Damn It Feels Good To Be A Death Knight

What else can I say? Death Knights are kicking serious ass right now, and I am loving riding through Pandaria laying the smack down on whatever baddies are thrown my way.

I wanted to write something else clever here, but instead I’m just gonna go decimate an entire continent with Leodar while playing this on loop.

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eSports: An exercise in immaturity

There has been a lot of news recently in the eSports community and most of it has been pretty negative. First there was the repercussions following MLG Summer Championships between League of Legends teams Curse and Dignitas, then recently there was news out of Evil Geniuses, an eSports franchise which had to suspend a member of its Starcraft 2 team for a wildly inappropriate comment made to another player while that player was streaming, which was followed by news that a very popular and respected team SlayerS was disbanding, and finally a generally ridiculous post by a sometimes respected member of the SC2 community that stated that SC2 will be dead unless Blizzard does some thing about it.

World of Warcraft players should be chuckling at this last one.

In a soundbite, tl-dr got it right. eSports need to grow the hell up.

We could draw parallels to the sports universe (like the Gameronomist did over at tl-dr), but I think we can illustrate a problem with eSports by looking at them without the comparisons. For example our newest GSL champion (the most prestigious tournament) is 15 years old. As someone with a M.S.Ed. in secondary education I feel completely qualified to comment on the average person aged 13-18. Narcissistic and inconsistent would be the 2 words that fit the best. And juvenile of course. And the eSports scene depends heavily on the ‘male 16-24’ age demographic, a group known and celebrated for its maturity and dedication to reason and rational thought.

Uh-oh.

What is confusing to me is that this is not a new problem. When young men and women are put in the spotlight, bad things can happen. We’ve seen it over and over again, whether in sports or entertainment or politics. Publicity can be very difficult to handle, and I would venture an opinion that younger people have a more difficult time coping with the increased pressure of that spotlight.

The difference between a 16 year old tennis player participating in the U.S. Open and a 15 year old participating in the Starcraft 2 GSL is that eSports ONLY has the internet to promote and show its product. I’m willing to bet that if you wanted to find disparaging remarks and inappropriate comments regarding the tennis player you could, but you would have to go searching for them. For competitive eSports you must watch live streams, which automatically exposes you to the horrors of anonymous internet chat. While streaming technology does a great job of bringing these games to the viewers, sites that offer streaming need to think seriously about insulating these same viewers from all the trolls and the bullshit wagon they are constantly pulling.

It continues to boggle my mind that someone can complain about how eSports isn’t growing, and at the same time make the place in which it will grow best a toxic environment.

I will also echo what you will find at tl-dr (which in fact we discussed together on twitter) that the teams involved in the eSports scene need to do a better job providing guidance and mentoring to these young professionals, helping them to handle the media spotlight, the pressure of winning and success, and how to handle themselves online to prevent them from making the same mistakes we see get repeated time and again.

It’s impossible to grow your sport through advertising and sponsorships when the community and the professionals when these kinds of behaviors are not only tolerated but in some cases defended. Even in established professional circles sponsors will pull their backing in a heartbeat if they think it will damage their brand. If we want eSports to grow, then the community needs to as well.

Clearing of the Mists

I am going to be perfectly honest that I am having trouble explaining why this expansion is so much better than Wrath of the Lich King. Cataclysm certainly had some cool things, but it was more fun from 1-60 than it was from 80-85, and the introduction of new features that were very successful doesn’t quite offset the “meh-ness” that was our most recent expansion. Whatever went wrong in Cataclysm, thus far, has been remedied in Mists of Pandaria. Thus far it receives a 10/10 on the fun scale for me. I’m sure I will eventually find things I don’t like, but it hasn’t happened yet in any really (punching the giant bug in Valley of the Four Winds was a little silly though) important way.

The visual appeal of the new zones are incredible, and it only improved as I moved into Kun-Lai Summit. The story is conflict driven, but moderately complex, and so far very well told through the questing experience. The questing experience itself is awesome, I made more character choices about following questlines than previously, and the achievement tracker showed me if there was a storyline I missed so I can back and do it later if I want (for example, I decided not to do the Nesingwary quests so far). I can also choose which stories to folllow. I reached a place in Kun-Lai that had quests branching out in different directions, and I chose to continue the Loremaster Cho one as I was enjoying that story. This experience didn’t exist in Cataclysm, and is a very welcome change.

