On being ___-Poor, and Failblogging GW2 Raids

Found an interesting quote from Belghast musing about Pay-2-Win that I want to spin off a discussion on:

“The cycle of what makes an MMO has been right or wrong built on this illusion of a meritocracy.  The general idea being, that if you work hard and get really good… you can have the best items in the game for your efforts.  The problem with this is that it in itself has always been a lie.”

Of course it’s a lie. It’s a lie in the real world too.

Of course it’s not an outright falsehood either. In general, meritocracy principles can hold true for a decent amount of cases, assuming a relatively even or flat social/environmental context (same workplace, same game/guild, whatever.)

But then you have cases where the starting point is completely different (say someone living in poverty as opposed to a rich man’s son, or someone still struggling with the game’s control scheme as opposed to someone who has played that genre of game for twenty years)…

Plus a hefty helping of RNG and social opportunity (which can also be greased with the addition of $$$, which is, after all, a medium of exchange, a symbolic promising of favors or services owed.)

Maybe you win the lottery or you get a phenomenally lucky drop that has everyone else curse your ancestors because of how unthinkably small that 0.01% chance was.

Maybe you’ve cultivated a vast social network to call on to help you out or the number of people willing to help you out are only three folks: “me, myself and I.”

Maybe you earn enough every month that $500 is disposable income to you and can be dropped on a game or even thrown away or gambled with for fun, or $500 is what your entire family has to live on for that month.

I guess what really puzzles me are the people who believe the meritocracy thing wholesale.

Wake up and smell the roses, thorns and all. Even in the days of subscription games, it was more about extending the length of time someone played said game, so that they would continue subscribing.

It would be far less upsetting to acknowledge that some games are built to give advantages who are more rich in a certain category (be it in skill, time, money, or just plain good fortune – or at least, not a really truly “cursed” account) and then to choose to play or not play said game according to what one prefers.

If one is time-poor, it would be a very silly state of affairs to go play hardcore subscription games that are set up under the assumption that players are going to keep playing for 3-5+ years (*cough* Eve Online *cough* A Tale in the Desert *cough* etc.) where progress is measured over the course of months. Go look for games that offer instant payoffs like super-fast leveling, or loot shower pinatas, and so on.

If one is money-poor, or at least not willing to spend significant amounts of money to be equivalent to or have a leg up on other players, then avoiding games that reward that kind of thing is probably best.

(Or at least, if one chooses to play it for a while, to remember that one will usually be a second-class citizen and do a bit of research on the status of said second-class citizens to see if one is ok playing a game like that. Some games are better at this than others, eg. I hated SWTOR’s treatment of free players, while I found Trove to be perfectly playable on a free basis as long as one was a bit patient about progress.)

If one is skill-poor, then a truly meritocratic game pitched at the level of a hardcore player is probably going to be a frustrating nightmare. (I can’t help but think of stuff like a new player stumbling into GW2’s PvP game mode and getting their butt kicked, or Dark Souls type games, for example.) Games with adjustable difficulty levels or RNG chances to win stuff that improves one’s stats will probably be more one’s cup of tea.

Such is life.

If one is willing to put a little bit of effort into improving any of these ___-poor situations (at the tradeoff of not having the time for something else), then hey, one might see progress, even if it’s slower than one hopes.

Take me as an example. I am pretty much a “social network-poor” player.

I’m liable to get really grumpy about games that presume endgame progress should rely on a bevy of other people, all linked in various social networks. It’s probably one of the many reasons why I naturally loathe raids.

Someone like Belghast, on the other hand, probably has no goddamn problem getting invited to a bevy of raids, whenever the want strikes his fancy.

I draw the line at Twitter. I draw the line at using a microphone. This knocks me out of a considerable number of socializer networks. I’d be at serious odds with myself if I went against my core and put on a socializing mask though, so it is how it is.

I’m never going to find running GW2 dungeons and fractals in a group FUN in capital letters – I’m just not wired that way. I grin and bear it when I want to see new content or the reward at the end, is about it.

Over a long period of exposure time, I can just about get -comfortable- with a set of names and voices that the group experience is no longer unpleasant, and even maybe, somewhat nice. Mind you, that time period is measured in the months and years.

But I do have to acknowledge that even though I’m naturally not good at this kind of social network formation, a patient investment of time and effort over three years has led to me having a mediocre amount of connections, possibly even a little more than your average newbie player who just joined the game.


