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So. Healing.

Wow.

At first I was excited, you know? My pally’s had a Holy off-spec for ages and ages and ages (totally copied SaveTheFails’, right down to his glyphs…I’m cheap like that, and healing is a frightening prospect for me. I wanted the comforting security blanket of mimicking someone who knows better). I was like, hey! layteknight has a shiny new tank, I’ve got this never used “healer”. Let’s, you know, do stuff.

So I shelved the shaman for the night and pulled up my raiding tank and turned him into a heroics healer. Not bad, I told myself. 3300 gearscore, better than I expected. But I had been rolling off-spec in Naxx/ULD way back when, and the rep gear is actually decent to start from. Nothing’s really gemmed or enchanted, but whatever. Good enough for heroics.

Sign us up whenever you’re ready, says I, swaggering around Dalaran in my cute little healing set, flashing my spell power around like I understand what it means. I am ready to heal.

Can’t be that much different than tanking, right? It’s like the flip-side of the protection coin, that’s all. We’re both doing the same thing in the end – keeping everyone alive. Easy peasey, shampoo squeezy.

Boom. Loading Screen. Gundrak.

Sudden influx of fear. Wait, Gundrak? Isn’t that like…high level or something? Couldn’t we have started with UK? Wait, maybe we should have done a normal first. Wait, am I supposed to use Sacred Shield? I Beacon the Tank right? Spam Flash of Light? That’s it, right? Just click on the little green bars on Healbot?

No. I got this. I totally got this. I’m good.

I’m awesome.

I can totally do this.

Step 1 – Beacon of Light on me, because I figure – with all my healing prowess – that I’m never not going to be healing the tank, right? It’s heroics. People don’t take damage in heroics. So this way if I take damage I don’t need to worry about it.
Step 2 – There are some snakes.
Step 3 – There is a snake boss.
Step 4 – Everyone is taking damage all day all the time.
Step 5 – Waste precious time trying to heal a Phase-shfited Imp because I thought it was a person.
Step 6 – Hunter in nova, but healing him would mean letting the tank die because for some reason I thought it was a good idea to put Beacon on ME.
Step 7 – Hunter dies.
Step 8 – 60000000000 snakes on me, but I can’t remember whether I’m supposed to consecrate them or not. My brain wants to tank them. It wants to tank them so bad. They’re on the warlock! They’re on the warlock!
Step 9 – Warlock dies while I try to remember how to heal in the sudden inrush of tanking instincts and panic at being unable to find Righteous Defence which I’m totally not supposed to be touching anyway.
Step 10 – Overgeared Shaman kills the boss without anymore party member deaths.
Step 11 – Find the hunter’s body to rez just as he reenters the instance.
Step 12 – Find the warlock’s body to rez just as she reenters the instance.
Step 13 – Overgeared hunter pulls next group with misdirect before I’m anywhere nearby. Patrolling snakes join in the fun.
Step 14 – Realize that Beacon of Light apparently has a really short duration. Completely unable to locate it on Healbot. Don’t know what the icon looks like by sight (and all pally icons look the same anyway).
Step 15 – Hunter dies. Warlock dies. Overgeared shaman kills the pat.
Step 16 – Get asked, in a nice way, whether I’m new to 80. Friendly advice to put Beacon on the tank.
Step 17 – Text SaveTheFails to cry about how I suck at healing.

So…that’s what? Four pulls in, including the first boss, and I had four deaths. Now, to be clear, I have no intentions of taking full responsibility for them. The DPS were largely overgeared and not watching their threat. The hunter pulled FOR the tank (a curse upon him!) before she or I were ready. Yadda, yadda, yadda, typical bullshit.

But the fact of the matter is, I should have been able to keep them alive anyway, and I failed. Epically.

I think I sulked for a good hour afterward, even though people stopped dying and I eventually located Beacon of Light on Healbot (why the fuck did I put it there?).

Oh, did I mention I had fucking Fire Resistance Aura on and neglected to buff anyone until halfway through? That’s not even healer fail, that’s pally fail.

SaveTheFails very patiently texted me back, reminded me I’m not going to get it on the first try, let alone the first pull, told me to keep Beacon and Sacred Shield up on the tank at all times. Spam Flash of Light constantly, and throw out a Holy Shock if you’re having trouble keeping up with damage.

