Back in August, Square Enix released the third Shadowbringers content patch “Reflections in Crystal” (colloquially referred to as “Patch 5.3”). Fellow staff member Rose and I have recorded special podcast episodes to talk about each of the Shadowbringers patches at length, and you can listen to the latest two-parter here, but I needed to put the experience I’ve had with one particular facet of this patch into words.

I need to talk about fishing.

One of the features announced before Shadowbringers’ launch was new content for XIV titled “The Restoration of Ishgard.” Ishgard has been a city-state in the world of XIV since its tumultuous “1.0” days, back when the game was considered one of the worst installments in Final Fantasy’s history. While Ishgard was never accessible back then, the Heavensward expansion finally allowed players to not only visit Ishgard, but also play a part in ending its thousand year-long Dragonsong War. To this day, Heavensward is much beloved by many XIV players, and it was the first time the game really started to surge in popularity. The entirety of Heavensward is free to play, so anyone wishing to experience that story can do so at their leisure.

Once players end the Dragonsong War after the events of Heavensward, they are allowed access to the Ishgardian Restoration effort. Though the war is over, the damage to the city-state remains, and the Restoration seeks to rebuild a district of the city known as the Firmament. This was the development team’s response to players asking for endgame content for crafting and gathering classes. Up until Shadowbringers, crafters and gatherers’ only endgame was a selection of recipes and materials to craft and collect. Each patch to the game would add new materials gatherers would collect, which would in turn be used by crafters to craft the new recipes.

These would range from things like housing & fashion items, to boss weapons and combat gear. This content would only be difficult insofar as the new materials would require high gathering stats to collect efficiently, and they’d be on a timer – only collectable every real-world hour or so. The new crafting recipes required high crafting stats as well, but players would quickly deduce the optimal method for crafting any item in the game shortly after it was added, and many players opt to have macros automate the crafting process to this day. In short, it was hardly any different from the crafting and gathering they’d done leading up to max level.

This all changed with Ishgardian Restoration. Every patch to Shadowbringers has added new sections of the Firmament for players to rebuild. There are still those same endgame crafting recipes and gathering materials like before, but now crafters and gatherers can work towards restoring the Firmament by contributing special “Skybuilders’” items, be they crafted or gathered. The first phase of Ishgardian Restoration only accepted contributions from crafting classes, but the second phase from earlier this year saw the relaunch of the Diadem, an ill-fated unpolished slice of content from way back when Heavensward was still new.

The Diadem is a collection of floating sky islands surrounding a giant crystalline structure, topologically resembling a flower. In its original incarnation, the Diadem was a method for collecting unique rewards by locating hidden treasure chests and fighting monsters. It was intended to capture the feeling of being adventurous sky pirates exploring islands and overcoming challenges, but its unique gameplay elements weren’t enough to distinguish it from simple overworld event grinding. They reworked the Diadem towards the last months of Heavensward’s life cycle, including a version which let gathering classes use the map to collect resources, but it still wasn’t compelling enough to keep players queueing up for it, and like a ride at a theme park, was eventually shuttered after the launch of Shadowbringers in preparation for its current rework.

My FC and I actually ran the older Diadem back during its initial rework, when I was still fresh to XIV’s endgame. I enjoyed it well enough; it was a low-stress activity for getting to know my FC mates, but even as a relatively new player I could see why it was underwhelming back then. The tasks in the old Diadem had no connective tissue between them; you did a random assortment of “missions” that felt reused from other sections of the game. While the area was fun to fly through, I always wished they had an eight-player airship mount that everyone in your party could ride in together, so that way it felt at least a little different than the usual overworld farming you’d see in other parts of the game.

Once Shadowbringers’ second patch launched back in February, the newly renovated Diadem was released, and several changes were made to smooth out the experience. This time, the Diadem was exclusively gathering content, and while there were still enemies on the islands, they were entirely passive. As players gathered materials from nodes, they filled up a Compressed Aether bar which took the place of the standard Limit Break bar from combat content. They could use this aether to blast enemies for millions of damage, killing them instantly and collecting assortments of gathering materials based on the enemy type (golems drop ores, treants drop logs, etc). It’s a rather crafty solution, as removing the enemies would make the islands lifeless and vacant, but rather than simply populating the island with low-level mobs that gatherers could feasibly defeat with bland auto-attacks, they instead gave players bazookas and turned the mobs into living gathering nodes. This breaks up the monotony of gathering as well, so it goes a long way to avoiding player fatigue from repetitively gathering node after node.

So now Ishgardian Restoration had a gameplay loop unto itself: gatherers would go out and collect resources, which were then converted into crafting items by crafters, and together they would contribute to the restoration effort. Once the current public works project was complete, all players in the area would participate in an event which involved things like mixing cement, building up foundations, sweeping debris, or putting up walls for houses. After the event was completed, the Firmament updated its appearance to reflect the new changes, and the area looked better and better as the phase continued. Firmament progression is specific to each server as well, so it’s treated as a world race across all servers to see which one can finish each phase the fastest. While it’s not as fiercely competitive as world-first raid races due to the sheer scale of players making the victory less personal, and there being no reward for finishing first, it can be a neat way to gauge player participation across all servers.

