Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Skill = Patience

So Paragon (or DREAM Paragon as they're now called), got world first on Ragnaros 25 man heroic. Congratulations! Let's read their statement as it is posted over at mmo-champion;

"Ragnaros: Too soon! (From Paragon)

Or was it? No, not really. Not if you ask us.

We've NEVER put as much effort into a kill as we now did on downing Heroic Ragnaros. We had a few grueling low percentage wipes and we were already planning on continuing early tomorrow with a better set of gear. Our kill attempt was going to be our last pull of the night as the thunderstorms and disconnects were kicking in.

Then everything clicked. All of our combined effort, practicing, theorycrafting and planning finally paid off. We had a near-perfect try and Ragnaros just melted away. A wave of relief washed over us. It was finally over. We wiped 500+ times on the boss, although I lost count at some point. Absolutely epic feeling after such an epic fight! (...)"

As always my first thought is - wow. I could never even imagine to be as cool and skilled as - WAIT WHAT? Ok, let's re-read that.

"We wiped 500+ times on the boss, although I lost count at some point."

Wait a minute here. 500+ wipes? What's the worst I've ever had? Somewhere around 140 I think. Now this warrants a comment.

When people think top 10 guilds, or even top 100 guilds, and especially the best guild, they think about players who are insanely skilled. Players who not only know their classes like the back of their hands, but who also learn from mistakes at a faster rate than a mere mortal like you and me. And I don't doubt that these players actually do possess some of the overgodly properties that people ascribe them, but look at that number up there. 500+. Let's say an even 500 wipes just because it's a pretty figure. Let's say half of those were just due to bad luck and/or bad fight design, because doing it first means you'll be the one to discover all the cute little bugs that always exist in a game. But they even admitted Blizzard had been "lightning fast" with their hotfixing, so I don't think half has to be completely wrong.

That still leaves 250 wipes with no other explanation than good old human error. That still leaves 10 wipes per person in the raid who just went "woops, I killed you all due to my failing". My guild has a three strike rule, meaning that if you fail to the same obvious mistake three times in a row, you're out. Admittedly we don't follow this rule very much, but it's there. And even if you fail to ten different things, most people would get cranky when you fail at the fourth. Somehow it seems like Paragon players wouldn't be allowed into our raids (although of course we fail way more often than that each fight, but we still have that rule).

Now, I know Paragon players are better than probably everyone in my guild, definitely myself included, but you know what they've really got that we lack?


And I don't mean exceptionally high patience like a parent has with their child, I mean godly patience, the way only a figment of our imagination could have with the way humans behave.

Let's take a look at my guild. We consider ourselves a "progression" guild, which means we have certain demands on our players performance. So we had 50 wipes on Atramedes, people start becoming frustrated, whiny and blaming eachother. Forum threads are created trying to discuss how we could better ourselves, but still in a constructive manner. After another 30 wipes people start whispering eachother about how much that, this and those people suck, how they'll probably consider switching guilds and how this is hopeless. The forum threads have diverged into name calling and yelling. After another 30 wipes people actually start switching guilds. The forum threads are now "goodbye" notes. Ok, it's not that bad, but it's definitely not far from.

The point is, we lose patience after a tenth of those wipes. We'll be close to giving up after a fifth.

It's quite possible that Paragon had the same issue in their raid, but they still managed to do another 400 wipes. Could you honestly say your guild would be able to handle that? I am quite sure mine wouldn't. I think nearly any guild would break from half that amount of tries. There are factors to consider of course. The reason for the wipe does make a huge difference to how whiny people get - but we already agreed that 10 mistakes per person in Paragons raid probably wasn't a crazy figure. They might've switched people around, but how many? They've probably got a limit to how many times someone can fail to the same thing before they get switched out, but switching people also means having someone with a fresh learning curve.

It's also quite possible that 500+ wipes is exceptional and that they've never ever even been close to having had to wipe that many times to a boss. They do say that "We've NEVER put as much effort into a kill as we now did on downing Heroic Ragnaros.". But I am quite sure they get over a 100 wipes on a standard heroic boss.

You know what else is patience? The countless hours they spend learning everything they can about their class, getting gear, getting every little buff possible, researching the fight and tactics and best setup, getting new gear once you discover that another spec is better, regemming, enchanting and reforging everything if necessary, gathering all those money and materials necessary to get all that. I think I spend a lot of time researching my priest, experimenting and trying out new things, reading up on changes and whatnot. And I probably don't spend one tenth, maybe not even one hundredth of a time that a regular Paragon player spends on his char.

We have less patience because we don't have the carrot of a world first and the possible excuse that our gear still is fairly bad compared to the encounter requirements, but we lose patience faster than those points can account for. Or so I think. And other than bad gear, Paragon really has no excuses for failing. They've done all the research, they should be the best at what they do. When they fail they probably do thorough research as to why and what they can do about it, but most importantly they keep on going. They keep their focus and constructive analysis. We put far from that much time into our raiding, yet we expect success a lot faster than they had? Or we think that losing our professional attitude would make things better?

