Things have changed a lot in seven years, not all of it is for the better. I remember when the drama involved in getting 40 people together on multiple nights to raid was a very, very big deal. Due to this raid etiquette developed, this was in many ways a good thing. I concede that often no one told you the rules which could make raiding a very elitist, and often Kafkaesque, club that it was impossible to break into. Fortunately most of the raiders from that hardcore golden age have moved on and left the game. We will not miss you.

The Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK) expansion’s Looking for Dungeon (LFD) was the best innovation the game ever received. I still tell people (or remind them) how long it took us to (fail) to put 5 man groups together to tackle The Burning Crusade expansion Outland dungeons. Spamming trade chat with LFG or LFM messages for hours on end, beyond even the most patient people’s endurance. Experience tells me that if you weren’t in a guild you probably couldn’t get a tank and without a tank you would never get a full group. Shadow Labyrinth was particularly unpopular for some reason, even if you had a tank…and a healer. I was a tank and LFD gave me instant access to Dungeons in WotLK, in TBC I failed to put a group together more often that I succeeded.

Looking For Raid (LFR) has pushed back the boundaries of the game and made accessible an aspect of the game that had been very exclusive. 1% of gamers got to see Naxxramas 40 when it was current. 1%! I wonder what proportion of the player base will have seen Dragon Soul by the time MoP arrives? I do think that is a good thing, I can’t blame Blizzard for wanting more and more people to access all of the content they have created. Unfortunately, I do think it’s had a downside. The goal of LFR surely must have been to extend the access to raiding of gamers of all degrees. From those that access the content casually, infrequently and piecemeal to the hardcore, heroic, hard mode buff-off raiding elite.

There’s the rub…LFR isn’t a raid as I understand it. You don’t need a guild for starters, it doesn’t take (more than) three hours spread across multiple nights. You don’t need to enter the instance with even a rudimentary understanding of group roles, or even your job, even if you’re the tank! So the worst children and casual game players get to “raid”. LFR doesn’t broaden the appeal of raiding it actually damages it.

This isn’t being elitist. This isn’t the hardcore kicking back at the broadening of accessibility. When guild membership was a gate to raiding, bad, ill-prepared, childish and selfish raiders were filtered out and quickly shown the door. Raiding etiquette demanded that you show a minimum level of respect for the other 24 people who gave up their time to raid with you. This respect extended to turning up on time, being repaired and prepared (with your own flasks and food) and NOT wasting peoples time.

LFR does make more people want to try the raiding I know. However LFR seeks to water down the experience of raiding I remember and lowers everyone’s expectations. LFR is unquestionably no preparation for ‘real raiding’. LFR takes the very worst aspects of LFD and distills them.

To summarise. People turn up in game when they like and join a queue. If they queue for half an hour they log off and go and do something else. When they enter an LFR encounter they do so in the very minimum level of gear required. LFR preforms a rudimentary gear check by way of measuring the average item level of a character. Once inside there is no ready check, no discussion of tactics, no buffing, no potions no food. The tank charges and everyone has to deal with that. Fortunately the content is so forgiving (easy) that no preparation is really necessary.

The ‘raid’ loot is as bad as LFD gear: easy come easy go. Essentially, people apply the principle “I don’t know if the gear that dropped is better or worse than I am wearing. I will take it if I can and find out later.” Worse still people are actually pranking you and deliberately stealing your gear for no other reason than they can, or to sell it back to you or trade for things they do want. Once a system descends into this morass it’s extremely difficult to get it out.

People who have no idea of tactics, or any idea that tactics are required, wander in off the street. That’s why you see numbskulls on Spine of Deathwing killing Hideous Amalgamations with less than 9 Bloods on them. That’s why on the same fight after killing two Amalgamations, without causing either to go nuclear, people will clamour for low DPS to be kicked. Their DPS is low because the stopped DPS-ing altogether when told to, so the tank could try to pick up the necessary nine bloods…ironic is not the word.

