15 Minutes of Fame: Raiding on 8 hours a week

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

What marks the line in the sand between "hardcore" raiding and "casual" raiding? Is it an attitude, time spent ... both? We're not going to get into the debate here -- but you're sure to come away with new food for thought after this interview with the GM of <Skunkworks>, which recently downed the Lich King in 25-man heroic mode -- the 244th guild in the world and only the 70th in the United States to do so -- on just 8 hours of raiding per week.

15 Minutes of Fame: Let's start with some introductions.

Chupa: My former main (I'm currently on sabbatical for school) is Chupadruid, a healer in <Skunkworks> on Balnazzar (US-H). Before that I raided on my warlock, Chupavida. I founded the guild as <Casually Serious> on Crushridge (US) in September of 2008, in anticipation of the release of Wrath of the Lich King.

How did you arrive at the idea of a limited-schedule raiding guild?

I started playing the game in August 2006 to join some friends from work in their extremely casual adventures. As a married student dragging myself through undergrad, I didn't have time to join any of the guilds on my server (which all raided three to five nights a week). I also had no interest in joining a raiding scene where racism, vulgarity and general internet douchebaggery were the norm. As a consequence, my experience with raiding was limited to ogling the guys in T2 as they idled in Org and getting blown up in WSG by T3 premades. I did take my warlock to some feeble attempts to clear ZG and AQ-20, but those runs were lucky to kill trash, let alone bosses.

A few months after The Burning Crusade launched (May '07), I tried to find a way to raid on my limited schedule and joined a new guild started by some friends from heroics and Kara pugs. It suffered from poor leadership and collapsed a couple months later after wiping for a few weeks to Magtheridon box fail. After a year of casual PVP and fishing (woooo!), I joined one of the established middling guilds on the server on the condition that I could attend two out of their three raid nights without penalty (May '08). I finished BT with them, but Sunwell was far more than they could handle, and I quit in August because I had reached the limit of my patience for bad wipes on easy bosses caused by bad play.

More than anything, my limited raiding history served as a kind of "what not to do" guide as I started working on the idea of a "hardcore casual" guild. Having dabbled in what my server had to offer, I recognized the universal absence of what could be considered standard "good practice" management techniques. I had also seen some pretty rough content and had come to understand that more than anything, the challenge of high-end raiding is in roster management, since the actual button-pushing isn't all that hard, even at its worst. I knew that if I had a guild composed of 25+ raiders who were at least as skilled as I was and who were as mature/dedicated/sociable as I was, then there would be no limit to our potential progression.

I looked around for a guild like that, and when I didn't find one, I posted a manifesto of a recruitment thread on the Horde recruitment forums, knowing that after Sunwell there had to be enough people who were frustrated with their raiding situation to form a guild. I got lucky and recruited some really incredible people, and things snowballed from there.

How have Skunkworks' goals evolved over time, from Naxx through Ulduar and into Wrath?

The goals really haven't changed much. To be honest, I started with some pretty lofty goals/expectations. I think the phrase in the original recruitment post was "SK-Gaming lite." What has changed is our capacity to actually achieve those goals, since the roster is orders of magnitude more skilled and experienced than it was when we started.

How does Skunkworks go about finding compatible members? What's your screening and trial process like?

These days, we get a lot of our applications by word of mouth. We have raiders who have played in many of the best guilds in the world, and they are always eager to invite their friends and former guildmates to trial with us. There are a few of our members who maintain websites or blogs in the community and who tend to serve as magnets when spots open up. We also have a recruitment post on the EJ LFGuild board, as well as posts in the usual Horde recruitment forums. We don't have a bench (the roster tends to fluctuate between 27 and 30), so we only recruit for specific spots in the roster.

Whether or not there is an opening is thus the most common reason we deny applications. Some really great players/people have been turned away because there just wasn't any room. We are very numbers-oriented, and we put people's armory pages and combat parses under the microscope. Other considerations are guild/raiding histories, UI organization and general writing/communication abilities. Apps that survive that gauntlet get a Vent interview where we evaluate social fit and try to get a feel for their long-term commitment. A trial lasts one month on average, and we evaluate the skill with which they play their class, the speed at which they GTFO the ever-present fire, and how easily they mesh with the guild's social atmosphere.

What qualities do you feel are the marks of an excellent player?

Excellent players are a rare and wonderful thing. It's an unusual person who possesses both the intelligence required to understand the inner workings of his class with the raw button-mashing skills required to put out boss-melting DPS (or to heal/tank at the levels required by progression raiding). A third, even rarer element is situational awareness. It doesn't matter what kind of DPS you do if you spread Defiles when they drop, spawn adds from Yogg's clouds or stand on the wrong side of the boss on an Immortal Thaddius attempt. While some people seem to be born with these "gifts," I also think that they can be learned. With the right UI, and with lots of research and practice, most anybody could play at the necessary level to succeed in hard-mode content.