Part of my problem was that we were PuGging. Had it been a guild group I wouldn’t have cared so much. I’d’ve epic failed just as hard, but we could have laughed it off and moved on. I feel a strange sense of responsibility to not fail with strangers though. They didn’t sign up to have to bear with me as I try to find my spells or learn, on the spot, how to prioritize my healing targets. Which is a topic for another post, I think, because why is it okay for me to get my guildies killed over and over again, but not complete strangers who are generally behaving like idiots anyway? These people deserve whatever death my unskilled hands can give them.

Moorabi drops my Shaman’s fist weapon just to spite me.

Bitch.

So we finish Gundrak, I teleport out to Dalaran, and spend a few moments huddling in a corner of the bank coddling my wounded pride.

I let people die. I who has incorporated a short-form for Protection in my alias. I who has built a Warcraft career on not letting people die. I who judges a fight by how clean and efficient the kills, and how healthy and hale the murderers.

I let people die.

I am a bad player. I am a bad healer. I am once again Fail made manifest and given flesh to roam the world and wipe the innocent.

Healing is not like tanking. Healing is not like tanking at all. Healing isn’t the opposite side of the protection coin, it’s a different fucking coin, in a different fucking currency, from the opposite side of the world.

You want to know why most good tanks tend to be anal and uppity? Why they throw hissy fits if you pull for them and don’t follow the kill order? Because tanking is about control. In order to be a good tank, you have to control the fight. You control the timing, you control the mobs, you control positioning. You have to control the environment, and to some extent your party. You have to control what mobs they’re on, or you can’t tank. You have to control where everyone is standing or things get difficult. You have to maintain control of the situation, or it becomes incredibly hard to get things back on track.

I’m used to pulling. I’m used to charging. I’m used to setting the pace, going at my speed, and indicating what mobs are to be killed when. I’m used to enforcing the positioning rules with an iron fucking fist. People can ignore me, but they do so at their own peril. The rules are there for a reason, the kill order is established for a reason. Chaos means people die. Order means they live. It’s at least partly the tank’s job (almost entirely the tank’s job in Heroics) to impose Order on the run, otherwise it becomes impossible to do their job.

I’m used to having control.

Last night I didn’t control anything. Not a single piece of that fight was mine to affect. The tank handled most of it, the DPS took some of it away from her, and I could do nothing to affect the outcome except shriek and sob and thrash in panic as I tried my best to spam Flash of Light and keep Beacon and Shield up on the tank. I didn’t even have time to type anything in the chat. I couldn’t have yelled at them if I wanted to (and I did).

I could preempt nothing. I could change nothing. I could do nothing but react to the little squares on Healbot lighting up at inopportune times.

I spent the next instance mourning my loss of control, ability to impose order, and sanity (and fucking Lavanthor dropped my fucking Shaman’s boots just to spite me).

I was miserable. I was having fantasies about sending every healer I know a thank you card and begging them on bended knee to never, ever, ever, ever stop healing or force me to do it. I was, and remain, in awe of the required reaction times and instinct required for healing. I didn’t know, I swear to God. I knew it was harder than it looked, but I had no fucking idea. And those of you who can actually decurse, and buff, and all the rest of it between heals? What are you people, robots? Every time I tried to slap Hand of Salvation on an overgeared, undersmart rogue (oh rogues, how I love you) the warlock would dip dangerously close to dying.

It wasn’t until the last instance of the night that I actually stumbled on some kind of groove. One guy was sitting on a 5K gearscore, but everyone else was in the 3-4K range. Ironically, these “undergeared” people were a million times easier to heal – I assume because the threat of death is much more real to them. As SaveTheFails pointed out later, fear helps.

I had time on this run to engrave my keybindings into my head. Left Click Flash of Light. Shift+Right Click Beacon. Middle click Shield. Shift+Left click Holy Shock.

I had time to figure out how to cleanse between heals. I had time to find Hand of Protection on healbot (naturally, no one in THIS group needed it). It was still hard, but it wasn’t so frantic. Not so hectic. I had time to THINK, which, for me, is integral to actually LEARNING anything.

If not for that last group I would have probably been incredibly reluctant to ever heal again. Partly due to my own unrealistic expectations of myself, but partly due to the fact that it just wasn’t fun. It was worse than tanking.

But in a good group it changed, as most things usually do. Once I had time to understand what was happening and could actually think and decide how best to react to it, I started enjoying myself more. I began to understand the synergies between spells, what spells cause what buffs which means I now need to cast which spell. I had time to start building a flow chart in my head for the role.

I would be willing to heal again, I think.

As a parting note, in that last group, after we dropped Keristraza (who, in turn, dropped my fucking Shaman’s fucking trinket just to fucking spite me) one of the party members said: “thanks for the group, guys – great tanking and healing.”

