Excuses, Excuses

A lot of raiders have what I like to call an automatic self-defense system. It’s called “the excuse”.

You may have seen it before. “Sorry, I must have lagged,” someone says, directly after they’ve been blown up by something. Or perhaps “wtf was that? I was nowhere near that!”, they’ll exclaim. Maybe it’s more along the lines of “I thought I was assigned to A, not B…”

Whatever the case, raiders almost invariably have an excuse at hand to try to pardon — not explain, but pardon — their poor choices or decisions or execution.

This happens in 5-mans, too, to be sure, but I wanted to talk a bit about excuses from the perspective of a raid leader in a progressive raiding guild. We’re not cutting edge, not by a long shot, but we hold our own in terms of server progression.

When a raid attempt goes south, one of the first things I ask myself is “What went wrong?”

I use the mod Fatality. It’s a great mod that tells you what got the killing blow on people as they die. Here, let’s look at an example from that recent T11 raid night I went to on Kurn.

I have the output going to /raid. I figure it’s an easy way for EVERYONE to see what happened. (Warning: this only shows the killing blow. Sometimes there are other factors apart from the killing blow. I like to double-check in World of Logs before I draw any permanent conclusions.)

So you see here, I have died to Al’Akir’s Lightning Clouds, which hit me for 17.5k with a 5.8k overkill.

A typical raid leader question here would be “Kurn, how (or why) did you die to Lightning Clouds?” which may or may not be asked. Allow me to let you in on a secret: raid leaders don’t always care about the reason why something has happened, particularly if it doesn’t happen again. I sit there and look at the various deaths and can usually pinpoint the reason for a wipe fairly quickly, confirming with World of Logs or Recount or Skada. If your death was the main reason for the wipe, I don’t care why you died. At all. I just care that the next time, it won’t happen again.

Let’s go back to my example. Say that the raid leader asked me how (or why) I died to Lightning Clouds.

The Bad Response: “Seriously, dude, I don’t know! I was flying away from the person with the lightning thing on them and the next thing I know, I’m not controlling my toon anymore and then it like, DEPOSITS me at the top of Al’Akir’s head, like it did when the phase started and there were clouds there and I couldn’t escape and… yeah, dead! Crazy, right?”

Yes. It is crazy. I guarantee you that even though that’s exactly what happened to me, the raid leader in a progression raiding guild who bothered to ask that now thinks I’m an idiot. That’s not the way to make yourself understood, not with a rambling explanation like that, even if it’s true! That is an excuse. It is not an explanation. That response is me deflecting blame and essentially blaming the game.

The Good Response: “Well, I think I must have flown too far to the side and the game reset me to the P3 start position. That’s my bad, I didn’t know that could happen. Won’t happen again.”

What’s the difference? First of all, this response is concise. One sentence and it explains what happened, or what I think happened. Secondly, and most importantly, the second sentence takes responsibility for the death. I freely admit that it’s my fault because I wasn’t aware that, during the Al’Akir encounter, it will reset your position under certain circumstances. Thirdly, and not quite as important, but still nice to see, is the third sentence. With three words, I have assured the raid leader that I won’t let it happen again. Of course, I might do it again, and we both know that, but I might not, and having put that out there, that it won’t happen again, I’ll be hyper-aware of the possibility and therefore will work hard to make sure I didn’t just lie to the raid leader. It also indicates that you are willing to learn from your mistakes, which is an important trait in any raider.

Excuses deflect blame and responsibility, while explanations accept blame and responsibility.

That’s a key difference for any raid leader. I swear to you, we 100% do not care if your cat stepped on your keyboard, causing you to eat environmental damage and die — as long as it doesn’t happen again. We don’t care if you accidentally pulled a boss because you were changing your mouse batteries and accidentally hit both buttons at the same time, while putting the battery panel back on, causing you to run up to the boss and facepull — as long as it doesn’t happen again. (And yes, I have had both of these used as a reason for people’s death!)

As I said before, explanations might not even be asked for. You should probably not offer an explanation unless asked for one. If you desperately feel the need to defend yourself but you’re not asked for an explanation, I would talk to the raid leader after the raid (or perhaps send a PM on the forums or in-game mail) explaining, not excusing, your behaviour.

