N.B.: I am not nearly clever enough to come up with that title on my own – I saw it on a shirt and it seemed appropriate.

So, I’m being told that the blogosphere is afire with discussions about tanks/healers vs. DPS, the importance of these roles, and whether or not the former deserve extra rewards. Apparently I’m still not reading enough of the blogosphere because this was news to me, though it does explain the few posts I’ve seen along these lines. I looked around a bit and managed to find what I think is the original post that sparked the discussion, as well as a few other interesting takes on it.

The conversation seems to break down (at least to/for me, from my limited reading of it) to three questions:


  1. Should Blizzard implement additional rewards for tanks/healers? Either as incentive to get more people to play them, or a reward because the answer to Question 2 is yes?
  2. Are tanks/healers more valuable than DPS? Is their job harder/more frustrating? (I’m not sure if this was actually stated, but it is implied by the suggestion that tanks/healers should get more gear).
  3. Why are there so few tanks/healers compared to DPS?

Let’s explore (with advance apologies for the length of the post. I should confess that I have never, in my personal history, been accused of being short-winded…).

Should Blizzard implement additional rewards for tanks/healers (as incentive or reward)?

My take on the first question (rewards and whether tanks/healers should get extra) is actually pretty succinct: no.

Why? Because as far as incentive goes, a couple extra badges or a shot at gear isn’t going to convince someone to roll a tank or a healer who had no inclination to do so in the first place. Giving me extra gear to use in a role I hate playing is worth exactly nothing to me. I agree with Larísa, over at the Pink Pigtail Inn – Blizzard has already done everything they can to encourage this by implementing dual-specs.

And as far as tanks/healers deserving a reward for their job being hard, the fact of the matter is that if everyone plays like they should – i.e., not like complete, drooling idiots (tanks and healers included) – then, in fact, nobody’s job is actually harder than anybody else’s. Easiest thing I’ve ever done in this game is tank for a well behaved group that stays on target and pays attention. I’ve heard the same from healers.

This is also a partial answer to Question 2, but we’ll come back to the inevitable caveat in a moment.

Are tanks/healers more valuable than DPS? Is their job harder/more frustrating?

Short answer to Question 2.a: Yes and no.

Short answer to Question 2.b: Yes and no.

Value

With regards to value, on a purely economic level (ha ha! Like I understand economics), yes they are. Why? Because they’re in short supply, and you absolutely need to have one of each in order to do group content. All the DPS in the world couldn’t burn through the boss fast enough to keep anyone from dying, and there won’t be much gogogoing unless it’s from the graveyard back to your corpse. But that’s where any additional value ends. If the LFG was suddenly flooded with tanks and healers this whole point would fall off the board and it wouldn’t matter any more.

Tanks tank, healers heal, and DPS do damage in varied and colourful forms. None of these roles is actually worth more than the others, it just appears to be so because tanks and healers are rare, and their roles are more obviously required. You could lose a DPS (Hell, you could lose two DPS) and provided the remaining is/are sufficiently competent, you can still actually clear content. But that’s not a result of DPS being worth less, it’s a function of the damage role and the fact that you can always add or lose DPS without significantly affecting your gameplay. You could add a healer or a tank, and they might be a little bored, but you could play like that. You couldn’t afford to lose a healer or a tank, though. You need to keep the minimum one.

So, it’s not that tanks and healers are worth more, it’s just that they appear to be so because you can usually afford to lose a DPS or two because you have extras.

The fact of the matter is, you absolutely need DPS. Sure, in theory, you could two-man the world as a tank/healer combo. I know, I’ve done it once or twice. But I hope you’ve got patience, time, and a Godly mana bar of unending blue.

The mechanics of this game work around the assumption that all three roles are filled. You have somebody distracting the monster so somebody else can kill it. You have somebody healing the first somebody to keep them alive and buy time. And you have somebody else who is killing the monster before the healer runs out of mana, and the tank runs out of life.

