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South of Heaven: Reimagined

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As I start a new chapter in my life, as we begin a new year, and as South of Heaven approaches its fourteen-year anniversary in November, it’s a good time to reflect on our gaming community and extended family, talk about where we’ve been, and think about where we may be going.


Historical Context


While South of Heaven has always been a multi-game community, in our early years we had one leader and only one Chapter at a time.  When the group felt a game had run its course, we would turn the lights off, encourage everyone to come with, and begin anew in a new title. Back then, it made sense that Veteran eligibility was primarily based on your willingness to follow the guild from game to game.


It wasn’t until our brief but enjoyable Aion chapter that we first considered the possibility that a Chapter might exist without me. I burnt out more quickly than expected, and there was a group that wanted to remain.  So we invited a new rank, Chapter Lead, and Huntyre became our first - keeping the lights on in Aion, which would prove most fortuitous.


The guild's first truly multi-Chapter experience was prompted by the launch of Guildwars 2. I had always intended to lead the guild in that game myself.  But instead I was completely taken by the raid team we were assembling in WoW - a team that took years to build and remains one of my proudest achievements. Fortunately, the Aion Chapter brought us Fera. After a few long talks over coffee & tea, I decided to entrust her with the entirety of GW2, from start to finish. Her terrific success building that Chapter lead me to eventually share the title of Founder with her.


Since then, others have stepped up to lead. Dar has organized SoH in WoW long after the raiding Chapter closed. Tyrlis stewarded the GW2 Chapter toward its end, and also lead the EVE Chapter for its first year.  And none of us has been quite as successful as Midri, whose FF14 Chapter has the distinction of being the most enduring in the entire history of the guild (still strong, after four years)!


Things Have Changed


Through all this growth, we have always set high standards for our leadership.  We have also been very protective of the right to recruit, in order to preserve a uniform standard for membership and maintain our “brand.”  Over the years, many of you have kindly expressed your appreciation for the excellent organization, management and leadership that this guild provides.


However, one of the wonderful things about a community this long-lived is that we’re all growing old together! Careers and education have advanced. Weddings and babies have happened. All the things and more. As a “real life first” group, we of course embrace all of it. But as a result, each year there are fewer of us to lead, and we have less time to do it.


Additionally, I feel the MMO genre has somewhat stagnated. It has become harder to get excited about new launches, all of which appear to be variations on the same theme. It’s also become more challenging to manage the time and recruitment effort required to really excel.


Things Must Change More


I've come to believe that, if we insist on maintaining the same structure that served us so well in the past, we will surely fade away and die as a guild. Therefore, I called for a Leadership Retreat this past weekend.  Our objective was to re-think South of Heaven and design a new structure that would allow us to grow and thrive under these new conditions. For the remainder of this post, I will provide a rough outline. We will create official rules threads to explain it all in more detail, soon.


Introducing Cohorts


“Cohorts” will be a new form of Chapters, designed to be more flexible and more casual.


They require at least three Veterans to be present and playing the game, one of whom must come forward and volunteer to serve as Game Officer. The Game Officer’s primary responsibilities are: (1) to liaison between the folks playing the game and the guild’s Leadership Council (more on this later), and (2) to ensure that the overall experience for those playing the game is consistent with the high standards of the guild.


Specific liaison duties include: pitching an initial proposal for the Cohort, requesting communication services (Forum, Discord, Mumble channels), providing updates to the Council, seeking Council feedback as needed, and ensuring the Cohort is properly transitioned or closed if he or she can no longer serve this role.


A Cohort may exist in any kind of game; it needn’t be an MMO or even PC-based! There will be no minimum time commitment, and Cohorts will be eligible for “promotion” to Chapter status as they grow.


Lastly, Cohorts will be allowed to recruit. Recruitment will no longer be controlled exclusively by Chapter Leads, and will instead become the responsibility of Veterans.


Veterans, Magnified!


As I alluded earlier, the historical concept of Veteran was based on a guild with one leader and one Chapter.  We have long known this definition was obsolete, and the Senior Member title was our way of putting a bandaid on it. At last, we have properly gone back to the drawing board and redefined the rank entirely.


Moving forward, Veteran will be a merit-based title. Veterans will require at least six months in the guild, and they are expected to demonstrate exemplary character, conduct and loyalty.  Any member of the Leadership Council may nominate someone for Veteran promotion, and the Council alone will determine who may have the title.


Veterans will be allowed to sponsor any number of new recruits they wish, whenever they are playing in an active Cohort or Chapter.  Recruits become eligible for Member rank when they have: (1) played with an active Cohort or Chapter for at least one month, (2) demonstrated active communication with the guild outside of the game, and (3) received a second vote of confidence from any other Veteran in that Cohort or Chapter. Promotion polls will be eliminated.  Current Chapter Leads have the option to adopt the new system or grandfather the old one.


Anyone who is currently a Senior Member, Veteran or Ghost will be reviewed by the Council and considered for new Veteran status.  Due to the new criteria, we cannot promise that everyone will maintain their current title.  After the review is complete, the Senior Member and Ghost ranks will be eliminated.  Instead, we will move to a simplified system where Recruits & Members who have not shown a certain minimum activity on forums or in Discord will be periodically purged, and Veterans will maintain their status indefinitely.


