Soylent Green

A collaborative essay by Hamlet and Perculia.

Tuesday night. Like many others, you queued for LFR because you were Looking For a Raid. The question we want to explore here is, is what you found actually a raid?

We know what you’re after when you queue up. It’s not so much a raid, per se, that’s on the forefront of your mind. It’s that you’ll win an epic. Yes, the odds are low (you’re not even totally sure what they are), but maybe this will be the week. Maybe your item is from the final boss, so your hopes are prolonged further before being dashed by a bag of gold. Yes, that bag of gold you bitterly accept, but you’d almost rather throw it away in protest. Preferably at someone’s head. But since WoW doesn’t let you do that, you dutifully click on it and add the gold to your inventory. Nobody will ever know anyway. You’re never going to see these people again.

If ever, in that moment, you wished you hadn’t come to LFR, you’ve already begun to understand what we’re telling you today.

This is at first blush a piece about LFR. But what it’s really about is raiding, and the things that make raiding a unique gaming experience. LFR demonstrates what remains when you strip the element of human interaction away: a shell that resembles raiding only superficially. Through the case study of LFR, we hope to remind you of what raiding is about, why you got started doing it, and why so many people love it.

There is one exception that runs throughout all of our comments. The people who make a group with friends and run LFR because they can’t raid Normal for whatever reason (group size, cross-realm, skill level, scheduling, or maybe they’re also raiding Normal but still doing LFR for gear). This is the exception that proves the rule. Because they’re using the “LFR” system as a workaround for logistical or other issues, not because they need to Look For a Raid. As will be discussed below, these people are the target audience for Flex raiding, which is better suited to their social raiding needs and will hopefully replace LFR for them. Our primary focus is the player who doggedly runs LFR outside the context of an already-established raid group. It is to these people that we send the message: don’t.

Background: The Better Part of Valor

LFR was introduced in Patch 4.3, but its genesis can be traced back to the Dungeon Finder, which was so very appealing to everyone (ourselves included), when it first appeared. The obvious reason for this was that it cut down on time spent queueing for a 5-player dungeon. But even this is a bit idealistic.

The system came in when 5-mans Heroics began to award Emblems of Frost (Tier 9 equivalent of Valor Points). This was the moment the now-familiar daily Heroic became a new chore for each raider, and the predominant sentiment was that anything which could get it out of the way faster was welcome. At that time, Emblems did not have a weekly cap, and moreover they were required for tier gear. So it’s fair to point out at the outset that for many players, the Dungeon Finder was merely a spoonful of sugar that helped make it tolerable to swallow the newly prescribed medicine of enforced time in 5-mans every day.

Specifically, LFD allowed players to easily run dungeons without having to wait around for guildmates, or be one of the unlucky DPS that didn’t nab a guild tank and healer. But soon a narrative began to emerge. To put it simply, people discovered with shocking regularity that their Blizzard-appointed dungeon compatriots were not providing the sort of PvE group experience they were used to. LFD horror stories became a common source of amusement and commiseration in raiding circles.

The tradeoff presented was subtle and was easy to ignore: click a button to queue and you get into your dungeon faster, only to languish in a slow-moving and impersonal clear. Did the downside seem really important at the time? We’re willing to admit that to us it didn’t. Getting those 2 Emblems without having to entreat, beg, or blackmail a guild tank was a powerful motivator indeed. But we wish we could tell our past selves that this path was treacherous, and once you set out on it, it is very easy to lose your way.

At first they seemed innocent, largely a supplement to guild runs in raid groups. The tide really turned in Cataclysm, where suddenly players found themselves turning to LFD as fresh 85s, too impatient to wait for their friends to level up. New talents seemed miserable, dungeons appeared overtuned, and everyone attributed their bad performance to their weak gear. Adding the Satchel of Exotic Mysteries in 4.1 made queuing up more appealing for tanks and healers in theory, but in reality, it ushered in a new wave of horror stories of clueless players in unacceptable gear simply taking on an in-demand role to “earn” a bag with a mount inside. And we still put up with it, since we believed obtaining rewards from LFD were the best way to improve our characters on a daily basis.

We might have seen the fundamental problem sooner. The increasing prevalence of antisocial behavior should have alerted us: the dungeon grouping experience was no longer about people. We needed LFD because we were committed to doing bland content we didn’t want to be doing in the first place. Out of this environment arose LFR in Patch 4.3.

LFR: Bread and Circuses

Many players believe that weekly LFR is a necessary, if unpleasant, undertaking, because it provides essential upgrades and a hefty chunk of Valor. Your WoW experience will be much more interesting and multifaceted when you free yourself from this idea.

LFR’s intentions may have been to draw people into raiding and whet their appetites for more challenges when it was introduced in Dragon Soul. In its current state, LFR is primarily a place where people hope to get Valor Points and gear upgrades without much thought, often walking away empty-handed and frustrated. At the start of Mists, LFR was unfortunately one of the more attractive ways to gain Valor Points and epics (much easier than gated reputation grinds). Initially they provided even more Valor than Normal raids, which was frankly a sign that something had gone terribly wrong. Later Mists patches have continually added more varied and better ways to accomplish these goals.

