Voice Communication & Player Atrophy

For about 9 months, starting in September of 2009 until June of 2010, I raided with a guild where we didn’t use Vent, TeamSpeak or Mumble. We didn’t use any voice communications at all until maybe the last few weeks I spent in the guild.

When people hear this, their reactions range from “no way, you’re lying” to “… but.. wha.. HOW?!”, particularly when they learn that we went 11/12 ICC 25m HM. All without Vent. (We eventually started using it, as I mentioned, but that was mostly toward the end of my time there, so maybe late April/early May 2009? And even then, it wasn’t every raid.)

So to answer the “how”… It meant a lot of reading of instructions from the raid leader and my role leader (or a lot of typing for me, since I took over as healing lead for a few months in there). It meant strictly watching my timers in my boss mods and making adjustments to the boss mods (particularly DXE) so that I’d remember that THAT noise at THAT time meant “GTFO”. ;) It was key on encounters like Heroic Lady Deathwhisper because I configured the warning sound for Vengeful Shades to be really distinctive and I KNEW upon hearing that noise to watch for the shades spawning around me.

Raiding during that time meant no call-outs on Vent, because there was no Vent to call out on. And in the abusive, toxic environment it was, if you screwed up, even once, you could get kicked from the guild. No joke. I saw it happen more than once while I was there.

That’s all in the past, but that time in my WoW life definitely left its marks on me. Both bad (obviously) and good (not always so apparent).

I’m going to talk a bit about the good marks left on me from that time.

Cut to today: On Mondays (and Wednesdays), I get on the baby pally and raid with Choice of Skywall. Choice is currently working on the Alysrazor encounter as their progression encounter. Apotheosis, where I spend most of my time and energy, has already defeated Alysrazor three times, each kill being cleaner than the last. So I’m very comfortable with the fight at this point.

It was during Monday night’s attempts that I realized two things:

1) I am pretty damn good at that encounter. Like, really good. I don’t think I’ve been this good at an encounter since Dreamwalker. On Choice’s best attempt last night, I came in second on healing (without leaving Gushing Wound ticking on my tank, thank you very much), popped my Aura Mastery whenever I was supposed to and only took two ticks of tornado damage because I bubbled and healed the crap out of my tank whose hatchling was still up but NEARLY dead on that phase. I ate the tornadoes because I knew I had to help the tank live to get the hatchling down. Once Divine Shield wore off, I could still live through a couple of ticks of tornadoes and as long as I didn’t die (I didn’t), I could pull that off to help ensure the killing of the hatchling.

2) I’m not even paying attention to my boss mod timers because I know how to react to everything and I don’t need 5 seconds’ notice to tell me something’s going to happen. At least, not on that fight.

I got to thinking about my timers and then it dawned on me; I almost never look at my timers anymore. Not on that encounter and not on most. I don’t watch the timers on Shannox; I just pay attention to the bleed on the tanks. I don’t watch the timers on Beth’tilac; I know when to jump up or jump down and when to group up. I don’t watch timers on Lord Rhyolith; I just follow my tank around and AOE heal the best I can while watching boss health. I don’t watch timers on Baleroc; I just know that when the shards spawn, that’s generally my cue to swap to a new target. I don’t watch timers on Majordomo Staghelm; I watch his stacks of Adrenaline.

My boss mod timers were an integral part of my playstyle all through TOGC and ICC. There was no way in hell I wouldn’t have died like a noob a million times over if I hadn’t had my timers.

So why am I not watching my timers now? Probably the last time I seriously watched my timers was Heroic Maloriak so I could try to anticipate the Scorching Blasts.

Part of it is that DXE took forever to be updated and Deadly Boss Mod’s timers have always been okay, but not really ON, as far as I can tell. DXE was just… so amazing in  ICC and especially toward the end of the expansion, it was just so perfect! I was never led astray by DXE!

But part of it is that I’ve just gotten lazy. I’m listening for calls from my officers in most cases. They’ve been calling things out all expansion so far and, although I was initially resistant to them doing so, since I feel it engenders laziness, I now find that I listen for them to call stuff out. And I’m sure people listen to me when I call stuff out — which I do rarely, but have been doing on Majordomo.

I’m also pre-occupied with leaderish thoughts: I’m thinking “how many battle rezzes does that make?”. I’m watching cooldowns through oRA to make sure people are using them appropriately. I’m wondering if we can pull through or if we should call a wipe. And that’s in addition to healing and not standing in bad.

