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15 Minutes of Fame: Raiding without their strats on

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

What happens when you don't study your raid strategies before raid time -- on purpose? Those wild and crazy guys in The Seven Scientists of Runetotem (US) have been raiding without their strats on again ... And that's just the way they like it. "The rule is, don't read any spoilers on a (raid) boss until we've killed it, and if you do, don't talk about them," explains guild member Neminem. "... This way, we actually get to figure out strategy for ourselves, instead of just regurgitating a strategy someone else came up with."

In earlier WoW, so-called "blind raiding" has been a badge of honor limited to the few bleeding-edge progression guilds that literally race through beta and new-release content, plus a few, dogged hardest of the hardcore. The Seven Scientists are neither. This 10-man group is entirely composed of real-life friends, and maintaining a tight-knit yet relaxed social fabric takes priority over progression. Despite that -- or as we'll see, perhaps more accurately because of it -- tackling new content without spoilers is simply the way they've come to enjoy throwing down together. Today's culture of PuGs sees a lack of preparation as a social faux pas, at best, or an offense worthy of guildkicks and pug-blacklisting, at worst. The Seven Scientists simply enjoy having a go at the content under their own steam -- no hairshirts, no lengthy rulesets, no pressure ... and all fun.

Main character Neminem
Guild The Seven Scientists
Realm Runetotem (US)

15 Minutes of Fame: What exactly is "spoiler-free" or "blind" raiding?

Neminem: Knowing before entering the wing that Sindy is a giant bone dragon: fine (though by no means required). Knowing that Sindy is considered a hard fight: fine. But if you heard, before we offed her, that Sindy's final phase starts at 35%, and you have to spread out the ice blocks and then stand behind them while tanks swap frantically, you'd want to keep that to yourself until it became clear through actually getting there and seeing it.

We didn't even know the goal of Valithria was healing to full, until we triggered it the first time! And I wasn't there the first time we killed the LK, but I'm sure the reactions to "phase" 4 were amusing.

And do you tackle all the new content like this?

Nobody cares if you Google for information on quests while you're leveling -- nor, for that matter, on 5-man content. Leveling is what you do so you can start raiding, and 5-man content is the grind so you can get badges ... I mean, emblems ... I mean, justice points.

I personally avoid any spoilers on the new zones more detailed than their names and location, 'cause I want it to feel new and exciting when I get there ... But it won't stop me from Googling vaguely-defined quests I get, which I'm sure exist in quantity, like always.

How did you get started raiding with no spoilers in WoW?

If you mean how I did, specifically, well ... This is the only guild I've ever been in, and I couldn't really imagine leaving as long as it stays active. I didn't join specifically because we raid sans spoilers -- in fact, it was rather a surprise to me -- but I have come to enjoy that unusual aspect of our raid, once I got used to the idea.

Most guilds we know of who do this only go in blind the first time or two; after that, they prefer to keep progress and interest moving along at a faster clip by priming the pump with spoiler tips. What makes your guild different? What's the attraction of spoiler-free raiding?

For one, it makes downing a boss more satisfying, knowing that it was entirely the work of the guild, not half us, half random guys we don't know telling us how to do it. For another, it makes that first pull of a new boss way more epic, not going in knowing exactly what it's going to do. (Often subsequent pulls, too, on bosses that change by week or that have multiple phases).

Sometimes we come up with unique strategies, too, which is always fun to hear, especially if they make the fight easier than the "traditional" strategy everyone uses. For instance, I gather most people kill the adds in the Magmaw fight. I see our strategy made it to the wiki eventually, but puggers are always surprised by our have the DK kite all the adds the whole fight strategy we came up with, anyway.

Finally, I'll admit, it appeals to my laziness a bit. Reading up on strats, watching a bunch of videos, memorizing all the names of everything and what people say to do sounds more like a job than a game. I'd do it, but I'm just as content not to.

Do you use any addons or tools to help you analyze the encounters as you do them?

I don't use it that much myself, but I know we do run a World of Logs log so we can look at fight mechanics if we've gotten stuck on something.

Tell us a little about how DBM fits into the picture.

We use it, because it's just too convenient once we do know the fights. We could turn it off for new fights (and probably would if it were a huge spoiler source), but it's designed for people who've already read spoilers and know what they're doing. It mostly just calls out things we could see on our own, just making them more obvious. And it announces everything by default; you have to know what's important before you can customize it to only tell you things you care about.

Without context, it generally only tells you that a boss's cast is important, not generally why -- so about as much useful information as the in-game text of raid achievements, but still a second such source, if you want to call that "cheating." (Notable example: the number of adds spawned by Maloriak so far. Why was that important? That was for us to figure out.)

