar would have been current content then.  Though our guild had moved on somewhat in its progression, we still returned to Naxx often because it was such a good place for raid training.  New alts would go through Naxx to get their players comfortable with playing a different role and/or class, and we frequently took fresh first-time 80s there as well.  We brought along players who had only the most minimal concept of what it meant to play their classes at endgame, people who were speced and geared wildly incorrectly and who couldn’t beat our tanks in DPS.  We brought them because we knew that if they experienced a raid they would love it, and conversations about how to improve would happen more naturally once they got a taste of what raiding was about.  How can you explain to someone why they need to be hit-capped if all they’ve ever done is grind quest mobs?  How can you talk about rotations and managing cooldowns when you’ve never taken longer than 10 seconds to kill something?  Though our system meant that, to some extent, we had to “carry” new raiders through Naxx their first few times, it also gave them a chance to see whether raiding was something they enjoyed enough to learn more about.

Naxx wasn’t the only raid to have a reputation as a good training ground – many BC raiders talk about Karazhan in similar terms.  A system like this wasn’t perfect; we ran into some trouble with unskilled raiders who saw success in the under-tuned Naxxramas and believed this would translate to immediate success in Ulduar and beyond.  At its worst, powering our under-geared and unskilled new raiders through Naxx might have given some of them a sense of entitlement about working through more challenging current content (not entirely unlike what I discussed in my last post on progressive nerfs).  But at its best, “Naxx U” gave new raiders a giant boost of confidence and interest in raiding that could push them to do more research about their class, their role, and the game.  If someone hadn’t decided to “carry” me through Naxx when I had no business being there, I wouldn’t be raiding today.

Learning to Raid Post-Wrath

Where do new raiders learn how to raid now?  Tier 11 was the exact opposite of Naxx in that it was the first tier of the expansion and also the hardest.  Many of its mechanics were entirely unforgiving and it suffered from having several fights in which a single player’s mistake could wipe the rest of the raid.  While this makes for interesting and challenging fights for seasoned raiders, it is not an environment where you want to train anyone.

Cataclysm’s Heroic 5 mans (the ones that shipped with Cata, not the Hour of Twilight heroics) do a lot of the work to prepare players to make the jump from dungeons to raiding.  Cata’s heroic bosses are more challenging than any we’ve seen in prior expansions because they each have several complex mechanics to test players.  Learning to juggle adds, and a debuff, and a boss who enrages all within the same fight gives us some opportunity to experience the sort of multi-tasking we’ll have to do when we fight a real raid boss.  It’s one reason why I enjoyed the difficulty of Cata’s un-nerfed heroics at the beginning of the expansion.  They were challenging, but they warned us about what was to come in the even greater challenge that was tier 11.

No 5 man dungeon, however, can ever prepare a tank or a healer for the experience of having to work as a part of a tanking or healing team.  This is something that happens exclusively in the raid environment or, now, in LFR.  A lot has already been written about whether or not LFR is a tool that properly initiates people into the raiding world.  I believe that LFR is an important tool for a new raider because it exposes them to the scale and complexity of a raid – but let’s not kid ourselves into believing that any new raider would come out of an LFR experience with the slightest notion as to why anything happened the way it did.  On the rare occasions when anyone bothers to explain any aspect of a fight in LFR, no context is given because there isn’t enough time to do so before someone gets antsy and pulls.  The most information that is given is what to kill, where to stand, and (maybe) when to hit that illusive button on Ultraxion.

LFR can’t possibly be treated as a true learning experience for new raiders because it lacks any sense of community or mentorship.  No one in LFR is really invested in any of the other players getting better at what they do, because we’re unlikely to meet those strangers again.  It is often faster to let new players die to mechanics they’re unaware of or don’t understand and then rez them after the fight is over than it would be to just properly explain the boss.  LFR is designed for convenience and speed – not for education.

I can’t say enough how important a community experience was for me when I was first learning about raiding.  In a game like WoW where the term “Elitist Jerk” is used as much as a badge of honor as it is an insult, breaking into the raiding endgame can be hugely intimidating.  New raiders need to know that they are running with a safety net – in a safe space in which they are allowed to screw up, to misunderstand, and to need to see a fight before it makes sense to them.  LFR is the anti-safe space, and Cataclysm’s raids on normal difficulty have fights that are complex enough as to overwhelm new raiders. 

As WoW gets older and its player base becomes more seasoned and sophisticated, raid encounters will only continue to become more complicated.  For those of us who already know what we’re doing, this is part of the natural progression of raiding, and an absolute necessity if WoW’s new raids are going to keep us entertained.  But where does that leave new players?  If Raiding 101 at Naxx U and Karazhan College is a thing of the past, in what environment can a new raider acquire the skills she needs to make it in the raiding world?

If you learned to raid during Cataclysm, how did you do so?  For those who have been around longer, do you feel that the lack of an “entry-level” raid instance makes it more challenging to train new raiders?  Does LFR have any value as a teaching tool?  How did your community help you when you first learned to raid?

