In Part 1 we talked about the kind of time commitment hardcore raiding takes right now, and in Part 2 we talked about the kinds of decisions raiders need to make regarding their class, spec, race, and faction in order to maximize the odds of success. This stuff is certainly not rocket science, but I hope it gives an insight into just how much thought goes into the process.
But there are some things that I think are uniquely important to progression and competitive guilds, that most other guilds don't have to contend with.
Part 3: There's No Place Like Home
Most guilds form on a particular server and much of the guild identity is associated with that server's identity - it's likely that most of the members met on the server, formed the guild or joined through a local recruiting effort and have been calling the server home for several months if not years. The familiarity is comfortable and most players have invested in alts with professions and resources that make it difficult to hop servers even if they wanted to.
Hardcore guilds face a significant issue with the server architecture - how do they recruit very well qualified raiders if their server is an undesirable back-water? If the guild is very well established with high world ranking, it's likely that people will transfer regardless of the server, but if the guild is new, or if it wants access to a broader set of raiders, or even if they want access to resources that a broader raiding community brings to the Auction House - they have to consider where they play very carefully.
Do you move to a high-population well-progressed server with several ranking guilds? There are benefits, certainly - you have more choice in recruiting locally, you (likely) have a vibrant AH with many raiding items and resources available and many buyers to grow the guild coffers, and you have competition to encourage you to keep pushing progression.
The con, of course is that the competition is a double-edged sword, and if your guild is struggling at any point, it's not difficult for your raiders to find another guild on the server and that's a constant threat to contend with. The server ranking on a very competitive server can also be misleading - on my server, we are ranked 10th overall and 6th in 10s mode with 9 heroic bosses down. But the server is ranked 5th overall in progression in the US, so on just about any other server, we would be ranked in the top 3 overall, and on over half the servers in the US, we'd be ranked first.
We chose to play on the highest ranked PvE realm in the US (Stormrage). My old server - Moon Guard - currently has one guild in heroic modes, and they are two bosses behind our progression. I was one of the people who lobbied hard for us to transfer to Stormrage because of the pros I listed above, but for me, the highest reason for transferring was the competition. I wanted a server with a very vibrant and competitive environment. I wanted to be looking over my shoulder constantly and making sure our ranking remains in the top-10.
The additional benefits are certainly helpful, the Auction House is miles and miles better than our last server, and we've had very good luck recruiting locally.
So - unlike most guilds, hardcore guilds have to make the decision about their server very carefully. They don't want to get the reputation of being ranking-snipers by switching to a quiet server, and they don't want to handicap or demoralize themselves by moving to a server where they have no chance of competing. The location of a guild tells you much about the culture therein, and what the members wants.
Order of Progression
Image from WoWPedia's Naxxramas article
As seen above, Naxxramas presented an absolutely huge roster of bosses (15 in the one raid alone). 13 of them were available with no gating in 4 wings and the final 2 were gated behind them. The difficulty was even enough, that guilds could do the wings in any order. Many a nights were ruined when new guilds chose to start with Military wing and ran face-first into Instructor Rezuvious.
Anyway, this is a topic that has caused much passionate debate in most raiding guilds, whether hardcore or not. In a tier as broad as Tier 14, with so many choices in terms of places to go and in what order to kill bosses, it's not difficult to abandon raids or extend lock-outs, or skip around and choose one boss over another to kill.
Progression can go in two different directions for the majority of guilds. First, there's the idea of, well, progression! Kill the new boss, and move up the ladder. That's a fairly straightforward concept. But there is also the idea of farming - more loot makes things easier. Certainly, but no serious hardcore guild will spend time on farming loot when they have viable progression bosses that are not gear-gates (very strict DPS checks, for example).
So, for hardcore guilds, it's progression - but what boss do you tackle?
Hopefully, your decision is made bereft of loot concern. If you bring loot into it, then different people will have different bosses they want to get down in order to get the particular item that they're after - so what guides you? One is the established order of progression from guilds that are ahead of you.
For example, to generalize Heroic Tier 14 a bit, the order goes more or less like this for most guilds:
Stone Guard > Feng > Elegon > Gara'jal >
Blade Lord Ta'Vak > Spirit Kings > Wind Lord Mel'Jarak > Garalon >
Will of the Emperor > Lei-Shi ~ Imperial Vizir Zor'lok > Amber-Shaper >
Protectors of the Endless ~ Grand Empress Shek'zeer > Tsulong > Sha of Fear
In our case, we stuck with the order until Blade Lord, then we chose to go after Will right after killing that, then we picked Garalon, and then Wind Lord. Now we're after Amber-Shaper.
For us, the progression order was decided by the ranking weight. Heroic Will was given a lot more weight than the other bosses in the general progression order, so killing Heroic Will gave us a solid lead and breathing room on the ladder against guilds who were still working on that fight. It also gave us the confidence we needed by getting a boss down out of the progression order to get Heroic Garalon and Heroic Windlord down in more or less one night of work, each, getting us to 9/16 heroics.
Is it fair to attack bosses with different ranking weight to improve one's ranking? I think it is, as the rankings are not secret, but others might disagree.
This is by no means a simple conversation - even now, my guild is debating whether Lei-Shi might not be a more viable target than Amber-Shaper. Maybe there is no right answer, and this is a topic that will go around and around every tier as raiders debate what boss is more viable for progression. In a 10s mode guild, you also have to consider composition - on a given night, do you have enough people to do one boss more easily than another? Ideally you have all raiders showing up, but that's not always possible, of course, and I imagine often times the decision is made for you by circumstances.
Regardless, our raid-leaders made the decision and tonight, we will be fighting Heroic Amber-Shaper.
Next time, in the conclusion, I'll try to wrap up this process, and then (rather ambitiously), I'll try to arrive at some general thesis about what progression raiding feels like and why so many people are attracted to it.