It’s an inevitable fact of guild life — and, indeed, life in general. We gravitate towards those people with whom we feel the most comfortable, often because we share common interests or experiences.
An inherently social game, WoW actually encourages the formation of cliques by rewarding us for forming 5-player teams from level 12 on. As content becomes more challenging, we are increasingly motivated to group with people we know and trust; after all, Razorfen Kraul was relatively painless to PuG. Heroic Old Kingdom … not so much.
My guild’s first negative experience with cliques occurred in our early Karazhan days, when we were attempting to organize our diverse roster into two 10-man groups — a significant challenge in and of itself, given that we had members in all four hemispheres! It wasn’t an issue when we were a mere leveling guild; in fact, it worked to our advantage, since there was almost always someone online to talk to or ask for help with that group quest you could almost but not quite solo. However, when we finally entered the endgame, we had to make some serious compromises to accommodate timezones that ranged from five hours behind Server Time to 13 hours ahead.
I posted a poll on the guild forum to collect information about our members’ availability, input it into an Excel spreadsheet, and spent a thoroughly exhausting four hours in a Vent meeting with my co-guild leaders: planning the future of the guild, drafting loot rules and building two raid rosters that were as balanced as they could be while still taking everyone’s schedules and personal preferences into account.
In spite of these efforts, a perception soon emerged within the guild that there was an “A-Team” and a “B-Team.” In hindsight, this was most likely because all three of the guild’s leaders were on the so-called A-Team. This was 100% the result of our individual school and work schedules, which favored weekend raids — but no matter how many times we explained this, it was still seen as symptomatic of an “officer’s clique.”
Meanwhile, at the core of the B-Team was a group of friends who had played together in the past under different tags and built relationships that transcended WoW. Most had exchanged phone numbers, and a few knew each other in real life. They were already perceived as a social clique by many; once they were formally organized into a Karazhan team — one they perceived as being the lesser of the two — their loyalty to each other increased in inverse proportion to their resentment for guild’s officers. As a result, the B-Team became increasingly standoffish and often shunned guildmembers they considered “outsiders.”
Things came to a head the week Zul’Aman was patched into the game, when my (former) co-lead attempted to organize a single ZA group consisting of the strongest members of both Karazhan teams. He felt (rightly, in my opinion) that neither team alone would make significant headway into the new instance. It wasn’t so much matter of skill or gear at that point as it was of class composition: in those days, at our level of progression, Zul’Aman required two MT-quality tanks and three healers, with a mage or druid for crowd control. Each of the two Kara groups were running with one tank, one off-tank, two healers and a shadow priest as primary CC.
In order to stand a chance at clearing ZA, it was clear to my co-lead that we would need to mix things up — and given that the A-Team/B-Team mentality was causing hard feelings all around, I personally felt that combining the teams to some extent would be good for guild morale.
The clique wouldn’t hear of it. Its members wanted to progress from Karazhan to ZA as a team, and some went so far as to refuse to join another group for any reason. After a long and emotionally fraught Vent meeting, the B-Team ended up leaving to create their own guild. (To their credit, they cleared Zul’Aman before we did — but not before making significant changes to their roster to accommodate the unique demands pre-nerf ZA placed on an entry-level raid.)
As for the rest of us? Burnt out on Zul’Aman before we even set foot (or hoof or paw, as they case may be…) in the instance, we turned our attention to Gruul’s Lair instead. With a major source of tension removed from the guild, we were able to recruit quickly — something we had been hard-pressed to do before the split, with the A-Team/B-Team dichotomy fostering negativity and resentment among our members.
What had once seemed like a guild-breaking schism turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we were able to reinvent ourselves, recommit to each other, and ultimately rebuild: stronger than we had been before, with a renewed sense of purpose and common vision. Shortly thereafter, we made the jump from a 10- to 25-man raiding guild … and enjoyed a small modicum of success in the process.
And as difficult as it was at the time, I learned a great deal about guild leading from this early experience.
First, I learned that cliques happen. Social cliques, heroic groups and even 10-man teams will form in a guild that is focused on 25-man raid content. Unless these cliques threaten the unity of the guild, they can be tolerated and in some cases even welcomed, because they can and do bring individual guild members closer together.
Second, I learned that there comes a point for some cliques when they cease to be benevolent and become poisonous instead. When a clique develops its own identity, separate from that of the guild, and the clique’s members identify with the clique first and the guild second, and place unreasonable demands upon the guild — even holding it hostage by refusing to participate in guild events unless the wishes of the clique are accommodated — then it needs to be confronted, perhaps even excised.
Finally, I learned that in extreme cases such as this, it can be necessary to sacrifice the guild’s short-term goals for its long term health. Parting ways with the so-called B-team may have set us back a few weeks in terms of raid progression, but it also allowed us to move forward with a stronger core than we had had before. We rebuilt the guild from a position of unity and confidence, and were the all the better for it. It took months for me to recover, personally, from what I felt was a failure on my part to keep the guild intact. But eventually, I came to realize that the guild split was the best thing that could have happened to us at the time. At the risk of sounding hopelessly melodramatic, it was a liberating epiphany.