I learned about the difference between an excuse and an explanation back on Proudmoore, when I was raiding with a raid leader who was, and let’s be fair to him, a complete douchecanoe. Imagine learning Trial of the Grand Crusader with a guild more progressed than any you’ve been in before, after seeing people being removed from the guild DURING RAIDS due to their poor performances in that particular raid and then being asked what happened to you, why you died?

“mad,” he once said to me, in /raid, “mad, fire is bad. why did you stand in it?”

My RL Friend the Resto Druid (and my healing lead) had coached me in preparation for questions like that. “Just apologize and say it won’t happen again. And then don’t let whatever it is happen again!”

“I’m sorry,” I responded to him, “that was my fault. Won’t happen again.”

“k,” he replied. And it was dropped. Just like that.

I remember once, on Heroic Anub’arak attempts, we used a strategy where we would cast Hand of Protection (BOP) on whoever the second target was in the burrow phase. The first person would run all the way back to the entrance, then the second target would stand right beside an ice patch and get a BOP and then step on to the ice patch just as it was wearing off. On this particular attempt, during the first burrow phase, I used my BOP on the target as normal and then I was the second target during the second burrow.

Unfortunately, the first target had run the wrong way, so I was forced to run back towards the entrance.

The raid leader said to me in chat, “mad, bop yourself when he gets close”

But my BOP was on cooldown. And I was waiting for the BOP from the other holy pally. Which never came. And so I died.

RL, in chat: “or you could just die. what the fuck?”

“Sorry,” I said, “I was assigned to the target in the first burrow, so my BOP was on cooldown.”

“ok so who was supposed to bop mad?”

Silence. Crickets.

“fix it,” he said, after a moment or two.

And that’s how it was, raiding with him. He didn’t care what happened as long as it didn’t happen again. Excuses did NOT fly with him. If I had said, regarding my standing in fire, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see the fire until it was too late and I couldn’t stop healing or you would die,” even odds were that he’d just throw me out of the guild.

I don’t think most people are as completely unreasonable as he was, but he did have one thing right: excuses are bad while explanations and accepting responsibility are good. Raiding is full of finger-pointing and accusations as it is. Don’t add to that. Step up, take responsibility for your actions and do what you need to do in order to prevent your mistakes from happening again.

18 Replies to “Excuses, Excuses”

  1. On the lag front, I’m working on an addon that’ll log latency every 30s to a chat log. I’ve got the prototype done already, just need to fine tune it.

    I’m also debating allowing people to upload their latency log to a website for analysis, but that’s still a long way off.

  2. That was a good kick in the behind for me. Now I look back over the last raid night, every time I mucked up and stood in the bad I was offering up an excuse: “I was trying to put slows down”, “Someone ran behind me and I lost sight of my feet”, etc. You’re quite right – those excuses are useless at best. I should have said “I forgot to watch my feet while I put a slow down” or “My view got too busy and I didn’t move somewhere clearer”.

    I know how I’m going to approach things tonight :)

  3. Interesting post! I think most people prefer excuses to taking responsibility because admitting mistakes usually hurts people’s ego. I always found it refreshing and reassuring (assuming they said they were going to fix it or not do it again) when someone took responsibility for their actions, whether in game or RL. That being said, the other side of this is how the recipient takes it. Sometimes explanations sound like excuses and vice versa.

  4. That’s the great thing about me. I don’t make excuses because I don’t die to bad enviro stuff. Unless my internet goes out. Or someone crowds me. Or if I didn’t get any sleep that day… ;)

  5. Um I am not so sure the mouse battery thing was an “excuse” as so much as so funny it had to be shared… :P

  6. I’ve frequented this blog for a long time. I’ve agreed with much of your philosophy on Paladin healing, leadership, followership, and just WoW in general but I’ve never felt compelled to post until now. This post just hit too close to home for me to not respond. You are spot on with your thoughts here.

    Currently, we’re dealing with some of this in our guild. Halts in steady progression has caused tempers to flare, fingers to point, excuses to fly and just a general negative response to hours of wiping on progression and anything other than a one shot on farm content encounters. It feels like it is permeating every minute of our raids from invite to final EP.

    I love my guild and my friends that have formed its foundation since T8. I wish there was a magical cure all for the frustrations inherent in doing any competitive activity with other humans regardless of whether it is killing digital dragons or putting balls in nets. In the current raiding environment, discontent amongst raiders leads to increased stress on the officers. Burnout doesn’t just come from being bored facing the same content over and over. And regardless of how much effort is put into recruiting, in this climate it never seems to be enough. When the primary obstacle raids are facing is simply fielding 25 bodies let alone actually progressing, this is the first sign of the silent death of a raid team.

