Just when I think I have Blizzard figured out, they throw us a curveball. Only a month ago, I made the case on the Starting Zone podcast that raiding had evolved into three difficulty levels, and those levels could be compared to the easy, normal, and hard modes that most single-player games offer. I wrote in a column that normal mode raiding should now be labeled "guild raiding," because it took a certain level of coordination to succeed at that level. Normal raiding is no longer PUG friendly.
I said on the podcast that Blizzard is still figuring out just where the difficulty of normal modes should lie on the curve. It seemed that once their encounter designers figured out the appropriate tuning for the three modes, that is what raiding would look like for all foreseeable upcoming tiers and expansions.
As it turned out, Blizzard had a new raiding system hidden up their sleeve the entire time -- a system that few could have predicted. Let's look at the potential impact of this new way to raid and how your guild might need to adjust.
A brief history of "flexible" raiding
We've had "flexible" raid sizes a few times in WoW's history. You could run Molten Core with 40 players, but in reality you could succeed with far fewer. Up until Ragnaros, a full complement of 40 players was a luxury rather than an ideal. The original Onyxia encounter was doable with 20-something raiders if you knew the fight.
One of the reasons Blizzard reduced the raid size to 25 in The Burning Crusade is because they wanted each player to matter. Thus, this expansion wasn't very flexible at any raid size.
During Wrath of the Lich King, most raid bosses prior to Icecrown Citadel in their normal incarnations could be defeated rather handily with less than a full group. (In fact you could earn achievements for doing so.) Since then, however, most raid bosses have been tuned too tightly to run with empty slots unless you already had a leg up on gear.
Also, raid leaders knew we were hamstringing our raid by running with fewer people. Flexible raiding is about to change all that.
The future of flex
Smart guilds have extra raiders. People to fill in and swap in as needed, because falling short of 10 or 25 was a big problem. 10-man raiding guilds no longer have to leave those people at the portal. Your raids can be inclusive rather than exclusive. 25-man raiding guilds no longer have to recruit or poach like crazy if their raid falls short of the required amount. They can just use the flexible option.
Granted, hardcore progression guilds are going to shun this option, at least for their main raids. Flexible raiding isn't really meant for them. Yes, they will use it to learn an encounter or for extra gear, to get alts up to speed or to train new players. For them, it could become a "better" LFR.
The guilds who run flexible raids as their main raids will be those who raid for fun and the social aspect. Such guilds who don't want to deal with LFR jerks will no longer have to. Fun-first guilds for whom normal mode was too taxing can stop banging their heads against the Elegons, Garalons, and Horridons of normal mode. Complex loot systems will be irrelevant because flexible raiding will use LFR's per-player looting. In short, flexible raiding could be a casual raider's dream come true.
We may also see a resurgence of PUGs. What was once a common practice in WoW has fallen by the wayside of late except for a handful of world bosses. Anything besides LFR has been too complex for most PUGs to handle. Flexible raiding could change that.
This is an opportunity for officers and raid leaders. By inviting PUG players from your realm (or even cross-realm), you'll have opportunities to recruit that weren't readily available before. Best of all, you'll never have that awkward situation when you bring in a PUG but then your guildmate logs in two bosses later and you have to decide between them. Also, bringing PUGs will never mean lost loot for the guild.
The right mode for your guild
Come 5.4, many guilds will have to decide which raiding mode will be their focus. Your members are likely to have mixed opinions. Some of your raiders will prefer to use the flexible option to skip the headaches of normal mode. Others will see it as too easy and worry about getting bored.
The first step toward deciding is always communication. Talk to your raiders about their preferences and see if you have a large majority that favors one mode over the other. That will make your choice easy, and of course you can revisit it later depending on what happens.
The best part of this new system is not just flexibility for the number of raiders, but a flexible difficulty level also. Unlike the normal to hard mode progression, you'll have both difficulty levels available right away (though not the entire raid's worth). If your guild is split and you're not sure what to do, my advice is to begin with the flexible raid. Here's why:
- It's better to begin with success and move up than the reverse. If your guild destroys the flexi-bosses then you can upgrade to normal using your success as a springboard. If you begin with normal and have to give up, however, your morale will suffer. Low morale can make the flexible raid mode harder than it should be for your raid.
- You won't have to sit people in those first few weeks when everyone is excited and wants to see the new raid zone.
- Everyone will be able to see the boss mechanics, at least if you're a 10-man raid with extra people. If you transition to normal mode, that will mean an easier learning curve no matter who's raiding that night.
One interesting question remains: Does WoW need four distinct difficulty levels? Will Blizzard continue to spend the time and resources required to tune four levels? Or will flexible raiding eventually become the normal mode, leaving hard mode raiding as the lone level that requires having a specific amount of raiders on your roster?
Ghostcrawler says no, but who can say what the future will bring? In the meantime, let's enjoy the plethora of options that we will have at our disposal when we go after Garrosh in 5.4.
Officers' Quarters keeps your guild leadership on track to cope with sticky situations such as members turned poachers or the return of an ex-guild leader and looking forward to what guilds need in Mists of Pandaria. Send your own guild-related questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.