Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Importance of The Pace Car

Living near Indianapolis, I can tell you that one of the biggest events of the area each year is the Indy 500 race. Around here, it's kind of a big deal. In fact, we were advised to not schedule our wedding on the same weekend because all of the hotels were already filling up (>6 months prior to the event). One of the key elements to any good Indy race is the selection of a pace car. Each year, probably based on contributions to the event and other criteria, a new car is selected to set the pace for the race. If you don't know anything about racing, rest assured that the pace car only comes out when necessary, the rest of the time is pure unbridled need-for-speed joy.

I mention this because, like the race, getting to drive the pace car is kind of a big deal as well, and this analogy can transfer loosely to WoW. How, you may ask?

Well my brain got started when Fuubaar asked me a very simple question after our raid last night. Before I get to that... some background. You see, our raiding alliance found it necessary to split into two teams recently (red and blue, my team being blue). We're on that awkward cusp where we don't have enough to reliably do 25 man teams, but we have far too many to do just one 10-man team. Thus, two teams fits us well right now.

One of the natural things that arise out of a two team system is a bit of friendly competition between the two groups. Who will be the first full clear? Who will down which boss first? Etc... If you've been seeing my picture posts lately, you can probably guess that it has been my team that has had widespread success in Naxx recently. Unfortunately for the Red team, they stumbled a bit coming out of the starting gates.

Both teams have very good players and very good leaders. So, when Fuu asked me the simple question "why do you think we had better luck", I wasn't quite sure what to answer. I basically came up with two things. The first, and I think the most important: Having a good pace car.

Ah, so now we see the link in my random ramblings from above. The pace car, right. When selecting your MT, you must keep in mind that you're also selecting your pace car for the night. Each tank will have their own pull style, and the speed can be anywhere between frenetic and f-in slow (the only way I could get alliteration). Somewhere in between is the healthy medium where your tank knows the most direct lines through the trash to each boss, pulls as soon as everyone is ready with very little downtime, and the world keeps on spinning.

We are lucky enough to have a very experienced tank that knows the paths, and is constantly on the cusp of fast and too-fast. As long as he doesn't pull when I'm distributing loot, though, I let him do his thing. Any good raid leader knows when to butt in, but the best leaders know when to butt out. The pace definitely takes some getting used to, as we don't really wait for people to mana up (unless its both of our healers). We make sure to get gathered and rested before all boss fights, but trash is trash, why waste time when you all know what you're doing?

The goal here is to get in that area where you are almost moving at an uncomfortable pace. You don't want to be uncomfortable, but you want to be efficient. It can be tough to find that sweet spot, but when you do... you feel like a well-oiled machine and it makes raids a thing of beauty.

The second major benefit is that we synergize extremely well. For healers, we have a Paladin and a Shaman (or sometimes Pally, Priest, Shaman off heals). Both of our healers are very good players, and their class strengths really shore up each other, shammys being excellent party healers and pallies being excellent single target healers. For tanks, we have a Warrior and another Paladin. Again, both good players whose talents fit well together. For AoE pulls, you have the instant warrior AoE thunderclap thingy, and then the more DoT-like pally consecrate. It's perfect.

I know I said that DPS'ing is hard too, and I stand by that (we have some very good DPSers). But, I can't emphasize enough the benefits of class synergies at the tank and healer spots. DPS synergies can help, but the won't put Naxx on easy-mode like the other positions.

Finally, we have at least one VERY strong player in each spot. These individuals are overgeared, yet still surprise you on a constant basis with what they do. I think we have all good players, but I'm sure you've come across the type of player that is just... wow. You're not sure how they do what they do, but sometimes it takes what looks like certain wipe and twists it to failure.

Our Paladin healer is a fine example of this. It is very much a team effort, but I'm reasonably sure he has solo healed us through AoE boss encounters before (due to an unfortunate death or two), totally breaking the stereotype I have of his class. It seems that his only barrier is going OOM. As long as he has mana, we live. Don't ask me how.

In short, I can point to three important raid qualities that can take you from "good" to "great":

  1. Pick a good pace car, then try not to micromanage - Many a good RL fall into the trap of trying to manage everyone. If you pick good people to come with, trust that they can do their job. Sure, offer tips and advice, just don't nag.

  2. Synergize your spots when possible - I'm planning another article about what I call the "swing spot" in my raids, so I'll talk more about this there. The bottom line here is that good RL's know class strengths and should try to balance them. Not always possible, but when it happens... mmm boy.