Such is life. Not entirely meritocratic, not entirely RNG.

Sometimes it’s who-you-know, sometimes it’s what-you-know, or how-much-you-have, and sometimes, despite having ample amounts of all the above, life takes a dump on you anyway, or vice versa, you catch a fortunate lucky break.

Sonja over at Soultamer Gaming has been musing about the concept of “failblogging” or “failgaming,” that is, documenting the trials and tribulations of those who feel they just aren’t good at the games in question.

I think there are a couple of interesting branches of thinking in that concept that are worth mulling over.

To do that, let me tell a little story about how I’ve been busy failing at GW2 raids.

(Why yes, I’m kinda on-break from GW2 and still doing dailies and attending raid sessions a minimum of twice a week. I think many other people would call this level of activity “actively playing a game.” *sheepishly guilty look*)

One session is a weekly training raid with TTS.

It’s a really silly scramble to get home from work on time, being three hours transposed, but I like attending because in the OCE timeslot, it’s become a pool of generally the same 20-30 individuals that get distributed out to two or three raid groups.

The names are familiar, there’s a general baseline level of semi-competency, and it still has a bit of that random spice element because it’s not the same fixed group of ten people all the frickin’ time.

It’s a training raid, so there’s a relaxed understanding that successful kills may not happen, people are still learning (possibly on different classes or trying different builds or just plain new to the specific raid boss) and since it’s TTS, whoever’s leading is usually quite okay with explaining in excruciating detail any mechanics for new people – which I usually appreciate, even if I’m not new, because my learning style happens to be pretty slow and require excruciating details, each step mastered sequentially before I can perform adequately.

Because it’s a training raid, one pretty much is not likely to get a successful kill. Someone might slack on the proper foods, or be using non-min-maxed gear, or just be nervous and inexperienced and screw things up continually, whatever.

The other session is a scheduled ‘normal’ guild raid with a fixed, preset raid team.

I had to join a new up-and-coming recruiting guild for this, and well, it’s been essentially the guild leader throwing interested-in-raiding guild members with similar timezone schedules and the appropriate classes into a group of ten and giving a non-gentle shove now and then to prod people and hope/pray that the group gels from stranger PUG status to regular team.

Bit of a lottery, in other words, with some roster edits over time to fix the more egregious problems, like someone persistently never showing up.

So despite raiding many many hours, there was a long time where I couldn’t score a single Vale Guardian kill.

Utter fucking failure.

And to add salt to the wound, every now and then on Reddit, some super tight-knit uberguild would post videos of less-than-10-man kills or funky class build kills.

So… the big question is… does this mean that I suck? That I have no skill? That I’m “bad” at the game and should crawl under a rock to die of shame somewhere?

(Reread the Belghast discussion at the top of this post.)

It’s never just one thing to blame. And here I’ll quote an ancient Greek:

“An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. But the wise man never has to blame another or himself.” -Epictetus

Truth is, I do think I needed some of the initial failed raids as learning practice.

Every raid I did, I absorbed a little bit more about the fight. You get used to the patterns and timing just a little more. You figure out that when the Vale Guardian swerves suddenly, the blue circles that teleport are about to come up and so you’ve already begun moving away in preparation.

It stops being one giant blur of light and color and chaotic explosions wherein you’re panicking because THINGS are happening and your health is dropping and what phase is this and what am I supposed to DO here again?!

And when I started chafing at the slow pace of progress because I’d internalized most of the VG fight, I decided I was competent at VG enough to offer myself up as a LFG PUG, and just like freaking that, at the very start of the week, I filled for a largely competent and organized guild group, didn’t make a complete utter fool of myself, and VG died.

Just like that.

Lucky break? Maybe. But I did have to open myself up to the opportunity (ie. feel brave enough to post a LFR, make the time for it) and be not-horrible enough to be passable.

And then it was back to a lot more weeks of failing VG while watching one’s groups struggle and wondering if there was anything more to be done on one’s part.

The regular guild team got reshuffled around a little, removing those that never showed their faces, and adding a few newer members of varying skill levels, including a very handy leader with social connections to a second large guild so that he could fill from that one as well.

(Our raid team is currently half-first guild and half-second guild, one third TTS, more or less. Kinda funny, but effective. I think a number of us all belong to multiple guilds anyway.)

One or two more VG kills happened, after an uncountable number of failed attempts, one with the TTS training raid, one with new reshuffled guild team.

This month, thankfully, people have been sort of moving on to Gorseval.