Now for pictures!!

I am absolutely loving the Sha art. These are the coolest monsters I have ever killed in WoW.
Whale shark and Megalodon? Double the awesome.
This rare killed me 5 times before a Horde paladin got him. Bummer.

The next 3 pictures were from a spot in Kun-Lai Summit where I was questing.

This one made me smile.
This one made me giggle.
And this one made me laugh out loud. Love these three. Totally naming my next toon Hackiss.
Never miss out on a chance to beat up some Hozen. I hate these creatures. Well played Blizzard.
A view as I follow the trail to the Temple of the White Tiger.

For the first time since I can remember I am actually looking forward to leveling my other characters through the same zones. I don’t know exactly why, but something feels different, and I can’t get enough of it.

Enough writing, more questing. Onward to 90.

WoW Drinking Done Right

The much-anticipated Mists of Pandaria will launch soon, and thanks to a wonderful community of dedicated gamers, you can find pre-raid BiS gear lists, talent evaluations, dungeon guides, and raid guides. What you can’t find, however, is a guide that helps you to decide what to drink while playing. I have decided to fill this void for you, faithful reader, in the hopes that come midnight you are as ready as possible. Research was grueling and lengthy, but no amount of delicious beer could stop me from providing you with a comprehensive guide to doing raid night drinking right. In addition, I had the pleasure and privilege to work with the most impassioned beer aficionado that I know, Arolaide of Dragonsworn (You don’t read Dragonsworn? Start NOW), whose suggestions and feedback went a long way to making this post happen. Thanks Aro.

You’ll notice no Budweiser, Coors, Labatt’s, or Molson on this list. I dare not suggest such swill to my beloved readers and Warcraft brethren. So find your class, buy your beer, and enjoy.

Step away from the Pabst and nobody gets hurt.

Death Knight: What better beer for a fallen soldier damned into martial existence than Unibroue Maudite. A malty beer that is also spicy can be very challenging to your palette, but this beer is not too heavy, nor does it have a lingering bitter aftertaste. It is hard to express how awesome this brew is, and how unique. Well worth the effort to find and try.

A strong beer for a powerful class.

Druid: Do you miss the Emerald Dream? Perhaps you are wondering if it was worth waking up after all? Well, you can’t go back to the Emerald Dream, but Delirium Nocturnum can get you close. This is a dark rich beer with a pleasant lingering taste. A good balance of sweet and bitter with caramel, mocha, and chocolate.

Enjoy some while your Pint-Sized Pink Pachyderm pet is out. Coincidence this is available from Brewfest? I think not.

Hunter: If you get along with pets and nature better than other players you just may like the woodsy and crisp nature of an India Pale Ale. There are an extraordinary number of IPAs out there, but Flying Dog Brewery’s Snake Dog IPA is an excellent choice. It has a citrus flavor which includes caramel. Don’t worry if it has a slightly bitter aftertaste, it’s there to remind you how we all feel when you roll on our gear.

Who wouldn’t want a Snake Dog pet? Blizzard should make this happen.

Mage: Do you like to enjoy a rich complex alcoholic beverage as you contemplate the most efficient way to blow something up or freeze it into nothingness? Then you are probably a mage, and if you are, you’ll probably enjoy Ommegang’s 3 Philosophers. This beer edges out Maudite as my absolute favorite during my research. Dark, rich, heavy, and incredibly complex. Drinking this beer while hitting Hot Streak procs will, in fact, confirm that you are better than everyone else.

Why yes Mortimer, I do believe we ARE better than Warlocks

Monk: The Pandaren race are notorious brewers and drinkers, and are introducing Azeroth to the Monk class. To pay homage to their Asian influence I suggest (with Aro’s help of course) Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale. With sake-like flavors this complex pale ale does justice to the Brewmasters of Pandaria.

