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I've been pondering something quite a bit lately and I figured I should brain dump it here to get it out of my head.
I've been thinking about the whole casual/hard core raider branding thing that's been around for pretty much the entirety of the game. In short, I really hate it and think it's time for it to die.
Long ago there used to be some relevance to the distinction. Farming materials for consumables and making money for repairs was a pain. Making consumables and getting the best enchants was prohibitive. Flasks used to take around 50 herbs, you had to go deep into Scholomance or BWL to even make them, there were no daily quests, many of the good recipes were random drops off of raid bosses. So ya, back when MC and BWL were the end game, raiding competitively was damn near a full time job. Pretty much all those time sinks were eliminated by BC though, so really that distinction of the time required to devote to progression raiding has been dead for years.
Raiding has been where I put all my energy in this game pretty much since the day my warlock hit 60 back before dinosaurs roamed the earth. I've always considered myself a casual raider though. I've got a job, a wife, and two young children. I don't have time to raid 20+ hours a week and spend the same amount of time farming to cover consumables and repair bills, which was what hard core raiding took in the early days. My current guild, that I've been a part of since it started over two years ago, was formed as a casual raiding guild.
Recently though, our status changed. We're considered a hard core raiding guild now. We've managed to accomplish some pretty decent progression and gotten some server first achievements. So what changed about how we play? Nothing. Bupkus. Zilch. I don't play anymore now than I did when we were considered casual raiders (in fact I play less now. I blame Dragon Age).
So what did change? Here's my thoughts: 1) Easy server transfers and cross-faction transfers. 2) Normal and Heroic mode encounters. 3) The current badge system and the new LFG system.
The first is the biggest in my opinion. It increases the pool of places to find people to raid with exponentially. If you put the word out in all the recruitment forums and what not with your guild's schedule and mission statement, it's way easier to find like minded players than it used to be. By being able to recruit off server and cross faction easily it was much easier to get a group of people together who wanted to focus on hard modes and progression and could do it on the schedule we wanted.
Normal and Heroic mode encounters have made a big difference on two fronts. On one front, normal modes are far more accessible, they're not going to crush the souls of people new to raiding and discourage them from keeping at it. On a second, and somewhat similar front, transitioning from Normal to Heroic encounters has reduced running into road block bosses. Players can get the feel of some parts of an encounter in Normal mode before doing Heroic, so there's a lot less of face planting into the keyboard in frustration and causing people to run and hide when it's new boss time.
The current badge system and the new LFG tool help a lot too, because it's a lot easier to gear up a new toon now. Without it a new player hitting 80 today would have very little hope of ever seeing all of Icecrown Citadel, but with it they can. It's also easier for players to gear up alts, so if they get fed up with their primary class, switching isn't an unreasonable thing to do.
So anyway, why do I hate the whole casual v hard core thing and think it should die? Because it has no relevance anymore and has become a stereotype rivalry that's simply bozotic. The general trend of these stereotypes is that hard core players think casual players suck and need content spoon fed to them and casual players think hard core people are elitist jerks and have no life outside of wow and spend hours upon hours focused on nothing but this game. The reality is neither stereotype is true. Some of the most skilled players I've met in this game came from what would be considered casual guilds, and some of the most friendly and helpful people I've ever met in game came from guilds that were considered hard core.