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July 29, 2010

Life Behind the Kill Pic: A Look Inside Hardcore Guilds

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Written by: Vixsin
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Halion Hard Mode Kill - US21

With the recent preview of the guild leveling and perks system, now more than ever, the tag under your name will start to impact your interaction in the game world. With perks ranging from more XP, more money, and more tier points to mass resurrection, discounts, and guild-only loot, it seems as if the Cataclysm landscape is poised to be one where guilds are more a home and less a stopping point on your way to somewhere better. So the question now becomes—what type of guild is right for you? And wouldn’t you know it … I have some info to offer you on that exact topic.

I started out in WoW like most other players, leveling slightly solo, a member in a guild through a friend of a friend, bumbling my way to 70 without knowing what lay ahead once I got there. And when I finally did get the chance to go into Kara for the first time, wearing those big boy epics, I knew I’d be hooked on this thing called “raiding”. But my little 10s guild, with its cliques and petty bickering, simply couldn’t hold my interest for very long, and so I was left looking for more after a couple months—more fights, more experience, more exposure, more challenges, more reason to work my arse off. What I didn’t know at the time, and didn’t discover until much later, is that “hardcore” raiding fit me like a glove.

So, as you set about answering your own questions about what you may or may not want in a guild, I thought I’d provide a little insight into what you can expect if you set your sights on hardcore raiding, and what climbing the ladder to get there will entail. (It’s important to note that the following issues are not an exclusive or exhaustive list; some may be present in one guild that won’t be present in another.)

 

What’s it really like?

The real thing that I lacked when I jumped into my first hardcore guild—one that raided 6 nights/week in BT/MHJ/Sunwell—was an understanding of what the experience would be like. Sure, I knew we’d be raiding more often than not, and sure, I understood that the GL was a toughie. But lacking that resource to tell me what I really should expect, my grasp on the “hardcore experience” was loose at best. Would that someone at the time would have told me about The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, that lay in wait.

 

The Good

When you think of top guilds on your server, in your battlegroup, on your continent, or in the world, the good stuff is always quick to come up. There are perks that come with being a top guild, even before those gained in Cataclysm, which help soften the blow of hardcore raiding and which can help you sleep easier at night knowing that you’re provided for. Oftentimes the “good” perks of a hardcore guild include some of the following:

  • Flush gbank – Beyond the personal benefits of progression, gbanks in top guilds rake in money from a variety of means, including selling BOEs, achievements, and GDKP runs. For a couple hours’ work, on a medium population server, players can get 5-10k apiece for a hard mode LK10 kill. In Ulduar, a 25-man mount run, with gear drops along the way, could net a gbank upwards of 200k. And with most guilds providing free gbank repairs, flasks, and consumables, players generally see their wealth increase without any concerted effort.
  • Knowledgeable players – Have a macro, configuration, add-on, or strat question? Chances are a couple of your guildies will know the answer. Want to know more about the class you’re rerolling? Your guildie can probably give you a novel’s worth of information. While top guilds’ players may not log incredible amounts of hours in game (some do), these plugged-in players have a wealth of knowledge that rivals Wowhead and can go toe-to-toe with you on a range of topics at the drop of a hat.
  • Record content clears – While it may be true that top-end guilds raid for hours and weeks upon end when content is first released, rest assured, they’re not doing it for long. It doesn’t take long before they’re clearing all relevant content and then some, in just a few short hours. Meaning that as much as people say “I can’t raid that much”, chances are your casual guild is raiding more than top-end guilds these days.
  • Easy access to guild achievements and server recognition – Having never been in the top guild on my previous servers (Cho’gall – VANQUISH (back in the day) / Laughing Skull – Dues Vox / Mal’Ganis – Vigil/Juggernaut), I never really saw this as a positive trait of top guilds before. But after going to BDF, there’s something to be said for the recognition that comes with having the <FH> tag under my name. Everyone loves a compliment, whether it’s someone whispering you to compliment your gear or ask your opinion on some fight/class issue. Server first titles (and accompaning announcement spam) are just icing on the cake, especially when the community is as supportive as they are on BDF.
  • Connections – The top end of the raiding spectrum is a small community, full of players who have been playing since original beta, so it should come as no surprise that these folks know fellow top players and Blizzard developers alike. Alpha invites, pre-release information, contacts inside Blizzard, and sometimes direct discussions with developers, are all possibilities (not assured, mind you!) in an accomplished and established progression guild. The downside to this interconnectivity is, when you make a bad name for yourself in the top end, word spreads very quickly.)
  • When you’re in, you’re in – Whereas up-and-coming guilds might be quick to push you to the bench after a short absence, I was quite surprised to discover that hardcore guilds *tend* to be more accommodating about long absences and breaks. With burnouts and time off seemingly more frequent at top levels of play, I can certainly see why, once you’ve proven yourself in their eyes as a serious raid asset, they’ll make room for you again after you tire of HoN or L4D.

