Leadership interview: Numen

The raid leadership interviews

I’m pleased to present the next in my series of detailed interviews with guild leaders on the management of progression guilds, which will be jointly published on wowraid and pwnwear. I’ll interview guilds you can relate to, in the top 250 worldwide, taking the perspective of a raider with an MBA.

Today I’ve interviewed the guild Numen. You’ll read about:

  • how to get past 160 wipes on Freya hard
  • the most important quality they look for in a recruit
  • the planned hard-mode progression path foiled by Blizzard.

Guild snapshot

  • Numen (EU-Silvermoon armory)
  • Ranked 23 in EU, 38 in world wowprogress
  • Achievements include Heroic Glory of the Ulduar Raider, world 6th Hodir hard and world 11th Steelbreaker hard
  • Recruitment status on wowraid.com

I talked with Vyoh, Dragonkimber and Lambi from Numen. Guildmaster Vyoh is a DK tank and dps, was realm first to L80 and has won an arena Frostwyrm. Scarab Lord Kimber is an Officer, and the only priest I know of who has Thunderfury. Lambi is an Officer, holy priest, and handles healing assignments.

This is a fascinating long article. Enjoy!

Winning hard-modes

Wiping one-minute in

We’d talked for a while before Freya hard came up. Vyoh said they had wiped 160 times before she and the trees were defeated. Straight away, the difference between a hardcore guild and a casual one is in my face: they just take the wipes. Casuals are whining after two. Mimiron Firefighter took 60 wipes. So if you’re wiping one-minute in, how do you distinguish whether your strategy is wrong or someone is screwing up?

Kimber starts, “Freya, for three days, we wiped on the first wave, just couldn’t get past it.”

Vyoh elaborates, “Freya I was doubting we were doing it right, with the wipes coming so quickly, and I felt we must be missing something. There was a particular mechanic with the three adds and we just had one-shots on random people. I couldn’t wrap my head around it; a combination of ground tremor and an instant cast from one of the adds. Eventually I thought I’m going to try silencing this mob, just in case it works. I hadn’t seen anyone try. It worked, unexpectedly.

“Stuff like that helps learning; just trying things out. Regardless of how weird it may sound or how dumb it may be. Stunning a boss back in the days of AQ40 for example, no one expected that either.”

Lambi deaths

Kimber continues, “We had priests putting on a few items of PvP gear, shamans specing elemental warding, everyone eventually needed PvP gear to get the stamina. This goes against the natural strategy of using best gear.

“Turns out, it really was if you didn’t have the HP, when this bit of RNG hits, you were dead and others would follow.

“Firefighter is another as example, until a few days before we beat it, we were using a warlock with nether protection and warrior tank. As tank healing, a major issue was finding the warlock with all the fire in the room. Whereas we should have swapped to just one tank earlier on, so one healer can do single-target  tank healing, the other five can be raid-healing.

“We changed so the Warrior would taunt the head.  In contrast, I know where the warrior is going to be all the time, so just adjusting to his position is much easier.”

Algalon 10

Algalon 10

Healers have a Plan B

What else helps you get through such chaotic fights?

Lambi steps in here, “the key behind our healing squad, all of our newer healers from WotLK and on are all very good at communicating. We set up a main heal target and an off-target. Shaman for example: off-tank healing and at the same time on melee. All of the healers have an off duty.

So if one of the healers dies, we always know who is going to cover them.

“That’s so good when you have a vocal team, if a healer says ‘I need help’ the backup healer knows ‘I’m the one who’s supposed to help’ instead of all five healers switching heal targets”, says Lambi. “Thats a key.”

This is such a great example, and reminds me of my early raiding as a healer in 40-man raids. I think that a problem in lower tier guilds is not having a Plan B, not having failure management. Some raiders get overwhelmed and can’t handle that many instructions.

Lambi says, “We have a healing channel. I set up the assignments when we’re doing a boss. At first on a new boss, it will be very sketchy and general. As time goes, we will know where you need the burst healing or the slow healing. We’ll build the healing strategy through that. Everyone in the healing channel is vocal, ‘I can’t handle this alone’ or ‘put some slow HOTs here or there’. We just build it up.

