I’m writing this article as the introduction to a short series about becoming an elite Mythic raider. I don’t mean a Mythic raider that goes 4 or even 5/13 two months into HFC. I’m talking about the kind of raider that competes in a “top three guild” on their server. The kind of raider all high-end guild leaders want because of their consistency, skill, ambition, and attitude. So I’m talking about not just a Mythic raider, but an elite one; the best of the best. Becoming such a player requires asking a lot of hard questions and making even harder decisions, just like achieving excellence in any other activity, job, or field of study. That is not to say that you have to want absolute greatness to glean anything from this series; far from it, actually. Success, greatness, and improvement are always a process, never a goal. A casual raider just looking to improve their own situation and not looking necessarily to become the raiding 1%, can gain just as much from this series as a player dreaming of joining Midwinter (a top echelon mythic raiding guild) one day. Your will and desire dictate what you are willing to do, change, or sacrifice to get where you want to be. So if you just want to see what little things you can do to improve and then draw the line there, my series can help. If you want to throw yourself entirely at getting better in every way possible, then you are starting at the right place.
So, of all things to start a series on improving in World of Warcraft, why approach the mentality instead of something more practical like UI tweaking, class advice, encounter guides, and so on? Addressing your way of thinking is the best thing to do if you are seeking any significant or long-term improvement in any matter. Your mentality is the foundation for how you approach anything in your life. So when you get frustrated as an Enhancement Shaman on Xhul’Horac because those damned Warriors and Mages are just stomping you in DPS, your mentality is what will decide if you blame Blizzard or yourself. It is what compels you to examine every facet of your performance and the encounter to find every tiny DPS increase you can tweak out. It affects how you learn and how you adapt. It affects how you conduct yourself, how people perceive you, and what kinds of people are drawn to you. It determines whether or not you get mired in guild politics and stifle your progress, or maintain perspective and overcome emotions to achieve what really matters. Hopefully you can begin to see why I believe mentality is the first thing that should be evaluated when trying to improve.
For this article, I have included only three topics from what could be an extensive list. However, I feel that these are the most important. They are usually the most divisive topics for players; the kinds of things where players scoff at others for taking a video game so seriously. So, let us find out exactly how serious you want to take this video game about slaying dragons.
Determine how important your goals are to you.
Ask yourself how badly you want to achieve your goals, and be truthful. For many people, World of Warcraft is just a hobby or something they do in their off-time to wind down. So, what is this game for you and what do you want out of it? Do you just use it to wind down or have fun with friends on a few weeknights, or do you yearn for the competition, progression, achievement, and prestige? Finding out the answer to these kinds of questions is going to set the tone for how you proceed. High-priority activities in your life are naturally given more effort and patience than those you do not care about. However, making World of Warcraft a higher priority sometimes means lowering others, and if you are forced to make that choice, what will you do? Do you see your friends and family less to squeeze in an extra raid night? Do you get your work schedule shifted to accommodate a new raid schedule? Perhaps take vacation time for the launch of a new raid tier so you can get in some early progression? That is silly; you would never do that … Right?
These might seem like obvious ‘No’ questions to some, but to others they are not so black and white. These minor adjustments are the kinds of sacrifices and prioritizing that separates the truly hardcore raider from the more casual raider. I’m not saying quit your job, cut hours, or see your friends and family less so you can play WoW all day. However, taking things to a much more serious level does require rearranging your efforts (and sometimes schedule) to accommodate the time you need to practice, improve, or progress. Would you scoff at an aspiring baseball player who rearranges their work schedule to play in more Minor League Baseball games? What about an arena football player doing the same thing? Track? You are probably thinking “They are not even comparable. Getting into a professional sport is a real job.” While becoming a serious WoW player and becoming a serious athlete do not share the same economic benefits, the spirit between the two is the same; the spirit of finding your passion and pursuing a dream at all costs. This is the biggest thing that distinguishes those that are satisfied with stopping at an obstacle and settling for an excuse, and those that use that same obstacle as a stepping stone.
