Temper gets you into trouble. Pride keeps you there.–Unknown
Nearly 5 weeks into the era of the zone-wide Icecrown buff, I’ve taken some time to reflect on how it has truly affected the way that raids are run and the affect it has on progression.
Icecrown Citadel is a series of glass ceilings. There are many guilds bumping their heads trying to break through each of them right now:
- Lich King
- (H) Gunship/Marrowgar/Rotface/Council/Dreamwalker/Festergut/Blood Queen
- (H) Deathwhisper/Saurfang
- (H) Sindragosa
- (H) Putricide
- (H) Lich King
The timeline currently allows guilds 4 weeks to break through each ceiling on their own. After that, the buff will increase and nudge them through. This was evident on our server this week as several guilds broke through barrier 2 and 3 above to step up. Across all servers, everyone moved up together. Our US and world ranks changed very little, which is another indicator of just how granular the skill level is among guilds.
If you’re killing it, chances are everyone else at your level is also killing it.
We like to think that our accomplishments occur in a vacuum, but they don’t. Our accomplishments are grand, and often times astounding for the server that we play on. This is why many of us focus on intra-server progression more so than World or even US rankings. It’s a way for us to get good, fair comparison.
The guilds on your server are using the same forums, same pool of recruits, and have the same server culture. It’s also nice to actually pass your competition on the way to the instance and not have them be some mystical number and fancy name on a website.
Srength of Wrynn has ferried along everyone very nicely, allowing us to progress at a steady pace without doing the work for us. The final goals of Icecrown Progression are very clear:
- Glory of the Icecrown Raider (25 Player)
- Realm First! Light of Dawn
- Leveling Gear
Everyone where we are (in the 8/12, 9/12 heroic mode range) has a high enough raid-gear level to complete the instance. Blizzard only made 4 277 tier tokens available per week (and only 2 of those being realistically accessible). Expecting your entire raid to be decked out in best in slot gear to complete the instance would be folly.
The ICC buff has changed everything on the raiding landscape. At one time, telling us that we could only use one flask or two elixirs (of different types) was a big deal. Now we’re looking at adding a flat 5% increase every month to our raid. The random number generator preventing you from “gearing up” is suddenly much less significant.
Never get that one trinket that all the DPS want? It doesn’t really matter, eventually the buff will provide you with enough DPS and more. The emphasis on stamina vs. avoidance for certain encounters becomes diminished due to the flat health increase, and raid-wide damage gets that much easier to heal with the slight buff in healing.
All of the mini nerfs and tuning adjustments that Blizzard used to do over the life of the instance have been abstracted into a single mechanic: raid wide buff. Instead of going with the Sunwell model and blocking everyone for the life of the instance, you slowly lower each barrier and let guilds hop over as their skill allows.
The raiders that are progressing in the center of the bell curve get to move along at a pace that suits them without the instance suddenly becoming a series of loot boxes over-night. The encounters may get “simpler” but they’re still the same encounters and I think that’s important. One of the many complaints that people used to give after nerfs was “I wanted to experience the content as it was intended!” Now you do. All of the original mechanics remain in place, but the edge gets taken off a little bit at a time.
It’s the true essence of the word Nerf. You get to feel what it’s like to get hit by a sword, but without the whole inconvenient amputation thing.
Do The Hybrid Dance
One thing that wasn’t immediately apparent to me was the buff’s affect on raid composition. The Warcraft raiding pool is what it is. Just like the pool of available talent for the NHL, there is a finite number of players that are capable of playing at the very highest level. There are players in minor league hockey that top the scoring charts playing amazing hockey, but will never make it in the big show.
Achieving success at the highest level is a rare combination of raw talent, mental toughness, and luck. It just isn’t possible for everyone to be as good as the top 5 or 10 guilds in the world. Because of this, most guilds must settle for inconsistent raiding rosters and (at times) limited to no recruitment. You will have raid nights where your moonkin just can’t make it on. There will be a progression night where only one shaman is available. People will tell you “recruit more! recruit better!” but there is only so much you can do short of paying people to play with you. (Gamecrush, anyone?).
You probably already know this, but not all (or maybe any) of your DPS are superstars. I’ll bet if you took a look at your DPS Meter for a benchmark fight (Festergut for example), you will have ~3-4 players that are ahead of everyone by a percent or 2. Following those 3-4 will be 10-11 players all spanning no more than 1% difference. The remaining 3-4 players will be below the middle pack. The absence of a moonkin aura or haste totem amplifies this DPS deficiency.