If you don’t have DPS, the healer runs out of mana and the tank runs out of life. If you don’t have a tank, the DPS run out of life before the healer can cast so much as a HoT and then so does the healer. If you don’t have a healer, the tank runs out of life and the DPS die screaming. Each role is required. Each role is equal. If you don’t have them all, everybody dies.

It’s the synergy between the roles that makes the game work and means the difference between win and fail (and, incidentally, it’s this synergy that is the most rewarding thing in the game for me). Why would you reward one of the roles over the other? You need them all. We’ll be in no better a position if all the DPS in the world rolled tanks and healers and there was no one left to actually kill things. We can’t ALL be protectors of the weak and squishy.

Frustration/difficulty

In my answer to Question 1, I intimated that the tank/healer role was no more frustrating than the DPS role when everyone played intelligently, but (told you there was a caveat) in the event that someone(s) isn’t playing intelligently…

The source of the added frustration in the two pole positions is people who play like idiots. If you’ve never tanked or healed, you have no idea how hard you have to work, or how stressful it can be, to try to save people from their own stupidity – to say nothing of saving everyone else from their stupidity.

It’s not that the roles are inherently more frustrating, it’s that they come with more responsibility for the lives of others – and therefore more stress if you feel the situation slipping out of your control. There is almost always something you could have done. You will always wonder “what if I’d popped my CD sooner”, “what if I’d saved my taunt”, “did I miss a step in the rotation?”.

As DPS as long as you’re playing well you’re doing everything you can to preserve the HP of your group and you can’t actually compensate for other, less helpful players. As tank or heals…you are designed to preserve the HP of your group, and a drooling idiot is no excuse for failing, no matter how hard they make your job. And you have to watch everything.

Example scenario:

Kill target is skull. I’m tanking skull and throwing down enough AoE threat to keep Cross, Square, and Star off the healer and the DPS that can’t help but AoE as part of their rotation (ret pallies, warriors, etc… I’m not talking Blizzard or Volley here, but Divine Storm and whirlwind). But Retarded DPS #1 is wailing on the square. Why is anyone’s guess.

So I notice I’m losing square. I throw a shield slam on it and return to skull, tersely reminding RD#1 that the kill target is skull and nobody will be impressed with his DPS if they’re all running back from the graveyard. RD#1, you may have guessed by now, is retarded. So he stays on Square.

I start doing more AoE threat, trying to single-target-tank Skull, since the rest of the DPS are sill single-target-DPSing it, and AoE tank Square, even though I know it won’t work since RD#1 is single-target-DPSing it. Inevitably, he pulls aggro.

Depending on the situation and how long we’ve been fighting, this may not be the end of the world. Let’s assume worst case scenario, though.

RD#1 starts taking more damage than his squishy little frame can bear. Healer panics and starts pouring heals into him. I’m snarling and swearing and have to switch targets to get Square back. I slap Vigilance onto RD#1 to kill his threat (since he’s not smart enough to do it himself) and taunt Square off of him. Naturally, RD#1 thinks this means he can keep wailing on Square. Because he’s still wailing on Square, there’s going to be a period where, even with Vigilance, he’s riding my threat, because taunt does not give me anything more than 100% of whatever threat you had, which means I don’t have any wriggle room on Omen. So I fight with RD#1 for a bit to establish adequate threat on what is basically the third target in the kill order.

Meanwhile, the rest of the DPS are still wailing on Skull because that’s what they’re supposed to do. Only problem? I’m no longer tanking Skull, and I’ve swapped Vigilance from the highest threat DPS in the group, to RD#1 in an attempt to compensate for his idiocy. The healer has topped off RD#1, during which time I am still taking damage from three targets and not getting healed, and as he turns to start sinking mana into me – where it’s supposed to go – inevitably the good DPS still following the kill order pull the Skull I haven’t been tanking. Healer has another heart attack. I’m a tank, I’ve got defences, I’m not down that much, so his priority becomes keeping the DPS alive as the monster wails on them.

One of the DPS maybe stops attacking the Skull when they see it’s not on me. The other one closes their eyes and maintains the faith that I will taunt it back and save their ass. Depending on how quickly this has happened (and believe me, it can be fucking quick), my taunt may actually be on cooldown. Let’s pretend it is (worst case scenario, remember?).

