Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Passion

I like to think I'm passionate about raiding.

I've pursued it twice a week, just about every week, for the last three years. It's something I enjoy very much, the puzzle-solving and teamwork style are my kind of thing and I like to think I'm good at it. Through two expansions, I've experienced the best and worst raids and continued to work through them, through roster problems, through waning and waxing interest, through a year-long drought of new content, through a glut of bosses, through simplistic encounters to encounters so complicated we never finished them. I never stopped.

And I'm still hungry for more. It's a  comfort to me, to know that I have six hours a week where I can sit down and unravel puzzles with my friends, work on executing my play and being rewarded for that time not by loot or achievements, but with the feeling of camaraderie and teamwork.

I've raiding with the same core of people for almost all of those three years - in fact, about half of my raid group is the exact same as it was at beginning of 2010 and about 80% is the same as it was in the beginning of 2011. That's a pretty good record as far as groups go - we've held together for a long time. So the raid isn't just about problem solving as I said above, but also about the companionship of these people.

But.

Raiding is also about achieving what you set out to achieve. It's about solving those problems, not giving up on them. It's about doing the content when it's still reasonably relevant. It's about taking personal responsibility and correcting our play. Owning up to mistakes and not repeating them. Taking the initiative and showing a capacity for spontaneous thinking rather than waiting to be told what to do. It's about pushing through adversity even if it means sitting on the same boss three nights in a row.

And I don't have that with my current group.

Did I ever? I don't know. I remember things being different even as late as last summer, but memory is unreliable and I might be constructing a golden age that never existed. Still, I feel there has been a shift in the guild and slowly but surely, we've moved away from the realm of personal responsibility and progression into the realm of shrugging and moving on.

It isn't any one thing holding us back either, we lost a core healer in September and never quite recovered from it. The last couple of DPS slots haven't been consistent and we've seen many people come and go over the months in an effort to try to fill them. Having me substitute as a healer lately has been a hit-and-miss thing as I try to learn an entirely new style of game-play that I never pursued before. I'm miles away from where I need to be to push new content and I feel I could contribute more as a Tank than I do as a healer. Or maybe that's just me wanting a return to my comfort zone rather than pushing myself to do something new.

"It's not that I want a Hardcore guild, necessarily," I tell myself. "I want the mindset of hardcore progression, the passion that hardcore players bring to the game, that's what I want from the game."

Because I feel that some iota of that passion is missing from my current group. Maybe we're tired, maybe we're bored, the expansion is long in the tooth and when we can see the Elysian Fields of Mists on the horizon, it becomes difficult to remain passionate about the muddy, old, familiar dungeons of Cataclysm that have been ravaged by time and their predictable ways.

I toy with the idea sometimes, of finding such a group, but this is an old song, and we know the ending to this already. After much soul-searching, I decided, way back when, that I'd rather play with my friends than find a guild dedicated to hard-core progression and that hasn't changed.

But perhaps, as with any passion, this hunger for raiding needs to evolve into something else, something more stable. Something that doesn't burn out with the heat and intensity of passion. Perhaps I need for this hunger to smolder, and become embers, something that warms and sustains instead of consuming.

Perhaps, at this point in my life, what I need is a hearth that won't give out.

In pursuit of this, I sent an e-mail to the other officers that I want to step down and become an ordinary member. Last year I stepped back to assistant raid-lead, but even there, I couldn't help but keep my hands in the pie. The temptation is too strong. It's time to let go.

I'm going to go sit by the fire and warm my hands. My responsibility will be to my play and nothing more - I'll always be ready to help if asked, but I think it's time for me to figure out how to sustain myself for the long haul. When Mists rolls around, I might not be first through the breach in the walls, but I'll be on the field.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The New Me

It has been two weeks since I gave up my tanking spec. Maybe I should put up a counter:  16 days since Saif tanked a dungeon!

Trying to build up both my Retribution and Holy set is a bit frustrating, but I'm enjoying having stuff to do again rather than just log in to raid and then putz about getting silly achievements and titles done because, why the hell not.

Retribution
The spec is fun - there's a rhythm to the very predictable Crusader Strike timing, there are procs to react to from Divine Purpose and Art of War, there is a short-term buff to keep track of in Inquisition and three separate cool-downs to create some bursty awesomeness. And if you're a fan of seal-swapping, AoE can put you on the top of meters along with a few Divine Storms and Holy Wraths, though we do sorely miss a closer for our AoE. Best to sit on one target and Templar's Verdict your heart away in such situations.

