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The Unsung Heroes of the RWF

This past raid tier, we have once again had the pleasure of watching the best players and guilds in the world compete for who will win the Race for World First (RWF). It was a long and arduous race this time, with the Sepulcher of the First Ones taking longer to clear than both Sanctum of Domination and Castle Nathria combined!

It was an exciting race up until the very end, with Echo ultimately claiming the World First kill on The Jailer after 274 pulls. While we all excitedly followed their final hour of progression that culminated in victory, and saw their players perform flawlessly to take the boss down once and for all, many people were cheering them on.

Tens of thousands of fans of the game, and even casual onlookers who don’t play the game at all, were impressed and inspired by the players performance, but those were not the only ones to enjoy the final pull and the nerd-screams as Echo brought down the Jailer.

Today, we’re going to talk about the “Unsung Heroes” of the RWF — the people behind-the-scenes who helped make the race as special as it was and contributed to all the guilds’ successes in ways you might not even know about!

We would like to extend our warmest appreciation to everyone who helped contribute to this article. Special thanks to Echo’s Daisy, Grim, Essk, Nnoggie, Justwait, SIN3STRA, and Preheet, and Bastu of SK Pieces for all their amazing insights and knowledge!

Table of Contents

The Unsung Heroes

Among the people who cheered in excitement over this massive achievement were those that worked tirelessly over the last few weeks to help and support the raiding players. Every RWF guild has an ever-expanding support staff that supplies the raiders with information, analysis, tools, and WeakAuras to perform at the level that they do. We saw hundreds of splits being organized for each guild, with thousands of volunteers that needed to be put into the right raid at the right time to supply the guilds with as much gear as possible.

Throughout the tier, the players that were benched on any given boss made sure to gear up as much as possible and helped wherever aid was needed, motivating their fellow raiders to new heights. Production at the venues for those who raided in a LAN-environment had to ensure that any technical issues that could keep people from playing were solved swiftly, while ensuring that they worked together with the on-screen talent to present us the Race to World First in the most enjoyable way possible.

Every part in this machine is crucial to the team's success, and while our eyes will usually be on the raiders that are killing the bosses, it is important to remember and highlight exactly how important these non-raid contributions are.

Splits, Splits and more Splits

We all were a bit dumbfounded when Mythic Week opened and, instead of seeing guilds rushing towards Mythic as quickly as possible, a different beast emerged that needed to be tackled first — doing a lot of splits. The combination of loot-trading restrictions on tier-sets and the fact that a bunch of the bosses were not available during Week 1 created a dire need for funneling gear to all the participating raiders. This was an impossible task to achieve all by themselves, and most guilds relied on external helpers to help funnel gear. We’ve already explored the gold-cost of these efforts and most guilds gave us concrete numbers on the cost of the RWF in Sepulcher.

While we know that thousands of volunteers helped guilds all across the globe to get the required gear to progress through the raid, these efforts needed to be organized and coordinated. This is no easy task and has often been described as a “logistical nightmare” by those who have spent hours and hours each day looking and editing spreadsheets, inviting volunteers, keeping track of who helped and traded the RWF raiders a piece of gear and a variety of other issues that come with trying to manage dozens or hundreds of people at a time.

Let us have a look at the different steps that were required in order for guilds to facilitate hundreds of splitraids in the span of a few weeks.

  • It all starts with figuring out which player needs which pieces of gear. Sims need to be run, bosses need to be analyzed in case of different gear-needs for different bosses, Great Vault options need to be considered etc.
  • Once guilds have figured out what gear and bosses are needed for each player, each individual Splitraid requires players from the guild itself to actually play the encounters. These need to be characters that do not need any loot from the boss itself, now or in the future, as they will be repeatedly running the encounter. The fewer “boosters” and the more trading-volunteers, the better.
  • Looking for volunteers to trade away loot is no easy task. Most guilds already started building a base of volunteers weeks before Sepulcher opened, and during the race it is the Social Media, Production and On-Screen workers that promote each guild's need for traders. Twitter, Discord and pop-ups on everybody's stream helped find willing participants. Some guilds boosted their own alts and socials just to generate additional traders for the next week.
  • Once enough volunteers are available, a split can happen! But when does it happen, who gets to go first, and can everybody actually trade the piece of gear that any individual run is made for? Special tools needed to be developed for this, including WeakAuras that checked whether a player was actually able to trade and not already locked to the boss.
  • With all the different incentives to join in on these runs, guilds needed to keep track of everybody who volunteered so they could be entered into the give-away raffles, be contacted again the next week if need be, or simply to make sure they are receiving the promised payment for their services.

