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The Soapbox: The Raid Finder ruined raiding

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I don't typically limit myself to ranting about only one game at a time, but I decided to make an exception this week and speak out against World of Warcraft's Raid Finder mechanic. I was running a small and modestly successful raiding guild when this system was introduced, and my team definitely felt the onslaught of this guild-destroying game mechanic first hand. Raid Finder, commonly dubbed LFR by the cool kids in Orgrimmar, is a system that demolishes the competency barrier that stands in the way of freshly level-capped characters and normal raiding content. The system allows players to join a random raiding group in order to tackle a nerfed version of a normal raid and exists mainly to maximise inclusion in the game's best PvE endgame content.

LFR was quite popular among casual players that were usually passed up when it came to raiding group formation, but it didn't offer much progress to seasoned raiders. The gear gained had lower stats than its corresponding normal raid counterpart, but the LFR tier simply didn't need the co-ordination required of a group tackling regular raids. A void was created somewhere in between the casual masses who could benefit from the LFR mechanic and the hardcore raiders that simply did not need help with progression. My casual raiding guild was caught in the middle and ultimately met its demise at the hands of LFR, which simultaneously depleted the PUG pool and gave our members another way to see the endgame content they wanted without putting in virtual blood, sweat, and tears.

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The good old days before auto-everything

Running a small but dedicated raiding guild comes with its own trials and tribulations. I spent many nights frantically planning out my guild's raiding teams, making sure that I had both balanced the teams by relative skill or experience and had also included a reliable Raid Leader in each group. I was dubbed the guild mother, carefully collecting my cubs and pairing them off with more sensible siblings in order to keep them happy, fulfilled, and safe. My guild was inclusive, and I cared for every member's individual progress, but I also didn't hold back my best raiders from meeting their potentials.

Being so inclusive and flexible was hard to balance on paper, though: Many weeks would see a clash of schedules or the real world pulling away members of my raiding teams, but I couldn't argue with this when I opted to include players with other responsibilities or less time on their hands. With small gaps in our squads every other week, we chose to PUG replacements rather than boot a perfectly good but more casual guild member from a raiding team. This always worked well for us, and we made good raid progress despite being a very relaxed and inclusive guild.

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Pugging ain't easy, man!

I've never subscribed to hardcore raid elitism, but I similarly didn't want to abandon all hope of seeing some heroic boss kills before the raids became obsolete. When LFR effectively tore down the PUG pile by making the risk of raiding with strangers not worth the reward of marginally better gear, it became difficult to find replacements for empty raid spots, and I felt punished for offering that flexibility. There is such a small jump between the gear thrown at you in LFR and the gear you earn through normal raiding that gamers who once pugged would settle for obtaining a full set of LFR gear, particularly if they also enjoyed the PvP facets of WoW that don't prize raiding gear.

If you combine the gear with the lack of satisfaction gained from smashing through bosses you've already clobbered repeatedly in LFR and the fact that singular PUGs tend to be players with less free time on their hands, it's easy to see why many are simply not willing to risk an evening of precious game time to take the chance on your group's success. When progression is made so easy, players will be happy resting on their laurels if success isn't guaranteed. Most PUGs we picked up after LFR was released would only stay for one or two boss attempts, whereas before we'd get at least a few hours of raiding in.

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Competence is now optional

Before LFR, raids required at least a basic level of competence and mercilessly slayed those who failed. Wipe after wipe could go by before the tactics suddenly just clicked and everything fell into place perfectly to see that behemoth wall of a boss downed. The sense of exhilaration from getting a hard-fought boss kill is absolutely second-to-none, but having killed some shadow of the boss countless times before in LFR even managed to dampen the jubilations I once felt in normal raids.

Competence requires a sizeable amount of effort, and the LFR mechanic makes striving for competence an exercise in futility if you're not going to plough through normal raid bosses and smash heroics. If heroic glory is not in your character's future, why waste time learning the tactics in normal mode when you can experience the content without putting in that effort? LFR removes the challenge of mastering difficult combat mechanics, building a cohesive team to ensure success, and raiding for a sense of achievement; it just presents casual players with an uninspired means to an end and a lighter version of the content they actually want to smash.

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Running LFR to get raid-ready? Think again!

I'll concede that there is a breed of player who runs LFR content with learning the ropes in mind; many new players presume that starting on the bottom rung of the ladder is surely the best way to equip themselves with the skills needed to progress onto normal raiding without making the raid leader's temper reach boiling point. But since the LFR bosses are nuked versions of their real counterparts, you won't exactly learn normal raid tactics on the job by running LFR over and over. Techniques that are vital for overcoming key boss mechanics in normal mode are entirely missing in some LFR bosses, so it's simply not possible to learn the more complicated tactics there which you'll need to equip yourself in order to down a normal boss.

On top of that, killing yourself through tactic failure isn't usually enough to wipe the party in LFR battles, and the party can normally recover the fight while you creep around your carcass. No stranger will take the time to explain exactly why you died if it doesn't impact on his success because your death doesn't make a difference. This leads to a whole clan of new raiders who think death is no big deal and tactics are optional.

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Rewards for complacency

LFR content tends to be a mindless version of its real counterpart, so players unversed in the world of raiding will frequently become complacent. It's possible to run through that content while slacking on trash or wearing greatly inappropriate gear without gems or enchantments. Characters wearing PvP gear in order to enter the LFR queue might as well not count, so the rest of the party is left to pick up the slack. And since players get away with taking advantage in LFR, they presume that a normal raiding team will similarly carry their weight when they move on to better content.

Some people actually choose to deliberately deal minimal damage or healing because LFR is rumoured to reward the lowbie of the party with gear drops. I don't know what voodoo magic is used to work out LFR's gear drop probabilities, but even the whisper of more gear for weaker characters is problematic. Players will often switch to poorer gear in order to roll for drops, a mentality that frequently carries through into normal raiding.

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I'm all for lowered barriers to entry for MMOs, but that lower entry point should never bleed into the endgame. I played WoW because downing raid bosses gave me a real sense of accomplishment that I didn't get from other games, but LFR ruined this for me and my little guild. My team lost a lot of the passion it once had for taking the heads off unlikely creatures since we'd scalped the same enemy countless times before to grind for basic raiding gear. Blizzard seems to be fond of breaking down the effort wall across the board: The statistics on how many people completed Diablo III on normal difficulty and then retired their characters forever show this more clearly than I ever can.

Eliminating the effort threshold is not the only -- or best -- way to make endgame content inclusive, though. WoW has since made me feel much more positive through the introduction of Flexible Raids in which you can bring a number of characters between 10 and 25. This flexible approach drops gear that is better than LFR gear but worse than normal raid drops, but the Flexible Raid lockout timer is separate from normal or heroic raids. This means you can plausibly coast a weak guildie or two without putting them straight up against an insurmountable content wall or ruining your normal raiding team's actual progression. Positive inclusion will always have a place in my heart, but I would happily banish soulless mechanics like LFR that glorify mediocrity to the fiery pits of Mount Doom.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!