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Warning: High levels of cynicism and near-raid-burn-out follow. A long week so far, plus not enough sleep and a few bad raid experiences lately have combined to make this post a bit more negative than I originally intended. Also, I believe it’s slightly more scattered and rambly than usual.

This is a weird topic for me – not that the topic is weird, but that it makes me feel weird to talk about it. Tamarind at Righteous Orbs has a post about his brief run-in with leading a raid, and I identify with everything he went through, except the part where he vows never to do it again.

In particular, the way he wound up inadvertently (or almost) raid-leading an Ony-10 run was eerily similar to the way I wound up raid leading our current regular group – in a nutshell, because no one else was/would.

When we first started raiding regularly, our then-raid lead asked me to look up all the strats and relay them to the group. And then call out instructions as the encounter progressed. Given that layteknight was administrating the run (scheduling, invitations, roles, etc.) one wonders what was left for him to do that would allow him to claim he was leading the raid, but hey. That’s a post for another time.

So, initially, because I was excited about raiding (oh if I knew then what I know now) and had no idea how these things work and had fully intended to watch every video I could find anyway, I agreed.

And promptly ate shit for it. Everything from my instructions were too long (God forbid I let everyone know what they’re supposed to do, or say something more in depth than “Tanks tank, DPS DPS, heals heal”), to my instructions were incorrect or overly complicated (it may have been true, but as I primly reminded our illustrious raid leader, he had asked me to give the strat for a fight I’d never done. I had nothing to go off of but Wowwiki, so if he knew the fights so well, perhaps he should be the one giving instructions. Since communication was anathema to him, and he really didn’t want to do it himself, he let it go). I remember getting my dander up over the fact that apparently half the raid had better ideas, but somehow I had still been asked to go look this shit up and relay the instructions.

If half the freaking raid has been here before, why am I doing redundant extra-curricular homework so they can complain that I don’t know what I’m talking about?

Oh, right, no one else wants to.

So eventually I get tired of it, and I neglect to do it one night. I don’t even look up the fight in advance so I know what I’m doing. I may or may not have had valid reasons for not doing it, I don’t recall. It doesn’t really matter, though. I figured someone else could take a turn for once. Half the group’s been there before, but won’t talk about it. Half the group’s never been and can’t be arsed to look it up. I decided that I’d done my duty and it wasn’t my turn anymore.

I learned something about the bulk of my raid group that night.

They cannot put information into any kind of coherent, useable format. I mean…not even chronological. Nobody understood anything, and it took us three times as long to sort through the freaking stack dump of largely useless information to distill actual instructions from it. In the end, I wound up asking a million questions to clarify, and restating everything at the end anyway. I may as well have looked the damned thing up. And I still wound up calling instructions during the encounter because even though everyone has Vent installed, no one remembers where their push-to-talk key is.

I should probably clarify something here. In real life I am a shrinking violet. I am shy as all get out and the thought of talking to these people I’d never actually met, let alone telling them what to do, terrified me on more levels than I care to name. When we first started I would end practically every night by asking layteknight if I was being overbearing, or annoying, or if people were mad or irritated with me. I would wonder out loud whether I had given too much detail, or was I moving too slow, or was I asking too many questions, or waiting too long for other people to ask theirs. Did I really need to call all that stuff out over Vent? Was I being patronizing? Was so-and-so offended when I called him out by name for standing in the fire half-way through the fight?

I’m telling you, I was not cut out for raid-leading, and I’m not convinced I am now. I remain shy, and only speak over Vent because I have to. If I could hand the Raid Lead mantle off to someone else I trusted – who actually wanted the position and was capable of actually leading the raid (there was a brief period where another guildie lead the raid before I picked it up officially and it was, um…incredifail. He made layteknight loot master, never talked about strats, and only pressed Push-To-Talk in order to ream someone for not doing some thing or other he’d never bothered to tell them they had to do) – I probably would. I’m better suited to support than lead, I think, but at this point it’s not an option.

