Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Feckless Leader's Guide on How to Lead a Raid

I believe that when a raid fails, even when fault can be assigned to multiple parties, the raid leader deserves a large share of the blame. Or, too often, there's is no leader to be found. I'd argue most of the issues raid groups experience that lead to a premature disbanding can be addressed before the raid even begins, early on in the planning and formation stages.

That's not to say raid leaders deserve extra credit when a raid does succeed. They don't. The only difference between the raid leader and another member of the raid is that the former is coordinating the raid. Really, that's all raid leaders are: coordinators. Most players in a raid should have a decent idea of what they need to do in their role. It's up to the raid leader to coordinate how they're going to function as a group.

If anyone needed evidence that even the easiest difficulty raids require coordination, MoP's Raid Finder and the latest incarnation of the Group Finder provide ample amounts. Most of us have joined raids where everyone seemed to know what they were doing, little communication took place, and bosses fell. But those instances are the rarer ones, and it's more often through successful communication and coordination that raids progress.

Things like strategy explanations, when to Bloodlust/Time Warp, which players will be handling a special task...even the best players on the planet employ a basic amount of planning when going into a fight, even if it's their fiftieth kill. If it would seem the players on the team could ace the fight in their sleep---even if you think the presence of a leader has no bearing whatsoever on the success of the raid---having a leader to coordinate these things saves time, bottom line.

What follows are some general guidelines I'd recommend to any aspiring raid leader. Much of this comes out of my own personal style, something I've continually honed since I began leading Normal and Heroic raids in Cataclysm. Some of these tips align closely with the suggestions I have for becoming a good raider, though as you can imagine, the raid leader goes above and beyond what's expected from the average raider, and also possesses the tools to successfully facilitate the raid experience.

Personally, I wouldn't recommend that a brand new raider assume the position of leader, though that's not to say a new raider couldn't also be a successful leader. I do feel that having spent time solely as a raider provides valuable experience through being exposed to different leadership styles. You'll be able to develop a method that works for you.

One last thing: these suggestions are very much geared towards raid leaders in Normal and Heroic difficulty. While some of these tips may help any given raid leader, they are more general in nature; Mythic can require a whole different level of coordination which I've not covered here.

I hope this guide helps you!

Must Love Dogs.

PRIOR TO FORMING


ADDONS
Before you think about forming a group, there are a few addons that will help you facilitate the raid more smoothly, as well as evaluate your raid's performance from fight to fight. There are alternatives to the suggestions below, so if these don't fit your style, do some additional research and find an addon that you like.

RBS: Provides you with a lot of raid info at a quick glance: buffs the raid is missing, who is flasked, who has their food buff, when players die, etc. It's heavily customizable, but it does quite a bit of work for you right out of the box.

Skada: Comprehensive combat logger that will keep track of all sorts of useful info for you to peek at, like damage per second, healing per second, damage taken, damage absorbed, interrupts, etc. Can help you evaluate whether or not players are pulling their weight.

Deadly Boss Mods: A must-have in my opinion, whereas the two above are just strong suggestions. Provides extra warning alerts for certain elements of the boss fight, including the ability to toggle timers so that you can see when the boss will use a certain ability, allowing you to better prepare for it.

RESEARCH THE FIGHTS
Chances are that if you're preparing yourself to lead a raid, you've already done your homework in this department. But I'm saying it regardless for the sake of being thorough and also because researching the fights as a raid leader is more intense than if you were researching only your class role.

In a perfect world, every member of the raid team would prepare as if they were the person leading the raid. They know what to do, and when. Some guilds require their raid team members to "sign off" on a boss strategy thread in order to prove they've done some research---but even then, the level of research from player to player may vary widely.

Your job here is especially important if you find yourself running pick-up groups (pugs) through the Group Finder, as all you can discern about a player you don't know is their class, item level, and if you want, whether or not they have been present for certain boss kills. You can't know how they'll actually perform on a given fight until you see it with our own eyes.

That's why, as raid leader, you need to know what everyone's supposed to be doing. Just in case they truly don't know (which is often the reality), or they forget. As the raid leader, you should be prepared to remind the tanks that x number of stacks is when they should taunt, for example. Sure, you can require that your raiders must know all fights; but even in the case that one of those players forgets a certain mechanic, or lies about their fight knowledge, it would take less time to remind them than it would to replace them.

