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Positioning is very important in wow – and not just to tanks. It’s not necessarily something you think about a lot, mostly it’s just something you learn to do automatically.

I think tanks are more conscious of their own positioning than any other role, because it’s so unspeakably crucial to what you do.

DPS are perhaps the most oblivious (speaking generally) because their role is much more forgiving in this respect, and in those cases where it’s not, they’re dead pretty quick and either learn to correct it, or blame the healer/tank. In one case, they’re lovely and wonderful and welcome to party with me any time. In the other they’re horrible, hideous cankers on the face of my favourite game, and I invite them to continue to die in fires, as their pain amuses me and their deaths are a mercy to the rest of us trying to, you know, win.

Healers, interestingly, I assume are the most aware of everyone else’s positions – as so many of their heals rely on proximity, chaining, or other positioning based effects. This is why healers yell at you to tighten up and stand closer. This is why you being way the fuck over there is not helpful. This is why you don’t get healed. Whenever I see my healers running back and forth like unlucky chickens, I don’t blame them. I tend to blame the rest of us. They’re trying to catch everyone in one radius or another and odds are good we’re not making it easy for them. Shame on us. Shame.

The reason I continue to beat this dead horse (often known as being-where-ever-the-fuck-you-are-supposed-to-be) is because I recently realized just how mechanical positioning tends to be, and that I’m not the only person for whom this is the case. And nowhere is this more evident, than when I, or anyone, swaps roles.

Wanna know one of my dirty secrets (another one…this blog is becoming a confessional booth, I swear)? When I DPS, I stand in front of the mob.

I know! I’m the biggest hypocrite in the world!

But wait! Hear me out!

I don’t do it maliciously, or even consciously. I do it because I spend 90% of my in-game time tanking. So I mechanically, methodically, consistently, move to stand in front of the mob, facing toward the group – without even thinking about it! It usually takes me a good two seconds to realize what I’m doing, blanch with horror at the incredible faux pas, recall every single time I bitched out a DPS for doing exactly that, and hustle my ass back over to stand beside the rest of the melee DPS.

It’s one of the reasons I fail at ranged DPS (you know…moreso than melee DPS…which is also pretty fail for me). I can’t get it into my head that I’m supposed to stand at the back. I run up. I stand mid-range instead of max range. I don’t run away from mobs. Protflashes no likey the back. Protflashes want be at front.

Protflashes die a lot.

I’ve always known I do this, but I figured it was just me. I’m a habitual creature to begin with. I like me some routine, and nothing makes me crankier faster than messing with it. But a while back one of our raid DPS indicated they wanted to try healing. Glee abounded – someone actually wanted to try a pole position (there are approximately two of us in our raid that play a pole because we want to. The others have been coerced, cajoled, or took up the mantle from a sense of duty (the unfortunate fact of the matter is we need two tanks and two healers or we don’t raid, so someone has to suck it up…though it’s often like pulling teeth)).

The guy even had a pre-made healing set! He’d been plotting for this for a while, apparently, quietly rolling on off-spec in the background and PuGging when he could to pull it together. One day our MH (as in, the guy healing the MT; not to be confused with the guy calling the healing shots) called in sick (literally) and while we were debating what we wanted to do, I got a whisper from our new healer asking if he could try.

We run a casual raid group, and the hardest fucking part of the whole thing is making everyone happy. I could not imagine trying to do so in a twenty-five man. I think I would actually commit suicide. So when I get a whisper from someone, asking to take on a thankless role because they think they’d enjoy it more…I say yes (after checking with our defacto healing-lead (*coughSaveTheFailscough*) to make sure the fit will be okay and he’s willing to help coach the new guy).

Anyway, it was his first time raid-healing and we were in ULD, so it wasn’t, precisely speaking, a cake-walk, but he did really well under the circumstances. I whispered him every now and then during the raid to ask how it was going, and was he enjoying it, and was it okay. At one point we wiped and the blame pretty squarely belonged to him. He’d been standing far too close to a boss, got caught in an AoE that never should have hit him, and died. Shortly thereafter our OT followed. Then our MT (me). And that was pretty much that. I whispered him to ask what happened (as, in the moment, I couldn’t quite tell) and he explained that he was still thinking like a melee DPS and had been standing right beside the OT.