Don't interpret this as me saying - "The way elite guilds do it is the only way to do it". I'm saying that one of the things that make them so good is that they have the patience, even after 450 wipes, to get back up and give it another go. It's not about unattainable skill, but maybe about unattainable patience. Even if we'd account for the fact that we get to the encounter with better gear and knowledge about the fight, we don't allow ourselves even half the wipes that the best guilds do. People in "progress" guilds want to play the Paragon way, but without putting nearly as much effort as needed. It's not through some unreachable skill that they soar high above us in capability. It's when we start whining at the 30th wipe and give up at the 60th that we really show why we'll never be as skilled as a Paragon player.


  1. You've overlooked a few things.

    First, consider that players in top guilds competing for a world first are trying to formulate a strategy as they are doing the fight. The leaders of your guild probably watched kill videos of fights they were going into, if not complete guides.

    Also, consider that the dps check is insanely high and that during the first or second week guilds may not have had enough gear to meet the strenuous dps check. If that was the case they may have opted to play over and over and over so as to perfect their execution of the fight. That way when they cleared the dungeon the following week and geared up enough (or when blizzard fixed the bugs in phase 4 that made rag unkillable) they could one shot the boss. There is a great deal of incentive to do this kind of thing when a few other guilds were working on ragnaros as well and could have done the same thing to catch up to paragon's initial headstart. By practicing this themselves, they ensure a kill when the boss does become killable.

    Alos, if you looked at the times that guilds killed bosses up until rag, and the amount of time spent on rag, I can promise you paragon did not spend hundreds of attempts on other bosses in Firelands. Rag is just one of those bosses, like Lich King, which required a lot more time. I agree largely that patience = skill in the lower tiers of wow but in the highest level these players are, like you said, much more skilled. Their discipline and dedication does go a long way though.

  2. I learn best "by doing." I watch the videos, read the guides, and prepare for fights. But in the end, I need to see, hear, and feel them to get them imprinted in my brain.

    Our guild leader has a habit of kicking players after two or three errors, claiming they hold the group back. In general, he just brings in someone else who has to go through the learning curve all over again.

    So I agree that patience is a huge unsung "stat." Thank you for bringing this to light.

  3. Anonymous, I disagree with you - and my disagreement is based on your own observations. My experience is that success is at least 90% hard work every time - in real life and in WoW too. (When talking about success in WoW I'm talking about progression, I understand that some players are not interested in progression but still have fun which can be considered success but I didn't find a "PC" word.)

    You said that they had spend a lot of time perfecting their execution while knowing they wouldn't be able to down the boss because it is bugged just to make sure they have an advantage when the boss is corrected. So it's not matter of skill but a matter of self-control, as is patience.

    I agree with Zinn, patience and ability to defer gratification is important for progress, especially with heroic modes - in my experience, if you're wiping on a normal boss and the only gratification is having free evenings until next Wednesday, it's easier to delay it than with the award of killing the boss on normal hanging in front of your eyes.

  4. Really great post on an overlooked subject. It ties into Malcom Gladwell's recipe for genius - 10,000 hours of hard work - as well as stuff from the world of music, business, martial arts, and loads of other places.

    I've featured it over at MMO Melting Pot - I think our audience will love it.

  5. Very very true. I never felt "normal guilds" were particularly slower on progression than top guilds for reasons of "skill", that obscure term, but time first and foremost and things like persistence, thorough preparation, strict and unbending rules and requirements for each and every raider.

    only if you were ever to check positive on all these criteria and STILL didn't progress as well or nearly as well, would you may-be be allowed to call yourself unskilled/fail as a guild or worse as a player, for me.

    I've never been in a nearly as hardcore and consequent raid guild like that, but I was in a serious raid guild that did better than many other or as good as many guilds on our server who raided significantly more than us in raiding hours. so, while time might not be everything, I don't wanna know how much better we could've been, had we also increased on our raid nights plus the other points (a mind game we would play sometime - but we were never willing to make the sacrifice in terms of time, nor people).

  6. @Anon
    I'm with Imakulata here - the things you describe are exactly the kind of things that top end guilds do but that most other guilds don't and that all come from lots of hard work rather than just suddenly being skilled. Yes, they do have loads of incentive of course, I mean we're talking about WORLD FIRSTS here. But I think even if we account for all that which you describe it still doesn't explain why the rest of us lose our patience so fast. I don't think they're born with cognitive skills beyond that of most people, unless you count that of extreme patience and dedication, as you also mention.

    That is exactly the kind of problem that can arise when people have too low patience. We are so many that learn from doing, I doubt people in high end guilds are much different. Some have longer learning curves, and some things shouldn't even have to be practiced in a raid environment (like doing proper rotations, using cooldowns on aoe damage etc). But replacing people too soon could often be less effective.

    Wow, thanks! There's nothing quite like hearing that people like what you write. Hopefully it might even have some people think twice before they start nerdraging at the 40th wipe.

    As you say, there are differences between people. But most people who are insanely skilled have put so much practice and work into it, that the rest of us never would. I think in WoW especially, it's more often hard work rather than luck that's behind success.