LFR’s 90 Valor may look appealing at first glance, but there is more to WoW (and, we daresay, to life) than choosing the activity with the highest number of Valor Points. While acquisition of gear is the most visible carrot, through most of WoW’s life the desire to acquire gear sneakily draw you into activities (like raiding) that would help you progress on many important axes: character stats, player skill, and people to play with. LFR, unfortunately, provides them in the reverse order of importance: it gives you gear easily, but does little to nothing to exercise your WoW skills, and its ability to connect you to a stable play group is virtually nonexistent (seemingly by design).

Even insofar as your goal is improving your WoW performance, you can do better than dutifully capping VP every week for gear upgrades. By choosing to acquire Valor from a Heroic Scenario, a Challenge Mode, or even a Barrens weekly, you’ll be testing your character’s skill and improving their performance in ways LFR never could. You’ll also be playing with people, either friends or potential new friends, who will provide the necessary social foundation for any future non-LFR activities. Obsessing over VP and your epic upgrades is a lazy way to view character improvement. Take an active role in your character’s performance instead of attributing it to their LFR loot luck and ilvl.

And with Challenge Modes, the new Proving Grounds (we expect), and Battlegrounds scaling down all gear, there’s more and more content where you can see what the game is like when your gear crutch is temporarily stripped away. These types of content reverse the priorities from LFR: players can simply focus on playing well and coordinating with others to succeed, and they are rewarded with increased ability to play and coordinate rather than with gear. While we don’t expect (or desire) for most WoW content to neutralize gear in this way, the existence of these few helps balance out the influence of LFR.

At some point each week you return to raiding, the activity that puts everything togetherskill, gear, and social. So when you engage in WoW pursuits that are heavily motivated by a desire to support your raiding, you’re better off choosing modes of preparation that help you on all of those fronts, rather than the one which gives gear and VP but has no other redeeming quality.

Friendship is Magic

LFR makes a promise that’s almost mystical in its ability to redefine a person’s entire relationship with WoW: a lifetime supply of epics. With no strings attached.

You don’t have to log in and send your guild leader a tell at 8PM Eastern (7PM server time). You don’t have to whisper someone in trade chat “need a Rogue?”. You don’t have to link any achievements to anyone or have them complain about your ilvl. You don’t have to bring consumables. You don’t have to know the boss abilities (moving boss information from the internet to the Dungeon Journal was nice but still, who wants to read all that?). No required addons, no officer taking attendance. You don’t have to spend 4 hours on Vent with that guy whose voice annoys you. Your gear doesn’t have to be gemmed or enchanted impeccably. Your gear doesn’t have to be gemmed or enchanted at all. You don’t find out at start time whether you have to sit out. You don’t have less DKP than your class partner. You’re not alt-tabbing after a wipe to try to make sense of someone’s MSPaint diagram. In short: for better or worse, you never have to see any of these people again.

It is the Tyler Durden single-serving friendship, the one-night stand of WoW. Nobody is going to call you the next day.

But maybe at times, after finishing an LFR, you’ve felt a little unsatisfied. You’re thinking mostly about the stupid tank who pulled Lei Shen into the wrong quadrant, and above all, about the 12 bags of 28 gold in your inventory. You feel some sense of accomplishment that you got up to 1000 VP as planned and therefore are a Good Raider.

Or is what you feel actually feel a sense of … relief? If you’re trying to figure out why, after spending your evening playing your favorite game World of Warcraft, a certain part of you wishes you could have the evening back, we suggest the answer lies somewhere other than the wipes or the gold or the VP. We suggest you look back above and wonder whether, in the absence of all those “burdens,” you had no earthly reason to care about what was happening in the raid you were participating in, or the people you were playing with.

And this is the essence of what we want to convey here. Raiding is the experience of sharing both defeat and victory with 24 or 9 other people (or soon, any number in between; we’re not picky here). Raiding should not be a painless experience devoid of emotionkilling a boss you’re proud of takes wipes, reworking strategies, and perhaps arguments. Minor annoyances from past raids, once irritating, now take on a strangely nostalgic quality as we reminisce over the planning and challenges that went into each victory.

The payoff is staying up chatting on Vent because you can’t sleep because of the excitement of the kill. Logging into WoW and finding your friends waiting for you. Keeping up with your old guild members and still seeing them around in chat after real life has pulled them away from their raiding schedule. Finding out that the new recruit watches the same TV show you do. Other people being happy when you got an upgrade. Having people help you go to old raids for vanity items. Being excited months in advance for the guild meetup at Blizzcon. And all the rest. If you’ve ever raided, we don’t have to explain. So why did you endure those annoyances we mentioned? Because you knew what they bought you: the real treasures of raiding. Which, and we cannot stress this enough, are not purple.