We laughed it off and continued on our way, but it got me thinking about positioning and how automatic it is. I was actually kind of relieved to know I’m not the only person who mechanically moves to the same spots, all the time – let alone who can’t figure out where I’m supposed to stand when I’m not in my usual role.

It makes me wonder how many other aspects of this game are automatic and mechanical. I think about Naxx and how often we ran it between getting good at it and Ulduar being released. I’d say it was pretty mechanical by the end of it. Simple things, like me calling instructions over Vent. I do it automatically. I knew those fights off by heart, and it never occurred to me that I didn’t have to call overloads, and novas, and stacks, and adds, and anything else DBM warns us about, but nobody pays attention to. I just did it unthinkingly.

And when, inevitably, someone pointed out I didn’t have to run down that stuff anymore, and I consciously chose to stop doing it…we wiped. Not because me calling things out was required, or my amazing wisdom and leadership skills are the key to our victory – Hell, we’d run the fights so many times we all knew it off by heart and probably could have run it with our eyes closed – but because everyone was at the point where they weren’t actively thinking about what they were doing, they were just mechanically reacting to various cues – in this case, my voice over Vent, saying “Three stacks, swap.” When that cue was taken away, active thought didn’t backfill the void, and so nobody reacted as required. They were still waiting for the cue that would trigger whatever subconscious part of your brain that handles actions performed automatically, as opposed to as the result of a conscious decision.

I don’t think this is a bad thing, and I’ve noticed it in other areas. Playing an instrument I haven’t touched in ages, for example. If I stop thinking about what I’m doing, my fingers actually remember where they’re supposed to go and the music sounds okay. The same applies in Warcraft. Were I to go back into Naxx now, after so long away, as long as I didn’t think about it or actively try to remember the strats, I would probably have no problems – assuming all my usual cues are in place.

Hell, it’s probably saved us from a wipe or two from time to time. Sometimes thinking gets in the way of reacting. But sometimes not-thinking does the same thing. So the automated nature of these things is alternately a boon, and a curse. It might help, it might fuck you up.

It might get you yelled at because you’re standing in front of the mob again.

Who knows?


Let’s talk about positioning.

One of the things that I, personally, feel separates the good tanks from the bad, is positioning. A lot of people think a tank’s job is as simple as being really hard to kill and/or ignore. And on most levels, it is. But there’s an art to doing that that is not always obvious at first glance.

Let’s start with being hard to kill. The biggest factors here are your defensive stats, ability to use your CDs judiciously, and how much your healer loves you (can’t go wrong with flowers and chocolates). But – new tanks take note – there are other things you can do or not do that will help or hinder your efforts in this regards, and they all come down to positioning.

It never fails to startle me how many people don’t know this, but most of your avoidance stats don’t count if a monster is hitting you from behind. You can’t block, dodge or parry a knife in your back, I’m afraid. Know what’s worse? A knife in your back can, and will crit. This is bad. Very bad.

The reason why everyone goes on and on about the 540 DEF cap and how important it is, is because it basically makes you immune to crits. It does a bunch of mathematical mumbo-jumbo behind the scenes that makes you impossible to hit for anything more than your average, run of the mill blow. Given that most bosses’ average, run of the bill blow will take 30-50% of your life in a single hit…you begin to understand why them not critting your pants is a good thing.

But that only works if they’re attacking you from the front. In short, if they’re behind you, you’re avoiding fuck all, and they’re hitting you twice as hard. You may as well be standing in the back in your sissy robe for all your 4 000 000 000g worth of armour and gems is doing for you.

Never turn your back on the mob.

Other defensive reasons to watch where you’re standing and where you’re facing?

Position yourself too close to a wall, and the next thing you know you can’t see anything but the mob’s chestpiece (or codpiece if you’re a gnome…which I am, from time to time…oh the things I’ve seen). Sometimes this is unavoidable, but the rest of the time…if you can’t see what’s going on past the rippling pectorals (or, if you’re a gnome…nevermind. Let’s not go there) of the guy you’re fighting, you can’t see the pat sneaking up on you from the left, or the mage at the back summoning fire right under you, or the blizzard going on all around you.

Pop in and out of Line of Sight (pillars in UK, anyone?) and watch your healer die of a heart attack (and yourself die of a big fucking axe in the face).

Fight on top of the stairs and spend the next thirty seconds wondering why your mages aren’t doing anything to help you kill the mobs that are happily munching through your armour and your healer’s mana. Watch said mages have to run up the stairs to get in LoS, only to catch a whirlwind in the face and die. Have fun DPSing that shit down by yourself. Hope your healer’s got a mana potion!