My go-to resources for fight strategies are Wowhead (text & visuals) and Line of Sight Gaming (videos). Icy Veins is another popular site, though I find Wowhead's explanations to be better presented and more thorough. LoS's videos are the best I've ever seen.

DETERMINE THE RAID'S GOALS, DURATION, AND SIZE
Essentially, you're answering the following questions:

  • What do I want to get done? 
  • How much time have I set aside for this activity? 
  • What size of a group am I comfortable leading?

There really are no wrong answers here. As the group organizer, you have the ability to set the overall focus of the raid. Maybe you just want to hit the first two bosses and don't have a goal beyond that. You should still decide how long you're willing to go at it so that players who join your group at least know of the expectation and what they're getting into. Ideally, the raid will run for as long as you say it will. After all, this guide is specifically devised to avoid unexpected, early group dissolution due to wipes, frustration and a lack of communication!

"Anyone talking in Mumble? I hear nothing."

SETTING UP THE RAID


USING VOICE CHAT
The average group's chance of success tends to increase significantly when using voice chat---I don't have the data, but I feel there's a certain level of common sense that allows me to make that claim. I would never run a raid without it. There's too much that can happen in the course of a fight that requires instant, clear communication. If you need someone to switch to a specific task on the fly, text won't suffice. It takes too long to type out, and your raiders (hopefully) aren't reading chat frames during an encounter.

I strongly recommend requiring voice chat for raiding activities, and seldom join Group Finder raids who aren't requiring it. If you don't have access to a server of your own, there are quite a few free options out there.

When using a voice client, the channel should be kept free of chatter during an encounter---oftentimes, this happens by default since players are concentrating on the task at hand. This allows the raid leader and other key players* to communicate about the fight without risk of being talked over. There have been many times in past raids when a quick call meant the difference between a wipe and success---a call that may have been easily missed if voice chat was crowded.

*tanks, the raid leader and any other player(s) assigned a special task related to the encounter should be the only players talking during a fight

FIELD THE GROUP
With both Normal and Heroic modes being flexible in size, raid composition will vary. What won't change is the fact you'll need two tanks. Beyond that, it's up to you as a raid leader if you'd like every class to be represented, if you'd prefer equal balance between ranged and melee damage dealers, or if you'd like to run with only ten players.

When it comes to deciding how many healers to bring, I use a simple rule (and adjust if needed): one healer per group of five players in the raid. A ten-player raid will have two healers. A twenty-player raid has four, a thirty-player raid has six. At times I've added an additional healer on top of the one-per-group-of-five. In most cases, the one-per-five rule should serve well as long as your raiders aren't taking much avoidable damage.

The Group Finder tool allows the leader to select what role(s) they're looking to fill; specify a minimum item level and voice chat client; and add an additional note or instruction for those looking to apply. When searching for players, whether in public chat channels or Group Finder, it's a good idea to broadcast your goals/expectations, like "minimum 4/7 bosses" or even better "going til 9:30pm!" If you can get the group on board with your goals prior to starting, it's less likely you'll have people unexpectedly drop out mid-raid.

ASSIGN ASSISTS & SPECIAL ROLES
Generally, the two tanks should be given assist so they can set pull timers and raid warnings, if needed. I generally designate a main tank to handle pulling, but the tanks often work this out themselves. It's also a good idea to assign a healer to focus solely on the tanks. This should be a class with strong single-target heals.

SET LOOT RULES
Most guild-run groups will have this established well before getting into the raid, but if you're building your own raid on the fly, you have options. Most groups I've been in run either Personal Loot or Master Looter, with the Master Looter rules allowing players to roll on any items that their current spec can use.

Each method has its pros and cons. Personal Loot undoubtedly takes up less time, but you have no control over where the loot goes. For example, if the druid loots boots and realizes they are already wearing the pair, they can't give it to the rogue who could actually use it. On the flip side, Master Looter requires more time in that you'll have to physically hand out loot, but there is as greater chance that each item dropped will go to good use. To maximize raid time when running Master Loot, have the rest of the raid clear trash while the master looter awards loot.

