I was thinking about the upcoming LFR, and ilvl requirements, and listening to some feedback from guildmates who have run LFR, and I made the following statement in the email thread that we spam with theoretically blog-related discussion:
I can meet the minimum performance requirements for LFR with a freshly levelled 85 in quest gear – why is there no method for me to prove that and circumvent the 5-man gearing treadmill that I so hate?
What’s so bad about Item Level?
Ilvl suffers the same problems that Gearscore suffered in Wrath – it is a non deterministic indicator of performance. Blizzard even went to far as to make an April Fools Joke about it (since removed). Because you can be carried to gear, you can achieve a very high ilvl without actually being good at the game. For proof, I direct you to the endless cries about bad pugs in LFD. Ilvl indicates time investment far more than it indicates any minimum level of performance.
This ties in to the idea that World of Warcraft does not inherently offer any form of feedback mechanism to help someone get better at playing. Without external tools it is nearly impossible to analyze a DPS rotation and determine the optimal way to play. If you are, hypothetically, interested in your own performance but not aware of Elitist Jerks, you can spend hours practicing at a training dummy and generate no useful information about your own performance. All you see is some numbers without context – it’s impossible to evaluate the marginal effects of haste, or crit, or mastery, or rotation changes.
Further, the ilvl system can be gamed. A lot of us did it to get into 5-man heroics a little bit earlier – we bought cloth rep rewards, or spirit plate, and continued wearing our ilvl277 gear having gotten a high enough “fake” ilvl to get into the launch heroics. You can do it now, given enough gold – simply buy high ilvl BoEs for all the slots you can, or crafted gear – whether or not you can wear it. Instant ilvl. And ilvl doesn’t take into account gems or enchants at all – which is a fairly significant portion of the actual contribution gear makes to a character.
I can circumvent ilvl with gold. Or I can “earn” it with time investment, which is no indicator of skill or performance. But I have no in game way to prove that I’m good enough to skip it. By the time I gear up a character enough to participate in LFR, I won’t just be in a position to contribute, I’ll be in a position to carry.
Gearscore, by whatever name you call it, is a silly gating system. It leads to some people just jumping through hoops to ignore it, it actively discourages people like me from participating in the systems in gates. I’m a good player, and an experienced raid leader – I would be an asset to LFD and LFR, if I was encouraged to participate, but as it stands I am discouraged from doing so.
The gear based gating system creates a Blue-endorsed perception that gear is an appropriate proxy for performance, and I would agree that this statement is true… but only for the top 1% of the player base, at most, and you can’t decide who the top 1% is based on their gear level. In-game performance checks and feedback as gating makes for a much better system, if gating is required. Ilvl, at best, defines maximum performance potential – and it’s somewhat rare to find people reliably approaching that potential. It is a very weak proxy for performance – it’s time to let it die.
A Different Sort of Gating System
I propose this: set up solo “scenarios” in 5.0. If you pass it, then you qualify for LFD. If you don’t, gear up some more, and try again. Give us a performance-based metric for qualifying, rather than a grind-based metric. Anyone can step up and overgear it – with relevant gear only. It’s solo, so you can’t be carried – you progress at the rate of your skill.
A system like this allows the designers to offer some actual feedback to players. You’re either succeeding or failing at your task. If you’re failing, the game can offer you some tips or feedback. You can even add a few mobs to act like party members – the tech already exists from the Ursoc Quest in Grizzly Hills.
Why would I prefer a system like this? Obviously it benefits me, I can circumvent some of the grind, because I expect to be able to pass any check relatively early. It benefits LFD and LFR as a whole, in my opinion, by guaranteeing a performance threshold from the people participating. By actually creating a system that offers a gate to the content which is relevant to succeeding at the content, it encourages players to consider their own performance – something the game is sorely lacking right now.
I don’t see a way to actually fix the ilvl system as it stands. I do see the potential for a quest-line based solo-instance type of gating system to offer real and tangible benefits to the game and the community playing the game. In the end, in any group-based content, it’s the results that matter, and the results are made up of individual performances. Exceptional individual performance can carry poor individual performance, and that’s fine – but the end result of a system that forces you to prove that you can not stand in some fire and put out some minimum level of output is that everyone’s experience is better.
In all fairness, since I started out with a reference to our email thread, I should point out that my co-bloggers don’t strictly agree with me here. Clearly they’re not as lazy as I am. I personally see the current system as a disincentive for players like me to participate in LFD or LFR, because I can more easily leverage my guild, skill, and reputation on server to join GDKP runs for the gear, or zone into the instances manually and skip the whole system. Perhaps I am alone in this, but I feel like I would be an asset to the system, if I was encouraged to be a part of the system, rather than encouraged to skip it completely. I’m not asking for a free pass – I’m just asking for a system that lets me put my money where my mouth is.