“When it’s on farm like now, I just say ‘I’m on this duty’. Everyone just self-assigns for the rest on farming bosses. Also we have a backup heal leaders.”

In 40-mans, I had a macro written for each boss, but I haven’t been a main healer for years. That reminds me of the addon Surgeon General I’ve read about.  I ask Lambi if he uses an addon like that?

“We have so many different healers. We never use the same healers. We mix it up. A lot of healers have dps off-specs so we get a good rotation going on raiding. From that, most healers have a good content knowledge. So we don’t need those kinds of tools, most people just know where to go or will get a helping hand from one of the more seasoned healers.”

That was a no. I didn’t ask whether it was a noob question or not.

steelbreaker

Voices on Vent

I’m always curious how a raid feels and sounds. Is it noisy? Militaristic? Numen have more people talking than I’d expect, but perhaps I’m just realising how different the top 100 guilds are to those I’ve been in.

Kimber answers, “On a near-first Mimiron kill, sometimes there are so many voices it causes problem and we can’t hear instructions. It’s not so much a ‘one voice’ policy but near the end, like Mimiron, our actual first kill, there are 25 people in the raid and about 27 people speaking on Ventrilo. Just as he hit enrage. If it starts getting hectic, it gets stomped.

Lambi adds, “that’s an interesting question though, we used to have a dictator leadership with one person saying everything. We stopped because he went to the army. Now we have a democracy in the council and lot of voices. We have perfected that pretty much. Sure it can be pretty hectic if we’re on 5% on a boss, but when learning no-one’s shy to say important stuff.”

We discuss that the raiders just need to have the professionalism to know when to talk, or when to be quiet, and that everyone’s input is valued when you’re learning a new boss. I wonder if they’ve ever found a solution for so many voices being over the top of each other? Kimber reminds me of priority-talking, which silences everyone else when you talk. I ask if they use that?

Vyoh answers, “I have it bound. We first came up with it on the test realm. I felt that we were getting clobbered on Ventrilo; there was too much noise. Useful information was getting spammed away. I started using that option. But during live, I’ve used it once.

“We don’t have a lot of talking. It’s only when the boss is going wrong and everyone is trying to correct it. Only at those points are too many people talking, which I tone down straight away or yell ‘shut up’. After that its fine.

“When learning a boss we don’t usually have more than 5 or 6 people.

“It would be naive for me to say, ‘I can see everything, I can direct the raid’. I don’t think I can. I’d rather have people of different roles helping me. I keep track of melee and possibly the tanks. I like that I have healers doing the same for healers, or ranged for ranged dps. I think it helps our progress a lot.”

firefighter

Who are the leaders

I wonder about the degree of delegation around raid strategy and other key decisions. Apparently Kimber slaps Vyoh into line if he’s being too stubborn. Who handles healer assignments, how spread out is decision-making?

“Healing assignment done by Lambi most of the time,” says Kimber. “DPS usually assign themselves. On Freya, I did some caster assignments to focus on roots. Zara helps with RL and organises melee,” he grins, “but has a very short temper.”

It’s quite spread out. A good idea, because Numen have recognised the talent in their raiders and allowed them to take responsibility for various elements. Numen have parallels to a organisation of professionals who are independently capable, as opposed to the command-and-control structure you’d find in the military.

Vyoh agrees, “We try to keep this as loose a possible. Everyone should know what they’re supposed to be doing and can help with those assignments, but we have a few more vocal people who end up taking the lead.

“For DPS on Firefighter: a fairly simple example, for melee we put those with multi-target hitting skills on the middle-part of phase 4, that way you can melee the top-part as well (especially blood death knights cleaving). That happened because of one or two people spoke up, saying I think this will work, we should try it.”

You can multiply that effect several times to imagine the richness of their strategy, and how the small tweaks all add up.

Part two of the Numen leadership interview is below. Keep reading to find:

  • the most important quality Numen look for in a recruit
  • the planned hard-mode progression path foiled by Blizzard.