So with all that floating around in my head, no wonder I’m not watching the timers.

I can’t help but think that if I watched them, if I didn’t have people calling stuff out on Mumble, I would be a lot better off as a player.

I honestly feel as though my player skills have atrophied in the last year that I’ve been back on Vent and Mumble. Granted, all my instincts and skills and knowledge were still intact last June when I first joined Choice to finish out Wrath with them and that content was still what we were raiding at the very start of Apotheosis after 4.0 hit, so I don’t think being on Vent or Mumble with Choice or Apotheosis affected me much until Cataclysm launched.

Since I first set foot in Blackwing Descent on December 28th, in our first 10-man “exploratory” raid, call-outs have happened and we’ve been on Mumble and we’ve talked a great deal throughout encounters.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all. I LOVE my guildies. I adore being on Mumble with them and mocking Majik or others. I… okay, I don’t enjoy being mocked in return, but that’s only fair. ;) I love kidding around, joking, laughing. I REALLY like that I can give instructions verbally instead of taking the time to type them. I type close to 90 words per minute and sometimes it’s just LONG to type stuff out.

I don’t like what it’s done to me as a player. I feel as though I’ve lost my edge in terms of using all the information available to me to make a good, fast decision. I think I still have that edge when it comes to reacting to stuff on my screen; I can stop healing my Gushing Wound target on Alysrazor, I can manage not to stand in the Immolation aura on the Spark of Rhyolith and, by golly, I can NAIL those tornadoes or throw a BOP on someone who’s about to die.

I still feel as though my play is lacking and although I have all this other stuff to take into consideration (raid leader stuff, etc), I’m not convinced that it’s not just pure laziness stemming from voice communication being available to me.

Take last night’s Choice raid as an example. As mentioned, it was Alysrazor and also as mentioned, I am awesome on that fight. So I don’t need to wait to hear “tornadoes coming” or “Gushing Wound, stop healing that tank!” or any of the other audio cues. By already knowing what to do and when, I can really just focus on my job, which is keeping my tank alive, even if he sometimes runs through fire. ;)

I think callouts on progression fights are what blunt me as a player. Once I know the fight, I can (and likely do) tune people out, regardless of what guild I’m playing with. Is that strange that I don’t want the callouts on the progression portion of the fight? And is it also weird that, even if I don’t want callouts, I can see the necessity in certain situations? I mean, we run out of first scorpion phase on Majordomo at 11 stacks of Adrenaline, so right after the 11th Scythe. I call out 9 and 10 and then “go!” and call out for cat “that’s 4, that’s 5, okay, go!” or whatever. (Of course, all bets are off for Searing Seeds scorpion phases. I AM SO BAD at calling to spread if I’m busy watching my Power Aura for Searing Seeds.)

Ultimately, the point of this post is not to preach that not using voice communications means you’re a great player. It’s not to say that using voice communications means you’re a bad player.

The point of this post is to say that I think voice communications blunt me as a player in new content. I think it makes things a lot easier in some ways and so I look for shortcuts like listening for calls instead of watching timers. I also have a great time on Mumble with Apotheosis and I enjoy Choice’s Vent, too, which is always a good thing. Raiding with 24 other people you hardly know and mostly can’t stand is fine if you’re not forced to talk to them or hear their mouth-breathing, but when we started using Vent in that other guild I was in? It was awful.

With Choice and, of course, with Apotheosis, I really do feel like I’m raiding with friends and players I mostly like and  respect. So I’ll take the slight blunting of my play for the chance to listen to Geng (of Choice) yell at kids to get off his car. I’ll take that hit on my own performance to listen to other people mock Majik (of Apotheosis) and try to get him killed.

So, having rambled about this for 1800+ words, I’m also going to set up my timers properly on Madrana to make sure they’re working and that I can see them and that they notify me appropriately for various things. Just because I CAN listen for callouts doesn’t mean I SHOULD and so I’m going to make an effort to watch my timers more frequently — which means putting them in an easier spot to see.

13 Replies to “Voice Communication & Player Atrophy”

  1. I think that Cataclysm fight design is also a lot less reliant on timers. I mean, it’s not like Lich King where you have to watch the Defile timer like a hawk.

    There’s a lot more cues and environmental triggers, so just by paying attention to the fight you know when things are going to happen.