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. julzzae permalink
    August 7, 2012 3:01 am

    I just want to say, since I’ve played since the beggining of Cata, I had learned how to play below max level, doing PuGs for Sunwell Plateau or Black Temple, and at max level I startegoing through Wrath content just to see what raiding is like. Now I raid Dragon Soul.

    • August 7, 2012 3:03 am

      Thank you for the info! That’s so cool that there are still PuGs forming for some of the older content – that would definitely be a great way to get started with raiding.

  2. August 7, 2012 5:06 am

    I started playing at the tail end of Wrath, hitting 80 a week or so after the release of Cata. Tanked through T11 for my guuild. Learned in the heroics with a guild group. Got lucky though – the guild was short of tanks, so they were willing to run HCs together and take the time to train me up.

    Learned interrupts and floor damage from Naz’jar, positioning and movement from Ulthok, add control from Setesh – the worst fight ever for me at the time, but I learned well enough to add tank on Maloriak – avoidance and timing from Ozruk, and to use cooldowns from – of all things – trash. The trash in Grim Batol will stomp you into paste without a decent cooldown rotation, and nothing in the 80 or so levels up to Cata neccessitates getting to grips with your CDs. Dying with buttons still up is the biggest problem I see in new (or simply bad) tanks.

    Then again, most of the time when anyone on our server went into the 4.0 heroics it was with a guild group. The dungeons were punishing enough that pugs were just not worth the time. In that sense I guess the content sort of encouraged training. Sort of.

    • August 7, 2012 5:49 am

      I spent the first several months of Cataclysm avoiding PuG heroics like the plague. If I couldn’t get a guild group, I just didn’t go. I know that almost all of the re-learning I had to do with the Cata’s new healing style happened in the first few weeks that I ran heroics with my guildmates. Thank goodness they were patient and did everything they could to help out with cooldowns and CC. And you’re right – the trash was the worst.

      So it sounds like, mostly, the Cata heroics did their job and prepared you for the challenges you’d face as a raid tank. Now that the heroics are nerfed from their difficulty at release, do you think they are still a good learning tool for new tanks? Most are still challenging enough that you can’t just ignore the mechanics of a fight, but (having just run a new 85 healer through these) I really don’t see anyone using CC these days.

    • August 7, 2012 7:12 am

      I’d actually venture that the nerfed original heroics are a better learning tool than the harder initial versions. Release versions were heavily, heavily overtuned. Frustration is not an aid in the learning process.

      T11 was the tank tier for dungeons. If the tank couldn’t perform you were toast.
      4.2 and the Zanda dungeons were, in large part, healer dependent. There was a lot of damage, and while DPS could mitigate much of it, we were still expected to heal through any crisis points. If the DPS didn’t do anything to mitigate… well, there was a good reason many people gave up on valour capping in zandas. Guild repairs only go so far.
      HoT is… flat. There’s no boss that can be pointed to as an execution check – everything can be brute forced through, with a good enough healer. And while that’s good for quick runs and PuGs, it also means that the only challenge comes when PuGs don’t know the tactics and you’re effectively healing through stupid.

      I’ve seen a lot more since the early days – Setesh was a completely foreign concept to me – but there doesn’t seem to be anything in these dungeons that’d really focus and hammer on specific concepts the way those early dungeons did. Those lessons are still there, nerfs or not.

      That said, from the perspective of not needing to learn, it’s selfish and sad but I really prefer having the ezmode faceroll instances for PuG content. The biggest problem was probably that T11 HCs were too long. Hours to get through a single instance? Not cool at all, and if HoTs are the price of being able to actually do more than one dungeon a night, it’s one I’ll pay.

    • August 7, 2012 8:38 am

      Yeah, that is always the problem – once you’ve effectively “graduated” from Raiding 101, do you have any desire (or patience) to help other people get to where you are. Some days I do and some days I don’t. A lot of the time I really just want to get my Valors and run. I’m willing to quickly explain dungeon encounters to people who don’t understand them, but I have zero patience for tanks who just fly headfirst into a boss fight without knowing it or asking any questions about it.

      When it comes to an actual raiding environment and when I’m with guildmates, I have more patience for people who are on a different point in the learning curve than I am, but even that can change from time to time. Sometimes I just want to smash through Dragon Soul in 90 minutes and take the rest of the night off, and that’s not always possible when we have applicants or returning members who aren’t as familiar with the fights.

  3. August 7, 2012 6:33 am

    Ah Tzufit. I want your brain. I want to be smart like you <3

    Having played from Vanilla, I have very little experience in training new raiders, or helping new raiders into the ropes – everyone seems to have had some sort of experience. However, we DID have a new recruit who had not raided before join us in early Cata. He was a DK.

    He had never raided before, only dungeons with friends, and thought that he would try raiding with a social raiding guild – hence he chose us. He said that he would like to step into a tanking role, and did a lot of research on it, such as EJ, forums etc and practiced on dungeons. He started out shakily but we were so happy to have someone tanking that we let him persist and eventually he was confident enough tanking that he would start help leading a raid, especially new fights when none of us had a clue and we were all starting on the same page.

    He became an integral part of our raid team and was promoted to an officer during Firelands.

