Subjectively and Objectively Gauging A Tank’s Performance

Warning: this post is not nearly as insightful as its title makes it sound; escape while you can.

While not directly sparked by such, Wrathy’s post about what it takes to be a main tank fits in appealingly well with something I have been wrestling with for some time; what is my place in the world (of Warcraft); how can I gauge it? How can I improve? Who can help me? Who do I learn from? What is the next step for me as a person and as a player? If not in ability, at least in spirit, do I have, or am I capable of having, that “It” that all those who consider themselves (and are considered) more than meat shields have? Am I being a little melodramatic and self-aggrandizing; probably, but it’s a blog, so I have the right.
I’ve said before that I don’t consider myself a “good” player, or an “exceptional” one, but that I feel that I am adequate to meet any task required of me in a raid setting. I’ve killed Yogg-Saron on 10 and 25man, I’ve cleared the 10 and 25 man versions of Trial of the Crusade and am currently working with my guild to finish off Anub’arak in Grand Crusade 10 (damn scarabs). I have assembled a iLvl245 gear set which is unhittable with Holy Shield active and am hoping for those Ulduar25 drops which will allow me to field a passively unhittable set. I have at least a partial understanding of the math of my class/spec (or, at least, the ability to understand what other people are talking about when they talk about the math of my class/spec). I understand the responsibilities of my role in a raid and have, at least, a working understanding of the raid utility my class and spec bring. I understand my talent tree and why I have chosen the talents, gear, gems, and enchants that I have. While I did not raid before Wrath, I have cleared all regular(easy?)-mode content and understand all the mechanics in the fights. I research the game, though not to an academically excessive (or datamining) degree, and am prepared to fulfill my responsibilities to my raid each time we engage a boss. But I don’t consider myself “good.”
People have told me this is a personality thing, or a confidence issue, so there came a point where I was compelled to ask myself; how do I stack up against tanks who are on the bleeding edge? What makes someone like Ensidia’s Kungen better than me? If the difference between a competent and an exceptional tank (in practice, not preparation) is the ability to make up for other’s shortcomings or to maintain composure and prevent “Oh Shit” moments from being wipes, what happens when there are no shortcomings around you? What happens when there are no “Oh Shit!” moments? How can someone be exceptional when there is no need to be, because everyone is instead “effectively competent and efficient?” Granted, I suppose it can be said that situations like that ARE exceptional. As a GAME of over 12 million accounts generating subscription values (note I don’t say players), it is a statistical fact that those pushing to the edge of content (at any speed) are the vast, vast minority. I don’t mean to compare the efficiency with which Premonition or Ensidia clear farm content to the way the rest of the world clears progression content (or even farm content). I suppose there will always be a need to be “better than average” on progression content because it is still new to people, they are still learning the mechanics and getting comfortable. Maybe it is wrong of me to assume that, to the best guilds in the world, progression fights are still handled more competently than most guilds handle farm content because everyone can be expected and assumed to be as familiar and experienced as they can be without actually having done the fight before.
Perhaps it is an error in my personal dictionary. Perhaps my “good” is another’s “exceptional,” and perhaps my “exceptional” is another’s “otherworldly” or similarly unrealistic superlative.
Thinking about this, I wondered what were the metrics upon which a tank’s skill was judged. In a raid, the tank has 3 primary responsibilities (as far as I see it).
A Tank MUST:
1) understand the mechanics of the encounter and how it affects the job they need to do (ex: maintaining sanity in Yogg p2 while soul-linked and having to interrupt diminish power). There will always be unavoidable damage that tanks must take, but there will also always be avoidable damage that tanks must not take (void zones, light/dark balls, fire, lighting, etc etc).
2) Tanks must do everything they can to survive without heals, and to require as few heals as possible. This is mostly about gearing properly and knowing how to use your class mechanics, trinkets, cooldowns, and consumables to make life as easy for the healers as possible. This rides on the back of understanding an encounter so you know the best times to use what cooldowns you have, whether to stack block value (if a block tank) and what trinkets, weapons, enchants, etc are best if it is your responsibility to min-max on a per-encounter basis. I know that the vast, vast majority of guilds do not require per-encounter min-maxing (my own does not, though personally I am being bitten by the bug), but as it is something that is possible, and done by world-first progression guilds and hard-mode progression guilds, it is worthwhile to mention. Granted, this aspect of tanking (especially now, with skyrocketing physical damage avoidance) is heavily dependent on the random number generator. When you have 60%+ avoidance, you are less likely to be hit by a given attack, but it is still possible to take 3 consecutive hits for 25k and be wiped out. I consider this small aspect beyond a tank’s ability to control, but the majority of the time, the damage you are forced to take is within your control to decrease, either through more avoidance or more mitigation, or to survive, through stacking stamina or being a large bear.
3) Maintain as high a threat-ceiling for the DPS as possible so that they are able to provide maximum damage as soon as possible for as long as possible (hunters having to spend GCDs to misdirect to the tank repeatedly throughout a fight is a loss of DPS, pure and simple). There are a few isolated instances where a tank is mathematically incapable of holding threat without the assistant of misdirection, tricks of the trade, hand of salvation, and individual class’ abilities to reduce their own threat (fade, mirror image, feign death, etc). If a tank is generating 8k TPS and someone is still pulling threat, I really can’t find it in my heart to blame the tank on that one. πŸ™‚
So how can one improve their ability as a tank without going to a per-encounter min/maxing extreme? Is it the proverbial “glass ceiling” that, there comes a point where no improvement can be made on a skill level during play other than through practice and repetition so the only way to improve is to prepare better? But most importantly, what assumptions do you make of yourself and your play to determine if you are succeeding or exceeding? Are you never able to consider yourself as “exceeding” and only your guild mates and those who happen upon your WoW Combat Logs authorized to make such an observation? As I said, for me, there is only ever really black and white; did the boss die, or did I die? If the boss died, was there anything I could do to have made it easier? If the answer is ever “no” to that second question, I only feel like I had done my job; there is no “done my job well.” It’s a zero-sum game for me really; you are only ever in the minus column. If you hit 0, you win, until the next pull. Maybe it’s a bad attitude to have, and maybe that will eventually destroy the fun I have while playing this game.
I said in a previous post that I believe that tanks have the easiest job in current raid content (even if you’re the guy solo-tanking 4 adds in 25m Heroic Anub’arak and in charge of interrupting them as well [disclaimer: that’s just for paladins, good luck warriors and DKs and druids tanking and interrupting 4 guys while being unhittable, lol]). So how can I not feel insignificant or unskilled, at least compared to the rest of my raid? More is asked of them and they must rise to be better because I can not solo content. Tanks are absolutely, 100%, unquestionably contributory, as is anyone in even the most trivial of raid roles, and skill does make a difference, but in the end, you’ve got the easiest job, no matter how hard it is. Does the fact that it is the easiest invalidate the difficulty? Maybe it does to me, a little bit. For a game, I feel an incredible weight on my shoulders in the form of “do your job.” As Yoda put it, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” I either did my job, or I did not do it. With preparation and individual awareness and some luck, there are mathematically realistic level of “did your job better or worse,” but compared to what? To Whom? And just how much blame can I really put on the RNG? Adgamorix said, “Everyone alive and I have some mana left? It’s a win.” when responding to the question of, “What tools do you use to evaluate your own performance as a healer?” Is that a comprehensive enough metric for me, even as a tank (not the mana part obviously)? While the ends may be all that matters in a rigid progression-based achievement world, the devil is in the details, and the means are what make you great.

