On nerfs and hotfixes
Please take into account that these opinions are purely my own and do not reflect the ones of the guild, and especially those of the raiding team. Myself I haven’t been participating in the race, so I do not know all the details there are to this matter. Please leave a comment to share the details.
Some people might say that there have been certain kind of themes with every progress race we have witnessed. These themes make them memorable, and often surface when people talk about the raiding scene of World of Warcraft. Sometimes those themes have been more dominant and have actually had an influence on the race itself, sometimes it just had made the tier a bit different; like in Trial of the Crusader where Blizzard introduced the limited attempts.
Let me give an example: many people remember Icecrown Citadel and the limited attempts, the ban, and the time Paragon first used their alt team to help the mains in the progress. After the last boss of Wrath of the Lich king, the start of Cataclysm was a lot of mess. Many bosses were broken and got hotfixed, and/or nerfed on the way. Firelands was pretty solid with a really hard 4th boss dps check, and again in Dragon Soul we saw a lot of bans and a very different second last and last boss which resulted in very different kind of guild ranking compared to the past.
So what seems to be the theme of the start of Pandaria then? To me it looks like hotfixes. When in the past bosses have usually gotten nerfed after we had seen the first kill (like Hodir, Al’akir, Nefarian), this time the nerfs have been handed out while guilds were still progressing: some of the “original” versions never got beaten by anybody, even when some guilds might have been close. Of course we have also seen this in the past, for instance on Sinestra. The boss was quite unbeatable (let’s say extremely hard) in its first incarnation where the slicer would cut through the whole room, so at least that nerf was indeed called for.
Innovation in raiding
So, our old friends nerfing and hotfixing, what are they really about? The meaning of those two words is to either make the bosses easier or to fix something that was broken (either to make the boss easier or in some cases harder). People seem to have very different opinions on the benefits of these two. For instance there was a lot of discussion of 10-man Gara’jal the Spiritbinder when some individuals were demanding nerfs even when the boss was killable. I do not want to comment on whether the third boss of the instance was in fact in a good tune or not, but the feeling in many top guilds has so far been, that the harder the boss, the better.
The reason for this opinion is, that the harder the boss is, the easier you’ll be able to see who is the best guild out there: who has the widest and deepest roster, whose player skill is the highest, who comes up with the best tactics, which guild has the best dps compared to others, and who executes their tactics perfectly first. The idea has always been, that every team is fighting the same fight with the resources they have, and the fastest, most innovative and skilled will win. That is what the race is all about.
So, sometimes top end raiding guilds have been giving out harsh statements about the nerfs. This is because nerfs and hotfixes disturb the progress in a very fundamental way. The reason for this is the following; when a boss is hard guilds need to come up with new ways to improve their dps/tanking/healing. They might come up with a very complicated tactic to work their way to survive a mechanic; one that might take 3 days from the whole team to learn to execute perfectly. Some others might stack a class and gear up alts to bring in better dps. The idea of these actions is to get past the obstacle that keeps the raid from killing the boss.
Sometimes it’s arguable if the boss was designed to be killed in a way that usually comes from this kind of thinking, like with the second phase adds on Ragnaros or spirit soak on Lich King. So some guilds might abandon the idea of coming up with these innovative ways to solve the situation, and rather keep on practicing the boss in the “normal”, more obvious way (like aoe:ing the spirits on Lich King).
Effects of hotfixes and nerfs
When the boss gets nerfed/hotfixed it greatly disturbs the progress in a couple of ways. First of all, it might “ruin” a guild’s tactic they have been working on. The gear stacked alts might become useless in a second, and all the time spent on learning the “hard dodging tactic” might have gone to waste. At the same time a bit less innovative guild which has been practicing the “normal” tactic might suddenly have an advantage: they got the gear on right players and they have more experience on the now-best-tactic. The guild who might have gotten the first kill if nothing had changed, the one who came up with something new, might be pushed back on the progress.
Another thing which is very important, and which especially has had an effect on the race we are seeing right now, is when exactly the bosses are getting hotfixed. Last night, around 1am European time the last boss of the race was nerfed. The nerf affected the numbers on the encounter, not the mechanics itself, and the boss is now obviously more killable than before. “How much easier” is the question the top guilds are thinking now, when Europeans are going to sleep, Asians are raiding, and the Americans are waking up and starting their raids.
Another interesting question is, would the boss have been killable without the nerf? Would it only have been killable with the best gear available, we will now never know. Or well, someone who has been playing the boss might be able to do some math and comment on this, but the point is that no one got to kill the first version of the boss, like no one got to kill the first version of Lich King (0% buff with the gear guilds had at the point).
Yet another good question is the one I already mentioned before: how much easier is it now, and how much did the nerf affect on the progress the guilds have done so far. If the boss is remarkably easier, we might see a kill quite soon.
Easy bosses make the race less interesting
When the boss is easy, the first guilds to reach the boss will get the first kills. Usually we can see it for instance in US and Eu guilds having a head start on Asians, or in the past when Paragon got the heroic Lich King 10-man kill because they extended the lockout and went to the boss straight. The world second kill came just hours after that. The “skill” in killing it first was all in getting to the boss first.
When obviously the high end guilds often do not like the nerfs that mess up the competition itself, the changes to bosses keep on happening. This time the nerf timing favoured the US guilds, who got the fix just before starting their raids: they’d be the ones who would get to practice the new, easier boss longest the first. The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be a perfect, equally fair time to everyone to hotfix and nerf bosses. Whenever Blizzard does it, there is always somebody benefiting from it more than others. This time another option of the timing of the nerf would have been to wait until the end of the reset, but in a way that would have been even worse when considering the fairness of the race. Then the US would have gotten the fix almost a day before, when now everybody got the fix at the same time and would have the chance to raid if they wanted to. So if we consider the race, the best way might have actually been to not change the boss at all.
Do you want your bosses “clean”?
Now that the race is still going on, it will be interesting to see who will get the first kill, and how much the hotfix will affect the progress. Myself I have never been a fan of Blizzard changing the bosses during the progress, but sometimes it have had been a necessity (in my opinion). Still, I rather would have liked to see this race played out without the nerf (if the boss would be killable in maxed out gear). This might have resulted in “innovative usage of game mechanics”, which many people consider being straight out exploits.
What is your thought on the matter? Should the bosses stay the same for everyone until they have been killed for the first (few times) before any nerfs would be given out? Would you rather see a “clean” boss kill done in a way Blizzard planned it, or rather see how someone comes up with something completely ground breaking? Also, do you get your kicks from killing the super-hard bosses in their first version, or would you rather fight against the fixed and neatly tuned version?
In my eyes these are the most important questions people should ask themselves, as the answers affect the comments they post on wow-related forums. Because these comments affect the bosses Blizzard designs for all of us to enjoy.