When Cataclysm was being developed, Blizzard announced a lot of changes that they would be making to the raiding scene. Specifically, 10- and 25-man raids would now essentially be considered one and the same. They would share the same lockout, reward the same loot, and generally be considered as equal.
The community, in their grand resistance to change, called foul on many of these changes. Certainly, WotLK created an embitterment towards 10-man raiding as being "easier" or a "lower class" of raiding that simply wasn't on the same scope as 25-man raiding. In their defense, they had every right to think this because that is exactly how Blizzard had made raids at the time.
Now that we've been through a whole tier of raiding under these changes, and as we move onto the next tier, it is time to reflect back on all of the arguments that sprouted and see how realistic they really were.
Rant 1: 10-man content is easier
Shooting right at the heart of the fight, there largest concern regarding having both 10- and 25-man content provide the same rewards was that 10-man raiders wouldn't face nearly the same challenge as 25-man raiders. Way back to what seems like forever ago, 10-man content was easier. In fact, raiding first at the 10-man level in order to advance into the 25-man level was considered to be a common trend. Although the gear rewards weren't the same, they still provided that extra boost that could help a struggling guild progress.
In Cataclysm, I feel that Blizzard has actually done a rather good job in terms of balancing the difficulty of encounters across the two raid sizes. That being said, there are certainly some very obvious discrepancies between the two that can cause a little bit of friction.
The first is one of cooldowns. The entire raiding scene this expansion has been all about cooldowns, no one cares how much you can actually heal for, it's all about how much damage you can mitigate. In this respect, 10-man content certainly has an easier go of the matter. This is because there are several abilities that have artificial caps on them. Anti-Magic Zone is a clear example of this.
Dropping an Anti-Magic Zone in a 25-man raid and a 10-man raid will probably result in the same amount of damage being mitigated due to the cap, yet in the 10-man raid there's significantly less damage going out. Nefarian is a prime example of this with his Electrocute ability. While AMZ will clearly break early in both situations, it would reduce a larger percentage of the overall damage in a 10-man raid.
The off-set of this is numbers. While such cooldowns are more effective in 10-man content, one would expect more of them in 25-man content. This dichotomy that exists between the two creates a natural balance, but is it balanced? Certainly healing in 10-man content is less intensive, but at the same time one can easily make the argument that each healer has more pressure on them because there is a disproportionate amount of healers. A 10-man with two healers has 1/5 of the raid healing, which equates to five healers in 25-man, yet six is a more common number to see.
I've seen nearly all 10-man content healed by a single healer once the raid is on farm. Though the accounts of 25-man content using two and half healers are fewer, it's possible that such occurrences simply aren't talked about as much.
Balancing encounter mechanics
For what it is worth, most content has been pretty evenly balanced at this point, but there are still some rather obvious outliers that deal exclusively with encounter mechanics themselves. It's a fact that we have to face: Certain mechanics will always be easier to handle in 10-man content, while others will always be easier in 25.
The Twilight Ascendant Council, as an example, is far easier in 10-man instead of 25-man. This is because the spreading mechanic that players have to deal with is simpler with fewer players. Further, DPS control is easier to do with fewer DPS, particularly fewer DOT effects ticking off on a boss. Perhaps the most grievous case of this offense was Al'akir, who was ridiculously easier to defeat in 10-man content than 25-man. So much easier, in fact, that many 25-man guilds broke down into 10-man raids just to tackle this encounter.
To be fair, not everything is rosy for 10-man raiders either. Encounters which rely heavier on certain class mechanics are far more difficult for them to handle. Cho'gall proved this rather effectively. 10-man guilds had a lot more composition trouble in having to deal with slowing adds and breaking mind controls. There are a plethora of abilities that can break Worship, but it's easier to do in 25 than 10.
The same is also true for encounters which require the use of a player to perform a secondary task. Having a death knight kite adds for Magmaw or Conclave of Winds is trivial for a 25-man group whom have plenty of players to spare. It's a bit harder to do this in a 10-man, though, where you don't have the player capital to go around.
With pros and cons on either side, it's difficult to say that either holds less value than the other. The reality is that both offer their own, unique challenges that have different ways of over coming them.
