Defining Exceptional   20 comments

The other night Brade got a whisper from someone about recruiting.  He advised this person what our current needs are – but also added in that we will always consider exceptional applicants.  To which this person asked “what do you consider exceptional?”.  This was a very well-timed question, because Brade and I had just had a conversation about this very topic based on some commentary that I offered to someone and was worried that I had offended this person, so I had rehashed the conversation with Brade for his feedback.  But the question from the app really got me thinking.

What is exceptional?

I think the definition of exceptional will likely vary from person to person and circumstance to circumstance.  But in light of my recent conversation and the question posed by a potential recruit I thought that I’d give you some insight into how I view exceptional.  I actually have some very firm beliefs on this, because as a player, exceptional is something that I strive towards every time I step into a raid.  I also recognize that what I value as exceptional may not weigh the same way for someone else – and that’s fine.  This is merely a look at my philosophy and how I approach the game.

WoW According to Beru (or something like that…)

I believe that there are many great players in WoW.  Players that never make a mistake, rarely mess up a boss mechanic, always seem to perform, and are knowledgable about their class.  Players that almost every raid leader would love to have as part of their raid team.  However, I also believe that there are very few exceptional players in WoW.  They truly are rare, hidden treasures in a vast mine.  Players that encompass all of the above…and then more.  Players who look at the logs every night and look for the smallest things to improve in their performance, be it positioning or cooldown timing.  Players who may rank second in the world on a fight and rather than be content that they kicked ass, ask themselves why they weren’t first and what they could do better next time.

I believe that it is the small things that distinguish a great player from an exceptional one.

I, personally, strive to be an exceptional player.  Sometimes I feel I am closer to that definition and others I feel I’m miles from it.  But every night that I step into the raid, I try to bridge the gap between great and exceptional.  I try to perform better than I did the night before.  I try to push myself to every limit that I know – sometimes with more success than others.  I think through encounters before I pull them, and I analyze them once we’ve killed them, all in an attempt to find that one edge I can get next time that I missed this time.  I push myself to be competitive, and I thrive on the competition my team gives me.  And even if that competition wasn’t there, it doesn’t matter, I am content to race the shadow of my last performance.  If I’m not pushing myself to every limit that I have as a player, I am not happy with my performance.

I pretty firmly believe that there is always something that I could/should be doing better.  I could have the performance of a lifetime, and I’d still look at it and ask myself what more I could have done to improve it.  Because no matter how good you are, there is always room to grow.  Always.  And to think otherwise is doing a disservice to yourself.  At least that’s my take on it.

Well Beru, what exactly would you look for in an “exceptional” applicant?

Let’s talk resto druids, since that’s what I’m most comfortable with.  There are basic things that I’d evaluate, and then there are the small things I’d look for that would make an applicant stand out for me. 

The Basics would include things like:

  • Gear choices – does the player know enough about the class to gear smartly for the gear they have available to them?  Do they gem and enchant properly?  Have they reforged well? Do they understand their stat priorities?
  • Spec – does the player understand their class well enough to spec properly?  Do they comment on spec choices that stray from what is generally considered “proper”?
  • Haste Breakpoints – this really could go hand in hand with gear above, but does the player understand their haste breakpoints?  Are they floating at some really bizarre number?  Do they explain any oddness in their decisions?
  • Raid Mechanics – does the player stay out of the bad?  Do they live to the end of most encounters, or do they die with some frequency?
  • Raid Performance – how does the player perform in their current group/setting?  Are they strong?  Do they utilize the proper spells for their given healing assignment?  Do they follow their given assignment?
  • UI – does it provide you all of the information that is required to do your job?  Does it offer you the ability to be cognizant of raid mechanics while doing your job?

Beru…that’s pretty comprehensive.  Exactly what would you be looking for beyond that?  I’m glad you asked!  Let me give you some insight on what I’d look at that would really make an applicant stand out for me and push you towards exceptional!

