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“Hey, look at all those nifty acronyms people have attached to their handles and screen names. That’s really cool – I want one too!” That is exactly what I think runs through the heads of many people that join or create a clan.. At least on the console, where the concept is still kinda fuzzy to most. People want to feel like they are a part of something bigger than them. It’s just human nature.
With the next-gen (or is it current gen?) gaming consoles tapping into an online gaming market that has existed for many, many years on the PC front, gaming squads are arguably more popular than ever. For most, it’s just about hanging out with some people or being part of the most kick-ass team and getting some big wins under the belt. Whatever way you chop it up, people are in these squads for selfish reasons, matters of the ego. Perhaps they want attentions, good stats, or want to make a living out of professional gaming. Motives vary all the time.
The nasty trend is this: you see many faceless gaming squads that come and go every day. People leave solid squads where they may be appreciated and truly needed, just to make their own squad and get the ego rush of being able to boss people around. It is on that end that many clans fail: there is too much ego and the clashing becomes inevitable. Note that I use clan and squad separately. It’s all a matter of your principles: clans have ideals that go beyond just competing or owning in any single game. They are binded by friendship, building up a rich legacy and history, and always establishing a principle-based leadership. Many gaming squads lack real principles: it’s all about getting the best stats, dominating other “clans”, and perhaps employing the latest exploits to keep your competitive advantage significant.To me, a clan, whether new or old, big or small, multi-game or single-game is only as good as it’s leadership and it’s sense of purpose (or unifying vision). Again, this nasty ego thing comes up. People mistakingly assume that leadership is all about making people fear you and blindly follow anything you demand. The truth of leadership is that it is probably a more about listening than it is talking. It is true that some people need to be micro-managed, motivated, and even commanded but, in most cases, people respond better to positive reinforcement and mutual exchange than they do drill-sarge-style screaming.
By many standards, I can be considered a newb simply because I don’t taking gaming very seriously. I have fun with it and I try to make sure my guys do too. My clan, Nipples of Fate (NoF, pronounced “Nawph” or “En Oh Eff”), is meant to be a clan that doesn’t take itself seriously in the sense that we know to have fun and still compete, stay organized, and keep the order. Sure, we get our fair share of eager beavers and know-it-alls but, with time and wisdom, systems and processes become a lot more turn-key and intuitive so things operate smoothly. I wouldn’t say I am the best leader but I’ve learned the worst things to do as a gaming clan leader and some things that seem like “common sense” are really not regarded as such.
I’d like to share some quick tips on what a clan leader should and should not do if he cares about the longevity and happiness of his clan. First and foremost, do not start a squad for the wrong reasons. This means that you should not make a squad just cause you want to feel important, be cool, or try to steal players from other clans. Such squads fail in the long run simply because they never really mesh. You have to have goals if you are making a squad. Goals set the pace and tone for your squad and give you a direction to go in.
You need to manage your expectations and those of your clanmates as well. This is huge. If you only plan to get a bunch of people that like hanging out together, matching personalities should be a major focus and skills should definitely be secondary. If you want to do that but also remain competitive, you have to make sure your guys know the unique culture you are building up so no one questions the guy that pretty much sucks but likes to hang around and is probably very active regardless of competitive efforts. Most importantly, if you are trying to form a pro team, you have to be ready to make sacrifices and probably lose some friends, if you are not careful at least.
The trend now is for any major clan to have multiple tiers and squads. I believe this is only a good thing for a leader to do if they can truly identify other leaders in their squad. Many people want to lead but what they really know how to do is manage/boss, which is completely different. The responsibility of being a leader is much greater than what 90% of people that start clans are ready for.
Here’s another big tip for clan leaders: do not be fooled into thinking that just creating a tag, having a web site, and being on ladders (GameBattles.net or what-have-you) means you have a real clan or even a squad. Keeping members engaged is all about creating a solid foundation where communication is a major focus. You need to have a clear chain-of-command so that there are not too many chiefs and not enough Indians. You also have to groom your top, most active guys to become leaders. Hopefully, they really internalize what the squad is about but, be ready, most people that join a squad will inevitably leave because of simple reasons: boredom, they don’t know what they want, or their ego is not being stroked enough.