But I’ve learned a few things in the time that’s passed between way back then and now that makes it a bit easier. I’ve gotten the hang of some things I didn’t have before. Key among them is this:

Maybe the raid group doesn’t like the way I’m doing things, but I don’t give a flying fuck (in fact, if I am to preserve my sanity, I must not give a flying fuck). If I’m doing something someone doesn’t like, they’re welcome to bring it up with me, and once or twice they have and I’ve either corrected the behaviour or a compromise was reached. But by and large, especially if they never bring it up and/or can’t be bothered to work with me on a solution, they can STFU, DIAF, and various other cantankerous acronyms.

I do the raid-lead thing because no one else wants to, and it absolutely must be done or we won’t be able to raid at all. I recognize that some of my skills/personality traits complement the position (organization/presentation/distillation of information (believe it or not, I AM capable of brevity if I really have to be), ability to understand all three roles and what’s required of them, willingness to analyze a wipe in an unbiased way (I don’t automatically spare myself/those I like, or blame those I don’t like)). I also recognize that some don’t (shy, confrontation-averse, intense desire to make and keep everyone happy despite the inherent impossibility of it). As an added bonus, my position as MT means I’m generally in control of the field of play (as much as possible) and can warn the raid if I’m about to do something that’s going to impact them (move, get incapacitated, die, etc.).

I didn’t set out to be a raid lead, but I fell into the position for a variety of reasons, not least of which no one else wanted to. And I certainly don’t do it alone. My voice is the one the raid hears more than anyone else, but layteknight’s running the admin and the back-door politics (keeping ten people happy is fucking work, man), and SaveTheFails is always working with me to adapt our strats and analyze wipes. He’s one of the few in the raid who also looks this shit up in advance.

What irritates me the most about raid-leading, though, isn’t that I have to do it. The position has its ups as much as its downs, and there are aspects of it I do, in fact, enjoy – there are some I used to hate, but am slowly, grudgingly coming to appreciate. Nor do I necessarily hold not wanting to raid lead against anyone, because, hey, I understand that. Half of our raid doesn’t want the position for various reasons, but they understand in not taking it up that they are, on some level, submitting to the whims of the one who does. I’m not exactly iron-fisted, here, but there’s a reason raid-leads are required. If we’re in the middle of a boss-fight and I tell you to jump, I actually need you to jump, and I don’t really care if you feel like doing it. If you don’t like the instruction we can discuss it after we wipe, but not during the encounter. Most of our raid gets this.

They keep off Vent during encounters unless they need to notify us of something per the strat currently in play (they’ve been incapacitated, frost tombed, whatever). If they have something useful to add to a discussion or strat, they do so at the appropriate times, in a helpful manner. Otherwise they keep quiet. They wait for and accept the ultimate analysis of a wipe.

No, what irritates me the most about raid-leading is that the rest of the people in our raid may not want or be able to raid-lead, but damn, have they got opinions. About everything. At the worst possible times.

Half of them spend the entire strat discussion restating redundant information in a strange or confusing way (prompting whispers to me asking for clarification from the other members of the raid). They correct me half-way through a strat discussion, as opposed to waiting for me to finish, at which point we have an actual, sanctioned, ‘does anyone have any questions/clarifications/corrections’ period. They call instructions over Vent during the encounter, often counter to the strat or to something I’ve just said (more than once this has caused a wipe – we’re still trying to beat this out of them. Mostly, though, the raid knows their voices now and knows enough to ignore them).

These are the folks who, after a wipe, do one of two things. They either:

  1. Immediately point fingers anywhere but themselves, or pick their favourite scapegoats and start correcting them publicly and bluntly (often on things they did just fine, which means I need to step into the raid chat to defend members who weren’t the cause of the wipe from idiots who just want to correct someone. The last line of the Blame Canada song from the South Park movie comes to mind – “We must blame them and cause a fuss / before somebody thinks of blaming us!”); or
  2. Sullenly demand to know why we wiped and how come we suck so much and oh my God we’re never going to be able to do this and there’s too much dead weight in the group.

None of which is helpful. They know everything that’s going wrong, were you to ask them (interestingly, they seem to miss the actual problems, or at the very least take a narrow view of what’s going on, preferring to blame a single, isolated event, rather than look at the raid-wide issues). They complain incessantly about everything. Nothing is run right, nothing is done well, there are too many problems in the group, the raid lead doesn’t know what she’s doing, our healers are crap, the OT’s too shitty, the MT’s wearing Kleenex, half our DPS aren’t carrying their own weight, we’re made of fail and we’re never going to progress.

