I had written what I thought would happen already before Cataclysm went out. Let's just say I won't be famous for my prophetic skills. Back then I concluded that 25 man raiding wouldn't be gone with Cataclysm because there ultimately were people who enjoyed the different types of raids, regardless of gear and difficulty. I argued that the differences between 25 man and 10 man were already not very big, so what would change for Cataclysm anyway?
"(...) all the troubles we have in our 25man guild, we had back in my 10man guild. People who stop raiding, people who don't share the views of seriousness, raids having trouble getting filled and having to replace with non-regular raiders. People who come and go."
I basically wrapped it up with;
"Do all the people playing in 25man raid guilds do it just for the better loot? I just won't think that is the case."
Poor, naïve little me. I had of course completely forgotten about one of the biggest differences between 25 man and 10 man raids - that of having to administer 15 more people in the bigger setup. As Graylo puts it;
"Organizing 10 to 15 people is easier then organizing 25 to 35. There are a lot of tasks involved in running a guild/raid that just get harder with the addition of more people. It's more people you have to evaluate, it's more people you have manage, it's more whispers and PMs you have to respond to. The question was, why would a GM stick with the 25man format when they can get the same rewards from the 10man format with less work and few problems."
A very good question indeed, and probably a big reason to the general decline of 25 man raids. Love himself left my current guild (25 man) to form his own 10 man guild for this very reason. I can only give my current GM a standing ovation for the fact that he's willing to bust his ass off to keep my guild together (although I know he has help from some crafty officers). Since I've never been a real part of the administrative business behind a guild, I had completely forgotten about it. Silly me.
So personally I think this is a big reason to why 25 man raids have become less and less common. But it seems that the tables have turned on 10 man and 25 man raiding, for matters I will get to in a little while. But there is still the other question - what are the differences between 25 man and 10 man raiding setting aside the adminitrative business?
Interestingly enough, right now it seems like most 10 man fights are actually a lot more difficult than their 25 man counter part. Overall only Al'akir heroic is seen as significantly more difficult in 25 man than 10 man, in most other cases it's the other way around. So why is this?
There is one big difference between 10 man and 25 man - the one has less and the other has more people. Before you go "well duh", this is actually really important, because it affects the raiding part as much as the administrative part. It means that 10 man fights are easier whenever spreading out is favored, and 25 man fights are easier whenever you need to fulfill a certain role to complete a game mechanic. What does current raid content seem to mostly be about? Well this is what I think anyway;
Although Blizzard have long stated that they want us to bring the "player, not the class", I would argue that they've never failed as much with this as they have in Cataclysm (not counting Vanilla, since that was the idea back then). Never before have raid bosses required so specific setups to be completed in a satisfactory manner. Before you tell me that "yes, you might prefer class X there, but you can do it with Y and Z too" that's really beside the point. What you can do and what you want to do because it makes the fight 100 times easier are two different things. Let me give you some examples;
- On Halfus Heroic you want someone to be able to break the stun - this must either be a mage or several paladins (or an orc with a stun reduction meta gem, but yeah....).
- On Valiona & Theralion heroic you want someone to be able to go into the realm, who can also remove his debuffs - this has to be either a rogue, mage or paladin (mage and paladin have long cd though)
- On Conclave Heroic you need someone who can stay on Rohash who can remove their own debuffs - this is nearly always a rogue.
- On Nefarian Heroic you need someone to slow portal users, and an offtank to deal with adds in first phase - this means a hunter or a shaman, and a hero bear.
- On Magmaw Heroic you need someone to kite the adds - A hunter can do it, but it's dead easy for a frost DK.
- On Al'Akir heroic is is a lot easier to have a warrior tank than any other tank (perhaps a dk because they can soak a lot of magic damage).
6 out of 13 fights (I don't know about any special requirements on Sinestra actually) that are a lot easier when you have the proper class to handle it (and I've probably forgotten some). Please again, don't give me any comments about how this and that isn't needed to complete the fight. I am aware that with enough skill you can pull off pretty much anything. That still doesn't change the fact that the fight is significantly easier when you bring some certain classes.
To a 25 man group this nearly never becomes an issue, because most 25 man groups has at least one of any class. I remember how Love gave me an evil stare when I told him that we had four tanks on Nefarian heroic, one for Nef, one for Ony and one for adds in first phase. And then one just in case. I mean why not? We can afford it so let's be on the safe side. His 10 man group on the other hand have to bust their healing asses off with a dps warrior who smacks on a shield for the adds in the first phase. Because they don't have room for a third leisure tank unless they can find a hero bear somewhere.
