So let's say you have a guild. Some of the people are good friends, you've known them for a long time. You know what they do in their lives, you know a little of their family life. You know about their pets! They raid with you, quest with you, arena with you.

Then there are other people who have been in the guild for a long time, but never make the list of people you think of when you want to explore new stuff. They don't particularly care about knocking over challenges, but are glad to come along to raid or pvp as long as their real-life connection is going to be there. These people are the other half of a "package deal". They have played enough to get to the max level, and they do like the sight of zomg epics. Who doesn't? So they volunteer to come with you, whether it's for your new arena team, or your raid. Some of these people evolve into actual gamers, people who get good at their role in a group, who understand the game and what they can do in it, and who socialize with the others. The others become SPHOs: sub-performing hangers-on. (Pronounced how it looks, rhymes with show.)
If you're in a friendly guild, you almost certainly have some of these. The guildmaster's boyfriend/girlfriend. An officer's uncle. The guy who works a few cubicles over from one of your core healers. It's like the tax that comes from being in a friendly guild with players who accumulate good karma. That karma gets spent quietly over time.

A SPHO's core skills are being friendly and trying hard. Their ties usually don't extend too far beyond the RL-tie that brought them to this guild, but sometimes they're fully vested members who are good at everything except the game you're all playing together.

In terms of playing the game effectively, you can think of people in your guild who are 50% to 100% more effective than they are, and not because they have better gear. SPHOs raid or pvp frequently enough to have great gear. There's simply a problem between chair and keyboard that prevents this amazing toon with great gear from dominating their chosen role the way you'd expect.

A small selection of SPHOs:

  • The healing priest who only uses flash heal.
  • The rogue who never has slice and dice up.
  • The hunter who can't break the habit of using multishot to break CC at the wrong time.
  • The warlock who insists on fearing in every encounter, no matter how close the next group is to you.

These players have no idea how hard the people around them are working to cover their playstyle. They take full credit for everything that happens in their presence, because hey, they were there and pushing buttons too. You'll never be able to explain that if they are one healer out of three, they shouldn't be doing 8% of the healing while doing no damage. If they're a damage-dealer, they'll cheer that they got a huge crit, but won't notice that they do less than half the total damage of the next person over. If you swap them out for a random person, you're likely to have the same or better success. They don't understand that.

SPHOs make group leading difficult because the leader always has to watch what that person is doing. While a SPHO will never learn the game, they can obey simple instructions like "stand behind this boss when in melee" or "gank the healer first". And those frequent reminders have to be gentle, because they're friends with someone who make take it personally.

SPHOs make group management difficult because the easiest reason to turn someone away is because they're not geared enough. But what happens when they are geared enough, and they just don't play well? It's difficult to have the conversation whose theme is "you can't come because we'll die more and find less success less with you than with someone else." Because you are, in essence, telling your friend in the guild to solve the problem, and most of the time, that person does not want to.

World of Warcraft isn't serious business. But it is a team activity. And just like you shouldn't invite an unathletic, uncoordinated person to play halfback on your soccer team, you shouldn't invite someone who isn't good at the game to your groups without clearly explaining why they are there: namely, that they're filling an otherwise empty spot and are liable to be replaced. Sometimes you just need someone who can fog a mirror or else the group doesn't move, that's fine. But you have to set expectations accordingly. Otherwise, you're giving birth to a SPHO who is going to feel like they got in once and contributed, so they'll get in again. And again. And once that SPHO is in, it's really hard to get them out without a conversation whose subject is: "It's not that we don't like you, it's that you suck at this game and when you're around we lose more often than what we consider normal."

Or, you can just resign yourself to groups with less success. That works too. Honestly, that's what my guild does. I just dream about the alternative every now and then.

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