I'm closing in on the coveted 40k mark on Heroic Ultraxion which is my personal goal of pushing numbers that don't embarrass me, and that fight is magnificent for melee - if only Gurthalak functioned reliably on that fight, I think I would be there already. I hit 39k+ last time, and hopefully this will be the magical week.

Holy
The healing thing has a far more complicated learning curve and I'm still working on it. I think I'm going to have to start PvPing as Holy to build the kind of instincts I will need in Heroic raiding, but the heroic PvE raiding environment is also great for training - the do or die mechanics are stressful enough to train execution and Heroic Hagara is giving me fits with the amount of healing on the run you have to do. But I think I'll get there as being the bottom healer is aggravating.

People tell me to run dungeons but honestly, I'd rather heal Heroic Hagara and Hagara Zon'ozz and wipe all night long than do a million dungeons or LFRs where there is really nothing to learn except that I can heal the entire thing with two or three buttons. Having enough Haste for a 2-second Divine Light along with Holy Shock and Word of Glory means I never run out of mana and I never loose anyone to any mechanics. I don't think I've had to hit a single cool-down in a dungeon to save anyone. There is really no good training environment for healing except maybe PvP.

I've been grinding out some Holy gear, but it's some distance away. Maybe in another week or two I'll be able to start PvPing as Holy but for now, I'm just grinding a lot of BGs for achievements and it has been sort of fun to PuG it solo. My Ret PvP gear is about as good as it'll get without me hitting 2200 for the weapons, and I doubt that's going to happen anytime soon.

It's really the dog days lately. And if you've been counting, it's the six-month mark since we had Dragon Soul. We *should* be getting a new raid-tier right about now. On the up-side, with Beta progressing so well, I doubt we have very much longer to wait before Patch 5.0 hits servers. Maybe as early as next month?

A man is hopeful!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dive and Rise

Sometimes I just feel like the game is a sink for me.

Sometimes it turns into a black void like a gravity well and I can't escape the pull of anxiety, anger and frustration that sucks me in and leaves me feeling trapped and helpless. Last night was one of those nights. My pessimistic streak is pretty long and well documented, but I've been trying to stay on the up-side of optimism lately, but it seems like a fragile thing.

The slightest imbalance can throw it off, the tiniest imperfection in execution of a plan becomes a glaring sore that I can't help noticing and the whole thing collapses after that. The performance of raids affects me more than it should. I take my time investment far too seriously, and I think when I perceive a lack of respect for that time from even one or two members, it really galls on me. However, I know not everyone playing this game has a boatload of issues like me, and for most of my guildies, the game is, as they say, "fun." Still, my enjoyment comes from perfect execution and tight, controlled play. I know it's ridiculous, but I'm the guy who loved beating himself over failing add-tank duties on Nefarian.

Last night was one of those nights where things just didn't gel and my healing was part of the reason, but our strategy kept changing as we tried to find something that worked and it just... wasn't. Two hours passed and we gave up on it and moved on... and then wiped to a farm boss which just broke my resolve.

There are a lot of reasons why I'm frustrated. Lack of expectations of performance, a slight tilt away from the kind of hard-mode progression we used to do, a general disagreement about the level of dedication required to get things done... and a lot of it is communication that just doesn't happen. People don't talk or voice their concerns in a civil way, in a neutral environment and the frustration erupts at the worst possible time. None of this is helpful and there were other factors to influence this lovely event.

Part of it was my own failure to count and I hold myself to a far, far higher standard than anyone else, so my anger for the wipe was primarily focused on myself and yet, I still managed to get into a snarling and unfiltered conversation in OChat. After I logged out, I couldn't even sleep, anger and anxiety over a dozen other Real Life things rose up, mixed with the emotions of failure and frustration, and by the morning, I was a barely coherent mess on the verge of tears all day long after I dropped off my son.

Thankfully a couple of friends intervened, both virtually and in person, the meetings I was dreading in the afternoon actually pulled me out of my funk and I feel okay now, but goddamn. Sometimes I let this game get to me too much. I know it's just a game. But it's also a 6 hour a week plus hours spent farming mats and doing other things in game commitment - and I like get a return on my investments.

My RoI in Warcraft is raid progression and a higher Personal PvP rating than the week before.