Were you to ask them, they could probably enumerate every single iota of fail in our group; every weakness, every flaw, every problem (except themselves). They talk incessantly of issues and failures…

…but never solutions. If they could identify those, it would be almost like they were leading the raid, and that’s treading dangerously close to actual responsibility, which is far too much to ask of these delicate flowers.

The end result is that I (and layteknight and SaveTheFails) spend half the night fiercely defending the bulk of our raiders from the negativity and arrogance of these few individuals (which includes everything from publicly correcting/reprimanding negative raiders who are attacking others needlessly, to taking a raider with an obvious bone to pick into whispers to keep their bile out of the public eye and protect our raid group’s fragile morale), and the other half soothing the egos of these members, because like it or not, they’re part of the group too and their happiness is as important to our success as the others’.

As near as I can figure, raid leading (at least for a casual group – especially one with very few redundant members and subs) breaks down into the following (and no few of these responsibilities can be delegated):

  1. Administrating the group:
    • Choosing the raid and progression path, taking into account the group’s success to date and current capabilities (skills/gear), as well as general group opinion. Basically, answering the question of “Where are we going tonight?”
    • Scheduling and invitations (who comes, who doesn’t, who can’t make it, who subs in, do we need to PuG anyone?);
    • Handling loot rules, rolls, and disputes;
    • Assigning roles (MT, OT, MH, OH, RH, etc.);
    • Ensuring adequate group balance (enough ranged vs. melee, etc.).

  2. Knowing the fight, preparing a strategy, and facilitating its execution (including calling instructions over Vent during the encounter if necessary).
  3. Analyzing group performance and isolating the variables leading to a wipe in order to ensure improvement.
  4. Knowing the strengths, weakness, desires, and irritances of a group of ten to twenty-five people and actually, somehow, taking that all into account when making decisions, then dealing with the fall-out.

And now…I rant.

Some thoughts on what seems to be required to achieve #4 above, most of which are the reasons why I remain a reluctant raid-lead:

Happy people keep raiding, rebound well after wipes, and are willing to make corrections or sacrifices in order to succeed. So keep everyone happy. Somehow. Good luck.

Balance the desires of the “hardcore” crowd against the desires of the “casual” crowd. The hardcore people will always think the casuals suck. The casuals will always think the hardcore people are either Gods or total douchebags or both. Both sides fail to understand that neither the “hardcore” nor “casual” labels actually indicate anything about a player’s skill – just how much free time they have, and how much crap they’re willing to take for the sake of numerically superior loot. There’s nothing inherent in either to worship or deride, but hey. What’s life without a bit of artificial, misplaced tension.

When requests are made (“Can we go to TotC?”, “I’d like to switch my main spec,” “can I bring an alt tonight?”), give them reasonable consideration, and if it’s possible to allow them without severely inconveniencing the group, do so. Being flexible outside the raid instance gives you more leeway to be a Nazi inside.

Mediate disputes between players, or, if possible, prevent them altogether by recognizing a brewing storm and taking steps to deal with it. Learn to get really good at stroking egos while simultaneously deescalating conflict situations. If you can’t prevent a blow up, tell them to take it to whispers, or e-mail, but leave it out of the raid chat. It won’t work, but you need to tell them anyway.

Get good at shutting up and listening, even if you disagree to the point of physical pain. Sometimes people just want to say stupid shit, express an ignorant opinion, and feel like they’ve left their mark on everything in sight. It makes them feel good about themselves.

Get good at telling people to shut up. Bonus points if you can do it without them realizing they’ve been told to shut up. It helps if they’re stupid.

Don’t let “superior” players (in terms of skill or just attitude) steam-roll or abuse “inferior” players. Especially in a casual group. I don’t care if the “inferior” player is getting us wiped constantly, he’s still a human fucking being and there’s a bare minimum of respect required on that basis. To say nothing of the fact that letting a “superior” player get away with this is inviting repeat behaviour, and someday you’ll be the target.

