Interview with the guild leader of Elitist Jerks

World of Raids together with Frostshock has interviewed the guild leader of Elitist Jerks, Gurgthock. The EJ forums are known to raiders in World of Warcraft -- it's seen as the number one stop for all your theorycrafting needs; such as analyzing how skills and classes works and what to use in which situation, etc.

If possible tell us a few words about the player behind your character. What are you doing IRL etc.

I'm 28 years old, and I am a lawyer currently living in Washington D.C. Since beginning my current job in late 2005, I don't have the same amount of available time as many endgame raiders, to say nothing of guild leaders, which definitely contributes to the general approach to the game that we've taken as a guild.

EJ is one of the world's favorite guilds - do you guys have a fanbase, like lets say Nihilum does, If yes, how do you guys handle the sometimes overwhelming amount of attention?

Actually, thankfully it really isn't anything like that. I occasionally get random tells from people wanting to join, or wanting to thank me/us for maintaining our forums, and such, but I think there's a large gap in the type of exposure we get for running a successful website versus what a guild might get for world firsts. Really we're just a pretty good raid guild. Top 10 in the US, Top 25 or so in the world. I'm proud of that, but we're mainly known for the forums we run, not for our in-game accomplishments. And forums don't generate fanboys at nearly the same rate (thankfully!).

The EJ forum is the wondrous safe heaven on the wow related internet , there are no retards, flamewars, whining or meaningless conversations there. How did you guys achieve that, and how is it sustainable on the long run?

Ha, it's funny to hear you ask that. There are plenty of retards, whining, and meaningless conversations, such that we've recently doubled our moderation staff to try to stay on top of it all. Two years ago I used to read every single post on our forums, and had a much bigger hand in maintaining the overall tone of the conversations, but that simply isn't possible these days. If I tried, it'd be a full-time job and then some. We rely a lot on our community to police itself, and while every person who gets an infraction for a poorly-composed or contentless post seems to lash out at the moderation staff and wonder if we have no lives and just scour posts looking for nits to pick, the reality is that ordinary users are the ones who flag 99% of the "bad" posts on our forums, and moderators just hand out the infraction/ban.

There's a lot more "noise" on the forums than I'd like, but I feel like that's almost inevitable with over 70,000 registered users now. It's just a tremendous amount of traffic, and many people are only coming to read a specific class thread, so they don't always get to properly appreciate the overall community here before they start posting. We do what we can to keep things in check, though, and I'm certainly glad that you find our forums to have a high level of discourse.

Looking at The Sunwell, do you feel it that the gate system was a good idea, especially when some of the HC guilds had long whinefests before it hit live servers?

Yes, I think the gate system was a success, though I do think Blizzard should have been up-front about exactly when each gate was going to open. It was frustrating as a raid leader trying to plan our week's schedule without knowing what the gates were going to do (i.e., are we just farming Kalecgos->M'uru on Tuesday this week and then have the week off, or are we going to be doing hard progression on K'J? No way to find out until Tuesday afternoon!). I do share some concerns expressed by some top Euro guilds in a thread on the Euro forums, that the gate system effectively encourages and rewards truly extreme/unhealthy behavior, like raiding 60 hours in 3-4 days. Not having the gates in place, though, wouldn't have been much different. Maybe SK and Nihilum wouldn't have been able to sustain 12-16 hour days for two weeks straight, but you'd still have seen the world first guilds raiding five or six times as much as other good guilds that are in the top 50. There may be solutions to that problem, but they aren't related to the gate mechanism (again, some people in the Euro thread suggested having more Vael-style bosses, though with a more forgiving timer, but at least making it so you couldn't attempt the same boss from 12pm to 3am nonstop -- I think that has some merit).

What the gates did do, however, was pace the content nicely and create a series of competitions on each new hard boss that emerged. That was facilitated by the quality of overall tuning, of course. If M'uru had been a joke boss who died in one night, then the idea of any kind of race would have been lost. But I like the series of short "sprints" rather than a single grueling marathon, as a dynamic. It also lets more guilds feel like they're a part of something big. For us, our first night at K'J, walking in with NO IDEA of what to expect, was one of the best experiences I've had in WoW in a long time. And if not for the gates, SK or Exodus or one of the other first M'uru killers would have been the only ones to truly enjoy that unspoiled experience. This way many more were able to.

In your post on the EJ webpage you wrote "the best raid zone the game has seen (yes better than Naxx, I think)". What made Sunwell so good, what does it have, that Naxxramas haven't got?

