SAR: A Case of Skill

My column on PvP wasn’t very well received. I guess that’s the risk you take speaking out against the main play style of your whole audience. Unlike a lot of people conjectured, though, I hadn’t recently died in PvP. I’m not much of a raider either, actually. So, as someone who walks that middle ground between both (see the comments of that article), I thought it’d be fun to take a look at the “skill” needed to succeed in each.

Case #1: The Raider (Prime)

A new raid dungeon has just been released and Tony is ready to roll. His guild, The Lovely Roses, wants a world first and that means getting in as soon as it’s ready. No one has seen this dungeon before; there are no strategy guides or YouTube videos.

They go in. Trash goes pretty well, no wipes to speak of. Then they get to their first boss, Spider Queen Syeric. Syeric doesn’t play around and quickly throws out debuffs that, if not cured, will wipe the whole raid. Thankfully, everyone afflicted glows with a dark purple aura. The raid responds but, as soon as they do, acid begins spewing from the floor in a seemingly random pattern. They wipe, return, and this time make it past the acid. The mob turns red, so they stop damage. As soon as they do, the tanks explode. The raid wipes.

The pattern continues for the next six hours. Tony’s guild misses the world first, just minutes behind their Australian nemesis, Marigold Inc.

Skill Required: As you can see, this guild went in knowing nothing and responded to visual cues recognized from past experience. Even still, the boss pulled new tricks and was able to wipe the raid multiple times. Through trial and error, they were able to learn the pattern and persevere. Reaction time and visual recognition were of the utmost importance in this case.

Not this kind of raider... well, maybe.

Case #2: The Raider (Standard)

The new raid has been out for a little over two weeks and Jonesie is also ready to roll. He, along with the rest of his guild, has spent a good chunk of time reviewing the entire dungeon on Tankspot’s tutorial section. He even joined up with a PuG last week to see it for himself, but they didn’t get very far. Despite his diligence, the entire raid team is required to be on Ventrilo for the duration of the run.

They reach the first boss with little trouble. As they enter the main chamber, the raider leader stops them and reviews each phase of the fight. No one asks any questions but, in private tells, several discuss how there was too much for them to memorize. The raid begins. For each maneuver the boss makes, the raid leader counters with explicit instructions for his team. The group stumbles multiple times and the raid is called for the night.

They return the next night, however, and down the boss on their second attempt to a round of resounding cheers and loot rolls. The pattern repeats on each boss to come.

Skill Required: The skill sets required in both cases are largely the same. Each group is required to recognize and respond to visual and auditory cues lest they wipe the raid. The difference, however, is that previous experience is possible for every member before the fight. Failing that, database and strategy sites reveal every possible intricacy. Adding to that, the raid leader provides visual cues to compensate for any failures in memorization and response. Though trial and error, recognition, and response are still required, the pivotal element of surprise is removed. The skill difference between the Prime and Standard raiders is dramatically altered as a result.

Case #3: The PvPer (Standard)

Jim has been a PvPer for as long as he can remember. He’s played his favorite MMO for 3 years and never entered a raid dungeon. He’s quested, of course, and even done a 6-man or two, but he’s still most likely to be found in a battleground or arena.

Today is such a day. As a hybrid class, Jim fills multiple roles and must constantly be vigilant of his enemies actions and strategy. A paladin approaches his base and he moves to counter. The paladin raises his arms and a white glow begins – BUBBLE! – Jim moves to interrupt and quickly responds with a snare. A warlock approaches over the hill and raises his hands in front of him. Knowing that he’s about to be hit with a massive damage spell, he applies a heal-over-time to himself and manages to survive. Knowing the warlock will quickly teleport away, he gives himself a speed buff and moves to intercept. Behind him, the paladin frees himself from the snare and is surrounded by a red glow. Knowing that the paladin is attempting to use a snare of his own, he quickly moves behind a tree and out of line-of-sight. With a small swell of noise the warlock begins channeling his teleport. Jim quickly interrupts with a damage spell. A silence and death-hammer later, the warlock is dead and Jim is free to finish off the paladin.

Skill Required: Much like the raider, the PvPer must respond to visual and auditory stimuli. The PvPer must also use the environment to his advantage. Reaction time is of the utmost importance, lest the enemy be even a fraction of a second quicker. The only relevant timers are those on cast time. To succeed, the PvP player must master not only his class, but also have a mastery of those of his enemies.


In an argument of skill, case study two can be wholly thrown out. In comparison to their un-prepared counterpart, the standard raider begins with the boon of preparation. Though none should argue that there is no skill involved in traditional, database-era raiding, it can’t be argued that they don’t start out at a significant advantage when entering the dungeon. The main difficulties involve gear, reaction time, and player organization.

The the true question, then, is whether prime raiding compares to daily PvP. It’s a hard question. The two playstyles require much of the same skill set. Each player must master their class and be able to respond to visual and auditory cues in a timely and efficient manner. They must also be able to learn from their mistakes and apply those lessons immediately thereafter.

Verdict: In the end, my decision lies with the PvPer. I’ve settled on this path for a couple of key reasons.

First has to do with the visual cues. In a raid, these cues are clearly designed with the purpose of indicating a suggested action to the player. In PvP, this simply isn’t the case. PvP animations are based, quite simply, on what looks good while questing. Since PvP actions are the same used in daily adventure, the art team’s interest lie in making them look nice and not telling the player how to respond.

The second reason is that raid encounters are static, whereas PvP is constantly variable. While none would argue that entering and succeeding in a new raid dungeon does indeed take great skill, the encounter does not change. Try and try again. In PvP, the player must know every skill in the arsenal of their enemy. They must respond to a real player trying to counter them in kind. The variability dramatically divides not only the raider from the great PvPer, but also the average PvPer from the great.

Succeeding in PvP consistently, far above the average player is, in my opinion, one of the most challenging things within the MMORPG genre. Renowned PvPers get there by skill alone and deserve the recognition their position garners.


One of the points I originally made and still stand by is that including both in your game divides the playerbase. Can anyone argue? Look at the WoW audience for your prime example. Raiders hate PvPers because of their copious amounts of noobsauce, and PvPers hate raiders because they’re carebears. This is the result of making each its own loot path. While my own thoughts on PvP are not as drastic as the previous article may have first made things seem, the derisiveness of such segregation is hard to deny.


  1. Awesome Factoid: Action/fast-paced PvP games promote better brain function.
    This clearly introduces the argument that PvE makes you dumber. HA! take that all you PvE lovers….. ((waits for Raim to chime in))

    I definitely vote for the PvP’er as the more skilled activity and i wish that PvP was the more popular of the two game types. I get why PvE dominates the market though.

    Raiding results in more success as you put in more time and master more encounters, PvP, at its best balancing, is designed for you to win 50% of the time. When choosing an activity that has a 50% chance to end in failure vs. an activity that has a nearly 100% chance of success, or will given enough time sunk, the reason for PvE being the game of the proletariat is pretty clear.

  2. I wholly support your argument that being a successful PvPer is much more difficult than being a successful Raider. Memorizing a scripted sequence is one thing. Knowing exactly how to counter over hundreds of different moves and combinations being thrown at you (while actively doing so), is another.


  1. [...] A Case of Skill – in which I piss off raiders everywhere… kind of on a roll with that, aren’t I? [...]

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