Imagine some way to filter out people who didn’t know their class, didn’t know the encounters, stole loot from you that they couldn’t use and were messing around spoiling your fun. We used to have a filter, it was called a guild. That’s why LFR isn’t and can never be raiding. It only becomes raiding when you enter an encounter with your guild and the consequences for being lazy, selfish and bad are not being invited again.

Then these people turn up for raids. They join guilds and want to raid today. Better gear? I get into LFR! They turn up with that entitlement attitude that has ruined our society. They expect “someone” to lay on Seafood Magnifique and a Cauldron, I don’t ever see them grinding the materials to make them though. If they are even aware that they need to know some tactics they expect the Raid Leader to explain them slowly. They roll on spirit gear even if they’re caster DPS and not a Shadow Priest. “Why not, I can use that and it’s better than what I have?” A couple of wipes and they get bored and say they have to leave, to get a grilled cheese or because their power went out or something.

LFR has another more palpable effect. It has killed the heroic raid for a whole tier of raiders. Normal mode guild raiding appears to have been dumbed down to make the gulf between LFR and ‘Real raiding’ less yawning. Increasingly I’ve looked to Heroic raiding as providing a real raiding experience. LFR has removed the appetite to even try heroic modes. You can’t really blame people. LFR has become a necessary part of everyone’s schedules.

So you get to skim quickly trough all the content and get some great gear to significantly reduce the difficulty of normal modes. So LFR gear is the new prerequisite for normal modes. That a high level of gear, you wouldn’t normally expect those kind of levels until you’d penetrated half way into a raid instance and had the first couple of bosses on farm. Raids are going to need retuning to this higher availability of epic gear. So now being able to fly through the first two or three bosses in normal mode is expected and demanded. The expectation of new raiders coming through from LFR is that the content will be a bit more challenging but not too much. You wouldn’t want to be wiping on one boss all night, would you?

So doing LFR and Normal mode, multiple nights a week, people are very bored very quickly of the current raid tier. I have never known a raid become so wearisome so quickly as Dragon Soul has, thanks to LFR. Raiders now expect not to have more than a few wipes on any boss and see at least one new boss on every visit. So the idea of going back to Morchok and wiping all night learning the Heroic mode fight is not at all appealing. Raiders are simply unprepared to put in the effort required for old school progression raiding and on top of that they have already done the instance to death when they kill Deathwing on normal mode.

Everything has collapsed downward. I still want to do the challenging raiding I experienced for the first time in Karazhan. We wiped for weeks on Attumen in our little guild before we got to even see Moroes or Maiden. We regularly wiped on the trash on the ballroom floor making our way to either of the second bosses. As our gear (and skill) improved we penetrated deeper into Karazhan and even started to aspire to completing the instance. Even in Ice Crown Citadel there were weeks we faltered and didn’t progress. We struggled with Saurfang first, then Putricide and then finally with Sindragosa. The sense of achievement we felt when we killed the Lich King was enormous.

I haven’t felt that achievement or satisfaction during any of the raid content in Cataclysm. I hope I might get a taste when I finally do manage to kill Ragnaros. I started raiding late in Tier 12, this expansion, so my raid team didn’t have time to complete Firelands before Dragon Soul hit. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to step up a level and find an old fashioned, hardcore raiding guild to quickly blow through Normal then knuckle down to grind out each and every phase progression through Heroic mode just to get any sort of challenge, any pleasure at all out of raiding.

If I can find a guild that blends old school, progression raiding with social, raiding guild etiquette I’ll be in my element. I want a guild that is fun, supportive, inclusive and is hungry for progression raiding. This seems like an impossible blend of extremes but LFR has eroded the bottom, entry level of raiding down to something derisory and unchallenging, so I see a more raiding focused, but still social, fun guild emerging in response, let’s hope I’m only a little ahead of my time in calling for and describing one.