Arolaide suggested, Chen Stromstout approved

Paladin: A defender and wielder of the Light deserves an exceptional beer with a summery feel and plenty of light citrus flavor. Unibroue La Fin Du Monde fits the bill perfectly and at 9% abv packs a serious punch that rivals Divine Light, Shield of the Righteous, or Templars Verdict. A smooth, dry finish and wonderful fruit flavors might remind you of wine, a fitting comparison for this class.

Delicious, complex, and light. This might be the best Canadian beer on the planet.

Priest: I’m going to admit right up front that I’m cheating, but I couldn’t help but suggest two beers for a class with an identity problem. For priests that use their power for healing let me suggest Leffe Blonde Ale, a smooth abbey ale with a slightly spicy finish and a wonderfully consistent and pleasant taste. For priests who embrace the shadows, Grimbergen Dubbel (Double) is an excellent choice. First brewed 900 years ago by Noberline monks, this is a bittersweet beer with a rich caramel flavor. In a word, awesome.

Holy or Disciplined? This beer is for you.
For priests that walk among the shadows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rogue: For the class whose primary goal in life is to incapacitate and destroy before you even know what happens I present Rogue Dead Guy Ale. A fitting name would be meaningless without a good beer, and fortunately Rogue delivers. Nice caramel malt flavor, but with more IPA flavors than most of the other ales I tasted. This gave Dead Guy a distinct flavor with a bite at the end, very appropriate for stun-locking fiends.

Nothing goes together better than Rogues and Dead Guys.

Shaman: The connection between this class and the elements that they commune with made this a tough match. Luckily for me I had the magical beer powers of Arolaide on my side and she delivered with an exceptional recommendation. Midas Touch is without a doubt the strangest beer I’ve ever tasted, fortunately it’s also delicious. Brewed by Dogfish Head, this beer is a mixture between wine, beer, and mead and tastes much better than that sounds. Tons of fruit flavors and even saffron. One of the most unique beers I’ve ever tasted.

Flameshock? Stoneskin? Healing Stream? How about all of them.

Warlock: Arrogant Bastard Ale. From the label to the name to the taste, this aggressive hoppy beer fits the warlock class perfectly. The ideal beer to drink as you send your minions to do battle for you, cause widespread destruction and cackle madly while you watch your enemies flee in terror. The beer itself is an exceptional one, with a taste similar to an IPA, but more complex, and smoother. A sweet start with a bitter, spicy finish.

A proud warlock brew that mages simply can’t handle

Warrior: This class is nothing if not stout, and Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout is a perfect homage to these battle-hardened denizens of Azeroth. A very dark beer (black with a tan head) that can almost be a meal in itself, this brew is incredibly smooth almost to the point of being silky, and very rich. The sweetness of the beer is balanced by the coffee and chocolate flavors, and creates an immensely satisfying drinking experience. This strikes me as the kind of beer a warrior would drink.

The perfect beer for the warrior that wades happily into battle

I admit to being disappointed that some of my favorite breweries and go-to choices at the store didn’t make this list. Magic Hat, Samuel Adams, and Sierra Nevada make good, solid beers, but were not especially good fits for this article. Nonetheless I feel that their consistency in making very good beer warrants a mention here at the end.

In addition to enjoying some beer while you play Warcraft, I hope this inspires you to try some of the excellent brews right across the aisle from the cheap stuff that so many people seem to be content with. Thanks again to Arolaide for all her help. Happy Hunting, and Hooray for Good Beer.

TheraMore or Less

Well, that was awful. Happy as I was to get my mage a new weapon (that’s right, first time, hehe) I was pretty disappointed in Blizzard’s first live scenario. Some people have pointed out the lack of compelling gameplay and storytelling, and they are both right. It was a boring and irrelevant stompfest that added nothing to the lore of World of Warcraft that we didn’t already know. In addition, simply logging in and standing in Stormwind did not alert you to the fact that anything had happened at all. Pretty disappointing.

In terms of storytelling my problem is not that we weren’t there to try and save Theramore and failed. That would have made no sense. Based on my understanding of the situation, the bomb caught Theramore off-guard, and having heroes hanging out in Theramore because that is just what max level characters do doesn’t really fit. But there are no pockets of resistance to come to the aid of, only Jaina Proudmoore standing in the middle of the crater. Here is my recollection of how it went.