 

The Bad

On the flip side of all of the great things you hear about progression guilds, chances are you’ve also heard some bad things as well. But the reality is that these items aren’t so much downsides as they are concessions for operating in a high performance environment.

  • It’s a job, not a tea party – One of the biggest and most apparent distinctions when you get into a hardcore guild is the social environment. While, in general, players are on civil terms, it’s also not uncommon for player rifts to develop and endure. Much like in a business, progression guilds are there to get the job done, and so long as a player doesn’t adversely impact the guild’s progress or create too much unnecessary strife, personality conflicts are left alone. So while you shouldn’t expect to be at odds with everyone, don’t expect to be friends with everyone either.
  • Limited learning mistakes – My old collegiate coach had a rule when it came to practice—if, after he had explained a concept to someone else, you made the same boneheaded mistake as the other person, we all ran lines. Needless to say, this meant that when someone else was getting reamed, we all paid attention. It’s the same concept in hardcore progression guilds; one stumble with Defile is fine, but if you repeat the same error someone else made simply because you couldn’t be bothered to learn from their mistakes, expect some hard words (and possibly some bench time).
  • High level of common knowledge – As I mentioned above, playing in a top-end guild generally means you’re dealing with players who have a broad and deep range of experience with a host of issues and classes. This knowledge does come with a downside though, as you can expect other players to have fairly good insight into your class and its nuances. So a comment from the fury warrior about the spriest having low DP uptime is highly likely, entirely acceptable and probably dead right.
  • Recruiting is all about timing – A good number of hardcore progression guilds run with a relatively small roster for good reason—the less variation you have, the less likely you are to suffer “learning mistakes”. (Stars is one such notable exception to this rule, as they run multiple raid groups and cull the best into one All-Star team. Pun intended, heh). As a result, recruiting for top guilds tends to be on an as-needed basis and for specific holes in the roster. And although most every “Apply to our Guild” site out there encourages “exceptional candidates should apply no matter current recruiting needs”, the fact remains that a top guild isn’t likely going to bring on another prot warrior or uber mage just because.
  • Longevity isn’t assured – Of the 4 progression guilds that I’ve been in, 3 have folded under their own weight. Even Aftermath, which was around since the days of AQ and had been a stable force through the entire expansion, couldn’t manage to sustain itself once its driving leadership stepped out of the picture. It’s unfortunate, but when you exist in such a highly competitive environment, a high turnover rate is a given.

 

The Ugly

While a number of these qualities are fairly acknowledged as being part of the downside of hardcore progression guilds, oftentimes new raiders (and old raiders as well), underestimate the potential powder kegs that these issues can be. These are the qualities that really set hardcore guilds apart (on the whole, mind you—they may not each be applicable to every top guild out there).

