As part of starting a guild, I’ve been our raid leader since day one. This was more due to necessity than me feeling I would make a good raid leader; in fact I had always intended to pass the responsibility off to someone else at the soonest opportunity. However, as time went on, I did not feel much of a leadership vibe from any of my raiders, and I was actually starting to enjoy the role myself. I believe I was able to shape the raid environment to have the distinct feeling that Ka Pai’s raids retain today; many of the resounding items of positive feedback I’ve had about the guild and its raids have been centered around the way the raids are run, and the constructive, focused environment they provide. As time has gone on, as raid leader I’ve started noticing some long-term patterns emerging, and these fascinate me. The first (and probably most obvious) is what I call The Wall (highly scientific term).

We have run into The Wall on multiple occasions. This is the unusual phenomenon where as a raid you can be working away at a goal for weeks and weeks (be it a particular encounter, achievement, or instance), and end up getting “stuck” on this one goal for what seems like an inordinate amount of time. Then, when you finally get it down, the very next week you go in and get the encounter down effortlessly.

As I say, this has occurred for us on multiple occasions; most recently on the Yogg-Saron encounter. Our first kill took 5 nights of hard slog (spread across 3 weeks). The following week was a one-shot. So why did this happen? And is there anything that can be learnt for future times that we hit the wall?

Hitting the wall

Unless morale is remarkably high, or momentum is particularly strong, I believe that there is risk of hitting the wall on basically every non-trivial new encounter that the raid faces. Here is the approximate pattern that I have seen whenever Ka Pai hits the wall:

  • The fight is explained, and some time is spent setting up the fight and the appropriate roles.
  • A reasonable attempt is made at the encounter, that ultimately results in a wipe due to being unfamiliar with the fight.
  • A lengthy discussion results that focuses in detail on early aspects of the encounter and how they can be improved on, in attempt to iron out some of the little problems that were noticed.
  • After some time, a second attempt is made, which is far less successful than the first attempt.
  • A period ensues where little further progress is made, and wipe after wipe occurs; people get fed up and frustrated.
  • This can continue for a very long time, with only a little progress being made over that time.
  • If nothing is done to buck the rut, then getting the encounter down is purely a case spending so much time on it that you cannot fail, or dumb luck (getting on the RNG’s good side), or similar.

On the surface, this is simply a case of an inferior geared raid group battling against a challenging encounter, and employing the “practice makes perfect” mantra – they spend so much time on the encounter that it becomes second nature, and is eventually beaten. However, I’d suggest that there is something deeper going on – that this is more of a subconscious psychological effect than it might first appear to be. I believe these may be some of the things that are going on:

  • The tone of the raid leader changes. Instead of talking about how to beat the encounter, they start talking about how to avoid doing particular things in early phases of the fight (e.g. I spent a long time discussing how to avoid clouds on Yogg).
  • Raiders are given copious amounts of information and instructions about what to do, and, more importantly, what not to do.
    • Firstly, the human brain is not as good at multitasking as we might like to think. Give someone any more than 2 or 3 things to focus on, and the activities which are not receiving the main focus are going to suffer as a result. This is readily seen with healers and DPS becoming “tunnel visioned”.
    • Secondly, I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you give someone something to think about then they will likely subconsciously act it out. If you tell someone not to do something, then unless they are focusing a lot of conscious energy into not doing it, they will likely continue to do that thing without thinking about it; simply because that thing they are not supposed to do is still in the back of their mind.
  • Large amounts of time are spent on explanation. Information overload happens quickly, and raiders zone out.

Of course the caveat of being a psychological effect, is that if it can be understood, it can be avoided, or nipped in the bud when it is noticed to be occurring. The hard part is working out how.

Going around the wall

Based on my thoughts on the above information, I have been trying some of the following things, with varying degrees of success. I’m not suggesting you try all (or even any) of these, but hopefully they are food for thought.

  • If there are many parts or complex phases to a fight, I make it clear before any explanation takes place that we are going to build on each attempt for the first few attempts. I let my role leaders know how many tanks/healers we need, briefly what jobs they will need to be doing, and let them assign the appropriate people. I give a brief “high-level” rundown of the entire encounter, but only give full details for the early parts. Following a wipe, I keep it positive, highlight one or two things that can be improved on in the early part if necessary, then set up details for the later parts of the fight. I believe these pulls/wipes can teach the basic concepts of the fight in a much quicker fashion than a 10 minute spiel about the fight. Give an overview of the fight, and let raiders learn the detail through experience. This process of building up the strat should only take 2-3 attempts, don’t let it drag out too long.
  • As a raid leader, I try to continue to keep a confident tone, and to keep the subject of my discussions focused on the later phases of the fight. I try to talk like I know and truly believe that the raid is going to get the fight down this attempt. I don’t talk as though this attempt is just a step on the way to getting a kill. If every attempt becomes another step, then we never have our sights on the final goal, and subconsciously my raiders are not set up to reach that goal – instead, they’re set up to have a “better wipe” – this is not a good thing. The exception to this is the buildup of the first few attempts (as outlined above), where it’s expected to be a wipe, and I’m simply trying to convey the mechanics of the fight quickly.
  • Knowing that raiders can get tunnel visioned easily, I actively do three things to ensure that the mechanics of the fight take precedent over individual threat, DPS, or healing.
    • As best I can, I try to boil each role down to one or two very simple tasks. I try not to give instruction overload. For example, a ranged DPS on Yogg might have the phase 1 instructions “Assist tank X, and focus on avoiding clouds”.
    • To supplement these basic instructions, I try to provide “advice” for how people can do their job better. Notice that this turns the whole concept of telling someone what not to do, on its head. Instead of saying “don’t run in front of clouds if you need to go around them” I’ll say “make sure you run behind clouds, as that way you have to move less distance”. I’ll usually try to give a sensible reason for any advice that I give also – this seems to help the advice “click” in peoples’ heads, and makes it more memorable; and of course makes it seem less like I’m making things up just for the sake of saying them. Treat your raiders as the intelligent humans that they are.
    • Finally, if there is any one important fight mechanic that is not really happening due to not enough raider focus being dedicated to it (e.g. avoiding clouds in Yogg, or getting out of Shadow Crash on Vezax), I will state as clearly as possible that I simply do not care about what their [DPS/Healing/Tanking] is like, so long as they are getting that one fight mechanic right. I’ll explicitly state, that they should focus on performing that mechanic over and above the actual role that they are there to do. This sounds a little extreme, and one might think that suddenly DPS drops to zero and healers don’t do their job. In truth, I’ve found that people are so deeply ingrained to do their job, that this only tips the mental balance just enough to get them to focus slightly more on the fight mechanic – but usually that focus is enough to push through to the next phase. The idea being, that if they focus on getting it right, then after a while it becomes second nature, and they don’t need to focus on it at all – the DPS and healing is secondary, and comes naturally once the fight mechanic is practiced.

Most importantly, my focus as raid leader is always on beating the encounter, not what was wrong about the previous attempt.

Incidentally, I have no formal psychology training, although sociology and psychology both interest me greatly. If there is a technical term for what I’ve described above, I’d love to know what it is so I can investigate further – be sure to let me know!