“Look what the Horde did! Those bastards! Let’s kill them!”

“Hold on Jaina, just let me find my [insert AoE ability here] button. Got it.”

“That’s all?”

“Yeah. These guys are like Naxxramas level trash. Total roflstomp. Kinda surprised you couldn’t take them yourself, you trashed Orgrimmar not too long ago.”

“My bad. Kinda distracted with the whole bomb thing, the decimation of my city, the blatant murder, etc.”

“No worries. Totally understandable.”

The Fall of Theramore was pretty terrible, but I’ve heard very good things about the Mists of Pandaria scenarios, so I’m not worried in the slightest, just disappointed.

I think Blizzard made two mistakes with this scenario. The first, is that it’s available way too close to the launch of MoP. It makes sense to put a little less effort into something that people will only do for a week or so (I really can’t imagine running it at 90 unless I really need the loot), but it makes more sense to release this scenario 3-4 weeks before an expansion so that the content is accessible for longer. You could then justify diverting more resources to it.

The second is the gameplay. The Horde has dropped a bomb on Theramore. They have occupied the ruins. HOW ARE WE NOT PISSED OFF ABOUT THIS. One ship shows up to Theramore?! One!! There should be a tug-of-war situation here. Alliance soldiers streaming off of ships engaging Horde soldiers with us, Alliance Heroes, aiding them and pushing the Horde back, engaging Horde captains as they rally their troops. You could even have a Alliance/Horde meter on the screen, showing when you have broken the Horde and pushed them back from Theramore, culminating with a final engagement at the crater with Jaina. Instead Varian Wrynn sends 3 Heroes on one ship to fix the problem.

I love Blizzard products. I don’t agree with them blindly, but I pretty much love everything they make. However, this scenario is terrible. It is WAY below the standards Blizzard sets for themselves. I’m not sure what kind of resources it would take, but the Fall of Theramore is worthless as a lore device or entertainment, and could be vastly improved. I really wish they would shut it down and improve it, because if it was more entertaining, I would absolutely do it when I reach max level in Mists of Pandaria.

Shadowmourne, Spectating, and the E-Sports Plunge

This week was a very interesting one, and it made me feel compelled to write about it. I’m eagerly anticipating both the expansion and scenario accompanying it. I’ve been a Jaina fan since Warcraft 3, and I am planning on buying the book as soon as possible as well. Pandaria is, well, amazing. I played on the beta for a few months, and stopped at level 87. I didn’t want to see the rest, and I was a terrible game tester, so it was a good time to stop. But the continent of Pandaria and the Wandering Isle are breath-taking, and I’m extremely exciting to get started.

So far the Death Knight class is kicking serious ass in the new patch, and dropping 42k DPS in my Blood spec on Ultraxion while forgetting to put on my special Ultraxion gear set was the first indication that it was time to make my paladin Holy/Ret in Mists. The second was how much fun I wasn’t having working on my action bars and selecting talents as Protection. When it comes to WoW, if it isn’t fun, I’m not going to bother.

Which brings me to my next thought. Shadowmourne. I love this weapon. I love the story, and once upon a Wrath when I had some free time on my hands I participated in some GDKP runs in ICC (which is a good way to really appreciate the people I was raiding with, rather than the players from a well-known guild whose vent chat was horrific. It was like stepping into an internet meme. I had to shower afterwards). Through these runs I managed to complete the Shadowmourne questline up to the infusions. Three weeks ago I completed the infusion quests (before the ICC bugs) with my guild during a run to get another member his achievement drake. Now I have 49 more shards to go, and I can’t decide whether I’m annoyed. On one hand, outdated content is easy, and on the other hand ICC is in no way soloable. Basically with the horrific drop rate, the requirement for a 25 man raid, and the lack of bosses you can solo, if you want Shadowmourne, you are stuck dragging 10-12 more people with you. This kinda sucks. I anticipate that Blizzard will someday lift the restriction on legendary transmogrification, and when they do I want to have axe filled with the souls of the vanquished, I just don’t want to subject my friends to the same grind.

