Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What is a skilled player?

I overheard a conversation in the guild chat a while ago. It was about skill. The general opinion was that skill > gear. I didn’t say anything, since I don’t regard myself as a God Sent Gift to the raiding community, just an ordinary player trying to do her best, step by step getting the hang of this game.

I just don’t think I’m entitled to do straightforward statements about the lack of skill I see in other players. Such comments will blow up in your face faster than you think. And after all it all depends on what you put into the word “skill”.

The traditional skill
One way to look at it, very simplified, is that for instance a skilled mage will know how to make maximal damage out the gear and consumables that are available to him. He’ll know how to survive the whole fight and use other utilities like counterspell and spellsteal whenever needed.

I’ve seen an example with my own eyes, a warlock who the same day as he dinged 70 went straight into Gruul and owned the damage chart. He was a veteran player. He had a few tailored epic items, but mostly he was in greens, and that didn’t stop him a second. He knew the fights by heart. He had a high level of situational awareness and could react quickly. He knew how to balance just below the threat limit, all skills that comes as a result of long experience and probably a bit of talent as well (not that I would tell him, his ego is big enough as it is). His skill definitely outweighed his so-and-so gear.

This kind of skill is what I think comes to most peoples mind when you use the word. But I think there are other kinds of skill which will never show up on a WWS report, but still matters a lot to how far a guild will be able to progress. I just want to point out a few of them:

Social skill
Exactly what this is isn’t easy to define. But I think it’s about more than just not swearing in guild chat – if you’re a guild that doesn’t swear – or swearing in guild chat, if that is what your guild does. A socially skilled player thinks and acts as a team member. He or she has a high empathic intelligence and can see issues from other players’ point of view. He can see potential conflicts, prevent them from blowing up, and if they still happen, help to calm the waters.

By intuition he knows when to talk and when it’s time to shut up, whether it’s in the guild chat or in a raid.

The socially skilled player helps to create the solid core of the guild, which is essential for a survival longer than a few months. He or she makes the raid or the guild into an attractive place where players like to spend their time.

Since those players tend to have huge friend lists and networks on the server, they can be of great help in recruitment and marketing for the guild or in forming alliances with other guilds if that becomes necessary.

Mental fitness
I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to call it mental fitness – perhaps it’s just the opposite, some kind of mental illness. Anyway, it takes a special set of mind to endure the hard work it takes for a guild to progress in 25 man raiding.

As I said the other day, you can very well facing 26 wipes during a night, repair bills that will make your pink pigtails turn grey and not a single boss kill. That’s the life of a raider.

You do corpse run after corpse run after corpse run. You buff up quickly after each run and then you go for it again, and on trial number 18 you should be just as much on your toes as on the first try – or hopefully even a bit sharper, since you’ve obviously got to shape up. You’ve got to cope with raid leaders yelling at you, you’ve got to cope with the discouraging comments from other players aren’t mentally prepared.

A mentally fit player can put up a shield and ignore those disturbances – or even better – use the energy that comes from frustration and anger in a better way, as fuel for the next fight.

A player who is every so skilled technically, but lacks the mental preparedness and starts sulking when things aren’t running smoothly is in my opinion a burden to the raid.

Organizational skills
It’s been said before and I say it again: to run a raiding guild is like to run a smaller company. To once or twice in a lifetime let a guild have a shot at Gruul is one thing. But to organize a 25 man raid several times a week, over and over again, month after month, to make it happen and to and actually make some progression– that takes not only commitment but also knowledge and talent for organizing things.

You need to make structures for everything from leadership to loot distribution to guild bank. You need to lay schemes and recruit in order that people will be able to raid as much as they want to, but not so much that it’s impossible to have a night off when real life claims you.

You need to plan things far ahead, so that people acquire the resistance gear and attunements they need in order to proceed. Some people can’t stand this side of the game since they find it utterly boring. Others just haven’t got any talent at all for it – their bags in the game look just as messy as their desk does in real life.

People who are skilled and committed to organisation deserve a bit more of our love than they normally get.

Other kinds of skills
In this post I’ve so far covered some of the skills that I think are valuable to a raiding guild. But of course there are many other kinds of skills that we tend to forget since we focus on a different part of the game.

Just an example: not being a role player myself, I can imagine that there are more or less skilled players when it comes to acting in character. If I were to role play I’d rather look for players who made interesting stories about their character and could improvise a chat in a fun way, than for players who just know how to play their class.

There are other players who specialize in a very small sector of the game, enjoy that immensely and develop a huge level of knowledge. Like the Businessmen, devoting more or less all of their game time in playing the Auction House, building up a huge fortune. Or the Collectors, who’re devoted to collect every single rare pet in the game and know everything about how to get them.

Those people may suck in battleground or in a raid instance, but it’s wrong to say that they aren’t skilled players. They’re just skilled in a different area.

The multi-skilled player vs the specialist
Finally I’d like to say a few words about depth as opposition to broadness in your skills. There are those people who are extremely skilled in one of the aspects I’ve mentioned and lack the others completely. And then there are others who aren’t the best in any of them, but show a high and even level in every category. You could compare it to the hepathlon athletes in the Olympic Games. They wouldn’t win any of the disciplines they’re competing in; still I hold them for being among the most admirable sportsmen you can think of.