Speaking of rewards, you may be wondering what the rewards are for doing Ishgardian Restoration. Well, they provide an obscene amount of leveling experience for crafters and gatherers – you only have to be level 10 as a gatherer or level 20 as a crafter to participate, both of which can be achieved from level 1 in a few hours with minimal effort and no upfront gil spending. Everyone who turns in items, crafted or gathered, receives Skybuilders’ scrip which can be turned in for unique rewards like a gorilla mount, exclusive hairstyles or emotes, and rewards from the older Diadem iterations. Gatherers often make a ton of money during each new phase as all the gathered materials can be put up on the marketboards, and crafters are willing to pay hefty sums so that they can spend less time in the Diadem and more time crafting.

Perhaps the deepest reason many are so invested in Ishgardian Restoration lies in its potential. I mentioned before that the Firmament was the development team’s implementation of endgame crafting and gathering content, but It wasn’t just the collaborative endgame of rebuilding a city they had in mind: competition amongst peers was also on the table. That’s right – competitive crafting and gathering in an online game, disconnected entirely by their typical market and auction house arenas. Instead of coin, crafters and gatherers would compete for ranks on a leaderboard. I’ve never been one to favor competition over collaboration: at first I was more intrigued by the concept alone than my eventual involvement in the rankings. Giving MMO gathering & crafting classes ranked leaderboards? It’s like taking all the combat out of a battle royale game and saying “All right, whoever finds the most ammo, supplies, and 4x scopes wins” – an idea so novel you just want it to succeed on that merit alone.

Once the Diadem was back online and the second phase of Ishgardian Restoration began, so too did the implementation of Skybuilder Rankings. These are server-wide leaderboards for all 8 crafting classes and 3 gathering classes, with the top 100 players for each showing up on the board. There is a ranking period for the first ten days of a given restoration phase, during which players can compete for spots on the board. To get on the board, players gather or craft Skybuilders’ items and turn them in for points. Gatherers can turn in any items collected from the Diadem, but crafters only get points for turning in the highest-level crafts available to them. Additionally, there are demanding new Expert Recipes for crafters, which require keen knowledge of crafting skills. These recipes have a random element to them – various status effects can occur while crafting one, requiring players to pay attention and utilize their crafting abilities to their fullest, instead of relying on macros to automate the process.

What do you win for getting on the leaderboard? Well, aside from bragging rights, there are two extrinsic rewards available. Everyone in the top 100 for their server, for each class, gets a title which can be applied to one’s character: <Beata/Beatus of the Firmament>, with Beata or Beatus being dependent on the character’s gender. In addition to that title, the top 12 in every class category gain the title <Saint of the Firmament>. Obtaining the Saint title is the biggest tangible reward one can obtain from the ranking season. A title may not sound that impressive, but keep in mind that less than 400 people per server will ever achieve sainthood. Whenever I’d come across a Saint in the game, that title of theirs stood out to me, invoking respect and awe at their triumph and dedication. Aside from the titles and rankings, points accrued across all of one’s crafters and gatherers do contribute toward other rewards such as a baby crocodile minion, a baby t-rex minion, various class-specific titles and achievements, and a pteranodon mount, so even if the ranking season is over, or you don’t care about the titles, or you do this content well after the Firmament is fully completed, there are still rewards to obtain from collecting points. It’s sufficiently “future-proofed” so even years from now this content will still be useful and rewarding to those who come after.

This brings us, finally, to the second season of rankings and my descent into the abyssean trench of chthonian-wrought content; the nightmarathon upon which the aspirations and desires of all who lack conviction, motivation, and endurance are broken; that unyielding, ephemeral season of hooking catch after catch; a Fishing Hell to end all of gaming’s Fishing Hells. Prior to the new season starting, I had gone fishing in the Diadem to see what it was like. I wanted some Skybuilders’ scrip to purchase emotes and items, and I learned that while fishing was a simple way to gain scrip, you could also desynthesize the fish into the resources miners and botanists collect from nodes. This meant that I could sell those materials on the market for a nice bit of gil while I grinded out some scrip for rewards.

Of the three gathering classes, miner and botanist are essentially identical in how they play: you walk up to a node, activate it, a list pops up with items you can collect, and you select which ones you want. There are buttons you can press to increase the quantity or quality of the items you gather, and once the node is depleted, you move on to the next one. Fishing is different – instead of moving constantly from node to node around the whole map, you cast your line from one of four floating islands, like every fisher in human history who has woken up before the crack of dawn to catch the proverbial Diadem Hoverwormfish in the clouds below.