/Yoda voice

/s Torn am I, conflicted, yes.

I made the plunge into the E-Sports scene last evening, although as a beginner I made the smallest splash imaginable. Playhem is a website that hosts daily Starcraft 2 tournaments with cash prizes. The Bronze and Silver Tournament has a measly $6 pot ($3 for first, $2 for second, $1 for third), but the open bracket is $75 on the weekdays and $100 on the weekends, meaning the first place winner gets enough to take their boyfriend, girlfriend, or cat out to dinner. That last one was a joke, but what is it with cats on the internet? Dogs are so much better. I digress.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to login and find my first opponent. I play the Terran race (Leodar#370 for anyone interested in practice/fun matches), and my first opponent was a well mannered (yeah, it matters in Starcraft 2 as well) Zerg named Rezknello. I was sweating profusely (which admittedly is not difficult for me) and nervous as hell, but I was also thrilled that I remembered my practice sessions and was able to execute my opening and transition into a successful 10 min push. I won the first army encounter, macroed behind it, and scouted his third expansion. After taking down the expansion, I rallyed with another set of units produced from my main base and moved up to his natural expansion, engaging his army and crushing it a second and final time. Two minutes later my opponent surrendered with a ‘GG’ and I took what felt like my first breath in 12 minutes. It was an incredible rush and an awesome feeling to win my first ever competitive match.

The next match was against a Protoss named Plasma who was a league above me in the ladder system. I had been working on creating my own build versus Protoss and executed it. Unfortunately I lost both games to lose the match 2-0. I was still pretty thrilled with my play because both times I out-macroed my opponent, had the superior army supply, and the stronger economy. Plasma had to use some deception to succeed which can be successful at the lower levels (with players like me ) because less experienced players have trouble dividing their attention to multiple places. He may have won, but my fundamentals were much better, and I executed my plan pretty well, almost winning the second game in spite of the opponent’s misdirection.

After this experience I started to think a lot of spectating in competitive gaming. Podcasts I’ve recently listened to have lamented the lack of an ‘observer’ feature in Warcraft that made it very difficult and ultimately unsatisfying to watch professional arenas. I agree with that sentiment completely, but I’m not sure that its enough. Arenas have no flow, and the abilities strike so quickly that casting the game must be a nightmare. If Warcraft PvP has any chance to compete (or even co-exist) with Starcraft 2, League of Legends, and DoTA 2, it needs to be in battlegrounds with an observer camera and tools to make casting easier. It’s not impossible, but it is a big challenge. I still think it would be worth Blizzard’s time to make PvP more spectator friendly. I would absolutely watch professional World of Warcraft players in an Alterac Valley game (although not for 3 days like some of the vanilla crazies lament missing), and it would help random battlegrounds because it would develop metagame strategies that could be shared with the community at large. We have excellent PvP websites and bloggers that handle this (Cynwise, Olivia Grace at WoW Insider, etc.), but I have a feeling they are underused. Enhancing the visibility of battlegrounds would make people more interested in learning how to play them properly.

Let me paint a picture of how this could look using aspects from LoL and SC2.

Team [Random Web Sponsor] vs. Team [Random Telcom Sponsor], Best of 5

Battleground Pool: Arathi Basin , Twin Peaks, Battle for Gilneas, Eye of the Storm, Alterac Valley (15 player version)

First Battleground: Arathi Basin

Loser selects next battleground until one team wins 3 battlegrounds.

A mix of 10 and 15 player battlegrounds would give each team strategic decisions to make based on how many players they can bring, which map is being used, and who their opponent is. Awesome , no? The only problem is that it would create some serious problems deciding what to watch every night.

New (to me) podcasts that I am thoroughly enjoying: “Starcast: The Starcraft Podcast” and “This Week in Blizz” are done by the same two guys and they do a terrific job. They are sponsored by a company who is absolutely getting my business as soon I have enough money for my next computer, Doghouse Systems.

Good Luck, Have Fun, and let’s go pwn some Horde on Tuesday.

Foundations of Success

As people reading my blog or following my Twitter feed probably noticed I have gotten hooked on Starcraft 2 competitive gaming. An explanation is critical here, and I will try to be brief.