With some guilds running close to 200 split-raids with thousands of volunteers and hundreds of millions of gold spent, organizations needed to plan perfectly. Human error could quickly ruin a lot of hard work, and scheduling 10-15 volunteers to be available during a specific time, often during the early hours on a weekday, was no easy feat. Most guilds opted to run two or even three splits at the same time to be as time-efficient as possible, provided there were enough volunteers available at the time. If one of the split-raids wiped on their kill, everything else had to be pushed back.

Automation was the key to making this as efficient as possible and reducing the possibilities for human error. Having a background in Software Development, Logistics, or simply knowing how to manage and coordinate Spreadsheets that were so big they started to lag was basically a requirement to manage and coordinate it all. The entire gearing process for the raid rested on the shoulders of a handful of people. Mistakes were costly and doing a better job in any of this would mean that your raiders have more time and more gear to progress.

Software Development and Analysis

While the raiders were busy progressing on an encounter or running splits, something else was going on in a different room: Analysts and Software/Tool Devs for the guilds went through logs, VoDs, and live footage to be able to give the raid leader and raiders any help they needed or requested. This quite literally happened in a room right next to the raiders for some of the on-site analysts, and others worked remotely but were in constant communication with the raiding team.

Each different step to this not only requires the understanding eye of an Analyst, but needs to be put into context by someone with extensive raiding experience. In order to communicate quickly, Screen-Sharing Tools are used that quickly allow people to swap from one Point of View (PoV) to another. Visual aids in-game are being developed whenever the need for them arises, and while some of these are prepped in advance they often have to be updated throughout progression. Having people outside the raid do these while your raid keeps pulling is by far the most time-efficient way to accomplish this goal.

Preparing a Strategy

It often starts with the PTR raid-testing or when the first Dungeon Journal entries and spell-data are revealed. WeakAuras are being created to warn players of specific mechanics, visual aids are being generated to guide players so they can focus on other things, and timers are being prepared. Once the PTR testing concludes, the spell and combat data gets checked, everything gets updated to the “real” values and VoDs of the raid are being analyzed to figure out how every mechanic actually works.

This is not nearly as simple as “stand in fire, take damage”. They can be very complex issues that are specific to an individual encounter or mechanic, with implications that affect the gameplay of the raiders: Can players get targeted by Wailing Arrows twice in Phase 1 of Sylvanas? Can these players then safely commit their defensives? Who gets knocked back in which direction on Remnant of Ner’zhul when casting a Mass dispel? Is it the center of the Mass Dispel that causes it, or a hidden value? Who are the people who need to get killed during the Among-Us phase? Is there a way to read the information the game sends to the players to speed up this process? Can you get the bombs twice in a row on the Jailer? How does that affect your CD timings?

Beyond how these interactions and mechanics affect individual players' behavior throughout the encounter, it can also have wider implications on entire strategies. Figuring out that a Gateway can be used to safely jump over the spikes on Painsmith helped shape a killing strategy. Other times it is knowledge gained from PTR testing that can help gain hours of progression time over competitors who missed a minor detail. Kel’Thuzad was one such case, where some guilds quickly figured out that the boss would stop casting abilities below a certain HP threshold, which allowed guilds to commit cooldowns and wait for them to recharge before moving onto the next stage of the encounter.

There is also the occasional stroke of luck, as we have seen with what happened on the Jailer this tier. The fact that Mirrors of Torment, the Mage Venthyr ability, worked to allow for a much shorter Phase 4, was not intentional in any way, and it took quite a while for people to figure out what exactly caused this behavior and how to reproduce it. This is not at all uncommon, however, as there are often mechanics that behave differently than expected, and it takes a keen and trained eye to figure out the why and how of it. This knowledge can be critical to overtaking the competition.

Analyzing and Understanding Mechanics

Figuring out these intricacies requires a lot of raiding experience, great awareness, and having a Software Development background helps as well. Whenever a new mechanic is designed, a human person does it. If a boss ability is supposed to work a certain way, someone at Blizzard will have to implement it. Knowing how to approach this kind of task due to your own Software Dev background can be key to figuring out the exact specifics of any given ability and developing strategies or counterplay for them.

Beyond this approach that borders on Reverse Engineering, understanding the way Blizzard has designed mechanics in the past is of big help as well. Some abilities only target melee if there are not enough ranged players available, like on Aggramar in Antorus the Burning Throne. Some will always target the furthest player, allowing the rest of the raid to stack up and benefit more from area healing effects.

