Converting wipes to knowledge: guest Satorri

I’m very pleased to say that Satorri, a very well-known Death Knight poster on TankSpot has agreed to have his essay on wipes published here at pwnwear.com. His bio concludes this article. Enjoy the read!

Investing in Loss: How to turn wipes into valuable resources

by guest author Satorri

Anyone who has raided knows it is inevitable, even in the best of teams, that you will wipe attempting to tackle raid obstacles. Everyone has to learn new content, new encounters, and to do so you have to face them and fall in combat. I want to be careful how I use language here, because we can use words that lead us to think or remember things as something other than what it really is: learning. The term we use is usually ‘wipe,’ short for being wiped out. For many people it is easy to think of this as losing or failing, but there is a danger in thinking of it as “wipe = fail, clear = win.” The only way to fail in a true sense is to fail to learn from what you’ve done. Simply put, if you do not wipe you may miss your opportunity to improve, to see where you are weak, where you could improve. If you are good enough, or lucky enough, to waltz or be carried through content without dying or failing to clear a boss in one shot, you may start to believe you are infallible and miss the opportunity to improve that others who struggle will get.

Read more of Satorri’s guest post on learning from wipes

It is not sufficient to say, though, that losing is an asset, let’s discuss some specifics of how to turn apparent losses, wipes, and other adversity on your raid team into a valuable resource.

Our goal is to succeed. In order to succeed we prepare. We study the challenges we are about to face, we learn about our own abilities, then we prepare a plan on how to match the two as best we can. Once we are in the raid we do our best to use our abilities, as planned, to overcome the challenges. There are 3 initial places where the ideal will separate from the real, and these are our first three places to pay attention. In paying attention we can learn, improve, and become better players:

1.) Personal Skills.

In theory we know what tools we have, we know how to use them, and we can plan how we will use them to face the encounter. When the encounter comes, the chaos, distractions, and other real life deviations set in. We miss optimal timings, are slowed or distorted by network latency, we are distracted by things in-game or out, and miss our timing or an important event, and in general we just see how sharply our instincts are linked with our abilities. In this time you will see the limits of your current abilities, which is another way of saying you have the opportunity to see what you do well, what you do poorly or not at all, and what falls in the 200 levels in between. If you are attentive, you can identify these things and find ways and places to improve. Bear in mind, while things you do not do as well are easy targets, you can often improve the things you are good at just as easily. The tools for this are present both in-game and in real life. It is for this reason that I enjoy having combat stat trackers, combat logs, and all of the many tools that have been developed to use and inspect them. The real-life side requires that you be paying attention to what is going on, not watching TV over the monitor, not talking on the phone, and not just staring at cooldowns or chatting on Vent. If you pay attention you can catch the moments where you pause, delay, moments where your current setup (keyboard, mouse, keybinds, UI) hinders your response, or any number of other aspects. To become a better player yourself, you will be well-suited to pay close attention to these details.

2.) Encounter Functionality.

It can be good to study and learn as much as you can about encounters ahead of time, though some people find it more fun not to. If you are one of the former this is important and may be forgotten, and if you are one of the latter, this is your bread and butter and your skills here will make or break your success. Regardless of what is described by others, data-mined from game files, or (in)correctly surmised from 3rd parties, mobs, bosses, and their abilities will all work out in fashion all their own in real experience. Many things can contribute, but it is more important to pay attention and learn the real behavior than to stubbornly adhere to a description or ideal relating of how things work. During the fight, while you are learning it, mouseover debuffs/buffs, count out short timers, use tools to map longer timers, and you can use logs and recordings to do the same when inspecting fights after the fact. This is not dissimilar to football teams watching tapes of their practices and games. Learn how things actually work and plan according to that, not the ideal. Pairing this with the first item will allow you to formulate new plans, new strategies, and new tactics that may even eventually become standard practice for those who follow.

3.) Team Coordination.

As previously stated, raiding is not a group of all-star Rambo’s, a single player will not clear a raid effectively (soloing old content doesn’t count here, fun though it may be). A team has to work together to overcome the challenges. Each player will have to learn their own lessons, but the team will also see where plans don’t always work out in the heat of things. Pay attention to how things really work in the fast paced live-raid environment and adjust your plans accordingly. Some things can be fixed, practiced, and improved, but some things just need to be accepted as an element of reality.

In order to gain value from these things, it requires players to be paying attention. If you are not paying attention you will miss the things that led to the outcome, and when you look back to find out why you failed or succeeded, people will simply come up quiet, at a loss for pertinent information to share. It can be helpful, in raids, to encourage an atmosphere of attentiveness. Ask players to spot what a given debuff does, how often a particular add spawns, or whether or not a particular mechanic works (i.e. stun, interrupt, silence, CC, etc) on a given mob. Getting people involved in ‘your’ scouting encourages them to start looking at things in a similar fashion, and gives them a task to invest in.

The first important step, as described above, is to bear witness to important details. Being able to identify the components of the situation and where they fit is a necessary precursor to the second step of extracting value from your experiences. The second step lies in the analysis. This is rather more complicated, and case specific, but in order to help, here are some general guidelines to look for, elements to check to see if the relationships become more clear.

Breaking down the fight

Thinking about the breakdown before, during, and after should also help you pay attention to the details better.