At its core, multiplayer Starcraft 2 is an economy based game. You can go to websites like Team Liquid and find build orders, unit counters, explanations of micro (small army movements that can increase unit efficiency), and other information. For a beginner, none of it matters. When you watch professionals, it can lead you to the misconception that these things are critical to success, because it often separates the winner and loser in these professional matches. What many people fail to notice is that these games come down to micro-management because those players have exceptional fundamentals. Without fundamentals, those players wouldn’t be competing professionally. Macro is the key to becoming an exceptional SC2 player. It is the foundation the rest of your game is built on, and without it you will limit your own potential. I’ve embedded a game showcasing exceptional fundamentals (also shamelessly showing my favorite player currently,  TaeJa). You’ll notice that professional players have very little minerals and gas (top right corner), because they are constantly creating units and productions buildings.

When I learned this I was totally blown away. Not because it was some new truth I had never heard, but because it was consistent with all of my other life experiences, and made absolute sense. I’ve spent 12 years coaching basketball, and one thing has been true ever since I started to seriously look at the game and learn how to teach it. That the fundamentals were absolutely critical. Critical to the point that you should avoid teaching any advanced concepts (including running a set offense) before those fundamentals are mastered. Who cares how crisp and perfect your cuts are if the person with the ball is busying staring at it while they dribble. There must be a strong foundation to be able to achieve your maximum potential. Obviously, this isn’t a basketball blog, so I’m not going to go into the detail of how to teach athletes how to play while ensuring their fundamentals don’t slip, but it can (and needs) to be done.

So how do you start to be successful ? You start by identifying the foundation of your endeavor, and you make sure that you develop the fundamentals necessary to have a strong foundation.

Discovering another example of this consistent theme got me thinking about World of Warcraft, and it made me realize that for all of my success in the game, and  all of my accomplishments, I hadn’t really identified what the foundation of a good Warcraft player was. New players are bombarded with information, and god forbid they try to find useful information online. Sure, there are reputable locations of knowledge, but how long does it take for the new player to find? BiS lists, optimal professions and enchants, detailed accounts of which abilities to use in certain circumstances are worthless to the new player. This information is great if you have a foundation in gameplay, but if you are still learning its information overload. A moderately new website called Noxxic is doing a good job of presenting easily digestible information and deserves a mention here. Below is my first attempt at identifying the foundation of good Warcraft play.

1. Stay Alive: A well known joke that circulates the WoW community is that ‘dead hunters do zero DPS.’ I promise that’s my last shot at hunters in this post. The phrase simply means that dead players do not complete quests, kill monsters, or help their team win. If you have an ‘Oh s#$%!’ button, hit it. If you are a healer, use your healing spells. Watch your health bar and make sure you aren’t standing in fire. Sure, you’ll die with some regularity in WoW, but don’t die constantly and unnecessarily.

2. Hit your buttons: Your character has spells and abilities. They all do something, and even though some are more powerful than others it’s pretty important to get into the habit of always hitting a button when it becomes available. This isn’t optimal play (especially for healers), but it’s better to be able to spam damage/healing abilities when you need to than to learn slow, and then try to be faster. Last year there was a mage that asked me for some DPS help. While I’m not an expert on mages, I am the raid leader, so I’m here to help. I got on my mage, and the first thing we did was hit the target dummy. After the 4 min DPS burn we compared damage meters. I cast considerably more fireballs than she did, and really, what is there left to analyze at that point. Play with urgency – your speed matters when raiding and PvPing. Figure out which abilities you should be using, and use the hell out of them.

3. Spatial Awareness: Know your surroundings. This matters when questing, raiding, or pvping. Are you stacking up or spreading out? Are you alone at the farm while all of your teammates are racing for the blacksmith? Is there a patrol near that pack of monsters you need for a quest? Pay attention to your surroundings, know where to be and when to be there.

This is a short list, and maybe its accuracy is questionable, but the exercise is critical. Whenever we start something – a new job, a new hobby, a new relationship – our success will be determined on how strong our foundation is. The stronger our foundation, the more we can build on it.

Gaming while Parenting