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Exclusive Interview: Nihilum, the Sunwell, and the future of high-end raiding

Allison Robert

After writing one of my first articles on an essay penned by Neg, one of Nihilum's resto Shaman, I was surprised and heartened to see him get in touch. We talked about a few matters related to our pieces and I asked him if he would mind answering some questions about what the guild's been up to since we spoke to them last. We hadn't heard much about Nihilum on the PTR (Vis Maior was the guild steamrolling the content this time out), but they've been upgrading and expanding their website, and one of the 2.4 raiding screenshots on Wowwiki belongs to them, so they've obviously been busy. It had also become clear that Awake, arguably their most high profile member, had left the guild, and I was curious about what was going on.

Neg very graciously answered my questions, which you'll find below the cut. Read on for his take on Sunwell Plateau and his favorite boss, Awake's departure, resto Shamans versus holy Paladins, picking up an enhancement Shaman and the class in PvP, various boss encounters, and WoW as an e-sport.

WoW Insider: How far into Sunwell Plateau has Nihilum gone so far? How does the difficulty of the encounters compare to Tier 6? Is there any fight that seems particularly good or particularly bad (e.g. any repeats of pre-fix Vashj)?

When we got onto the PTR (which happened really late because of problems with the European version), we hardly got to try the first three bosses. They had already been tested for by other guilds and buffed several times before Blizzard decided to take them offline. But Kalecgos, Brutallus and Felmyst seemed quite OK: besides Kalecgos, they didn't die in the first few tries we had on them.

We basically spent most of our time on the buffed (Eredar) Twins and M'uru. Both seemed to be quite challenging, especially playing with 400+ ms lag, which we've come to expect from playing on U.S. servers. But the tuning of the encounters themselves was a good sign; I would personally rather see Blizzard overtune than undertune boss encounters (like they did in BT/MH). Both fights also seem to be working game mechanic-wise, so at least everyone facing them will have a fighting chance.

WI: What's been your favorite boss in the Sunwell so far?

Well, that's kind of hard to say, as we only really tried 2 bosses. The Twins were hard but the fight mechanics seemed a bit simple, just a lot of pressure on the healers. M'uru seemed like a typical add fight, so I can't say (I have a favorite) yet. If I had to compare them to the god of all encounters, Four Horsemen, then the Twins would get a 6 and M'uru a 7.5, so they aren't bad, but not particular good either.

WI: Is there any loot drop (for yourself or others) that's really impressed you?

Not the items in particular, but more the general stats of items. I was really impressed by the impact of all the + haste; you really feel the difference. When I came back to the live servers I really, really missed the speed of the spells -- it felt so different.

And for those wondering how we could get enough items to actually feel the difference, Sunwell reset each day (on the PTR) and all the bosses, except Kalecgos, were being Deathtouched, but we still could loot them ! So we were gearing up at extreme speed, hehe.

WI: I loved the re-design on your site; who was responsible for the latest design, and who typically updates it?

Thanks, I'll pass the compliment on to the Mousesports guys who designed it, they definitely deserve it. As far as updates, it's Nessaj doing most of the work as the site content manager.

WI: It also looks as if you've picked up some new sponsors, or did I just not notice Intel/Dell/Geil on your site previously?

We did pick up some new sponsors, thanks to Mousesports. Geil actually been a sponsor for a while now but both Intel and Dell are new. We hope to be of great value for each other in the future.

WI: When did Awake decide to leave, and how was the guild affected by his departure? Was there a lot of agreement or disagreement over it?

Awake was ultimately "asked" to leave the guild and website by Kungen. After Illidan was killed, Awake started showing up less and less for raids until he stopped showing up at all. He also took the position of website manager and tried to do everything himself there, alienating people who wanted to help. This obviously didn't work. So it came to a point where he didn't play the game anymore and was slowing down the site, so keeping him around wasn't really going to help anyone. It also became clear that Awake abused his position as DKP manager to get free items and advantages over other members, and people at Mousesports and our other affiliates didn't want to work with him anymore, which I can understand as he has a bad personality and ego. So in the end Kungen didn't have much choice but to ask Awake to leave Nihilum.

Ed: After reading a rough draft of this interview, Neg added: And yes, there was a lot of agreement over (his departure). I think there were more cheers of joy when Awake got removed from the guild than when Illidan went down. Awake wasn't liked in the guild, not just because of his personality but also because he made sure nobody in the guild could do anything at all. He was really obsessive about all the attention going to him.

Asked about his departure from Nihilum a month previously, Awake declined to comment to WoW Insider for this post.

WI: He was your most visible spokesman for a while; who's taken his duties within and representing the guild?

His positions have been taken over by several people. As mentioned earlier, Nessaj now manages most of the site, Thargan does the DKP, and we never really had an official spokesman. It was just Awake keeping everyone else away from doing anything that made it look like he was our spokesman. And (his departure) was probably a good thing for the guild. Ingame we of course lost a healer, but he didn't show up anyway, and for the site it meant that everyone was now able to work on it.