So every time you queue for LFR, well, we have no doubt that you were indeed Looking For a Raid. But, to answer the question we posed at the beginning: no, you didn’t find one.

/Flex

Flexible Raiding is a new raiding mode that allows cross-realm groups (pre-made only) of any size from 10 to 25 to do raid content that scales to match the group size. It’s designed largely for pre-existing groups of friends, but will be quite amenable to pickup groups (the difficulty is below that of Normal raiding), so long as the players organize the group themselves. It encourages new players to try out raiding in a friendly setting, and gives seasoned raiders a relaxing group activity to do with friends. Flex is a way to fill gear gaps, without being a real threat to the value of Normal or Heroic drops. It allows players to experience fights first-hand with their friends (versions of the fights that will have all the abilities, we expect) without worrying about rigid roster requirements or splitting up loot.

A telling difference between LFR and Flex raiding is the requirement to join. LFR requires players to have gear above a certain ilvl, as a way to exclude dead weight from the group (a goal which is emphatically not accomplished by the requirement, we might add). Flex raiding in contrast has no such ilvl requirement. You’re in the raid because your friends wanted to take you along and thought you’d meaningfully contribute, or that they could teach or carry you. This encapsulates the reason why LFR and Flex, so superficially similar, are such polar opposites in our minds. Even for those without a ready-made group of friends, the only requirement for Flex is a tiny modicum of human interaction to join the group (a low barwe all know how tradechat pugs are formed).

Social interactions are mandatory for Flex raiding. While LFR may have been intended to recreate the raiding experience, without social interactions it only emphasized winning gear for minimal effort. As Flex Raids require you to be among friends (or at the very least, people who are willing to continue playing with you), it raises the bar for good behavior and taking responsibility for your actions. This in turn makes players put effort into fights since the raid team doesn’t consist of 24 anonymous annoyed players they’ll never meet again. It rekindles a spirit of teamwork, which withers in LFR’s loot-fueled atmosphere. You care if one of your fellow teammates moves out of the fire and will try to help them learn to do so. Largely because, in this mode, the fire might actually kill them.

Even the rewards from Flex are better, and not just because of their ilvl. Flex raiding will award achievements, mounts, and items that can’t be obtained in LFR. But more importantly, while raiding may reward players with powerful gear, it’s meaningful only to the extent that you feel you earned it. LFR epics may be a higher ilvl than epics from the previous tier, but nobody is proud of them. If you fail at a boss, you get comically buffed; when the boss dies, loot is automatically passed out and players often drop group if they need nothing else from the instance. Epics held power in past expansions because of the memories and challenge associated with their acquisitionwearing gear from LFR just shows you have a lot of patience, some luck, and a block of free time.

Flex accomplishes every valid purpose that LFR did have, without undermining the entire concept of raiding in such a fundamental way. Our criticisms of LFR have certainly existed for a long time, but the introduction of Flex makes things much simpler. This is what a casual raid should look like.

Conclusion: You Have to Tell Everybody

“And now you know what you’ve been missing. There was a world once, you punk.
I was there. I can prove it.”

Does the advent of a new mode of raiding sound the death knell of LFR? The smart money is on “no”. There will even be some uses that don’t especially bother us, such as the avid lore/art fan who prefers a single LFR trip over Youtube. We don’t need to be dogmatic about wiping LFR from the face of Azeroth, but we can be concerned about its influence on the raiding culture. We can hope that people reading this think twice about LFR and its unique ability to turn a much-loved gaming experience into one of drudgery.

There are a lot of reasons we play WoW. A lot of things that motivate us. Nobody will deny that the prospect of acquiring new in-game items is an omnipresent driving force that shapes people’s activities throughout the entire game. But the moment it’s simplified down to the bare desire to acquire gear with no particular thought as to what you’re doing to get it, why you want it, or with whom you’ll be using it, you should stop and consider what you are doing.

Our not-so-secret hope is that, if nobody remembers anything anything else from this essay, the “don’t pug” movement will capture people. It’s what this whole post is trying to get at. Yes, LFR the difficulty level is one issue, but LFR the ethosthe ethos of WoW being about valor points and ilvls instead of about playing with other people—is the bigger one. And we urge you to let it go.

This essay was for people who enjoy, or are interested in, raiding in WoW. To remind you why you’ve done it, possibly for years. To help you find the way to keep enjoying it has you have before. If you haven’t, to give you an inkling of why you should. If you’ve only ever done solo LFR, while we mean no disrespect at all, you’ve never raided. But we sincerely hope you try. This is in fact one of our chief objectives.

But to all of the people above, take the message to heart. Your time spent raiding is worth as much as your relationships with the people you spend it with. No less, and no more. And spread the word.

Tell everybody. Listen to me. You’ve gotta tell ’em:

WoW Raiding … is made out of people.