  3. Spread your talent out - Not every role is for everyone, if you have a choice though, spreading your special players out can really help. I pick good people over good players any day. Sometimes you're lucky enough to get the whole package... make sure you don't waste it.

I think our Red team will get there. They stumbled early because they were still figuring out the three points above. Once they find their pace, find their synergy, and start making use of their talent... they too will see a lot of success. They have the tools, they have the technology...


  1. When we were still running two 10-man teams we made sure every week the teams were mixed up.

    Our guild came to Wrath off of progressing into t-6 content in BC. We had a solid 25-man team and that's what most of our raiders wanted and expected. We didn't WANT to run 10-mans, but we also weren't going to push people to level as fast as they could.

    So, we were in that awkward phase for a little while too. To help combat some of the problems we tried to make sure each week the two groups were planned differently.

    Mostly this was an effort to get everybody used to running with everybody else all over again, but we also didn't want to see one elite core vastly outstripping the other group. It helped morale and it helped prepare us to all be raiding together on 25-man content.

  2. Yeah, and that is a great idea. Our problem is that many people have different schedules, so we want to be able to open the raids up to the most number of people. Some people may run with different groups each week (and to an extent I encourage that), but in the end, its mostly what day CAN you run.

    If it becomes a problem where we have an "elite core", I envision mixing it up a little to spread out the experience. Right now, its not quite that yet. I think the talent and classes have been spread out appropriately, they just need to find their groove, so to speak.

    It's definitely tricky to get back up and running after an expansion in any case.

  3. As a loyal and faithful member of the red team, here is my take on it.

    From what I gather, a couple of core members (i.e. one tank and one healer+) from the blue team are very familiar with the fights and very well geared. When the blue team started, I noticed a lot of newer folks signed up that I hadn't recognized before. Which of course, is part of why we started two teams - there were a lot of people who weren't able to go before because there were only 10 slots - and now there are 20.

    Red Team picked up about 3 or 4 people (on average) who had never seen any of the bosses, and had not been in naxx. Blue Team picked up some members who had already cleared naxx on multiple occasions. This makes a world of a difference - and not just gear wise.

    We spend a lot of time every raid night explaining the bosses. And I don't want to skimp out on that, because a couple of the newer members are from my own guild - and they NEED those boss explanations.

    So far we've had, what, 2 weeks of 2 team runs? Maybe it's only been 1.5 weeks, and because of the different nights for red team vs blue team, it's only been 2 nights i think for the red team. Not sure - regardless, we had one night where we might as well have called it because we were having such huge problems with one of our tanks.

    So essentially, the split has been a very different experience. Red team is taking a helluva lot longer to take down bosses than when we had just the one group, and blue team is just blowing it all away.

    The dynamic between a ten man run and a 25 man run is also very different. I clear 25 man naxx every friday night, with no wipes (probably why it goes so fast). But with 25 man, you can lose one or two people and not bat an eyelash. On ten man, the death or one of two members can be an insta-wipe.

    While I would love for us all to hit the 25 man material soon, red team just isn't ready. I want to reiterate what you said earlier too - the current mode of thinking with Blizzard is bring the player not the class - and I too take it once step further and say I would prefer to bring the better person over even the better player. It's a hobby, it's intended to be fun. Even with all the wipes, and as long as it takes us on the red team, I try not to let myself get frustrated, because if I had a video of myself playing, sitting at my comp, I could see how often I'm laughing, bantering back and forth, and just in general having a really great time with a group of people who are my friends. That's one of the benefits of a ten man over a 25 man too. On Friday nights, when I'm running 25 man, sometimes it feels almost like a chore to get over as quickly as possible.

    The only reason I would want to rush to get into 25 man material with our two groups is because more than anyone else I miss running with, I miss Fuu like whoa. Not that I don't miss Ful as well of course but... I miss Fuu most of all.

    We'll be together again soon Fuu! Wait for me!

  4. YAY Jess!

    Now were is that fish feast?

  5. @ Jess - You two are unwarlockerly cute.

    And I agree with what you are saying... it is essentially the same as what I'm pointing out. The three things I mentioned usually take time to feel out and find (and there is no substitute for experience)... we were just lucky to hit it on our first night and have ran with it. I wish I could clear Naxx 25 every friday... I need me some new gear (as RL I love giving it to others and then gasp when I realize I'm still in a lot of blues lol).

  6. Thanks for a very well written post and I can't understand why you aren't already on my blog roll. You've got the intelligent ranting, thoughtful writing style that I appreciate a lot. Well, that's all I wanted to say. I'm off now to update my blogroll...