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Archive for February, 2012

Gracefully letting go

You see me now, a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
I’ve been living on the edge so long, where the winds of limbo roar
And I’m young enough to look at, and far too old to see
All the scars are on the inside
I’m not sure that there’s anything left of me

Don’t let these shakes go on, it’s time we had a break from it
It’s time we had some leave
We’ve been living in the flames
We’ve been eating up our brains
Oh please, don’t let these shakes go on

Sometime in the early fall of 2005, a level 60 warrior walked into Molten Core for the first time.  He was wearing a mixture of low- and mid-50s green and blue gear, maybe one or two pieces of Tier 0 dungeon set stuff, a few “of the” bits here and there.  In his giant, three-fingered hands, he wielded a Fist of Omokk; in his backpack, a shield and some one-hand weapon infinitely worse than even the Fist.  He was spec’d 31/5/15, back in the days of vanilla WoW when warriors occasionally tried a hybrid spec to off-tank while still doing DPS.  He had been level 60 for less than two months, and existed in Azeroth overall for maybe six.

His player had taken him from Arms, to Fury, to Prot, and back to Arms, and now Arms/Prot hybrid.  His player had no clue what he was doing.  His player was scared and excited as he got on Ventrilo with 39 other people and headed toward his very first raid pull.

Last week, a level 85 warrior walked onto the top of Wyrmrest Temple for the fifth time and peered down at the fallen corpse of Ultraxion, Deathwing’s ultimate creation.  He was wearing three pieces of Tier 13 armor, with a token for a fourth just placed in his bags.  He carried a sword and shield torn from the depths of the Firelands.  His average ilevel of the gear on his body and in his bags was 388.  He was a dedicated, skilled Prot warrior, four years running, with a Fury offspec that he never used, because he was the raid’s tank on single-tank fights and shared duties with a longtime paladin friend on the tank-swap fights.

His player had played him for going on seven years.  His player had a blog now, and had written guides about How to Be a Prot Warrior (even if those guides were one expansion old).

His player was miserable and burned out.  And had been for months.

How did it come to this?

You ask me why I’m weary, why I can’t speak to you
You blame me for my silence, say it’s time I changed and grew
But the war’s still going on, dear, and there’s nowhen that I know
And I can’t stand forever
I can’t say if we’re ever gonna be free

Don’t let these shakes go on, it’s time we had a break from it
It’s time we had some leave
We’ve been living in the flames
We’ve been eating up our brains
Oh please, don’t let these shakes go on

I took a long and convoluted path through raiding over my years in WoW.  In the beginning I had no intention of taking Linedan protection, I always wanted him to be a DPS warrior.  But the downsizing from 40- to 25-man raiding in The Burning Crusade, and having to hook up with a friend’s Karazhan 10-man as a tank because The Anvil, my current raid, had no room in the two Kara groups they’d formed, forced me to take Lin tanky…and the rest is history, I guess.  I grew to like it, then love it.  And I was able to work my way back into The Anvil and hang on to a spot as an offtank through TBC and into Wrath of the Lich King.

In Wrath, the raid went from three tanks to four in a rotation system.  There was tank drama as two different death knights came in at various times and moved into my raid role as #2 offtank.  Hence the rotation system, so they could keep four tanks on staff.  Despite that, I nearly lost my spot a couple of times and had to step my performance up.  But the rotation also meant that I got to actually main tank some fights for the first time.  And I was one of the two tanks the night The Anvil reached its crowning achievement, our lone Arthas 25-man kill.

Then the Cataclysm hit, in more ways then one.  The Anvil fell apart as people headed to guild 10-mans and the officers, after five hard years of cat herding, burned out.  Some of us formed two 10-man raids out of it, sharing some people but run separately one night a week, one on Wednesday and one on Friday.  After just a couple months, though, the two raids effectively merged into one two-night-a-week, three-hour-a-night raid.  With that raid, we moved through Tier 11 and 12 content.

It was partway through Bastion of Twilight/Blackrock Caverns that I began to notice that I wasn’t having as much fun in the 10s as I did in our old 25.  At first I chalked it up to less activity on Ventrilo and a slightly higher level of sobriety (but only slightly).  But as we slowly ground our way toward Cho’gall and Nefarian, the fun continued to lessen.  Then I thought that maybe I was just bored with the instances, and that it would pick back up when patch 4.2 dropped and we got to go to the Firelands.

It didn’t.  Firelands felt more like a slog than a fun way of overcoming challenges with friends.  I began to come to a horrifying realization.  After years of struggling and working to become a good tank, after finally achieving what I’d always wanted–a secure spot as a raid main tank–I was burned out.  Just when I’d hit my goal, I’d lost the fun of it.