The Council


Initially, the Leadership Council will be comprised of all former and current Chapter Leads. We think it is vital that members of the Council have experience organizing and leading the guild. Practically speaking, this also means that the Council will be comprised of folks who have demonstrated a commitment to and love for the guild that have been proven over many years.


The Council’s primary duties are to preserve the health of South of Heaven as an institution and promote our amazing community of gamers. We will oversee Veteran promotions, administer communications services, and serve as a sounding board, resource and moral compass for anyone who is willing to step up and lead.  The Council must also add new members over time, with a strong preference for those who have served as a Game Officer or Chapter Lead.


The Council, Chapter Leads and Game Officers will meet in Mumble at least twice a year, and additionally as needed.  Any Council member may convene a meeting at any time.


Guild Meets


One other area we identified for improvement was establishing guild-wide activities. Some of our members (shout out: Grieve) have already taken the lead in organizing regional, in-person meet-ups. We think that’s great, and we would love to see more of them.


In addition to encouraging meet-ups and general usage of our Discord and Forums, we want to start organizing online activities that will be open to the entire guild. The basic concept will be to pick a free game and invite everyone to hang out in Mumble for one night or even a weekend to play it together. Our goal is to work toward having these once a month.


Closing Thoughts


In summary, I’ve used a lot of words to talk about how things have changed, why we need to change, and how we have reimagined our guild to thrive under these new conditions. The core concepts really boil down to empowering Veterans and establishing a formal Council to steer the guild as a whole. We hope the new structure will encourage a new generation of leaders, keep our community engaged, and provide a path to grow our membership moving forward.


I’m personally excited to see what our Vets do with Cohorts - I suspect I’ll be surprised (even challenged) in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated.


Please share whatever thoughts, feedback or questions you may have.

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I still fondly remember the time I spent with the guild in Warhammer Online.  I picked up playing WoW again during Legion only to find that SoH had become relatively inactive.  Ashin, Dar, Tilluk, Proof, Devilspawn, Noesis, Biscuits, Gravy, Tyrlis (and the many others whose names I unintentionally have omitted) - I wish you all the best.  From time to time, I keep an eye on forums to see if our gaming futures might again merge.

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I didn't know Grieve was organizing meetups and I'm in the NOVA area... I must need to work on my Forum-Fu.

I really like this direction, I think it strikes a good balance between flexibility for new games while maintaining the high quality of the community. I want to keep my online gaming within SoH and I think this direction will definitely help with that.

I do have a thought on the recruitment process: Two votes of confidence represent two veteran members who have had positive experiences with a recruit. What if a 3rd has a negative experience?

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2 hours ago, Practical said:

I do have a thought on the recruitment process: Two votes of confidence represent two veteran members who have had positive experiences with a recruit. What if a 3rd has a negative experience?


That's a good question.


Practically speaking (see what I did there?) I think that the few times when we have concerns about a recruit, they tend to be pretty widely shared.  I can remember a few times when most folks found someone to be fine, but one person had a personality conflict or bad experience.  In those kinds of cases, I think it becomes the responsibility of the Vet(s) to communicate with each other.  For example: "hey - I know that you recently sponsored Ashin, and I want to let you know that I had a pretty bad encounter with him over the weekend."  Etc.


That is going to be a general theme: with the new privilege of recruitment, Vets will need to take more responsibility for the outcome.

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11 minutes ago, Ashin said:


 In those kinds of cases, I think it becomes the responsibility of the Vet(s) to communicate with each other. 

Will there continue to be a place on the forum for that discussion, or will this be handled impersonally where the recruit's sponsor becomes the Point of Contact for kudos as well as concerns?

Overall, I think the delegation & streamlining will definitely assist in growing around new games and that is important!

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13 minutes ago, Ashin said:

 "hey - I know that you recently sponsored Ashin, and I want to let you know that I had a pretty bad encounter with him over the weekend."  Etc.



I had some concerns about this Ashin guy when I thought he might be the dude who does those "You Suck at Cooking" videos on youtube, but then I realized that there was no way Ashin's kitchen would be that dirty.  And let's face it the guy has great taste in coffee tables so all things considered he gets my vote.  ;)


Good suggestions boss man.  I like the idea of a monthly gaming session of some kind.  It would be nice to get to know some of the non-Eve folks, and, when Eve gets a bit dull, it would be cool to hang out with you all doing something else.

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8 minutes ago, Practical said:

Will there continue to be a place on the forum for that discussion


We will probably retire the applicant review forums and replace them with a general purpose Veterans lounge.. although I don't really want too much communication to potentially shift from Member forums to a Vets forum, so I do need to think on that some.

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Sounds like a really good way to allow the "guild" as a collective to grow and adapt to this quickly changing world of online games.  In the past it was easy to to see the "Next Big Thing" on the horizon, but with so many niche games, kickstarters and legacy titles these days, having 30+ people agreeing on them for an extended period is rough. 


I've made a lot of friends in SoH over the years and it would fun to get an opportunity to join into the new Cohort chapters. Looking forward to seeing this all take shape.

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