I could go on.

So let’s talk about ignoring. I can hear you now. But Protflashes, is it really going to impact my threat if I stand in a less-than-convenient location, or I’m facing the wrong way?

To which I respond, with a good degree of incredulity: did you really just ask me that?

When I get a shrill message from layteknight that consists of the word “threat!” over and over again (like an alarm clock, but the only way to shut it off is to make the red go away from the edges of her screen), it’s for one of three reasons, all of which I check in the following order:

  1. I’m not in Defensive Stance (or Frost Presence, or Bear Form, or wearing Righteous Fury – though, seriously, how do you miss that you’re not in bear form?). I’ve done this a grand total of once in my entire tanking career and was frightened so badly by it (“WTF? Why is it telling me Overpower is read—fuck!”) it has never happened again. Still, I check. Because oh my god is it happening again?!

  2. I have neglected to refresh (or, you know, put on at all) Vigilance. I’ve seen some warriors poo-poo this ability, and I can generally understand their point that perhaps it’s not always required and you should be able to generate threat without it (like the good old days before it existed). To these people I would politely point out that it’s not the good old days anymore (nor were they necessarily that good, but that’s a post for another day), and Blizzard has probably designed encounters, the class, and threat mechanics around the assumption that warriors will be raking in 10-15% of a DPS’ threat at any given point. I can usually go quite a while before this becomes an issue, but all it takes is a string of (un)lucky crits, or one of the six million overgeared, under-intelligent players out there, or a bad stun/fear/incapacitate to make things a lot less certain that they are otherwise. It makes a noticeable difference, whether the difference is required or not.
    • Aside: It’s a 30 minute buff that costs you nothing, increases your threat gen, and lowers the threat of a high DPS. STFU and use it.

  3. OR I’m facing the wrong way. This happens more often than I like, usually as a result of a wonky charge, and exacerbated by the fact that I’m a gnome. It’s not like I can see myself under all those monsters (interestingly, I have the same problem with blood elves. They’re bigger than gnomes, but they look the same back and front to me. The bears…well, this is less of an issue on a bear). If the first two options don’t pan out, I look to the centre of my screen to confirm or deny the presence of the “You are a fucking tool case” message, alternatively read as “Target must be in front of you”.

I can smash my Shield Slam key all I want, but if the monster’s not in front of me, I’m not generating any threat.

But there are other threat-generating reasons to watch my positioning. As a warrior, for example, one of my (only) AoE threat generators is Shockwave, which is a (fucking) cone. Which means that right up in front of me, the area it affects is actually very narrow. And, as tank, it’s not like things are standing more than two inches from my face. So for this to be effective, I have to make sure that not only are the mobs all in front of me, but they’re spaced out correctly so I can hit them all. Same goes for cleave and similar abilities.

Clump, my pretties! Clump!

Additionally, similar to the above note about chest(cod)pieces and not being able to see incoming pats or other badness going on around you – if the healer’s standing in a weird place (note to our old MH: seriously, why? Why would you stand over there? The mages, warlock, and RH are all standing in a squishy little clump on the other side of the room. Why would you not stand with them?) and catches an ambulatory monster, how are you going to taunt it if you’re busy inspecting the craftsmanship of your target’s armour? If your rogue (note to rogue: K, no, for real, why?) is on the wrong target for the four thousandth time, same question? You’re not even going to see him pull that shit, and there’s no way you’ll be able to select it to pull it back.

You are the tank. The tank! She who pulls shit and then takes it to the face. Whether or not you’re party/raid lead, you’re the one – by definition – who has to control where those mobs are standing. And you sure as Hell can’t make your party stand where you want them to, so you’re going to have move the mobs. You’ll have to push, shove and bully them into a useful position, from which you can survey the battlefield, taunt errant bullshit (or scream at it over vent), keep your enemies squarely in front of you, and maintain line of sight to every single member of your party and their threat-pulling-asses at all times.

If you don’t do this, you don’t have control of the battlefield. If I had a dime for every “tank” I’ve played with who figures once they’re at that DEF cap they can just faceroll the world…only to die beneath a swarm of angry, stabby mobs (or worse, lose aggro on them completely)…

Facerolling this shit will only get you so far.

If you want to tank, to truly tank, assume the position.