Things that would make you stand out:

  • Cooldown Usage – as a resto druid we have two three minute cooldowns.  Let’s say we have a 9.5 – 10 minute fight.  I’d look to see if you maximized that cooldown.  You should see at least 3 uses of both Tranquility and ToL in that time.  When I perform, as I plan out how I’m going to heal the fight, I ask myself when are the best times to use these abilities and maximize the use of the abilities.  If you didn’t maximize it, I’d ask “why”.  The only real reason not to do so, in my opinion, is if there are very specific, set times in an encounter that you need them and you cannot line up the 3 minute cooldown with that need.  However, often you can work it out so that you have the cooldown available when it’s needed and still utilize it at other points where it would be beneficial to the raid.
  • Innervate Usage – Again, looking at a 9.5-10 minute fight, you should be able to innervate at least three times.  I’d look to see if you cast at least three innervates.  It’s my belief that if you aren’t living on your innervates during progression content you could, and should, be doing more.  For me, if I don’t need my innervate in a progression push, I’m not doing everything that I can.  If I don’t end the fight less than 20% mana, I didn’t do as much as I could have, and I would ask myself where I could have maximized my performance to require the use of all of my mana.
  • Nature’s Grace – In a 9.5 – 10 minute fight, this is something that we should see proc’d at least 8-9 times, depending on when you need some extra burst healing.  The ability has a 1 minute cooldown, and can be activated every minute for extra haste that will push your over into your next WG/RJ/Eff breakpoints for extra ticks and can be very useful during burst periods of time.  Timing and activating this ability is one of those small things to me.  This is actually something I, personally, wasn’t doing well with and wanted to improve on.  As a result, I recently made changes to my UI to track both when it was active and when it would come off of cooldown because I felt it was important to maximize. 
  • Lifebloom/Harmony Uptime – This should be as close to 100% as possible, and anything below 80% uptime on either buff indicates significant room for improvement and likely a need for the player to have a better way to track these buffs.  I would also take the encounter mechanics into account – so if there were times where there are healing down times where you are doing something else, it would be weighed in.
  • Potion Usage – Did the player pot?  Similarly to my thoughts on innervate, if you didn’t need a mana pot on progression content you could, and should, have been doing more.  If you don’t need the mana, ask yourself what more you could have done so that you needed that pot.
  • Trinkets, etc – If you are using an “on use” trinket, I’d look to see  how many times you utilized the “on use” effect.  It should be maximized and, depending on the effect, timed with damage flows or mana requirements.  But we should see them used with frequency and not forgotten.
  • Barkskin – Do you use this often?  Is it something that is never cast?  Someone who utilizes this ability shows that they understand that mitigating damage is just as good, if not better, than having to heal through it.  And smart use of personal mitigation cooldowns is something that I find to be another of those small things that help to define exceptional.

So where do you feel you fall, Beru?

As I stated above, I try every raid to bridge the gap into exceptional.  I do not feel that I achieve that goal every raid.  I also stated that everyone always has room to improve.  Always.  I am far from exempt in this, and there are many things that I think I could step up in my game:

  • I fail to use berserking with such regularity that I may as well not even have the ability.  This is something that I need to fix, and I am currently working through ways to maximize the ability.
  • I sometimes innervate late because I’m waiting for a Power Torrent proc and then get caught up in the fight and forget until the proc has come and gone and innervate far later than I should have as a result.  I’ve gotten better at this, but it is still somewhere I have room for improvement.
  • I could use Barkskin more.  I am pretty good with it, but when I watch video playback of myself I take note that I’m not using it as often as I should at times.
  • When things start to get hairy, I tend to do worse at staying out of the bad.  Part of this is because I’m trying to drive the raid – but part of it is because I fail at prioritizing my performance in these key points and trusting that the raid will manage if I’m not at the back of boat yelling “STROKE!” for 30 seconds while I tend to myself.  It’s harder to do in practice than it is to acknowledge in writing and is one of my biggest weaknesses and area in need of the most improvement.
  • When there is significant burst damage, I have a tendency to let LB and Harmony drop and do not get it refreshed timely.  I’m still working on solving this with Harmony – but I have no good excuse for LB and it’s something I need to remember to keep prioritized.

