There seems to be a feeling of regret floating around old school WoW raiders lately. I’ve seen it in other places, but this post over on Raging Monkeys does a great job of summing up the conflict. Syl writes,
“To this day, I am deeply resentful; resentful of Blizzard, of the game’s later raid designs that presented my own guild with such a reality. [...] Most of all, I resent them for making me that different person. A person with less and less tolerance for team diversity.”
Reading that passage the first time was striking because I lately have been feeling almost the exact same way. But is the “hardcore” raid culture really to blame?
The Cats were never traditionally hardcore, not even in our peak raiding days. I always believed (and still do) in recruiting smart raiders and then getting out of the way so they could do their thing. We didn’t yell or insult people for performance, and attendance was always optional. But as time went on, we — I — started getting more and more picky about who was and was not considered an essential part of the team.
That nice guy with a newborn who could only raid once a week? Accomodating him felt less important than keeping the experienced people together when faced with night 3 of Heroic Putricide. The woman from Australia with bad latency but awesome attendance? Taking her on a cloak run of TotGC put everyone on edge. Granted, in TBC we got a little more serious about raiding as a guild, but the folks who found themselves on the outside were generally the people who didn’t care that much. They didn’t have enchants, or “forgot to train taunt”. But in WotLK in particular I definitely started leading the guild in a more serious business direction.
So, why did that happen? Part of it was that I personally wanted to keep the ol’ progression train rolling along, and certainly the increased emphasis on fights where individuals can kill the whole raid was a factor, but I think there is another obvious culprit: Casuals. Yeah, that’s right. I said it.
Okay, that was a bit sensational, but I genuinely think the drive to increase the accessability of raiding actually made the culture of raids more focused on performance.
In TBC, after a certain point you had to raid to earn PvE upgrades. And because there were multiple tiers at once and no outside way to obtain the gear, you had to work through the tiers in order. Many tiers of content were valid at the same time. The lean, mean raiding machine with the army general leader could log on and work on their upgrades in Hyjal, while my guild with our not-ungenerous portion of dorks and drunks ( <3 ) could log on and obtain our upgrades in SSC. Usually by the time we worked our way to a boss it was ~10% easier beween nerfs and class buffs and we were loaded up with gear from the previous tier.
My guild, anyway, was quite satisfied with this system. I did not worry what Raidy McRaiderson was doing in Hyjal, because I was too busy securing a resist tank for Hydross attempts or other goals appropriate to our raiding dedication and ability.
In WotLK, Blizzard added two big (and totally successful!) initiatives to improve raid accessability in WoW: badge gear (technically introduced in TBC, but right at the end) and the LFD. The effect was, of course, people being able to gear up faster than ever before, almost to the equivalent of the latest raid content. Running previous raid tiers became obsolete overnight, and out with it went guilds clearing content at thier own pace.
Now every guild started the same raid at the same time, and stopped the same raid at the same time. The sense of being in direct competition, somehow comparing ourselves to them all, began to get hard to ignore. Additionally, the introduction of the simultaneous badge/raid system meant that raids were no longer released en masse, but one at a time. Instead of looking at a handful of raids and thinking we had 18 months or so (we averaged a new boss every couple of weeks), the window of opportunity for current content seemed to become smaller and smaller. Ulduar, for example, had 14 bosses, some of whom had 3 different difficulty modes, and a whole giant mess of achievements. It was current for 5 months.
So not only were we all forced to raid on the same timetable in WotLK due to having a badge system tied to raid tiers, but that time got a lot shorter. Is it any wonder that some of us started to get a bit squirrelly about failure?
Before you accuse me of being a jerk about raid accessibility, let me assure you that I’m all for it in theory. Play the game, raid the raids — I don’t care if you have better gear than I do or whatever it is I’m supposed to be all elitist about.
However, the specific ways that Blizzard chose to implement raid accessibility actually alientated a lot of the players they were trying to help, and encouraged leaders to be more stringent about individual performance. Sure, we did it to ourselves, but Blizzard paved the way.