I’m reading a lot this week about guilds who regularly enjoy Normal mode raiding, usually on 10 man, are having a hard time at the moment. Many feel that the hardcores are being catered for and generally being cushioned on their fluffy cloud of separateness and greatness, and the great casual mass at the other extreme of the scale are appeased in the propagation of Looking for Raid, or LFR, which isn’t really raiding at all. Quite frankly, it’s like the WoW National Trust, a guided tour of a raid. All that’s lacking is the NPCs actually calling out the minimal strategies and pointing out features of interest in each boss room. There should probably be some roped-off areas too. But the huge amount of middle-sized guilds, those who are generally the haunt of more mature players, often with demanding jobs and families, (or jobs and demanding families, it varies), are really feeling the squeeze. There are several reasons for this, but I simply feel moved to talk about what I’ve seen because I can only whole-heartedly agree with the sentiments I’m reading from players like me and my guild mates.

Having played WoW for nearly 8 years, and having both tanked and healed in raids during that time, I’ve seen a lot of changes to the game. Not least is that tanking and healing have become much more complicated, which has led to fewer players willing to take on those roles for raiding. Bosses with multiple abilities – as opposed to the two or three of early game bosses – as well as complex movement and other intricate fight mechanics, have all moved raiding up several levels in terms of difficulty. Anyone who says not clearly hasn’t been looking at the game realistically. Difficulty in the days of Vanilla WoW meant being able to herd 40 people together in the right combination of roles. The boss fights themselves were relatively simple in comparison to what we face now.

I know we read a lot from the wannabe hardcores, (significantly not the real ones), complaining about the game being dumbed down and that it is now too easy, but I also read a lot from guilds like ours – sensible, mature players – who have the same difficulties that we have. These are not noobs, or the less socially adept of the LFR jockeys, or any other undesirables; these are often people from long-standing experienced guilds, whose officers have a stressful second job in trying to keep their guilds alive. Blizzard often doesn’t make it easy for this large portion of the player base.
On our medium pop server alone, far too many guilds are lacking healers, and every ‘advert’ you see in Trade is generally recruiting for them. Our guild could really do with another skilled and dedicated healer, but we know the task will be nigh on impossible at the moment, with no foreseeable change to that situation. The healer who stepped up for us, following the departure of our excellent but daily-hating Paladin, is a good, experienced player, but is crippled by bad connection and computer problems, which in effect cripples our team. Runs have had to be cancelled part way through, because we cannot afford to have one of our two healers not performing perfectly, if their machine is acting up or they’re getting dc’d every ten minutes. We do have our patient Boomkin who will swap to Resto if needed, but she’s one of our better DPS, so it’s not ideal. However, no one else in the guild wants to gear up or level up a healer because they don’t fancy the stress of playing one of the healing classes, or don’t have the confidence to try. Mana management is more of a headache than it was in the past. Healers have to cope with enormous amounts of damage in some fights – not least from some of the trash packs in the raids – and I sometimes wonder how on earth our healers cope with it. At the end of runs they are mentally drained and exhausted. Because of all the DPS checks in the current raids, and tight enrage timers, we are more or less forced into running with 2 healers instead of 3. That makes our healers’ jobs so much more demanding. And I know we’re not alone in this situation.

Also, there is sometimes far too much responsibility heaped on tanks or healers for particular encounters, which again makes the roles less attractive. For far too long, we were stuck on Stone Guard in Mogushan Vaults because our second tank had problems with the encounter. Because of this, the team was stalled, which was terrible for morale and caused departures. Neither was it good for our OT, and caused him much distress. It affected his confidence as a tank, because after having off-tanked happily and successfully all through Cata, (and some pretty demanding fights in that too), he now found himself floundering at the first boss of an expansion. A fight should not just hang upon the performance of one player out of a team, but that’s what it felt like to us at the time. In the event, once the DPS had geared up a bit through other means, we used 3 healers for the fight and our OT had that ‘eureka’ moment and started doing the fight smoothly and it was fine. Now we’re back to 2 healers, but it took a while. It seems to me that Blizzard often expects guilds who field 10 man teams to have 10 perfect players on every run. Only the few will have that luxury. For most of us, you’ll have some really good players, some fairly good players and a couple who aren’t so good. You often need to include the ‘aren’t so goods’ simply because of numbers, or runs won’t go ahead at all. Also, in smaller, more social guilds, friendships play a part in who is invited along to raids. You’ll also get people who, for one reason or another, will flounder on a particular encounter and take longer to learn it than others. This isn’t necessarily always the same players either.

The fact that fewer players within guilds are now inclined to change role and class to help a team, coupled with the reality of fewer tanks and healers being available for recruitment outside of guilds, doesn’t leave 10 man raiders in smaller guilds in a good place. I can’t speak for what it must be like for 25 man guilds, but I suspect it can’t be better and might be worse, seeing as they will need more healers than a 10 man team. I simply fear that this situation will push more and more smaller guilds into only being able to tackle LFR rather than Normal mode raiding. It’s easy to get into LFR runs and if you can’t even recruit the required classes for one Normal run, never mind for regular runs, that’s the only option left open to you. I don’t think this is good for the game. Also, for people who really don’t enjoy teaming with strangers who might often be abusive, that’s ruining the raiding side of the game completely for them. They simply won’t go. They are used to raiding with their guilds and that’s what they want to do.

