Are being part of a raid team, and enjoying the discovery of new group content, mutually exclusive?
I love group content. I love the feeling of being a part of a well-oiled machine that can adjust itself on the fly. It’s one of my greatest memories of my youth, being a valued and valuable part of my various club and state soccer teams. I loved that individual performances do matter, but not as much as the overall teamwork does. I found a similar joy in group content in WoW, particularly raid content (and battlegrounds, but that is another topic).
One thing that I found distasteful whenever I encountered it, even at second hand, was the existence of players who felt no responsibility to the group. You know the type: erratic attendance without explanation or apology; impatience with others who made mistakes while expecting understanding for their own; focus on loot acquisition to the detriment of overall raid performance; etc.
I believe that being part of a raid team comes with certain responsibilities. Those responsibilities can be the usual, everyday ones, or can be group-specified, but all of them have the intention of providing the best chance of success whilst maintaining interest and fun for everyone. The usual, everyday ones include such basics as being respectful and nice to others, being aware of schedules and adhering to them, and having the courtesy to inform the group if you cannot attend or have to leave early or are running late. A lot of raid groups have the sometimes-spoken, sometimes-not expectation that you are as familiar, as practiced with your role as you can possibly be. That you know how to spend skill or talent points, know how your abilities interact with each other and with other players’, know how to gem and enchant for best performance.
And it seems that the standard expectation, nowadays, is for players to already know the fights before the group starts the raid. I’m not just talking about remembering the fight from previous attempts/nights/weeks, or from having done it on LFR, I mean even if they have never actually done it before.
Discovery and Challenge
I love the feeling of the process of mastery. I love the problem-solving aspects of it. Some of the best raiding experiences I had with my guild were when we changed up the “accepted” strategy for a boss fight and incorporated our own ideas based on our group’s capabilities and strengths. It didn’t happen often, but when it did happen I felt the success was more worthy, more intense, and more fulfilling than when we simply followed the dance steps laid out by some other guild. I was happiest when we not only had the challenge of executing a strategy, but also when we had the challenge of coming up with one to execute, and of refining it or trying out ideas through trial and error.
I believe that not only does discovering and overcoming a raid boss without following a guide help build stronger social bonds between teammates, but that it promotes creativity and diversity in thinking, as well as reducing the prevalence of elitist attitudes. The more teams that tackle the problem of a raid boss independently, the more likely it will be that a greater number of viable strategies will emerge. The current climate of two or three strategies available through the popular boss guides pushes people into the “right way” mode of thinking, where anything that isn’t the “right way” is by definition wrong or bad. That discourages experimentation and, I believe, hurts the raiding community as a result.
In the cases where you are joining an established raid team that has either been working on a raid/boss for many weeks, or has the raid/boss on farm, I can (albeit reluctantly) accept that the responsibility to the team outweighs the right to the joy of discovery, and so I would agree that players coming in to an established team should be expected to know the fights as well as they can before the first pull. But what about new content? When your raid team finally gets past a wall they’d had before you joined, or when a new raid tier is released?
I complained to a guildmate about this topic during Cataclysm, while we (as a guild) were progressing through the first tier of content. I wondered why we weren’t tackling new content without guides – I should note that our guild was fairly relaxed when it came to requiring people to read up on fights, since it was usually impossible to tell who had and who hadn’t, and the raid leader always did a short reminder of the mechanics before the first pull – since we had demonstrated repeatedly that we had a smart, capable bunch of people, and he replied that some people just didn’t find that fun. He said he’d vote against going in blind, because he hated feeling unprepared, and he didn’t like the thought of spending time learning the fight when we could be just practicing our execution instead. Those extra wipes were a waste of time and effort for him, and he said he knew that there were some others in the guild who felt the same.
After getting over the shock of the idea that even in a guild as close as ours, who thrived on challenges, there were people who wouldn’t enjoy that extra challenge, I felt my heart sink. I knew that because of the power of guilt, the joy of discovery would become outweighed by the duty of responsibility every time. It is inevitable. When even one person in the team feels like they have to be prepared by watching guide videos, they create pressure on the rest of the team. Nobody likes knowing that their teammates are impatient or frustrated with them for not having the same familiarity with the mechanics. Nobody likes feeling that they are holding teammates back. And when half or more of your team is in the “be prepared” camp, the pressure to not disappoint them is immense. Responsibility to the team comes to trump the joy of discovery. This is not even considering that many guilds actively require you to have done that prep, and are capable of removing you from the team if you don’t! That fear can either add to, or sometimes just stand in for, the sense of responsibility.
At first I accepted the necessity of raid teams working in that way, that the fun of some trumps the fun of others. But by the time I stopped playing WoW, I had come to reject that that was always the way things had to work, that the joy of discovery was necessarily trumped by the duty of responsibility. The fact is, my rapidly waning enjoyment of raiding would have been given a massive shot in the arm if the group I was with was willing to go in blind, to learn and master the fights on our own merits. Why should the top guilds in the world be the only ones who get to explore and experience new, minty-fresh raids on the PTR? Why do the rest of us have to be locked in to the choreography that they develop, or at least locked in to that choreography as a starting point? Obviously they are more skilled, more dedicated players than we plebes, but it’s not like we are unable to come up with similar strategies on our own. Or different, yet viable ones. Hell, the mere fact that those players are operating on a whole different level of performance can mean that their strategies may not be suitable for us.
Alright, I know, I’m whinging now. But the point stands: it doesn’t have to be this way.
Unfortunately, I can’t see any way to reconcile the two camps. There is no reason for the Prepared folk to accommodate the Discovery folk when a) they most likely have the majority, and b) they have what appears to be the superior argument: you’re comparing the Discovery folks’ enjoyment being at less than full (i.e. they are having fun, just not as much fun as they could be having), to the Prepared folks’ lack of enjoyment if they agree to go in blind (i.e. they stop having fun altogether for some period of time). Yet the denial of their full potential enjoyment is not insignificant. It can’t be suppressed forever. It does take its toll on players like me. It does contribute to leaving games earlier, or being reluctant to start raiding in other games. And it is difficult for Discovery folk to push for accommodation, because they come across as selfish demands. Maybe they are.
But what solutions are there? The most obvious – and least realistic, in my opinion – is to build a raid team solely of Discovery folk. Given how hard it is to build and keep any raid team together these days, placing a massive condition on your potential candidates just seems like a long-term project with a high chance of failure. What else? You could try to negotiate with your current guild to stagger the approaches to each raid tier. Or raid, if there are several in one tier. One raid you Prepare for, the next you Discover. I get the feeling that this is only slightly more realistic than building your own raid team.
The existence of readily available, already-spoiled guides for new raids as they come out (even before they are released, in the case of WoW) is a major cause of this tension. I don’t like how they have robbed me of the joy of discovering and solving raid fights with my friends. I don’t like how, when there are a variety of reasons and motivations to raid, one of my favourites is doomed to lose to any conflict of interests. I don’t like the idea that raids are “solved” before anyone ever steps into them on live servers, and that finding your own solutions is looked down upon as a waste of time. I don’t like how my only viable options seem to be to either settle for a fraction of the fun that raiding offers, or just not raid at all.