Pugs vs. Guild Groups

My rant about tanking the other week generated a surprising number of responses from fellow bloggers such as Yeebo or Bhagpuss. (I guess complaining about those gosh-darn irresponsible damage dealers is one of those golden oldies when it comes to blogging topics.) One thing that kind of amused me about Telwyn's response was that he assumed that I was complaining about pugs when my beef in this particular case had in fact been with guildies. Pugs just have such a bad reputation that they get blamed for all ills! I still enjoy pugging though, even if I've been doing most of my recent runs in full guild groups. Both styles of grouping have their own unique appeals really.

To start off, I do want to say that I can fully understand why pugging can be stressful - in my experience this is usually the case when you feel you don't have any choice but to pug, e.g. because you "have to" do a piece of group content to progress the story and have no friends or guild to help you through it. This is not how I'm experiencing pugging in SWTOR though - I always have options and know the content well; so opting into a pug run is pretty much always a conscious choice.

As Bhagpuss helped me pinpoint in a comment to a previous post about pugs, they are simply an enjoyable way of people watching. I've never been a huge fan of reality TV, but I do understand its appeal, and pugging works in a similar way, only in a slightly less mundane environment and with more interactivity. This isn't to say that I don't want my pug runs to be successful, but ultimately my primary motivation is to be entertained, and groups behaving in weird and interesting ways can be immensely entertaining even if they aren't actually very good at playing the game.

Pugging is also a great way of connecting with the wider server community. I know people like to say that things like server community aren't really a thing anymore these days, and I acknowledge that features like mega servers and automated group finders have made it harder to get a clear picture of a server's larger social structures, but they do still exist and you can absolutely still make connections if you try. I thought it was interesting that while levelling Nautalie the Shadow purely through flashpoint pugs, I met several people with whom I could have easily struck up a friendship if I had been "looking for love" so to speak and one particular pug hero even offered me a guild invite. I wasn't looking because I already have enough people to worry about in my life right now, but there is still something about testing the wider waters every so often that I find deeply satisfying.

Going fishing in the wider pool of players is also a great way of learning new tactics for content. Sure, guildies can teach each other new tricks too, but if everyone just ran with the same group of people all the time, they'd rarely learn anything new. Observing how other players handle certain trash pulls or boss fights in random groups is a major factor in spreading and sharing knowledge, and I always enjoy seeing people come up with strange new ways of avoiding to kill trash mobs (even if I often disapprove and don't necessarily strive to emulate those particular "tricks").

Finally, another thing I like about pugs is that the stakes often feel lower to me than in guild groups. This goes back to what I said at the beginning about having choices. It's a common refrain that automated group finders result in people not caring about their groups, and while I do think that's generally a bad thing and would never encourage anyone to treat their pug mates badly or to drop group at the drop of a hat, there is something to be said for not feeling pressured to stay in a bad situation with strangers. Guildies may well be more forgiving of mistakes, but you'll still have to deal with the memory of a bad run the next time you log in, because you will see all those people again.

Or to use a less dramatic-sounding example: I am not great at playing damage dealers, which in guild groups often makes me feel a bit bad because so many of my guildies are extremely good at it and I feel like I'm dragging the rest of them down when I play dps myself. I actually kind of prefer to take those characters into pug runs as there's less of an expectation there that you'll put out great numbers - nobody is likely to know or care as long as you manage to kill the boss.

Of course, the pug run's major weakness most of the time is the lack of unity of purpose. Sure, sometimes you'll get a group that just so happens to gel very well, but that's serendipity and definitely not the norm. This is where groups of friends or guildies shine as they'll usually be clear from the beginning about what the goal is, whether it's a quick random run for the daily reward or teaching a new player the ropes.

That aside though, premade groups are often as much about the people as anything else - which is funny actually, considering that I said the primary purpose of pugs is people watching for me, so I guess the social aspect wins out either way. In a group of friends it's more about spending time with people you like though, with the instance run mostly just providing a context for hanging out.

Ultimately the point is that they both have their place in the way I play, even if I may favour one over the other at particular times. It just comes down to what I'm looking for at the time.


  1. If it's likely to involve a session of more than about 20 minutes, for the most part I only group with people I know. I have a weekly fixed group with my sister and her hubby that live far away. We keep in touch while murdering monsters and following the long convoluted central story of LoTRO.

    I don't feel like I know the instances well enough to PuG in SWToR. A good half of the flashpoints I've still never set foot in. I also completely suck at jumping in the game, so the convoluted tactics you describe to try and avoid groups of mobs would frustrate both me and anyone forced to group with me. I do really enjoy Star Fighter though.