I've seen a mix of both systems when using the Group Finder. For casual, non-guilded groups, I strongly recommend using Personal Loot. For guild groups, or groups where the same players are present week to week, Master Looter is the way to go. There are also some additional loot distribution options that may interest you, depending on your goals. Check them out for yourself.

Highmaul Normal cleared after 6 nights/15 hours spent.

DURING THE RAID

ESTABLISHING THE TONE
I tend to take the nice-guy approach. Respect all other players as human beings, and give them the benefit of the doubt when mistakes happen. I don't tolerate raiders ripping on each other. Granted, I haven't yet come across that sort of nasty behavior in pugs this expansion, but I'm sure it does happen.

However, I have come across raid leaders who, prior to the fight, say something like "Anyone who takes any damage from Berserker Rush is getting replaced." And that's perfectly fine. As the leader, you get to decide how you run the group. Personally, I don't say those sorts of things because I realize 1) the boss should still die even if you lose a player or two to x ability and 2) that one death probably isn't a completely accurate reflection of that player's skill. But that's me. You need to decide what you're most comfortable with and run with it.

REVIEWING FIGHT STRATEGIES
A good way to save time is to start explaining the fight during trash pulls. When I'm starting out fresh with our guild group and few or none of our members have seen the fight, I generally do the following:

1) Brief overview of the fight, including the number of phases and anything special to watch for.
2) Notes for the tanks, i.e. when to taunt swap, boss positioning, etc.
3) Specific notes for damage dealers, i.e. movement, debuffs to watch for, etc.
4) Specific notes for healers, i.e. high damage sections of the fight,* etc.
5) Assigning of specific tasks, i.e. which player(s) are handling x mechanic, etc.
6) When to Bloodlust/Time Warp.

*You should assign a specific healer focus on the tanks at all times and be prepared to coordinate healing cooldowns as the fight requires.

It's important that you have deep knowledge of the fight mechanics and each class's role within the fight so you can clearly and concisely explain what needs to happen. As raid leader, the other players should be following your instructions, and they most often do...even when you give them bad advice that leads to their death.

As the level of familiarity your players have with a fight increases, most of the points above can be skipped. For instance: in a seasoned group on Kargath Bladefist---a fight requiring positional awareness for damage dealers and healers, a simple taunt swap for tanks, and the assigning of a 5-person squad to head up into the stands---number five is likely all that is needed to facilitate success.

SPECIAL NOTE: BATTLE RESURRECTIONS
Battle resurrections are significantly more scarce than they were in the past, so you don't necessarily want to resurrect a player who dies (unless, of course, it's a tank). You'll want to say something to let the raid know before the first boss pull: do not resurrect a player unless A) they're a tank or B) the raid leader calls for it.

You almost never want to resurrect a damage dealer until you have two resurrections available; this ensures you'll always have one at the ready should a tank go down. Healers are trickier: you'll have to decide on the fly if your remaining healer(s) can handle the heavy lifting for a few minutes til another resurrection is available, or if you should use your sole resurrection and risk an all-but-guaranteed wipe should the tank drop in the next few minutes.

COORDINATION IN COMBAT
Now that you've engaged the boss, it's best to use the third eyeball you have right there in the middle of your forehead and focus it exclusively on what the rest of your raid is doing. Do the tanks have the boss positioned right? Are the ranged players standing where they should be? Oh my god did someone just die?

Oh, you don't have a third eyeball you can control independently? You're going to wish that you did.

In addition to respectably performing your role in the raid*, you need to keep your finger on the pulses of everyone else---literally. In order to call out adjustments that need to be made, you need to first be aware of any potential problems. And you won't be if you're tunneling the boss the whole time. Expert raid leaders will be aware of the entire encounter area in addition to performing their role well.

* I've found the difficulty of leading raids can vary depending on the role I'm in. In order of easiest to most difficult: Ranged DPS/Melee DPS/Healer/Tank. In my opinion, this is because healers and tanks have more focused roles, with ranged damage dealers having an advantage over melee, as they often possess a better vantage of the fight area.

WHEN WIPES HAPPEN
And they most certainly will.

