Ready Check: I'm more hardcore than you

Ready Check is a twice-a-week column focusing on successful raiding for the serious raider. Hardcore or casual, Vault of Archavon or Ulduar, everyone can get in on the action and down some bosses. Today, we step back a little and look at endgame in the context of sports.

Firstly, dedicated followers of this column (hi, Mum) will have noticed a new addition - Michael Gray's working his magic to make Ready Check not just weekly, but twice-weekly! Is that more than enough Ready Check to keep anyone happy? I think so.

Today's column is inspired by a question we've been discussing internally: is WoW a sport? Specifically, as so many of the externally validated goals in-game relate to raiding, how does raiding stand up to other, more traditional sports? We're not talking eSports, but good old fashioned team games. How do the attitudes in raiding differ from those you'd find in the sporting-as-a-hobby world?

Imagine, if you will, getting together with your friends a few nights a week, playing your game, whether it be bowling, golf or rounders. You do it for fun, you pick up the rules -- maybe you learnt them at school, someone took you in hand the first time you played, or you absorbed them from spectating or reading up.

Then perhaps you want something a little more. You realise you're quite good at the game, you spend a bit of money on new clubs, special shoes, you spend more time watching the professionals play. The evening games move from something you just have fun doing, to something you want to win. Perhaps you join a proper team, and soon you're turning up your nose at the 'amateurs' you used to roll with.

"I'm more hardcore than you!"

Sound familiar?

The majority of endgame raiders seem to fall between the 'pro-am' category, and the 'doing it for kicks' group. Most of us who've moved past the stage of figuring out which ball goes where and what offside actually means are unremittingly harsh on those just starting out. This fosters a culture of elitism and superiority which leads to a fairly hostile environment for someone keen to learn but without the innate knowledge and skill (yes, being able to move out of fire is a skill) granted from three or more years of raiding.

This stuff can all be learnt, and it's our job to help teach it. In the sports world, there are coaches, mentors, and handicaps. Should raiding have buddy systems or artificial boosts for those less experienced? Why don't people help each other out, dealing with valid but "n00bish" questions with sarcasm, misleading answers and infringements?

I think the answer is twofold. Firstly, those at the top of the pro-am category want to stay special. There's been a long and pained resistance to new entrants to our 'sport'; there's no limit to the number of hardcore raiders out there, and every new one makes us less unique. All 'hardcore' really means is 'time', after all.

Part of the harsh treatment of new raiders, aka 'scrubs' or 'bads' in EJ parlance, is simply a desire to make ourselves seem more important, more worthwhile. If someone who just picked up a mouse could become as cool as us, why have we wasted the last three or four years of our lives, evening by evening, getting here?

Secondly, it is a matter of asking the right questions, learning the right things, and obviously doing your best. If raiding together, every mistake you make costs other people time, money, and causes a little stress too. You can laugh them off, but they do have consequences. A middling league football or baseball team that picks up a brand new player who does nothing but drop the ball will quickly run out of patience, and it's the same in raiding. Even people with the gentlest temperaments and best intentions can get frustrated when they are constantly corpserunning due to your mistakes.

This leads on to a general principle of 'a place for everyone, and everyone in their place'. If you're the sort of person who makes mistakes, who doesn't care about having the right spec or the right equipment -- you'd turn up to a cricket match in jeans and a polo shirt, armed with a rounders bat -- perhaps playing with people who do care isn't the right home for you. Your mates in the park will welcome you with open arms, though.

What of those in the middle? Ultimately, it depends what your aims are. Do you want to be one of the no-lifes who spends every evening in front of WoW, with the rewards of world/region/realm firsts/seconds/fifths, uber gear, and endless whispers of "nice mount m8"? Are you happy progressing as you are with perhaps a less-than-textbook raid group, but a group of people who have fun together regardless?

There's certainly room for those less gifted with free time than Ensidia, and nobody's qualified to call you 'scrub' for being happy raiding three days a week. If you do have the free time, but not the experience, it's now really easy to jump into 10-mans, even practice in 5-man groups and slowly but surely get there. This is where the sporting idea of coaches and mentors would be great formalised in WoW; I've been toying over the idea of an Apprentice-style contest where we recruit 10 hopefuls for one guild spot and publicly mentor and train them, but perhaps that's going a little too far.

There's definitely a place in the game, and even in raiding, for people who are playing for kicks with no real desire to learn the rules of the game or figure out how everything works. There's also a place for those who want to theorycraft everything, who spend hours planning fights, who spend seven hours an evening, seven evenings a week wiping on the hardest modes of the hardest bosses.

The casual/hardcore animosity happens when the first group of people apply to the second set of guilds, or post on their forums, or ask what a good shadow priest spec is in their IRC channel. Tiger Woods wouldn't show you which way up to hold a golf club, but a guy at the local course will; don't ask Kungen whether you should gem for dodge or not.

Most of all, let noobs be noobs, if they're happy. Who cares if they're not using an optimal rotation or if they're gemming for spirit? If they're killing the stuff they want to kill, leave them be, and let's coexist in harmony. While hoping that, one day, hardcore raiders will get the same sort of salaries hardcore sports players receive. After all, living on European state support gets a little tiresome, no?

Jennie Lees is a European raider, albeit one with a job. If you do happen to have a lot of free time and a desire for shiny purps, her guild is (shameless plug) recruiting. Anti-anti-elitism comments can be directed to her on IRC (juna in #elitistjerks).