The overall feel and flow of Sunwell were great. Every boss had a reason for being there, the lore really worked, and things like the role Kalecgos plays through the whole zone, dealing with M'uru after learning about what happened at Silvermoon, and so forth, really tied the whole zone together. The best thing about the zone, in my view, was the tuning. M'uru and Kil'Jaeden are especially impressive given their lack of PTR exposure (I know M'uru was seen, but the version of M'uru made accessible to the public was pretty much identical to the one released on Live).

People love to reminisce about Naxxramas, but I really think it's 99% rose-colored glasses, thinking back to the "good old days" and forgetting the bad parts. In terms of challenge, Naxxramas was huge in scope, but the individual fights were, as a rule, not as hard as Sunwell fights. Sapphiron died within a couple of days once the first guilds reached him; so did Kel'Thuzad. And then many guilds repeated those kills. The only block was 4H, but the problem there was understanding that you really did want to use 8 tanks. Like so many guilds, we spent days wiping with 6 tanks. Once we realized 8 were needed, and we got all 8 online at once, it wasn't bad. I also don't miss going from 1 tank on Loatheb to 8 tanks on 4H, or stacking priests for Gothik and Sapphiron, or relying on world buffs to trivialize many encounters. As of today, there are only 36 guilds in the world that have killed Kil'Jaeden, with him being accessible for over a month now, and with videos all over the place. That's impressive. And anyone who's seen SK's excellent video can attest to the "epic" feel of the entire encounter and its associated lore.

Which bosses are your least favorite/hated ones in BC, or in vanilla WoW?

I really disliked Shahraz v1.0, though I think they probably overdid the FA nerf a bit too much -- the original Prismatic Shield mechanics (i.e. stack physical DPS), plus ports into solid objects, were simply frustrating. Beyond that, I like just about every fight in TBC. Pre-TBC, again, the main culprits were untuned ones like the original C'Thun or most of BWL after the initial wave of buffs (e.g. Chromaggus casting Ignite Flesh every 30sec, always). My complaints with pre-TBC bosses were mainly not about the bosses themselves, but about consumable-reliance and faction imbalances. I can't fault the people who made the bosses themselves for those, though.

The old top guilds are disbanding one by one (Risen,Forte,DnT), you see desperate recruiting drive on most HC guild web pages nowadays. How does EJ cope with that phenomenon (if you guys experiencing it too), what do you think are the reasons behind?

It's inevitable. It isn't because of badge epics or a casual-centric game, or anything like that, people's loud whines notwithstanding. DnT's farewell post pretty much summed it up -- we had 10 months with no new content, and during that time lots of very good players got bored and burned out. Guilds replaced them with players that were good enough to farm BT/Hyjal for a year, but either weren't skilled enough for Sunwell or didn't have the stomach for days of wiping with no tangible reward, because they'd never had to experience that since they joined during farm content. As a result, a guild gets stuck, and remaining good players from the old days get increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress and poor quality of play, and stop having fun as well. And then, really, it falls to a handful of officers usually to make huge personal sacrifices in terms of time and energy to rebuild properly, or more often to walk away and let the whole thing die. Many of us have been playing WoW for almost 4 years now. That's a huge amount of time -- it's naive to expect that people won't move on, and often in large numbers.

At EJ, we've been fortunate to have extremely low turnover, largely I think because we have an amazing pool of recruits upon which to draw, we raid much less than most guilds, and we try to offer an overall pleasant atmosphere in which to play. We've recruited a total of around 15 people in the past 14 months, and 12 of those 15 still play with us, with all 3 who left being people who had to quit WoW due to RL circumstances. Thus we've had a lot more continuity than a lot of other endgame guilds, I think. That makes a ton of difference.

Judging from your forum posts, you have a deep and intricate knowledge about the philosophy, and mechanics behind WoW. It would be surprising if Blizzard haven't realized that. Have you or the other well known theorycrafters, been approached by Blizzard? (Just like they did back in the day with Tigole, who was one of the main community figures of Everquest.) Would you take such opportunity?

I can't speak for anyone else. I haven't had Blizzard ask me to apply for a position, or anything like that, no. I have been fortunate enough to meet a couple of Blizzard devs while I was at events like Blizzcon, and I've corresponded via e-mail with a couple of people regarding feedback arising from the PTRs and such, and those avenues of communication are certainly appreciated. As for whether I'd be interested in such an opportunity if it arose, I guess I can't rule anything out, but it'd be an awfully difficult move to make for me -- I have 7 years of my life invested in another career path, at this point, and as much time as I spend on WoW, it's still just a hobby for me. Besides, I'd have to find other things to complain about then, and I'm not sure I could handle that.