Fishing is a common side activity in many games, and they usually fall into one of two categories: the active kind where you get involved in the reeling, landing, and active nature of real-life fishing, and the passive kind where it amounts to little more than timing a button prompt to hook and reel in the catch. XIV opts for the latter approach: once you cast your line with the appropriate bait selected, you simply wait for exclamation points to appear above your character’s head with an accompanying sound effect, and you hook the catch. You can spend gathering points (GP) to manipulate various aspects of casting and hooking fish, but the act itself is basically a simple quick-time event.

When the third phase of the Restoration started early in September, I wanted to make some easy cash, so I went in just to do some light fishing for an hour or two. The title rewards were the same this time around, and I wasn’t motivated to participate in the rankings just like last time. I was so relaxed on that first day that I inadvertently fell asleep while fishing, since I had kicked my feet up and was in maximum chill mode.Not a care in the world, no eyes on the rankings or sainthood: I was on cloud nine, and fishing for gil in clouds one through eight. After heading back to the Firmament and waiting several minutes as I desynthesized fish into snakes, clays, and other materials, I sold them on the market for around 1.5 million gil, and called it a night. I woke up the next day, and decided to check the rankings on a whim.

28th place.

My main character is on Balmung, one of the most populated servers in North America. Balmung is often the first server in NA to complete each phase of the Firmament – there are thousands of crafters and gatherers on the server, and everyone always clamors to acquire the new, hot goodies whenever a Firmament update launches. Out of all of them I got to 28th place while sleeping? With outdated fishing gear from over a year ago?! It was in this incredulous moment that I had an idea: “if I’m already so far up the ladder without even trying, how far can I go when I give it my all?” With just 90 minutes of fishing for Day 1, I decided I would simply double that time the next day. 3 hours is a pretty normal amount of time to spend fishing in this game, I re-assured myself.

Day 2 saw a more concerted focus on my part: investing in better fishing gear, paying attention to the Diadem’s region chat to read any hot tips, and making sure I was always casting and hooking fish. The Diadem is an instanced zone, meaning it has a maximum capacity of players that can enter before a new instance opens up. Once you enter, you’re given a 180-minute timer to do whatever you want, and once that timer ends you are forcibly removed from the Diadem. Players call these “lockouts” and on my second day in Fishing Hell, I did one full lockout – 3 hours worth of fishing. It’s worth noting that once your lockout ends and you’re kicked from the Diadem, you can go back in immediately, and you can enter and exit as many times as you want. Lockouts exist just so the servers don’t get overloaded. I could’ve gone back in, but I figured 3 hours was enough: I still wasn’t quite sure about committing myself to obtaining a top rank.

When I checked the scoreboard the next morning, I saw that I had jumped up six ranks to place 22nd. “Okay,” I thought, “I can do this.” But I had to prepare myself for the absolutely buckwild amount of mettle I needed to conjure out of my mind and body. Six ranks up was good, but I needed to double my efforts once again if I was going to make real headway up to the top. On the third day I worked six hours, taking a break between the two lockouts in order to eat lunch and stretch. I also spent time gathering materials outside the Diadem to craft Spiritbonding potions to make money while I made money.

As you use gear in XIV, you build spiritbond with it; once maxed, you can extract materia from it, and its spiritbond resets to 0%. Spiritbonding potions expedite this process, and the materia you obtain depends upon the type of gear you extract it from. Since Fisher is a gathering class, all of its gear gives Green Materia, which offer small boosts to the three stats gathering classes need. This is one of the easiest ways to get materia in the game, and since I would be fishing in the Diadem for hours on end, I could get dozens and dozens of essentially free materia every day. This influx of materia would help me buff up my gear and bolster my profits as I sold the rest to players looking to do the same.

Gathering classes have three main stats: Gathering, Perception, and GP (Gathering Points). Gathering is simply a number you have to hit in order to actually gather materials; for Fishing, more Gathering means more types of fish you can catch, and less fish sneak away with your bait. Perception allows for “critical hits” in gathering – it increases your chances to gather High-Quality (HQ) items. Fishers can use certain HQ fish to “Mooch” – consuming the HQ fish as bait to catch even rarer fish worth hundreds of Skybuilder points. Finally, you have GP, which is simply how much Gathering Points you have to spend on abilities. It’s worth having as much GP as you can get, since it regenerates slowly and many of the fishing abilities cost upwards of 50% of your total, though there are special Cordials (yes, cordials) you can drink every few minutes to replenish your reserves.

I said before that fishing in the Diadem involves flying to one of four islands and casting your line, but it’s more complicated when you’re fishing for points. Each island has chump-change fish you can catch plenty of, only worth 2 or 5 points apiece, big point-earner fish that can net you hundreds of points, and one special fish that is tied to one of the four weather conditions in the Diadem, ranging from around five hundred to over a thousand points per catch. You have a lot of options for accruing points, but to catch anything of value you have to employ one of two fishing skills: Mooching, which you know about, and Double Hooking, which is a bit more involved.