A few months ago, a guildie I respected both for his knowledge and his play decided that he could no longer continue on in our guild. He spent some time investigating many guilds and many servers and eventually found his way to a place he was very happy with. He asked me to go with him. Since the set of circumstances which caused him to leave our guild did not affect me in the same way as they did him, I told him that I wasn’t really comfortable leaving the people I was with. After weeks had gone by and he told me stories of his wild successes and the different atmosphere of his guild and his server, I could no longer keep the doubts and temptations at bay. I needed to see what it was like to be surrounded by people “better” than me. The greatest frustration I’ve had with this game has been the inability to trust that all 24 other people in a raid with me knew their responsibilities and would be able to perform them. I had been in raids with 12, 16, and 20 people I trusted reasonably well, but never 24. He assured me if I joined him I would know what that felt like.
I spoke with the other officers of my guild and told them that I would be transferring servers to “see how the other half lived.” As one of the two consistent (and geared up) tanks in the guild, having me leave was obviously a concern for the guild, but I think they didn’t care about that to be honest. Ultimately I don’t think their greatest concern was, “If I never came back from the new server, what would it mean to the guild,” I think it was “If I never came back from the new server, how would they feel about being better-dealed.” When I told them about my decision I was very clear about my reasons and my intentions to return after a 1 week stay, and they took it better than I had anticipated, at least on the surface. I’ll never know if any of them ever felt privately betrayed or not.
You might think, “what can you possibly hope to learn or accomplish in one week in this game; it’s barely a full raid lockout?” Because I always had every intention of returning to my original server I figured I could only be selfish for so long; and if I took too long a hiatus I would hurt the guild. I transferred over after a long night and signed onto my new server at 5am. The first person I saw was a Tauren Protection Warrior who was the highest geared person on the server, in a guild ranked in the top100 in the US, doing nothing but sitting around Dal looking spiffy with his starcaller title (because, apparently, though Astral Walker is the more impressive achievement, “Starcaller” still sounds cooler). It was a culture shock to say the least, since no one on my server had even seen Algalon on 10man at the time. Firefighter was still holding everyone back.
I spent my first few days feeling out of place and generally unimpressed. After all, every server has good and bad PuGs, and since this new server was double the population of my old one, there was a much larger and wider talent pool for all levels of player. I transferred over on Wednesday night, on Saturday and Sunday I pugged Uld10 all the way to Yogg with no one dying on any boss until Mimiron. We 2shot the robot, 2shot the general (some people hadn’t ever done either fight) and finally made it to Yogg. This was the first time I’d ever actually made any attempts on Yogg; I was in some random PuG raid, not my guild. It was kind of disappointing, but exciting for the new experience anyway. I had watched the tankspot video so I knew reasonably well what I was doing and for the most part we were ok. The major problem was phase 2 and in the end that was as far as we got because people needed to leave after several attempts, but I was still satisfied having gotten that far in a PuG.
The next day was the clincher. Wandering around Dalaran I had picked up an admirer of my gear who tried to recruit me into his guild. Since it was Sunday I agreed to run Uld25 with his guild for the last 2 days of the lockout to see what they were like. We cleared Hodir, Thorim, Freya, and Vezax without much trouble. The major delay came in the form of guild-progression Hodir hardmode attempts. They did about 5 or so on Sunday. It was the first time I got to see people breaking the 10k DPS mark, and a Shadow Priest was constantly in the top 1-3 spots between 10 and 12k. I don’t care what buffs Hodir gives you, a Shadow Priest doing that kind of damage is pretty retarded considering how underpowered people complain that they are. I was suitable impressed. It was a real wakeup call knowing my guild had hunters not hitting 4k or mages and warlocks at the 5k mark to come here and see mages and warlocks doing 8k+ on every boss, not just inflation fights like Hodir. This was how the other half lives apparently, and they seemed to live well. Our first attempts on Yogg began with “Three Lights in Darkness” because they were trying to get their Holy Paladin Val’anyr. My guild’s Holy Paladin had 3 shard at the time; another world of difference. I was beside myself that potentially my first kill of Yogg 25 ever was going to be “harder mode.” The bragging rights alone were enough to get my a little giddy. Unfortunately for my vanity and their paladin, they had some “non-A-team” members online so there were lots of absences and substitutions and in the end we 22-manned normal mode. I was still satisfied. I took lots of pictures.