I’ll speak in a more practical sense to whine this section down. For people not looking to become like Skullflower, Sco, Archimtiros or any other top mythic raider, but still want to improve; determine realistic goals, set limits regarding where you choose to draw the line, and work as hard as you can within those set limits. Some of the most casual players believe they are above their peers because they are not realistic with themselves regarding their achievements or goals. So don’t set some mythical, unreachable goal if you don’t intend to put in the appropriate work because you don’t want to face the fact you are more casual than you would like to be. There is no shame in setting a goal of getting into a good Heroic guild as in setting a goal for an elite Mythic guild, so be confident and proceed. For those people who are looking to become the next Skullflower, Sco, or Archimtiros, you have already set your limits by removing them (I assume, anyway), so just keep rocketing forward.
Removing mental blocks that stifle your progress.
To the unprepared or inexperienced, mental blocks are undoubtedly the biggest hindrance to any kind of effort at improvement or progress. If you have ever wanted to do something, such as incorporate more key binds into your play, but stopped because it was too hard, then you have encountered a mental block. To take this to a broader spectrum, mental blocks can surface in every aspect of what you do in any activity, whether it be World of Warcraft, a job, or whatever. In the case of WoW, it can extend to how you advance in your guild, how you learn more about your class, how you make your UI better, incorporating more add-ons, etc. To keep from getting too hypothetical, you can pretty much identify one of these mental blocks as soon as they crop up by catching yourself saying ‘No’, ‘I can’t do that’, ‘That is too hard’, ‘I’m not good enough’, and things like that. These are the kinds of things people tell themselves to avoid the pain and frustration of trying and failing.
Keep in mind that not all mental blocks you come across are as dramatic as that last one, but you still must learn to recognize them regardless of how serious they are. Many people do not like grinding or farming in this game, and I can understand why because it is a pain in the ass. However, if grinding or farming for something could yield a little benefit in regard to getting better class-wise or with mechanics, would you do it? Many of you are probably saying no right now because of the reason I mentioned before. That feeling you have, the one of wanting to avoid the pain, monotony, and boredom of that kind of work is a prime example of a mental block. It may not feel like a huge loss to let little things like that go, but it is not about each individual thing. It is about your overall attitude about it. If you put just as much effort into the small things as you do the big ones, pretty soon mental blocks cease to exist altogether because you have changed as a person. Work stops becoming work, and it just becomes a tangible part of progress. Something you can see helping you progress in real-time. Once you can trick yourself into doing that, you may find that all other parts of your life start to become affected, and you can finally start developing that work ethic your parents always talked about.
The last part I want to speak on regarding mental blocks is complacency, because it goes hand-in-hand with that ‘comfort level’ thing I mentioned earlier. For players of all skill levels, becoming complacent means your mind gets dull and you become comfortable staying at your current position. Lower skilled players want to avoid this because they still have a lot of improvement to do, but it is even more deadly for elite players. Once someone achieves most or all of their goals, it’s very easy for them to start patting themselves on the back, but in actuality, that is only the beginning. At that point if you are not progressing, you are regressing. The worst part is that it is infectious and you usually don’t notice it happening. For an elite player, regressing like that means a slow decay, and it’s hard to notice because most players at that skill level have developed some level of pride regarding their success. This sense of pride is good for confidence, but if it is not kept in check it will blind a player to new bad habits, such as snubbing another player’s ideas because he/she feels they are beneath him. This is why I have stressed improvement and progress as a constant journey and not a destination as it is a continuous process and something never meant to be completed or finished. Constantly striving for perfection means never stopping or regressing, and most importantly it means never becoming complacent or satisfied. Keeping things like labels, tiers, groups, etc. as tools to apply to players (including yourself) out of your mentality keeps you humble because you have abandoned such subjective terms. Instead, evaluate your own performance and those around you by objective facts, such as using the fight as context to judge. You will find yourself becoming less confrontational and egotistical, and people will also like you more.
Reevaluate the in-game social aspect of your play.
