Monday, August 22, 2011

Raid Management: The Keys to Success

I have been raiding for around 4 years now. In my time I’ve been part of 4 different raid guilds. I speak regularly to friends of my previous guilds who still play on Khaz’goroth, and naturally we discuss our progress with our respective guilds. Whereas my stories are generally those of success and progression (Firelands cleared and working on heroics), my friend’s stories are those of despair and anguish. I care for my previous guildies so I try to give as much advice as I can, but the more we talk the more I realise, the problem does not lie with the strategy but with the raid group itself.

So why are some guilds more successful than others, even though their goals are the same? I posed the question to my fellow writer Quadilious and after only a few minutes we were repeatedly using the same terms: Attitude, Communication, Organisation, Discipline, Research, two words Raid Management.

What about Gear and Skill?
So let’s look at what you need for a successful raid. When I originally spoke with my friend about the difference in success between our guilds, her first comment was “Well you are much better geared than us...” No, gear is not required for a successful raid. It helps but it is not required. Being better geared may have helped at the start of Firelands, sure, but everyone’s gear levels were the same for BWD and BoT. As I see it, gear is a bi-product of a successful raid. And also if successful raids require good gear then how did Paragon get world first kills of end bosses and even heroics only a few weeks into this expansion?

At this point I expect to get the “Yeah, well, Paragon are super-skilled players...” Again, that’s not the difference between success and failure. I see plenty of talented players in Ultima Ratio and have seen skilled players in GOAT and Incursion as well, so what excuse will they use? Skill is most often not the problem. And what do people mean by “Skill” anyway? If I don’t die to fires on the ground, or can successfully navigate through tornadoes, does that make me skilled? I think, that just means I have good awareness. What about using tricks, like jump-disengaging, etc? Again, that just means I heard about a trick, read up about it and practiced it. I think the term “skilled player” gets used a little too loosely at times. Skill comes from experience and research in my opinion, and any player can become “skilled” with a little effort and - key word – Research.

Research and Preparation
Here is my first key to success in a raid environment – Research, or more importantly Research, Preparation and knowledge. When I spoke with my friend about her trials in Firelands, this was one of the first things that popped up. In my opinion, her guild just wasn’t prepared enough to tackle the content. You see it all the time “go watch a video of the fight”. Ok. Then what? Just watching the strategy isn’t always enough. I told her how our guild coordinates raid cooldowns for every fight. She replied that some of her guildies didn’t even know they had raid cooldowns. A Pally who doesn’t know what Aura mastery is for, or a warrior that doesn’t use Rallying cry, that’s a lack of research right there.

When you are about to tackle a new boss, everyone in the group should be familiar with boss mechanics and fight strategies. However, at least the raid leader should be familiar with cooldowns and other abilities this particular group has available and when they should be used. He should know prior to the fight how many Rallying Cries, Aura Masteries, Power Words: Barrier, Tranquilities, Anti-Magic Shells and Hymns the group has available. Of course the players should know how to get the most out of their abilities and to know they even have those abilities. When researching it is a good idea to watch more than just one video, maybe check for class specific videos and definitely read the comments. You can find all sorts of tips and tricks by just reading comments.

From this point I could segway into so many other keys, but I will choose leadership as my next topic. A successful raid needs to have good leadership. Every guild has raid etiquette rules that they expect their raid members to adhere to. Well, first and foremost a group needs a leader to enforce those rules. All players should be held to the same standards. There should be no clashing egos, preferential treatment or power trips, and simply no excuses. You either perform or you sit. If the raid leader allows two sets of standards he will have nothing but problems on his hands for the whole night.

Some guilds choose to use multiple role leaders to run a raid which is fine, but it can also lead to chaos. As the saying goes “Too many cooks can spoil the brew” and this can ring true in a raid environment.

The raid leader should be a player who is respected by his fellow guildies. More often than not he is already part of the guild leadership. He should be player who leads by example, treating others fairly, and a player who can make the difficult decisions when it comes to team selection and loot distribution. He will be responsible for coordinating cooldowns and fight strategies and therefore should have a general knowledge of all aspects of the fight and all classes. He will also be responsible for announcements during raid and therefore should not be shy. Besides being knowledgeable, he should also be positive and confident. One word of advice though. The line between confidence and arrogance is a thin one at best.

