On Improving

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Div 1 (now Open Class) Finals at Gillette Stadium. Yeah, I guess I’m old.

There’s a phrase that they tell people who participate in Drum Corps. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” And while I don’t march anymore, I try to apply the idea to raiding each and every time.

At the same time, while in Drum Corps, (the NFL to the Pop Warner of your high school’s marching band) we understood that perfection was a thing that was something you always strove for. You reached for it always, but there was always a little bit more that you could give, improve, tweak, fix. For Drum Corps the end goal is finals competition; a Super Bowl of marching that results in some of the most athletic nerds you’ll ever see. But in raiding, the end goal is the kill.

That boss that we want to go down. And the thing is, and unlike the marching arts of my previously mentioned allegory, there’s always another boss, another kill, another patch just as soon as you reach something very close to perfection.So for those of us who want to do things as well as we can in the raiding world, each and every time, how do we cope? We improve, and we improve constantly.

The Little Things

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Sometimes I hear, “I don’t see what difference it makes.” I heard it a lot as a raid leader, and I heard it recently in a guild meeting. As a raid leader, I would have laughed at the person while telling them do it or else, (okay, I still laughed because I genuinely thought they were joking at first, but I’ve drunk deeply from the kool aide) but I’m not the raid leadership, an officer, or anyone else. All I can do is keep everything in my own area in line and encourage people to care about little things.

If you make one mistake, it’s just a tiny thing on it’s own. However, as we have all learned, most of our raid teams for the next six months are not all robots. The thing in question that didn’t make the difference was buff food vs. table food.  In their own right, they had a point, food if you aren’t making it can add up to a lot of money! Did it make a difference? It was only a tiny bit of DPS that would result from eating the more expensive food, and it shouldn’t matter.

Before my eyes flashed every first kill that I’ve ever experienced that was three or less people alive, with people screaming in encouragement to that person to “Kill it, kill it, KILL IT!!”.

Do the little things make a difference? Yes. Even if you only did 100 more DPS per second because of food that 100 DPS extra per second equals an extra 66,000 damage to a boss at the end of an 11 minute boss fight. 66,000 damage isn’t a lot of damage on it’s own, but when you consider that it’s there just for eating the correct food and then doing what you would have been doing already it becomes a pretty amazing bonus. Just like mistakes, the little things we do right can push us towards a kill.

Healthy Competition

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Credit: /u/nykana

Confession time. Sometimes I like being the only Warlock. Want a closet? Me. Want Healthstones? Me. (Drink your Tonics you cheapos!!)

Except, it’s not; and, I really don’t.

One of the things about my guild when I joined them that made them attractive is that there were two other Warlocks. While one turned into a tank (their rightful place, I’d argue, as they’re a really good tank); it’s nice having someone playing the same class as me as a healthy measure of what I am doing right and wrong; and where I can improve.

When I was doing less DPS than the other Warlock it gave me a benchmark of gear to catch up with. When I got close, it gave me a reason to make adjustments to my spec, to rotations, movement, placement, and even priorities.  I felt like I could never catch up, and I actually got discouraged until I started getting close again. I had to have a sense of humor about it, and made jokes about my own DPS to get through it on occasion.

And then one night I heard him say “I don’t care what my DPS is as long as I’m the biggest purple bar.”  At first, I thought he was kind of full of himself, I even got kind of huffy about it, even though I’ve said the same thing myself many a time about other Warlocks.

But one night in a raid, I realized it doesn’t matter if my DPS was bigger than his. It’s nice sometimes when it is so that my ego doesn’t get too bruised. We all like to feel good about ourselves. What’s best is if we are one, two on the charts; I don’t even care about the order as long as a Hunter doesn’t wedge their way in there. What does matter is that our DPS is close to one another’s and that we drive each other to constantly do better.

Dot vs Form

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There’s a common argument in the marching arts. Dots or Form?  Every group learns how put on the field the, for lack of a better term, shapes, that they create while marching through a bunch of printed dot pictures with numbers on that indicates where they are marching. “This is my dot!” we would proclaim at one another while pointing to the diagrams with our assigned numbers as if it really mattered when a circle was lumpy and misshapen.

Once everything gets in motion, you have to decide if you want to have the shape, aka “The Form” looking perfect or everyone carefully measuring where they should stand based upon computerized measurements of how a drawing would be created with these “Dots”. I guess you can guess which school of thought I come from.  What I’m saying is: It doesn’t matter how people do it, as long as everyone does it the same or else you will have everyone in a perfect line with someone off in the distance screaming “BUT I’M ON MY DOT!!!” unable to accept that they look like an asshole.

Raids are a lot like that. If someone doesn’t adhere to the plan, or doesn’t understand what the plan is or doesn’t move with and help the hivemind that is the raid, then they’re left alone screaming (or silently fuming) that they’re right, when sometimes they’re wrong.