1.) Break the fight down first into general phases. If you prepare for fights from others’ experiences chances are this has been done for you. Though you shouldn’t feel tied to see it the same way, most encounters are not so complicated that there will be much ambiguity. Identify the buffs/debuffs, adds, tank maneuvers, and other requirements and sort them into each phase. Find the simplest way to express each item.

2.) From the simple descriptions note the implication of each element. Some will be dismissible, some will require raiders to do one thing or another to avoid, counter, or encourage a particular element. Try to keep things simple and direct at this stage, some elements will require rather more complicated responses. Separate these elements.

3.) For elements that require more complex responses, consider your planned response to the element. Is there a simpler solution? Is there a different solution that may be easier to learn or employ? Who was given responsibility for that element, are they the best person, or best available?

4.) Collect feedback from the group. Which directions were easiest to follow, which methods worked well and which struggled? Why did the elements that struggled do so (person, method, or other conflicting circumstance)? Were there any elements that directly led to defeat? Sometimes what you wanted to happen does not, for players missing their opportunity, misunderstanding directions, or simple distraction. Find out what of your strategy is not even actually tested. Often times it is not a single obvious item in the strategy that will cause the team to fail, it is simply several elements being slightly sub-par, inefficient, ineffective, or poorly executed. Large mistakes are easiest to rectify, but it takes work and attentiveness to improve your working strategies to push your group over the edge from near miss to sudden success. Always remember to allow time and reasonable patience for people to learn, as I’ve said above, messing up or falling short is far more useful for growth than succeeding on your first try or quickly thereafter.

5.) Rephrase, reconsider, and re-approach. Sometimes the best solution is to simply change your tactics entirely on a given item or phase. Be careful, there are two sides to balance. On one hand a new strategy may be more effective, maybe by a lot, maybe only by a little. On the other hand every tactic you employ requires that the people responsible learn the task and practice it. The more practice they have the better they become at that task. Changing tactics may entirely reset the learning curve, or take it steps backwards. This means that even if the new tactic is better, the apparent effectiveness may appear worse while people learn the new moves. Small course corrections can be easier on the team unless the tactic(s) being used seems to be the thing keeping you from overcoming the challenge. Know when to take a step back and re-approach, and learn when it is better to stick to what you are doing.

Execution onward

Once you’ve analyzed the situation, there may very well be more than one element that can be fixed. To deliver this to your team you need to establish priorities. Just as with teaching the team a new encounter, refining methods requires a similar degree of tact. Change things too much, or add too much new or conflicting information and you may make things harder or confuse people about what they’re supposed to be doing. If you do not react and reinforce both adept execution and mistakes you run the risk of losing vital opportunities for learning and improvement. When highlighting mistakes, tread carefully always. Players are less receptive to both criticism and corrections if they feel accused, blamed, or otherwise slighted. Frequently, the best way to broach the subject is to first ask how it worked, what they saw, what their thoughts are, then see where your feedback is actually needed and what clarifications they need. Choose your forum for this carefully, if the team’s environment is healthy and open, you may be able to do it in raid or guild chat, if the person is particularly sensitive about their mistakes it may be best to whisper. As always, be careful not to micro-manage your raiders. It is sometimes sufficient to ask, have both parties recognize where the mistake is, then let the person(s) who need improvement step up and try again. Failing to accomplish their task once or even a few times does not mean the player or the task is bad or inadvisable, but if they fail several times one or the other may need changing.

Every raid leader will come to appreciate the relative strengths of their players, and will often favor one person or another for a given task, i.e. skilled dispeller, interrupter, kiter, etc. There is nothing wrong with that and often, so long as you can, it is in your best interest to leave the most important tasks to these people with an established history of success. Keep in mind, though, that the same principles apply to the microcosms of the raid operation. Hunter A may be a pro at trapping, but relying on him to do it every time means Hunter B doesn’t have experience to allow him to improve. Giving Hunter B the task may mean that you fail a couple of times where you wouldn’t have with Hunter A, but failing gives Hunter B the opportunity to improve, provided you maintain the appropriate atmosphere and mitigate the moments where Hunter B will feel bad or guilty about holding the team back. A well-timed whisper here can reassure that player that it is ok to screw up while you’re learning. If you play this well into your team, your whole team will benefit, and when you need more traps you will have more than one competent hunter ready to go, or whatever the task may be.

I try to give guidelines to help the process along, but I think more often than not it is the atmosphere and the attitude of the players on the team that will determine how well you learn and grow. Maintaining a professed policy that it is ok to screw up (provided you can identify where and how, and ideally are willing to share that with the team) allows your group to be honest with each other and offer support, feedback, inspection, and possibly advice that will improve the learning and future performance.

There is a parable that seems appropriate here, that I’ve been fond of for a long time:
“When the fool and the wiseman meet, who departs the wiser?”
The simple answer of course, is the wiseman, because he realizes that even he can learn from a fool.

About my guest Satorri

Satorri’s original post on wipes and other leadership topics is at TankSpot. I’m happy to say the other articles written will also be posted here over the next few days, contributing to pwnwear’s growing stable of content for leaders.

Who are you Satorri?

My passion for figuring out how things work has lent itself wonderfully to game mechanics, and I am a furious theorycrafter, with a twist you only get from an engineer. I am very interested in how things work, but I am most interested in that information being practical and accessible, and appreciating that the best model is merely a best guess representation of the real thing. I am fairly frequently a presence on TankSpot and I troll other forums when the mood strikes.

Read more about Satorri, and find who is the person behind the DK avatar.

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