Contrary to a seemingly popular belief, a wipe on a boss (or multiple wipes even) doesn't necessarily mean the group is fail, full of noobz, or that you're an inept raid leader. Though, at the same time, it might mean exactly one (or all) of those things---but not if you've used this guide to get to where you are!

The psychological effect of a wipe is steeped in the perception of what caused the wipe---and I deliberately say perception, not reality.

Too often I've been in raids where the group wipes and no one seems to know why. And that's not to say members of the raid won't offer their opinions on what they think happened, no matter how off-target they might be. Generally, a prepared raid leader will have a fairly good idea as to why the raid wiped as the wipe is happening, and will have begun to address the problem before the last dead player releases from their body. This is extremely important when it comes to controlling the perception of what the wipe means in terms of the raid's chance for success. It's too easy for a player to think fail group and leave after a wipe, especially if no one seems to know what went down.

This can be tough at times, especially when it isn't immediately clear why the wipe happened. Combat meters like Skada provide some good additional information on players that may help to identify the problem. If you cannot attribute the wipe to a failed execution of a mechanic, look to see how much damage people are taking (including tanks), and make sure healing output looks good. For instance, if the raid is hitting the encounter's enrage timer but performing well otherwise, there's likely something going on with DPS.

What you should try to avoid at all costs is being wrong about what caused the wipe. There will be times where you simply aren't sure what issue caused it. Don't guess; be honest instead. You run the risk of looking a lot worse if you guess incorrectly---because chances are there's someone in the raid who knows what happened, but isn't saying anything. Speaking of: when you truly aren't sure, draw on your raid members. Ask them if there's anything they noticed. Hell, maybe you overlooked one of the fight's mechanics. Even the most-prepared raid leader is not an infallible raid leader.

Assuming that healing and damage outputs aren't so low as to make the encounter impossible, all the raid needs to do is adjust to avoid the wipe-causing mistakes, and you'll be fine.

Keep in mind that no matter how well you prepare for and run the raid, some players have a one-wipe threshold. One failed attempt and they drop group. This is more of a risk in PUGs, as that sort of behavior is universally frowned upon in guild groups. When it happens, don't let it bum you out---it's not a reflection on you. Re-list the raid in the Group Finder, fill the role(s) you've lost, and forge ahead.

REPLACING UNDERPERFORMERS
This is the part I hate the most. If you enjoy helping people succeed versus seeing them fail, you probably will too. While it is your job as raid leader to coordinate things, it is not your job to teach a player how to optimally play their class. That is something they should have figured out before signing up for your raid. If raid wipes become a concern---and despite the effort you put into forming a raid-ready group of players---it might be time to make some roster changes. Underperformers are not restricted to class, spec or role---they're found everywhere. Identifying them isn't always a straight-forward process. But generally, performance between players in any given role should look similar.

Assuming you're not dealing with players who simply can't move out of fire, you'll need to look at the numbers. By taking a look at Skada, you can tell if a healer's or damage-dealer's output is cause for concern: with all else equal*, they'll be lagging significantly behind the pack of other healers/damage-dealers. Tanks are a bit trickier, as they should be using active mitigation to even out the damage they take. Compare Healing Taken between the tanks to see if there might be any issues there. If you wiped because a tank died and that tank required significantly more healing than their counterpart, and mechanics were executed correctly---that tells you something.

When I notice underperformers, I generally give them a warning before replacing them, though it's up to you as a leader how you want to handle that. What I do recommend is to be kind when removing someone from the group. No need for disparaging remarks or insults---they'll probably not feeling too hot about getting removed the way it is. Instead, consider explaining why they're being removed and what they might be able to do in order to better position themselves to pull their weight in a raid environment. Some of the best raiders currently in our guild were at one time on the bench.

Remember that while it might be easy to get angry over an avatar's performance, there is a live human being behind the keyboard, a human being that has the same desires as you: to have fun killing bosses.

*Certain fights require a group of players in the raid to perform a special task, which may contribute to lower output in terms of DPS/HPS. Make sure you're not calling someone out for doing their job!

WHEN IT'S TIME TO CALL IT
Ideally, the raid ends when you've hit your predetermined stop point, whether that's after a certain boss kill or at a specified time. However, sometimes---despite all the work and preparation you've done in learning the fights and fielding the group---it's just not going to happen. Hopefully this scenario only crops up later in the instance after your raid has earned a few kills.