“Inferior” players are still negatively impacting your raiding experience and may be preventing consistent success. Find a way to deal with this without being offensive, kicking anyone out, or hurting anyone’s feelings. I have no advice to offer here. I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. It’s different for everyone, depending on personality, relationship, etc.. I’ve got it down (I think) for a couple of our members, and I’m pleased to say they’ve been improving. But there’s a couple more who I don’t know how to deal with. So far they’ve been largely immune to subtle hints, and direct, evidence-based examples are met with excuses/redirecting of blame. More direct intervention may be required, but I remain the confrontation-averse shrinking violet I’ve always been, so I am loathe to escalate it for fear of causing pain. On the other hand, I recognize this is poor raid-leading and is, in fact, causing indirect pain to eight or nine other people instead of just one or two. But on the other hand, it’s rude to tell someone they suck, and who am I to judge, etc. etc.. But on the other, other hand, it’s not fair that one person refuses to acknowledge their part in our wiping and inability to progress and holds the rest of us back. But on the other, other, other hand this is an incredibly casual group so how fair is it to expect awesomeness from our players. But on the other, other, other, other hand…it goes on like this for hours. I am my own worst enemy.

Don’t let players who think they know better steam roll you as the raid lead – authority undercut is not authority at all, and you need the authority in order to keep things clear and coherent. Split or unclear authority and accountability creates more problems than you can possibly believe. This doesn’t mean you can steam roll your raid either. Their input is valid and they’re contributing to your success as much as you to theirs. You have to take it all into account, even if you reject it in the end. What I mean is don’t bow down to arrogant fucks who can’t be bothered to actually take any responsibility or do any work, but are quick enough to cut you down or criticize you for doing a duty they refused to take on, though their wisdom is great and their experience infinite. In their last guild, they did this stuff all the time and they never wiped.

Treat every problem and complaint like you care. Talk to every raid member like they’re important. Believe it, somewhere deep down, and remind yourself every day that they all matter, they’re all valuable, they’re all contributing. But on the surface, and in secret, don’t give a flying fuck, or you will never be able to get through this, balance it all, and not go crazy.

And the weird part is, I read the above and I disagree with half of it in principle. You shouldn’t have to stroke the egos of arrogant fucks. You shouldn’t have to mediate disputes between two adults. You shouldn’t have to defend people who should be capable of defending themselves, from people who should be mature enough not to require the bringing down of others to feel good about themselves.

You’re playing a game like everyone else, you’re paying the same amount every month, so why should you have to sacrifice your own happiness – because in a lot of cases, that’s what the above comes down to – for the sake of everyone else’s good time? Why should you have to work your ass off so everyone else can just coast into the instance, have their instructions spoon-fed to them, their hand held through the fight, and their fragile self-esteem patted and coddled if they wipe us?

You shouldn’t. In an ideal world. Which this isn’t.

Someone has to do it. Someone has to do the prep work, someone has to canvass raiders for what they actually want, and someone has do the work to make it happen. If I want to raid, I need at least nine other people to do it. If I want to raid, someone has to do all of the above. If no one else is willing or able to do it…who does that leave?

And this is how you get reluctant raid leads. A raid lead (or leads) is as necessary for raiding as having the right number of tanks, healers and DPS.

Someone. Has. To do it.

Tam, in his post, refers to a game of raid-lead chicken, and in many cases, mine included, that’s what it is. Everyone knows this function has to be fulfilled. So everyone sits around and stares at each other, waiting for someone to crack.

I know there are people who thrive on this kind of shit. These are those uber-important leadership skills my boss is always talking about. I suppose I should be grateful for the experience and the chance to learn this shit outside of a professional setting (though it’s a shame I can’t put it on my resume), and on some level, I am. This isn’t a position I’m used to being in, and it has and continues to force me to develop skills that have long lain dormant and atrophied. In the end I’ll be a more well-rounded individual for it, if also more likely to have a heart attack and die. But it does make my game feel more like a second job.

Raid Leading is a strange business. The best and worst parts of it are both the people. Some of them are worth the work, and I’m happy to serve them in this capacity. Some of them are more work than they’re worth, and I’d be happy to serve them a golf club to the face. But we need them all if we’re going to raid, so I guess I’ll just have to suck it up and do what I have to keep everyone together, raiding, and happy.

After all, someone has to.