With the introduction of flexible raiding a certain conversation is cropping up again. It's a conversation about raid lockouts. Back when LFR was first introduced during Dragon Soul, quite a few players began to argue that they felt forced to run LFR in addition to the raid itself. Then, as we moved into Mists of Pandaria raiding, this discussion intensified. I had my own opinion on the issue, which was basically that no, raid finder should not share a lockout with normal mode raiding. Luckily, Blizzard didn't do that, coming up with other ways to reduce LFR's desirability for people who run normal/heroic raids.
Now, with flexible raiding, the argument that it should share a lockout with normal/heroic raids is being resurrected because again players are afraid they will be forced to run it. I'm opposed to this idea for a variety of reasons.
- Sharing the lockout between flexible raiding and normal/heroic raiding means that if you choose to step down to flex for a night because you were short people, you'll either be locked into flex or you'll need to be able to switch back and forth between them. Either players will be punished for going flex, or they'll be using it to bypass encounters that are 'too hard' on normal. This isn't meant to be a means to game raid difficulty.
- Sharing the lockout between 10 and 25 man raiding nearly killed 25 man raiding. A shared lockout between flexible raiding and normal raids would probably be enough to finish the job, because as 25 man guilds lost members and made use of the flexible raid to keep running, there would be very little incentive to recruit and less incentive for new players to join.
- Flex raiding is being rolled out to test the waters - we have no idea how the final implementation will shake out. Burdening it with a shared lockout adds a further complication which isn't needed at this time. For all we know, flexible raiding will be how all raids work in the next expansion. Even if it isn't, we need to give it time before we make it jump through more hoops.
- People need to stop begging Blizzard to keep them from playing the game.
It's not flexible if you won't bend
If there's one thing Blizzard has proved with Mists of Pandaria it's that they were serious about making raid finder optional for normal raiders. I barely ever run the thing. Sometimes I say to myself "Hey, me (I call myself me because I know who I am) let's go run LFR for some valor, maybe a tank offset piece, and giggles." And then I go do exactly that. Usually, though, I don't bother - with drops for the various legendary quests shared between normal/heroic and LFR, I don't need to run LFR for anything. I can, if I want - if I'm bored, if some friends are going, if I want to flex my DPS or do some tanking to keep my hand in. I have the option.
With the track record Blizzard has demonstrated this expansion with LFR vs. normal, when they say you won't need to run flexible raiding I believe them. At this point, if you are in a raid group that's forcing you to run LFR in order to progress in normal raids, they're probably just wrong. Again, in some edge cases (if you intend to try and kill the entire new raid as soon as it comes out so you can do heroic fights as soon as they open) you might actually benefit from LFR. But considering that LFR is staggered release, that it opens in stages and that usually guilds like that are already clearing normal by the time LFR finishes opening, it truly isn't necessary to run LFR for gear to clear normal raids.
Blizzard's statements on flexible raiding indicate that all the mechanisms that keep LFR optional will be used in the new feature.
The mere fact that the flexible raid will unlock in wings means it won't be necessary. By the time the entire raid is unlocked, guilds that need the gear to progress in the new raid (guilds that push progression) will already have better gear options, and at most will be running flexible raids to fill one or two slots that haven't gotten lucky yet with a piece of gear that's 'good enough' until the normal mode drop happens. And let me be clear - not only don't I have a problem with that being possible, I think it's good for everyone. Letting players get something is in fact better than forcing them to raid with a trinket from normal MSV for months because they just can't get lucky.
If a player who raids currently runs LFR because he's stuck with a bad or outdated trinket, or weapon, I'm fine with that. If a current raider runs LFR because she wants to get her tank set fleshed out and hasn't gotten all the pieces from the normal raid yet because she's a DPS and the tanks still need pieces, that's good. Forcing players to pick one or the other takes a means for them to improve out of their hands, gives them less chances to customize themselves they way they want to, and creates stratification among players that isn't necessary or useful. And it's not fun.
That last part is the most important part, by the way.
At what point do you want someone else to come play for you too?
Flex raiding isn't intended (in this implementation, at least) to replace normal raids. Whether you raid 10 or 25, this doesn't exist to take the place of that. The gear won't be as good (better than LFR, admittedly) and it won't open all at once. If you're looking to become a fifteen man raiding guild, flex raiding won't stop you from doing that, but it won't replace the raids either - it means you'll have made the choice to raid at a size that gets you rewards that are less powerful. But you can do that, if you want to.
And that's wonderful in my eyes because it's the definition of optional. You can do it, if you want to. There are incentives built into the game that make normal raiding at the 10 or 25 man size the optimal gear progression, but if you're less concerned about gear than just raiding with the 12 or so people in your guild and not having to bench any of them, you can bring all 12 and run a flex raid. It's not ideal, but it's tenable. And what's more, by allowing guilds that have a steady roster to explore flexible raids and still keep their progression raiding, you allow players to make choices.
Do you want to gear up some alts? Bring six or seven geared mains (a couple of tanks, some healers maybe) and then flex the rest. Those mains may get a shot at some nice offspec gear, the alts get geared up. It's exactly what 25 man raiders did in Wrath of the Lich King with 10 man raids and while I understand why 10 man only groups didn't like it, it was a spar that kept 25 mans afloat in the face of their logistical and raid difficulty hurdles. With this change, struggling normal raid groups of either size get another bite of the apple, a chance to get something in a week, and frankly that's a good thing overall. As long as Blizzard keeps the gear rewards of lower quality and makes it so you don't have a chance for stuff like legendary quest drops from both, then flexible raiding will remain something you can do, rather than becoming something you should do.
Those of us who raided in Wrath remember Trial of the Crusader and the problem of having to run it four times a week in some cases. I understand why people think that was too much, because I thought that was too much. But that problem was probably solved twice. It was solved when heroic mode was switched from a separate instance to a toggle (Trial of the Crusader had a whole separate heroic version of the raid, whereas future raids would have a toggle you could flip on a boss by boss basis - you couldn't run the same boss on normal and on heroic) and then it was solved again when 10 and 25 man raids were given a shared lockout. One of those two solutions would have worked fine to curb the problem of running ToTC 4 times in a week, both of them was overkill.
So too with flexible raiding. If the gear isn't as good, if you can't get legendary rewards, and the flexible raid opens in stages rather than all at once, normal mode raiders will never need to run it to progress. It will be a nice benefit, a chance at some extra gear to fill a few errant spots or gear up an offspec, a way to have fun with friends. If a guild forces its members to run it for progression, that will be the fault of that guild and its myopic mentality that gear trumps skill, especially when the gear isn't even as good as what you'd get just clearing what you could in normal. And if you feel personally that a flexible raid is too much raiding in a week, don't do it. As I said, I almost never run LFR, and I don't feel like Blizzard could have done any more to give me that freedom not to than they have. They appear as committed to flexible raiding being optional.
That leaves the decision in our hands. How committed are we to controlling our own play? We're seeing a remarkable commitment to flexibility from Blizzard - how flexible are we?