Zen and the Art of Raid Leading
There are many styles of raid leading out there in the world. You’ve got the spineless leaders who get walked all over. You’ve got the ragers who scream until people listen. There are folks who insult or belittle others for every little error in attempts to motivate them. Sometimes you find a beggar, honestly imploring their raid to behave better. You have the draconian dictators who hand down severe punishment or even boot people from guilds for relatively minor breaches of execution, and you have “everyone’s buddy” who refuses to ever make the tough calls for fear of upsetting someone just to name a few.
Personally, I try to lead raids with as calm a tone as I can manage. I try to call out raid events with five second warnings, and I make an effort to watch everyone’s positioning and status so I can call out warnings for people to move or note if someone needs an emergency heal. I watch mana bars, know when to call for raid wall, watch Omen to call for salves on DPS without threat drops and coordinate specific actions when it’s needed. It’s usually on *my* word that Blackout gets cleansed on V&T for example, and I’m the only one calling to push a boss into a phase or to wipe and start over.
My raids are like orchestral performances and I’m the conductor. Sure, all the musicians need to know how to play their roles to an acceptable level of skill, but I take it upon myself to set the tempo. The key, however, is to remain calm but never fail to command respect.
As a raid leader, people are going to question your authority. People are going to tell you you’re wrong about a strat or class mechanic, and how you deal with these challenges is critical to the health of your raid. First, never dismiss something simply because it isn’t how you think it should be done unless it’s an obviously flawed idea (solo tanking Nef Phase 1 for example). If there seems to be any merit to the idea at all, inquire for more details. Invite explanation of the idea, and if you still feel it’s not something you should try, provide a good reason for not trying it. If you do use the idea and it works, never try to claim credit for the idea yourself. Likewise, if you decide the idea is a bad one, never allow yourself to be bullied into trying it anyway, and never tolerate someone trying to countermand your final decision. Remember, you *are* the raid leader and ultimately this is not a democracy. Raids need that final decision maker. It has to be you.
You are also going to have people who underperform. It may be a healer who just can’t seem to output a level of healing appropriate to their gear and spec. You’ll eventually have a DPS who simply can’t generate the minimum required for a fight, or a tank that for some reason is as durable as wet tissue paper in spite of gearing correctly. Or, and even more likely, you’ll have someone who flat out just can’t remember to move out of something, or forgets they have a class speed boost when they need it, or can’t seem to pay attention to tank switches. I’ve been raid leading for as long as I’ve been a guild leader, and I’d like to share some things I’ve learned over the years:
- Everyone has an off night eventually, even you. Someone who you know is good at their job suddenly being the worst person on your team for one night could be for any number of reasons up to and including personal tragedy. Now, that isn’t to say you shouldn’t sub them out for the night… but you should probably speak with them privately to see what’s wrong.
- Even if you know everything there is to know about a class and/or fight, that doesn’t mean everyone else does. Holy Priest didn’t Body and Soul the person being chased by the fire in Atramedes air phase? Don’t yell at them or make them feel bad. Simply tell them they should be doing that to help the runner, and see if they do next time. If they continue to neglect doing it, *then* you can get annoyed. Always assume someone simply hasn’t thought of the idea first, and never feel that everyone should always realize the applicability of every trick in their bag the first time they see a fight.
- Just because you can pick up on a fight’s mechanics in one or two tries doesn’t mean other people can. Personally, I rarely need to see a fight more than twice to catalog everything I need to do and to perform my role well enough to not stand in the group’s way. However, I understand that *most* people are not as quick at memorizing mechanics and counters, and that sometimes these people can be your best raiders. Sure, it can be annoying to wipe to a boss for the 7th time because one person hasn’t yet gotten the rhythm of an instant kill attack down, but so long as they’re showing improvement, you’ll get there eventually! So long as it’s not costing you *days* then give them a chance… One of the best raid healers we’ve ever had was widely recognized as being the last person in a raid to fully grasp all mechanics, but once he did he was also one of the most valuable to have around.
- Coach, but don’t belittle. There is a world of difference between “Let’s take a moment to make sure we have our cooldown rotation sorted out for this” and “Play better!”. One is helpful. The other just generally pisses people off. “Hey it looks like you aren’t pulling DPS up to par with where your gear is. I know so and so has a strong grasp of your spec. Can I set up a workshop to figure out what might be going wrong with your DPS?” is how you should do it. “JESUS CHRIST! HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW YOUR SPEC BY NOW?!” is not. “You’re dying to that hazard a lot… what sort of camera settings do you have? Do you have spell effects up enough to see it easily?” is a good start. “BADS R BAD!” is not. “OK, seriously guys, this is a farm boss. Get your heads into the game” is much better than “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!”