At the cost of 400 GP, you can catch multiple fish at once. Despite the name, Double Hooking can enable you to catch two, three, or even four fish simultaneously; it all depends on your Gathering stat and the fish in question. The way I think of it, fish come in three grades: 1-star, 2-star, and 3-star. This is represented by how many exclamation points appear above your character’s head when a fish tugs your line (!, !!, or !!!) corresponds directly with my imaginary star-rating of the fish. Outside of the substantial GP cost of Double Hook, which was around half my total supply of GP, you also can’t use it on 3-star fish: they would make the other fish absolutely worthless. There’s also some technique required to Double Hook efficiently – since you can’t use it on the always-valuable 3-star fish, you have to be particular about which 1- or 2-star fish you use it on.

For example, the northeast island had two different 1-star fish: the Scorpionfly, worth a measly 2 points, and the Oscar worth 122 points. With a Gathering stat of 2300, you could hook three Oscars at once for 366 points – pretty good! But how do you tell if your “!” is a Scorpionfly or an Oscar? Each fish has a specific waiting period after which they’ll tug your line. Scorpionflies take around ten to twelve seconds, while Oscars take eighteen to twenty. This means you have to pay attention and keep time to make sure you only Double Hook the slower 1-star bites, or else your 366 points will turn into 6 points before your eyes. If a 2-star fish comes along when you’re trying to get an Oscar, or a Scorpionfly bites first, you can simply let it munch on the bait and flee, allowing you to recast your line and try again.

Since I didn’t have 2300 Gathering until halfway through the competition, I didn’t bother with Double Hooking – Oscars aren’t worth your time if you can’t Double Hook them. Instead, I spent my time fishing on the western and central islands. The western island was my preferred port of call for the first few days of Sky Hades. No Double Hooking needed here, as I was after the 3-star Mosasaurs. Those worthless Scorpionflies on the northeast island were valuable lures here, where a HQ Scorpionfly could net me a 830-point Mosasaur under normal circumstances (when the fucking Medusas weren’t eating my mooch), and when the weather in the diadem turned into a “Lethal Lava Land from Super Mario 64”-inspired Umbral Flare, I could also catch the 3-star Wyvern, worth 902 points. That’s right, an anatomically-accurate and complete godsdamned wyvern. The item description itself was incredulous that I was out there catching dragons with my fishing pole. The central island was my mainstay up until the last 3 days: there I could mooch for Storm Chasers (935 points) and during Umbral Duststorms, the coveted Helicoprion, which I promptly called “The Teethfish” because of its description and ease of pronunciation. Teethfish were a whopping 1,139 points, the most of any singular fish available.

After six hours, I called it a night and turned in for some sleep. Day 4 arrived, and I checked the board once more.

12th place.

Three days, 10.5 hours of fishing, and I had broken into Saint territory. I was at the top, I had done it! I was elated, ecstatic, excited that I had gotten so far in such a short time. Then it dawned on me that #13 wasn’t that far behind me. #11 had plenty more points that I did. “Oh no,” I thought.

“I’m Hooked.”

Here’s the thing about competitive crafting versus gathering for ranks. With crafting, you have to deal with the random, difficult nature of Expert Recipes and fully master the system to make the most out of your resources in order to reap huge point rewards, because the non-expert recipes don’t give you nearly enough points for the amount of resources you have to put into them. Rose, who competed in Carpentry for this season, only had to craft for two or so hours a day, and was able to keep her top spot on the board. It cost her nearly her entire reserves of gil, buying resources, and she had help from me, her official fishmonger, since I could desynth fish into materials and give them to her for free. If you had a lot of friends, a lot of money, or a lot of both, you didn’t even have to do gathering, and could spend all your time crafting instead. You might say that’s rather unfair for a competition, and you’d probably be right, but crafters still have to deal with the Expert Recipe system, and toward the end Rose was only able to successfully craft items ~80% of the time. There’s still a measure of skill and mastery that goes into crafting, even if material acquisition boils down to “are you rich and/or connected?”

Meanwhile, gathering is a laborious endurance test. I hit #12 after three days, but then I realized I would need to keep going harder and harder not only to advance up the ranks further, but also just to stay in the top 12. It was here that I conjured up new mettle, and became fully committed to the cause of drowning the Firmament in an ocean of fish.

Day 4 saw me spending nine hours catching Storm Chasers and Mosasaurs, and you would think that much time spent fishing would be detrimental to my health, but here’s the one saving grace of fishing: I don’t have to move my character much. You can even use the “/sit” emote while fishing to pull out a little stool for your character to sit on. Miners and Botanists have to constantly rotate around the whole map, tapping node after node, but I could reel in fish with just the buttons on the side of my mouse. After you fish in the same spot for a while, the fish get wise and force you to move, but you can literally take two steps to the left and continue fishing. They do eventually force you to go to a new island altogether, but you only have to catch one fish before they’ll let you go back on the original island. It barely registers as an inconvenience.