  2. For fun and social cohesion, I think voice communication can be a great addition to a raid group or a guild. For raiding, though, I find it often detracts from the group’s performance. I don’t have, like, numbers to back this up, but based on the number of times we would wipe because half the group was telling silly jokes, or arguing with the raid leader about strategy, or talking about something unrelated to the raid, or listening to others do the same, I’d say it was detrimental.

    It’s nice to be able to hear the raid leader or team leads calling out important information. Things like, “don’t push the phase” or “Lara, pick up Mag again”, or “ranged group up by the pillar” are useful to hear rather than read. In the middle of a tough fight, though, I find a lot of the other chatter really distracting, and it makes me a little crazy sometimes. Even if you can somehow convince people to lay off their PTT key until the pull is done, I think the chatter slows down wipe recovery times and generally makes it more difficult to keep momentum when you’re learning a new encounter.

    So, like you, I’m more than a little dubious about the value of voice chat the way it seems to be used in most raid groups.

  3. I’ve only done that fight a handful of times, so this is an honest question out of noobness; couldn’t you grab a feather and heal while moving from tornados? I thought that was how it was normally done. But I suppose if I had cheat bubble I’d go for that too ;)

    I agree with you on the overall subject though. Using call outs on vent can easily turn in to “babysitting” where a couple of mindful people keep track of all the crap for others, instead of them thinking about stuff like that themselves. You should really try to avoid to shout out the obvious stuff. Vent is best used for quick tactic talk and for calling out unforseen stuffs imo.

  4. Players fighting the first four bosses, especially, benefit very little from timers. The fights often flow predictably and avoid things like mismatched Valk vs Defile timing. Major abilities give enough warning or precursors that you have a lot more notice.

    In ICC the fight could be in its steady state then give you just 2 seconds (or less) to react to a new Mark, a Defile, or a Bone Storm. Firelands gives you boss energy meters and excellent visual effects. You’ve got to be pretty oblivious to miss spear throws, volcano eruptions, and Devastation casts.

    Ragnaros’ Lava Seeds are the one big exception I’ve seen so far which benefits greatly from watching an accurate timer.

  5. You probably can’t tell by the amount I talk on Mumble, but I think raiding without voice chat would be extremely boring. Sometimes callouts shouldn’t be needed (they’re still nice though), but I think voice chat is great for calling out when something unexpected happens that people may not notice because they’re not looking for it. Also, from my (limited) experience in raids without voice chat, the RL usually makes extensive use of macros for raid announcements which serve the same function as voice chat.

  6. I guess I don’t see a difference between listening for and reacting appropriately to a call on vent, a sound played by the game or a mod, an on-screen warning the game provides by default, or an on-screen warning a mod provides. I think quality play is defined as executing the encounter correctly, and I don’t see that there’s any difference made by the combination of audio and/or visual cues you use to do that.

    Baleroc is the easiest example, since he’s such “do precisely the right thing or wipe” encounter. Consider Alice, Betty, and Chuck.
    Alice listens for the DPS and tanks to announce on vent that they’re rotating to determine who she should heal.
    Betty ignores vent, but watches the game world, i.e.: she says Dan is standing next to the crystal so she heals him, and when she’s on tank healing she sees that Baleroc is facing Eva so she heals her.
    Chuck has his raid frames set up to display aggro and the torment debuff prominently, and that’s primarily how he knows who to heal.

    Alice, Betty, and Chuck are all playing well, and they’re all using different cues to help them do so.

    Finally, many people argue that watching timers itself is something that “blunts skill”. I think this claim is poppycock, of course, but I don’t think timers are anything special. Good play is correct execution, that’s it.

  7. Lara. That kind of distracting chatter is what global mute is for. Especially if it’s getting in the way of communication during a pull.

  8. This is something I often struggle with when raid leading. I don’t to spoon feed people too much over vent as I feel it makes them worse players and also means that if I screw up on a call its a wipe. On the other hand as a raid leader my role is to help us progress as effectively as possible so its hard to risk stalling progress by not calling stuff out.

  9. Reading this I realized that I don’t watch timers as much anymore either, and I wasn’t quite sure why until I read Rohan’s comment below. I don’t think they’re as necessary anymore. I used to be the call-out person in vent to have everyone stack or split up or “watch out, boss is about to use[ability]), but have largely stopped, and it’s not because someone else has replaced me. We just don’t need it as much.

  10. “I guess I don’t see a difference between listening for and reacting appropriately to a call on vent, a sound played by the game or a mod, an on-screen warning the game provides by default, or an on-screen warning a mod provides.”