Back in Wrath, the fights were more about nuking down some certain mob or not stand in shit. This could make 25 man more difficult because even if the mobs had more hp designed around more people dpsing them, it is always trickier to distribute your raid properly around more targets (again with the administrative thing), and having 25 people run around avoiding shit is a lot trickier than just having 10. No fight illustrated this better than LK. In 10 man you had 1 Valkyr picking up people, which meant everyone could focus on that. On 25 man you had 3, which is percentually more than in 10 man, but it also meant a lot more tactic regarding who was going to slow and dps which add and so on. Standing in Defile more than three seconds usually resulted in a wipe. In 25 man it was a lot easier to accidentally have someone stand in it for too long than in 10 man.
Looking at current fights, there are no real differences regarding the amount of targets between 10 man and 25 mans. In almost all heroic fights you have to deal with basically the same amount of targets, which has removed that extra piece of difficulty from 25 mans. Fights like Magmaw, Omnotron, Chimaeron, Maloriak, Atramedes, Halfus, Ascendant Council, Conclave and Al'akir are basically designed exactly the same in 10 man and 25 man. On Nefarian, Cho'gall and V&T you have significantly more adds on 25 man, but only on V&T do those adds require some sort of coordination from the dpsers. One fight!
The other matter then - move or you wipe the raid kind of mechanics. Oh let's see... Al'akir? Maybe Omnotron. The only fights considered more difficult on 25 man than 10 man are basically the only fights with that kind of mechanic (not taking into account that a tank or healer that doesn't move from crap can wipe the raid, that is the case in any fight). I do see a connection here.
Graylo notes that eventhough 25 man raid groups have basically disappeared compared to Wrath (I think we have two 25 man guilds on my server, compared to 10 ish in Wrath), 25 man raiding still seems to be where the progression is at.
"Progression raiding still seems to favor the 25man format, while 10man seems to be favored by casual raiding. Looking at numbers from WoWProgress this division is clear. Of the top 100 guilds in the world only five are 10man guilds and of those only one is in the top fifty. The 25man format also has a much higher participation rate in the heroic modes then the 10man format. This is probably an indication that many of the historically successful progression guilds have stuck with the 25man format."
I haven't checked Graylos facts on this, I'll just assume he's right (so correct me if I'm wrong). He says that one reason 25 man guilds are ahead in raiding could be that old 25 man progression guilds stuck it through, the good are still good so to speak. I can see two other plausible explanations. First of all, 10 man raids are where all the casuals have gone to. That was probably always the case, so that hasn't changed much since Wrath. But given the above reasons to why most people would prefer a 10 man over a 25 man, many more casual 25 man raids have broken up into 10 mans instead. In a sense that is what Graylo is already saying - progression was in 25 man back in Wrath, and that is where it has stayed. But the other explanation could be what I've described above - in their attempt to even out 25 man and 10 man difficulties, Blizzard actually made 10 man fights a lot more difficult, which is another big contributor to why so many 10 man guilds have fallen behind their 25 man counter parts. I know people don't agree on this issue, but as one who currently raid in both 10 man and 25 man content (both heroic and normal) I can tell you - it is generally a lot easier on 25 man than 10 man, because this isn't a perfect world and most heroic fights require you to have the perfect 10 man team. A 25 man group is a lot more flexible, and you can bring some bad people to the group and still get the job done (just don't put them in important positions). Trust me! I've seen it happen. We can sacrifice 1-5 people in my 25 man group without it being a catastrophe where even one dying in a 10 man group is a pretty sure wipe (in heroic modes).
When Cataclysm was launched, most 25 man guilds didn't stand the strain and broke up. This didn't necessarily happen over night, in fact this progress went on for several months after Cataclysm launch. I can only imagine the disappointment from all those 10 man guilds looking forward to having some relaxed and fun raiding, not having to deal with the hassle of all the 25 man administrative business, when they hit a brick wall with heroic modes. Most normals are fairly easy to go through with any setup, but as soon as the 10 man group wanted to step it up to heroic raiding, they found they probably had to shuffle around their regular 10 man group, needing people they probably didn't even have. Suddenly all the hassle came back, ten fold.
Having to cancel raids because the right class didn't show up really puts a strain on the guild and raid group, which in turn only makes it even more troublesome to get raids together and going when people start getting bored and don't sign anymore. Even worse if your raid group happens to not even have the particular class you're after and have to go through the rather fierce fight for recruits that is on at the moment. To have some good progress in a 10 man guild, you'll probably have to bust your ass off to find and keep good people around you. While a 25 man guild seems to generate new recruits just by existing. Since 25 man guilds are harder to come by, they automatically draw the interest from anyone who wants to get into 25 man raiding, while a 10 man guild has to fight all the other trillion billion 10 man guilds out there. It's ironic really, but it seems like it's the 10 man raid that has become all the hassle over the 25 man raids. The new question now is of course - how long will the 10 man guilds stand it? Will Firelands be their savior? We can only hope.