It's often referred to as "hitting the wall." I don't know why it's called that---maybe because the wall is impenetrable, meaning your raid can't pass...OR maybe it's because the act of hitting a wall is rather pointless---either way it's not a good place to be. The wall can appear as a result of many different factors, but it's good to realize when you're there. Often times, the wall is met because the raid doesn't have the necessary healing or damage output the encounter requires---meaning even though everyone may be executing the fight correctly, probability favors the boss overwhelming the raid before success can be attained.

Another wall can come about via mental fatigue, though most pugs generally don't run long enough for players to get to that point. For my guild, players tend to start fizzling around the two-and-a-half hour mark (we raid for three hours with a ten-minute break). As a rule of thumb, if you've wiped a good number of times at the same place in the encounter and aren't seeing great overall improvement, you may have hit the wall.*

*The average progression guild will wipe on the final boss of a raid dozens of times before defeating the encounter, so don't mistake the wall for sub-par player performance on a highly difficult fight!



Drowning my sorrows while complaining to the other "patrons" after a particularly bad night in Siege of Orgrimmar.


When the Raid Ends

DISSOLVING THE PUG
It's always a good idea to thank everyone for coming to the raid. You may even want to invite them to add your Battle ID. Often times, if you perform your role as leader well, people will add you without you having to say anything. When this happens, take it as a gold star. You done good!

Take note of the players who performed well and ask them if it'd be all right to add them as a friend so you can reach out to them directly for future raids. The answer will unequivocally be "yes" if you've done your job well. If you plan to run a regularly-scheduled event, let the players in your raid know before they leave. Again, if they enjoyed their time under your leadership, you'll likely see Battle ID requests.

This is a great way to establish a regularly occurring cross-server raid group with mostly the same players attending each week.

DISSOLVING THE GUILD GROUP
Generally, guild groups have a designated raid night or nights, complete with start and stop times. Still, even with an established group, thank everyone for their time, and consider calling attention to the highlights of the raid, i.e. record kill times on bosses, new bosses killed, etc.

The next raid should be on the guild calendar, but it never hurts to remind people to sign up.

ASSESSING PERFORMANCE
Combat analytics provided Ask Mr. Robot (or World of Logs, if you prefer) will give you a plethora of information to sift through and help you see where your group can improve. These are more relevant to groups that host the same players from week to week, but still can be used on pugs if for no other reason than to analyze your own performance.

You'll get breakdowns on pretty much everything you'd want to know in the course of the fight: what healing and damage looked like, performance rankings by class and ilvl, who's not moving out of fire, etc. This is a great tool to help you determine who you do---and don't---want in your groups.

If you consider your raid successful---you're killing bosses at a pace that feels right to you---combat analytics aren't necessarily, well...necessary. They'll do more work for you on fights that aren't going right, like the 10 failed attempts you had on Imperator before the night was over.

That's not to say analytics aren't helpful for every group---just be sure you read them with nuance.

In Conclusion

Leading a raid can seem like a daunting job, but it's one most people can tackle with the right amount of preparation. Hopefully the suggestions I've included here will prove helpful to some aspiring raid leaders out there. Additionally, I'd love to here from other raiders and raid leaders out there and keep this guide as a living document that will change over time as I continue to develop my own raid leading style.

Thanks for reading.







Monday, March 2, 2015

How Much Gold Would You Drop on a Month of Game Time?

Buy game time and sell it for gold: The WoW Token is here! (img: Blizzard)
Well, World of Warcraft still shows no signs of abandoning the subscription-based model, but players will soon have another option to fund their game time: gold. Now that that cat's out of the bag, I can't help but ask the question I'm sure a million people are asking, or thinking about: how much is a month's game time worth in gold?

I can only imagine the answers will vary widely from player to player. Auctioneering experts (of which I've never claimed to be, just a dabbler) may be willing to part with a larger sum than say, someone whose reserves fill casually through PvE content. An interesting bit in all this is that prices will be set by Blizzard---not the player---based on a number of factors.

