In WoW, as it exists today, elitism is both a good and a bad thing; its connotation greatly depends on who you talk to. Most oftentimes, being an “elitist” is looked upon as a negative, and not with the tongue-in-cheek approach that a certain theorycrafting guild took when they launched their intellectual salvo against “uneducated” players the world over. It is a term applied in a variety of fashions, often slung in defense of a real or perceived accusation, and is an almost guaranteed response to unsolicited advice, no matter how tactfully delivered.
When I broached the idea of this blog topic with a friend, his question to me was pretty blunt: “why the f- would you want to write about THAT; do you want people to think you’re an ass?” (To which I responded: I’m sure many people already do.) And so I hemmed and hawed about writing this post series, wondering if I might alienate some of my reader base by stating “hey guys, I think there’s a right way to resto shaman!” But, after some serious thought, (mostly conducted on my commute to and from work,) I solidified my theory that being an elitist wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I reasoned, being an elitist could be a very positive thing indeed.
In Part I of this post I touched on a number of issues centering on the evolution of elitism, its definition, and the “n00b” versus “oldtimer” polarization that many of us experience when playing WoW. I think I managed to dodge the harsh criticism by conceding that yes, some elitists are asshats, but there are a good number who actually are elite because they raise the bar. In addition, the premise that I left you with was one that might draw some stronger criticism this time around—elitists actually benefit the WoW community.
The Contributions of an Elitist
Now it’s important to remember something here (and I mentioned this in the previous post)—an intellectual elitist in WoW is *not* someone who simply regurgitates the information he reads on EJ, because hell I could teach a parrot to shout “GEM HASTE! GEM HASTE!” and it would still be sound advice regardless of why the parrot was saying it. The players, the elitists, that I’m championing are those that contribute to the game and the community in a way other than simply contributing to the noise of the crowd. And for the reasons I’m listing below, I think that the community is the better for it.
1. Theorycrafting & Tools
I know I’m starting with the low-hanging fruit here, but I don’t think there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind that the elitists and number-crunchers that make up the EJ core have contributed a massive amount of information to the WoW community. They have become a resource that almost eclipses all others, and a reliable source for quality community-policed information. In addition, a number of mods and theorycrafting tools, including ZAP!, DXE, Shaman HEP, Rawr, MageGraf, EnhSim and a host of other simulators and analytics, have been developed by EJ members. And while some of the tools have only been used by those pursuing the mathematical optimum values, others like RAWR are used frequently by a broad range of the player base.
2. Bug Checking & Testing Limits
While Ensidia may be known for its “clever use of game mechanics”, I’ve no doubt that these elitists would be able to find the one thing in the WoW universe that gives them an edge in any encounter, no matter how obscure or rare it is. I’m sure everyone remembers the kersnuffle over Ensidia’s Lich King kill, but no matter where you placed in the debate, the fact remains that Ensidia once again found an unanticipated effect, a bug, as they have done time and time before based solely on the rigor they apply to boss fights. In addition, the extensive Alpha, Beta, and PTR testing contributed by top guilds the world over means that Blizzard has a dedicated and skilled testing base to draw from when launching new features and/or encounters. (If you’ve ever tested on the PTR, you know how much QA goes into transitioning the rough encounter to the final one.) And while the community at large may often view Blizzard as less than perfect when testing, the elitists and number crunchers are, more often than not, the ones to point out when something isn’t “working as intended”.
3. Difficulty Tuning
With such an apparent divide between top guilds and the majority of mid-level ones, I’d be hard pressed to argue that anything is precisely tuned to meet all skills levels. But the one thing that top elite performers and theorycrafters do when attempting encounters is establish how doable a fight is based on near-optimal performance. Although sometimes this results in nothing more than the divide between skill levels being put into stark contrast, there have been times where Blizzard has appropriately tuned the difficulty of an encounter based on feedback.
4. Setting the Bar
No matter the number of disparaging remarks made at players who spend their time in the game, testing, theorizing, and going to extreme measures to increase performance, the elitists at the far end of the spectrum, nerdy girlfriendless basement-dwelling virgins that they are, set the bar not only for performance standards but for class standards as well. Oftentimes, the hypothetical discussions held on theorycrafting sites in advance of content releases pave the way for stat shifts or other adjustments in a dynamic game environment. With every change that is implemented, the elite players go through an interative process of re-evaluation to ensure that, for example, Int gemming is still viable or that armor pen caps matter more than expertise.
5. Community Development through Debate
Forum trolls aside, I think one of the greatest forms of community building comes from the active debate held on so many forums, and oftentimes sparked by the “elitist” players with a passion for their beliefs. Not only do their suppositions, assertions, and questions enable a pseudo-Socratic debate, which can serve as a way to encourage players to work towards a greater understanding of their class and the game, but also the arguments they put forth can encourage players to develop a vested interest in class development and direction. While this vested interest can materialize in “don’t nerf me, bro” posts, other times it can and will be the guiding force for some well-reasoned class changes.
And the penultimate reason why elitists contribute to the betterment of the WoW community—all of their efforts are free. Even if they have nothing to offer beyond criticism and delineation of your own deficiencies, it’s feedback that you didn’t have to do a darn thing for. (Companies pay people to give them feedback on their performance, for crissakes!) And while I may not like someone questioning why I’m using a sub-optimal libram on my Holy Pally or calling me out for gemming to meet 2 blue sockets instead of 1 on Vixsyn, I realize that existing in a vacuum doesn’t get me anywhere. If anything, the benefit of the elitist asshats out there is the fact that they keep us all humble enough to question whether or not our beliefs are founded. And personally, I’d rather be questioned every step of my way towards my goals, then allowed to blithely wander into failure.
So, why does this discussion matter?
When I first started brainstorming this topic, after reading this post by one of the most well-known Shaman bloggers out there, I wrote up a quick list of questions that I wanted to address:
- Does an optimal rotation exist?
- What is its value and to whom is it valuable?
- Does the “why” behind a decision matter?
- Can you separate “fun” and a “kill” in terms of PVE? In terms of PVP?
In retrospect, I’m not sure all of the above questions have been answered in this debate. But as I sat writing this post, wondering if I had wandered off from my original intent, I was struck by the last question most of all because it was implied in some of the responses to the previous thread.
Speaking strictly in terms of end-game, when the goal of a player is the successful completion of an instance or PVP encounter, then whether they realize it or not, there are a threshold of requirements that they and/or the group need to meet. Some requirements are set in place by Blizzard—hard or soft enrages, HP, level of difficulty and complexity—and they vary by environment, think: Heroic Drak’Tharon versus Heroic Halls of Reflection. Other requirements are implied or stated by the group’s members—speed, wipe avoidance, and strat, for example. But beyond the RP aspects of end-game, these requirements become the very definitions of success.
Like it or not, I think it’s safe to say that the source of players’ enjoyment of WoW comes from the successes that they achieve. Whether it is completion of a quest, an instance, a boss kill, or a personal goal, most players are actually working towards an objective and not simply killing time. That means, that if enjoyment is predicated by success and success is defined by a kill, and a kill is defined by Blizzard as a set of metrics, then I’m sorry to say, the elitists might have it right after all. Because with their numbers, spreadsheets, rotations, specs, and copious arguments for X or Y, regardless of how inept the delivery, they might actually be handing you the keys to fulfillment.