Because I don’t have to move my character while fishing, and because I bound all of the necessary buttons to my mouse, I was free to manipulate my body the whole time. I could stand and stretch, and I remembered to hydrate myself constantly thanks in part to the chat macros many had set up to remind other players “hey, you have a physical body that needs taking care of, you should do that.” I was about to dive into the really grueling and arduous days ahead: Day 4 was a Friday and I knew the competition would pick up over the weekend as more players had more free time to catch fish. Despite my absurd efforts from here on out, physically I felt better than ever, because I adjusted my habits for the sake of efficiency. I treated it like any sport: you can’t compete if you aren’t well, and I wasn’t about to lose my sainthood on account of neglecting my body.

The results from Day 4 were quite something: Rose, myself, and other site member Christine all nabbed 10th place on our respective servers. Christine had been in Fishing Hell with me this whole time, and we would often chat in Discord to commiserate about our mutual suffering, swapping stories about the absurd discussions our respective Diadems would have. I told her about the time I said “egg” in chat and got the entire Diadem population to reply with “egg” and she would later do this to her Diadem over on the Aether Data Center (eggchat would eventually become a recurring bit in Diadem chat channels). She told me about the banter her and her fellow sainthood hopefuls would give each other as they caught fish alongside each other, laughing when someone’s fish got away or rubbing in their catches by linking them in the chat box.

We also expressed dissatisfaction at being unable to accrue Compressed Aether for the bazooka. Remember how I said gatherers would collect aether into a bar and then use it to blast enemies for materials? Yeah, fishers don’t get to do that. It makes sense because none of the monsters drop fish, only miner and botanist materials, and the skill requires a target so you can’t exactly aim it into the clouds below and blast the fish out of the sky. It also would change the rhythm of fishing, possibly forcing you to end your Patience buff early so you didn’t overcap on Compressed Aether, but it still feels disappointing.

A common thread we found across our two Data Centers was that people in Diadem were more than willing to help their fellow competitors: nobody was keeping trade secrets to themselves and when false information was given out, it was corrected instantly and was often a case of misinformation rather than outright negligence. Discussions weren’t always civil or even comfortable, but most of the time it was in a spirit of fair competition and camaraderie.

One of the big talking points happened to be around the Diadem’s default weather – Heat Waves. This weather type is an uncommon occurrence in some zones, but as the default weather it was ever present. How weather cycling in the Diadem works is fairly simple: ten minutes of Heat Waves, followed by ten minutes of special weather, followed by ten minutes of Heat Waves, etc. The special weathers are Umbral Flare, Umbral Duststorm, Umbral Levin, and Umbral Tempest, and which one appears is random each time. You can have the same special weather appear twice in a row (discounting the Heat Waves in between them), and there’s no deterministic way to tell which weather is incoming.

Heat Waves makes everything look worse too.

This competition was taking place between the 8th and 17th of September, 2020, and it was around that time that California and Oregon were experiencing dangerous and widespread wildfires. It was an uncomfortable happenstance, as obviously the development team at Square Enix couldn’t have anticipated such a serious disaster happening alongside the competition, and many players used the weather effect as a springboard to talk about the fires. I suspect that Heat Waves was chosen by the team because this patch was supposed to come out earlier. If not for developmental delays due to Square Enix reorganizing their staff to work from home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this patch would’ve been released in the middle of Summer (for the northern hemisphere), and the Heat Waves weather would’ve made more sense.

Unfortunately, Heat Waves is a bad weather effect for the Diadem specifically, because the ground isn’t ground – it’s a sea of white clouds that reflect the intense light back into the eyes in a harsh and unforgiving manner. For those of us who have played through the Shadowbringers expansion, it felt like the washed-out, blazing light of the apocalyptic skies had returned with a vengeance. Some players had to use filter programs to dull the effects of Heat Waves, and others had chat macros warning players that Heat Waves were incoming. The Heat Waves effect didn’t bother me too much, and I simply had my character wear sunglasses to make sure his eyes were suitably protected.

Day 5 was a time for intense fishing, as it was a Saturday and I spent twelve hours of it catching fish. Pulling in four lockouts worth of fish was impressive, but my results yielded me only stability: I remained in 10th place with Rose, though Christine fell to 11th (fishing on her server was far more fierce than mine). My resolve tested, I acknowledged that it being a weekend was bolstering my competition’s resolve as well, and indeed conversations with fellow fishers confirmed my suspicions. It was around this time that I befriended one of the top contenders, Carbuncle Plushy, a lalafell player who dresses their character up like the carbuncle familiars that Summoners use. They even had a special chat macro for when they entered an instance, much to the delight of everyone. They were already in 5th and while they weren’t aiming for 1st, they didn’t want to drop rank (much like myself). We talked about various tactics and fishing techniques, and I gave them my word that I was only interested in seeing how far I could go, but that I had no desire to surpass them. If I got as high as just below them, I’d be content.