So I mocking blow, which forces the monster to attack me for a bit, but doesn’t change my threat level. Now I have to manually hike my threat back up to where it would be if I’d been tanking the target the whole time before Mocking Blow wears off. I’m not sure I want to move Vigi again because RD#1 is still on the square and now I’m not. The DPS, seeing that Skull is on me again and unaware it was Mocking blow, not taunt, open fire. Maybe they pop a CD to try to get their DPS up again to make up for having to slow down when I switched targets.

Just as I manage to get control of skull, I lose Square again. I blow my newly refreshed taunt pulling it back and drop a thunder clap out desperation as I attempt to reposition the scattered group for a shockwave. But then the Star peels off from the group and bears down on the healer because I’ve been so busy trying to single-target-tank two different targets, I haven’t been paying enough attention to dropping AoE (and as a warrior, AoE is not, exactly, my strong suit – it’s not something that happens passively, it’s something I have to do).

Healer’s still busy trying to bring the DPS back up to full so he can get back to healing me when he sees the mob and shifts focus to keeping himself alive. Lo and behold, my taunt is on CD and Vigi’s on RD#1. So I Intervene back to the healer and start wailing on Star until it’s looking at me again. By the time I’m charging back into melee, Skull has died and the good DPS have moved onto Cross even though I’m not there and haven’t had much of a change to put threat on it, since I was forced to split my attention between the first kill order target and the third. RD#1 has already re-pulled aggro on Square. Healer’s dropping into a coma from all the stupid and starts ignoring the DPS because I’m getting pretty low on health and he can’t keep us all alive.

So what do I do? Do I pick up cross before the DPS do, or do I try to get square back? Technically, I’m expected to do both, even though I’m fighting with CDs, the GCD, my rage level (repeat after me: if it’s not wailing on me, I’m not getting any rage back), and the ever narrowing gap between my threat and the DPS’.

There are a couple of ways this scenario ends. Ironically, it’ll depend on how good our not-retarded DPS are. If they’re good enough at their class and they’re packing the requisite heat, they’ll be able to kill the adds before the tank-bouncing and heal-bouncing that is a direct result of RD#1’s inability to follow a kill order falls apart at the seams and either me or healer just aren’t fast enough to compensate.

If the DPS aren’t good enough, we all die.

So, suffice it to say, in an ideal world, tanks, healers and DPS have equal degrees of difficulty and frustration in their roles; however the world is not ideal, and when shit goes wrong it’s harder on the tanks and healers than the DPS specifically because they’re the ones who need to compensate for it. Good DPS are already doing what they can to mitigate the damage and there’s not much they can do to make a situation right again if someone else is fucking up.

As a throw back to the value question, in the scenario above you’ll note that assuming your tank and healer are good ones, success or failure ultimately comes down to the DPS.

Funny how that works, eh? It’s unlikely to be acknowledged, because unfortunately the tank and healer are frothing at the mouth with rage because that fight was exponentially harder than it had to be, and our relaxing heroic run just turned into the nightmare from Hell (to say nothing of the fact that odds are good RD#1 is already gleefully running into the next group without waiting for us).

What this translates into is anger at the DPS – not because they all suck, but because it’s human nature to use a broad brush. Statistically speaking (okay…anecdotally speaking) there’s a LOT of retarded DPS out there, and they give tanks and healers Once Bitten Twice Shy Syndrome, and give DPS as a role a bad name.

Not because DPS as a role is easy or has no value, but because they’re doing it wrong. If DPS as a role didn’t matter or had no value, a DPS being an idiot would not be able to wreak such havoc just by not being on the wrong target. But they do.

Because they matter.

Why are there so few tanks/healers compared to DPS?

So many answers to this. It can’t be answered in a general sense, because people choose to play or not play a tank/healer for very personal reasons. In some cases, they choose not to because they simply don’t want the responsibility. In some cases they’re just not attracted to the roll. In some cases they tried it, but ran into one too many RD#1s and quit because it’s just not worth the frustration. In some cases they tried it, and douche bag PuGs swore at them and vote-kicked them and never gave them a chance to learn how to do it so they quit.

