A decade of herding derps has finally paid off

I generally avoid posting about overly personal stuff here, mostly because I know you don’t care, and also because for the most part I view SynCaine the blogger as a different entity than the person behind the screen name. That said today will be a little departure from that. Hope you don’t mind.

For most of my real life career I’ve envisioned myself more as someone who works hands-on vs being a manager. In my field (Corporate IT) I like seeing a project progress and seeing the parts I’m personally involved with contribute to a larger goal, whether I’m a small cog or a key player. I didn’t believe I’d enjoying managing because I’d lose that personal connection to things getting done, to having personal ownership of something successful.

At the same time, since high school, I’ve always been a leader in online gaming. I’ve always run a guild in games that allowed it and I was into, and I’ve always been interested in the social along with the gameplay in online games. I did the whole hardcore raiding thing as an officer in an MMO, guild leadership in PvP MMOs, and now for the last 4-5 years I’ve run Supreme Cream! across multiple mobile games. The level of success has varied from title to title, but few if any attempts at the social side have been outright failures (unable to form a guild, have a guild implode shortly after formation), and I’ll take at least some credit in that success to managing those groups correctly.

It was only very recently, when I accepted a new and far more senior position in my career, that I’ve come to realize I do enjoy management in the real world. The sense of ownership and success/failure related to it is still there, only now its just at a higher level. It’s not about solving one issue, but about making sure that we successfully solve all issues that arise in similar fashion, and that we learn and improve as we go. I’m finding it more rewarding, and that has been a pleasant surprise.

Perhaps the most surprising thing however is that my experience in managing online groups in the gaming world is helping me in my career today. The biggest thing is managing expectations I have for others. Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but I’m a successful individual, one that is able to figure out solutions fairly quickly and, generally, my gut reactions to things tend to be correct (that said, one of the harder skills I’ve had to learn is to not run straight ahead with said gut reactions, but to still ensure the decision is actually the right one). But not everyone, or even 99% of people, are like that. Which doesn’t automatically mean they are wrong or ‘bad workers’, but that different approaches work for different people. And since I can’t clone myself, being successful in management means understanding how to get the most out of the people you have. That’s been true in gaming, and I now realize it’s just as true in real life.

In gaming I’ve been successful in group management because I’ve been active in managing the roster. If someone is toxic, you remove them before the toxin spreads. Being proactive in that is important, because if you wait or give them too many chances, they cause damage. At the same time, you can’t just kick anyone you feel is underperforming, as you will likely end up with a tiny or non-existent roster. Some of the best members have been slow starters, for any number of reasons. Being able to identify who has potential, having the patience to see it through, and having the skill to get them up to the level they should be at; all of that took a lot of time/learning on my end. Hell, I’m still learning, and likely always will.

Another important aspect of running a successful group is setting the right culture and expectations. If you are a bleeding-edge raid guild, you have different expectations than a more casual mobile game group. But at the same time, you want whatever group you are leading to always improve, to grow, and to keep people engaged/entertained. If you fail any of those, you risk not just losing people, but most likely losing the most important/dedicated people. When a raiding guild isn’t making progress because of leadership, the first people to go won’t be the bottom rung who are just happy to be there, it will be the most dedicated members putting in the most effort to succeed. Soon as you start losing those people, you death spiral fast.

Managing in the real world is somewhat different, but not really. Sure, you can’t just /kick someone as easily as you can online, but the same general rules about toxic individuals vs slow starters applies. It sounds like a joke, but I swear that years of dealing with derps online in mobile gaming has sharpened me in dealing with individuals in the real world, both in a higher level of patience, and in my ability to identify and deal with them.

Maybe more importantly, being able to tap into an individual in a way that makes them successful is critical, and their success is its own gratifying reward. I’ve been doing that online for more than a decade, and all of that experience is now paying off. It sounds almost insane, but it’s true.

Now I’m not saying to list your guild leadership experience on your resume, or to suggest that all good leaders online are also good leaders in the real world. What I am saying is that for me personally, the experience of managing online gaming groups has translated to a real world skillset, one that is very useful and highly desired. That was never the goal, or an expected result, but it does put a very nice cherry on top of all the enjoyment I’ve had over the years leading those groups.