    I refuse to see it happen to my guild home, but I just don’t know how to stop it. Ultimately, as with a lot of problems in society today, the first step is personal accountability. Laying down the ego, pointing the fingers at oneself, accepting and verbalizing one’s mistakes to their teammates is definitely the first step. I’m just hoping we can turn it around before it gets too late.

  7. There’s a fine line between making an excuse and saying “I know why it happened, and here’s why it won’t happen again.” As the raidlead for my little group, I do often ask what happened – why did that tank not get a direct heal for so long? Was there a range issue we can fix? Did some mechanic incapacitate you and we need to have a plan for when that happens again? What was the deal?

    Last night was three hours of “the tank died again” with… no reason. And like. Near the end I realized hey, maybe I should have swapped which tank was with which healer to see if the problem followed the tank or healer in question, but like… Gah. Sometimes you just hit that brick wall sort of thing, where I’m like “ok..? Please… heal the tank, and if you can’t or need the raid’s help in some way, please ask for it?”

    I also don’t want to be like your former GM/RL. I don’t want to create that atmosphere of tense fear, not least because I feel like it creates the sort of environment where people are nervous instead of calm, and that leads to mistakes and wipes. I also have a hard time believe that people like that never make their own mistakes.

  8. Gazimoff – oh, now THAT’S interesting. Lag spikes would be awesome to see.

    Aralosseien – Excellent! I’m glad to hear this resonated with you and was perhaps useful. Good luck on your next raid!

    Bearsome – Thank you. :) And yes, I agree, egos get in the way of accepting responsibility a LOT. Everyone needs to check their ego at the door. And yup, how the recipient takes it is important as well. That comes from knowing your raid leader or whoever is questioning you, though. Gotta phrase it in a way that’s not deflecting blame or damage. :)

    Tia – haha, okay, good point. ;) It’s too damn funny not to share! ;)

    Serrath – glad you enjoyed it!

    Moogrun – I’m pleased you’ve finally posted after following for so long, but I’m sad that the content of your comment sounds so frustrated and upset about what’s happening in your guild at the moment. :(

    I think one of the best ways to encourage others to take responsibility is for the raid leader/officers to take responsibility for their mistakes. Of course, it’s a fine line between “hey, sorry, we fucked that one up” and “yeah, we’re totally incompetent”. ;) If I call people out on a mechanic that I didn’t do well on, I call myself out, too. And then I remind EVERYONE that we ALL need to make that effort to avoid that mechanic. I’m not sure if it works, but I’m pretty sure it shows everyone that I’m not above my own criticism.

    From a recent raid review thread during what I dubbed our “Failroc” night:

    “Ranged DPS dies on the fourth shard. This means that Person C and I should be on melee, Person E and Person D should be on ranged and Person A and Person B should be on the tanks.

    WOW. The amount of confusion here is crazy. All at once, you have:

    Person A and Person B and me and Person C on tanks, plus Person D on melee and it looks like Person E is actually confused because she doesn’t heal anyone for a while — when she does, it’s someone in melee.

    So ALL of us fucked that one up. All six of us. Incredible as that may be, all six of us were wrong.

    And yet, we rez Ranged DPS and push through.

    But then, Tank A dies.

    [23:47:27.173] Baleroc begins to cast Shards of Torment – 5th shard
    [23:47:31.280] Tank A dies

    So Tank A’s healers SHOULD be Person E and Person D, but it’s not, because everyone screwed up last time and no one was on ranged, so no one then moved to tanks.

    Terrible, awful, horrible performance from ALL of us.”

    So even though I was incensed at the issues apparent in the logs, I recognized that I screwed up, too, and I included myself in that particular “terrible performance” comment.

    If your leaders aren’t taking responsibility, the raiders won’t, either. The raiders might not even if the leaders DO, but at least if the leaders do, the raiders might feel less intimidated about doing so.

    Good luck!!

    Pradzha – Part of being a raid leader is making sure that you ARE asking the right questions and that you’re doing it in a problem-solving mode instead of a “okay, who can I blame for that one?!” mode. I commend you if you can adequately convey that proper tone to your group! I was very pissy just last night when we had Alysrazor issues and probably wasn’t as much of a problem-solver as I could be. :/

    I hear you, re: tank deaths. I take them extremely personally, mostly because I’m usually ON the tank. If you want me to go through some WoL and help figure out the issue, btw, let me know — kurn (at) apotheosis-now (dot) com. I’d be happy to take a look.

