I <3 Ulduar.
A little context first. In BC I was with a casual raiding guild. It's a concept that I find hard to understand in retrospect -- “casual raiding.” We would wander into TK on Monday night, wipe twice on Solarion, then give up and go run heroics. I hated it. I tried to get people to go into ZA, but they were terrified. They went and leveled their alts instead of progressing their mains.
So I never had the experience of pushing into new content. I got pugged into a few T6 raids, but they were a whirlwind. I was just a hired healbot.
I joined my current guild during a time when (A) Naxx was on farm, with only S3D remaining to be conquered, and (B) Lol Naxx? In other words, until now, WoLK has not exactly provided much of a challenge.
When I first encountered WoW, looking over my friend's shoulder as he was playing, I was completely confused. What the hell was the point of running around, killing a diseased bear, then running to the next bear and killing it? It held zero appeal to me. Then he described instancing. Five people who all needed to work together to accomplish a goal. You couldn't pick any five people, you needed people to fill specific roles. And they couldn't just do what they wanted: the healer had to heal, because there was no extra wiggle room for them to help out damaging the boss. In other words, teamwork. A well-oiled machine. Now THAT sold me.
It's like sports -- individuals who excel in individual events like powerlifting or gymnastics are amazing and inspiring. But more than that, what excites me about sports is when you have great individuals working together as a team, like in basketball or hockey.
Teamwork is why I started my WoW account. I don't mind playing solo or doing dailies. But the high points of WoW are all about the teamwork. And that doesn't mean just having more than one person in a group -- it means coordination, flow, trust, and everyone bringing their A-game to meet a challenge that can't be met without those factors. The more tenuous the situation, the more it demands that everyone is working at 100% capacity, the more satisfying the result. If you only need 90% or even 95% of your attention, it's just not IT.
I love the fact that it's hard. Wiping is stressful. There are two responses to stress: either you give up, or you rise to a higher level. If you want to rise to a higher level, stress is your best friend.
I love the fact that it actually requires 25 people. Not 10 people with 15 tag-alongs. Not one person who knows the fight, 5 people who can listen, and 19 people who only know their best pewpew rotations. You need 25 awake people. Most (if not all) of them have to come prepared, having studied the fights, color-coded their raid frames with key debuffs, etc.
I love how it separates the social players from the serious players. Folks who love bantering even when it's obvious we're unfocused and struggling to make progress, versus folks who want to hunker down and find out what we did wrong and how we can improve.
I love how it brings out the best and the worst in people. Those who somehow forget to flask for a boss, versus those who couldn't imagine not being flasked for a progression boss. Those who ponder and complain in vent when they die, or those who wait patiently (even humbly) in support of those who survived and are still in the thick of it.
(Why would I want to see the worst in people? Of course I don't...but the fact that Ulduar brings out both the best and the worst is, to me, a sign that it hits the mark. Less stress would produce the sort of negative, backsliding results that we experienced because of lazy-mode Naxx; more stress would have us all quitting the game. Just the right amount, and we have progress.)
I love how I died in the fire on my first Razorscale attempt. No excuse -- fire is fire, whether it's the first attempt or the 20th. But I never die to void zones, and here I was so challenged and focused that I missed the obvious. If it were easy I wouldn't love it!
I love how much it stresses not only the individual, but the team. As other bloggers have noted, Ulduar has the potential to tear guilds apart. If that's the only possibility, let's all give up now, shall we? Because it also has the potential to bring teams together. And not in some huggy-feely kind of way, but in a functional, dynamic, higher-order-of-doing-business kind of way. A team that is willing to struggle and succeed is better in the end by a wide margin. Better doesn't mean more higher-level epics, or achievements ticked off the list. It means they have a higher degree of integration, or ability to work as a team, because they've tackled a harder project.
Personally, I'm thrilled by the stress. I want to rise to a higher level, both as an individual and as a team. I want my team members to want that too, of course, since that drive is the only thing that will bring us to that higher level.
If I stand alone in this, so be it. But Bravo, Blizzard!