When the revamped LFD (Looking for Dungeon) system was re-introduced with patch 3.3, it unleashed a wave of stories from players everywhere about the ups and downs of pugging. Horror stories became a common theme of blogs, forums, and guild sites, and I fear everyones’ noses drifted slightly higher in the air as we described our foray into heroics with the unwashed masses (which, of course, was no one we knew, just all those random baddies.) Appropriately timed with the release of ICC, the new random LFD was the portal to increased Emblems of Frost and accordingly, a new set of shinies. To some, the new system is a roaring success, allowing them more freedom for groups on demand, while to others, it is an example of all that is wrong with raiding. But in hindsight, I think one thing is clear—be careful what you wish for.
Give credit where credit is due
If asked about the greatest addition to the game during WotLK, I will answer, hands down: the LFD tool. Ulduar was an amazing instance, and Resto Shaman t10 is brilliant in every possible way, but nothing has done more to advance WoW’s community as the automated grouping system. It has single-handedly turned rotting dungeons and heroics into populated zones. There’s a reason that I’ve completed a significant majority of the raiding achievements and none of the Glory of the Heroic Raider ones; since a month after WotLK release there was simply no motivation for me to set foot in a Heroic other than beneficence.
At the release of ToC, yes, I tried to complete the daily when I could, but it definitely wasn’t a priority. I could get cheaper tier sets just by keeping 100% attendance in my guild’s ToC/ToGC runs. But when Blizzard tightened the emblem flow in ICC by forcing me to go through a linear tier upgrade system (and not simply leapfrog the entry-level items), and denying me distinct normal and heroic instances, I found myself hurting for badges once again. (And let’s not even talk about the strain of building a tier offset.) So, with no other option to up my badge count I, and a significant number of my colleagues I’d venture, made a concerted effort to get myself into a Heroic every single day I could.
So let’s please give credit where it’s due–the influx of raiders pursuing frost badges, regardless of the attitude they bring with them, is still an influx of raiders into what was a dungeon system bereft of players. The result of this injection of players into the dungeon pool is that “LFG” tool is actually a viable way to form groups (on some servers more than others). And as heinous as the connotation is, “farming” badges for new 80s has become substantially easier than it was pre-ICC. Now groups can’t reject my DK alt for a 15-min heroic clear because she isn’t in top-shelf gear.
In addition, not only has it made lvl80 dungeons more active, it’s completely altered the leveling process as well. How many people ran BFD, Gnomer, DM or Scholo or before the new LFD went into place? Yeah, no one. This weekend on my baby warrior, I actually ran Stockades; being horde tried and true, it was a delightfully perplexing moment as I thought … “uhhhh, where the heck am I?” Now you can spend the majority of your time to 80 in dungeons and do quests in your downtime, instead of the other way around. Hell, you can even level, by yourself, as a healing class. You mean practice healing before I hit 80? Whu?!
Beyond the influx of players, by associating LFD with improved loot, Blizzard is actually providing an effort-and-reward system to gear people up to see the last instance of the expansion. Would that they had done this during Sunwell, where the gear gap between puggable content and raiding content was so extreme that players not in the top end guilds were left running ZA and Heroic Magisters ad nauseum until xpac. New players coming into the game, and players rolling alts, now have a means to equip themselves to be able to raid or to PVP through largely their own efforts. And while Emblems of Triumph may flow easily, Emblems of Frost (and access to that gear level) are still somewhat hard to come by for anyone other than the 25-man raider with way too much time on his hands and plenty of geared alts (shifty eyes).
The Other Side of the Coin
The downside, unfortunately, is the sense of entitlement that I think this system has encouraged in raiders of all levels. By providing exactly what so many players have been asking for–on demand raiding (albeit heroics raiding) with no pre-planning required–we now expect it to be exactly that. Players expect everyone to be of equal skill level, equal gear level, and equal mindset (hence achievement and Gearscore requirements). Add to this the “raiding ennui” that players seem compelled to project (regardless of how progressed the player actually is), and it becomes a recipe for prime douchbaggery.
As Blizzard has finally found a way to interconnect the WoW community and encourage us to abandon our sacred guild enclaves to meet new people, we push back and try ever harder to redraw the lines of the raiding hierarchy. (The irony of a social game where people cultivate antisocial skills is particularly poignant here.) Grouping with players of equal gear level is portrayed as requisite to success, and on some servers like Mal’Ganis, passworded “elite” channels are utilized to separate top guilds’ LFG efforts from trade chat untouchables.
So it seems the more we are offered in terms of efficiency, the more we crave it. The faster we are allowed to group (with no effort on our own parts, natch), the faster we expect to be able to do so in the future. The easier it is to obtain good loot, the more we feel we are entitled to it. And the more Blizzard opens up raiding, the more we (raiders) want them to cordon it back off. The more level the playing field, the more we want an added edge.
As to the solution, I definitely find myself in the camp of “I have no idea”. In fact, I’m not even sure the WoW community could come to a consensus about what the real problems of LFD are, or if they did, that there would be any “solutions” powerful enough to shift community behavior and/or perspective. And I can’t help but wonder if maybe the general community sentiment is more a function of the fact that we’re at the end of an xpac, where the gap between entry-level 80 and end-game is much more broad than it was when we were all tumbling around Naxx. (Maybe tolerance is much easier to practice when we’re closer to the level of the tolerated.)
Do I think that there are some tweaks that Blizzard could implement to make the LFD experience more enjoyable? Yes. But that doesn’t mean those adjustments would be enjoyable for everyone, or would be without consequences. For example—if they increased the complexity or length of the dungeon to discourage chain pulling (I’d gladly welcome the re-introduction of large-scale CC or complex tactics), queue times would increase accordingly. If Blizzard segmented the system so that players of equal gearlevel would be grouped together (ohai gearscore-nazi PuG leaders), then the community would lose out on interaction between various types of players. If they removed the ability for players to gain some access to the top level of gear through their own efforts, then your dungeon system goes back to being the wasteland it was. Conversely, if more rewards were incorporated into the system to encourage participation and shorter queue times (hooray no more 20min queue times for double dps parties!) then you can bet that any raider looking for an advantage would be farming his heart out. You get the point.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned that the LFD tool was a prime case of “be careful what you wish for”, and hopefully I’ve demonstrated why that’s the case. With the good, comes the bad. In the automatic grouping system we’ve been handed the possibility to have the group we want, when we want it (within reasonable queue tolerances, of course), but there is an opportunity cost associated with it. And while it’s not “on-demand” raiding, it’s a lot closer than I ever thought Blizzard could make it. If that comes at the price of a slight bit of frustration, I’m still going to be thankful that I no longer have to deal with the alternative.
/2 Healer, LFG.