Testing for these things needs to be done efficiently without wasting too much progression time. As the raiders want to pull as quickly as possible to gain a lot of information, outside Analysts are required to disseminate all the initial information and feed it back to the raid when a pattern emerges that can be played around. It is the Analysts that look at logs and VoDs of both their own pulls and that of others to figure out small details that can be the key to victory, and often small room for improvement is found during a pull that is already ongoing. This cuts down the break-times between pulls significantly, and time is always of the essence.

With the time-zone differences between regions, and the different resets and release times, Analysts are also needed because they look at what other guilds are doing while the main-raid team has finished raiding and is sleeping. The information gained from this needs to be compiled so the Analysts and the Raidlead can discuss whether any changes in approach to a boss are necessary, or make minor adjustments to their own strategy based on what was seen from others. EU and China can also already gain combat-data to update timers and WeakAuras to the correct retail-values before their reset even happens, by accessing that information on the NA servers.

Coding it into Action

While the Analysts do all the work to gain this information, it needs to be put to good use. Timers for bosses need to be updated and reflect whatever information they are supposed to provide. WeakAuras need to be updated to show correct values that might’ve been different to the initially set up versions. New WeakAuras need to be coded for any mechanic that was previously untestable, especially in a tier with this many untested bosses or Mythic-only mechanics. Individual players constantly want new things that would help them focus on higher priority issues, so they forward any coding needs to the outside team that is responsible for it. Where some guilds need to take a break for a few minutes to get these things sorted out, Analysts and Devs for the RWF guilds prepare all of it while the raiders are raiding.

On top of that, any other kind of software that is being used might have issues at times, whether it is the Screen-Share not working correctly, FPS-drops or lag during gameplay, or other technical issues. It is often people from the guilds dev-team or production that help with these problems, as their professional background allows them to troubleshoot and find solutions a lot faster than conventional support-options.

Most guilds also have someone help develop their own proprietary software for any needs that are specific to their guild. Nnoggie, for example, recently publicized a project he spent months working on for this progress: A Website that allows Echo to not only look at any players VoD, but also directly link it to Warcraftlogs and jump around in PoVs without having to find the correct timestamp manually anymore. This allowed them to speed up the VoD review process significantly, and resulted in a lot of saved time. Needing 10-15 seconds to find a specific moment in a VoD you want to share and talk about may not seem like much, but over the course of hundreds of pulls and dozens of breaks it adds up very quickly.

With Analysts and Developers taking care of all these things, the amount of time and sanity saved for raiders and the raid leader is invaluable. The extra help allows them to focus on what is going on in-front of them and can rely on people that have the experience both inside and outside the game to provide faster, more accurate information and solutions to problems than the raiders themselves ever could.

It is not uncommon for Analysts or Dev positions in these guilds to be held by ex-raiders that already had a Comp-Sci or Dev background, as any “consumer-friendly” solution to a problem would otherwise require a liaison between raiders and devs. When someone who has themselves raided at a high level for years is prepping a Weakaura, they already know what the best visualization for it would be. Explaining something you saw on another guilds VoD can be difficult, but with a high-end raiding and raidlead background it is much easier to explain things concisely and highlight the actual in-game benefits and changes necessary to make it work.

Everything that helps save time by outsourcing it to outside help is a boon to the progression efforts. As most encounters these days need near perfect play to be beat, regardless of which guild is fighting the boss, it is all about figuring out working strategies and developing tools to make the raiders lives easier while being faster than the competition. Improving this process is the key to improving from one-tier to the next, and finding the right people for the job can potentially be harder than recruiting new raiders inside the game.

Producing the RWF

We all enjoy the highlights of a guild killing a boss, the banter between on-screen talent, the information provided by individual raiders or analysts during the live-coverage, or a funny meme. The RWF has always been a community-driven event, and Sepulcher of the First Ones has seen a lot of different guilds provide awesome live-coverage throughout the entirety of the race with hundreds of people working on it. Tens of thousands of people watched in amazement as guilds took down some of the hardest bosses the game has ever seen, and this kind of exposure helps the guilds individually as well.

Compared to many other competitive gaming-events, production of the RWF is often in the hands of passionate people who have played the game themselves for many years. Having a raiding background is just as important as knowing how to be an operator, and every production crew is heavily invested and tied to the team they work for so when a boss finally falls after hundreds of pulls the casters and the people in the production room are screaming just as loud as the players. Getting to see the joy of killing a boss or getting a specific item in a split is only possible because experienced and passionate people know exactly what to show us, and when. Doing so is incredibly difficult, more so than for most other competitive events, as the game has no dedicated spectator mode. Giving everybody the best possible PoV and direction for whatever is currently happening is much harder when you are limited to what each individual raider is seeing.