Tanking or healing is very often at best a thankless job, at worst an abusive one. You take a lot of shit and very little of it is deserved. On top of it, it’s hard to defend yourself. At the end of an encounter, DPS can link Recount and say – see? There’s my number. It’s HUGE. Where’s your incontrovertible proof that you performed well?

The fact that everyone’s alive is not always a good indicator. If you’re all still standing at the end, but the DPS had to spam threat-reduction abilities constantly, and your healer is OOM, and the mobs were all over the place…well, you didn’t do a very good job, did you?

There’s nothing you can link to say “I’m a good tank.” If you’re a healer, Recount does track things, but it’s not accurate or necessarily worth linking. If you’re a Disc priest you’re barely going to register since 90% of your shit is absorption, not healing. If you’re RH you’re going to be much higher on Recount than the MH. If your tank is overgeared for the content, your numbers will be low. There are too many variables.

Being a good tank or a good healer means having softer skills. Do you notice incoming pats and pick them up before your DPS do? Do you know when you can afford to heal a DPS without exposing your tank to risk? Can you compensate for RD#1 and the rest of his Guild? Are you good enough to make up for other people’s epic foolishness?

These aren’t things that Recount tracks. And if they’re done right, they’re not things that anyone but you notices. And they’re hard to do, and they’re frustrating to do, and the require a degree of skill and experience that most other players simply aren’t aware of. A while ago I went into an instance on my bear and warned them in advance it had been a while since I’d played a bear. The response I got was “just swipe” as though that was really all tanking came down to. But tanks who “just swipe” are not good tanks.

I’m not saying the DPS get all kinds of glory and appreciation (because they don’t usually even get a thank you, and that’s as bad as not thanking your tank or healer), but at least as a DPS you have a number you can spam if it’s high enough. You have a mechanical means of evaluating your own performance and defending yourself from or preventing criticism.

As a tank and a healer, all you’ve got is your own private evaluation of whether you did everything you could to prevent a wipe. And there’s nothing much you can do to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt it wasn’t your fault if it happened.

This is why it’s easy to blame the healer and/or the tank for a wipe – not just because their job is actually to prevent it, but because they can’t reliably defend themselves. You get he said, she said.

[RDno1]: wtf y i die/
[Angrytank]: Because you were on the wrong target. Follow the kill order and you won’t pull.
[RDno1]: I asist u
[Angrytank]: No, you didn’t. I have three different mods that show me what target you’re on. You weren’t assisting anybody.
[RDno1]: lrn 2 tnk! u shuld devestete mor usck
[Angrytank]: You. Weren’t. On. The. Skull. Even if I DID devastate more, I’d be devastating SKULL. You would still have pulled.
[Angrytank] has been vote-kicked.

It’s almost futile to try to defend yourself. And I’m not even going to get into DPS that pull for you and start fights before you’re ready (because they think you can “just swipe” and that will fix everything).

So, in the end, you really have to love healing/tanking to play those roles outside a friendly, supportive guild/raid group – because the amount of abuse, grief, and frustration you’ll take isn’t worth it otherwise.

And for the record, neither is an extra badge.

Conclusion

It’s not Blizzard’s fault there aren’t more tanks and healers. It’s the shape of the community. Too many asshats, not enough patience or respect for other human beings. Tanking and healing requires you to perform a service for a group of people, and your success is measured not just by how much life they had left at the end of the fight, but by their quality of life during the fight.

But there’s only so much you can compensate for, and sooner or later it’s hard to care whether they live or die, especially when they did it to themselves, but give the blame to you.

Every time a DPS says “wty y i die/” a tank quits the game.

Every time a non-heals says: “just heel thru it1” a healer quits the game.

But everyone time anyone tells someone else (DPS, tank, or heals): “Hey man, good job. Tough fight, but we made it.” then someone jumps into the queue again for just one more run.

The solution to this problem is a simple one.*

*And if it fails, there’s always Plan B – which involves a bat, a road trip, and some skulls. Who’s with me?