Recruitment

Interviewing and recruitment

So what does it take to get into Numen. I browse their recruitment forums and this app in particular catches my eye. Check the detail and the Q&A that follows. Mostly apps are done private.

Kimber is active in their recruitment process. He tells me they get around 20 to 25 apps week, from those they select the best, ask a bunch of questions, then if it checks out they will organise an interview for about 30 min on Vent. Pause for a moment and think of the workload in that exercise alone.

I ask Kimber how many pass through the interview stage, he answer “Very few, three or four a month”. And what percentage of the trials will survive to become members? Kimber laughs a bit awkwardly, “at the moment, not very many”.

“Summer will be a problem”, he adds. Personally, I don’t like being outdoors so I have no idea why these hardcore raiders would choose the sun over Ulduar. (I don’t mention that, it’s pretty nerdy really).

I suspect the degree of analysis they give the written app, like the priest I noticed, is one of the distinct differences to lower tier guilds. There is a vigour in the questioning, and it continues into the interview stage.

“The interviews are very important,” starts Vyoh. “With a limited roster and our limited time spent, we need to make sure the person we’re possibly getting knows what he’s doing. No use to us if we have to teach them the basics. We try to reflect that with the in-depth questions we ask during the interview”.

Digging a little deeper, I ask if the difference between an EU top 100 and top 20 guild is down to recruitment and analysis? The depth of drilling into someone?

Vyoh agrees, “Voice interviews are not something a lot of guilds do. I think you should. Shows how vocal they will be during trial or membership. Completely makes or breaks how good someone is; end-game is not that hard but comes down to adapting and being communicative with each other. More guilds should do it.”

So what about a recruit who hasn’t done the hard-modes, but has great skills and you take them; yet you’re going to take them in and they could be wiping you. How does Numen manage that?

Kimber tells me that for a lot of the hardmodes that are actually hard, we don’t use trials. The priest I mentioned, named Airsha, had no hardmode experience, “but on his trial – from what we saw in normal and easier hard modes – we were confident. First day, he went in on more or less everything, even the hardest of the hard jobs as a priest, and he coped with all of them extremely well. We knew he was a good player, so he’s been in on almost every kill since he joined.”

Numen has 26 members, two of which are slightly inactive. Trials 12 in total.

Kimber notes he rarely gets female applicants; Numen is male dominated like most top guilds. “At the moment we have three females, two of them being trials. With that said, our member female (Tiffi) is someone we can always rely on not to mess up: she’s never in the fire.”

flame_lev

What it takes to join Numen

Lambi tells me, “Every single day, I have people asking me ‘is my gear enough for Numen?’. That’s such a minor aspect of the trial, to be honest, unless it’s a tank. For everyone else, gear’s not that important. Of course they have to show they’ve put effort in to their character, they should have all the best crafted gear, all the best gear you can easily get outside of raiding and the best reputations. When you trial at Numen, we don’t firstly look at gear. If you’re dps, we look at output and survivability with your gear into consideration. For healing, I’m looking at spell choices, I’m looking at movement, how people adapt and not so much their gear. People out there are forgetting this. They’re so gear focused, they forget about the play. We really only look at the play.”

I say ‘it doesn’t matter how good your epics are if you’re dead’, and Lambi agrees. “Yeah that’s really our stand-point too. Of course you need good gear for top dps, and for healing to get the throughput and regen, but if you’re dead you won’t do a good job.”

That does lead to a question: then so what is the benchmark?

“I tell them to show that you really want to join Numen. In every single possible way. I want you to show me as much as possible how you want to join. As if it was a job. Do the research needed. Get theory crafting done, read up about all the fights, get all the gear you possibly can. So you can show me you want to join. That’s what I say.”

Vyoh continues, “nowadays, gear is a minor factor. It takes no time to gear someone up. It takes one or two weeks to gear someone up.”. There would be a lot of sharded epics otherwise, right? Vyoh laughs, yes.

freya 3

Most important quality: situational awareness

So if it’s not gear, is there a key quality you look for?

