Yesterday, Hugh over at the MMO Melting Pot summarized a little wildfire that’s currently spreading since WoW’s latest patch: the whole weekly Valor Point cap deal after 4.2. We can probably most agree that Blizzard’s continued effort to undermine the status of raiding in WoW is deplorable – on a more general note though, it was another old friend of mine piquing my interest in some of the debates: the ever-returning topic of gear. To be more precise, the importance of gear as a factor in beating WoW’s encounters.
Gnomeaggedon just had a similar article up, interestingly enough on PVP, yet with the same underlying issue: the fixation some players have with gearscore, item levels or stats in WoW. In WoW of all MMOs, that most flexible and accessible game of them all. Reading how his otherwise no doubt friendly and decent new guildie made a fool out of himself in BG chat, I cringed a little – people still really do this, huh.. Asking for your gearscore before a 5man run? An achievement before inviting you to a lousy pickup raid? Comparing meters? Ragequitting over purples?
Were we ever that young?
I am no stranger to progress drive or perfectionist mindset. I even sympathize a little with WoW players hopelessly lost in compulsive gear-rush-limbo. I used to be like that myself, a long time ago when 40mans were new and raiding was a more elitist club. Back in pink vanilla, everyone believed gear was where it’s all at. To be fair, we had more reasons to believe so too. People sported their shinies around AH bridge in Ironforge and oh, did those epics tell a story! For one thing because not everyone else and his sixth alt’s cousin had them, for another because it took a long time and 39 more people to get you that set. Enchants were few and precious, there was no jewelcrafting, no inscription, no reforging, no endless list of consumables and buffs. You really wanted a decent arrangement of gear and many encounters were rather unforgiving when it came to certain stats or resistances. So, we chased our purples eagerly from Stratholme to Molten Core, from Blackwing Lair to Naxxramas.
Then along came the Burning Crusade and we slowly began to smell the rat. Gear popped up from every corner, at increasing speed. Hardly a second to enjoy a completed set of Tiers, BOOM the next would follow – better, shinier, more purple than your purple! Then, there were suddenly all these craftable epics, some of them just as good or better than raid rewards. Plus cheap, welfare badge epics that would do the job just as well. As if all that wasn’t enough off the attunements went – in the talent and stat buffs came, in the content nerfs towards the end of the first expansion. More gear thrown at you, more gear than you could hope to wear in a hundred years. It was like purple Christmas at the shopping mall. And with the loot choice curve rising steep, another curve began to fall rapidly: the significance of specific items towards progress.
That’s when I finally had enough, somewhere at T6. I had this disturbing image in my mind, of myself as a donkey chasing a pixel carrot that Blizzard kept replacing faster and faster. I felt foolish and ridiculous. Not just that, I spent loads of time grinding epics just so they were a wee bit better than more accessible alternatives. Ridiculous. On our way to Black Temple, it was popular belief that you needed a complete mix of T5 and T6 to beat Illidan. Short time later, we saw Nihilum’s world first killshot with half their squad posing in Karazhan gear and craftables among the odd BT set item. Pardon? You need what? Ridiculous…
I still collected gear sets later on, make no mistake; I love gear from a cosmetic point of view, always have, and a Deputy GM can’t run around in rags. But I had come a far, far way from the rushing, pushing and obsessing over gear being the determining factor for Adrenaline’s progress. Bosses don’t rise and fall over blue gems or 20 more intellect on a trinket. If you think they do, maybe you’re looking for solutions in the wrong place? Especially with the complexity some boss encounters have gained over time in WoW, there are far bigger, more tide-turning challenges for a team than collecting the best possible gear at the highest possible speed. Gear is not performance and it never wins that duel (they make a good team though).
If it makes you feel more secure about your own performance or if you enjoy the maximizing frenzy, that’s one thing and knock yourself out. However, as long as you’re not in the sort of guild that raids for, y’know money or something and just needs to progress as fast as humanly possible, it does not matter if your gearscore is XX10 or XX50 and it won’t ruin a run if you didn’t upgrade medium Tier epic to super Tier epic. You can still be competitive and you can still progress at decent speed.
The min-maxing, the cookie cutting, the lengthy preparations – they are self-imposed. Let’s say it together: self-imposed. We’ve been through this before: Blizzard never forced their playerbase to min-max so extremely, it’s the players who choose to do it and tolerate all sorts of drudgery in return. The thing is, the list of all things you can always “possibly do better” is endless.
Good is good enough
A long while back, Tessy wrote a follow-up post on a not so unlike debate at the time – healers using healing addons (or not). And she nailed easily what was an embarrassing show-off in other places: if it works for you, it works for you. If you’re good with addons, you’re good. If you’re just as good without them, you’re just as good. It’s the outcome that matters and outcome is a collective term for a multitude of aspects that need to coincide. Especially in a team of 10 to 25 people.