Rant 2: 10-mans require less logistical planning
Getting 25 different people together and running in a smooth raiding guild is tough work -- any guild or raid leader can attest to this. If it isn't one problem, then it's another. 25-man content requires more coordination, period. You need more time to set up player roles, more time recruiting, more supplies, more everything. It isn't easy, and for that 25-man raiding guilds felt they should be rewarded for the additional effort.
Blizzard agreed with this sentiment and offered superior loot gains for raiding in a 25-man setting, allowing you to gear up players faster (at least in the theoretical sense). While this wasn't entirely enough for some players, I frankly think that it is overly generous.
While there is no denying that it is more difficult to organize a 25-man raid, 10-man raiders certainly face tough logistical problems of their own. Raid composition matters far more in a 10-man raid than it does to a 25-man raid. This can actually result in recruitment problems just as difficult as those seen by 25-man guilds.
A 25-man raid doesn't need to stack any particular class nor spec. They need a few bare essentials, but after that, a vast majority of players are pretty much filler. Have two or three balance druids? Whatever, sucks for them to fight over the gear. Four hunters? Who cares? Having a surplus of any particular class or spec isn't really prohibitive in that setting.
This simply isn't the case for a 10-man raiding guild. You have far fewer options in the type of spec or class that you can take, and every one of those choices matters far more. For example, a 10-man raid with a fury warrior, retribution paladin, shadow priest, elemental shaman, and arcane mage as their primary raiding DPS is going to be in a really sore spot for AOE and slows.
Who you takes matters far more in a 10-man raid. There, your composition can literally make or break you for certain encounters. There's buff stacking to worry about, cooldown disparity, and a slew of other concerns that you have to juggle, too. 25-man raids aren't easy to organize by any means, but anyone who claims that 10-man players can just pick up nearly anyone and go is fooling themselves. Ten-man raids take their fair share of planning.
Rant 3: 25-man raids won't matter, guilds will die!
OMG RUN! RUN! RUN! It's the guild-pocalypse! Guilds all across the WoW-verse are suddenly going to implode and no one anywhere is going to be raiding 25-man content ever! Hide your children! Hide your wives! Hide your cute, fluffy teddy bears!
There was a lot of hubbub that every single raiding guild in the game was suddenly just going to disappear and that the days of the 25-man raider were numbered. Why would you bother running 25-man content if it was harder, more logistically challenged, and didn't actually offer anything tangible in return?
On the personal side of things, back then, somewhere deep down, I probably shared this fear. The guild that I had spent all of TBC and Wrath with died due to this very specific change. We were a struggling 25-man guild that was always recruiting people, and constantly looking for people. All in all, we were average. When it came about that we could do 10-man raids in Cataclysm and get the same rewards, that was that. We became a 10-man guild.
I prefer my 25-man raids and wanted to keep that, so I set off. It left me wondering how many other people had the same experience that I did. In all honesty, there's probably a large number. And yet, 25-man raiding didn't die in the least.
Twenty-five-man raiding still happens all over Azeroth. New 25-man guilds crop up all the time, and there just isn't any real sense that it's a waste of time to work towards 25-man raiding. It is clearly a matter of preference, and you'll gravitate to the one you like the most. If you want a 25-man raid group, you can easily find one, just as it was before.
Where will we go from here?
This has only been the first Cataclysm tier. The changes are still just settling in and no one can ever really predict what the future is going to hold. The player base changes as the demographic changes, and with that comes different needs. It is unlikely that we will ever return to the previous days of 40-man raiding, and I will honestly say that any new MMO out there which tries such a thing will only be able to reach a niche level of success that simply won't compare to what WoW has grown into.
MMOs themselves are changing, because those that play MMOs are changing. The original player base is getting older; their wants and desires morph with their age. The new young guns hold different ideas and values when it comes to gaming. Further, the "older" generation is becoming more and move involved in the gaming community. As time changes all things, so will games adjust. This has been one raiding adjustment; so far I believe it has worked out rather well.
What shall the future hold for the raid setting as a whole?
Ready Check shares all the strategies and inside information you need to take your raiding to the next level. Be sure to look up our strategy guides to Cataclysm's 5-man instances, and for more healer-centric advice, visit Raid Rx.