“Situational awareness is a huge thing,” answers Kimber. “Particularly a fight like Freya. You can put someone in Freya and soon see how good of a player they are.  How they move. When there’s chain lightning all over the place; do they group up? Thorim another example, does he avoid blizzard, is he within 10 yards of someone. Firefighter, do you move instantly or do you take two or three ticks? Do you die before you move? Situational awareness is a huge part of it.”

He sums it up, “You can be the best player in the world, if you can’t move out of the fire, then you’re no use to us. Because it’s just another combat rez to use.”

Vyoh chimes in, “I think it’s the most important trait to have as a raider in WoW. I don’t think WoW is overly difficult but usually endgame boils down to situational awareness.”

Guild management

Decision: how much time is spent raiding

Guilds at this level variously raid 6 or 7 nights a week, 5 hours a night. The top 10 raid all weekend when new content is out and take time off work to keep going. The guilds I’ve looked at in the 20-60 bracket do not, their mandatory raids are just at night.

Vyoh says initially in BT and Sunwell, “we were a five day raiding guild. For Ulduar we added an extra day because of the number of bosses.” Literally, the change from 5 days to 6 was based on the number of bosses? Vyoh confirms, “I was looking at the bosses, the variety of difficulty, and then the extra hard-modes as well. There was a lot to learn.”

Lambi adds, “We had a guild meeting about it. A lot of people were frustrated that we’d leave a boss at 5% then go to bed, and then not raid the day after. We acted accordingly.”

Vyoh continues, “I was doubting the extra day. Some in the guild were really fond of the five day schedule, they had the weekend to themselves. Usually burnout comes when there is a hard boss, and you keep wiping at high percentages. Freya hard was a prime example of a boss like that. Even the most dedicated and fanatic raiders were getting really frustrated wiping on the first or second wave every single time.

“There’s very little you can do when you’re learning a boss. You can’t just say, ‘we’ll stop here, and come back in three weeks when it gets nerfed;. That doesn’t work in a guild like ours. So you keep pushing.”

heartbreaker

Decision: progression path of boss-kills

I’m thinking that if Numen knew in advance they would need 6 raiding nights, then he’d have a plan too on their progression path once Ulduar opened.

Vyoh tells me, “It was already in my head on the first day of Ulduar. I knew which hardmode we’d do first and next… but I had to change that quite a lot because of the buffs and nerfs to the encounters. We started with Thorim hard mode, but initially I was planning Hodir. Then Inner Sanctum killed Thorim and Blizzard then buffed it twice, so I had to change my plan. We’re on the same server as Inner Sanctum, so that helps with pacing.”

Lambi adds, “I think we are traditionally pretty weak on the PTR because we can’t put in the same time as some of the other guilds. When we play, it’s peak times, so we don’t get to see as much of the bosses on PTR as for example Inner Sanctum does. If you don’t have that knowledge of the bosses as strongly as they do, it becomes a factor in the decision to do normal modes in the first reset of launch. We wanted to get a feel for the bosses.”

I ask Vyoh about how he plans to stay around the top 20 European guilds, if there is a specific strategy.

As you’d expect of any goal-oriented organisation, there was a plan. Vyoh knows that rankings websites help with recruiting. “Personally I went to talk to some tracking websites and asked how are you going to rank guilds. How do you decide who is better than another. Most initially put a lot of points into who killed Yogg-Saron quickly. That’s why I decided to go straight to Yogg-Saron, which I think we killed about three days after release.”

Continuing on the topic of staying highly-ranked, Kimber says a lot comes down to recruitment. “I joined two years ago, and only one person has left in that time for another guild; Numen is not a stepping stone, it’s a place people get to. Anything above us is much more hardcore, anything below is could also be more hardcore. Staying top 20 comes down to our recuits, and we want the best of the best, the best we can get. We’re being extremely harsh in the trials. If we don’t think they’re going to cut it, they don’t pass.”

Thanks

My thanks to Dragonkimber, Vyoh and Lambi for investing so much time in this interview over our two sessions.

Here’s a video of their Firefighter kill.

This article is also published on wowraid.com.

Next weekend, we will have an interview with another world top guild.

You can subscribe to pwnwear articles with RSS here. Read more interviews.

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