WI: I noticed that you guys were recruiting for a high-dps enhancement shaman recently; has Nihilum softened its stance on hybrid DPS in raids, or is this really more an experiment? From what I can recall of both previous forum threads and recruitment, you guys were generally unenthusiastic about 'offspec' viability for cutting-edge raiding.

Haha, yes, we've always been very old-fashioned regarding specs. The only offspec (mainspec now) that we've utilised is a shadow Priest. A large factor here is probably the "never change a winning team" idea; we did really well without them, so why get them aboard? I think the enhance Shaman idea came from Brutallus 1.2, where you could catch his Burn DoT with grounding totems. As soon as this was known, it became obvious that 5 shamans would be needed in the raid, and thus an enhancement Shaman would come in handy.

WI: Have you guys done any T4/T5 content recently, and if so, which encounters have changed the most from how you first saw them to how they are now (from what I can tell, most of T6 was significantly better-tuned when it went live)?

I am really sorry to tell you this, but we're probably some of the biggest slackers when it comes to farming. After BT/MH went live, we went back to SSC/TK maybe once or twice, but dropped them both really fast. It's probably something Kungen learned quickly; when there is content we raid like maniacs, really a lot. So when there isn't new content around, we raid as little as possible. This limits the chances of burnout to a minimum, and seeing the number of raiders who quit in TBC, the approach is working.

But I think Magtheridon changed the most over the past year. When we first encountered and defeated him, he was absolutely insanely hard, over-tuned to the max. But patch after patch he has been nerfed to fit the spot that he should have occupied, an entry-level raid encounter.

WI: I really liked your March 8 column on the worst tuned encounters, by the way; I hate Morogrim myself, although in his nerfed version it's more for the amount of damage he can do even to a Tier-6 geared tank.

If you hate Morogrim, be glad that you weren't there when he was first encountered; it was awful. I don't think I've ever seen us wipe so fast and hard. Some GM's must have had the time of their lives, haha. It would actually be fun if they changed him back to version 1.0 after a random maintenance.

WI: Will you guys continue to raid competitively in Wrath of the Lich King? We've noticed that you seem to have taken things a bit slower on the patch 2.4 PTR; was it because of arena competition, the upheaval over Awake, or technical issues?

Just damn technical issues. The lack of Nihilum on the PTR kills was purely because of PTR issues. We're basically still the same group of hungry raiders waiting for challenges. There's no doubt that Nihilum will also raid competitively in WotLK, probably with some different names in the roster, but other then that we'll try to conquer WotLk the same way we took TBC by storm.

WI: Assuming T6 gear, what classes and specs do you notice as scaling best and worst? E.g. right now my guild is now working its way through the endgame and starting to notice that our holy Paladins are being left in the dust by our resto Shaman.

Haha, yes! About time I might say; holy Paladins took Horde healing by storm at the launch of TBC, and it wasn't until MH/BT that resto Shamans started to take the #1 spot regularly. It all comes down to Chain Heal scaling insanely well (up to 165% of your +healing) and Blizzard putting more and more focus on insane amounts of unpredictable splash damage. Black Temple looks to be made with CH in mind.

Apart from Shamans scaling so well, I would say that shadow Priests are falling behind. Both because of their DPS not being competitive any more and also because DPS becomes less dependent on the mana regen they provide. But other then that it all seems quite balanced. If you look at the average spots a class gets per raid in our DKP lists, it's only clear that Hunters still need more love. It's the only class you can do without in TBC.

WI: Do you see WoW raiding or PvP becoming a viable e-sport, or are there just too many limitations imposed by the MMORPG context versus a FPS?

I personally don't see it happening. Because of WoW's success, there of course will be more and more companies that want be linked to WoW in some way, either by sponsoring or owning PvP teams. But as a real e-sport, nope; there are just too many problems (with the concept). The immense success WoW is having could also be one of the biggest problems. As I said in my column about worst tuned encounters, Blizzard is making a lot of money on WoW (and they deserve to) but that will also make Vivendi scared of losing this insane cash cow, so changes can't be implemented quickly anymore, and everything has to be looked at a hundred times. This results in Blizzard being slow, and thus behind on what is happening in Azeroth more and more.

WI: This is one is actually more personal, because I'm raising a resto shammy myself (at 34 they're still pretty mana inefficient, sadly); do you believe the class is anywhere near as broken as so many people think it is, and if so, what should Blizzard be doing to fix it?

Well, yes and no. PvE-wise, Shamans are absolutely all right now. As healers we're really wanted in TBC, and as DPS we're good enough to get spots. But the PvP part is really bad, just awful. Every stat you can get shows that Shamans are completely broken in PvP, except for elemental in 5v5. Burst damage + Heroism/Bloodlust get them spots there, but that can't carry a class. We have 3 viable PvE specs, and you can't expect every Shaman to respec and gear up as elemental for PvP and then only do 5v5. I don't PvP a lot anymore. It's so bad as a Shaman that I quit doing it, but I would say Shamans need some kind of way to get close to their opponent as enhancement, and the opposite as elemental/resto, which seems hard again, as the specs have completely opposite needs. Another problem is that Shamans are probably one of the hardest classes to balance; we can do so much and thus changing anything might unbalance things for another spec in another environment.

Many thanks to Neg for taking the time to answer my questions!

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