Currently, I'm sitting on about 230k in liquid gold across my account, a number I've pretty much been hovering at since the start of the expansion. My expenses, even when I splurge, have been offset by intake so far. I also have an untold number of material assets that can be converted to gold. Given this, I would gladly drop 20,000g for a month's game time. At 50,000g? I'd think about it. 100,000g? Perhaps if my reserves were two or three times what they are now. Perhaps.

Since Blizzard will be controlling the price and its fluctuation, what amount would be attractive enough to you?


Thursday, February 26, 2015

WoW Weekly: Legendary Weeks

WoW Weekly is a biweekly-ish, self-absorbed look into the things I've been doing -- or not doing -- in the game. From auctioneering and pet battling to mount farming and raiding.

Sometimes, you get lucky.

During a slow time during the end of Cataclysm, I was looking over my achievements pane in an effort to identify the legacy content I could complete solo. I noticed I hadn't completed the Hyjal and Sunwell raids, and since it was now trivial content, I decided to start there. The run would've been unremarkable, a simple going through the motions to earn the achievement, if it weren't for Thori'dal, the Star's Fury. The legendary bow dropped, amazingly, on my first Kil'jaden kill. Which turned out to be problematic because I was on my shaman and couldn't equip the bow, and thus was unable to earn the Feat of Strength.

So this past weekend, I decided to redouble my efforts to earn Thori'dal on a character who could actually equip it. I had no luck with the rogue, but that was all right---I completed the Fangs of the Father with him days prior. That left a level 90 warrior who easily cut her way through the Sunwell. Then it was time for Kil'jaden, who fell easily. The loot?

Well, sometimes you get lucky twice.

Additionally, I completed Val'anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings the week prior, so it's been quite the legendary weeks. That leaves the Warglaives of Azzinoth as the final legendary I have yet to acquire before the list is complete.

With 6.1 fresh this week, I'm finding myself with no shortage on things to do. The quality-of-life changes to the garrison are very much welcome and I'm probably most excited for Raiding with Leashes III: Drinkin' From the Sunwell.

I know. I'm weird like that.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fly in Draenor With Aviana's Feather

img src: akellabaron - Wowhead

If I was asked what item I have in Draenor that I could not live without, I'd have an immediate, easy answer: Aviana's Feather. I consider myself lucky having stumbled upon the item within the first couple of weeks after setting foot on Draenor.


Simply put, the item allows flight. Even though the flight's duration is limited, and it's trajectory slants downward, you can cover some serious ground. I've found it especially useful on my PvP server during raid night when the instance portals are often guarded by members of the opposing faction. From several flight point locations nearest the instance I can "fly" directly into the portal, bypassing the wrath of the Alliance.

Not to mention, it can also ease your treasure-seeking expeditions by granting access to up-and-out-of-the-way places one would normally have to work hard to reach.

Acquiring the item is quite simple, as it only requires a couple steps and some daily quest diligence. First, you need to build the Inn/Tavern for your garrison. Level 1 is fine. Once the building is complete, a handful of quest-givers appear daily, offering a variety of tasks to complete in Draenor dungeons. The NPC you're looking for is Skylord Omnuron. When he appears, he'll offer Aviana's Request, which sends players into Heroic Skyreach to kill the final boss and collect its plumage. Once done, all that's standing between you and your very own Aviana's Feather is a hearth to the garrison.

Congrats! It may not quite be flying, but at minimum, it's falling in style.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Warlords of Draenor 6.1 Survival Guide

Made you click.
This video below is circulating in the social medias and while you of course can find this info on Warcraft's official site, I don't think it hurts to share here---especially since it seems like this signals a new trend for Blizzard. We've seen video guides on how to play your class and how to boost a toon, but this is the first one I can think of* that deals specifically with upcoming patch content.

There's a ton of info in the official patch notes, and the video does a pretty good job highlighting the major elements. One thing I'm excited for that isn't in the video is the ability to change the music in your garrison. The rousing, ominous theme from Warlords is great, don't get me wrong, but things are chill in my garrison now. I'm looking forward to having the music reflect that. 

Even with this guide, I'll still comb through the patch notes. But for those who'd just like the meat, I think Blizzard's done a pretty good job on their first with this one.


*Apparently Blizzard has been releasing Survival Guides for quite some time. Do I get a welcome at this party or what?