I am going to end this article by talking about the social aspect of WoW and how it affects your improvement and progress. As Ghostcrawler said before, the two biggest reasons people play a game are: 1) How satisfying you find the core game-play loop and 2) if it is what your friends are playing. Your friends, and by extension guild-mates, are probably who you spend the majority of your WoW time with when you are raiding. Whether you realize it or not, they influence how you view your own game-play experience, and your attitude. Just like in RL if you played a sport, trading card game, or something else with a competitive nature, your friends (and family in these cases) act as your support system. Human beings are social creatures. We feed off the energy of others and give energy back. This energy is what creates the atmosphere you play in. This is what people are talking about when they say their guild gets angry quickly after wiping or they keep their cool. This atmosphere is vital for you because if you are not having fun, you are less inclined to enjoy your playtime, and more likely to diminish your own efforts while playing or move on/quit entirely. Of course, if improvement is your #1 priority, you are slightly less likely to get bogged down in guild drama and keep your head above water to keep an eye on your goal. These improvement-obsessed players are not immune to a toxic raid environment, or having a support system built up of lazy players who aspire to nothing, which is why it is important you carefully choose who you play the game with.
To put it simply, in order to keep your support system ideal for growth and improvement you must surround yourself with people who want the same thing you do. You may have heard the old cliché that “you are the company you keep” and the older I get the more I find this to be true. Meeting other people who share your passion, ambition, and desire to improve is vital to becoming a better person in anything you are doing. Whether your activity of interest be World of Warcraft, a MOBA, a real sport, or even your field of work, your support system is what helps you endure the valleys of loss and enjoy the peaks of victory. In World of Warcraft, this support system is vital not just for the emotional benefits, but also for the really practical ones. If you have a support system made up of players who share your same ambition, they are most likely learning about how to get better just like you are and will even share their findings if asked. Even better, if you surround yourself with people who are constantly pugging or playing with new people, they are more than likely meeting good players just like you. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve met really good players through a friend of a friend just because they are the type of people who socialize and set up ‘for-fun/parse’ pug groups using the friends of their friends. Social networking never used to mean Facebook and Twitter. It was a very real thing that professionals in any field had to do to advance themselves, such as in business or academia. It is still vital today in both the professional world, as well as in World of Warcraft. Surround yourself with good players, who surround themselves with more good players, and soon you will have a large network to draw upon for becoming a better player or finding a better guild.
I’m going to end this section by speaking on when your friend and guild situation are kind of merged into one. This makes things a little tougher when the usually more professional element of the guild becomes more emotional when friends are a part of it. Like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, ideally you want your support system (usually made up of in-game friends/guildies) filled with players who are good and want the same things you do. It gets dicey if those friends are lazy, under performing, maybe even a little toxic, and may have no intention of improving any of those things. So what do you do? What if they are even your IRL friends? Take a step back, and objectively assess how you view and play the game versus how your current friends/guildies view and play the game. If they are more casual than you would like to be, then staying in the guild and wasting the few raid nights you have with a group who has different goals from you may hinder your own growth and improvement. This often means finding a new guild, and adjusting how you and your friends play together. Oftentimes, I have found that talking to your friends about your desire to improve and advance is often met with encouragement and excitement (if they are true friends, anyway), and some of them will even try to improve with you. Who knows, you might even start to work together to get better as a group, or perhaps even find a new guild together. Bottom line, friends or not, if the common attitude of your guildies is not on the same wavelength as yours then you need to find a guild that is. Not doing so will mean stifling your own improvement, or even worse, growing resentful and angry towards those around you because you are putting forth more effort than them. True friendships will stay intact if you must find a new guild, so do not be afraid to move on.
In closing, I’d like to reflect on the reasoning behind choosing these three topics to focus on. I chose them because from my experience as an officer for three different Mythic guilds where I have had to evaluate talent, these seem to be the biggest things that stifle, hinder, or completely stop people from getting better. The first two that I talked about are the root of almost all problems based on what I have heard from both fresh recruits and veterans alike. How high of a priority the game was for people often dictated how much time they put into getting better, as well as how willing they were to face the problems with their game. Having a support system that made them enjoy the game, having fun, and wanting to get better allowed them to overcome the mental blocks that would normally stifle a lesser player’s progress. It feels like I’m really repeating myself on these points, but because they are each so deeply inter-related, it feels like I cannot do them justice with such little space. Regardless, hopefully you can understand even a bit about what I am talking about. Getting these three things in-line is a recipe for success in anything you do in life, and once you get started you will find it was not nearly as hard as you thought it was to begin with.