Cataclysm Final Grades: The State of the Guild
Recently I ran a series of guest posts (and one of my own) here on Tree Heals Go Woosh taking a look at a variety of specs and classes as they preformed during Cataclysm and issuing them “final grades.” A few other bloggers were kind enough to participate as well, and a full list of all the posts on my blog and elsewhere can be found here.
When I first thought of doing this post, I figured I would evaluate the changes to guilds during Cataclysm. I planned to discuss guild perks and the guild leveling experience. I thought I’d take a look at the shared lockout problem and how it has affected raiding guilds like mine. The more I wrote, however, the more I realized that what I was writing wasn’t an examination of guilds in Cataclysm – it was an examination of my guild.
I suppose that’s only fitting; it would be difficult to really give an accurate appraisal of all the different types and sizes of guilds throughout WoW’s servers. Beyond this, for reasons I’ll explain in more detail below, my guild in particular is likely to be especially different from most raiding guilds, even other so-called “casual” ones. Though I’m intending to be as general as possible, I’ve found that I cannot help but discuss some of the specific challenges my guild has faced in the last two years. I hope that the handful of my guildmates who find their way here on occasion will forgive me any things I may say that sound critical or negative. The shift in our guild in the last two years has been substantial, and I’ve spent this post trying to wrap my head around it. For everyone else who reads this, I would be curious to hear whether you see any of your guild’s challenges in what I’ve written, or whether what we have faced is specific to our situation.
Wrath of the Lich King: Who We Were Then
I joined my current guild not long after ICC was released. At the time, they were looking for an extra healer for a 10m run and I jumped at the opportunity to finally apply. Council of Dragons (or CoD) was known around my server – they were the serious raiding guild. There were a few other Alliance 25m guilds at the time, but most of those had reputations for being rather … we’ll say impolite. CoD, on the other hand, had a spotless reputation. They were known for being professional but fun and usually had one of the best progression rates for the Alliance on our small server. They had a policy that “everyone gets to raid,” meaning that if any member signed up to raid that week, they would absolutely be slotted in at least one raid, regardless of ideal group composition or issues with their gear and skill levels.
When I applied, I had no interest in 25m raiding. I was still working on an old laptop at that point, and it struggled enough with 10m groups that I doubted it could make it through a 25 without exploding. So when I saw that CoD wanted a healer specifically for their 10 mans, I couldn’t believe my luck. For a while, I had been pondering leaving my roleplaying guild to find a new home that better fit my interests. Though I had originally created my characters on the Sisters of Elune RP server specifically because I wanted to see what WoW’s roleplay community had to offer, after 2 years I realized that it was raiding (not roleplay) that was my WoW passion. Our roleplaying guild had gotten its feet wet with a raid team, and even managed a fair bit of success over the years, but it wasn’t the type of raiding experience I wanted. It was time for a change.
I loved CoD immediately. Guild chat was active and friendly and there were always people looking to group up to do dungeons or PvP together. CoD’s motto was “Mature, Friendly, Polite,” and they completely lived up to it. The guild was huge and easily slotted 25 people for their Tuesday night raids, and our raid leader often had to ask for volunteers to sit out. I liked how professional everything felt and I loved our guild/raid leader’s leadership style. He is matter-of-fact but still has a great sense of humor. He’s the sort of person who knows when to ask for suggestions and when to be a voice of authority. Though I didn’t intend to participate in the 25s, I found myself healing them not longer after I joined, which was a great way for me to really get to know a lot of other people in CoD. I had only ever been a part of one 25m raid before, and while I still found that I mostly preferred 10s, I enjoyed the somewhat chaotic and crowded feeling of having 24 other players around me.
Our 10m raids were also a lot of fun, and where the bulk of the serious progression happened. I was a healer for a handful of different 10m teams during the year between ICC’s release and the end of Wrath. One 10m team gave me my first Lich King kill, a feat we would eventually duplicate in the 25m a few weeks after. Later in the expansion, one of the other druids in the guild got together a new group who were focused on doing the heroic versions of the fight and getting all of the achievements we needed for the drakes. Before the expansion was over (and well before the pre-Cataclysm patch hit), the guild had not one, but three 10m groups who managed to get drakes with only one or two people in common among those groups.
Things weren’t perfect. We still had the usual personality conflicts that are difficult to completely avoid in a large guild, and we had occasional differences of opinion regarding strategy and progression priorities. For the most part, however, the people in CoD had enough in common with one another that we got along well. 25m raids weren’t always fun, particularly toward the end of the expansion when we were pushing our casual raiders to progress into heroic versions of fights that required a lot more attention (and, in some cases, sheer DPS throughput) than they were used to. It was rough at times, but because each of us was there since we believed in the idea of a casual raiding guild that could still focus on progression, we kept at it.