Do you ever turn to outside resources for help when progression gets stuck?

I try really hard not to. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I broke down and cheated once, in a minor way, when we were stuck on the opening of the LK fight. I figured there was something we were missing, and there was -- that the DoT jumped to the nearest unit, not the nearest opponent. I checked the wiki for that, but I'm not proud of it. (T7S doesn't know that yet, but they will soon, if you publish that fact.) If anyone else has cheated, I wouldn't know, but it's certainly not something we do as a matter of course.

What qualities of your guildmates and raid members are necessary in order to blind raid successfully? What group and play skills do you think you've honed over the years doing things this way together?

It certainly requires knowing what your chosen class can do well and a bit of creativity, to make suggestions of how you might be able to best help: kicking something? CCing an add? Slowing stuff? Spellstealing? I come from a DPS perspective, but I'm sure the tanks and healers have fun with that as well.

As well, it requires a bit of additional awareness while learning the fight. While running your rotation and doing the usual stuff, you have to try answering questions: When did the phase transition? Percentage? Time? How much HP did those adds have, and how many of them, and can we avoid them spawning? What did that spell do, and can you avoid it? Most importantly, though, it requires having a group that likes each other enough and has sufficient patience to wipe repeatedly. 'Cause you will. You'll wipe 10 seconds into the fight, group back up, then wipe 10 seconds into the fight again. ... Which just makes it that much more satisfying to get the first phase down after some practice, only to go HOLY CRAP WHAT JUST HAPPENED and wipe again as soon as phase 2 starts. (I'm looking at you, Chimaeron. And, you know, Mimi, Yogg, and the LK.)

Time for a progression update!

Well ... We got Cho'gall closer ... He hasn't died yet, sadly, but I feel like it's as much as gear check as anything else. We haven't quite perfected the three bosses in the main room in BWD yet, so while they haven't failed to die in a while, we also haven't had any time to learn Nefarian yet. And one of these days, I'll actually get to see the Throne fights. (We were going to go tonight, but everyone got suddenly busy at the last second, and we didn't feel like pugging half a group. There are benefits to having a small raid guild, but there are downsides, too.)

Which Cataclysm raid boss has proven to be the most difficult nut to crack so far?

Ignoring the three we haven't really had a chance to touch yet, I'd say the boss that was the hardest to go from first pull to grokking all the mechanics would be Halfus, cause they cheated and made it different each week. Not to mention giving us a large number of options to try -- which dragons to free, how many to free, when to free them ... My understanding is we basically were forced to choose the same path everyone else takes, but it took a bit of trial and error to find it.

Cho'gall, of course, would be the obvious answer for the boss we've been most unsuccessful at killing, since we haven't yet -- but he has the excuse of being at the end of the instance, as well as being, I think, a bit gearcheck-y.

Who've been Cataclysm's pushover bosses so far?

Magmaw. We've 9-manned it. Twice. (It's something to do while waiting for a tardy person to show up.) It felt difficult at first, being our refresher after not raiding for a few months while waiting for Cataclysm (and obviously, being used to being rather better geared), but thinking back, it didn't really take us all that long to figure out, and it's certainly been the cause of by far the fewest wipes since the first week. Omnotron, too, once everyone realized how to read their energy bars (I admit, I was the slow one there). Atramedes was pretty easy to figure out the strategy, but not so trivial implementing it perfectly; inversely, the twin dragons required a decent bit of time figuring out all the components but doesn't give us too much trouble once we did. And of course, BH hardly even counts as a raid boss, coming in a long line of such "bosses."

Let's talk about your perspective on the evolution of raid design from expansion to expansion. Has Blizzard's changing design philosophies changed the way you attack raids now, or has it made any easier or more difficult in certain regards?

Well, given the size of our raid, it's certainly made it more possible. I only started playing near the tail end of BC anyway, but I'm under the impression we didn't get to raid nearly so much pre-Wrath. Anyway, with Cataclysm, [Blizzard] made it even nicer for us, getting the same gear everyone else gets; we're all pretty happy about it. I haven't felt any significant distinction yet, though, between spading (from the jargon of my other favorite game, meaning "to figure out how stuff in the game works" -- I can't help but use it sometimes, it's such a fun word) a new fight in Cataclysm and spading a new fight in Wrath. There hasn't been any fight so far where the key to a phase was a single word on the text of a spell the boss cast (the LK fight) ... But there's still plenty of time for that.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Raiding, Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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