Back in November, 2006, when I first started playing World of Warcraft, if you told me I would be the Guild Leader of a fairly robust friends-and-family guild that would be celebrating 5 years of existence, I would have looked at you strangely and wondered what you were smoking. Yet, here we are: five years to the day where I begged, borrowed and stole 10 signatures to start my own “Great Experiment.”
Sojourner almost never was. Back at the end of Wrath, the officers of my old guild had quietly decided that they were not going to run 25-man content in Cataclysm. It was a decision I felt was wrong: that a lot of folks had gotten our guild far, progression-wise, and it was poor form to reward their loyalty by telling ten of them they were no longer going to be on the team, and five of them they were going to be nothing but bench warmers. There were other concerns I had with that guild at the time, but at that point it was more of a realization that maybe either the guild outgrew me, or I outgrew the guild. I left them in early July.
I had actually contemplated changing servers. Old friends were no longer playing, and I really had nothing keeping me on Kargath. A fresh start seemed fairly compelling. Yet, neither cross-realm nor LFR had existed then and I still wanted to enjoy the group gameplay of raiding. I spent a few weeks thinking through both options, either finding a reason to stay or confirming a reason to go. In those weeks, I deeply analyzed what was a guild. Why do we have guilds? And what could I offer with my guild that isn’t something eleventy billion other guilds don’t already offer. I thought back on my own experiences in past guilds, and all the stories of the “golden years” of those guilds (that I seemed to always have the misfortune of missing out on) and tried to quantify where those guilds went right, and where they went wrong.
Finally, I came upon the formula. The “best” times that had been recollected, were times from Vanilla: where guilds were designed to facilitate cooperation between players, where players had each other’s backs. The “failures” could be boiled down to officer cliques and a lack of respect for the contributions each guildie makes to their guild. By this point, I had committed to staying, and seeing if it was even possible to make the kind of guild that was slowly taking shape in my mind.
I decided this guild I was thinking of forming was going to go retro. I was going to build it as if it had been formed in Vanilla. It would be founded on the same principle of do well by doing good (otherwise known as “enlightened self-interest”) that prompted early guilds to form back when World of Warcraft first launched. I would obliterate the officer clique by refusing social chat in /o. I would establish fair and transparent policies: no obfuscating requirements, no moving of the cheese, so folks knew exactly what was needed to participate in group-oriented content. I would set up ranks based on contributions and activity to the guild, not choice of preferred content. And as a final touch, because I knew Cataclysm was going to destroy 10 man casual raid guilds, I was going to purposefully choose to raid friends-and-family and focus on finding folks who needed the participation bandwidth a more “casual” raiding environment could offer.
Now that I had the plan, I had to come up with a name. I didn’t want anything self-referential, goofy or pretentious. I was at a loss for anything inspiring or clever (though, ironically, I seem to come up with guild names by the boatload these days). Eventually, I came across a word that resonated with me: sojourn. The word sojourn means “a temporary stay” and yes, a part of this is, indeed an acknowledgement that nothing lasts forever. But part of the core I wanted to impart the idea that the guild will not shackle people by guilt or obligation; hopefully mitigating the “drama” so often caused when people’s in-game goals don’t perfectly align with the direction of the guild. I knew my guild would be weird, and people’s needs would change. We needed to be flexible to the needs of players who enjoyed our community but wanted to seek fulfillment of more demanding content elsewhere. Thus, Sojourner is both my acknowledgement and my promise that folks are free to stay, or leave, as their gaming needs require – truly, being a sojourner – a “traveler” who chooses to journey together on our journeys through Azeroth.
I took my idea to folks I trusted and 10 of them signed the charter, either committing rooms, are hastily-rolled alts to the cause. Sojourner was born July 30,2010. Not all who signed stayed, but a few did, and I gave them a special rank: Founder. These were the ones who had my back as I engaged on something I truly had no idea would succeed or fail. I was flying in the face of convention. I was counter-programming against the expectations of what a raiding guild should be, and bucking the trend of making yet-another-ubiquitous-progression-raiding-guild. It was just as likely that my “Great Experiment” would have been nothing more than a novelty, and I completely misjudged the need for access to content in a more leisurely manner.
And yet…folks joined, and not just joined, but stayed. We put our first raid team together in late September, and got pretty far into ICC before Cataclysm hit. We were later able to field a team going into the first tier of Cataclysm. We hit a few bumps and setbacks, but Providence provided and we were able to find wonderful, new people who re-energized the team. We hit Firelands, and Dragon Soul hard — killing both Ragnaros and Deathwing before the end of the expansion. We even survived the transition to Mists…albeit with some bumps and bruises along the way, yet always fresh, eager, new faces to replace those who felt they outgrew the guild, or who no longer wished to devote time to the game.
And here we are. 5 years later and we are still going strong. This is still the same, odd little guild I thought up all those years ago. I am delighted that we have never compromised on our core values and our mission statement of doing good by doing well. We now have, maybe, 100 accounts, and some 700 characters. Even on our lowest days, we have more people joining us on raid nights. We even have the nascent efforts for pvp. We have, since inception, one of the most active end-of expac guilds (not to mention raid teams) on the server. I have had several high-end progression raiders amazed we still field an active roster when most progression guilds are comatose, and there is respect for the commitment our team has. I like to think, my personal conceit, that it is because we appreciate people, and what each individual contributes to the guild, whether they are raiding, pvping, playing alts or even running around in circles in their garrisons, and that perhaps inspires people to keep logging in and keeping busy or joining us each Tuesday and Thursday as we work together to kill digital bad guys.
5 years is a long time for a guild. Longer still for a guild that doesn’t play by the rules. Yet, we wouldn’t have even gotten past year one without you. There isn’t a day that goes by where I am not appreciative of everyone who logs on. Whether or not I mention it, I notice when each of you logs: your achievements and your accomplishments. It thrills me to see you enjoying the game on your terms. I even notice those who are gone, the ones who left the guild, or left the game — even the ones who left on not-so-great terms. I lament for what might have been, and am grateful for their contributions while they were with us.
There may come a day that I log on, and there is no one but me rattling around the empty /guild. And maybe then I will finally server transfer. But every day I log in, and see you enjoying yourselves (or grousing about Blizzard’s latest egregious sin) I am glad I stayed.
Thank you all for being Sojourner.