How Cooperative Gaming Builds Business Leaders IRL

I like to think of myself as having good leadership skills. As a management consultant, I’ve managed multiple projects with hundreds of people, so I can’t be terrible at it. 

One of the things I attribute my skills to is my love for videogames. Especially my days playing World of Warcraft, an online multiple player game from the mid 2000s. My story is particularly relative considering the recent release of World of Warcraft Classic - which a recent Tech Radar article likened to "...rolling back the clock on 15 years of updates to the world's most popular MMORPG to give fans a glimpse of what the game was like close to when it originally released."

If it helps you relate to the story, this was me in 2009.                                                 

I was in my third year of college and had decided it would be a good idea to invest my student loan to build a high-end desktop computer. You know, for my studies… 

It didn’t take long for me to get swept up in the World of Warcraft trend that was everywhere at the time. The game would go on to literally define the MMORPG genre (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) and become one of the top-grossing video games of all time.

In World of Warcraft you can join a team, called a guild, with other people from around the world. These guilds have a hierarchical structure to them with Guild Master and Officer ranks. I was neither.

One of the reasons people join guilds is to defeat bigger enemies, so you can win better loot. To accomplish this, guilds create groups of 25 unique individuals called a raid. 

At my peak, I was raiding six nights a week, for four to five hours a night, with everyone communicating real-time via headsets.

The further you advance in the game, the more challenging the enemies and encounters become. They get so complicated that good raid preparation would call for everyone to study the encounters, either online or in guidebooks. Every player is expected to know their part, and the raid is led by one of the Officers, like a conductor leading an orchestra.

There was one particular encounter my teammates and I were working on for several weeks (Reliquary of Souls, for those of you who are interested). We were failing over and over again, but getting closer every time. 

At 7PM, I logged on to raid as usual. When I arrived, I found my teammates standing around not talking to each other. It took me a couple of minutes to realize that none of the Officers were available to lead the raid that night, and nobody wanted to be the one to step up and lead.

I like to remember what happened next in the form of an inspirational, 90s movie montage: I had prepared for this. I knew the encounter. I knew everyone’s parts. This was my moment…

Although I had no authority over my team, I raised my hand and said that I’d lead the raid that night. I was completely expecting one of my more experienced peers to shut me down, but to my surprise everyone went along with it.

I told everyone their roles and to listen out for my calls, and here’s the crazy part: They did!

This was my orchestra. I was the conductor. I was leading. 

That night we successfully defeated Reliquary of Souls for the first time. 

That wasn’t the last raid I led. I received a “promotion” to Officer shortly after.

As cheesy as it sounds, the skills I learned during that time will never be forgotten. Furthermore, I believe all online video games have something important to teach us about leadership, communication, and social skills.

Any time people interact, they sharpen their communication and social skills. Many people may try to proclaim that these online interactions aren’t real or that they don’t prepare you for the real world, but I would argue the exact opposite. Increasingly so, the places we work are simultaneously disparate and yet more connected than ever.

Try to think about that the next time you interact with someone on a different floor. Or the head office in a different state. Or that external vendor in another country. 

These skills are very real and very applicable to the way we work today.

Leadership is about taking on additional responsibility. It’s about standing up when no one else wants to, and putting a target for criticism on your back. By that definition, we can find leadership lessons in some strange places.

Maybe all those hours spent on video games aren’t rotting our brains after all.