You have no idea how much that one simple compliment meant to me. Maybe he was just being polite, but it made the whole escapade worth it. Up until that run I had been doing and feeling like shit, plain and simple. That little bit of positive reinforcement is one of the big reasons I have not given up on healing entirely after the stress-bath that was the first few runs.

It’s never going to replace tanking as my preferred role, but it’s something I could probably do from time to time for a bit of a change of perspective. The backline is a strange, foreign place to me. A lot more happens back there than I realized.

And to every fucker who ever told me healing was easy and healing heroics a cake walk – die in a fucking fire (couldn’t save you if I wanted to).

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I am livid right now. We had what was, to all extents and purposes, an excellent raid last night (well…a couple nights ago by the time this post is live). We got a fuck tonne of achievements. I got my Champion of the Frozen Wastes title finally (I’d “had” it, just scattered across three characters, so even though I’ve done all the content, I never had the title). We had a grand total of four wipes, each of them instantly corrected. Things dropped quickly, cleanly, and efficiently. Then it all went to fucking Hell in the last 30 minutes. Fucking. Hell. And not because of performance – because of personality. Because of drama. Because of afudkalfjweiahfjvzxnm,huewfajkxcz!.

But I’m not going to talk about it. And I’m not going to think about it. I’m going to go to my Happy Place.

My Happy Place is a spot, hopefully not too far in the future, when the entire world of Azeroth is torn to shreds by a great, burning dragon – and along with it, the hordes of drooling, over-geared, under-skilled, ignorant, arrogant, elitist pricks who think they’re better at this game than the rest of us because they’ve been handed their Tier on the backs of other people’s work and wouldn’t know a CC from a decurse if it bit them in the ass.

In this Happy Place of mine, Kill Orders are not just pretty icons designed to make the game more visually entertaining as the mobs dance in your AoFuckingE. They’re actual Orders, like a military commander might give you. They’re placed strategically to ensure priority targets are taken down quickly and efficiently, with minimum casualties. And if you don’t follow it you die and you wipe the group. Do that often enough and you won’t have a group.

In my Happy Place, AoE is a strategic decision, made after careful consideration of a given encounter. It is not a part of anyone’s rotation. Indiscriminate use will carry heavy consequences. Tanks will no longer be blamed for a poor AoE decision – rather, the AoEer will be expected to bear the weight of his own mistakes. I will never see the following, in relation to AoE, again: “wtf y i die/”. Instead, it will be: “wtf y u aoe rtard/”

In my Happy Place, there are consequences for idiocy, because tanks and healers can no longer indulge in, or compensate for it. DPS will be just as important as the other two roles because their job will encompass more than damage. They will not be selected based solely on two numbers – gearscore and Recount – they will be selected based on their ability to maximize their DPS to the extent possible while also CCing, decursing, and kiting. Their role will require skill, which no gearscore can passively compensate for.

In my Happy Place, all the cockweasels (to use my new favourite word, courtesy of Tamarind) who have been facerolling this content without any skill or attempt at improving themselves as players and members of the community will quit the game, because raiding and maybe even instancing will actually require you to wipe once or twice in order to learn the mechanics, and they just can’t deal with that. These people will wander, guildless, through a desolate wasteland of failpugs, trying to find a group willing to carry their unskilled, impatient, ungrateful ass through content that will forever make them its bitch.

In my Happy Place, regular raiding will require a fairly stable group – either through a guild, or perhaps a friendlist. This means it will require positive attitudes, a sense of community, and good behavior. You will have to be skilled at what you do, able to carry your own weight, and a nice enough person that people like you. Because you can’t just faceroll this shit anymore. You can’t just PuG it out to the drooling masses. You have to pick and choose who you take with you. And as I’ve already said, raiding in my Happy Place requires wiping, and nobody wants to make the run back from the graveyard with an asshole howling the whole way.

My Happy Place will also have weather. Because I agree with everything in this post.

In my Happy Place, the game has finally found that elusive balance between the hardcore and the casuals. Between accessibility and facerolling. Between PvP and PvE. Between major plots and an individual’s story. Between soul-sucking frustration, and free-soaring triumph.

I’m there right now, in my head. I can already see it. Every douchebag who’s ever made the in-game lives of me and my friends Hell is dying in the fires of the Cataclysm as we speak, writhing and screaming and too stupid to even know they’re standing in bad. The rest of us are gathered together on a hill somewhere in the Barrens, basking in the warmth, reveling in our sudden freedom from asshats. The General chat is curiously free of Chuck Norris jokes; someone requests the location of Mankrik’s wife. Someone else answers. A bird chirps, a zevhra is born, and the Circle of WoW moves on, unfettered from the chains of sloth and idiocy that repressed it for so long.