The next raid lockout period I ran ToC25 with my former guildie’s new guild. It went fairly smoothly. My guild’s major stumbling block at the time was Faction Champs 25, this guild had no problems clearing it. This was pre-nerf as well. I just tried to do my job and hopefully not embarrass myself, but honestly I couldn’t see what they did that was so different from what we did, only that they downed them and we couldn’t. There were no tricks, no secrets, no strategies, everyone just did their job and cleared the encounter. I can only guess that the result was because of how much better their raid-DPS numbers were than ours usually are. This was the first night Anub’arak was available to be engaged so we were going in there basically without much in the way of strats or expeirence. The only video available was something from the PTR. People had a rudimentary understanding of the fight; “tank adds on ice,” “he’s gonna burrow,” “phase 3 he heals.” We one-shot him. Even today, significantly better geared, with lots of time for learning, practice, and improvement, my guild still cannot clear him reliably on 25 regular. I’ve never actually had that fact sink in until just now. My first kill of Anubarak as a player was the first day in a one-shot, back on my original server, he’s still not on farm for my guild. It’s kind of depressing. That is how the other half lives; apparently they live well.
Ironically, that same guildie told me 2 weeks ago that his guild is suffering from attendance problems and isn’t progressing how he feels they should so he is applying to the top Horde progression guild on his server (81st in the US, last I looked). He routinely pulls 8k DPS as a ret paladin, I don’t doubt that he’ll be able to get an invite and make an immediate contribution. Apparently the other half that I was so impressed with isn’t good enough for some people. Maybe it was only the other third afterall. Now I’m forced to wonder, since I held my own in that guild, could I make it with a guild ranked in the top100 in the US? He tells me I can, but I have no way of knowing.
Ultimately, I knew that, at the time, I couldn’t turn my back on my guild, because, as nice as progression was, the atmosphere was very different. These weren’t my guild mates, I was not friends with anyone, it was feeling far more business than pleasure. It was a hard decision to make. I told my guild members, I thought about coming back before I ever transferred, and I told my former guildie the same, but also that it was a decision I would likely regret every day a boss didn’t die. Having played this game for a little over a year I described my decision to people as “I came for the loot, I stayed for the people.” For personal vanity, the shinier purples are always nice, but people can have fun (of various types and levels) in all sorts of ways in this game.
But still I’m left to wonder. In the end, I suppose it doesn’t even matter. So what I have what it takes to tank for Premonition or Ensidia without being carried? It seems like bragging rights are about all it will come down to in the end anyway. I told my former guild that progression was what I was sacrificing to go back to where I felt was home, and it was true to a point. Better late than never works for fun and a sense of accomplishment, but first gets you the endorsement deals. πŸ™‚
Because this post needs to be even longer, I’m going to quote Wrathy in whole:
“Main tanks are the focal point of a raid, and as such they are scrutinized under a magnifying glass from first pull to the end of the raid. We are responsible for the welfare of each and every person in the raid, and we are the type of person that must step up and take accountability for any and all actions. The main tank uses more consumables, flasks, elixirs, and personal food than any one else in the raid. Main tanks know more about each encounter and each ability with in that encounter than anyone else in the raid, because they are expected to learn the details of encounters ahead of time, so that they can react to the dynamic environment of a progression encounter. They are expected to have 100% raid attendance, and nothing less is acceptable.”
Perhaps a more concise version of the list of three earlier. All I have to say to this is that I do not play in a guild that is draconian and rigid. We play relaxed and loose, but still have focus enough to complete what we need to in a 10man context, but in our own time. World-first progression we are not, but, I have no doubt, progression-none-the-less we will be. I can be lazy and they can be lazy. While holding myself to a draconian standard will improve my performance as a tank from a preparation perspective, I ultimately have to weigh it against the cost. Is the time I spend not doing it the “best way” first, worth the ease of that road? So far, that answer has been yes, but as anyone will likely have no doubts about after this post, my opinion on this issue is heavily wavering and in doubt.
To pad this post some more (and add another hammer of wrath crit to your eyes) I quote Wrathy again:
“I feel that I have the correct balance of confidence, accountability, and a bit of cockiness when it comes to my tanking, and it serves me well. I don’t, however, have the tools that are necessary to bring others to my level, and that is really what was missing last night. We are, close to the end of the road when it comes to this encounter, however all the pieces have not fallen into place, and as a main tank, it is my repsonsibilty(sic) to make up for others short comings. As of today, I have not made up enough for what is lacking. But every day I work to do more, and eventually we will succeed”
I do believe that is what I took far, far longer to say. πŸ™‚