    As to my former GM/RL, yeah, I don’t think people perform well under stressful/tense conditions. Some people do, but most people would prefer a pleasurable environment, IMHO. So that’s why I don’t channel him very often. He did some things right in leading the group, but more often than not did things wrong when it came to people.

    And he made SO many mistakes himself that he wouldn’t even acknowledge. It was maddening!

  9. The next step in the equation is, I believe, the tougher one for a Raid Leader.

    Even if the raider has the right attitude and gives the right “answer”, if they don’t actually fix whatever issue, then what do you do?

    Of course, the initial reaction to an error or problem is part of the guild atmosphere, what a Raid Leader does afterwards has an equal effect. If a raider takes responsibility for an error, that’s wonderful. When a raider repeats said error, what are the consequences? If no consequences are visible then eventually other raiders will conclude that there are no consequences to repeated errors.

    Obviously, RLs can err on the side of consequences being too harsh or too public. They can also err on the side of not harsh enough and too private.

  10. We have a running joke in my guild about people trying to rank on the EPS meters… Excuses Per Second. Especially when someone starts making their excuses mid-attempt.

    My questions post-wipe always boil down to “What happened, and how do we fix it?” Sometimes it’s a statement: “We know how to avoid that mechanic, we just failed to execute. That’s a dumb reason to wipe, make sure it doesn’t happen again. We’ve had our warm-up wipe to it.” Other times, there’s a legitimate adjustment to be made. But excuses are never productive.

    Al’akir was a prime example of people spending a bunch of time trying to blame “RNG” for events, when there certainly proved to be methods to plan ahead and around the “RNG” to ensure that it couldn’t bite you. Refusing to accept RNG as an excuse is the only way to get consistently through Phase One and beat the fight.

  11. I have a zero-tolerance policy for excuses. I say this often to people who die and then say they were doing everything right:

    “At this moment, there are thousands of guilds out there,doing this very fight, and somehow their players aren’t randomly dying to invisible whatever. Unless you can show me the part in the encounter journal about “players will randomly die”, fix your shit.”

  12. Merk – That’s quite true, the next step is difficult. That’s why I’ve chosen specifically not to address that here. ;) It depends on the RLs, the officers, the people involved.

    It also depends on who else might be available to replace the people who might not be fixing the error.

    For example, let’s take me in TOGC. I stood in a WHOLE lot of fire on Northrend Beasts. Some poison, too. I never got sat, but through absolute terror, I would do my best to rectify various mistakes. The easier we got heroic beasts down, the better for me, because I knew it would only be a matter of time before I would die to a stupid mechanic like fire or poison. I do remember one particularly awful night on heroic Sindragosa. I ended up eating a couple of icy blasts or whatever that was. I was ALSO the acting healing lead at the time. The RL said to me in the “raid leader” channel, and I quote, “i have one rule. if you’re gonna be in this channel, you don’t fuck up.”

    Never you mind that I didn’t want to be doing this job for them, nor did I want to be in the channel, but I told the RL I’d fix it and I figured out what I was doing wrong and fixed it.

    Still, despite the fact that they literally could not sit me through most of heroic ICC due to a lack of healers and due to a lack of the regular healing lead, I still did my best.

    Perhaps I’m naive in this, but I think many people who enjoy the raiding aspect of this game would still try their best without any so-called competition threatening to replace them. That’s not to say that I, personally, haven’t replaced others — either in an encounter or gone recruiting to seek a new player to replace another one who’s underperforming, because I’ve done both and I’ve done both in this expansion. But I like to think that if someone wants the boss down for the good of the team, they’ll play at about the same level, whether or not someone’s drooling at the opportunity to step in for them.

    But like I said, it’s a difficult step and so I’ll leave that particular step to raid leaders and such rather than go into depth here. ;)

    Meloree – haha, EPS, I love it! I’m thankful that my group is generally pretty quiet about excusing their behaviour. Granted, they don’t volunteer a whole lot, but that’s okay. If I ask them what happened (healers, what happened, ranged, what happened, etc), they’ll generally say something about it and I’ll figure out if that was an excuse or statement or whatever.