I think there’s room for both in a raiding guild. You need the all-round players who won’t top the damage chart, but on the other hand will help the guild to develop thanks to their social skills, their talents for organization and who will stick to the raid to the bitter end every single time, without complaining.

You need a few of those specialists, especially of the first sort, the “traditional skilled player” who are just insanely talented when it comes to situational awareness, quick reacting and decision taking. Those who just do everything right every time and save your ass when you thought you were doomed.

Sometimes this people are so useful that you can oversee that they may act a bit too much as individual, that they may whine a bit and demand special treatment from time to time and that they’re really not good team members in all situations. It’s OK as long as you don’t get too many of them and you still have a solid core of multi-skilled players who balance and keep the guild together.

All in all of course it’s true that skill > gear. If you buy a well geared char at e-bay without having a clue how to play it I can guarantee you’ll fail. But skill is a lot more than what normally first comes into your mind. And I think that can be worth thinking about before we throw out allegations that other players lack skill.


krizzlybear said...

Lar, I find it interesting that you point out the existence of "multiskill" players, or in American slang, a "Jack of all Trades." In real life I find myself to be one of those types in almost everything I do, and unsurprisingly, I end up having that sort of role in my guild. I won't top the dps charts, but I hang in there with those that are overgeared. I'm quite sociable in my guild, but hardly popular compared to the core members. I pitch in with little contributions to other member via free enchants (their mats of course), but with other "higher skilled" enchanters with a full collection of more desirable enchants, they're always the ones to go to first.

All in all, I really like what I bring to a guild. I may not have that core status anytime soon, but my contributions have solidified me as one of those glue pieces that help reinforce the strength of a guild, rather than significantly support it.

Darraxus said...

I like to think of my self as a skilled player. With my three players I can main tank, heal, or br top3 DPS in a 25 man. I have also seen some terribad players. The worst two players I have ever seen were guildies.

The first one was a mage. A mage who I out damaged as a prot warrior in blue prot gear in Shadowlabs. He was just that bad. I dont think he had a clue about spec/rotations. When someone gave him some adivice he would drunkenly ignore or snap at the person. He never really improved even after obtaining a bunch of epics.

The second one was a Pally who was Ret. He is probably where the bad Ret pally stereotype came from. He didnt include Crusader Strike in his DPS rotation!!!!! He was usually below the tanks for damage and mixed DPS plate with protection plate.

He was remade into a Holy Pally, given some advice and actually became a pretty damn good healer. Skill can be learned, but you have to have the attitude to want to get better.

Aurdon said...

"Polymorph skills... portal skills... mage table skills... Girls only want mages who have great skills!"

-Napoleon Dynamage

krizzlybear said...


Aurdon, you are seriously made out of win.

Anonymous said...

@Krizzlybear: yes, I definitly think multi-skill is a special kind of skill, which doesn't always get the attention and appreciation it deservs.

@Darrazus: well, while I'm always looking for "the gold" in other players, that you sometimes have to look pretty closely to find, there ARE players who are just bad and unpleasant and stupid. I just try not to be so fast in my judgements. To see really unskilled players who don't try to improve in any way at all, and to have them in your own guild can be a bit awkward, can't it? I know some players rather pug than do guildruns in instances for that reason. It's easier to deal with total lack of skill from strangers than from guildies.

@Napoleon Dynamage: :)

Anonymous said...

The skills players bring to the table are massively dependant on the guild and where it's at.

We all seem to focus on raiding guild but of course many guilds focus on 5-man or PvP content.

Our guild is too small for 25-man content but we're having fun in Kara and a bit less fun in ZA. at our size the players who have broad skills allow the guild to progress.

We have a number of players who will swap toons to fill out the remaining raid spots to make sure the raid happens. It wouldn't work if they were average in all roles though - they're all very very good considering that in extreme cases some of us have tank/healer/dps toons we can swap to at a moment's notice.

In bigger guilds this kind of flexibility is less important and very focussed skill to eek out the nth degree from a toon is more important.

What's become very very clear to me is that I'd rather play with skilled players than geared players but it's very nice to have both...

Aeltyra said...

Good point about the mental fitness.

The raiders in my guild all know what they're doing, but at the end of raiding time, some tend to lose focus and make the dumbest mistakes (myself included ... ahem).

However, some raids, we can be pumped to the end. On our first Bloodboil kill, after a whole night of wiping, our raid leader said "okay, we'll try two more times and call it".

That got us in such a mental preparedness ... and we said "we won't need two. We'll do it in one time."

"Prove it."

And we did hehe. Anyway what I'm trying to get at, focus and a "can do" mentality help a long way in turning yourself and others into a better player.

Of the categories you named, would you call yourself specialised in a particular area, or more of an allrounder ?

I have to admit I'm more of a "traditional skill" person, not because I think I have amazing skillz but because I feel I lack in the social/helping eachother department.