“Hey,” says someone in the group on the hill, “let’s go run heroic Deadmines.”

“Yes,” I respond, nodding slowly. Smoke rises from the ashes at the centre of the crater below us, and in that slender, ephemeral trail I find peace between myself and this game at last. “Let’s.”

Once upon a very, very long time ago, layteknight and I were new to the World of Warcraft. We stumbled about our chosen maps, feeling our way blindly. We made embarrassing newbie mistakes – we tried to talk to the general in the say, and it was one of those weird conversations where we actually thought they were answering. We joined a guild in our first five minutes because we didn’t know what it was and ran like a startled rabbit when our screen flooded with green text. We taste-tested most of the races up to around level five or six before we each settled on a character (her, a troll rogue. Me, a human paladin) and somehow managed to blunder our way to level 15.

My first PuG was Deadmines. We had a level 14 druid named some variation of Drizzt who said he would heal. By heal he apparently meant turn into a bear and run around screaming about how there was a miner on him. So, in fact, I healed. Our tank was another pally, level 20-something, who was an unmitigated asshole and who rolled on caster gear. His buddy, a hunter, was one of our other DPS, and, well, birds of a feather and all that. At one point my mace broke because I didn’t understand repairs or how they worked (been playing the game – my first MMO, no less – for maybe a week at this point), and I asked the party if anyone had a grey mace they were sitting on and didn’t mind trading me until the instance was over. The warlock – the only nice member of the party – apologized and said he didn’t. No one else said anything. So I went Kung-Fu on the Defias and “DPSed” with my fists of fury.

There is a happy ending to this story. The experience was terrible overall and made me more than a little afraid of other players, a condition that persists today, but the warlock, it turns out, was actually on an alt, and his main was a level 60 paladin with a guild. He called in a guildie to help us finish the instance when one of the members ditched, invited me into his guild, and to this day I credit he and his guildie friend for teaching me how to play this game, and cannot thank them enough for the help they gave me.

That whole last paragraph is beside the point, however. The point is – and I wouldn’t blame you if you’d missed it – I have terrible luck with PuGs. Terrible. That first one was one of the better ones in my illustrious career of failpugs, and most of them didn’t end quite so well for me. I’ve come a long way from those days; I’m all grown up now, with a guild of my own, and a raid group, and content in my mastery of the various chat channels available to me. But I still can’t find a decent PuG to save my life (literally).

Even when I run with mostly guildies, as I frequently do, I manage to find douchebags. The new LFG tool is positively delightful in terms of the improvement it represents in finding a group and running instances with minimal disruption to my playtime. A big kiss to Blizzard for making it faster and easier to find a group of idiots to drive me to suicide, and I mean that without sarcasm. Bad PuGs aren’t Blizzard’s fault. At least now I don’t have to actually talk to these people until we’re in the instance, and if they’re particularly terrible, I can either vote-kick them, or just leave myself. Instantly. And pop right back into the queue to try again. Seriously, mwah.

I just wish the PuGs could be improved as easily as the PuGging process. So far, on various characters, I have managed to play with:

  • A verbally abusive priest (“die with a dick in ur motuh” was about the politest thing he had to say to me) who, not content with spewing obscenities at me, tried repeatedly to vote-kick me until he was shouted down by the tank (I believe because I’d had the gall to roll need with him on a book of glyph mastery, being an inscriber, and win). The priest was vote-kicked shortly thereafter, but the tank ditched and the three DPS were left sitting in the Culling of Stratholme, halfway through, with no tank and no healer and long queue ahead of us. Still haven’t completed the quest.
  • A 4K DPS Arms Warrior who rolled need on a BoE epic dagger that dropped on the first trash pull. As it was the first trash pull I failed to do my usual loot nazi routine and didn’t think too much on it. Assumed the name belonged to a rogue, and the DPS metres didn’t show anything unusual, as they’re always wonky on the first couple of fights. Wasn’t ‘till the end that I realized, hey. He’s a warrior, so he doesn’t need daggers. Hey, he’s got four thousand DPS in a heroic, he’s got to be wearing better than an iLevel 200 dagger. Hey! He fucking Ninjaed!
  • A tank who blamed me for being in front of Anub when the pound went off. Nevermind that when I took that position, Anub wasn’t facing me. Nevermind that the tank, for reasons I have yet to understand, randomly decided it was really important to spin Anub in a big circle.
  • A rogue who honestly thought I needed his help and advice to be able to tank. It’s okay, though. He’s actually a raid lead. -_- So am I and I don’t make a habit of bossing around strangers, or providing them redundant instructions on how to play their class. “dont trn the a bombs to face teh grp1” “pop cds” “pik up ads”. Yes, thank you. Where I’m from, we call that tanking. It’s what I do. You don’t need to tell me.
  • A shaman who giggled when I asked her to please follow the kill order, and informed me that the mobs I had marked were immune to fire and could not be convinced that it really didn’t matter what they were immune to, they still had to die, and it would make my life and everyone else’s life that much easier if she could please just follow the kill order. Also, aren’t you a shaman? Don’t you have like…a bajillion different types of nature damage?
  • Etc.

