Are you wondering what has caused all the ruckus in the raiding community the past few days? Have you been typing your fingers to the bone since Wednesday night, arguing for one side or the other in forums and chat channels? Whoever you are, or whatever side you're on, in the still-burning aftermath of Ensidia's ban, I feel some reflection is needed. Thus, I am going explain, to the best of my ability, what happened to cause such uproar in the raiding community this week. I am also going to, as the title implies, offer my speculations.
For those of you not up to speed, let me summarize what happened in the past day. On Wednesday evening, the guild Ensidia defeated the Lich King encounter in 25-man Icecrown Citadel. Not long after that, Blizzard performed a hotfix to the game, disabling the damage dealt by Saronite Bombs and Global Thermal Sapper Charges. Blizzard stated that the hotfix was made to temporarily deal with a bug that was causing the bombs to rebuild the Frozen Throne platform during the Lich King encounter. Ensidia then updated their original post in response to the hotfix, saying that the bug did affect their kill, but that they did not know that it was the bombs specifically that was causing the platform to rebuild during every attempt, because their rogues always use Saronite Bombs in their DPS rotation. Blizzard, in response to a question about whether or not Ensidia would receive a temporary ban for the bug, then stated:
"It is not our policy to discuss disciplinary action for exploitation. With that said, we take exploits very seriously and will action players that use exploits to overcome an encounter.
We continue to closely monitor all 25 player Lich King attempts and will take action if we deem players blatantly exploiting the encounter."
Early Thursday morning, Ensidia updated their website, saying they received a 72-hour ban from Blizzard, and notification that their achievements and loot would be removed. I, personally, was very surprised; but what happened exactly? Let's first examine how this bug could compromise the difficulty of defeating the Lich King:
During the Lich King encounter, the platform that you fight on crumbles at the edges, reducing the area in which players have to maneuver on all sides. From then on, Val'kyr mobs (3 in 25-man, 1 in 10-man) will periodically spawn, pick up members of your raid, and fly towards the edges of the platform. If the Val'kyr mobs are not killed before they reach the edge, your raid members will be dropped by the Val'kyr to their deaths. In order to buy yourself as much time as possible to kill the Val'kyr, it makes the most sense to position your raid at the center of the platform. Unfortunately, while this is occurring, the Lich King will periodically target a member of your raid and cast Defile. Defile causes a black pool to form under the feet of the target and deal shadow damage to anyone who comes in contact with it. To make it worse, every time any player touches that pool it will increase in size, and the damage dealt will increase as well. So, if your raid is stacked at the center of the platform when a Defile is cast, everyone has to scramble out quickly to avoid enlarging the pool, while continuing to DPS the Val'kyr. On top of all this, the phase is based on the Lich King's health, so you have to whittle his health down as well, or else the phase will never end.
So where does the bug come in? It's pretty simple: if players can rebuild the Frozen Throne to its original state, you will have more space to avoid the Defile. This might not seem like a big deal if you've watched the 10-man kill video from Blood Legion, but add in 15 more people and it quickly becomes a much more difficult aspect of the fight.
Another advantage to rebuilding the platform comes from the Valkyr. Ensidia has stated openly that by having the platform extension present during the phase, it was unnecessary to DPS the Val'kyr at all. See, the Val'kyr do nothing in the fight but carry players to the edge and drop them, so if the Val'kyr were just dropping raid members off over the rebuilt edge of the platform (as opposed to over a deadly drop) then this mechanic of the fight is completely trivialized. It would simply disable three of your players for a short time. This allows you to rush through the phase, focusing all your DPS on the Lich King.
So what did Ensidia do exactly? The exact mechanics of the bug are unknown. Given the way Blizzard handles things, I don't expect us to ever receive a statement about it, so unless Ensidia releases a video to clarify what they did, there is no way of truly understanding what happened. Currently, we do not know if a single bomb restored the entire platform, or if many bombs had to be used. We also don't know if the platform had to be hit by a bomb in a very specific location to trigger the bug, at a specific time, or if the use of bombs on any portion of the platform, at anytime was enough.
Before I speculate, let's talk about the use of Saronite Bombs. In discussing this topic with other players, I have met a surprising amount of people who consider the very usage of Saronite Bombs to be rather incriminating. After all, what could you possibly need bombs for atop the Frozen Throne? Let me speak in Ensidia's defense momentarily and say that there is actually nothing strange about using engineering bombs for DPS on this encounter, or any other. It's quite common among players who are serious about their DPS output, and I know an enhancement shaman who has been doing it since WotLK was first released. In my eyes, if an enhancement shaman on a backwater server is using Saronite Bombs to give his DPS an edge, a top world guild like Ensidia is sure to have a few DPS who do the same thing.
That said, let's consider what has come out from Ensidia. The first public statement in regards to the bug came very early on Thursday from Mek. He said that the bug Blizzard addressed did affect their raid, and that they were never able to identify Saronite Bombs as the source because the bug occurred in every attempt, and the bombs were used on every attempt. Statements since the ban from Muqq, Kungen, and Ekyu conflict with the contents of Mek's original post, though all three posts have a great deal of commonality. The three members of the raid state that the bug did not occur every attempt, and that they continued to execute their strategies even when the bug had been triggered. They, like Mek, said they did not know what was causing the bug.
