Coachability: Handling Criticism/Raising Your Game

18 January, 2011

The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual. – Vince Lombardi

Last month I wrote about how it is important in Cataclysm to properly handle mechanics, take advantage of crowd control, and generally, just play the game. The underestimation of damage and the tendency to treat trash as if it’s no harder than navigating the queue at Disney world, will lead to pain.

So much pain.

Today we’re going to bring that discussion down one more level: to you and those you raid with. During this week’s Matticast, I briefly touched on how important it is for a player to be “coachable.” In other words, the ability for someone to look at your play, evaluate it, and then give you feedback on how to improve.

Coachability is valued on my list of intangibles just as highly as talent. Obviously a person who is always in the right place but is losing to the tank in damage is too far to one extreme. The sweet spot is finding a player with above average ability that will take in a strat and perform it on every play.

Starting at the beginning

There are two elements to coaching when it comes to raiding:

1) Ability to take direction, follow the strategy, make reads in an encounter: “I am Jack’s unwavering situational awareness.”

2) Ability to trust others will do their part, allowing you to give 100% focus to yours: “I am Jack’s third eye.”

I will explain these two components using a typical play in hockey (this is hockey for those not already familiar), the two-on-one break, and how it is typically defended. A defender and the goalie are facing two attacking forwards. This obviously poses a problem. Who takes who? How do we keep them from getting a goal?

The defender takes away the pass between the two attackers, the goalie always takes the player carrying the puck. The defender trusts he can leave the shooter, and the goalie trusts the defender will lay down and block the pass. They don’t have to worry about what each other is doing. If they do, the puck is in the back of the net.

If you let them pass to each other, will they always score? No. If the goalie cheats and doesn’t challenge the shooter, will he always score? No. Sometimes you get lucky. Players on both sides can make mistakes (or get a bad bounce), but the result is always not the best indicator of complete success.

You often hear of guilds who struggle to repeat a kill on a boss. Most of the time it is lack of a tight strategy or just the simple fact that all players aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. You got lucky, the RNG’s dice fell just the right way. Our first Kalecgos kill came after only a few nights of work. Almost 5 resets later, we got our second kill. It was after that when I started to really look for weaknesses in strategy or at players who keep doing things wrong.

“Hey, we’re winning, there’s no need to call out players for doing things wrong!”

Conversely, that is the BEST time to tell people they weren’t properly handling a mechanic. Everything doesn’t hit everyone on every attempt. Where the problem occurs is correcting people that don’t always like to be corrected.

Let me talk to those people for a brief moment.

My guess is that WoW is your first, if not only, experience in a team-gaming setting. You’re probably used to picking up the latest platformer and just running into things at your own pace. Maybe you dabbled in a little Halo or some Goldeneye with your friends, but none of them never really told you that you could kill someone with 3 shots from the pistol and the shotgun wasn’t great for long-range kills.

If they did the likely response was “I like the shotgun.” And then no one cared as they proceeded to paste your insides to the walls of Hang ’em High.

That was a little mean-spirited. Everyone that didn’t play a team sport or a team game in the past isn’t a completely obnoxious bad. My point is that most video game players spend their time by themselves just figuring out their own way to get to the finish line.

Now you’re in a raid and some skinny white dude from Pittsburgh is telling you to keep out of the void zones or get the hell out of the raid! It’s a different experience, but one that is essential for raiding progress.

Give and Take, Getting Better as a Team

It’s frustrating when you don’t pick up something right away or can clearly see you’re a step or two behind your peers. Having one of your contemporaries look at your armory, look at your log parses, or watch a fraps video of you playing, to give you tips is how you step up to the next level.

And as hard as it is to listen to someone breakdown your rotation, it’s just as hard to send out that criticism without coming off as a complete ass. How forward you are is generally a function of how “off” the person is. If they’re literally thousands of DPS or HPS behind you on a similar encounter, you might want to have a talk with them immediately.

“Did you know it’s better to stack this stat rather than this one?”