    This. Relying on timers is as good as relying on things being called out on vent. But we should aim to walk without these crutches, not to excel at using them.

    While in ICC timers absolutely had their place, most of the relevant cues are incorporated into boss fights nowadays, and watching timers that you don’t need to watch is actually distracting. You do not NEED to watch the timer for add spawn when you can look around to see them spawn while having time to register other things, like where the tank is you’re supposed to be healing. The only timer I’ve watched in this expansion so far (4/7 in FL) is searing flames timer on Atramedes, and that is only because I was on gong duty and needed to position myself at the gong in advance. If I was a better player, I probably could have anticipated the mechanic without the timer.

    Setting up unnecessary distractions and then proudly handling them is just redundant. I myself am one of those who likes to know everything, keep an eye on everything and control everything (I’m neither a GL, RL nor CL). I used to think I NEED to see every debuff on my raidframes, but once I got rid of the poisons and diseases I can’t dispel anyway, things became much clearer and I discovered I can do just as well, if not better, without them. Same with most timers – once I got rid of them, I found that I didn’t really need them anyway. But even now my inner control freak sometimes raises her ugly head. I used to glue my eyes on Rhyolith as the DPS was trying to steer him, cheering along “HARD RIGHT!” while simultaneously neglecting the poor add tank. Then I took a step back and realized that burning Rhyolith’s legs with my eyes is not really turning him, my yelling is only annoying the DPS and there is no point in me stressing over things I can’t control anyway. Discovering that felt liberating, and Rhyolith has since become a relaxing fight for me.

    What defines a great player, for me, is their ability to notice what’s going on, grasp what’s important and handle (unexpected) crisis situations swiftly and appropriately, sometimes making tough choices, just as you did by healing your tank through Alysrazor’s tornadoes. From what you described, I do not think you have become blunt, I absolutely think you’ve become better by developing good instincts and awareness.

  11. I wish you’d had another optioni on the poll “yes we do, but I wish we didn’t”

    I hate it when every little thing is called out. Yeah, it’s nice to know when something big is happening, but I pride myself on being able to watch what I’m doing and what’s going on around me. I’ll admit that occasionally I tunnel into health bars (or DoT timers!), but it doesn’t happen often, and I can usually snap out of it. Plus the giant bell from DBM going off is enough of a warning.

  12. Rohan – That’s also a fair point. Timers mean less in Firelands than they did in ICC. However, this is a trend with me personally in T11, too. I really only watched the Maloriak fire timer and I feel that there were many other occasions when I should have been watching timers in T11. While T12 is much less reliant on timers, I should still watch for, you know, the tornado phase on Alysrazor, the next spear throw on Shannox, the next stomp or something on Rhyolith. I just feel I should be doing more.

    But you’re definitely right, the environmental triggers and other cues (buffs/debuffs/health percentages) are generally more help in Firelands.

    Lara – I get very cranky if we’re talking out of turn on actual attempts. Trash, no problem. But when it comes to actual attempts, we’re usually very good about not having any chatter so we can hear call-outs and the like.

    Wipe recovery slowed due to voice communication chatter is an interesting thing to ponder… We’re not fast at recovering, to be sure. I’ll have to listen carefully next raid to see if that could be a source of that issue.

    Despite my annoyance with my own complacency, I have to say that I wouldn’t give up my crew on Mumble (Apotheosis) or Vent (Choice) without a fight. I’ve had too many good times with them both to move to a non-voice-communication setting with either of them.

    Zinn – At that point, it was a range issue, not a moving-while-casting issue. He was doing his best to dodge tornadoes and I quickly realized that if I tried dodging too, we’d be out of range. So I decided to plant myself there and heal. :)

    The babysitting aspect is what I try to prevent, but I’m pretty sure we’re there with Apotheosis. I’ve seen both better (as in fewer call-outs relating to things easily seen in timers) use and worse use (as in more call-outs than we do) in the past. That’s really why I wrote about it — I fear that I’m being babysat.

    And I hate the thought of it. :)

    Joe Ego – as mentioned before to Rohan, it’s not just Firelands, it’s T11, too. There were lots of times I SHOULD have watched timers and just didn’t. Atramedes, Chimaeron, V&T… Name an encounter from T11 and I’ll almost certainly NOT have watched timers, except Maloriak’s Scorching Blast. While Firelands is much less timer-reliant, it’s still a bad habit I’ve gotten back into and who knows what T13 will bring?

