When you are the weakest link

Zach Yonzon
Z. Yonzon|05.02.08

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When you are the weakest link

Our team tanked 76 points tonight. Despite winning five straight Arena games worth about 3 rating points each, we ran into a team that was pretty well-geared but were clearly playing below par. Unfortunately, our leader disconnected midway through the match, and even though we were outplaying the opposing team, the loss of our primary DPS and tunnel vision (he plays a Rogue) was enough for the opposing team to eventually burn us down for a 27-point loss. Just like that, all our previous wins were nullified and we found ourselves lower than when we started. Familiar with the opposing team's make-up, we counter-comped and proceeded to beat them thrice in a row until the fourth game where, in the middle of the battle, everyone started running in place on my screen and nothing was happening. It was my turn to get disconnected.

I restarted my router and modem, waited a minute, and logged on to find we'd dropped another 25 points. Eager to recoup our losses against a team we were certain we could beat, we queued again. Not three minutes into the queue, my Vent went silent and I feared the worst. After making certain I had disconnected, I sent an SMS to our leader to tell him what had happened, went through the motions of connecting again and when I finally got on, I found that our team had tanked a total of 76 insane points. And it was largely my fault.

I know that Internet disconnections and router problems happen. But at this level of play, when there's so much at stake, I simply couldn't help but feel I was pulling the entire team down. We are racing towards the end of the season, concentrating more on our ratings rather than our points as some of us were already hitting the 5,000 Arena points cap with nothing left to buy. Our games are now such that winning often nets us no more than 6 points if we're lucky and losing burns us for no less than 19, every aspect of play becomes crucial. If I can't have a stable connection, no matter how much on top of my game I am at that time, I'm hurting the team.

This happens to us all. Many of us have played in instances or raids where someone, maybe the main healer or the tank -- It may even be yourself -- suddenly drops or lags to the point of ineffectiveness. Playing in Asia, I have learned to adapt to an average ping of 500-700ms with the help of Quartz and a habit of preemptive healing. When I'm doing melee, I adapt by enlarging the range display option on MetaHUD to alert me of key range changes and try to stay on top of my opponent on screen at all times. Even then, sometimes these measures aren't enough. I'm sure we've all had instance runs or Arena matches where our party or teammates yell "Laaaaaaaag!" choppily over vent preceding a wipe or a loss.

Because we're playing a game that requires us to connect to a server, response times are important. Heck, staying online is important. When we're playing solo, dropping from the server or the 'Net will, at worst, find us logging back in at the feet of a Spirit Healer. When we're in a group such as a raid or Arena team, if our link to the Internet breaks or slows at the most inopportune times, we log back in to find a group of people running back to their corpses or sitting stunned in front of Zeggon Botsnap. A group of people that's usually upset, disgruntled, and -- if it happens often enough -- pushed to the limits of their patience.

While this hasn't happened to me as often or resulted in such abominable rating drops, at this point in the season, I don't think I've ever felt more introspective and filled with self-doubt. I know what I'm capable of and I know what I bring to my team, but when my link to the Internet is a weak or unstable one, I become my team's Achilles' Heel. I am the weakest link, and an army only travels as fast as its slowest soldier. Even though they won't verbalize it, I know my teammates are frustrated. It's the same feeling I get when a player on our raids keeps disconnecting constantly and dying during boss fights because she isn't moving when she's supposed to move or casting what she's supposed to cast. It frustrates me and often, in my draconian moments, I've elected to kick those people from our raid and bring in replacements who can perform -- even if not better -- reliably. I now know how those shoes feel.

The worst part of it is, this is largely out of my control. When I logged on after disconnecting a second time, we decided to wait thirty minutes to see if my connection had stabilized. When i didn't disconnect in that period, we decided to queue again and sure enough, thirteen minutes into the queue, my connection drops and we decide to call it for the night. Tomorrow, we'll begin the slow, excruciating climb to regain our footing after dropping so abysmally. Tomorrow, I'll be praying that I no longer be our weakest link by virtue of an unreliable connection as we move towards the impending Season 4.

Our game is something we can control. The way we play, our gear, our knowledge of the game, our class, and the encounter -- these are all factors that we have a hand in. But there are things beyond our control, and our connection's stability is merely one of them. When external factors play a part in bringing down your game, how does your party, team, or raid adapt? How do you compensate? Have you ever been frustrated at a team member not simply because of his game but his reliability to stay online? Have you ever experienced such helplessness and frustration during key moments -- perhaps while attempting, say, Kael'thas for the first time? I'm sure we've all experienced bad connections at some point in time, but has it happened at such crucial moments that it has demoralized you or your raid?

When Deus ex machina is responsible for moments like these, it often happens that we look for someone -- not something -- to blame. Perhaps it's human nature. Perhaps it makes thing easier to accept. I know for certain that it came to a point where I blamed myself. Counterproductive as that was, it was a useful step towards moving on. I look forward to tomorrow. With a little luck and a determination to stay on the ball, hopefully the only things that I'll be bidding 'goodbye' to are bad games.
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