“I do well here because I move to this spot right before AOEing, it saves me time.”

Don’t keep tips to yourself. You aren’t competing with your fellow raiders, you making someone else better raises the level of play of the whole raid. If someone sends you a tell or a PM with some tips, don’t blow it off. Maybe they see something that can help make you better.

The wrong way to do it is to bitch about how bad someone is without finding out. “He doesn’t know you need to stack haste to 1000? What a noob. I’ll continue to beat him on the meter while our raid continues to wipe. I’ll show him!” Withholding that information in order to gain an advantage for raid invites is equally deplorable, if not more-so.

“I was looking around at the people with Lightning Rod, and forgot to get the right debuff!”

Don’t let this happen to you. It is the raid leader’s job to worry about the other 9/24 players. If all 25 were watching the other 25, you wouldn’t kill anything. That responsibility is focused on one player so that you can do your job at 110% capacity.

“It’s a copycat league”

Cookie cutter specs and strategies exist for a reason: they work. You might not be able to perform exactly on par with some of the best in the world, but you can closely re-create what they do and put yourself on the front side of the bell curve; above the pack of “average” players.

I’ll bookend this post with another powerful quote from coach Lombardi:

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence. – Vince Lombardi

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Join “The Raid.” A WoW Documentary

1 March, 2010

Build for your team a feeling of oneness, of dependence on one another and of strength to be derived by unity. –Vince Lombardi

It’s been a difficult week of raiding so I thought I’d post a little feel-good piece.  My first few posts on boss tactics aren’t quite ready yet (it turns out it’s difficult to explain things without pictures and I need more pictures!).

I recently came across an interesting project that has been backed by Tankspot and got some publicity out there in shoutcast/podcast space on Blue Plz!  A New York film-maker by the name of Kevin Michael Johnson is directing a short documentary on social gaming, WoW, and its culture. For those of us that put a significant amount of our free time into WoW, the theme of this film really hit home.

From The Raid:

Raiding and, more generally, social gaming is something that has become more and more popular over the past couple years.  Everything from WoW’s explosion on the gaming scene to the emergence of browser games like Farmville on Facebook shows that this type of entertainment is something people are really interested in.

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Borsked? The psyche of a player-coach.

19 February, 2010

The leader can never close the gap between himself and the group. If he does, he is no longer what he must be. He must walk a tightrope between the consent he must win and the control he must exert. –Vince Lombardi

The dynamic of a raid leading position in World of Warcraft is one that I believe is unique among all other team-based games.  Aside from handling loot (and it’s additional overhead, i.e. dkp) and coordinating your bench players, there are several plates spinning even before you reach a boss.  Everything from keeping the pace up through the trash to making sure everything is assigned and in order for the boss coming up soon.

The goal of the raid is to kill bosses, collect loot, progress through the content, and do it all while having a good time.

Re-read that sentence again and note the and. If one of the above tenets fails, then the goal cannot be completed.  You can’t kill bosses, progress, have a good time and not get any loot.  Take out one or many and the raid is not successful.

Sidebar: Wipe nights violate the above goal, but, obviously, are very important to progression focused raiding.  Wipe nights on new/harder bosses are the equivalent to practice in team sports.  You are working on strategy and fine tuning what you need to do to beat the upcoming opponent.  It doesn’t have immediate rewards and isn’t always all that fun, but the first kill on a hard boss always gives that little zing of invigoration that only a first kill can give.

Typically a team engaging in competition will have several coaches, captains (leaders on the field of play), and the remaining players.  Raiding’s twist is that everyone suits up to play.  The raid leader is the coach, the tanks and officers become captains, and the other players look to them for leadership and direction.  All still have an even stake, yet all are now participating equally.  A coach standing on the sidelines can call a play and give it to his Quarterback to run.  If it fails, the coach can find the reciever that ran the wrong route, grab his facemask and give him a stern, spit-laden talk on the sidelines.

But what if the coach was that receiver?  Well, he just got Borsked.

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