The implementation of Zul'Gurub was the first time Blizzard really threw the raiding scene into chaos. Raiding at the time was still all about the 40-man raids with Onyxia, Molten Core, and Blackwing Lair. Blackrock Spire was an oddity with its 15-man dungeoneering, but nobody considered that a raid; it was just a larger 5-man. Zul'Gurub was an actual part of raid progression and it didn't take 40 players. It took 20.
You would think a 20-man raid would be easy to work into your raiding schedule, right? You have 40-man raids, so it was just as easy as splitting up into two 20-man raids, right? No. Good god, no. Here's what happens when you take a 40-man raid and split it in half: One of the raids gets the main tank. The other raid, the one with the off tank, gets deathly jealous, even though they have the healing lead. Because they don't have the healing lead, the raid with the main tank gets deathly jealous in turn.
Splitting up a raid doesn't work, no matter how you try to handle it. There will be competition and jealousy. Even if you scramble up the raids and split it up differently every week so that there is absolutely no possibility of human favoritism, someone will feel slighted.
The jagged wounds opened by the implementation of Zul'Gurub have been revisited every time Blizzard has shaken up the raiding scene. The first 20-man raid, the first 10-man raid, the addition of hard modes, the elimination of 40-man raids, implementing shared lockouts across 10 and 25-man raids ... It all comes back to the same issue: Players don't like it when the developers stick their hands into our social circles and swirl them about. There's always a risk that those social situations will become ugly and unrecognizable after Blizzard's tampering, and Zul'Gurub was the first time that happened. I don't know many people who raided 40-mans in classic WoW who were pleased with launch of Zul'Gurub, even if they enjoyed the raid itself. In the opening weeks of that raid, the raiding scene was just too ugly to enjoy it.
Social situations are always a very delicate dance. When control over those situations is taken from us and put in the hands of the developers who have a different vision for how things should be than what you've known all along, it causes problems. Even when it's the best thing to do for the game, it still makes things hard socially.
The debuff limit
Think about how many debuffs your class applies all on its own. Some classes only apply two or three max, but others might be pushing five or six depending on the situation or the needs of a particular encounter. Now imagine your raid of 40 players was limited to eight debuffs per mob -- not eight per person, but eight per raid. Let's map out the mandatory debuffs on a typical classic WoW raid boss:
- Thunder Clap to slow attack speed
- Sunder Armor for the DPS improvement
- Curse of Shadow for the warlocks and shadow priests
- Curse of Elements for the mages
It was bad enough that back in early classic WoW, it was completely non-viable to play talent specs that used up debuff slots. Maybe you wanted to play an affliction warlock. Too bad, you can't, because your DOTs are going to be pushed off of the raid boss when someone else uses up that debuff slot. Spec into whatever lets you spam the best Shadow Bolts, because that's what you'll be doing.
Patch 1.7 raised the debuff limit from eight to 16, but it still wasn't enough. Trying to regulate a 40-man raid's debuffs to the point that you were sure the proper 16 debuffs were going up, no slots were being wasted, and nobody was having their essential debuffs bumped off by something trivial was a huge pain in the ass. Eventually, Blizzard removed the debuff limit entirely. Nowadays, you can slather as many debuffs as you want on a mob/boss, but when the limit existed, it was one of the most frustrating parts of raiding in classic WoW.
Many readers have asked me to go more in depth about each class's major overhauls in classic WoW, but to be honest with all of you, I'm not sure how possible that is! I'm one man, and I certainly did not play every class enough to know them all at the time. Back in 2004/2005, I was also less mechanics-savvy than I am now. There were certainly some major overhauls that I can discuss when the time comes, like how many times the paladin class has been completely turned on its head because Blizzard has never been entirely sure what to do to set that class apart from others like the warrior, but I didn't know every class enough to be able to talk about them all.
However, I can talk about how those class changes were made: at a snail's pace. Nowadays, since Wrath of the Lich King and now through Cataclysm, just about every content patch has significant sweeping balance changes to all of the classes. That wasn't the case in 2004 and 2005. Blizzard didn't sit down, set all the classes next to each other, and play one big balancing game like it does now. No, each patch had one or two classes picked out at a time and tinkered with. Players would wait around for the paladin patch, the mage patch, the hunter patch, and so on. It was an interesting event when the time came for shaman to get their moment in the spotlight because shaman are rather ... dramatic.
The result of that? Shaman players jumped from server to server, attempting to crash them. The forums turned into a complete craphole, with players specifically singling out Eyonix as the sole reason shaman were being neglected, as he was the community manager supposedly watching the shaman forum. It devolved into death threats on Eyonix, including a statement that he should "get hit by a bus." Shaman clung to that and created the Bus Shock -- that is, spamming the forums with an ASCII bus as a veiled reference to a hope that Eyonix gets murdered by a vehicle gone astray. Shaman clung to that bus shock as their battle cry, and it's still something you see today. It's something you saw quite recently when the shaman community descended on the DPS Ask the Devs in a frenzy.
Now, I'm not saying shaman are, as a rule, bad people. But the shaman community has always carried that chip on its shoulder, ever since the days of patch 1.8 through patch 1.11. It isn't going away. It's a deep-seated, ingrained part of that class's community. It's just something you need to deal with. It's a lot like rogues claiming that their class is the most intelligent. Shaman are the most neglected and persecuted, so they say. Most of them won't remember those days from way back when, but ideas and attitudes do not necessarily need to remember their roots to go on living.
The WoW Archivist examines the WoW of old. Follow along while we discuss the lost legendary, the opening of Ahn'Qiraj, and hidden locations such as the crypts of Karazhan.