Last week, I fought him for the very first time. I was busy trying to warn my guild team of this, and they kinda just oh, handwaved it away with a super-brief explanation, which led to me trying to read Gorseval guides in one screen while trying to figure out what to do on the actual client itself.

This resulted in some really spectacular screwups of the “you are the weakest link” kind.

Plus side, I didn’t fall off an updraft. (THANK YOU, NEW GLIDER LATENCY FIX.)

Plus side plus two, I didn’t screw up a cardinal direction and went consistently to the correct mob I was supposed to be at.

The spectacular fail was not knowing what the hell to actually do with said mob.

I got the idea of slowing it down and preventing it from reaching the main boss mob. So I dutifully applied my sword cripples and kept boggling over why it was moving faster than everyone else’s.

No microphone, so I can’t really communicate while failing at doing this (which is probably grounds for insta-boot from the really hardcore raid guilds.)

Which led to panicked shouting from the other guys going “yo help Jerom’s mob! It’s going in!” “F1!” “F1!” “Don’t zerk!” (huh?) and other assorted chaos.

Oh, and one raid wipe when said mob did manage to go in.

The itty bitty communication problem: to which I finally made the connection when the mob was several millimeters away from entering the raid boss, ie. too late to do anything about it…

Previously, I’d half-heard a garbled hasty one sentence explanation to spam sword and F1. (Thanks, microphone speakers who mumble. If you ever wonder why people might be screwing up, consider that as one possibility.)

My mind heard F1, equated it to the F1 help key, failed to find any context with raiding, and hereby dismissed it while trying to remember the broad strokes of all the Gorseval phases.

One second away from raid wipe, I finally remembered that the default setting for a warrior burst skill was F1 (I have it bound to other keys.)

What they really wanted, and what I really -should- be doing, was spamming immobilizes (not “slows”, thanks, garbled explanation) on the mob, using the sword burst skill Flurry, which is overwritten by another skill if one triggers berserk mode, so don’t trigger berserk mode.

(Which, by the way, is second nature muscle memory when one is trying to squeeze out as much dps as possible out of a burnzerker build.)

There was one more close shave when my fingers just banged that without intending to, but by and large, after one actually understands the principles of what one should really be doing, everything else is just practice at executing correctly.

Holding the soul appropriately got noticeably better in subsequent attempts.

Itty bitty secret: DPS didn’t get better at all, because as a first-timer, I was so unsure about the Gorseval phases and barely able to read animations. that I started to hang onto berserk mode and NOT trigger it about 30 seconds before the souls phase, so that Flurry would be guaranteed up during the time I was visibly performing alone.

We ended that raid with the most successful attempt being about 2% of Gorseval’s health left. (No doubt, some of which I could have contributed more, had I been more comfortable with the fight.)

Further less noticeable to others, but still noticeable to me fails:

I had no idea when to expect Gorseval to do his knockback, even though in theory I knew it was when he raised his left hand and to dodge then. So I kept getting smashed back 80% of the time. (Fortunately, I noted a good half of the raid not being great at this either.)

I had very little idea where appropriate standing positions were, so caught quite a number of huge hits, once or twice which laid me out on the ground and downed (despite having the most forgiving of health pools, aka warrior hp) at a time when others couldn’t rescue me and had to watch from the floor of shame (“what, he’s dead again?”) while the others tried to continue while short on numbers.

And oh, I kept getting egged. Every time we moved Gorseval to the last phase, it was still a bit of a surprise to me and unexpected. Being quite unfamiliar with the last phase patterns, by the time I figured out I should be moving, it was a little too late to do so.

Luckily (or not, if you believe in making your own luck), that same week, the TTS training raid I attended expressed an interest in trying out Gorseval. We found sufficient people interested in that to put together a group, and I heard a MUCH CLEARER, STEPWISE explanation of the fight, positioning and all.

There were a lot more wipes during our attempts, as others were in the same spot I had been in, first time learning the fight, but I found myself getting more accustomed to his phases and kept challenging myself to watch and learn how to dodge his knockdown while left alone in peace and able to focus, so to speak.

We didn’t get tremendous far with that raid. I noticed I wasn’t outputting as much damage on a PS warrior as with a burnzerker, and actually swapped characters midway. Just like that, we managed to push past the dps check that had been previously stymying the group (moral of the story, I evidently still has a ways to go on PS warrior and/or burnzerker OP)

But with only me as burnzerker, Gorseval was still at about 15% health during the last egg phase at best.