Strength of Wrynn balances that see-saw the other way. For the skill level of your raiders, Festergut at a 10% bonus might be the exact same difficulty as if you were a top 25 guild seeing it the week of release with the perfect raid composition. You’re still experiencing the same fight, just with a supplemental boost. You aren’t penalized as severely for missing one or two utility slots or maybe using too much utility if that’s who happens to be online.
The Sting of Pride
If I were Blizzard, the option I would give would not be to disable the buff. The option I would give would be to make it invisible to the players. Paragon achieving the World First Light of Dawn was final confirmation that this buff should never be turned off. If it is considered legitimate and good practice for a World First kill, why aren’t you using it to defeat Blood Queen normal mode?
Your choice is to have the fights be changed: mechanics removed, health reduced, timers adjusted or have this buff. I’ll take the buff every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Even if you turn off the buff and, for argument’s sake, give everyone the absolute best gear they can get for the content you have down, you will still be wiping. Quality play is the best buff you can get, and when that fails Blizzard is right there to help.
I was there for Sunwell. I was witness to the devastating effect it had on many raiding guilds. A lot disappeared. A lot of good players were burned out and pushed away from World of Warcraft because of it, players that I really liked (both in guild and out of guild).
The 3.0 mass tuning nerf was heavy handed, abrupt, and necessary. It was as if the raiding forces of the world were being choked out by Chuck Liddel for 6 months and he finally let us tap out. Breathing again felt like a luxury.
The challenge of raiding pre-Wrath was intense and was some of the best time I’ve had in any game. It made me a better player and raid leader. However, a lot of the difficulty was not in the content, it was logistical: getting the correct class/spec balance had nothing to do with playing the game and everything to do with starting the raid. We could have used gradual boosts throughout the instance to eliminate these composition quirks.
No one is foolish enough to consider themselves in league with the best in the world when they kill a boss after receiving a healthy buff. We all know where we stand.
What we have an equal amount of is passion for the game. We all like to raid. If it’s out there, and we haven’t killed it, we want to go and try. Playing in a situation with a limited talent pool puts you in a position where, after awhile, you want to be able to tap out. You are acutely aware of what our raiding group is capable of performing, and likewise what they are not. No adult league hockey team has aspirations of winning the Stanley Cup, but they do want to play the game. They want to have fun doing it, and they want to play in basically the same format/conditions that the pros do.
The same goes for raiding guilds. We all want to see what the pros see when they go out on the rink, but we would like to do it at a level that suits our exact skill level and with the players we enjoy being around. Strength of Wrynn allows every guild at every individual tier (however fine-grained you want to make it) to raid the encounters and have fun doing it. Guilds will become stronger, players will become better, and the overall raiding scene improves.
Here’s hoping this model holds true in Cataclysm. Speaking of Cataclysm…
When the buff was first proposed, Blizzard was (somewhat) up-front about it’s implementation and usage. It would gradually increase over time and it could be turned off. Turning it off would only boost your raiding pride, not your epic intake or achievement point total. We now know that this buff will increase every 4 weeks, and it will increase by 5% each step. That puts us on the following (potential) schedule:
- 15%: April 27th (May 4th)
- 20%: May 25th (June 8th)
- 25%: June 22nd (July 13th)
- 30%: July 20th (August 17th)
The dates in parens are just for fudge-factor (assuming a 5 week gap between). Looking at the July-August timeline for the 30% increase, we’re talking about 8 months of time in ICC25 before it is essentially made trivial (on Normal mode) in a 3.0-pre Wrath sense.
How do we feel about this timeline? Let’s look at Wrath’s instance release schedule:
- Tier 7: November 13th (Expansion release day, T)
- Tier 8: April 14th (T+5 Months)
- Tier 9: August 4th (T+8.5 Months)
- Tier 10: December 8th (T+13 Months)
Looking at the delta between full instances, we can see that this is right on target. Also, let’s not forget that Ruby Sanctum will also be patched in this summer to stem the raiding lull that many will be experiencing. I would peg that release to line up with the 20% buff (late May, early June).
We can also assume that Cataclysm will be released before Blizzcon 2010 since, well, the last Blizzcon was about Cataclysm and it seems that they’re prepping for an all out Diablo III fest this year (taking the summer’s StarCraft II release into consideration). The prep for Cataclysm will need to occur at least a month prior to it’s release. If the 30% buff is released late July then we can extrapolate that Deathwing will emerge from beneath Azeroth some time in early September.
Let’s say September 9th.