Skill vs. entry barrier

Today I want to talk about tanks being the most awesome beings in the (MMO) world. And by that I mean, I want to explain why they’re not.

The astute reader may be aware of the recent “meat in the room” discussion. Are tanking and healing harder than DPSing? Do they require more skill? If they do, how comes members of top-guilds settle for the “lesser” jobs? They are all highly skilled, they should all be playing “high-skill” roles! Maybe they’re sacrificing themselves for the sake of the guild by playing the undesired DPS roles – which would put an interesting twist to the commonly spread perception of tank and healer “sacrifice”. Or maybe the whole argument is based on a flawed assumption. The secret, you see, is in entry barriers.

First, let’s talk about healers, since this is the role I am personally least familiar with, but have been observing it being executed long and close enough to come to the following realisation: healing, above all else, is about having the right mindset. A great healer is not necessarily the person who thrives at polishing rotations and perfecting execution infinitely. A great healer is, first of all, a person who is capable of immersing themselves into looking after others. This is the great challenge in the mastery of healing, the ability to transition from “I do” to “I help”. The MMO worlds are full of those who do not possess that ability, the “battle healers”, oh don’t we know those. They may make for highly competent DPS, if you’d let them, but “forced” into the healer role they’ll always have an above average rate of slip-ups, cock-ups, focus-losses and accidental deaths. Those who do possess that ability, they may never rise to the top when DPSing, but when they’re healing, you feel safe, in bold letters. They got your back, no matter what. Salutes to my favourite druid as well as a certain priestess who may or may not still read this blog and may or may not be still very angry at me.

However, this is not necessarily an entry barrier. It’s the path to mastery, and it’s a precondition for feeling comfortable with a healing role in the long run, but not something you absolutely cannot do without. You can. As long as the encounter is not too challenging and/or there’s someone to cover up for you, in one way or other, it’s possible to just round up those healing buttons and roll along. You’d be surprised how far you can roll this way. Or you wouldn’t, because you’ve probably seen it yourself.

Tanking is somewhat different. Its mental transition is far smaller. While one has to abandon the “I destroy”, the point of destination is a very vicinal “I am indestructible”. You’re still the fighter who wrestles with the monster (to save the princess?), the change is marginal. What changes a lot is the entry barrier you need to overcome to even begin tanking. In WoW it is currently best expressed through the defense skill. If you want to tank heroics and do not bring at least 535 defense (skill, not rating) to the party, you’re asking for disaster. They’re doing away with it and incorporating it into talents in Cataclysm – which is a good thing. But defense is only one aspect of the barrier, and easiest to judge, because it’s measurable.

The thing is that tank failures are very hard to recover from and to compensate for. Not impossible, especially with competent DPS and a dedicated healer, but hard. Case in point: a tank needs to keep mobs in front of himself, while melee DPS needs to attack mobs from behind. It’s basically the same thing – positioning. By attacking from behind (or the side, if it’s a dragon), the DPS removes the possibility of being parried, improving their damage output by roughly 5% at the same time as not causing additional damage on the tank through parry-haste, plus avoiding cleave attacks themselves. It’s a win-win-win. But when you’re only starting out in group play, those 5% are negligible, parry-haste is not as common (or feared, due to the effective removal of crushing blows) as it used to be, and beginner-level mobs and bosses won’t exactly cleave you to death on the spot. You should learn it, and you should learn it soon, but you’re safe starting out without and learning on the job.

The equivalent task of the tank (keeping the mobs in front) on the other hand is not at all optional. Being attacked from behind means that your parry is removed. As well as your block and your dodge, in short, your entire avoidance is stripped, save for the miss chance (inherent 5%, modified by your defense skill – depending on mob level usually 10-15% total). You are going to eat 2 to 3 times as much damage. And since you, as a beginner tank, are likely to be running with a beginner healer (look, being carried doesn’t count), they won’t be able to compensate. So, those 5 mobs you’re about to pull, with a caster and a hunter type? Yeah, have fun dancing around trying to keep them all in front of you. Your ability to do that will make or break your group’s ability to progress. Oh, and your melee DPS will hate you for it.

