Between the ages of 14 and 17 I had an addiction to an online game called World of Warcraft (WoW).
In the first half of this post I'm going to explain the game and how I played it. In the second half I'll talk about the skills I learned and how they've helped me.
If you played a lot of WoW, or you aren't interested in detailed descriptions of parts of the game, you can click here to skip to the second half.
First half: what is a World of Warcraft?
WoW is a massively-multiplayer online role playing game, or MMORPG. It features a large, open world with thousands of players occupying the same world at the same time.
Unlike lots of games, it doesn't have a story you play through from beginning to end. You're free to roam as you please, with challenges of varying difficulty open to you if you want. These ranged from finding rare herbs, to fighting other players, to convincing 39 other people to spend years of their lives beating complicated boss fights.
I did the latter.
Raiding full time
Boss fights in WoW take place inside "raids." Raids typically contain multiple fights in a themed location, split up by groups of less difficult enemies.
In the early days, you needed 40 people to stand a chance of beating a raid. Each encounter demanded focus from all 40 people, for up to 30 minutes on some fights. It was common for a night of raiding to last between 4-8 hours.
Blizzard, the game studio behind WoW, have crafted hundreds of creative boss fights over the years. For this post, I'm going to focus on one of my favourites to give you a taste of what we were up against.
C'thun is the final boss in a raid called "Ahn'Qiraj." When it first came out, the entire game world had to band together to collect supplies as part of a fictional war effort before the raid became available. This alone took tens of thousands of people 19 days to complete.
In total the fight takes about 15 minutes and consists of two phases. But first, we need to talk about entering the room.
Entering the room
C'thun is in the center of a large room. The entrance of that room has a corridor extending both ways, and a set of steps leading in. As soon as you set foot on those steps, C'thun will attack you.
C'thun's primary attack is a green eye beam that deals about half of the average player's health. With specialised armour and potions, it deals about 20%. The catch is that if there is another player within 10 yards of you, the beam will "chain" to that player and deal 1.5x the original damage. If there is a player within 10 yards of them it will chain again, and so on. Everyone who ever tried this boss experienced the classic immediate death on entry.
How, then, are you expected to even start this fight?
C'thun fires this eye beam once every 3 seconds. The first person who gets hit will take the first 3-4 hits, guaranteed. With the right armour and potions, it's possible to survive. This gives the rest of the party 9-12 seconds to get in to position, all 40 people spaced 10 yards apart from everyone else.
On top of the beam every 3 seconds, C'thun has a few other tricks up its... lid?
Every 45 seconds, 8 small tentacles spawn in a circle around C'thun and cast a blue laser at a random player, dealing damage every second. If you're stood near where a tentacle spawns, you will get knocked back a small distance. This can be problematic if you get hit by the C'thun eye beam, which is still happening every 3 seconds.
Every 20 seconds small "claw" tentacles spawn at a random location and hit anything nearby. These do a similar knock back to the blue laser tentacles, and are problematic for all the same reasons.
If you don't deal with these tentacles, more will keep spawning and overrun you. Keeping on top of them is crucial.
Lastly, after 50 seconds of shooting green eye beams at random, C'thun will do a "dark glare." This is a solid red wall of laser that starts at a random location and sweeps the room 180 degrees. This forces all 40 people to move to new positions opposite to where they started. This takes 35 seconds, after which the green eye beams start back up again. Rinse and repeat.
Still following? Good! After dealing enough damage to C'thun in phase 1, the eye will die and up from the floor will rise the body of C'thun. This signals the beginning of phase 2.
The good news is that with the eye dead, the body of C'thun can't cast the green laser anymore. The bad news is that it has a shield that absorbs 99% of the damage given to it, and it has about the same health as the eye.
The goal of phase 2 is to bring down that shield, and here's how you do it.
Every 10 seconds a mouth tentacle comes up from the floor and swallows a random player. This player ends up in the stomach of C'thun, and starts taking damage every second. Every 4 seconds, the amount of damage taken each second increases, and after about 20-30 seconds the average player will die.
In the center of the stomach is a thing you can stand on that launches you back out. Also in the stomach are two big claw tentacles. Killing these tentacles brings down the shield. This is the top priority of people in the stomach, along with not dying. Depending on how lucky you get with who gets swallowed, this can take anywhere between 1 and 3 minutes. 45 seconds after the shield goes down, it comes back up again and this process repeats.
Meanwhile, outside of the stomach, every 30 seconds a giant claw or giant eye tentacle will spawn. These are like the tentacles in phase 1, but more badass. The eye tentacle is bad news, because it casts the same chaining green laser we saw in phase 1. Killing these must happen fast, or you'll all die. Oh, and with each of the giant tentacles you also get a new set of 8 smaller eye tentacles, like in phase 1.
You should aim to finish the fight in two rounds of getting the shield down. Surviving long enough to get it down a third time is unlikely.
Second half: and this helped you, did it?
Phew. We made it. What does any of that teach us about real life?
1. No one gets it on the first try.
Raid bosses are hard. You can't expect to waltz in to a new encounter and beat it straight away. It takes weeks or months of practice. Every time you fail you need to summon the fortitude to get up, dust off, and try all over again.
Interviews are hard. You're unlikely to land the first job you apply for. Every time you get rejected, you need to extract as much value as possible from the experience. Email the recruiter and ask for feedback. Keep nagging them until you get it.
2. Preparation is essential.
Before a raid, you need to make sure you've read up on the boss fights. Watch videos of other groups beating it, learn the room layouts, memorise what happens and when. If you don't know, you're going to die. You also need to collect supplies. The game has a tonne of items that help you in raids: bandages, potions, specialised armour, weapon enchantments, and lots more.
Before an interview, you need to make sure you've read up on the company. You need to make sure you have some answers to common questions ready to go. You need to make sure you've asked the recruiter what topics you need to prepare for.
Same goes for the first day of a new job. Do you know where the office is? Do you know who to ask for when you arrive? Do you know what the dress code is? If you don't know, ask.
3. There's only so much you can do alone.
It's impossible to beat a raid boss on your own. It takes a diverse team of players filling a variety of roles. Healers, damage dealers, damage takers, and other supporting roles. You also need to get along with these people, through the good and the bad. Failing dozens of times each night is stressful, and stress causes arguments. You need to foster a culture of support.
It's hard to take an idea to success on your own. It usually takes a diverse team of professionals filling a variety of roles. Design, marketing, tech, admin, cleaning staff, finance. You also need to get along with these people, through the good and the bad. People are going to disagree, and they need to feel comfortable with each other to do so openly. If they don't, they'll stay quiet and grow silent resent. This hurts your chances of success.
4. Know when to quit.
At its worst, I played WoW 8-16 hours a day for months at a time. I let my schoolwork slide, I let my physical health slide, and I stopped talking to my real-world friends. I achieved a lot in the game, and played at a high skill level for years, but I let it go too far. Had I not quit when I did, I don't know if I'd be where I am today.
Likewise, I've been in the wrong job before. I've worked on projects I didn't believe in, with people who didn't respect me, and for people I didn't trust. It takes a lot of guts to leave and try something new, but I'm glad I had that practice from quitting WoW.
I could have made this post much longer. I haven't even touched on the game's economy, managing variance, leadership, adapting to change, and the awesome real-life research done on the game. If you got this far, be thankful you didn't have to go further. :)
I'm grateful of those teenage years. I'm sad that gaming can be so demonised in the media. It's not all mindless violence and time-wasting. Games can have tremendous skill requirements and emotional depth.
If you take one thing away from this, I'd love for it to be that gaming can be a positive force in peoples' lives.
Thank you. <3