What do you think about the introduction of what is arguably the most important PvE development in WotLK, the 10/25 man raidzones?

I think it's a great idea. I take as given that it will require fewer man-hours to convert a 25-man zone to a 10-man version than it would to create a whole new zone from scratch. Thus, having two versions of each zone might mean that instead of getting 4 25-mans and 3 10-mans, we get 6 raid zones that have both versions. And thus everyone gets more content to enjoy within their preferred playstyle. People who mainly do 10-man raids will get twice as many zones to experience, and people who mainly do 25-mans will have extra zones too, while also being able to enjoy a more varied 10-man playstyle during downtime and on alts and such.

The only caveat for me is that I feel that the highest-tier zone at a given time should start off as a 25-man-only experience and then have the 10-man version unlocked once the zone is defeated on a server, or once a given amount of time passes, whichever comes first. To use a contemporary example, I think it would have cheapened the overall experience of Sunwell-25 if while we'd been wiping for hours on M'uru we were going in on weekends and steamrolling through K'J in the 10-man version in a couple of hours. It would have diminished the sense of exploration and achievement at clearing the zone. I do feel that 10-man-only players should get to experience the same lore and ultimately see the same content, but I don't think that the easier alternative should be available right away. It'll just get cleared right away by overgeared high-end raiders anyway, and kind of like using a cheat code to skip through a regular video game, I think that it would diminish the experience for all involved.

What do you think about the often debated topic of the PTR's? The instances that haven't been tested on the PTR, were the buggiest. worst tuned, borderline catastrophic ones in the past. Yet this time M'uru and Kil'jaeden were near perfect without much (or any) PTR testing. What do you think about PTR testing spoiling all the surprises, boss mechanics, new content not to mention the pve race for first kills? (best example being the first day of live SWP resulting in 3 dead bosses) Do you see any alternatives to the PTR process, or is it a necessary evil that we have to endure for bug free and well tuned content?

I was pretty happy with how Sunwell PTR went. Blizzard got Kalecgos just about right from the start, but fights like Brutallus and Felmyst underwent fundamental mechanics changes and heavy rebalancing solely as a result of their PTR exposure. M'uru and K'J, as you note, did turn out great without that PTR exposure, though. Really, my answer is just a pragmatic one: I want well-tuned bosses. If Blizzard can do that totally internally, then they should, and that'd be ideal. But if they can't, and in some cases I think past history indicates that they can't always do that, then PTR is a necessary evil. I'd much rather have PTR cycles than C'Thun v1.0, or having a Brutallus and Felmyst that everyone one-shots and laughs about. I think that the way Blizzard handled this PTR was good, also, the way they disabled bosses once they were satisfied with them, so that it really became more about intensive testing/retuning and less of a chance for guilds to spend hours "practicing" for free.

What are the biggest problems/shortcomings of WoW at the moment? What are the problems, in your opinion that must be fixed with the new expansion?

That's a tough question. I think a lot of the major problems lingering from vanilla WoW were solved in TBC. I think Blizzard really needs to take a fresh look at how they do endgame itemization for parallel gameplay paths, including PvP along with questing/5-mans and raiding. The simple fact of the matter is that items are all that matters in terms of character progression and character differentiation in this game.

We're going to buy WotLK, and in a couple of weeks (or months, depending on playtime) we'll be level 80. During that period, we'll go through tons of different zones and get new skills and talents, and fundamentally improve our characters at a shocking rate. One month into the expansion we'll be able to go back to any TBC content and find it largely trivialized, most likely. But then we'll have another year, or two years, ahead of us, where the only thing we can do to our characters is to gather new items. That's it. There are no Alternate Advancement points like Everquest, or other means of progression. It's just items. And when Blizzard "gives away" (relatively speaking) a tier X+3 item to someone in tier X gear, they're basically invalidating a portion of their tier X+1 and X+2 content. Items aren't just "loot" -- remember, they are the only method of progressing your character. To use leveling as an analogy, large skips in item progression are like giving level 62 players a quest that lets them skip to level 67 upon its completion. Players might appreciate such a quest, but its existence would by definition obsolete most of the level 63-66 content. I have some ideas for what a comprehensive itemization scheme might look like, but that'd be a small treatise rather than a response to an interview question.

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