This rollercoaster ride has now been rolling for four months.
I’ve been a raider now for about eleven years. I’ve spent around 15,000 hours killing internet dragons. Yet I can say, without any kind of hyperbole or exaggeration, that these four months of tier 11 have been the absolute best raid content I’ve ever done. The encounters are fresh, they’re enjoyable, and they’re really freakin’ challenging. When Blizzard warned us about a year ago that 10s and 25s would become “similar in difficulty”, I didn’t really expect heroic 10s to become the hardest content in the game. I certainly didn’t expect that after four full months of working on content that had no gating at all, only two guilds in the entirety of US servers would be done. Through it all, the thing I expected least would have to be that my casual, non-serious weekend fun-run raid has come within striking distance of a top-100 ranking, surpassing many, many hardcore guilds that raid four, five, some of them even up to six days a week.
Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t finding tier 11 so fun. Lots of guilds, even really good guilds with track records spanning years, have struggled or died under the weight of the new content. The complaints have been very loud: Tier 11 is less accessible, tier 11 is less forgiving, tier 11 is too hard. These are all probably true. Even I agree that it’s not okay that only two guilds in my region (241 realms!) have finished the 10-man content after four full months.
Others complain that other MMOs are killing WoW, but I can’t agree with this one at all. MMOs can co-exist and have co-existed in the past just fine. Most of Paragon is playing EVE right now while they wait for Firelands, but you can bet that they’ll be back. I’m sure Rift is a nice game, but all the reports I’ve heard about its raiding sounded like I was back in 2003. Even if Rift remains successful for years, there’s room for more than one game in this market. I survived when WoW “killed” EverQuest, and 80% of the raiders that left for WoW came back within a year, because vanilla raids were terrible. EverQuest is still alive today, lumbering along toward its 18th expansion. If EverQuest can survive being dwarfed by WoW’s budget being twenty times bigger, if it can survive having its most popular players literally being hired by Blizzard to advertise switching over to WoW, if it can survive and keep coming out with new content despite being 12-years old and its playerbase having been in decline for 7 of those 12 years, imagine the kind of tremendous failure it would take to finally kill WoW. WoW isn’t dying.
There is something that is dying, however. For a long, long time (at least a decade), the “proper” way to raid was to take the biggest group of people you could get, gather them up at the entrance of a raid zone at 7:30 6-nights a week, and spend the next 5 hours slamming your faces against the big bad internet dragon until eventually everything clicks and it falls over. That’s called hardcore progression. Some guilds still do it this way, but what Blizzard has been trying to accomplish since late BC is the idea that you do not have to do it this way. Finally with tier 11, they’ve done it; they’ve created a raiding tier that at least tries to be fair to both 10 and 25-mans, and at the same time they’ve created a tier that encourages players to take raiding more casually for the sake of their own sanity. It’s one thing to maintain a grueling, 6-day raid week for 4 weeks until the content is done, it’s another thing completely different to maintain that pace for the entire four-month stretch that this rollercoaster ride has lasted. Most of the guilds that I’ve seen struggling lately, have had a lot to do with just how hard they’ve pushed the content rather than the content itself. They raid so hard that it’s not fun anymore, hoping that pushing that hard will get them some more boss kills, when they could actually enjoy themselves if they didn’t raid that way.
The top raid group on my realm has actually fallen victim to this lately. They’ve been raiding 4-5 days a week since December, and they’ve managed to stay a little bit ahead of everyone else for four months. However, one of the casual groups below them (my group) has managed to almost keep up with them in progression through it all, which kept them pushing ever harder and harder to try and stay ahead. After that casual group “stole” a realm-first kill from them, even though they were working on a different boss at the time, cracks started to form and they took it as a sign that they needed to go even crazier. Finally when they got to Heroic Al’Akir, they snapped. In eight days they pushed themselves, eventually wiping a total of 250 times in their mad push to stay ahead of those damned casuals. 100 of those attempts happened over two days. They haven’t raided since.
I’m not going to deny that Cataclysm is tough. It’s absolutely the most challenging tier of content that I’ve ever done, and I’ve been raiding a long time. The most important thing to remember though, when you’re raiding in Cataclysm, is to do it in a way that’s fun for you. If you try to tackle tier 11 in a way that’s not fun, then it doesn’t matter how hard the bosses are, you’ve already ruined it for yourself by approaching it that way. I promise you, tier 11 can be fun if you take it on in a manner that suits you. Surround yourself with people you like, take the content at your own pace. That’s really the key.