I mentioned positive reinforcement and I will ellaborate on this because it leads to some other important tips. As a leader, patience is not an option. You’ll run into different types of people so clashes are inevitable. Once again, managing expectations becomes a huge strategy as you make sure that everyone knows what are the optional traits to possess and what values are considered core in the squad. Establishing these core values will only happen if you build good relationships. Make yourself approachable by never scolding someone for sharing friendly advice and constructive criticism. Practicing an open door policy is key, especially if you designate key liasons and provide them with multiple means for reaching you, in case you are not “online.” Positive reinforcement is not just about giving people patting people on the back when they do well, it is about making people feel like an integral part of the group and helping them identify their strongpoints. When you focus on the good things people do, you can get them in a comfort zone where they can naturally start to eliminate their bad habits.
On the matter of patience, a clan leader needs to be ready to get bombarded, disappointed by performance, annoyed with inactivity, and even ridiculed at times. Every clan has black sheep and bad moments so you have to not only be ready for this but expect at any turn. I feel that the worst thing that people do as clan leaders is scream at their guys when they messed up, rather than pointing out what they did well and how they can use that to their advantage next time. I don’t know many people that like to be screamed at and belittled yet this is the style of leadership you’ll often see, sadly. It’s boot camp all over again.. Where’s the fun in that?
Leadership is a tricky thing. Leaders get criticized regardless. It’s a love-hate thing most of the time. Some will adore you, some will deplore you, and some will whore you out. Being a leader is actually hardly ever glorious and that’s the truth. You need to have a giving attitude and realize that your efforts will not always be reciprocated. This is the price to be paid. I reiterate this: reasonable expectations are critical for yourself and your guys. Everyone needs to be ready to pay the price because a clan is like a squad: it’s not going anywhere without something to fuel it. w3rd.
All metaphors and fluff aside, I can’t stress enough how tough it really is to run a clan. My kudos go out to any team leaders that have squads running for over a year; hell, these days, 3 months is a huge milestone. Let’s not even talk about keeping a vital core. Like I said, leadership is huge in a clan but it’s not about those that have been designated as leaders or given titles, it’s about the collective effort and how many people take ownership, pride, and dedication into everything they do. That stuff about the chain being only as strong as it’s weakest link is very true.
Leadership is a topic I am very passionate about and I can go on about it forever but the point is that you can never be a perfect leader. It’s an ongoing process. Every day I find myself taking notes from other fellow leaders and re-evaluating my methods. Everyone is bound to lose their cool at some point but there are no true failures until one completely gives up. In the end, if you want to lead a gaming clan you have to make a few simple decisions: do you want to have fun or do you want to compete seriously? Can you do both? Sure but that leads to this important question: are you willing to pay the price? It’s one thing to say you want to do something or have dreams but you need a plan or it was all just talk.
Indeed, gaming has turned into serious business (hence the growing number of professional, sponsored teams, and people that think they’re THAT good) so, if you do not want all the headache, join an existing squad. A clan should only be established once there is a strong core and if there is a unique enough culture and spirit. When joining a gaming squad, make sure that you are the kind of person they are looking for and that you like what that clan is about: their culture, their goals, their history, their outlook, etc. Even the most casual of gamers should be wary not to make a poor decision and just put on a tag. A tag does not make you a clan member. w3rd. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. =oO
2008 UPDATE: There’s a concept some call “magnetic sponsoring” that I think is very relevant to clan leadership. Recruiters become leaders and example-setters in their own regards. It’s important for those people to become the things they want to see in their prospect. In that manner, you can attract the right people. This also applies to people that want to be scouted by the right clans. I’ve seen some of the biggest, most successful clans out there take a gamble on people based almost completely on personality. Why? Skills can be developed but an asshat is quite hard to turn around!