A couple of months ago over beer and Thai food, a fellow crafty friend of mine and I reminisced about a time when we both had time to play video games. Years ago, before kids, we both played World of Warcraft, the massively multi-player online role playing game with over 12 million players in world.
It’s been years since either of us had played, but we decided on a whim that we would both start brand new characters from scratch and began a well-intentioned but ill-fated plan to level them up together in dungeon runs after we each hit level 15 or so (of 110 levels).
After a couple evenings of tinkering with my shiny new Horde-side Paladin, I was reminded of one truth that I have discovered since I started playing all those years ago — in business and in Warcraft, I am the Tank. And everything you need to know about business, you can learn from World of Warcraft. Let me explain.
World of Warcraft (WoW) is exactly as it sounds. It’s an immersive and visually stunning virtual world made up of continents, regions, villages, towns, cities, and even capital cities. To the “Warcraft” point, not all regions are friendly and depending on which side you are on, they might be downright hostile. All players choose to play a side, either “Alliance” or “Horde” and then choose a race — for example humans, orcs, trolls, worgens, elves….you get the picture. All of that detail is kind of cosmetic in some ways because, as in real life, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it matters what you do and how. So the final decision in creating a character to play on WoW is choosing how you interact with the world.
There are a variety of ways the game designers have created for players to interact with the world. You can journey solo and never talk to a single real person in the game, but progress is slow and often a grind. Sometimes you have to complete dull, repetitive tasks and other times you have to defeat challenging enemies, all by your lonesome, all with the intention of getting to the next level. Going it alone can be a slow and gruelling process. As in the real world, the challenges that arise and enemies encountered are more easily conquered when working together with others.
A team in WoW might be composed of three, five, ten, 15 or even 25 players working together as a raid group to clear an instance (defeat one or more big bad bosses plus all the evil minions). To work together effectively as a team to vanquish the enemy, it doesn’t make sense for everyone to attack the bad guy in a random manner. There’s a pretty refined strategy that needs to happen and from my limited and basic understanding, this is how it works:
First, basically, there are three roles on a raid team. Tank, DPS (Damage Per Second), and Healer. On a team, there might be multiple healers or DPS, but very often there is just one Tank.
The Tank’s role is to draw fire (“pull”) from the enemy and allow herself to get attacked and wounded without getting killed. She’s the shield, absorbing all the hits and taking all the damage. By attracting all the focus and attention of the enemy’s fire, the DPS players are then able to return fire against the enemy without also getting attacked. Meanwhile, the ever-important Healer is working their magic to heal and restore the Tank during this entire process. Repeat ad nauseam until all the bad guys are killed, and the instance is cleared = success!
Everyone needs to perform their own role competently, constantly checking to see how others on the team are doing, otherwise the whole team will get killed by the enemy (“wipe”). The Tank must draw enough fire from the enemy mobs to keep the team moving forward through the instance. But, attract too much attention and the Tank will get overwhelmed with damage that might not be repaired fast enough to survive. If the Tank makes a bad decision and pulls too many mobs too soon, then the whole team wipes. If the DPS players don’t attack fast enough or effectively enough, then the whole team wipes. And if the Healer isn’t aware of the Tank’s need for healing or doesn’t act responsively enough, then the whole team wipes.
Every role is different, but every role is necessary. And each role depends on one another. We all need each other or the whole team dies. It’s that simple.
I have been enamoured with WoW for years now as a very casual player and barely get the opportunity or time to play these days, but this strategy has always stuck with me since the beginning. And as I grew my business, I repeated this mantra to myself in my head, “I am the Tank”.
It’s my role to do the research and recon, to learn the terrain ahead, to run forward towards the goal, to beat the drum and lead my team through the treacherous woods. I need to be strategic about my pace and timing so that we don’t grow too fast or too slow. And I can’t let external factors mislead or push me in the wrong direction. In order to be successful, I need people on my team that heal and mend us when we are wounded, that boost us when we are tired, and keep me fit and ready enough to pursue the next challenge. And of course, we could not ever make progress without our production team who make light work of everything I try to bring us. Finally, it’s also my role to know that my team can’t read my mind, know my pacing, or understand our path through the unknown, and so my responsibility is to communicate to them where we are at, how far we have come, and how much further we have to go.
This might seem like an unusual and, perhaps, goofy article, relating World of Warcraft raid strategy to the business of hand-dyed yarn, but that’s what is so delightful about this whole idea. Plus, I love a nerdy metaphor. Leading and collaborating with a group of people requires us to assemble into different, yet complementary roles. Only when we work together with empathy, attentiveness, and competency will the team keep moving forward successfully towards conquering the BHAG (aka big, hairy, audacious goal). &