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Officers' Quarters: The plight of 25-man raiding guilds

Every Monday, Scott Andrews contributes Officers' Quarters, a column about the ins and outs of guild leadership. He is the author of The Guild Leader's Handbook, available from No Starch Press.

With today's column, I'd like to illustrate a point by getting personal. Normally I don't like to do that very often, but my guild's own experience is dovetailing too neatly with an overall trend.

In reviewing the guild experience in Cataclysm and in looking forward to improvements we might see in Mists of Pandaria, I've mentioned how hard it's been for 25-man raiding guilds to survive in the current environment. I've noticed people voicing the opinion that if you like 25-man raiding, you can go find 24 other people who do and make it happen. I can understand how someone might believe that -- and in an ideal world, it should be that easy. Finding those players isn't easy these days, but that is in fact the easy part.

The hard part is finding people who want to lead said group.

My guild's raid leader stepped down from the position this week. For years, he led raids for the guild, often three or four per week with alt runs in the mix. His knowledge of class specs, abilities, encounters, and strategy was absolutely unparalleled in the guild. He was a huge part of the guild's success. And he just couldn't do it any more.

I've heard from officers throughout this expansion that have reached that same point of burnout. Let's talk about why that is and why fewer and fewer people want to take on the extra responsibility in 25-man raids.

Roster challenges

That's step one, right? Well, realistically, you need more like 27 to 28 people, minimum. It depends on attendance and spec flexibility. You never want to cancel a raid, so you need a diverse and robust roster to make sure the runs always go off.

As a natural consequence of a larger roster, 25-man guilds experience more turnover. The slow pace of content updates means people burn out and/or quit during every tier. This was worst in the 4.1 patch, which added no new raiding content at all.

The result of all this turnover is that most 25-man guilds find themselves in a perpetual state of open recruitment. Recruiting is always stressful for officers, and the never-ending cycle of adding and losing players can wear down anybody. When the players who quit are themselves officers, that makes the problem 10 times worse.

Tougher scheduling

Once you have that roster in place, you need to find times when the majority of your raid team can attend. Mine is a guild of mostly adults with plenty of real-world obligations, so scheduling can be rough.

After you've established those times, a player's schedule can change, leaving them unable to raid. With a bigger raid team, the likelihood of that happening is much higher, adding to turnover woes.

Complex assignments

Players who only raid 10-man or only run 25-man in the Raid Finder may not realize just how annoying it can be to set up a large raid's assignments.

Cataclysm has been much worse than Wrath when it comes to raid assignments. In my guild, we have an officer for melee, for ranged, and for the healers. Their job is to assign players within those roles during raids. In addition to the raid leader, that's four people in my guild who coordinate the raid.

Nefarian's three pillars, for example, required splitting up the raid into three teams, each with its own interrupting and raid-healing requirements. If you have the same exact people every week, which is more common for smaller raids, you only have to create these teams once. For us, this was rarely the case.

It's a hassle that no one looked forward to. In tier 11, Al'Akir was almost as bad. Pre-nerf tier 12 was probably the worst ever. Six of seven bosses required a large number of player-specific assignments.

It's part of what makes the larger raids interesting, to be sure, but Firelands took this concept too far. Tier 13 has been better overall with these kinds of pre-encounter logistics. Once you get into heroic mode, though, the bosses get assignment-heavy again.

More loot to manage

Of course, more players means more loot and, for most 25-man guilds, a more complex loot system to ensure fair distribution. Whereas many 10-man guilds can get away with rolling for loot, we have two officers assigned to managing it, one primary and one backup.

We use a DKP addon. Using the addon has a learning curve, so it's not an easy role to jump into.

Longer log reviews

In addition to all of those roles, another player records the logs for each raid and uploads them. It's not a difficult or involved job, but it's one more thing that has to be done, and again there is a learning curve to it.

Between raids, all of the officers review the logs to evaluate players' performance and make suggestions where improvement is needed. Not every guild does this, but it's an incredibly helpful tool for coaching your raiders to be better players. More players obviously means more time with logs and more conversations between raids.

If you're counting, that's six total raid jobs in my guild, spread among six players. Our raid leader was actually kind of lucky. Though some officers did double duty, we divided the labor up fairly well among us. For every officer you subtract from that team in a given guild, more responsibility falls on fewer individuals, increasing their likelihood of burnout.

Greater effort, same reward

Of course, 10-man guilds all have to manage the same issues. However, every single issue is more difficult for 25-man guilds. You have a larger pool of volunteers for a larger number of leadership roles, it's true -- but due to the greater difficulty, fewer people want to fill those roles.

I've led plenty of 10-man raids in my time, and I can say with certainty that one person can handle all of the active leadership duties during a 10-man raid. It's stressful, no doubt, but absolutely possible. Asking one person to handle all of the same for a 25-man team is madness.

I haven't mentioned this before, but I actually became an officer in my new guild in September. I switched mains back to my paladin over the summer and took over as one of two healing officers when we lost players during tier 12. Thus, from vanilla through Wrath, I led raids of every possible size, and recently I've helped my current guild with raid leadership. In my opinion, it has never been more difficult to lead larger raids than it is today.

At the same time, it has never been less rewarding to take on all the extra hassle. That, in a nutshell, is why 25-man guilds are dying.

The prevailing belief that 10-man raids have been more loosely tuned during tiers 12 and 13 is, in my opinion, not the biggest factor. It's the lack of players who want to take on the extra leadership responsibilities and the rapid burnout of those who do. Of all the officers in my guild at the launch of Cataclysm (I believe seven total), only one remains an officer today.

Toward extinction

Our raid leader lasted far longer than the average. In the wake of his resignation, my guild has no choice right now but to scale down to 10-man raiding. We've lost players, and recruiting quality raiders is very difficult on our server. We don't want to transfer the guild yet. We're hoping we can get back up to 25 during the next expansion, but there's no guarantee of that.

We are not alone. Many guilds have endured similar difficulties throughout this expansion.

I'm honestly not sure if giving greater rewards in 25-mans is the answer. I just know that if current trends continue, 25-man raiding outside of the Raid Finder will be the domain of a small handful of elite, dedicated guilds worldwide. As someone who prefers the larger raids, that makes me worry for the future of the game.

What, if anything, do you think Blizzard should do to counter this decline?

/salute

Recently, Officers' Quarters has examined how strong new leadership can create a guild turnaround, the pitfalls of promising more than you can deliver, and lessons learned from Scott's own guild demise. Send your own guild-related questions and suggestions to scott@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Raiding, Officers' Quarters (Guild Leadership)

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