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Officers' Quarters: The A team question

Scott Andrews

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Every Monday Scott Andrews contributes Officers' Quarters, a column about the ins and outs of guild leadership. He is the author of The Guild Leader's Handbook, available this spring from No Starch Press.

The "A Team" -- in WoW, it's not a bunch of guys in a van who help people by . . . shooting other people. Rather, it's your best players grouped together to the exclusion of other guild members. Most guilds don't have the numbers to fill two 25-player teams, so this issue usually relates to 10-player runs. The forming of a 10-player A team can be riddled with drama. This week's e-mail asks whether allowing an A team is the right choice.

I enjoy reading your perspective on guild leadership. I'm hoping you can give us some ideas on balancing progression versus inclusion.

We are an established raiding guild that works on the top tier of content. While we are not a guild that makes server first kills, we steadily progress through the content and see hard/heroic modes on 25 man difficulty. Our raiding core is pretty solid, although there are levels of skill, from very high to adequate. We typically complete the ten man content, and use the ten mans as a base to gain experience on the twenty five mans.

Our problem mainly rests on the makeup of our ten man groups. One school wants to have the maximum number of people get in the ten man groups. This school spreads our best players among multiple groups. All of the groups have some success, but because there are weaker players included, these groups usually hit a wall on harder fights (Heroic Anub or the Wing Bosses of ICC). There is a lot of frustration on the part of our best players when this happens.

The second school likes to condense our best players into one ten man group. This group can progress farther and faster, and has the best shot at successfully completing heroic modes. The problem with this is that it regularly excludes fifteen to twenty other players who participate in our twenty five man raids. The group that is excluded feels slighted because they are not chosen for the condensed group. They are also less willing to go in with a makeshift group that will have less chance of success beyond easily farmed bosses.

The question is, how do you balance these schools? We are consider the twenty five man content to be the most important thing, thus I worry constantly about how the excluded players feel since they are a necessary part of our guilds work. At the same time, the best players are the ones that push our guilds success, so I worry about them not being happy with hitting the wall on harder content.

Is there a good way to balance these things out?

Thanks for your advice.


Hi, M. Your problem is a very tricky one and, like most tricky problems, no solution is perfect. What you have to ask yourself is this: What's the worst-case scenario for either option?

Say you choose to form A and B teams, putting your best players in A. The A team will, in all likelihood, do alright even in a worst-case scenario. ICC10 normal mode, particularly after the 5% buff, is not terribly difficult for highly motivated and knowledgeable players. I'd give your A team a week or two to get to the Lich King if they run it two nights per week, even if your progress is slow in ICC25. Arthas may give you some problems -- it's a complex and unforgiving fight -- but your best players will beat him eventually.

Meanwhile, your B team struggles mightily. They are jealous of the A team players. They don't understand why they have been excluded. Some of them quit the guild in a fury, accusing the officers of favoritism or worse. Your 25-player runs stall as a result, and you have to fill holes with some PUG players while you recruit to replace those who quit.

In the other scenario, two balanced teams hit up ICC10, with your exceptional and average players mixed together. The problem with teams like this is that it really magnifies the difference between the two types of players. When beating the encounter means you need to kill that ooze inexorably making its way toward your rooted healer, or you need four players to bite four other assigned players in a 15-second window, personal responsibility becomes a major concern.

Your exceptional players are, more often than not, willing to forgive these mistakes in a 25-player run. They realize that very few guilds are composed of 25 incredible players. Those guilds are the ones going for world and server firsts. As long as some progress is made, your players are generally content.

A 10s group, on the other hand, can stall out completely due to one player who doesn't react fast enough or one player whose DPS is too low. In this scenario, your A team players, running with B team players in both 10- and 25-player runs, get burned out by the lack of progress. They want a run where they don't have to watch what other people are doing all the time. They want a run to go smoothly all the way through without holding anyone's hand, and they never get it. So a number of them stop playing. Now you're in big trouble.

What's the difference here? In the first scenario, the players quitting were average players. Replacement PUGs, while often less capable than your own members, don't have very big shoes to fill. They just have to be average. Meanwhile, you have to find merely average players, at worst, to replace the players you lost.

In the second scenario, you've lost some of your best players. PUGs are such a huge step down that your 25-player raids become a cruel joke. Now you have to try to recruit exceptional players while your current raids are struggling -- not an easy task!

The sad fact is this: Your best players are what keeps your guild afloat. They are the people who make it possible for the other players in your guild to run 25-player content. As officers, we have to be realistic about certain things, and one of them is this: Our best players allow our guilds to raid.

That's why, for a guild like M's -- a guild like most guilds that has both great and average players -- I do recommend allowing an A team to exist. Your average players may grumble. They may even quit. Even so, you'll be better off than if you allow your best players to walk away.

Now, the difference between an A team player and a B team player isn't black and white. There will be players who could make the A team that you don't always have slots for and other players who are right on the cusp of excellence that you may want to encourage. If you can, I recommend rotating competent players in and out of your A team from time to time. That will give more players a taste of these elite runs. Just make sure the players you rotate in aren't the type who will hold up the group's progress.

That also allows the players you rotate out to run with a B team. They just won't have to do it every single week. They can apply their experience to help the B team progress.

Not only that, but if your A team players have seen more of the encounters in 10s than you've seen in 25s, they can apply that experience to help the entire guild. If you have two mixed teams struggling to progress, you'll miss out on the insights that seeing a fight in 10s can provide.

The other issue is hard modes. Realistically, a team composed of anything less than your best isn't going to stand a chance at some of ICC's tougher hard modes -- at least not until that 5% buff creeps higher, and even then perhaps it won't be enough. So your choice of team composition may also become a choice between running hard modes or not. If your best players want to try them, you should let them try.

Another benefit to having an A team is that it gives your other players something to aspire to, a motivation for them to improve. In a 25-player run for an average guild, you're going to take most of your available members. Maybe you'll have a few on standby, but for the most part you're going to take the players who are ready to go and hope they're good enough. There's no motivation in this scenario for an average player to improve. They're going to get a slot, and they're going to get loot, as long as their performance doesn't dip too far below average.

However, if there's a team of players that they don't qualify for, it can give them that motivation. Some players aren't interested, but others will want very badly to be on that team someday, and they will work hard to master their class, make use of keybinds and macros to optimize their reaction speeds, play around with add-ons to give them better information in combat, etc. In short, they'll try to become exceptional players. And your A team members can help them to do so by pointing them in the right direction for good information, helping them with DPS rotations, and so on.

If I haven't made my case yet, there's one final benefit. In my experience, when your A team conquers content, it improves morale for the entire guild. When our A team got our drakes from Ulduar 10 during 3.2, it was a substantial morale boost, even for the players who weren't actively participating in those runs. They took pride in the fact that our guild had accomplished that goal and that we had players of that caliber.

No player is completely irreplaceable, and you shouldn't let your clutch members get their way just because they threaten to quit. Boundaries must be drawn by your own policies. But I do believe, overall, that allowing an A team is better for guilds with a mix of player abilities. Whether it's right for your own guild is something you'll have to decide, but that's my take on it!


Send Scott your guild-related questions, conundrums, ideas, and suggestions at You may find your question the subject of next week's Officers' Quarters!

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