For my guild, that dot and form for all of us was Heroic Imperator Mar’Gok. We wanted our Ahead of the Curve achievement and set aside only a small fraction of our raid time to work on him. In phase three, we turned into lone dots while we killed each other slowly with the brands, something a guild that is nearly ten years old should never be doing. I cried in whispers to my friend between pulls because everyone was usually so good at communicating.

Bouncing brands was, traditionally the other two Warlock’s jobs in normal, and then other varying combinations (Hunter/Hunter, Hunter/Warlock) when we came in on heroic. Somehow, these combinations didn’t work out. The rest of the raid would be too slow in getting the brand to them in the essential third phase, or they would be unable to get away, people backpedaled, or at one point only one person was bouncing brands which made me want to pull my hair out.

The last time, I wound up bouncing brands with my fellow Warlock, and it was suddenly drastically different. If we noticed people not moving fast enough or too fast, our desire to push through the phase pushed one another to hustle people back to us and away from us in a timely manner. We were, as they say dressing the line; dot became form and Imperator Mar’Gok was dead within an hour.

It wasn’t that our raid leadership had failed us by not calling these things out for us before the two of us had decided to. It was that they simply had too many things to say, address, communicate, and do. A lot happens in some fights. The person calling for healing cooldowns sometimes can’t be expected to help people with their debuffs and the tanks are a bit busy communicating with each other.

While everyone could see the information, it’s on everyone to help shoulder the entire weight to help share the burden of getting a thing right rather than just looking to the raid leadership with expectant eyes and then huffing about it privately. That isn’t to say you should always be hustling people along, but decide:  Form, or the dot?

Reset please, reset please… RESET PLEASE, RESET PLEASE.

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(Okay, this picture isn’t DCI, but it’s from a rehearsal with the mentioned visual instructor my high school’s marching band.)

One of my earliest marching memories is of my visual instructor repeating the words reset until it became one long tone “Reset Please. Reset Please.” while we ran back to clean up. He was always polite, but he knew if we hurried, we could have more time for repetition. Instead we were painfully slow, because were high school aged kids who didn’t really understand time management too well, and it was hot out. The slower we were, the louder he got.

When a raid wipes, and takes longer than needed, I can hear him repeating it in my head, sometimes I wish I had him as a vent soundboard. How much time does a raid lose when we wipe? Wiping costs a lot of time, no matter who we raid with. If you miss the call for a mass res, or there just isn’t one, wipe recovery takes even longer.

I see some people make the most out of running back, eating on the elevators, summoning pets and minions while running, buffing themselves and the raid and using group movement buffs.  Some people use that time to… I’m not really sure what. I’m of the first camp, and if you follow me on twitter you know I’m sometimes crying about how long resets take, especially when someone needs time for something we just took the time to do, (such as a repair bot/mount right after we dropped one). To be fair, some of that resetting time is used to fix raid issues, which is productive wipe reset time.  I am an imperfect person; and I am impatient.

It’s all about time management, and keeping people’s minds present on the raid as repetition is the name of the game while learning multiphase fights. Can you take that bathroom break now, or does your raid have a scheduled bathroom break in 10 minutes? I’ve been of the mindset that you perform better when you have to pee and if you kill the boss, you get the bathroom break sooner. Just like the little bit of DPS adds up, 30 seconds here, 30 seconds there turns into one more pull that downs a boss.

And again.

70+ Wipes Later...

70+ Wipes Later…

“I just want to test how it goes.” I heard the tank say to the raid before starting a pull timer. We had been wiping on this heroic boss for an hour, and the tanks were making a small change that would likely wipe us again before we got it right. Augment Runes cost 65 gold each at minimum on my server, and have only getting more expensive since the bot ban. I hesitated before clicking on one, and starting on my opener. We wiped at 44% but we worked out a tanking conundrum.

Would I have saved myself consumable money for potions, Runes, and food? Certainly. However, knowing exactly how my DPS, rotation, cooldowns, and consumables line up for the fight with any possible changes was better. Sure, I could see where my cooldowns, consumables and everything else are the next time when we all knew, but muscle memory is an amazing tool towards helping people succeed at repetitive tasks.

And while the Rune could be considered “Just a small amount” similar to table or regular fish, it all adds up to doing things right, and putting the (left) right (left) foot forward for your raid, and practicing perfectly. Also, if used raid consumables become a waste when they get used in raids for progress, then you might be using them wrong.

At the end of the day, if you want to improve, you can’t hold back. Lay it all out on the table every time, and make every moment of your raids count. Even if things aren’t going perfectly around you, there’s still the chance to get things absolutely right. After all, if you don’t believe that you can do it, what are you doing there?

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Originally posted in Issue 10 of Game On’s WoW Community Magazine.

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