Wrathy does however, mention his balance of confidence, accountability, and cockiness, and, for my, part, I’m unable to say the same thing. Somehow, “the best that I know how to do at the time” never feels like it translates into an honest admission of, “I did my best.” It always feels like a lie at worst, or just being flat wrong at best. It all comes down to those dreaded 5 words, “clever use of game mechanics.” Until I can see outside of the box, I don’t know if I’ll ever have what I need from myself to be more than content in my degrees of competence.

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2 Responses to “Subjectively and Objectively Gauging A Tank’s Performance”

  1. Just to address a tiny snippet of your post, where you asked about evaluation. I am constantly self-evaluating my gameplay, and constantly asking for input from my guild. There is no glass ceiling, you can always be better. I stare at WMO/WoL reports looking for flaws in my rotation, I record fights to review later and see what I might have missed in the heat of battle and hence be able to improve on.

    One of the things I did was make videos of farm kills for a while and actually posted them, for the guild to review and provide feedback on. Largely, this helped me make a number of UI changes that have been extremely helpful, but there were a few useful tips from people who see fights from different angles than I do.

    There is no ceiling, but there is a diminishing returns curve on effort. Edge is US-50ish in rank, we try and stay near the top of that curve, but you can get almost the same returns with much less effort. That’s the price of min/max raiding, though.

    • I thought about recording farm kills and reviewing them afterwards, unfortunately my computer isn’t powerful enough at the moment to support a program like frapps and keep me at a reasonable frame-rate while raiding, but it is definitely something I’m interested in developing. There is definitely an element of diminishing returns on self improvement, and I’m starting to see the leveling off of that curve in my own play. It is much easier to go from a 14second 100 meters to a 10second one than it is from 10 to 9.8. I’d say that I’m sitting around an 11s sprint trying to gauge just how much I’m going to have to invest to get down to 10 and its worth it.

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