After talking shop with Carbuncle, I decided to kit out my gear as much as possible, going so far as to pentameld five materia to my fishing rod. The reason materia is so valuable to so many players is pentamelding: even if a piece of gear only has two materia slots on it, you can overmeld three more onto it as long as “advanced melding forbidden” isn’t displayed on the gear’s tooltip. The problem with overmelding is that each additional piece of materia you try to slot into gear has a reduced chance of success, and a failure breaks the materia. I had never pentamelded anything in my life, but looking at guides online, I found the meld setup that worked for me and got to it, and I did it in less than 10 tries.

I only cared about getting Gathering up to 2300, and I was able to meet that threshold thanks to a combination of spending money on the best gathering gear at the time, having a surplus of materia with which to meld onto said gear, and my good friend Tyo Tabito of the 08th Magitek Team Free Company on Brynhildr for supplying me with over a hundred plates of Mushroom Sauté, a food item that bolstered Gathering and Perception by just enough of a percentage to push me over the threshold. The only problem with the best gathering gear, however, was that it didn’t develop spiritbond when you fished with it in the Diadem: the fish were simply outclassed by the gear. Miners and Botanists didn’t have this problem with the same gear, but Fishers wanting the best gathering gear money could buy had to forgo the sweet extra spiritbonding materia. I kept a few accessories with lower stats and overmelded them to compensate, which is why I used the Mushroom Sauté to supplement my stats. This way I could continue to gain spiritbond materia without having to sacrifice stats.

By the time Day 6 was rolling around, my body had adjusted to waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning, as that was around when the results of the previous day were posted online. Not wishing to waste time, I got to work fishing right away. I had spent the last three days pilling on additional 3-hour lockouts, and if twelve hours wasn’t enough to move my rank, then surely fifteen hours would do the trick. My mind started segmenting my days into 3-hour lockout periods, calculating how many I could do in the AM and PM, while factoring in dinner plans, bathroom breaks, coffee brewing, showers, and sleep. The “cut-off” period for points calculation was between 10 and 11pm, so I made a point to stop at 10pm each time so I wouldn’t completely burn myself out and ruin my sleep schedule.

Monday rolled around, and the results for Day 6 were in: I was still in tenth place, just at the cusp of falling out of sainthood. Relenting for even a few hours more than necessary could be enough to pull me back below twelfth place, and I didn’t want to find out if I could weather that blow to my morale. I briefly considered tacking yet another 3-hour lockout on for Day 7, but that would put me at 18 solid hours of fishing, and I was not about to go that far. I wasn’t aiming for 1st after all, and while I hadn’t advanced in rank, I hadn’t fallen either. So, instead of changing up my hourly schedule, I decided to change up my fishing tactics. I noticed that the player formerly in 11th place had actually passed me and was now in 9th. So while I did technically outpace yesterday’s 9th place contender, someone else passed them and me. I remembered that player talking in chat the day before about losing another set of mantas.

And at last we come to the metagame du jour: Blind Mantas. I said there were four islands for fishing in the Diadem: I’ve already talked about the northeast island with the Oscars, the western island with the Mosasaurs, and the central island with the Storm Chasers. The final, southeast island, is home to what many felt was the optimal fishing spot. Similar to the Oscars, Blind Mantas were 2-star fish worth 221 points; you could Double Hook them, and with 2300 Gathering, you could nab 3 at a time for 663 points. Not bad, certainly not as good as Mosasaurs, but there’s one more fishing trick I haven’t told you about yet: Identical Cast. Introduced in Shadowbringers, at level 79 Fishers can spend 350 GP to guarantee that the next fish to bite your line will be the same fish you last caught. This means you can Double Hook two sets of 3 Blind Mantas in a row, guaranteeing you get 1,326 points, more than even the coveted Teethfish.

Blind Mantas are very taxing on the GP: 400 GP x 2 for both Double Hooks, and 350 GP for Identical Cast, totalling 1,150 GP. Even with max GP, players can’t breach 1,000 currently, so to catch Blind Mantas properly, you need to make use of those Cordial items that replenish GP. Cordials have a 3.5-minute cooldown, but one Hi-Cordial gives 400 GP, enough for one Double Hook. This brings the GP requirement down to at 750- much more attainable-but there’s another problem with Blind Mantas. Double Hooking Oscars was simply a matter of waiting for the “!” that takes at least more than 12 seconds to appear, but Blind Mantas are a 2-star fish and there are three possible 2-star fish on the southeast island.

Whitelooms are ubiquitous, ever-present 2-star fish available on all islands, and they’re only worth 5 points. They have a rather short catch timer though, so it’d be easy enough to distinguish Whitelooms from Blind Mantas, if not for the dreaded King’s Mantle. King’s Mantle are 2-star fish which take about as much time as Blind Mantas to bite your line. This means if you blindly Double Hook a slow “!!”, you run the risk of Double Hooking King’s Mantle, which are only worth 2 points each. Getting around the King’s Mantle requires the final piece of the Blind Manta puzzle: Surface Slap.