And these are just some of the examples of some of the people I have had the incredible pleasure of wanting to kill.

One thing I have realized, is that outside of verbal abuse, ninjaing, or misplaced blame (all common enough in themselves), PuGging is easier as a DPS, which might actually be why layteknight has had such better luck than I have. When you’re DPS, what the fuck do you care if one of the other DPS isn’t following the kill order? Even if it means the tank loses the target you’re on and you pull aggro, just feign death or vanish or sit there and wait for him to get it back. It’s not your job, it’s not your concern. There’s a certain freedom and nonchalance in knowing that you are in no way responsible for anyone else’s life, including your own. That’s someone else’s job. You just have to DPS. This is why that role attracts so many idiots, I think (not that all DPS are idiots, not by a long shot, but you know what I mean).

Tanking in a PuG, though? Holy fuck. Rage central, and I don’t mean that in the positive, game mechanics way. It’s literally like herding cats. I am constantly begging the group, don’t stand there, kill this one, don’t kill that one, get behind me, come closer, don’t run away from me if you have aggro, don’t stand in front of the boss, wait until I drop thunderclap before you AoE, don’t pull for me, it has a big fucking skull on it what is complicated about this?!, stick to my target, stand at maximum range, get out of the fucking fire, and so on and so forth ad nauseum.

It’s like, the fact that they have no idea who I am and never have to see me again means they don’t give a flying fuck if they’re making my life impossible (though, I say this, and some of the DPS in our raid do the same kind of shit to me. The difference is they try to justify it afterward). They pull with AoE, they run in before I’m anywhere near, they stand in front of the bosses and the mobs (I’ve had rogues do this. Rogues! I mean, there’s a song about how you people do it from behind), they don’t follow kill orders no matter what the consequences might be for the rest of the party if they force me to split my attention. It’s insane. It’s justifiable grounds for homicide.

My job as a tank is to keep everyone alive, and to control the where and when of the mobs. Things that may seem inconsequential to DPS – things like kill orders and standing behind the mobs and letting me pull – are, in fact, essential to the success of my primary role in a group. If they aren’t done, or only half done, it makes my life very difficult.

Let me put it another way. Can I main-tank two targets so two different DPS can stack their numbers, while at the same time AoEing the shit out of everything in a four mile radius so the mage’s blizzard won’t pull aggro from the side, and taunt extra shit off the healer when she pulls because she’s standing somewhere strange?

Yes. Yes I can.

But it is not fun. It is not fun at all. I do not enjoy it.

I’ve chosen to play a stressful, thankless job, and only 3% of the player base actually understands what I do. Despite this, I enjoy this role. It is my preferred one. But as far as I’m concerned, the above situation is not a part of the role. If things go wrong because they go wrong, fair enough. I will do all of the above and do it happily.

But if they go wrong because I’m in an idiot PuG with people more concerned about how high they can artificially inflate the numbers on Recount, as opposed to caring about whether anyone else in the group is actually enjoying themselves?

Tanking is a strange job in that it is possible for other people to make you suck. If they’re on the wrong targets, if they pull before I’m ready, if they run away from me when they pull aggro…these things technically mean I fail at tanking. I failed to save them from their own idiocy. I failed to account for their ineptitude. I failed to compensate for their inattention and lack of care, and someone – you, me, the healer – died for it. Because I failed to tank the untankable. They made my job impossible, but at the end they can point at Recount and say, I did my job. Why didn’t you do yours?

DIAF, all of you. I will not be there to save you.*

*SaveTheFails probably will, though. As his name implies, that’s what he does. For the record, he probably doesn’t enjoy it much either.

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