About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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11 Responses to A decade of herding derps has finally paid off

  1. Mikrakov says:

    Conversely my one stint at a leadership role in my semi-hardcore WoW guild made me realize that I never, ever want to be a manager!

    • Polynices says:

      Yeah, what he said. Online gaming in groups definitely showed me what I shouldn’t try IRL.

      • SynCaine says:

        I was in that boat until recently, so you never know.

        The big change for me, both in gaming and in the real world, was the ability to separate a true toxic derp from just someone who wasn’t top-tier, or was capable but had some quirk you had to accept and deal with. Also knowing how to personally deal with and react to said quirks was pretty big. The nice thing is I was able to learn and refine that online, where if I mistakenly snap on someone or kick a decent person, it matters far less overall than if I had to make those mistakes at a job.

  2. Polynices says:

    That’s great to hear. Not everyone is suited to that sort of thing. Nice that you’re able to transfer the game skills to the real world.

  3. bodaster says:

    This is a pretty cool story. I would have expected a much lower re-usability of in-game skills in real life. The best takeaway from this, that you pointed out is that every person is different and being different does not necessarily mean worse. This is something that needs a certain age to accept and understand.

    • SynCaine says:

      I think it depends on the industry you work in, but within IT I can easily align the things my team does into ‘daily tasks’ and ‘epic quests’. Where I’d assign the ‘officer’ of a guild to the higher profile stuff, and let the ‘newbies’ handle the ‘fetch quests’ to build up their skills. I basically have a dashboard that might as well be a DPS meter and a DKP board. And every team, online or in the real world, always has that one guy standing in the fire…

  4. bhagpuss says:

    Weirdly, after going decades without really meeting anyone in the workplace who would self-identify as a gamer, I now have a manager who spends most of her free time fragging people in shooters and whose idea of a perfect birthday was a visit to an all-you-can play retro-arcade gaming day. And she’s one of the better managers I’ve had in my many years of being managed, too.

    I think the days when referring to your interest in video gaming at a job interview would be seen as career suicide are, if not in the past, at least on the wane. There’s a good deal of research available on how some of these skills are transferable and more importantly there are now people in management (and as you demonstrate, also senior management) positions who know it from personal experience.

    I hope and trust my days of submitting CVs are over but if I ever do have to do another I will certainly not shy away from including the fact that I play and, especially, blog about MMOs. Blogging is another transferable skill with potential value to an employer, after all.

    Also, grats on your promotion!

    • SynCaine says:

      Post was getting long so I left this out, but its funny that its socially acceptable to put something like being the president of a frat or captain of a sports team on your resume, but not a guild leader. As you say, that will change over time, but we aren’t there just yet.

  5. Asmiroth says:

    Excellent post. Congrats on the move too. I’ve had guild leader on my resume for a while now – right next to sports coach.

    I will contrast this to a group-based sports coach a bit. Similar in many regards, including the coordination, teaching, and delegation. There’s the financial, legal, and real HR experience too. Plus most interactions are face to face, requiring some solid people skills – in particular in diffusion of hot blood.

    Still, the largest difference I see is in one regard – you know the people will eventually move on. The mindset of most guild leaders I’ve found was about keeping skilled people around. The absolute best leaders are those that identify talent and see where that talent can best grow for themselves, and for the larger whole.

    Everyone knows what a sports coach does. Few people understand what a guild leader does. Folks in their 30s have a decent chance of getting that concept, but older than that doesn’t click. Explaining how a guild leader is like a great manager is pretty much what Syn posted above and could be bullet notes for an interview.

  6. Nogamara says:

    Hehe, although I fully support the notion, I’m in the opposite team – the same problems in guilds translate to the workplace. I guess I’m too lenient, too much of the buddy type and not able to really kick people’s butts. I saw that in the guilds where I had officer positions (although it mostly worked) and I saw that when managing a team (it also mostly worked, but the already known problems surfaced and caused stress for myself).
    So now I’m happily not managing anyone again.

  7. PMalo says:

    Glad to hear this, hope you do well in your job :) . As a former officer in a wow guild and a manager in real life, I know the experience translates!

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