Now for argument’s sake, if you really, really wanted to go there; well, then I’d say you’ve got guts for doing stuff with less – less preread strategy, less buffs, less gear, smaller numbers. Assuming that’s what challenges or entertains you. In terms of outcome though, it’s completely beside the point. A little harder, “cooler”, more “oldschool” (or whatever you wanna call it) doesn’t equal better or smarter – it only means you’re doing it differently. We can allow ourselves a bit of “private vanity” sure, as long as we don’t mistake our way for the one way.
Outcome is what counts. The rest is attempts to socially distinguish yourself or get a kick. I’ll admit freely to some ego myself, but I do know it when I see it (it’s bloated that way). I know my inner demons too, I don’t take them too seriously. The times I went overboard with my private perfectionism in WoW were when I wanted to, not because it was required. I didn’t speed race to exalted in Silithus (:trauma:) for that epic mace and offhand because Benediction wasn’t good enough. I did it because too many people had the yellow staff and I was a vain priest with too much time on her hands.
In my lengthy writeup on healing coordination a while back, I put emphazis on not telling other healers how to play their class. As long as they achieved their assignments consistently, I could not care less how they did it. And I hold to that lesson. My perfect raid team is a team where I do not have to adjust or check a single person’s spell rotation, gear or talent choices. You don’t second-guess what’s working. That goose might stop laying golden eggs.
My challenge, your challenge
Progressing through WotLK 25man, we often outgeared content we beat in my guild. I dreaded these kind of kills, such a lacking glory it was to challenge a boss in epics from head to toe when it was manageable with much less. I’m all for being well-prepared and knowing your strategy; but I actually love encounters that force you down on your knees. When your team needs to click like a well-oiled machine, when it’s all about individual performance, knowing your class in and out, situational awareness, reflexes, perfect coordination and communication. Funny enough, that’s usually also when people have more tolerance for each others mistakes than the pro geared and overconfident bunch.
Ain’t no victory like the victory of the underdog, carrying the trophy home, be it in PVE or PVP. It’s those kills we never ever forget. I’d say too, it’s when your team’s true colors show in all their shades, the way you can otherwise never tell. For similar reasons, some players attempt 2-manning content that is meant to be 5-manned. Or show up with 8 instead of 10 peeps. They want to test how much they can achieve, how far they can go together. Test the limits, raise the stakes – not lower them.
And that’s why the VP rush for Firelands strikes me as bizarre: players are supposed to have all that gear now BEFORE they even put foot in a brand new instance? Says who? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?
Don’t believe a word they say
I should mention that I don’t exclusively blame WoW’s playerbase for the optimization mania. Blizzard have had their share over the years, implementing features like the armory and designing the game to allow for such an approach. Still, you’re ultimately in control of your choices and I hope you farm 5mans for epics every day because it’s fun, not because you think you need rewards badly that will be outdated come next patch. Time and again Blizzard, the webforums or the blessed people of hearsay have tried to intimidate us by naming benchmarks, required specs or setups, “what you really need” and “what you really cannot do” to beat certain encounters.
You know what: we’ll see about that. In Molten Core, they told us there was NO WAY we could raid without protection specced tanks. We had zero, up to Nefarian. They told us we couldn’t use offspec healers when they were our majority, all our stubborn feral druids healing in resto gear and several shadow priests healing along with their Benedictions up (another proof of how gear mattered a bit more in WoW 1.0.). Next, they told us how we really needed so and so much fire resistance for Ragnaros. Right. Towards the end of vanilla WoW, all the cool kids went straight to AQ40 first, because “No way you can do Naxx before AQ!” Thank god we were such rebels…we’d never have experienced original Naxxramas 40 otherwise. You can keep your fugly Tier 2.5 to yourself, thank you very much.
Please, do me a favour: go see for yourself. Whatever someone else is telling you, take it with a pinch of salt. Consider too maybe how long the next content patch’s away. Do your best, but don’t let yourself be fooled or intimidated by talk and so-called guidelines. WoW’s not a perfectionist’s game, WoW is designed for a mainstream audience to enjoy. Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re actually at the upper end of that mainstream. Good preparation is cool by all means, “good” preparation. The rest you can make up by other means, either setup/design-given or simply because you can or dare. I’ve gone through 21 years of what I’d like to call successful education and academia with a devil-may-care minimalist attitude and a great deal of Calvin. It works for MMOs too. Don’t feel rushed and don’t feel pressured to go along with whatever’s the latest, hysterical trend on the streets.
Do the wild thing: “TRY ANYWAY”.
Try and see. Talk later. You know, adventuring and stuff. You will never know how far you can go without trying. Be foolhardy, be reckless, be a pioneer.
Be full of spite.
P.S. In reference to my post title, I should probably give credits to Cynwise’s comment in another article on the matter. Happy following up and remember to keep it together!