I think normal-mode guilds cannot afford to be casual anymore given the difficulty level of current tiers. Flex raiding coming in 5.4 has the potential to improve this frustration, particularly for casual guilds but it also has the potential to dramatically shrink the recruitment pool for normal-mode guilds.
This is not to say that casual players shouldn't be raiding, or any of that elitist nonsense. Of course everyone has a right to raid, as much as they have a right to access any level of content in the game. And I'm alway glad when more people get to play the way they want.
However - I feel that more and more, the content is being driven to a smaller and smaller subset of people. This sort of targeting is great, as the content is now more focused to the right audience but it comes at a pretty steep cost.
Back in the day
Let's look back at Vanilla/TBC content, when raids were linear, fights were balanced around class composition and finding attuned characters made recruiting a living hell for guilds. Wrath eased this by removing attunements, allowing for guilds to raid with 10 people, normalizing abilities and fights to "bring the player not the character" and providing a very quick catch-up mechanism though badge (now valor) gear. This worked well, but tiers were forgettable and grew old rather quickly as the new tier of badge gear invalidated the old raids immediately.
Cataclysm took this to an extreme where nobody even ran older raids once the next tier launched, and as Tier 12 and 13 both has fewer bosses than Tier 11, the whole thing was terribly lopsided. Cataclysm might been the worst raiding in WoW history. The difficulty curve for Tier 11 was very high, and while Tier 12 and 13 was normalized (re: nerfed by 20% a month in) a bit, it still felt too much for casual guilds to progress through. LFR provided the answer there, by allowing completely casual people to raid and see content.
Mists combines a lot of these ideas - there is still no attunement, valor gear is a bit more difficult to get but is less effective than current tier raiding, and there is no immediate "catch up" mechanism. Guilds that progressed first have an advantage but it's not overwhelming - players and guilds have to work pretty hard to catch up and LFR feels like it's a thing on the side, another gearing avenue, and normal/heroic raids remain the benchmarking of raiding. I'm quite happy here. It feels like a good medium level of compromise between the various aspects of raiding.
Movin' on up!
One of the things I liked about LFR as compared to normal mode is that LFR introduced and inspired people to do normal raids. When I moved back to Moon Guard, I've met a few people through PUGs who have started raiding for the first time after they grew bored of LFR and they're good players. I think LFR was intended to inspire people to move up the difficulty ladder and I'm certain that these people will slowly train and become very good raiders in their own time.
This also allowed the design team to make sure fights weren't forgiving. Encounters like Horridon, Council, Durumu, Iron Qon, and Lei Shen were brutally hard in the first few weeks. I was playing with some amazing people, and we took 3 weeks to clear the tier and that was after putting in 12 hours a week, every week rather than our usual 9.
Things Cost More on the Ladder
When people move into normal modes from LFR, particularly in a group that's progressing, the difficulty and gear check can be a huge roadblock. And Blizzard has explicitly stated that they expect you to work on your gear outside of normal mode raids - i.e., through LFR, though Valor purchases, through upgrades, crafted materials, heroic scenarios... there are a lot of avenues so each week, regardless of progression, each team grows stronger. iLevel is a very real consideration with these bosses as raw throughput is the line between enrage and kill sometimes.
So - in light of all this, when an LFR player who is used to more-or-less queue and raid and kill has to move into normal modes, there is this daily maintenance involved.
You have to do a bit of research, you need to stay current with your gear, you better be hitting your weekly caps with charms and valor, and you better be practicing your class. If you aren't, it's going to be difficult for the team to progress.
That's all there is to it. I don't begrudge it, I enjoy this increased level of responsibility and I like that there is a "you must be this tall to raid" barrier and it generally only takes me a small amount of time in game to accomplish this. But it does mean that if your team isn't willing to do the work, you will have a hard time playing the game.
But Wait! There's More!
So what am I going on about? Flex raids. I know why they are coming, I support the developers in their goals of making content accessible, and I appreciate just how hard it is to raid with twelve people on your roster.
But the nature of it such that I fear it will stem that upward transition. People will go from LFR to flex rather than normal, simply because of the lower level of commitment required. Flex is designed to handle a wide variety of play-styles, particularly the casual style, and it won't require as much from raiders as normal modes by definition.
My main concern with this, is that flex-raids will cause the already
shrinking pool of raiders to contract even more. As you can gain
achievements in flex, it further strips away a reason to step up to
Fear is the Mind Killer
Naturally, it's a silly thing to worry about, and if people are happy doing flex-raids, so be it. And I know that greater diversity and choice is a better thing for the game in the long run, and if the commitment required to raid normal modes is so high that it infringes on people's ability to raid and enjoy the game - then so be it, let them move on.
And there is always the possibility that flex raiders will grow out of the difficulty level. If people progress from LFR to normal mode, then there's hope that people will do the same from flex. There is another rung on the ladder and the glass ceiling is really just a time commitment.
The whole thing really has put me in two minds. One part of me is very glad and happy to see more flexibility in raiding for people, as human resources are the most complicated part of raiding. But another part of me is worried that this will make recruitment even more difficult than it already is.
Here's hoping I'm wrong.
Can you tell I'm tearing my hair out trying to find people to raid?