    Jasyla – You are definitely one of the quieter raiders in Apotheosis and I think you’re definitely the quietest healer! (Although the new shaman may give you a run for your money, there…!)

    Raiding without voice chat is… interesting. I remember one night, working on H Anub’Arak 25, I was getting super frustrated and that led to mistakes and more mistakes because I’d been called out on them. “Man,” I thought to myself, “I wish I could listen to some Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony to calm me… down… wait a minute.” I don’t typically listen to music while raiding, but the opportunity to do so without compromising my ability to really pay attention to audio cues (such as calls on Vent/Mumble/etc) was really nice.

    In my raid group, we didn’t have extensive macros or anything of the sort, either. Everyone was just hyper-aware of EVERYTHING and raid chat wasn’t cluttered with things like Failbot or Fatality, so we would keep an eye on that for last-minute or unexpected instructions from the RL. “wipe” and “rez” and “ankh” were what he relied on to give instructions for those unexpected moments. That was it. And what’s crazy is it worked BEAUTIFULLY.

    It took everyone about 3-4 weeks to really “get” the non-voice-communication portion of our raids, but once the transition was made, everyone found it much smoother. I had issues typing while healing, though. “Name, cover that tank” was rough to get out if I had to get someone to cover if another healer died. So I probably could have used macros. ;)

    Pradzha – ah, but there’s a huge difference between listening for and reacting to a call on Vent/Mumble/TS versus watching a timer or listening to your mod. The difference is the human can and probably will fail at least once in a while. So if you become reliant on that call-out, you get screwed if they screw up. Watching your timers/listening to your mod will only screw up if your combat log is borked (which happened a lot at the end of ICC to a lot of people, but I’ve only had it happen twice — once in ICC and once in Ulduar) or if you’re not paying attention.

    Good play is proper execution, that’s absolutely true in my mind. However, my annoyance with myself is that I’m relying on another human being instead of myself. That, to me, is becoming complacent and compromising my play. God forbid someone who calls stuff out isn’t there one night and I don’t realize and then die to Ability 27 because I was waiting for the call.

    Watching timers… well, it’s a bit of a cheat to use timers to know what’s going to happen next, but all that’s doing is taking that “huh, something should be happening soon” feeling people eventually develop and putting a timer to it. By the end of Wrath, I knew exactly when Sindragosa was going to what ability, without looking at timers. I still did, but I’d always have the feeling that Blistering Cold was coming soon, etc, etc. I guess I view timers as a shortcut to that level of comfort with the fight and THAT, I’m okay with.

    masith – Absolutely, that’s a good point. How much is too much? I struggle with that, myself. I tend to call things out if people have previously proved that they won’t react if I don’t and that’ll cause a wipe (like on Majordomo, as I wrote in the post). I try to keep that minimized and then my officers will call out other things (lava flows on Rhyolith, for instance).

    An argument can be made, though, that if people can’t figure out when that ability is happening, without a call, is the raid really better served by announcing it instead of learning to deal with it themselves? It’s a fine line.

    Hana – Again, agreed, to a point. Firelands, thus far, is much less reliant on timers. :)

    Da Troll – As mentioned to Pradzha, the human is easily fallible. :) And, as mentioned above, Firelands definitely is less timer-reliant than most.

    As to the compliment, I thank you, but I feel that I’ve lost a step when it comes to the play of which I’m capable. I do think I have pretty decent instincts and overall awareness, but I still think I could do better if I looked for my own stuff rather than relying on a person. :)

    Adgamorix – Oh, fair point. I’ll add that. :)

  13. Pre-wow we raided with no timers, no bossmods, no voice coms, no threatmeters. Those were very different times. 72-man raids tended to bring 10ish tanks, because if one went splat another two more could very well die before healers could manage to get a tank stabilized.

    Serious, top-end raiders then were not better players than serious, top-end raiders now. My guild was world 8th and we had a lot of people that absolutely would not hack it raiding in wow, serious or otherwise. Raiding without those tools didn’t make people any sharper, you just had to plan things out a lot more and your leaders (me being the healing officer) needed to be able to type real fast, short messages while casting.

    The main thing those tools do is make raiding a lot more enjoyable. I watch plenty of timers in t12 as a tank, though admittedly not as many as in t11 (oh god Sinestra). I used to actually use a stopwatch irl to track Redfang phase changes in Everquest, that was quite a bit less fun.

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