Wrath was a time of constant activity for us. Most of our participants were focused on progression, and even our 25m raid (which was always behind the 10s) managed to down 7 of the 12 heroics in ICC. The 25m raid and some of the 10s continued up to the week Cataclysm launched. By and large, the guild demographic was people over the age of 25, including a handful of couples and some parent/child players as well. We lost a few people in the transition to Cataclysm, but we also got some old players back. Our server was already shrinking, with the serious roleplayers heading off to Moon Guard or Wyrmrest Accord and the serious raiders heading pretty much anywhere but Sisters of Elune. Because of that, we ended up absorbing a fair number of people whose raiding guilds had closed shop, or whose guilds had chosen to move off server but they wanted to stick around. By the end of Wrath, we suddenly found ourselves as the only serious 25 raiding guild left on Alliance-side.
Cataclysm: Who We Are Now
There is nothing I can say about the change to the raiding lockout system that hasn’t already been said by Beru or Squelchy (and Squelchy, as another member of CoD, gives specific insight into the way our guild was affected by the change), but I still must mention it because I feel that it so completely changed the dynamic of the guild. I can’t even explain to you how difficult it was just to get all of our raiders to understand the new system. I guess I get it if that sounds silly, but a lot of our players are people who love raiding and love playing WoW but do so casually – which, to them, means not necessarily reading every post that goes up on MMO Champion or the official forums. We had people showing up for 25s who had already locked themselves to 10s well into the first tier of the expansion, and it made slotting a full raid incredibly difficult and frustrating for everyone involved.
In his post on this subject, Squelchy aptly describes our guild as “[trying] to be both casual and progressive at the same time,” something which worked very well for us in Wrath but has mostly failed in Cataclysm. Tier 11 offered us the chance to have 10m teams working on one raid instance while the 25 focused on another, but this wasn’t to be continued in the other tiers. Thus, in Firelands and Dragon Soul, those of us who participated in 10m groups had to make a choice as to whether to take our mains to the 25m run or to the 10.
I know that some of my guildmates disagree with me, but I believe that there is a fundamentally different message that we convey when we take an alt to a raid instead of a main. CoD still identifies itself as a 25m raiding guild, which has always been a bit misleading since so much of our serious progression actually happens in the 10s. The change to the lockout system forced our hand on this point, and made us finally choose – at least, the way I see it – whether we were going to take the 10s seriously or the 25s. Though the plan always was for the 10m raids to use the 25m lockout to finish up the rest of an instance, this only works if: 1.) the 10m group isn’t working on heroics already and needs to start from the beginning, and 2.) the 25m group isn’t regularly completing half of the instance or more. So in a raid like Dragon Soul, which our 10m was able to clear within the first week of its release, the problem of which characters would participate in which raids became an issue almost immediately.
I suppose it’s also misleading to describe 10 man “groups” in Cataclysm, because realistically there has only been one. The 10m group I’m now a part of has been together with more or less the same people since the beginning of the expansion. A few other people hoped to run their own 10m groups initially, but the difficulty of the first raid tier made it nearly impossible to be a “casual” raid leader anymore. Though many people complained about the simplicity of the Wrath version of Naxx, one thing I can say for that instance is that it effectively taught people how to lead a raid. Cataclysm didn’t have a teaching tool like this, so new potential raid leaders faced an extremely steep learning curve. While it’s frustrating to have so few people in our guild who are willing to raid lead, particularly after how many people were up for the challenge in Wrath, I have a hard time blaming them for not wanting to step up to the job.
Add to the raid leader issues a near-constant shortage of tanks and healers, and you’ll begin to see how we’ve ended up with so few raid groups as compared to Wrath. We still get a constant influx of applications and queries largely based on word-of-mouth – people know which guilds are raiding on such a small server. The problem, of course, is that almost 100% of those applicants have been DPS who play pure DPS classes and have no interest (or ability) to switch to another role or class … and we wouldn’t ask them to, anyway. That’s never been how our guild works. It seems that, when the mass exodus from Sisters of Elune occurred at the end of Wrath and the beginning of Cataclysm, the tanks and healers were the first to go.
Now, we have a situation in which our 10m group and the 25m raid have slowly drifted further apart in skill, gear, and social circles. Our guild was much larger at the end of Wrath than it is now, and yet I knew more of the people in it then. When I participate in the 25m raids, now I see an ever-changing mass of names on my healing bars. I also find, and it feels fairly awful to admit it, that I have significantly less desire to get to know these new faces than I did before. Though I haven’t done any surveys to prove it, I’d be willing to guess that the average age of our guild members is significantly lower now than it used to be. Beru talked about this in the post I linked above – that perhaps seeing older players leave is a natural happening in the life of a game like WoW that’s been around for so long now. What it’s meant for the atmosphere of the guild, however, is that I find us inviting more people who I have a lot less in common with, and who don’t seem to share the same priorities as I do.