This weekend, the guild raid group brought FOUR burnzerkers, one of whom tanked.

You’d think this would immediately result in a kill, but nope, plenty of fails before the successful one.

The first obvious screwup was the person assigned to break bar duty just couldn’t output enough break bar damage as when the raid leader did it.

Same class, presumably same build, some guidance and training from the leader beforehand –  wherein the whole raid gamely sacrificed their bodies and damaged their gear for the person to get some practice (you die if you’re standing outside the raid area when the raid starts, luckily, repairs are free in GW2 now…)

…somehow, when push came to shove and actual performance in the raid, the output just wasn’t there.

Not blaming, mind you. Considering I don’t even know how to play the class at all, I’m not calling any pot nor kettle black. Just pointing out the facts of what happened.

Raid leader ended up swapping to that role, the other person apologized and said they’d try to practice it out of the raid for future attempts, done. No muss, no fuss.

Second screwup, one of the burnzerkers kept regularly dying during the updraft phase. Said character was being run by a player who has had noticeably poor performances while raiding, whichever class is being played, the damage or healing output generally isn’t quite up to snuff.

Again, not blaming, just pointing out factual observations. In fact, I kinda feel a lot for this player because I feel that they are trying, and trying very hard, but somehow just not making the “aha” connections.

The group offered one or two verbal suggestions for trying to handle the updraft, but didn’t really make a big fuss about it either way. About 45 mins in, said player said they had to leave and left the raid.

I kinda feel a little bad, on an emphatic level, because I can’t help but suspect that their self-esteem might have taken a bit of a beating, or that they got a bit too sensitive about their comparatively poorer performance.

And this is where I kinda want to send a message out to everyone who thinks they are failures because they are screwing up in some fashion and beating themselves up overmuch about it.

Guys, EVERYONE screws up. ESPECIALLY when you are new to doing something or learning something for the first time.

EVENTUALLY it gets better, even if you’re an excruciatingly slow learner, but you gotta have enough thick-skin to not let it get you down overmuch.

What does speed up this nasty process of failing badly, is to self-analyze the reasons for why the screwup is happening, thinking up ways to get around the problem and then testing them out and practicing until -something- sticks.

When said burnzerker left, the raid leader brought in a replacement burnzerker, and my first Gorseval kill was had.

Then it was on to Sabetha.

Geez, really? I hadn’t watched a single video or read a single guide.

Fortunately, there were about three others in the same boat as I, so I wasn’t the only one busy forewarning the others that massive screwups were about to take place.

We had a 15 minute break, during which there was a mad scramble on my part to at least stare at the Dulfy guide and watch a video about 1/5 of the way through (it was so slow I couldn’t last through it.)

Then it was on to actually experiencing the complication of all the phases for realz.

Ok. Fact. When you’re new. It’s super-obvious. The newbies, myself included, were busy hesitating and screwing up bomb throwing phases.

Hell, I’m new and -I- noticed the hesitation on both my and others’ parts.

I’d like to discuss all the different raid bosses’ various phases in more detail in later posts, but suffice to say that Sabetha has an interesting mechanic which requires coordination in teamwork.

One player must stand on a launch pad.

Another player, chosen more or less at random (but I suspect is quasi-controllable via proximity aggro to an add,) is given a bomb.

This second player must a) identify that they have the bomb, b) walk in the correct cardinal direction and c) throw the bomb onto the launch pad that the first player is standing on, using a newly introduced special key… all in about five seconds flat.

Oh, and the first player must a) realize that their designated role/time has arrived, b) walk in the correct cardinal direction and c) have run to and be standing on the launch pad by the time the second player flings the bomb.

d) The first player cannot camp the launch pad for too long because they’ll get fried by AoE attacks.

e) If the pair is unlucky enough to be mid-throw when the rest of the raid group knocks Sabetha down to a health level that triggers an insta-kill wall of flame, and said insta-kill wall of flame happens to randomly choose either of the pair to target, chances of WTF death are quite high.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong.

I am 100% certain I have now developed a reputation for being cardinally challenged, or just slow on the uptake, given the rather desperate yelling from various people for my lil asura to toss it in THIS direction PLEASE.

Truth is, there were quite a few compounding problems that kept adding up to a delay that caused the bomb timer to expire and the phase to be missed.

First problem: Keybinds.