After each raid I go through our logs.  I look not only at my output, but at my performance as a whole.  I go through the list of things that I took notes on from the last raid and look to see if I improved on them.  I look to see if there are things that I need to add to my list as areas for improvement.  If there is something big that I know I made a mistake with, I take a note of it right after we’ve finished the fight so I don’t forget.

Will I ever get to the point where I will feel that I permanently crossed the gap into exceptional?  I’d be disappointed if I did, because then I likely wouldn’t recognize that it’s still something I should strive for every day.

What do you feel defines exceptional?


20 responses to “Defining Exceptional

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  1. You and I need to record a podcast on this topic!

  2. An inttiguing question. I certainly agree with you that there’s a difference still between really great and exceptional, although it stands to reason how important you personally want to weigh such small a difference. from a pragmatic pov it’s probably more important a label to the individual, rather than being a make or break thing in terms of being recruited.

    Personally, my idea of the exceptional (player) is generally different from yours. to me, exceptional lies where you cannot really go anymore by conscious effort, nor personal ambition (not to mix up with excellence); exceptional lies in sheer talent, qualities you cannot learn, read up on or push – but that special ‘something’ that sets genius apart from the hard working. art is a good example; many artists are hard working and relentlessly practising, the exceptional artists though are those who do it all and also have that virtuosic instinct and easy approach on top of everything else. a grace that nobody quite understands and nobody can reproduce. for gaming I’d name things like an extremely fast mind, incredible intuition, a sort of uncanny instinct to understand complexities and work around them. and all of it achieved with little effort. the sort of players who master everything with relative ease, be it a class, pve/pvp or raid leading. there’s nothing they cannot do better than the rest if they choose to. I had a room mate like that once: no matter what game he touched or what competition he entered, he was there to win it. needless to say he was a huge frustration to many who should have by all means beaten him in experience.

    exceptional potential can also be found among the lazy, of course – and that’s usually much harder to tell, if at all. those however, who combine their natural talents with some hard work and drive are the ones that rise above all greatness and excellence, for me. that’s not to say that ambition, hard work and passion cannot get you very far (and certainly far enough for most).

    in any case and interesting topic. 🙂

    • Perhaps you are right. Perhaps it’s something that you can’t “learn” or work to be better at, and you have to have a natural inclination towards it for it to happen. But I’m not entirely sure that I agree with that 100%. Even geniuses have something else they can learn! Even the best can be better. Monet’s first painting certainly isn’t the best of his collection – his most stunning work came after years of study and practice 🙂

  3. Excellence is a comparative judgement. It’s when someone’s performance goes impressively beyond your expectations. When you see it, you just say “wow”. Yet, the same performance can be seen by one person as excellent, by another as average and by a third as sub-standard. It has everything to do with how expectations mesh with observations.

    Much of what you list in your post, Beru, are the mechanics of how one might go about impressing players, including oneself, who are used to raiding at a high level, who take things like well-timed cooldowns, pots and thoughtful stat distributions for granted. That says a lot about how you raid. Yet, if someone’s applying to a guild in the hopes of being considered as an exceptional player, the applicant needs a firm conception of how that guild plays, what they take for granted and the dimensions along which they are liable to be impressed. Those are not objective criteria.

    • I would agree that it’s comparative. In fact, I even state that in my post! That it will be different things for different people.

      I do think that it means different things for different people, but I also know what it means for me. And what I can speak on is how I meet the parameters of my definition 🙂

  4. I now feel very unexceptional! I fail on so many of those listed items. (Beserking? Really? OK, I’ll try . . .)

    Some days I wish I still had a blog — I could post my personal justification for having my haste at a fairly bizarre number. I like it like that!