But is that really hard? Is it so heroic and incredibly awesome that everyone needs to be at your feet for doing it? No, not at all. It’s not hard. It’s basic. Your task of keeping the mobs in front of yourself isn’t really that much harder than the damage dealers’ task of staying behind them. But the tank has to learn to do it now, while the DPS can learn to do it later. That’s all the difference. When I struggled with AoE threat, I spent several restless hours analysing my rotation and spec, pinpointed what I was doing wrong, changed a glyph, and the next time we lined up for heroics the problem was solved. If I was instead struggling with my AoE-DPS, I could have easily afforded to gradually tweak and improve over weeks.

Tanking doesn’t require more skill, nor is it that much more stressful – not if you enjoy doing it! What it does require is the ability and dedication to tackle and solve problems the moment they occur. Actually, you’re supposed to solve them before they occur, because, see above, tank failures are very hard to recover from. When Rem slept on picking up Herald Volazj after the insanity phases, two people got subsequently one-shotted. I screwed up, I shouldn’t have let that happen. It is the tank’s job not to let such things happen. It was a learning experience.

Which leads to the next important remark: yes, there is a lot more to learn when it comes to tanking. It is not just “learn the basics and you’re set forever”. I learn every day, every time I tank, no matter what I tank. Experience is invaluable. But you need the basics.

Last but not least, let’s talk about DPS. See, any damage is a contribution. Even 100 DPS, although laughably low, does, mathematically speaking, still contribute to mobs going down. This is why there is virtually no entry barrier for damage dealers. Okay, there is: don’t do outright stupid stuff! But other than that, unless there are enrage timers in play, or the realistic chance of running into mana trouble, pretty much everything you bring to the table is more than would have been on the table if you were not there.

Does this mean DPS takes no skill, since it’s always useful? Oh, hell no. The flip side of the coin is that more DPS is always more useful (unless there’s Mirrored Soul, or Overlord’s Brand, but .. come on, work with me here!). Sky’s the limit. And while it takes not so incredibly much skill to start contributing some DPS, it takes one helluva lot of skill and dedication to contribute really amazing DPS. And this means that contrary to popular (well, with some) belief, proficient DPS should be valued very, very highly. And I guarantee you that the proficient damage dealers in the top guilds mentioned at the beginning of this post are valued very, very highly. Because they had the determination to go past the “I’m doing okay” stage, transcend the “I’m doing good” phase and banged their head into the “I want to be freakin’ amazing” place they’re in now.

Have you noticed a common theme in all three roles? Yep. Dedication. Love what you do and do what you love. And stop worrying so much whether your job is the more important than someone else’s or not.

8 thoughts on “Skill vs. entry barrier

  1. Anonymous

    Love this post. And would very much like to link to it in my own blog, with my favourite warrior’s permission.

    Rem’s favourite druid

  2. Anonymous

    You have some very interesting points there.

    Yes they are all part of a team when put together and without one the other two cannot function in an instance/raid however there are fewer people out there who want to play a tank/healer just look at the PUG queue for tanks it’s allmost instant, healers a few mins at the most and for DPS 10mins plus at prime time.

    This is why healers and tanks are so sought after because they are rarer than DPS mostly because of the mindsets about the roles and the lack of people willing to take the roles of tank and healer.

    I just don’t understand this personally as you can allways find a group as either of those roles it just takes a bit of dedication to stick at it.

    For the record I tank/heal and dps on three different characters.


  3. Anonymous

    Actually there’s another point to be made here too…..I’m not sure if it’s just mindset…

    You see, Rem and I’ve been able to level together as a tank/healer combination – great stuff, we’ve both been able to experience our roles as we’ve levelled. I’ve always watched his health, he’s always watched out for me. We’ve taken things at our pace, learned along the way. And we make a killer tank/healer team.