Jeez, after three fucking years, you go and introduce a NEW action key? I’ve already used up all the convenient key locations and burned in muscle memory just so. Not everyone has a Naga mouse with tons of mouse buttons.

There was a lot of experimental shifting of this key position throughout the raid. I’d originally put it on L, which is ok when you’re stuck in a Gorseval egg, but NOT ok when you’re trying to move and throw a bomb in the span of 5 seconds.

N was at least reachable with my thumb, but in practice, fairly awkward.

Fortunately, the raid took a break for an hour, and that was sufficient time for me to play with the pre-raid boss trash NPCs which teach you the mechanics and settle on a slightly more comfortable alt+Q position.

It’s still not ideal, I’m still feeling a split second of awkwardness – one keypress would be better, but I’m really sans key locations here.

Also, I don’t play an engineer or an elementalist and my AoE targeting skills are not exactly the most honed… Awkward? Yes. Do I know what 800 range is, and how far I need to run before I can throw it? No.

The solution, unfortunately, takes time. Work out proper keybinds and practice throwing grenades or the like to a certain spot until it’s burned into muscle memory.

Second problem: Yes, cardinal directions are an issue.

The devious evil of this fight is that it forces you to spin around the boss in an anti-clockwise fashion every so often. This is a pretty good recipe for becoming completely disoriented as to which way is which.

Checking the minimap is seconds you’re not actually looking at the fight, which means a painful AoE of some kind might land on you, and if you’re not checking the minimap, you’re probably not running in the correct direction.

I was half formulating a theory of trying to identify the correct locations visually. North has a red banner and a pact soldier in a cage. South has a leyline rift up in the branches. West faces towards some leafy trees (but so does North) and East has some ship-like nets/rigging.

Actually learning it and being able to react appropriately though, is going to take quite a few more playthroughs.

Especially since the pattern for the launchpads is specific, but a little weird (S, W, N, E – so clockwise, and then S, N, W, E, according to dulfy, which ain’t clockwise) and before you know it, I’ve lost track of exactly which phase we’re in right now.

Third problem: There’s a shit ton of other things to be focusing on, at the exact same time.

Just before we called the raid, I grandiosely screwed up two bombs in a row because I’d dropped into a dps-y zen state of maximizing skill rotations.

Our particular chronomancer was rather noticeably excellent, and I found myself realizing that I was catching nigh perma-quickness and immense amounts of alacrity, which does ridiculous things to how fast a burnzerker can fire off fire fields from the bow.

I’d taken to focusing on trying to hug this precious mesmer as closely as possible, so that I could keep feeding myself this alacrity drug… actually receiving the bomb was the furthest thing on my mind, and a rather unwelcome interruption to my dps happy place.

So yeah, 1.5-2 seconds to realize one has the bomb, 2 seconds to run there, less than one second to target and toss to the correct location… nope, ain’t happening. Esppecially not with extra OCE/SEA latency delaying both the voice chat and visuals.

One has to expect and predict and be ready to move with OCE/SEA latency, and that kind of prediction is just lacking when you’re not familiar with the patterns.

Oh, and each 25% of her hp, Sabetha summons a slightly different mini-boss to deal with, all with different mechanics, and if you can’t kill ’em fast enough, you get to contend with the mini-boss nearly dead but still spewing their deadly stuff, while Sabetha comes back and does her crazy flame-wall thing so that you have to keep running in a circle while focusing on doing all mechanics correctly (and oh, actually kill the mini-boss.)

The 4th mini-boss can be kinda nuts. Among other things, he dumps turrets that shoot little firebolts in all sorts of directions.


One member of our group was super-hyped seeing this.

I kinda envy people like that. I don’t know how to find this sort of thing “fun” or thrilling or exhilarating.

When I get to a stage like this, I’m in straight up focused reaction mode, not feeling a thing, just moving like mad to stay out of the bad stuff, and shit, there’s a lot of bad stuff.

Also, in the back of my mind, problem-solving mode is always on, and all I can think is: it was a strategic mistake to let things get this out of control. Someone should have been on turret control duty. If no one is assigned to it, I’m going to try and do that next time and keep the number of those things down and see how that goes. Hrm, I’m a burnzerker, maybe I can position my fire field to hit Sabetha, and a turret simultaneously? Geez, gonna be tough, but can try it…

… before you know it, I’ll probably miss another bomb because I’m too busy trying to keep track of something else.

Nothing for it but time, repeated practice and creative problem-solving though.