For a very long time now people have equated gear with skill in WoW. If you were running around in raid level gear then you must have raid level abilities right? Well, yeah to a point. In Vanilla WoW having high level gear was not so much about SKILL as TIME. If you wanted to sport epic level gear you needed to have hours a day to focus on either PvP, raiding or at the very least earning money. Forty man raids were HUGE investments. To rank up in PvP battle grounds took not only WINNING but countless hours for battle time.
When Burning Crusade was introduced so was a level of play that was more "casual friendly". While you could STILL tell just by looking who participated in end game raiding or intense Pvp, those who may have had the time in College had now moved on to jobs and family. This change allowed many of them to continue to push the envelope without having to completely sacrifice real life. Raids could now be done with only 10 or 25 people in just a few hours a night. A badge system was introduced in which you could obtain gear from doing Heroic dungeons only. By the end of Burning Crusade you could also obtain raid level gear with out ever setting foot in an actual raid. The concept of "farming Heroics" was born.
Enter Wrath and suddenly EVERYONE is able to sport raid level gear without ever setting foot in an actual raid. For some this was extremely annoying as they could no longer tell just by LOOKING at an individual what they were capable of. Raids suddenly became puggable so you no longer had to dedicate HOURS of game time to seeing content. But there was a problem here. As gear became more accessible being KNOWLEDGEABLE about what to do with that gear didn't necessarily scale. Many people today use gear score to determine if someone is capable of a raid but you can still have individuals in GREAT gear who fail to perform to that level. This is because they never learned how to work as part of a team or the finer points of playing their character. Case in point I was in a VOA the other day with a mage who had a gear score of at least 2300 but was doing UNDER 1000k dps. Quick leveling and lack of knowledge shows.
The good thing about the over abundance of gear is that raiding guilds no longer have to deal with individuals who cause difficulty for their teams. They can EASILY find someone equivalently geared OR gear up someone else who is a better fit without adversely effecting their raid schedule. If the only reason a person has kept a raid spot before this was they provided a specific desirable buff, raid leaders can now look instead at getting someone in there who pays attention and knows what they are doing without causing drama.
While gear has its place it will only get you so far. Blizzard has leveled the playing field in a way. Those who started playing this game 5 years ago no longer have to "retire" from raiding because of time constraints. At the same time your ability to utilize your characters will get you MUCH further. Sure a lot of pug leaders will ask your gear score to see if you are at a specific level Blizzard has stated an instance is designed for. By doing this they can usually ASSUME you SHOULD be capable performing. At the same time individuals like Gevon can push the envelop by attempting those SAME instances with individuals "Undergeared" but TALENTED and COMMITTED enough to get every last bit out of them.
Now not all people enjoy this type of game play. Personally I PREFER to go into an encounter blind, figure it out with my team mates and over come it. However I know that MANY in my guild do not....they don't like "failure" they want "easy wins", to go in knowing that success will come QUICKLY. Delayed gratification is a foreign and uncomfortable concept for them. I remember one former guild member telling me "three wipes is to many". My attitude is "No, look at wipes as learning opportunities." If you want to sing the song of progression, the chorus is full of wipes. There was a time when raid leaders couldn't rely on places like Tankspot and Bosskillers to educate players before they ever see an encounter.
Now when you are PUGGING you can't EXPECT people to have that dedication, there is no "team" there. I HAVE been a part of a few that WERE able to press on and over come but they are rare and most of us were at least FAMILIAR with one another. So pugs will generally take the EASIEST manor in which to judge, which translates into gear score and achievements. Why? Because they want the GUARANTEE of success. Nothing annoys me more than when I see a pug leader who demands a specific achievement and gear score only to discover that they themselves do not meet it. All they are looking for at that point is to have others carry them through and your raid is most likely due to failure.
When it all comes down to it I really do believe that Blizzard is attempting to make SKILL more important than GEAR. As gear becomes more available to the average player, more are capable of enjoying the instances and raids they have designed. On the other hand TALENTED players can go further by pushing the envelope more rapidly than in the past. We have become jaded by forgetting that we have been playing this game for a long time too. WE have developed tools that allow us to learn more rapidly as well in the form of spreadsheets, Addons, and Blogs. I can't quite buy the line that Blizzard is totally making the game easier. While they ARE making it more ACCESSIBLE to the player base that has CHANGED over the years, many of us have grown beyond the stage where we have endless hours to spend raiding or pvping and all that demands. (Like cash for repairs.) The raids they have introduced are also requiring a GREAT deal more awareness and movement by the player base. How many raid encounters can you think of where all you do is stand there and "pew pew" away?
I know some of the self proclaimed "hard core" gamers will disagree. As far as they are concerned WoW has gotten TO EASY! I can easily live with them disagreeing with me as I will never qualify as an "Elitest Jerk" cracking hard modes shortly after they become available. My style is to get to the end but enjoy the journey there. Consider this though, when Yoggy and the Lich King were first introduced how many of those "Top Players" PRACTICED on PTR every time they could or at the very least were checking out every BIT of information they could find on those encounters before hand? In addition to that how many of them did "alt runs" first so that their timers were not adversely effected while they learned an encounter? How much is it that the game has gotten easier verses the top players have gotten SMARTER and more able to find ways to get around the limits Blizzard sets?
Recently Blizzard announced that 10 and 25 man raids will now share a lock out. In addition to this both 10 and 25 man raids will share the same loot table. They also stated that we can expect to have several raids available to us when Cataclysm begins, all of relatively limited length, say 5 or 6 bosses total each. If you go with the thesis that it is more about SKILL than GEAR then Raid Leaders stating "we will be looking at taking our BEST players rather than scrounging to fill a raid" further pushes this idea. "Terribad Ninjas" are going to have a MUCH harder time finding raids to scam especially as the number of Pug raids dramatically decreases. Being a member of a guild is DEFINITELY going to be something people will see as a necessity. Hopefully these two changes alone will assist individuals in discovering enjoyable game play as they progress. The idea of being able to have raids filled with people you ENJOY and that know what they are doing certainly has great appeal doesn't it?