  • The performance focus – There is a fine line between personal performance and guild performance, and members in top-end guilds walk it every day. When the difference between your top dps and your bottom dps (or top healer and bottom healer) is marginal, you can expect that the pressure to prove your worth may sometimes overtake the obligation to do something for the team. Thus, the real challenge becomes doing enough for the team so that you don’t get called on it, but doing enough for yourself that you can withstand the fierce competition between players.
  • BiS is a reality, for everyone – While most of you may think this is, in fact, a positive thing, because who doesn’t like being shiny, let me assure you that it is not; it is the source of constant strife in a hardcore progression guild. If you think the petty squabbles over items are bad with your current guild, I can assure you they’re nothing compared to the heat given to someone standing between a dps and his precisely-calculated 54.6dps increase boots. (I use dps as an example here, but tanks and healers are just as guilty.) Not that I’m condoning the flurries, but when the longevity of your membership depends on the perception of your contribution, I can certainly understand why tempers rise where loot is concerned.
  • You’re expected to raid hard when it counts – While I may be getting away with raiding 4 hours a week at the moment (on Vixsyn), the start of ICC found me raiding almost every night. However, my 30-hour a week raiding commitment (6 nights/wk for both 25s and 10s, at 5 hours/night), pales in comparison to those guilds pursuing top 10 world kills, where 8- to 12-hour raiding sessions are not unheard of. And while we won’t see the dual 10s and 25s raiding requirement come Cata, rest assured that the “alt learning raid” will likely be something that most progression guilds will require on limited attempt encounters.
  • Faith does not come easily – Hardcore guilds, whether newly formed or established, have very definite comfort zones, oftentimes because founders and/or leaders have been playing together for years. Even if your performance remains unquestioned, expect to spend time beyond your trial period working to gain the level of comfort that will assure you a position on progression encounters. (As a point of reference, it took a good 5 months before a former guildmaster was comfortable enough with me tank healing that I didn’t get the 3rd degree when a tank hit the floor.)
  • You think you can take the heat – While most players think that they have thick enough skin to endure even the harshest of criticisms, the reality is that most don’t live up to the claims of resilience that they make on guild applications. Progression guilds, whether they’re joking or serious, can dish out some pretty biting and scathing comments after your flaws are put in harsh relief. And if your first response, or second, or third, in the face of warranted or unwarranted criticism is anything other than a desire to improve, you’ll likely be in for a second blasting. As it was so wonderfully put in a recent Entrepreneur article, like any successful business, a hardcore guild is rarely a democracy, and leadership isn’t nearly as effective unless it is both feared and respected by the guild’s members.
  • 1 SP is worth whatever it takes – Remember when epic gems weren’t in game yet and the only ones you could get were from fishing? Remember how they sold for ridiculous amounts? Want to know who bought them? Every min/maxer who operates within this very narrow margin. I always joke about Ensidia being the one guild who could find the random quest item that makes a boss fight trivial, but it really is no joking matter. When your position depends on your resourcefulness and your ability to completely maximize your character, that mob grind or expensive gem isn’t optional.
  • Meters matter – No matter how team-focused the guild, the whole “the boss died, therefore we’re all winners” isn’t something top-end performers subscribe to. These are teams built around being the best and the fastest; these are players who, even in today’s ICC romp, use 2 speed/magic/armor/etc. pots on every boss kill. So like Cuties Only states in their app template, they’re only interested if you can meet or exceed their current players. If you’re “okay” or a “great team player”, you generally won’t make it in the front door. They’re not there to gear you up or carry you along; if you aren’t at their level at Day 1, you won’t be there for very long after that point.

 

Still Interested?

By now, some of you are probably thinking “blech”, in which case a hardcore progression-focused guild probably isn’t right for you. And that’s more than fine; if anything, it’s completely understandable. But for those of you still interested in progression raiding, suffice to say, you’ve a difficult road ahead of you. Finding your way into a Top 100 guild, nonetheless a Top 10, isn’t the easiest of tasks and can largely be based on luck. I say this because, in my experience, a good number of players get into top guilds through referrals—a friend from a guild back on Whatsit server made it into Uberleet and is willing to vouch for your skill—and/or by being in the right place at the right time. To this end, and I cannot stress this enough, networking is your ultimate friend. I actually wound up in my first Top 100 guild because a GM from a short-lived BC guild (one that I found based on trade chat recruitment) wound up in a guild that, in the middle of Ulduar, needed an infusion of Resto/Elemental skills, and he thought of me. (Thank you, Kurono/Jds). And although that guild disbanded about 4 months after that, I gained the hard mode credentials and performance logs while there to qualify me for entry into a higher level of play. If I never would have responded to that original call for newly-dinged level 70 healers looking to venture into BT, I would likely have had a different WotLK raiding experience; better or worse, I don’t know.

So now that I’ve completely turned everyone off on hardcore raiding, let me finish by saying that, without a doubt, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Yes it’s a time sink, yes it’s full of clashing personalities, and yes-yes-yes it’s stressful. I may not be climbing Everest, I may not be backpacking across the Outback, but the challenge of performing in an environment where seconds matter makes me that odd sort of player for whom hardcore, progression raiding is just as thrilling as any other adventure.






8 Comments


  1. What a great article Vixsin!

    “Meaning that as much as people say “I can’t raid that much”, chances are your casual guild is raiding more than top-end guilds these days.”

    I definitely found this to be the case going from my “casual” 2 night a week guild slowly into my much more serious 4 nights a week hard mode guild. I play a heck of a lot less hours now and get so much more out of it.

    I also really agree with the “once you’re in, you’re in”. I’m amazed at the number of times in the space of one expansion we’ve re-accepted old raiders back into the roster. Only to have them burn out or suspend their account when the next semester at uni begins/when they get a new job/when they get bored. I guess the truth is, getting a few months with a really talented player is almost worth the hassle of replacing them when they’ve had enough.

