A little over a year ago I wrote a series of posts about Blizzard combining the 10man and 25man formats into a single lockout with the same loot and other rewards. As I'm sure many of you guys remember, those posts generated a lot of comments. Some people agreed with me, most disagreed. In the end the nay sayers where predicting doom and gloom, while the 10man fans were predicting sunshine and rainbows.
For obvious reasons, it was impossible to say who was going to be right and who was going to be wrong, but here we are a year later with 6months of Cataclysm under our belt and the first tier of Cataclysm raiding nearing a close. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at my reaction and the reaction of some of my commenters and see what ended up happening.
Quick Disclaimer: I'm assuming that tensions over this issue (and the way I titled one of my posts) have calmed down quite a bit over the past year. I don't expect any of the drama that resulted last time. However, in an effort to prevent any issue I want to acknowledge one thing. Most of my "evidence" comes from personal experience or observations I've seen on the servers I've played. I do use some numbers from WoWProgress.com, but none of it is scientific.
The Concern: My first reaction was very negative. Most of my 10man experiences in WotLK were very positive. My groups were filled with 25man raiders so we overgeared the content, and we had a lot of funny joking around in a way that wasn't really possible in the 25man raid. After a little thought I still had my doubts, but I also saw some of the potential of the change. I could man a chance to raid an alt in a meaningful way or just sleep more once the allure of the 10man rewards was removed.
The Result: A year later and a year wiser, I must say my second reaction was much more correct then my first. When I wrote my first reaction post the best days of my 10man groups were behind me. My 10man group like my guild saw a lot of turn over and we had trouble building a group. We did eventually end up killing heroic Lich King, but that was only after a massive effort from a few dedicated players and was months after it should have happened. In the end, it was the people that made my 10man experience so great, and that couldn't last forever.
The second reality is that I don't have much of an interest in maintaining that type of schedule anymore. To do the 10mans, I was staying up to one or two in the morning several nights a week. On the other nights it wasn't unusual for me to stay up late leveling an alt, crafting for my AH businesses, or doing some other activity. I didn't sleep a whole lot and it had an impact on my life in the game and in my normal life. There are still nights where I stay up very late playing the game, but not having the 10man raid has removed the obligation to doing so. If I stay up late one night, it's likely that I will go to bed early the next. My play time is much more balanced now, and that is probably for the best.
Balancing: Can 10man Equal 25man?
The Concern: I and many other 25man supporters questioned if Blizzard could balance the 10man and 25man formats to be relatively equal. While the gear ilevel difference was the main balancing difference between the two formats in WotLK, it wasn't the only difference. Converting a 25man raid to a 10man or vice versa isn't a simple fix where you just have to adjust a bosses total health. Spread out mechanics favor smaller groups because they have more space to work with. It's unavoidable that Room design and boss abilities will have different levels of significance for different sized groups. Some mechanics will be easier for 10mans because they have more room to spread out or fewer targets to deal with. Other mechanics will be easier for 25mans because they have more people to fill the needed rolls and players are allowed to specialize their responsibilities more. Skeptics like me were unsure if Blizzard could counteract these inevitable balancing differences between the two formats.
The Result: With Tier 11 raiding, Blizzard did a pretty good job. I've done very few fights in the 10man format, but what I'm told by people who have raided in both formats is that the lead up bosses are fairly well balanced, but there are/were a few balancing issues with the end bosses. Nefarian and Cho'gall were much tougher in the 10man format and had their damage nerfed significantly in patch 4.1. On the other hand Al'Akir is significantly easier in the 10man format, and several 25man guilds have gone in and killed Al'Akir on 10man to get the kill and ranking just as some of us skeptics worried might happen.
All in all, I can't really expect Blizzard to do a better job then they did. This type of thing is never going to be perfect the first time. I'm also pleased that they errorred on the side of 10mans being to hard (though I don't know if this was by choice). The fact that 10mans were a bit harder on some of the end bosses may have prevented a mass exodus of progression guilds switching to the 10 format.
Destabilization of Guilds:
The Concern: Organizing 10 to 15 people is easier then organizing 25 to 35. There are a lot of tasks involved in running a guild/raid that just get harder with the addition of more people. It's more people you have to evaluate, it's more people you have manage, it's more whispers and PMs you have to respond to. The question was, why would a GM stick with the 25man format when they can get the same rewards from the 10man format with less work and few problems. Not only that, but a 25man GM could take his best 10-15 players and form a more successful 10man they they could have at the 25man level. It seems like a perfect situation for guilds to abandon the 25man format for the more accessible but similarly rewarding 10man format.
The Result: There has definitely been some movement away from 25mans to 10mans. In the past six months I've seen several 25man guilds reform as 10 man guilds due to recruiting and other issues. I've also seen very few new 25man guilds form, but I've seen many recruiting posts for newly formed 10man guilds.
That said the 25man format definitely isn't dead. Progression raiding still seems to favor the 25man format, while 10man seems to be favored by casual raiding. Looking at numbers from WoWProgress this division is clear. Of the top 100 guilds in the world only five are 10man guilds and of those only one is in the top fifty. The 25man format also has a much higher participation rate in the heroic modes then the 10man format. This is probably an indication that many of the historically successful progression guilds have stuck with the 25man format.
The question now is how is this going to change in the future. Is the 25man format still in decline or has has it stabilized? How many of the 25man guilds in WoWProgress are dead guilds that failed after a couple of months of raiding and won't be active in Firelands? It's going to be really interesting to see the progression numbers at the end of Tier 12 progression cycle. It's my guess that 25mans will still be the dominate format in progression raiding for a couple of progression cycles. However, it's quite possible that the 10man progression guilds needed the Tier 11 cycle to get organized and come out and take the T12 raids by storm and dominate the 25man format.