Leadership also will have a major impact on other keys to raid success – Organisation and Communication. In my opinion, these two terms are the biggest reasons why Ultima Ratio are that much more successful than previous guilds. They are so organised for each boss fight (in comparison to previous guilds), down to almost every little detail. Consider Baleroc for a moment. Prior to the fight there will be a macro spammed that will allocate all the DPS to groups of 3 for Crystal rotations. Then the same is done for healers, assigning them all to a specific crystal group. Now each player knows their job during the fight. The same is done for Beth’tilac will all the DPS allocated to a specific corner to control the Spiderlings or to the drones. On Majordomo Staghelm, a macro is spammed that will tell all players which player is to use a defensive raid cooldown and at which Flamescythe to use them at. These are simple methods that organise the tools the raid group has available. Leave all players to their own devices and you get chaos, like unnecessarily stacking multiple cooldowns when only one was asked for. Organising goes as far as equally splitting DPS and healers so no side is lacking, or placing raid markers for stack points. We have all these tools available to us we may as well use them.

Which brings me to communication. Having every player yell out at the same time is not communication, it’s chaos. During a raid the voice channel you are using should be kept clear and reserved only for calls of importance. Ideally only the raidleader and any other authorised player (for instance trap-dancers on Ragnaros) should be using the voice channel. It may also be good practice to establish prior to raids what kind of information is useful to be broadcast. Here are some example of what may be considered useful information:

1.     Certain players may be authorised to announce when a fight mechanic is activated by the player, which will have a significant impact on the raid group (i.e. Ragnaros Traps).

2.     Raid leaders call out players to activate cooldowns or battle-rez. The key here is to call out not just the ability but also which player to use it. Nothing worse than two players activating battle-rez on the same player at the same time.

3.     A healer may call out when a low-health target is out of range. This will alert other healers that they may need to heal someone.

4.     Countdown before the pulls. This allows for pre-potting and good positioning by the raid group.

5.     Calling out phase changes or incoming fight mechanics. This should be left to the raid leader and raid leader only.

There are of course many more perfectly valid announcements to make, but it is up to your guild and raid leadership to decide what they are.

What about using more than one channel to split up the raid group? This is a bad idea. Why? Well, first off, I’ve already shown that defensive cooldowns are not just limited to one role but to all. How will you call them if some players are in different channels? Good communication is a valuable tool and is part of good organisation.

Discipline and Attitude
The last two terms I want to mention are discipline and attitude. Again these two go hand in hand. Bad discipline often comes from bad attitude. If a player makes a mistake and his reply is he doesn’t care, well that’s a bad attitude. He should care, as that mistake may have cost the group a kill. It is important to get into the mindset that everything that everyone does matters. The attitude of a player should always be positive, from the raid leader down to the lowest DPS. Raid leaders especially need to lead by example. If the raid leader does not believe a boss is killable, how can he expect the rest of the group to believe that?

As I said before discipline is directly influenced by the attitude of the group. Good discipline is essential to the success of the raid. In military terms discipline is often regarded as “doing what you’ve been asked to do, when asked to do it”. And that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Good discipline means focusing on your job and executing when called upon. Bad discipline is distracting other players, or arguing when asked to do something. Bad discipline should never be tolerated. Bad discipline and a bad attitude are contagious. Leave it in the group long enough and it will spread. Once again it is up to the raid leader to enforce good discipline, holding all players to the same standards.

Raid Management
All these above topics are part of good raid management. They are also all connected in some way. Improve one area and it will affect another or all other areas. Improve leadership and it will affect organisation and communication, and definitely will have an impact on attitude and discipline. If your guild is struggling on progression, maybe I have just pointed out the issues that your raids are hampered with. With a little change in how you do things you may make a big difference. Implementing changes can be difficult, however. Not everyone will be open to ideas presented here. Difficult choices will need to be made. You may want to call a guild meeting and discuss the goals and focus of your raid teams, before implementing radical changes. One way could be to entice your guildies to give their opinions on what the problems are and then provide your suggestions.

Some people may feel that some points I raised were a little harsh. Remember that I am only discussing some ideas here. If the raid group feels like enforcing such raid rules on communication or attitude, detracts from the fun, then so be it. But what’s more fun than killing bosses? In the end it is up to you to decide what’s right for your guild. Sticking to these methods helped Ultima Ratio to progress through Firelands and maybe some of them can help your guild improve as well.

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