Now, it's time to speculate as I said I would. Feel free to imagine me writing with a tinfoil hat for the remainder of this paragraph. I mentioned earlier that we didn't know the exact mechanics of the bug, and without seeing video it's really impossible to know what happened. We can do some deductive reasoning, though. At the time Ensidia killed the Lich King, there were 15 other guilds that had killed Sindragosa and were thus eligible to be working on the Lich King encounter. All of these guilds in the top 15 are extremely competitive, so I'd imagine that if they could have been working on the Lich King encounter at that time, they would have been. The reason I bring this up is because I want to examine Ensidia's claim that they triggered the bug through normal game play. It is my belief that if 15 other guilds were working on the Lich King, somewhere in those guilds there had to be at least one other player who was using Saronite Bombs to up his or her DPS before the hotfix. More than likely, there are several players from across these guilds that were doing it. But if so many guilds were doing this, and the bug trigger occurred effortlessly on Ensidia's part, why don't we have more reports about how this bug works from other guilds? Further, why isn't there video from those attempts, or Ensidia's attempts? It is a very common practice for top world guilds to video capture every attempt in case one of those attempts yields a kill. I stated earlier that I did not know if the bug was triggered by just using a Saronite Bomb, or if it had to be used in a specific way, but based on the lack of reports from other guilds, I believe that to trigger this bug a very specific action had to have taken place. That doesn't necessarily mean Ensidia was intentionally forcing the bug to occur, though. It's possible that their particular strategy simply allowed the required circumstance to consistently reoccur. I'll buy that in their defense.
But there is still something bothering me: bombs have a 1-minute use cooldown. Based on what Ensidia has said since Mek's original update about the bug, there was actually just one rogue using bombs, not multiple rogues. So, one rogue and a 1-minute cooldown; I don't think I'm out of line when I say that it sounds far fetched for this bug to occur frequently if a precise action is necessary to trigger it, and that precise action has a conditional on a 1-minute cooldown that only applies to one person in the raid. Ekyu said their final kill wasn't clean, so we know that they didn't have a perfect, robot execution each time. But this is the last of the speculation I'm going to do. This tinfoil hat is making all sorts of crinkling noises every time I adjust my headphones, and the truth simply can't be found like this.
The fact is, regardless of how the bug got triggered, it did; and Ensidia knew the encounter was bugged. They knew because they defeated the Lich King on 10-man ICC before they did it on 25-man. Muqq's achievements reveal as much, and they even said in their statement that the bug was exclusive to 25-man. I'm very skeptical when Ensidia says that they were just playing as usual, and couldn't figure out that it was the Saronite Bombs that was specifically bugging the encounter. It's a big discredit to their own intelligence. Ensidia is a smart guild, with smart players. These players figure out how to down bosses before there are strats or videos. Why couldn't their astute observation figure this out?
Of course, It's very easy to look on at the situation and say any other guild would have done it differently if they found an exploit that made a fight easier. Especially when competing with so many other talented guilds for world first titles. I would imagine that any guild who found a bug that made a fight easier would use it. I personally wouldn't fault them for that, especially since there was no public testing for the encounter. Let me say this now: If Ensidia did find a bug, and used it intentionally for their kill, I woudn't care so long as their actions after the kill were responsible. What I do fault Ensidia for is that whether what happened in their kill was intentional or not, their behavior from the start of this ordeal has been less than exemplary for a world-class guild in the public eye. To be cliché, they've added insult to injury:
On Wednesday evening, Ensidia announced the kill without many specifics. They posted a kill shot, and talked about how they were looking forward to doing heroics in the next week. When the bug was pointed out through the hotfix though, they stated that they knew the encounter was bugged but that they would have downed it anyway. That's probably true, but if during the span of an encounter you find an exploit and use it, the most responsible thing to do from there would be to turn to Blizzard and say "your encounter is bugged. Fix it, take the kill away, and give us our attempts back." Maybe that's too much integrity to ask for in today's age, so given what happened, here is a slightly less responsible response: after the hotfix was announced, Ensidia could have said "yes, you caught us. We used the bug. Take the kill away and give us our attempts back, and we'll do it legit." They haven't made any responses like this, though.
In fact, their actual statements have really surprised me, because their previous history with bugs has been different. But regardless of their history, I consider their protests to keep the kill, despite knowing it wasn't a legitimate kill, rather unsportsmanlike. Let's consider that not many guilds will defeat the Lich King this week. For the few that do, ICC will just now be starting. Ensidia can say that they would have eventually got the kill with or without the bug, but what if they couldn't? What if Paragon and vodka hadn't scored a kill during this lock out? If that happened, and Ensidia had been allowed to keep their kill, it would have effectively ended progression for the rest of the expansion. From that point on, every guild would have had to play catch up to a guild that got a head start by a bug. At the time Ensida got their kill there was still no telling what would happen in the rest of the raiding world. As far as Blizzard was concerned, it was still possible (though unlikely) that someone else might not get it. That possibility is the reason Ensidia had to get their kill taken away. If Blizzard hadn't acted, they risked destroying the game for so many competing guilds.
As for the ban that accompanied the removal of the loot and achievements, that is between Blizzard and Ensidia, and something that we can only speculate upon, as I did in this article. I need to stress that while I did give a lot of fair information to consider, I offered a lot of my opinions as well. If you care about this issue at all, I would encourage you to read through all of Ensidia's statements for yourself. As it is, it's unfair to demand Ensidia to prove their innocence, but unfortunately that is where they currently stand. Only they can prove that they did or didn't deserve the ban, and they may or may not choose to play that game. It's their call. What do you think? What would you have done if you were in Ensidia's shoes? What about if you were in Blizzard's? If you agree or disagree with the actions or statements of Blizzard or Ensidia, let's hear it.