    But the truth is, I’ve raided long enough that I need to be in a guild working on heroic modes in order to stay challenged by the game.

    But I’m not the same player that I was when I was just reaching level 70 on my very first character and scrambling to understand the basics of raiding (where the hell do I get these things called Raid Frames?!).

    The other thing worth mentioning is that it’s not a simple choice: Top Progression Raiding Guild or Casual Raiding Guild. There are guilds at all levels of the spectrum.

    I can still relate to a lot of the Good/Bad/Ugly points in your article – but some of them don’t apply: connections/talk with developers? no way. Expectation to learn from other people’s mistakes? not really.

    I know I just don’t have a thick enough skin to survive in a more critical guild than I currently am. We’ll never get a server first, but I’m okay with where we are.
    .-= Cassandri´s last blog ..Taking Control of Trade Chat =-.


  2. It is refreshing to see someone unapologetic about hardcore raiding.

    The only point I might add is “no excuses.” It has been my experience that if you make a mistake, you had better know what happened and how you plan to fix it. And heaven help you if you try to blame it on lag!


  3. I definitely agree, Cass, that there are a host of options out there in terms of guilds, from the amazingly hardcore no-ICC-buff Paragon to Gevlon’s PuG Guild and everything in between. In fact, it’s one of the things that I don’t think is appreciated enough about WoW’s community–that there’s a guild out there for everyone, no matter what it is you’re looking for (other than isolation).

    Re: no excuses, I think that’s part-and-parcel of being able to take the heat. Not only can you expect some harsh words about a mistake, but oh boy if you try to shirk the blame, its just blood in the water. Although I will say, from my days on Mal’Ganis, that lag did become a more acceptable excuse for screw-ups, cause man, patch and content release days on that server are an absolute crawl!


  4. […] Vixsin’s given us a hard look into life as a top end WoW raider today. Her post at LifeinGroup5 is meant for hardcore raider-potentials so they know what they’re getting themselves into but it’s a good read for the rest of us too. It’s a rare looksee into a mysterious and slightly stigmatised playstyle which few players see firsthand. […]


  5. What a fantastic article!

    I frequently wonder where guilds that are just below the cusp of the “top” fall when it comes to some of the aspects mentioned. I know that I try to be cognizant of people’s reactions and feelings when I make corrections and analyze errors, but I’ll admit some of it’s because I’m not entirely sure I could get away with what’s really on my mind.

    I see a lot of similarities that I can relate to, but a lotthat is very different as well.

    Like both Cass and yourself, I do not think I could WoW without the raid game to keep me intrigued. However, unlike Cass I often wonder if I wouldn’t flourish taking a step into a more focused environment. Of course, I love where I am, and short of something catastrophic happening, I just don’t see that changing :$


  6. Aloix

    Fantastic post, thank you.
    I’m pretty much near the opposite end of the raiding spectrum, much to my long-standing frustration.
    Aside from the fact that I’m on an abysmal server and transferring is not currently an option, you’ve given me plenty of concrete things to consider regarding whether I would be able to ever successfully make a leap into a more hardcore guild. Self-doubt has held me back, but I truly haven’t been happy playing the ‘casual’ game.


  7. […] over at Life in Group 5 for Shaman insights, even more frequently than usual. He recently did an interesting piece on life in a hardcore raiding guild. And it weighed on my mind for quite a long […]


  8. This was a great read. I have to shift through several apps each day from players who think they know what they’re getting into. Even on a three-day schedule, we emanate some of the hardcore values described here. Some of the things that stuck out to me:

    “Limited learning mistakes” – For hardcore guilds, it’s simply not unreasonable to expect people to get things right their first try. We tell all of our new recruits in the interview: “We don’t care that you’ve never seen heroic Halion before. We still expect you to not get hit by cutters.” Some players simply aren’t cut out for hardcore raiding in that they need to make a mistake in order to see what they could have done better.

    “You’re expected to raid hard when it counts” – One of my officers calls it ‘rapid fire mode’ where you’re getting only a minute or two to run back and rebuff before going. When we were learning heroic Lich King, I would start the encounter about ~20 seconds after I got there. Heroic Halion’s runback was shorter, so we could even get moving faster. Some people feel like you’re just “throwing bodies at the boss,” but we mark every performance error, even when we’re pulling fast and hard.
    Blacksen´s last post ..Ethics Behind Selling Achievements



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