How do you handle rotating the inevitable players who end up on the bench on any given date?

We ask for volunteers first, since there is usually somebody with a flight in the morning who could use some extra sleep. After that, if it's a progression night, we'll tend to sit trials first, then roll for the remaining spots.

Does the guild's limited raiding schedule lend itself to a lighter administrative schedule for you and the officers, too? Or have you found that most officers stay busy most nights?

In reality, leading raids ends up being the smallest part of the time commitment required of the officers. We spend a great deal of time theorycrafting our play and our boss strategies on the forums, and a lot of time goes into reviewing applications as well. Where I believe we do perhaps save time over a lot of other guilds is in the drama department. With our older, more mature roster, we don't have to do nearly as much of the babysitting that leaders in younger guilds end up doing on a regular basis. All told, the officers probably spend anywhere from one to four hours a week outside raids handling administrative stuff.

Do you anticipate any change in schedules and time spent when Cataclysm hits?

The two-nights-per-week model has worked very well for us for the first two years, and I see no reason for that to change. The changes to raid lockouts may mean less time running 10-mans and such on off nights, though those who are inclined will always fill that time with alts, achievement point whoring or other time sinks.

Will you institute level caps or goals when Cataclysm first arrives?

In general, I think we're pretty hardcore about that kind of thing, and I imagine the slower levelers in the guild will hit 85 within a week of the "I'm using the beta to plan my leveling path so I know how to spend my caffeine-powered questing binge" poopsockers among us (and there are several). If someone were to take an unusually long time leveling, then there would probably be a good reason for it and we would work with them individually.

Is "advance recon" in the beta a part of your guild's overall strategy and plans?

Due to having a few friends in high places, we did manage to get the guild in the alpha and subsequently the beta. There are some real math/theorycrafting geeks among us, and I know they are all trying their hardest to favorably shape the evolution of their classes, as the developers try new things and respond to feedback. Aside from that, I think people are just enjoying the content and familiarizing themselves with the new mechanics and zones. There isn't any kind of guild mandate to do so, however.

Do you foresee any new mechanics, content or features ahead in Cataclysm that will significantly affect the guild's playstyle or approach to raiding?

There has been a lot of concern in the "serious" raiding world about the shift to shared loot and lockouts between 10- and 25-man raid sizes. It's something that can put a lot of strain on guild leadership, as people start to ask themselves why they should bother "carrying the bads" in 25s when they could do 10s with friends for the same rewards. There are also issues with lockout splitting/joining that have the potential to cause organizational headaches for raid leaders. We think we have an edge here, as a guild that is in it for the joy of killing pixel dragons more than just for the loot, with a roster that is as unified and homogenized as any. So while I don't expect us to change how we do things, I do think the raiding landscape might change around us, which may end up working to our advantage.

Other things like buff/debuff sharing between classes, better balance between classes (goodbye mandatory "X number of holy paladins") and other changes will make our lives as officers easier. Raids will be easier to organize around important buffs/debuffs, and rosters will be more flexible.

We would have assumed that a smaller, tighter team with very few on the bench would mean less recruiting, but it sounds as if recruiting is an ever-present task.

The age of our roster can be a double-edged sword here. On the one hand, our raiders tend to have stable schedules. Work is a known quantity, and they can plan their social calendars so as not to conflict with Tues./Thurs. raids. But grownup things like job promotions, babies being born and the occasional retirement leave holes in the roster that need to be filled. When those holes open up, it can take weeks or even months to adequately fill them, which means lots of work for the officers.

What proportion of the guild actually take advantage of the two days/week schedule by not logging in at all on nonraiding nights?

That fluctuates with the availability of interesting stuff to do (i.e., new content and relevant 10-mans). When a new patch is out and there's gear to be gotten and achievement points to be whored, we tend to see a lot more activity throughout the week. But at times like now, with everything clear and little incentive to run 10-mans, I'd say the majority of the guild only logs on for raids. Our forums are very active, so people can be social there without having to log on and do laps in Dalaran. At any point, however, there are people (maybe 25 percent of the roster) who, whether due to time limitations or because they just aren't interested, only log on for raids.

What would you say is the thing that holds <Skunkworks> together?

I do want to make sure the guild itself gets most of the attention. It wouldn't be what it is without huge contributions by some pretty amazing officers and what I'm confident is the best roster in the world. The engineers, doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, code monkeys, assorted business people and students who choose e-dragon-slaying as their hobby, and who choose to do it with <Skunkworks>, are what make this such a great guild.

"I never thought of playing

WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email