    Failure to execute has been our primary issue of late and the kicker is that there’s too much crap going on for me to actually see who did what and the logs are proving difficult. I don’t think you can discern whose Molten Seed was dropped in a specific location or whose Molten Seed accidentally killed someone else because they were standing too close.

    That said, I love the Al’Akir example. The first couple of nights we spent on him, I was convinced RNG was out to get me — until I realized Wind Burst could be delayed. It was like a choir of angels broke into a glorious chorus when that clicked. Et voila, RNG never bothered me again.

    Chase – heh, I’ll have to remember that one. :)

    Pradzha – will be responding at some point on Monday!

  13. Well this blog was certainly an eye-opener…I now can pinpoint the problem with one of the tanks in my main raid…he almost never takes responsibility. It’s always an excuse with the guy. He’ll chalk things up to magical “bugs” that really didn’t happen. On one Alysrazor attempt the other tank end up with both hatchlings and his defense was that the other tank was “too close” to his egg! (when in reality…he was simply way too far away)

    I rarely make mistakes in raid, and as a melee dps on that fight my job isn’t really that difficult. But when I do flub up I always admit it and assure the raid I won’t repeat the error. So I feel like I’m already leading by example, but what else can I do? Should I just make a declaration of “no more excuses! I don’t wan to hear them!” Should I talk to my officer team and make sure they don’t make excuses and maybe the rest of the team will follow?

  14. I read this to a fellow officer, and we agreed with it so much that we posted it on the guild forums for all of our raiders to read, because we feel it is important, and would rather people say “Sorry, won’t happen again,” instead of “Oh, but this and that happened and it’s not my fault!”. Thank you so much for an awesome read. :)

  15. Hahaha, I love that this RL, who seems to me to be pretty awesome, is classified by you as “a complete douchecanoe” and “completely unreasonable.” ‘Cause god forbid players actually be expected to deal with basic fight mechanics, own up to their mistakes, and work to not make those errors again…

  16. Lemons – It’s a fine line sometimes, but if the impression you’re getting from someone is it’s never their fault, then they’re deflecting responsibility.

    You say it’s a tank — do you have a tanking officer? I’d talk to whoever the officer is for that tank and inform them that the next time an excuse comes out of the tank’s mouth, the officer should be (privately, IMHO) telling him that he still needs to clean it up or work on it or whatever, that he needs to look at what happened and fix it. “I didn’t get heals” doesn’t always fly, either. ;)

    If that doesn’t help, then the raid leader needs to say something in public to the raid, I think. Definitely make sure the other officers are on-board with a “no more excuses” policy!

    Essence – Glad you enjoyed the post! Just as a follow-up, if you enjoyed it, I’d ask that you please link directly to it and not post my whole post on your website. A quote or two is fine, but a link to have them read it over here is what I’d really appreciate. Thanks and best of luck to you! :)

    Sleutel – My dear sir or madame, you are clearly a new reader to my blog. The behaviour to which I referred is not, strictly speaking, douchecanoe-like behaviour, so I can understand that you might not understand my perspective on this specific douchecanoe comes from.

    He was, quite simply, a total fucking asshole. I have screenshots upon screenshots of him verbally abusing various raiders or the raid as a whole. He held everyone to standards that he rarely met himself. He didn’t show up if he didn’t feel like it and then would berate the officers for not having a raid anyway. He would gkick people at the drop of a hat. A lot of the time, he would do such things because he was misinformed and refused to look into the matter more carefully.

    For example, on heroic Sindragosa, he died four pulls in a row one night and after the second death, starting cussing out the healers. I grew more and more incensed, because we were not screwing up and I knew it. It was only after the raid when I pointed out to another officer that the melee were causing parry thrashes that the RL turned his fury to the melee group. No apologies to the healers, just a lot of abuse and vulgarity.

    If you think that being in a guild should result in instant gkicks for first offenses when someone fails at a never-before-seen mechanic, that’s great, but somehow, I doubt most players think that’s reasonable. And yet, I saw him kick people for such things.

    The point I’m trying to make here is that my former RL spent a lot of time making other people miserable and very little of that is conveyed in this post, because it wasn’t the point of the post. Perhaps the one thing that he and I agreed upon is that owning up to responsibility and fixing the issue in question is an important part of raiding.

    That? Not unreasonable.

    The way he treated everyone in the guild? Unreasonable, unwelcome, abusive, ridiculous and full of double-standards.

    So, my dear sir or madame, I do hope you now understand the context a bit better and I thank you for your contribution to this conversation.

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