    If I’d joined this game on my own, all the info out there would be pointing me to level as feral, level as feral, level as feral. It’s easier, it’s quicker. Likewise, Rem would be pointed at levelling as arms. It’s easier, it’s quicker. And if you don’t, you get the whispers – level as feral, it’s SOO much easier…

    So…you do. And then you get to a relatively high level, respec and suddenly, omg, all these different skills….argh….Nah, it’s easier to stick to feral or arms, thanks. I duospecced at 68-70 to resto. Having levelled up as mostly balance, I had some idea of what I was doing. Had I gone from feral to that, I wouldn’t have had a freaking clue.

    Right from the start, it’s ingrained that dps is a get there quicker spec. And that, I suspect, is one of the reasons we have a shortage of tanks/healers. More people would perhaps be in that mindset if they’d headed that way from the start.


  4. slux

    I don’t think having something be stressful and enjoying doing it are mutually exclusive at all. It’s like raiding where I doubt many enjoy repeatedly wiping to the same boss but they get a kick out of finally succeeding.

    I know I prefer to tank but I still find there’s a lot more pressure to perform when making a mistake can make the whole group wipe. The difference to playing the same content with a DPS in a pug is striking, you can get thru on just /follow and nobody really expects anything from you.

    The cost of making a mistake factors into what constitutes hard even if the basic task is not rocket science. If you can never afford to make mistakes without dire consequences the task becomes hard because being flawless 100% of the time is, indeed, hard.

  5. Rem

    Providing flawless DPS 100% of the time is just as hard. Is it required to the same extent? No, and that’s precisely the point of my post. Is it beneficial? Yes. Is it the more beneficial the harder the content you’re on? Yes, yes.

    Yes, it’s much easier to hitch a ride as DPS. And that’s exactly the reason why I’m saying that those who do not settle for “good enough not to be booted” but instead strive for perfection, that those DPS players are worth their weight in gold.

    Oh, and let us not over-dramatize our (tanks) role into extremes. Yes, our mistakes do have the tendency to be costly, but it’s not like the group/raid wipes every time I hit Revenge when I’d have been supposed to use Devastate. We too have our “oops” moments that are not automatically, always fatal.

  6. Anonymous

    Alquiel, Didn’t we discuss this before :o)

    Yes I know the perception till now has been that it is quicker to level as a DPS but thats where most people view levelling to be.

    However saying that it is possible now with the random dungeon tool to level much much quicker if you are a healer or tank who knows the instances and what they are doing, but thats an aside.

    In general saying DPS can be carried up to a certain point thats true but as you progress into the higer endgame content even on 10man normal you have very little room for error and your DPS needs to be as on the ball as the healers and tanks or you start loosing raid members to damage effects whilst the tanks are holding the boss (bonespike graveyard in ICC on marrowgar) and at that point you can’t take the boss down.

    Last night in ICC 10 we hit an enrage timer and we were gutted. Questions were asked as to what the DPS was doing and the issue was sorted there and then (Lady Deathwhisper) and we proceeded to work out why the dps was so sub par and do something about it (sodding magic/physical immune mobs) we got past it and had time to spare after that.

    Yes we are just starting in ICC as that was our second time in there but margin for error on all sides of the DPS/Tank/Heal triangle is very small and from what I’m told doesn’t get much better.

    Currently DPS is pretty easy in heroics due to the way in which there are possibly three that anyone who doesn’t raid can just plain outgear them and the same go’s for places like Naxx where it’s so easily outgeared the bosses are laughable at times.

    For fun we 15manned AQ40 and you jsut can’t outgear C’thun due to fight mechanics now there was a fun afternoon one weekend 😀 (yes we wiped a fair few times learning the mechanics of a level 60 raid)


  7. Pingback: Myth Busters: Tanking is Hard « Do Not Try This At Home

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s