I'm putting my time into Warcraft to hang out with friends, to gain silly achievements, to level alts and professions, to just enjoy the world, yes... but also to gain some kind of personal, tangible satisfaction in the form of continuous progression, step by step. I guess my frustration level was just getting higher than I realized and it all just erupted in a mess last night.

If the game is a sink of frustration sometimes, I have lifelines out of the mire. Friends who e-mail me to check in, or take me out to lunch to talk about movies and video games, I have my son who'll laugh and run off to roll in the rain-wet grass on the way to daycare, my wife telling me we're going to sit on the couch tonight, eat ice-cream and watch hours of archived shows...

I'm lucky to have so many people to help me out of these pits. It might be all tar and feathers in Azeroth but it's lovely in New York (not really, the weather is just rain rain rain lately, but it's okay, I love the rain.)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Woes of a Hybrid

Maybe not woes so much as indecisiveness.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've gone ahead and removed my Tanking spec to slide into a healing spec and geared myself up reasonably quickly. We have lacked a solid third healer for some time, and this way I can fulfill the raid needs and learn a new spec at the same time. But it has led to other difficulties.

Last night was a good example of this as we finally killed Heroic Zon'ozz while I was healing and it felt damn good to be helping the raid overcome this fight that has held us back for some time.


The boss had close to 5 million health left when enrage hit, but we just kept pushing, as people were dying one by one, and my ineffectual heals did little to help the massive output of damage, I just bubbled, judged, and began to exorcism spam, hoping the dots would do the trick, and they did. There were only 2 or 3 of us left alive but the beast was dead and I released a breath I didn't realize I was holding.


But then, I stared at the heroic bracers that dropped, and wondering, do I bid and loose my spot on the Suicide Kings list? Do I wait for some Retribution gear to drop? Should I be passing all tank gear so the two dedicated tanks can get some gear?


I didn't know what to do. Being the only paladin meant the plate would go to me anyway, but it wasn't fair to everyone else in the raid for me to just gear up without sacrificing my spot - so which is it? What's my main spec?


So began my journey of self-discovery.

At this point, the only fights among the first 6 bosses that we 3-heal are going to be Zon'ozz and Warlord. Last night, we got Heroic Haggara down to ~40% with 2 healers and I think we'll kill her tonight with 2-healers once we clean up Lightning phase and we already 2-heal Morchok, Yor'sahj and Ultraxion.

Spine and Madness will need 3 heals, but that's some time away for us. In the mean time, I'm Retribution for 4 out of 6 heroic bosses that we're working on or killing right now, and I *think* that should be my main spec. If you count the two Deathwing fights, I'll be healing for half the bosses in the raid. Fine. So it doesn't matter, really, which spec I gear up first, I'll need the gear on both. I just need to pick one.



Except.

While my DPS is respectable, it isn't close to what one of the two tanks does as Frost. Her DPS is frequently up there with the Legendary wielding Shadow Priest and Rogue, and it feels more productive for her to be DPSing than me. And I enjoy tanking so much and she enjoys DPS (we refer to DPSing as "being a rock-star" in my raid for some reason) so much, we would both be happier doing the other job.


But.

There are many fights where a Blood Tank is just vastly superior to shield tanks. Yor'sahj, Zon'ozz and Hagara all benefit greatly from Blood Shields and Anti-magic Shells, making the fight much, much easier to heal. So much so that I feel like while I *could* tank those fights with glyphs and trinkets, it would just be easier to have her tank it and keep our progression on a faster pace.

So it seems like my decision is more or less made for me here, I *have* to go DPS for the 4 fights we 2 heal and I'll switch to heals for the other 2 fights. Which means, Retribution is my main-spec and Holy is my off-spec, and I'm sure I'll be geared up for the 2 Deathwing fights by the time we get there just based on off-spec bids.


Which leaves my Protection spec - the best geared of all my specs, the spec I've played non-stop for two expansions - in the dust.


It's an odd feeling but a good one to know that I can do this - that I can switch roles, and help the guild as necessary, be a hybrid class for real instead of just pretending to be a solo-spec class and tanking all the time. We started this expansion with 2 Paladin tanks. We're ending it with a Death Knight and a Warrior. Both of whom are extremely capable and are not holding us back in progression - in fact, it's my lack of experience as a healer that's holding us back right now, if anything. And I love a challenge.



It all feels odd. But good.