- There are limits. While you should make every effort to help an underperforming player do better, there comes a point where the raid no longer needs to suffer them continuing to fail at their role. Let’s say someone is constantly pulling 10K DPS. You have a talk with them, coach them, and for one raid it goes up to 15K, but returns to 10K on the following raid. You mention to them again that they need to be doing more damage, and suddenly it jumps to 15K yet again, next raid, it’s down to 10K. What does this mean? It means they’re capable of pulling 15K all the time, but just don’t care enough to put in 100% effort. This person is a bad team player, they’re bad for the raid, and they should never be taken to content because they are making a conscious choice to underperform and ultimately waste everyone else’s time. The same can be said for healers and tanks too. Consistency is very important, as is willingness to accept advice and to improve. Remember, neither you nor your other raiders should ever feel obligated to carry someone who isn’t trying to stand on their own.
- Sometimes, you do need to get angry, and this is where staying calm the rest of the time is so important. If you can command respect without raising your voice, then the rare times when you do need to raise your voice carry just that much more weight. If you yell all the time, no one cares that this time you’ve added F bombs. If you only bust out the angry voice once every few months, it’s jarring and perhaps even frightening to people. It gets their attention, and leaves no room for wondering about the severity of whatever just happened. Case in point… someone carelessly turning off the ICC buff when we were 18-manning 25man ICC. Not cool… even as an accident, not cool at all.
- No matter how angry you get, never turn it into a personal attack. Feel free to say “For the love of every god, stop standing in the damned Defile, Bob!” and even “Look, last chance, do it again and I’m subbing you out” but never “Bob, you’re a baddy how did you ever even get into this guild in the first place you ‘tard?” Keep your anger to the point. They stood in a Defile multiple times and were the direct cause of wipes. There’s nothing mean about that. It’s true. They can’t debate the fact or the reasoning. They did X and that killed the raid and they keep doing it. If someone takes offense to being confronted with the bare reality of what they did, then they probably shouldn’t be a raider. However, stating the facts of the failure is not the same as personally attacking their overall ability as a player or worth as a person.
- Always run logs. While many times the reason you can’t kill a boss is clear just from watching the attempts unfold, it’s hard to beat logs as an indisputable way to see what the problem is. Think there’s a healer problem? Logs can tell you if a healer is doing less than half of the healing output of any of the others. Think someone’s DPS is oddly low? You can check the spells that they used and see that perhaps they aren’t using a reactionary spell. Such as if a Hunter never used Arcane to burn off extra Focus, or if a Warrior never used Heroic Strike at 70+ Rage. It’s not only good for diagnosing the problem, it’s great for proving to people that you aren’t just picking on them. They really *are* doing something wrong.
- Favor the path of greater ambition. People, like muscles, become stronger from being stressed to their limits. If you’re finding that you’re blowing down a boss easily every week like he isn’t even there, it’s time to fire up hard mode! If you don’t feel like doing that yet, well, at least try to get that boss’s special achievement. It speaks far better of you and your raiders to attempt a hard mode and fail than to never try even though you’re ready for it. Plus, would you rather lose a great raider to being bored, or a mediocre raider to being unable to deal with the stress of progression? I’d rather keep my strongest players happy.
- Always, always have an outlet to vent to. Maybe it’s your best friend in guild. Maybe it’s your OT. Maybe it’s that other guy who takes raiding as seriously as you do, or a raid leader from another guild. Whoever it is, have someone you can trust to unload your frustrations at. Preferably two… just in case the person you need to bitch about is your usual sounding board. We’re human. We get frustrated. We need to let off steam so we don’t explode sometimes. Just don’t do it publicly, and make sure the person you do vent to can be trusted to not pass on what you say, and that they understand what you’re doing and why.
- Remember, raiding is a learning process. There are fights with mechanics where even a minor error can mean a wipe. Especially in 10-man, there are lots of cases where even a single death can turn the attempt from a possible kill, to a practice run that’s now unkillable. There are times where you’ll wipe for hours or even days learning a fight, and there are times you’ll walk in and own it in the first three attempts. If you can’t handle this, then you probably shouldn’t be raiding let along raid leading.
- Study the encounters. Everyone on the raid needs to know how the fight works, but as the raid leader you need to be held to an even higher standard. Keep up with patch notes, and have a modified strat ready if something significant changes in a patch.
- Lastly, whatever loot system you use, stick with it. Even if that means that your worst player eventually ends up with a best in slot item that your best player could use, do not deviate from the established loot system. Your credibility depends heavily on the perception of fairness, and nothing will destroy that faster than giving someone, anyone, an opening to claim that you play favorites with loot. It sounds like a minor thing, but you’d be surprised how fast this one breach of common sense has destroyed guilds. Don’t do it.
There are a lot of ways to lead a raid, but that’s a taste of how I do it. I don’t get a lot of complaints, so hopefully you’ll find the insight useful if you yourself are a raid leader, or perhaps if you’re dealing with a bad raid leader.
Got a story about raid leading, or about a particularly good or horrible raid leader you’ve encountered in your time? Share it in the comments!