  2. "Pugging is also a great way of connecting with the wider server community. I know people like to say that things like server community aren't really a thing anymore these days, and I acknowledge that features like mega servers and automated group finders have made it harder to get a clear picture of a server's larger social structures, but they do still exist and you can absolutely still make connections if you try."

    You know, I think that's one of the things I enjoy about pugging in both SWTOR and WoW Classic: the individual server population is such that you get to know people, particularly if you're playing in off hours to the server time. WoW Classic does have the additional edge in that without an LFG automated queue your in-game behavior does matter. If you act like a jerk, you're likely not going to be invited back to a run with people. (That being said, there are times of day when having an automated queue would help in getting into a particular instance on some days.)

    The most soul crushing pugs aren't the ones where I perform poorly, but rather those where nobody says a thing. Sure, there are guild pugs that I get into where I know they're chatting in Discord, but they never say a word in party chat. But then there are just regular pugs where nobody wants to lighten up at all, and it's all a machine where they're here to mark off a specific quest and that's that. I hate those pugs with a vengeance.

    1. Yep, Classic is definitely a very different beast with its lack of group finder tool. Like you say, it does really help with community building though. It's interesting that you still get some groups with what I would call "more modern sensibilities" anyway, that just want to quietly breeze through from beginning to end and never talk again.

    2. Weirdly enough, I did PUG a lot the last time I was playing WoW, but only in retail. I think it comes down to the "20 minute rule" I have. Very few dungeons in retail take more than 20 or 30 minutes, and you get whisked away to them without so much as having to hit up a mission board once a day.

  3. I was always big on pugging, lately, I haven't done it at all - dailies have become much better for cq, story is being loved throughout my characters, and most fps/ops have been done in guild groups and with as much fun and as little pressure as possible.
    That said, last week I pugged in a 16 man DP SM. I didn't have the achievement, and jumped into the opportunity... And then was asked to switch for heals. Fine. They tried sleeping EVERYTHING until Bestia. The tank got "locked" outside because soemone pulled before he arrived and then stuff woke up. We had the other heals and the tank outside of Bestia, complete chaos, and yet, we made it... Until someone ran out and into the trash. Fun times.
    You might think this would've been stressful, but it ended up being a one-shot-everything run with a couple peculiar situations (Like, I couldn't take the portal back out of the 2nd healing challenge... And the boss resetting on us in Calpheyas, fun times). Still, having run EC 16M with 12 people (also healing) just two days prior to that made me notice I was doing "a lot more effort" than you'd expect.
    And, of course, GroupFinder helps you figure out a lot of things about general server population - those who like playing FPs, or Warzones, those who are always up to fill in an OP or those who just want to chitchat on fleet. You get familiar with certain names/naming patterns and it does make you know what to expect when getting into an instance... Or not! hahah

    1. OMG, trying to sleep all the trash in DP sounds like an absolute recipe for disaster, considering that you need to run past most of those pulls repeatedly - that's hilarious! Mind you, if certain of my guildies were to read this, I bet they'd make a note to try this very same thing on our next social night...

      I ran my first pug flashpoint in ages yesterday (having queued on one of my dps characters, in line with what I said in this post), and got into a group with an absolutely hideous-looking character called "Uranusishuge". I was just like: "Oh pugs, how I've missed you."

  4. Once I again I find myself mostly nodding in agreement.

    Back when my guild was alive the guild groups were a little different though than you described, because there wasn't really so much "pull max dps, go as fast as possible", but it was more of a clown show with hilarious wipes because of (sometimes) the hilarious pulling speed. It was indeed more "spending time with friends while farming badges or whatever".

    In the last years I seem to have a little antisocial and am I kinda happy I don't have to chat with strangers during the run, but that's 90% because I simply don't like 5(4)man content as much and am really only doing it for the rewards.

    1. Well, my guild groups aren't exactly all about max dps and going as fast as possible either, and we are definitely able to have a laugh about wipes too. But I think it's fair to say that there seem to be two different schools of thought about what makes for the most fun in such a run... one savours the sheer degree of skill and teamwork, how everyone knows that the tank will pull just so and the dps will take care of that - all without anyone needing to say it - making things incredibly smooth. The other thinks that too smooth is boring, and that - having grown way past the basic requirements of the flashpoint - we should instead revel in the freedom to try new and silly things, even if it leads to deaths and wipes. I tend to lean more towards the former. :P


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