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Columns: Is Mentorship Meaningless?

By Michael O’Connell-Davidson on April 25, 2018

Is Mentorship Meaningless?

In February 2016, the developers of FFXIV implemented something that’s a very good idea on paper: a mentorship system. XIV’s always been great at accommodating newer players, such as by offering a bonus when taking someone through content for the first time, and allowing players to mark themselves as mentors seems like a natural extension of that.

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You can become a mentor in a couple of ways, though most players are able to do so by playing the game for the medium-term without really trying — you don’t even need to hit Stormblood’s level cap. After that, it’s a case of signing up at at a major city. You can display a crown next to your name to show you’re a helpful soul, and, in theory, you’re supposed to act like it. You can also turn it on and off at will if you fancy a break, or you’re in unfamiliar territory.

It’s been more than two years since then, and mentorship hasn’t really changed in any big way in the intervening period. Yet it’s a topic that evokes pretty strong feelings within the community; just in the last week, a user on the XIV Reddit recently highlighted a case where someone became a mentor a mere two hours after losing new player status, while streamer Arthars suggested the crown makes people stupid.

The Novice Network, a chat channel for new players that was introduced at the same time, is a fairly useful resource for newbies. The mentor system, on the other hand, hasn’t really reached that point; there’s no sense that new players are any more likely to ask a mentor than they are to ask anyone else. People just seem to like having a crown over their heads, which undermines whatever value it might have as a signifier of those willing to help others.

Worse still, because being a mentor isn’t really governed by skill but by how long you’ve played FFXIV, it’s not a good indicator that you’re particularly adept at the game. Whether or not you give good advice or play poorly or well, you’re still a mentor if you want to be — and that’s a problem. There are no standards or expectations placed upon mentors, and I’ve played with plenty who are brash and unhelpful to new players or simply not qualified to offer even basic advice. This is never acceptable, but it’s practically enraging when you see that sort of conduct by somebody with mentor status.

I should clarify that there are plenty of excellent mentors, just as there are plenty of excellent sprouts. But the mentor title is almost incidental when it comes to them being good players, and there are just as many with the crown icon who offer nothing at all. It begs the question: What does being a mentor really even mean, and is it even necessary to have a mentor system in the first place? There’s no clear answer, because there’s no way to quantify if someone’s actually offering assistance within the community, nor any way to appeal to those who might be willing to do so outside of the novice network. It’s a great idea on paper, but in practice, it’s little more than a cosmetic suggestion that someone might be willing to help, and it’s not one you can rely upon.

I play EVE Online occasionally, which handles this sort of thing very well through a volunteer association called ISD. Players can join one of the branches of ISD and contribute to the community such as by moderating the newbie help channel and removing unhelpful messages. ISD members have different coloured names and other bells and whistles, but it’s not just for show: they have to fill out an application form and sign a separate terms of service agreement governing their conduct.

It’s formal, sure, but it’s created an environment where you can actually trust those who’ve volunteered to support other players to take that commitment seriously. If XIV adopted a similar model (and I’m not saying this would be the right answer), there would be far fewer mentors, but at least those who took on the title could actually be relied upon.

I signed up to be a mentor quite some time ago, but I haven’t displayed the icon in at least a year. This doesn’t mean I’m not willing to help people, because I am; I can type and DPS at the same time fairly well, so I’ll call out niche fights whenever they come in roulettes and things like that. But I don’t need a crown over my head to assist others, and I’m not sure anybody ever did, so I don’t see any point in showing it off.

The thing is, this game has always had mentors, even before a formal system was introduced. They’re the folk that stick with groups failing on content rather than trying to vote abandon prematurely or just bailing out altogether. They’re those that offer help unsolicited in complex instances rather than complaining about the mistakes people make in FC or linkshell chat. They’re people who set themselves apart by helping other people for no reason other than to better this community, and certainly not to have a cute icon by their name.

We have a great community, but the mentor program doesn’t really add to it. That’s a shame, because those who do contribute to making the playerbase what it is deserve recognition, particularly if it makes it easier for newer players to seek them out and rely on them for help. If the system is revisited in some future update — and I suspect it will be, to tighten up the requirements if nothing else — then those who wish to become mentors need to be made to work for it, and to adhere to some standards in order to sustain the privilege. Only then will it be a boon for new and returning players, and something mentors can actually take pride in.

Michael O’Connell-Davidson / Michael O'Connell-Davidson is MMORPG.com's FFXIV columnist. Follow him on twitter @mikeocd.
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