I’ve been appalled over the last two raiding tiers to see players who expect a legendary (we were lucky to get one Val’anyr and one Shadowmourne in Wrath), and who constantly participate in squabbles over gear. We have had to remind our members multiple times that trolling trade chat or in Tol Barad is completely against the reputation we’ve created for ourselves, and we even had to ask someone to leave for the first time since I’ve been a part of CoD. If those sound like minor things to fret about – you’re right, they probably are. But the fact of the matter is that members of CoD aren’t particularly used to seeing drama like that unfolding in our guild. We experienced some issues during Wrath with complaints about loot, but nothing like the sort of entitlement I’ve seen from brand new members in Cataclysm. I have never had to watch as players with my guild tag baited people with ridiculous trolling or used homophobic slurs in trade chat (OR AT ALL) until this expansion. The shift in the attitude of our membership is palpable, and I find myself acting like an old grump about it. I’m not reaching out to other druids, other healers, and new members as I should be, but I also don’t find that our new members seek out the help that they often need. We’re locked in something of a stand-still.
After all this, you might ask me why I’m sticking around if I find the situation so dismal, and the answer is simple: I like the people in my 10m group. I considered, not so lightly, applying to a more “serious” raiding guild sometime during the Firelands tier and eventually talked myself out of it. As much as I enjoy progression raiding, I don’t like the idea of not knowing whether I’ll be slotted in a raid until moments before it happens, nor do I like the idea of needing to hang around all night in case I’m needed. Additionally, as Squelchy said, CoD really does toe the line between casual and progressive in ways I appreciate. I like that I can expect to work on heroic modes in any raid tier, but that I can also take a night off when I need to without feeling as if the world is ending. For the most part, we have struck a good balance between these extremes. I can’t see myself (ever?) leaving CoD, but it’s also difficult to ignore the ways it has changed since the end of Wrath.
Mists of Pandaria: Who Will We Be?
Now, each time I log in, I find a growing list of members who have left for greener pastures. To be honest (and here’s another chance for terrible admissions), there aren’t many I’ve been sad to see go. Most are players who joined us during Cataclysm who we either didn’t have much in common with or who we didn’t get to know in the first place. I can’t blame them for leaving, as our guild activity has stagnated in recent weeks, and in a way that it just never did during the final days of Wrath. I’m as guilty as everyone else – I don’t spend much time on my guilded toons and I haven’t gone out of my way to participate in raids lately. But my deep dark secret (which I guess isn’t a secret anymore), is that I really hope that this massive loss of players will be the final nail in the coffin of our 25m raids and our identity as a 25m guild, meaning our tiny server will have no 25m Alliance guilds at all.
I’ll be honest: I don’t have much patience for our 25s anymore. Coordinating 25 people is always going to be more difficult than 10, and while we were able to easily blend a combination of both serious and casual players in normal 25s during Wrath, the complexity of 25m raiding in Cataclysm just hasn’t made that possible for us. Dragon Soul is the only raid tier we have even completed on normal in our 25s, and we haven’t attempted any heroic fights in any of the tiers. Particularly as a healer, I feel more involved in a 10m environment because I feel like everything I do actually matters, whereas in a 25m – even if I have a specific assignment or am organizing the healers – I feel like I’m lost in the crowd. I like the intimacy of 10m raiding, and that I get to know the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on the team. I’m sure that feeling isn’t unique to 10m raiding across the board; 25m groups with a more stable roster than ours must experience something similar. But to me, CoD 10m raids will always be about getting the work done and 25m raids will always be about herding cats.
I really have no idea where Mists will take us at this point. I think the majority of my friends are intending to be around to level, gear, and raid when the expansion is released – but I also know that some of them are doing so with more than a small bit of trepidation, and many have explicitly said they’re only sticking around because of the bonds they’ve formed. Personally, I’ll be around for Mists both because I enjoy playing WoW and because I like my guildmates, but it’s becoming clear that I’m in the minority. I have absolutely no desire to leave and I don’t even know how I would start looking for somewhere new – the logistics (and expense!) alone of moving at least half a dozen characters to another server is overwhelming. (Obviously, with the tiny population and non-existent raiding prospects for Alliance on my server, a guild change would mean a server change.) I don’t want to leave but I grow increasingly worried that there won’t be an active home for me if I stay.
For now, the only thing I know for certain is that I’m not going anywhere yet. I can’t possibly make a decision until I see who may come back to us when Mists launches and just how much interest my guildmates regain in the game. In the meantime, I hope you’ll all keep your fingers crossed that Council of Dragons doesn’t end up as another casualty to Deathwing.
How has Cataclysm treated your guild? Have you experienced issues with the change to the lockout system? Do you find that your members have a different attitude now than they did 2 years ago? Is your guild looking forward to Mists? Do you believe a casual/progressive guild can survive the current incarnation of raiding?