    And I did an experiment on Monday, and let Harmony go hang. WoL says I dropped from the high 80s down to the low 60s on % uptime.
    Yes, my throughput was ever so slightly lower. But nobody died on my watch apart from to unhealable stupid. And I felt sooooo much more in control of my positioning and general mechanics handling. And it was just MOAR fun. I SAW the encounters.

    TBH, I think with the content my guild is doing right now, I don’t need to min/max for throughput. It’s more about folks doing the right thing at the right time.

    The problem as I see it with asking people to self-identify as exceptional, is that there is a gender thing that happens where guys often think that they are exceptional, and girls rarely do. And neither belief has much to do with grounded evidence.

    • Don’t feel unexceptional! It certainly isn’t my intent to make you feel so!

      Admittedly, this is a very one sided view on the topic. It’s me looking at things for those who want to step into my level of play, which isn’t fun for everyone, nor is it a goal for everyone. I don’t expect everyone to value the same things or find the same things exceptional. In fact, I’d be surprised if they did! It really was more a look at my thoughts on it, which are just that my thoughts. I recognize, and respect, that everyone else may have differing takes on the topic, and I think that’s perfectly fine! This kind of micro scrutiny of the meta game of your individual performance isn’t for everyone, and I would wager that many folks would find it more tedious than they did fun! Which is OK too!

      Lastly, I miss an absolutely ordinary priest. I, for one, would love to see a return! 🙂

  5. This is a really great post Beru. In my own efforts to be exceptional, I look at most of the things you’ve listed when evaluating myself. Use of Healthstones and potions is one of the areas I could definitely improve on.

    When I look at other people whose classes I may not be so familiar with the things I look for are not so concrete. One of my biggest things is damage avoidance. I love people who never stand in fires (which is why it’s so humiliating when I do it myself). I like when people do things that are noticable and show quick thinking – the dps warrior who equips a shield and taunts the boss when the tank drops at 5%, the hunter who pulls adds off healers, the healer who always seems to save someone with a quick cooldown. I like when people show a deep and thorough understanding of their class and take the time to research and understand every change so they’re as prepared as possible for the next raid.

    There are some people who make me think “Wow, I hope this person never misses a raid” because they make everything just a little bit smoother. It’s hard to qualify exactly why sometimes. I hope people feel this way about me too.

    • Lord, healthstones. I should go back up an edit my list of “things I need to improve” because that one should absolutely be on there. At least I can say I click the damn lightwell! That’s a small saving grace, right? RIGHT?!?!

      I will tell you that one of the things we look at when we review parses is always how much damage they took from the bad. A mistake here or there, no problem. Constant errors or deaths from mechanics is an indicator of potential situational awareness problems and something that has to be addressed with the applicant.

      I think every guild has those people that make things smoother. People they hope never miss a raid. 🙂

  6. Great post Beru. I wondered how you went about tracking the ICD of Nature’s Grace?

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  10. That’s not an exceptional applicant…that’s an exceptional RAIDER. Your only looking at ONE aspect of the game. If the applicant was asking for entry into your normal raiding party, I would agree with all of the above that you said. However, the applicant was asking for entry into a guild…and that makes the question of exceptional; at least to me, different than the answer you have given.

    An exceptional guild applicant might include is the person a team player?
    Where and what has the applicant done with his professions or has he/she left them at 100 and has never chosen anything that may benefit the guild?
    Is the applicant open to helping other guidlies or does he/she have the every man for himself attitude while benefitting from guild run raids and benefits?

    • Well, yes, it’s for an exceptional raider. Which is the small sphere in which I would be looking at someone looking to join our progression raid team. While we enjoy the social aspect of our guild and have a very healthy friends and family contingency, when someone is applying to join us, we are looking at them under the microscope of how they would perform with our raid team.

      Different guilds with differing goals and objectives would (and should!) likely place empahsis on different things, and subsequently different things would cause them to stand out as exceptional in that environment.

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