So I went to our officers–my guildleader Ghaar and our Chief Cat Herder Dorritow–and asked for a sabbatical.  It would be the first true raid break I’d taken in over five years.  They approved, and so partway through Firelands I took a month off to recharge my batteries, the first time that I’d ever not attempted to raid when I was at home and the raid was going on.  And it helped.

But not enough.

When I came back, I fell back into my deepening spiral of burnout, made worse by the depression I’ve been flirting on-and-off with for years.  I only logged on during the week to raid, not even logging on alts to roleplay or Lin to accept calendar invites.  Instead of my old chatterbox self on Vent, I became more and more monosyllabic.  I found myself crossing my fingers that we wouldn’t find enough people so the raid would be cancelled.  When that tenth spot filled in, and the call went out to head to Firelands or Dragon Soul, I would sigh, shift in my chair, grumble a little bit, and head on inside.  Things that I never gave a damn about before–turns of phrase, certain fight mechanics, etc.–grated on my nerves like crunk in an old folks’ home.  My right hand was giving me low-grade chronic trouble on raid nights after a couple hours of hard tanking.  The second the raid was over, I would hearth back to Orgrimmar and immediately log out of WoW and Vent with nary a “good night.”  And I came to the dawning realization that this wasn’t salvageable.

I was done.  My raiding days, at least for quite a while, were over.

But obligation and pride are tough things to overcome.  Obligation, because I follow through on my commitments; me not wanting to be there didn’t matter, because the rest of my raid did, and therefore I was going to do what I always did–my best, whatever that was.  I worked hard to make sure that my performance never suffered no matter how badly I felt, and I think I pulled it off, if I’m honest.  Not to mention, these people are my friends, I’ve been raiding with most of them for years.  If I couldn’t raid for me, then I would suffer through the burnout and raid for them.

And pride, because I had finally “made it.”  I’d spent years falsely worrying that I was one step from being dropped from the raid every time I made a mistake.  I watched death knights move into my tanking spot and shatter my confidence because I thought the raid officers had brought them in to replace me instead of supplement us.  And through attrition and sheer dogged persistence more than anything else, I came out the other side as one of “the” two tanks in the surviving 10-man.  It is a very hard thing to let go of that after years of struggle.  I like being the main tank.  I like being on point.  I’m not the greatest tank in the world, never have been, never will be.  But I do the job that’s put in front of me to the best of my ability, and that’s gotten me to tanking a fairly successful (5/8 normal) T13 ten-man, so I guess I’m not that bad.

Well, matters came to a head this week.  There was no drama, no meltdown, no spectacular failure.  Dorri simply came to me and said that the officers had noticed the shape I was in–it wasn’t much of a secret, as I’m a very bad actor–and that if I needed to drop out, I could, they could find another tank.  And after we talked it out, I realized that she was right…that I was doing a disservice to myself and my friends in Doom and Blet if I kept digging myself into a hole and coming when I just wasn’t having any enjoyment with it.  It can have a subtle, corrosive effect on a raid over time when someone is so obviously down and depressed about being there.  I should know, I’ve seen it happen.  And now they were seeing it happen with me.

And so, I made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in World of Warcraft.

The mighty Panzercow hung up his sword and shield.

You see me now, a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
My energy is spent at last, and my armor is destroyed
I have used up all my weapons, and I’m helpless and bereaved
Wounds are all I’m made of
Did I hear you say that this is victory?

Don’t let these shakes go on, it’s time we had a break from it
Send me to the rear
Where the tides of madness swell
And men sliding into hell
Oh please, don’t let these shakes go on

So is this the end of WoW for me?  Not quite.  While I’m done with the raid effective immediately, I’m going to give it a month before I decide whether to suspend my account or not.  I haven’t had any desire to level alts so far in Cataclysm–my goblin is level 6, my worgen doesn’t exist, and my little dwarf tribute to the Tiny Angry Woman is only level 15–but maybe now I might.  I still should log Beltar on more to RP with the Wildfire Riders.  And it’s not like my game-playing schedule is empty outside of WoW.  Old Republic, iRacing, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 coming out on March 6…trust me, my leisure time can be as full as I want it to be right now.  I’ll see most of my WoW raiding friends in Old Republic, and continue to follow WoW news through my hundreds of Twitterati.

And even if I do cancel my account and leave the game, it’s not necessarily permanent.  Rumor has it there’s a mysterious island full of pandaren out there, and I’m fairly sure that when the Mists of Pandaria finally lift and there’s evil to be fought there, a certain very large cow in very heavy armor will be on the first boat heading that way.  I don’t think Linedan’s story in Azeroth is quite done yet.

But even if it is, it’s been one hell of a ride.  Seven years, 85 levels, and thousands of memories.

I figure the big guy deserves a little R&R well off the front lines.  And, in the end, so do I.


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