Providing a great on-screen experience for viewers was more important than ever this tier, as most guilds needed to leverage their Social Media reach and live-streams as much as they possibly could to advertise for splits. This has always been the case, of course, but with how many more splits were required to gear up this time around it was vital to not just use gold and giveaways to entice people to volunteer.

Too often it seems like the RWF raiders are playing a different game entirely, and it is production that allows us to connect to players and teams by switching to their cameras and providing entertaining content. The organizational nightmares the RWF guilds and raiders have to struggle with are not something the regular player can relate to, but we all share the same passion for the game and enjoy the raids and bosses. Without the casters and production crew, we would not be able to see any of this, let alone develop fandoms for individual players or orgs. The better of a job they do, the more people will volunteer to help when help is needed, and the more exposure can be generated for sponsorships that allow players to focus entirely on competing in the race.

The guilds and organizations didn’t just use this exposure for their own good either. On top of leveraging their viewer-count to help with splits and gear-trading, all of them partnered up with charitable organizations once again to raise tens of thousands of dollars for them. These donation drives have already been very successful in the past, and quite a few casters as well as raiders had their legs or eyebrows shaved or taste buds burned during this RWF to keep viewers engaged and help raise money for great causes.

It is the casters on screen that help us through the boredom of having to go through dozens of splits. They are the ones that help us understand mechanics and boss fights, as their extensive raiding knowledge helps them talk about what we see live on stream without having to refer back to analysts or wait for additional information. Of course there will always be moments where someone closer to the raiding team will step in and provide specific information, but it is the casters own experience and understanding of the game that shapes the quality of the shoutcasting.

With all the technical know-how that is required to set up and produce events of this scale, the production crew often serves as the tech-support for the LAN events we had this time around as well. Finding the right venue can be quite hard when you need to be able to capture and stream the PC of over a dozen people, and even multi-million dollar productions have to deal with technical issues on the regular. A technical issue in the RWF means you suddenly have a significant disadvantage compared to other guilds, as everybody else happily continues raiding. Troubleshooting and fixing and connectivity issues, lag or FPS drops or power outages means the raiders can focus on actually raiding.

This also puts some additional emphasis on LAN events in general and how they benefit their raiders and analysts alike. Not having to worry about food or laundry is a big time saver, and being able to talk to each other while enjoying your dinner is additional time you can spend on analyzing a fight or discussing progress-related topics. There is no need to wait for someone to react to a whisper or DM, as you can just tip on someone's shoulder if you desperately need help with something. Everybody makes mistakes and it is not uncommon for people to fall into a negative spiral, but with your fellow raiders all around you it is easy to help each other stay positive and keep morale high.

There is a downside to all of this however, as not everybody is comfortable with big events like this. We have seen people travel back home as being comfortable while raiding is of the highest priority, and while some prefer the comfort of their own home with their family, partners or their pets, the players who are present at the live-event have a lot of support staff that helps them perform their best as well.

Thanks to the Unsung Heroes

Without the hard work of all of these amazing people, and many more who were not mentioned in this article, the RWF would not be what it is today and we would not be able to enjoy the RWF the way we do. We would be watching streams from players without any casting. We would be missing great plays and not have awesome awesome talent to explain encounters or hype up a new kill for us. We would be bored out of our minds during splits, and connecting to players and orgs would be much more difficult. We would have toxic chats without moderators.

We would be seeing many more breaks as raiders would have to constantly analyze logs, VoDs and create new addons or WeakAuras by themselves. Instead of farming gear in Mythic+ or progressing in the raid, hours upon hours would be spent on planning and organizing splits. Recruitment of raiders would be limited to people who can fix WeakAuras or technical issues by themselves, and out of a 16 hour day we would see much less progression than we did this tier — and Sepulcher already made us wait long enough!

All of us benefit from the work of the people who are part of these events and organizations, but when we look at the people who killed a boss, we only see 20 raiders and what classes they played. Thanks to all the wonderful and talented people who contribute in small or large ways to making the RWF an amazing event that draws in huge viewerships from all across the globe, and that lets us share our passion for the game together. No matter our differences, we all love the RWF!


About the Author

Seliathan has been playing Rogue for over half his life, since the initial release of WoW over 16 years ago. After a long career of Raid Leading, Theorycrafting, and pushing Mythic+, Seliathan enjoys creating all kinds of PvE content on Twitch, co-hosting the Tricks of the Trade Rogue podcast, contributing to the Raider.IO RWF Coverage, and writing guides for Icy Veins.