For the low price of 200 GP, Surface Slap does the exact opposite of Identical Cast: it guarantees that the next fish you catch won’t be the one you previously caught. The Blind Manta rotation works like so: catch a King’s Mantle, then use Surface Slap. Ignore all bites on your rod until you get a slow “!!” alert, which can now only be a Blind Manta, then use Double Hook to nab three of them. Immediately after, use Identical Cast, pop your Hi-Cordial, and cast your line. The next “!!” alert will be a Blind Manta as well, so Double Hook it again for three more. While this brings the GP cost for the full rotation from 750 to 950, remember that GP slowly regenerates over time, so you’ll likely recoup the cost of Surface Slap as you wait to hook the first Blind Manta.

Running Blind Mantas was the most popular fishing method among fishers this past season. Christine switched to Mantas earlier than I did, having preferred Storm Chasers beforehand, and after seeing #11 pass me in rank, I decided to do the same, though I would mix in some Storm Chaser hours here and there. Something I found out about Blind Mantas was that, while it was a way to guarantee 1,326 points, it still took a long time: waiting for Mantles and Mantas to bite; waiting for GP to regenerate; waiting for your Hi-Cordial to come off cooldown. If I caught just two Storm Chasers in the same period of time that it took to catch six Blind Mantas, I’d outpace the Mantas easily. The nice thing about Storm Chasers and Mosasaurs was that you didn’t really need to manage your GP or focus on the timings of the bites. Blind Mantas required at least some amount of focus to avoid mismanaging your GP or accidentally using or forgetting to use your skills.

That’s when the revelation hit me. There were fish of varying rarities and value; the random nature of not being able to decide which fish you catch; the arcane resource management; the timing involved; the daily grind for getting points.

Fishing was competitive gacha pulling.

Fishers were literally competing to see how many Storm Chasers, Blind Mantas, Mosasaurs, Teethfish, Wyverns, etc. they could pull over others. Unlike gacha games, though, where you often have to spend real-world money on a per-pull basis, fishing in the Diadem was more about how much time you had to spend pulling over others. After Day 7, I finally broke out free from 10th place, and jumped up to 7th. But this was mostly because I had plenty of time to pull for fish: others, on a Monday, had much less time.

I spoke with one person who had yet to break into the top 12; I’d often see them fishing on the Mosasaur island in the same spot, and used that as an avenue for small talk. I learned that their momentum was upended over the weekend by an unexpected call to watch over a young relative. They spent Monday trying to gain back the ground they had lost, because a similar unforeseen event happened last ranking season, and I offered them words of encouragement. Unfortunately, they didn’t break top 12 this time either; that weekend momentum killer proved insurmountable in the end.

Something I noticed while comparing the day-to-day results was that those of us toward the top were pulling in obscene amounts of points. The nature of the competition being based around time availability, physical endurance, and fate’s whims, meant that in order to be assured your spot wouldn’t be usurped by those who had more free time, more endurance, or more luck, you had to put in more and more of your time and your body into the task. Being at the front of the pack meant that you had little to gain, and everything to lose, so you feel compelled to work harder to keep that lead.

Indeed, I started to notice some of the frontrunners falling behind or losing steam. After Day 8, I was in 6th place, and by Day 9, I’d obtain what would be my final result: 4th place, which I’d keep on the final day with a grand total of 1,087,205 points, right under Carbuncle Plushy’s 1,111,111 as promised, and just over Oscarlet Ormesang’s 1,069,420. Oscarlet used to be in 2nd place, but fell to 5th for two reasons: first and most importantly, he stopped fishing after Day 8 once he reached his very funny number. He was far enough ahead of everyone else that he could afford to skip the last two days of competition and still be in the top 12. Carbuncle Plushy and I were the only two to surpass him in score. But if it were just the two of us, the the scoreboard would have been:

#1 Estellise Flower…………..1,412,279
#2 Carbuncle Plushy………..1,111,111
#3 Skull Hazard (me)……….1,087,205
#4 Oscarlet Ormesang………1,069,420

However, there had been a secret contender this whole time: Papata Popoto. I had actually met her once before – while fishing on the Storm Chaser island on Day 4, she came down from the Blind Manta spot, landed next to me, and then hugged my legs twice before flying off (I was standing up and she’s a lalafell, hence the leg-hugs). A relatively innocuous exchange in any other circumstance, these hugs felt ominous and foreboding as I quickly recognized her. She had been in the top 12 on Day 1, in fact she had been #1 on Day 1, but had continuously fallen down the ranks as more and more players usurped her humble score. I remembered something friend of the site Zev mentioned to me, back when I was making those Spiritbonding Potions: he told me that he had learned that Papata was hoarding her fish.

