How World of Warcraft prepared me for facilitating online

Rita ChiuRita Chiu has over ten years’ experience as a learning designer across the VET, corporate and government sectors. But guess what? She also has ten years’ experience as a gamer. And it’s through gaming that she developed her online facilitation skills – skills that are crucial to her current role and associated flexible working arrangements.

Since 2004 I have been playing World of Warcraft

I have played since it first came out when it initially only had five player dungeons (an instance where you can play privately). If you’re new to the game you might be surprised by this! The game soon evolved to 40 player raids (a large private instance), then ten players raids which had to be organised prior to even joining the adventure. The ultimate goal of World of Warcraft (WoW) for player vs environment (PvE) (ie when you compete against the game) is to down the final boss (enemy) and to see the cut scene, as there is a strong narrative that you engage with throughout the game (for example the end scene for Mists of Pandaria). For player vs player (PvP) (ie when you combat other players) the goal is to be the best in the arena battles.

In the beginning guilds were where players congregated and helped each other out, and it was important that five players balanced out the class requirements (characters and their skills) in order to complete ‘runs’ or dungeons (quests). It was also fun to play with a group of friends where the ‘run’ could be completed through typing short instructions or hosting LAN (local area network) parties. Communication was key when you had bad gear and players of varying skills. Ultimately it was all about team work and surviving boss (enemy) attacks, and with a group of five people communicating via Skype we could give directions quite quickly.

The World of Warcraft learning curve

World of Warcrafters quickly learn about typing quickly, when running to avoid boss attacks (ie enemy attacks) using emotes (different actions). We also learned – early on – the importance of internet speed and how to time attacks or instructions when dealing with delays. In the beginning period of WoW, the quests were like riddles that you needed to solve and the quest item could be hidden in an obscure place. As a player you also quickly learned about the importance of the WoW wiki to:

  • support your game play
  • work out how to build your character
  • balance out your game play style and gear through your selected in game skill specialisation
  • find professions to support your class (characters with different skills and weapons)
  • figure out where to farm resources
  • determine areas for levelling up
  • find maps for dungeons.

The introduction of 40 men raids

The first two 40 men raids were Molten Core and Onyxia’s Lair. With the need to gather 40 people online at the same time, guilds or partnerships between guilds became essential. This meant networking online and proving one’s worth during five player ‘runs’ (adventures), where your skill and item level is on display. Guilds were merged to form larger guilds and guild management and hierarchy became important, as well as better communication tools during raids.

During the day-to-day management of the guild, guild chats and officer chats were important. To maintain and build guild relationships guild forums were used. The purpose of the forums was to:

  • communicate information to guild members
  • record participation points which would allow players to roll for gear dropped
  • provide a chat service as well as links to videos and recruitment information.

During the raids (attacks) we used Ventrilo, where we can talk as a group of 40 people or break up into teams of five. This depended on the needs of the raid. Sometimes we needed to work in small groups of five as part of a raid and manage our section of the boss. We utilised the chat function in WoW to give direction to the group of 40 and Ventrilo for the mini groups. This was important because we were trying to dodge fire balls, earth quakes, falling shards or random minions attacking our healers. We needed to communicate as each player had his or her own, unique view of what was happening in the raid.

What is it like for raid leaders (online facilitators)?

As an online facilitator you need to take into account different internet speeds. Participants with fast internet speeds will be able to have Ventrilo or Skype running while playing WoW. Other players with slower internet connections will only be able to have WoW running. Internet connection speeds will determine how you communicate – you will need one person to give direction on Ventrilo and one person typing the instructions in raid chat.

As to giving instructions to defeat a boss it is important to use several different methods to communicate to your raid members as everyone learns differently. Some members can follow after listening to instructions, others will need markers and physical demonstrations. When it comes to getting raid members to act out the fighting sequence, you will need to have one person typing out the instructions for people to follow, while others will need to see the fight in action. You might provide a youtube link for a particular role, for example, such as healer or DPS (Damage per Second – Attacker).

What happens when you fail? When things don’t quite go to plan, the raid leaders (usually you have a main leader with several officers supporting the raid) will reflect on the situation with the team. Weaknesses are analysed and suggestions made about ways to improve the fight next time. After retrying the same strategy several times the raid leader may propose a new strategy. The other supporting officers are there to raise morale and to discuss any concerns with raid members. Sometimes people give up after a couple of ‘Wipes’ (when the boss kills all 40 players), so officers will need to recruit additional players. There are also situations when players become abusive – after conversing with them you may find that you need to remove them from your raid.

There are times when all 40 players are not ready for a certain boss. In this situation we might we might go and ‘down’ another boss to ‘gear –up’ in an effort to raise morale. From there we can work on something as a group, such as helping each other improve our gear, and reflect on where we went wrong before we try again next week.

So what have I learned?

World of Warcraft has helped me to develop a range of skills that I now apply to my working life as a learning designer. Honestly – it’s not just an excuse to spend my free time gaming! You may already have thought of some of them, or even have your own to add to the list:

  • Using multiple avenues when communicating with other participants (players) – links, wikis, images, online demonstrations, practical experience and so on.
  • The importance of activities (raids) that both stretch our skills and capability and those that are achievable, in order to build confidence and team cohesion.
  • The impact of technology on learning and group work, as well as planning and implementation of activities (raids).
  • The importance of clear, calm verbal commands to reinforce information and instructions. This is a good technique for running raids and online classes with 40+ learners.
  • Managing disruptive behaviour This may occur during an online session, via forums, or outside of the institution on social networking sites.
  • Networking and forming partnerships. I have made a lot of friends and even professional contacts through World of Warcraft.
  • Project management: planning, risk assessment, resourcing and managing resources, lessons learned and so on.
  • Typing at the speed of light, especially when the boss is shooting out beams of light while minions are after you and there is FIRE ON THE GROUND!

Sound like a typical day in the office?

We would love to know your thoughts on all of this.