The good news for raid leaders these days is that so much help is coming from patch 5.4, if what's on the PTR is any indication. Flexible raiding could be a lifesaver for guilds who stalled out in today's challenging normal modes. Virtual realms could inject new blood into every realm. The Throne of Thunder raid should see an across-the-board nerf from the patch, too. With all of these changes on the horizon, what raid leaders need to focus on right now is holding on and keeping their teams intact.
The bad news is that no one knows when the patch will drop. We are likely at least six weeks away from 5.4, and probably longer than that since Blizzard has new systems to test and a new raid to tune. This week's email comes from a raid leader who isn't sure he can make it:
I am the current Raid Leader of a 10 man raid guild that considers ourselves to be progression-focused, semi-hardcore, or whatever you want to call it. We raid 3 nights a week for 3 hours a night, keep logs of all our runs, and really push to be successful. In the past, this worked out fairly well for us, as our guild maintained a top-10 place on our server according to wowprogress.com all through tiers 12, 13, and 14. However, since the release of MoP the members that made up the original progression team have been slowly bleeding away for one reason or another. At first, these losses could be absorbed by the extra standbys on our roster as well as a few people that swapped from our more casual 2-night-per-week team. Eventually we had to start recruiting out of guild in order to fill our raids each week. Generally speaking, for each player we lost the replacement we found was of a lesser caliber, whether it be in skill, gear level, or dedication.
With the release of ToT and the difficulty of certain bosses (Horridon for example), our progression has begun to seriously stumble.
We are now no longer even top 20 on our server, and it seems like every couple of weeks we lose another player. [...] From week to week we often struggle to get 10 players on ready to raid. Because of this we have to tolerate poor performance, unannounced absences, constantly showing up late to raid, and other things that simply got you benched back in the days when we had a strong roster of 13 skilled players. There are a plethora of raiding guilds on our medium-population server that are competing for good players, so recruitment has been extremely difficult as of late, and as we slip further and further behind progression-wise we have very little to attract new players with. [...]
Being made Raid Leader also has made me feel personally responsible for the successes and failures of the team, and while I'd like to think I do a decent job at leading the objective evidence of our poor progression suggests otherwise.
What advice would you give to a raiding guild that sees itself steadily slipping from relevancy? How can we hope to shore up our team and start having fun and killing bosses again? Is it even possible to get ourselves back on track, or do we have to reevaluate our goals as a guild and as a raid team?
Thanks very much for your time.
Struggling to Keep it All Together
Many guilds are in your shoes right now, STKIAT. Don't let your slip in the rankings fool you. I think you can turn the team around, if you're willing to try. Here's what I suggest.
1. Figure out why players are leaving. Are you skipping over the actual reasons when you say raiders are leaving "for one reason or another" or do you not know the reasons? If you don't know, you really need to find out. If you can track some of these departed players down, ask them about it. Now that they're gone, they might be willing to offer information that they didn't want to bring up before they left. This is also a chance for you to feel them out about coming back, if they haven't found new raiding guilds already or burned the bridge back to yours.
2. Communicate with your existing raiders about what they like and don't like about your raids. Along the same lines as above, you need to figure out what it is that's driving people out of the guild. Even if you already have a really good idea, you might be surprised by what people tell you if you straight-up ask them. It's never a waste of time even if you're right, either, because it shows your raiders that you're trying to improve their raiding experience. Player retention should be your top priority, and communication helps retention.
3. Don't tolerate disrespectful behavior. I assume your raid team is mostly adults or older teens who are responsible for their own actions. Benching people or doling out punishments doesn't really do much to prevent problems like late log-ins, low attendance, or attitude. It just makes people sulky, crabby, or both -- and you're likely to need them someday.
A better approach is to have private conversations with these players and treat the issue as a problem that you both need to solve. Ask if there's anything you can do to help them out. Either they will open up about the issues they're having, in which case you can try to figure it out together, or they'll have to admit that they've just been lazy.
Don't underestimate the power of public shaming, either, especially if you've already had private talks about the problem and they haven't shaped up. Calling people out as late or absent over Vent -- in a calm, straightforward way -- can let everyone know that you're aware of it and you don't like it.
Whatever you do, don't ignore these issues and let people get away with them. Other players on your team may not say anything to you, but privately they might be really frustrated about it.
4. Be careful about "poaching" from your own raid teams. It's always tempting to find players from within the guild to plug holes. However, if your guild has a progression team and a casual team, mixing the two is going to create a messy situation. The progression team may feel hamstrung by poor-performing or less-motivated casual raiders, the casual raiders who make the switch may feel overwhelmed, and the casual raiders who are "left behind" might resent the fact that you are taking their raiders.
5. Evaluate the reasons for your progression stall. Find different strategies. Coach underperformers. Break the bad habits of your veterans. Study logs of the guilds who are beating those bosses. Check out my tips for raiding in Mists. It's meant for more casual raiders, but I think much of it would apply here also. I also recommend this column on successful raiding guilds.
6. Recruit. Duh, I know, but a great way to stop the bleeding is to find new blood. A new player makes everyone feel better about a raid team, especially if that person is a solid raider. It reinforces the fact that this is, in fact, a team that people want to join. To stop losing people, you have to add people. You're not going to sell raiders on your progression during this patch, but you can always sell them on a good raiding environment -- but first you have to fix that environment and make your pitch true.
A schedule change might help both attendance problems and recruiting. Three nights for three hours may not be ideal. Two nights for four and a half hours could be better for adults with families and jobs without costing you any raid time. Whatever schedule most guilds on your realm follow, try to be different and you might recruit players just because your times work better for them.
7. Talk about the plan moving forward. Once you've gathered all the information you can, acknowledge the problems in a forum post. Explain what the guild's goals are going to be in the near future and after patch 5.4 releases. Mention what the patch is bringing to WoW and how you can leverage it to help the raid team succeed. Give them leadership that's honest about the past but optimistic about the future. It could be exactly what people need to feel better about your raiding situation.
By taking a proactive approach and emphasizing communication, you can hold out till 5.4 drops. I wish you and all the other hard-working raid leaders out there plenty of luck!
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.