    So, it can be done. If you're willing to learn, have a good learning environment and willing to make the sacrifice to do the things that people need you to, then you can be a raider.

    • August 7, 2012 7:10 am

      LOL, Navi. :P

      I actually have encountered very few people who started playing WoW in Cataclysm. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who has joined my guild in the last 2 years who didn’t have some sort of Wrath raiding experience listed on their application. What you describe, though, is essentially the process my old guild went through in Naxx – except you managed to do it in a raid with a much higher level of difficulty. I’m really glad to hear that a system like this still worked in Cataclysm, particularly during T11.

  4. August 7, 2012 8:09 am

    I started WoW just before Cata was dropped, actually!

    I raided for the first time on BoT, but we only ever knocked down the first boss. The guild’s main raid team had already defeated it a few times. One of the officers had just put it together so I could see a raid. I’d also helped down a few Firelands bosses — but again, I wasn’t on a raid team.

    I was invited to the raid team soon after the HoTs arrived. Dragon Soul is my first (and only!) current content raid I’ve ever completed. I made sure I was geared enough and ran LFR constantly in an attempt to learn basic mechanics.

    The raid group did fall apart and I miss it. It was fun being part of a healing team. :)

    • August 7, 2012 8:42 am

      I think this is one of the other community aspects we don’t get to experience if we only run LFR – how much fun it is to be a part of a stable raid group! I love that, for nearly all of Cataclysm, I had 2 other healers with me who I could trust completely. I knew what they were good at, they knew what I was good at, and we worked together as an awesome team.

      But, the good news is that it sounds like LFR did teach you enough about the fights that you felt more prepared to step into normal Dragon Soul, which is great! That, along with getting people to see the content who otherwise couldn’t, is the best part of LFR’s addition to our raiding choices.

  5. August 7, 2012 9:35 am

    I started main tanking for my guild around ToTC/ICC back in Wrath. When we started Cata raiding, we rotated two new tanks as the offtanks, both of which had never played prior to Cata. Fortunately, they were both pally tanks, so I was able to assist them with class strats and advice from my prior experiences. It was tough, but we managed to get Nef/Cho’gall/Al’Akir all down before the first set of nerfs came. T11 was hard, no doubt about it, but I am also blessed with awesome guildies who are willing to take criticism and advice and use it to make the group successful.

    LFR has teaching value only if the trolls are willing to behave. Sure, LFR is supposed to be EZ-mode, but there are still going to be basic mechanics that need to be executed correctly. And if you have new players who haven’t raided before and this is their only form of raiding, you’re gonna need to be helpful. Berating raiders isn’t going to help the cause and you see horror stories of failed LFRs all the time. I would rather take a couple minutes to explain the fight(s) to a newbie, than to spend hours wiping on the same boss (or even trash!) anyday.

  6. August 7, 2012 10:26 am

    I healed LK on my priest and pally, I started Cata with Eluna and she’d only been 80 for like a week when Cata dropped. I re-learned how to play the game! More than anything, I think that practice makes a pretty good teacher…particularly with healers (or tanks in my case) who know how to push you to improve. For instance, Kurby (my main tank) would purposely not use cool-downs unless I directed him to, so that I could learn to react to unexpected damage…we sit in the same room, so communication is really really good between us. :-)

    It’s a running joke in our guild that a new healer has to pass the “kurby hyped up on monster drinks heroics” test to become a raider. To pass he can’t die unless he falls off something.

  7. August 7, 2012 1:34 pm

    All of these thoughts have been on my mind, too, for some time now. It heartens me to know that unlike the image that many portray of ‘knowing everything’ that many learn along the way with guidance and patience. Great post and insight from all the commentors, too.

    PS Love the pun, and the Pig Latin!

  8. August 8, 2012 10:45 am

    Oh those long, glorious Naxx days- and the shield that never, ever dropped. Really enjoyed this post; as exasperating as it was to go back week after week after week after week- you’re right. It was wonderful to be able to show new players, new raiders, what it was to raid. I think that our little scrappy RP guild fostered a lot of people into raiding. I sure as hell learned most of the basics from that time, not as much from BC- it was tier 7 that really had me learning to play my class and that gave me the first taste of desire to succeed as hard as I could.

  9. battlechicken permalink
    August 15, 2012 9:49 am

    My training ground was Karazhan, and it was such a good place for me to learn. I know no one enjoys recycled content, but I wish they’d bring Kara up to level. It was really where I cut my healing teeth, and I miss it!

    LFR is definitely not the place to train raiders. Honestly, I think finding the right guild when you’re learning to raid is an important step–dedicated to helping people raid. Taking people through Naxx was a great idea on your guild’s part. Raiding training wheels are way more important than people realize, especially easy to forget if you’ve been raiding for a long time.

    Right now, being 100% honest, my guild would not be a good learning guild. There’s no offnight raids anymore, and we’re trying to get at least Heroic Spine down before the patch drops. It would be a hostile environment for a new raider, not because people are hostile, but because there are certain expectations a new raider would have a hard time meeting.

    That would be a good guild advertising point for some guilds–”we’ll help you learn to raid.” I wonder how many people would jump on board for a guild like that?

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