Blizzard has done some great work on making raiding more accessible to its player base and far more guilds raid now than they did in Vanilla or Burning Crusade. But as one door opens, it feels like another is closing, because the ever-increasing complexity of the encounters, presumably designed to satisfy the minority of players who can steam through the content, means that the more demanding roles within a team are difficult to fill.

Heroic modes are supposed to be for players who like their raids as tough as it’s possible for them to get. That type of player should stick to Heroic and not stick their oar in about what players happy with Normal mode are doing. Blizzard should let up slightly on the Normal difficulty, or take the healing and tanking models back a little to what they were. Very few teams indeed are going to have 10 perfect players. Blizzard should give them a break and enable the more skilful players to bring an encounter back from the brink if a mistake is made. Often that’s not possible now. One screw up and it’s a wipe. The fights are easy when executed perfectly, (as we see on the rare nights we get our best players all together) but for that you need 10 players 100% on the ball. And that is the difficult part.
I tanked and healed in Wrath, and enjoyed both immensely, but due to the makeup of the team, and someone else willing to tank, I moved back to playing my Hunter in raids. Although I did a little tanking on my warrior in Cata, it wasn’t a great deal, and only for an alt run. When I look at some of what the tanks have to do now, I have little inclination to try to take it on again. Not because I’m lazy, but because I don’t want to be in the position of relearning such a role when people are relying on me and my inexperience might cause wipes. Now, if you have a break from a responsible role in a team, things have changed so much it’s far more difficult to get back into it, and even if you do, chances are the team would be frustrated by waiting for players new to the role to learn the fights again from a healing or tanking perspective. Again, morale would plummet and departures might ensue.

I know some players will throw up their arms and scream at my words here, but if they do, they are in the privileged minority. I’d rather see Normal mode be normal than more guilds forced only to do LFR, which frankly is just ‘mock raiding’. I also think that part of the problem is that the meta achievements for raids are attached to Heroic, meaning that a larger part of the player base, for whom titles, mounts and achievements are one of the great attractions of the game, are trying to play above their competency. I believe it would be better for Normal and Heroic modes to have separate metas, so that the Normal one doesn’t include Heroic kills. As it stands, players complain they haven’t finished a Heroic mode before new content is released, when really if they were of the skill to do it, they would have done so by that point, and prior to any nerfing. I see this point made time and again when the subject is discussed on forums. The complaints are largely from the ‘wannabe hardcores’. Those who are the truly best-skilled will be done and dusted with Heroic modes by the time the next tier is released.

I will never be a Heroic level player, but I do count myself as a good Normal mode player. I suppose I am an example of the average player who takes raiding seriously but who does not eat, sleep and breathe it. I do all that I can to prepare, keep abreast of changes to my class, and read up on boss fights. Our guild has two runs a week of three hours each (if we’re lucky). With that schedule we will never be hardcore and any Heroic modes we attempt will be a lot further down the line when the content has become trivial. Then we can go back for metas and mounts. I’m just saddened as I fear raiding is being eaten away, until all that will be left is content for the hardcore and everyone else will be bulldozed into LFR. It’s not like our raid team is incapable of Normal mode content, it’s that personnel problems cause lots of headaches and obstacles. I also suspect that many people who might previously had been available healers and tanks might now simply find it easier to drift into LFR and see the content that way, thus furthering the dilemma of people who really want to raid properly, not do a kindergarten version of it. I wish Normal mode was a tad more forgiving for tanks and healers so there are more of them about to tackle the proper content. Do we really want challenging and exciting raiding to dissolve completely into LFR? Given what I’m reading on the forums, especially about the rise of the ‘vocal LFR hero’, and their moans about the gating of the 5.2 raid, I’m afraid that Normal, and who knows perhaps even Heroic, is under threat of extinction. And I’m sure I can’t be the only smaller guild raider thinking that.

We’ve been promised in the new Throne of Thunder raid something other than the punishing DPS checks of MV, HoF and ToES, with the fights being more about careful and skilful execution, but because we’re so behind with our raiding it will be some time before any of our guild can even get in there in anything but… you guessed it… LFR difficulty. I don’t wish to deny any player access to content, and I think Blizzard’s idea of LFR was great in principle, but what is happening is that many players are tempted by the easiness of the raid and are less inclined to commit to Normal raiding with their guilds. If LFR shared a lockout with 10 and 25 man, those in guilds would perhaps be more inclined to make the effort to raid with their guilds and keep LFR for their alts. I’m not speaking about our guild so much, because no one in the team would ever choose LFR over our Normal runs, but I’ve read in other places that guild and raid leaders are facing an ever increasing leak of players who are tired of the constant wipe fests while learning new bosses on Normal.

Perhaps things are easier now since the nerf the other week. Due to real life commitments from several key members of our team we’ve only managed one clear of MV since the nerf happened and have had no other runs at all, not even to old content for achievements. I hope this week we can move on to pastures new, beyond the first boss of HoF, even though we’re still missing someone really important who’s working away till the weekend.

I’m really happy with much of what Blizzard is doing to the game, and it’s improved in so many areas. But I do think the raiding issue is a thorny one that needs to be addressed. There must be solutions to it so that the more challenging modes do not dissolve into the sluice of LFR.

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