I said before that the cut-off time for having your fish counted for the daily tally was between 10pm and 11pm. What that might imply is any fish you don’t turn in by 11pm don’t get counted toward your score, but that isn’t the case. You can catch as much fish as you like and hoard them all to yourself in your inventory until the very last day of the competition, and then blindside people with your million-point turn-in, completely preventing them from responding to your efforts. All the while, you can easily use the ranking board to gauge how many points they’re getting per day, and after tallying up your score yourself, you can override their efforts with impunity.

People in Diadem chat often expressed displeasure at the thought of losing their rank just because people were hiding their scores, and I make it sound like a shrewd, underhanded tactic worthy of scorn. However, after running the gauntlet of Diadem Purgatory myself, I think the entire gathering competition concept needs to be reworked, including how the scoring system is done. Maybe that means only factoring in a single lockout’s worth of gathered materials or caught fish, thus reducing the weight of time in the equation, and increasing the value of gear strength, skill, and luck. Maybe that means forcing nightly turn-ins so nobody can hide their scores and ensure everyone’s points are on the table. Maybe it means both of those, or something else, but as it stands the competitive side of gathering classes in the Firmament leaves something to be desired.

I don’t begrudge Papata Popoto for secretly having been in 1st place the whole time, winning with a grand 1,818,181 points. Papata still had to put in as much time & effort as the rest of us to keep that lead. Even though she wasn’t turning in her fish, she still had to collect them in the Diadem, where anyone could see her fishing and understand that she wasn’t turning them in. If you compare scores, she has over 400,000 more points than Estellise, so her first place victory was well-deserved in my opinion. Besides, Carbuncle and I would have gone up one rank each if not for Papata’s torrent of final-day fishpoints, but instead we stayed at 3rd and 4th for the final scores, meeting our goals of never dropping in rank.

I came away from it all feeling accomplished. I was the #4 fisher on Balmung. I had many good times with fellow gatherers, and while the <Saint of the Firmament> title is nice, I was mostly in this for the intrinsic reward from the beginning. The competition isn’t as tightly designed as I’d like it to be, but the satisfaction I felt when those final scores went live was beyond reproach. That said, I’m never doing this again… okay maybe I will do Ala Mhigan Restoration but I sure as hell am not doing fishing again.

If you’re thinking of participating in the final round of Ishgardian Restoration, coming soon in patch 5.41, here are my words of wisdom to you. First, don’t do this, it’s not worth it, do crafting instead if you really want the title. Second, if you’re going to do gathering anyway, please make sure that you take care of your body. I only made it through over 100 hours of fishing in 10 days’ time because I drank water, stretched, and took breaks: you’ll need to do the same. Third, you can turn in your Skybuilders’ scrip for Steel Sky Spoils. If you take these to the old Diadem desk near the Astrologian guild in Ishgard, a vendor will exchange them for Hi-Cordials: these are practically free with how much scrip you’ll rake in while gathering, so use them if you’re running low on Cordials. Fourth, since gathering is a monotonous activity, it’s a great time to catch up on podcasts or shows. Finally, know your limits and appreciate them. I could’ve done 18-hour fishing days, but I knew that would break me more than it’d help. That restraint on my part meant I was able to use those hours for much-needed rest, and it’s why I was able to get 4th place at all.

Rose finished 9th in Carpentry, and Christine finished 8th in Fishing, which meant that all three of us obtained the <Saint of the Firmament> title. I think these numbers suit us fairly well: Rose’s 9 represents her character’s status as the 9th dragon, after Midgardsormr and the 7 of the First Brood. When combined with the 10 days spent over the competition, Christine’s 8 creates The Suikoden Number, albeit in a contrived manner. My 4 represents Death, because that’s what I felt like after going through Firmament Fisher Hell, staring into that swirling abyss at the bottom of the Diadem, and losing my entire mind in the sea of whitelooms, chasing storm and ‘saur, mantas blind, and teethfish galore.

After ten days of doing virtually nothing but eating, sleeping, fishing, repeating, I can say with great confidence that this was the first time in awhile where I dedicated myself to a personal goal and met it with flying fish- I mean, colors. Even though the competition itself could use some refinement, the camaraderie and banter between myself and other gatherers was what kept my spirits up, as did the support of my friends who made sure I was okay and cheered me on throughout my journey. I can’t remember the last time I really pushed myself to excel in a tense, prolonged situation, and in many ways I’m more proud of myself than I am of the Saint title that adorns my character. In those tumultuous moments where I frantically calculated points and hours, I always managed to center my focus on the task at hand- hooking the next big catch- and that clarity helped me get through the whole competition and come out the other end feeling not exhausted, but suffused with confidence. Learning how much potential I have and how far I can take that potential is the best reward I’ve ever won, and I won it by catching fish in a video game.

About Spencer

Spencer is a skeleton from Florida’s B-side, currently skulking around Washington state, and he always plays the thief in games.

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