  7. Good post. I'm sure the top players have at least some advantages in "skill"...quick reactions, decision-making, focus. But it's probably overstated when people talk about them in terms of "godly" WoW players.

    The reason I believe that is from reading what they say about playing their roles or hearing them talk in podcasts. I don't think I've ever found insight, about playing the class, from their words. They essentially say many of the same things the rest of the community does. Now, maybe they were some of the first to those thoughts and I have no doubt that they're great theorycrafters...but that largely boils down to hard work, not "talent" (as vague a word as that is).

    It has never struck me that they operate on a separate plane and do remarkable things from a skill perspective. Mostly, they're very good players with a high level of focus and dedication...and raid much, much, much more than others people (at least until their goals for a tier are accomplished).

  8. @Zinn
    I actually believe it is hard work AND luck (timing) most of the time.
    the book suggested by Hugh is absolutely fabulous on this by the way, how we attribute success to things like talent or skill when it comes down to practice even for the world's most famous 'geniuses' who ever lived.
    I can highly recommend it too.

  9. In many guilds, I think there's an underlying, latent factor that you may or may not have taken into account. This is a lack of trust in your guildmates.

    If some part of you believes that some portion of your raid does not always bring their 'A' game, then as the wipes pile up and the frustrations start to mount, you're going to start asking yourself if those people are really trying... Or maybe you'll start asking yourself if those people should even be in the raid with you. If you have those doubts, adversity will cause those doubts to fester and rot.

    Guilds like Paragon have no such doubts about each other. They trust each other and *KNOW* that every person *IS* ready and knows their class and knows their role and has the skill to improvise... If they didn't have that level of trust and belief in one another, they couldn't have gotten to 500 attempts.

  10. I think people are just in general less patient with wipes now than they were earlier in the game. Certainly I can remember wiping for WEEKS, not just hours, on bosses in Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, AQ, etc.

    And while those weeks of wipes on the first boss of BWL were sure stressful, every week we went back in there and gave it another go and every week we got better and better.

    It seems like now, if you wipe half a dozen times, people are already pointing fingers and ready to quit. In a way, it's expecting more of player skill while expecting less of player patience. It's weird.

  11. I'd also like to mention-- I think what separates good players from the truly exceptional is that after several wipes, good players will be looking at others to see where they can improve, whereas truly exceptional players first look to themselves to see where THEY can improve. I think DREAM Paragon players do this every wipe.

    It's not just about "the tank took too much damage" or "the priest was too slow at heals" or "the adds didn't take enough DPS" it's "How could I have prevented that wipe? What could I have done better? How can I improve for the next try?" I think more players ought to do this. All I usually see after multiple wipes is accusations, finger pointing, and blame slinging. Personally, I always look to myself first and feel personally at least partially responsible for wipes even if they weren't my fault. But maybe that's because I play a tank and so if we wipe, it usually IS at least partially my fault. :D

  12. @Helver
    Excellent point! That is definitely one of, if not the biggest, contributing factor to why we have less patience. I will freely admit that there are a couple of people in my raid whom I actually think will fail more often. It puts a strain on me and I might also tend to blame them more easily, even than they deserve! Unless that assumption is firmly rooted in proof, that is something everyone should work with - more faith in eachother.

    You're aboslutely right. I think I even wrote a post about it ages ago - how analyzing your own mistakes really is the first step to take when stuff goes wrong. Very few people do what they do perfectly, and there is always something you could've done even better. Often people tend to forget that a small mistake on their part could, when combined with small mistakes from others, be the cause to why someone did a big mistake that lead to a wipe. Some dpser take a little too much damage, the healer has to focus shortly on something else than the tank and BAM, tank dead. It might look like the healer is to blame, but it's rarely that black or white.

  13. As someone who raided in a top guild for years, i have to say your post is not entirely correct. People in those guilds definitely are not patient. They are dedicated and determined, and very impatient.

    Your breakdowns are also screwy. Top players make mistakes, but nowhere near ten per player. Progression is all about creating and refining strategies as you go along. At that level you dont have videos and guides to help you. Some wipes are player error, but the vast majority are due to strategies that might not work out. It takes a lot of trial and error to figure out how to kill a new boss in last tiers gear.

  14. @Anon
    Indeed, you're probably right. English is not my first language, so what I'm probably after is rather "persistence" of which "patience" often is a big part. Lots of commenters have used other, similar or important factors - determination, dedication, focus, introspection and so on. But in all of these, having the patience to continue what you're doing is the most important part. Without that patience, you'll give up and not get anywhere.

    Bad tactics is probably a big reason to many guild wipes, even my guild who has access to detailed strategies will constantly have to refine our tactics (we had like 50 wipes to Cho'gall partially due to this). I have no idea what Paragon wiped from and it's not really the point of the post either, the point is that whatever it was, they continued for more than 500 wipes. I don't think many so called "progress guilds" would manage that.

    Patience is definitely not the only trait to become a good raider. But either way you see it I still have to argue that you must have an immense portion of patience to be able to pull off 500+ wipes, regardless of why you wiped.