Monday, 9 August 2010

Tanking: Barriers to Entry

No I'm not coming back to blogging at this stage, but as I mentioned previously I did plan to continue doing some writing in some form. At the moment this is in the form of a post for the official forums which is sort of a distilled version of my post Leveling the Cataclysm Tank. I figured I might as well post/link it here as well... just in case you are still subscribed (which feed burner is tell me is the case!?!)

Gravity from kindly posted it on the beta class discussion forums as well.

So the links are:

Tank Forum:
Beta Forum:

And  a copy of the post for those of you without access to the official forums:

There has been a lot of discussion about a "Tank shortage". From one perspective I enjoy that because it means as a player that enjoys tanking, and will do it in preference to other roles, I get instance groups via the LFD tool. Having been going through the leveling process again - this time with a Bear tank - with a mix of questing and random dungeons - I've been rediscovering some of the frustrations of tanking at the lower levels. I believe this carries through into the shortage at later stages in the game, simply put the barrier for entry for tanks is too high. A tank can be carried by a good healer, but it is a role with a lot of pressure, and particularly with the side effects of Internet anonymity LFD and learning to tank at max level is more than likely a turn-off except for the extremely thick skinned, or the totally arrogant. A failure at DPS is less noticeable (particularly in leveling dungeons) whereas maintaining and keeping aggro gives more immediate feedback to the aspiring tank.

I'm not in the beta to test these things out but have been following a bit about what has been going on (but I might have missed something) - so some of these things may already be addressed.

To break it down there are likely to be 4 main points where people will try tanking. I won't directly reference these, but it forms the basis for my thoughts, and plays into a few particular suggestions. This is a gross over-generalisation but that is needed to simplify the discussion:
1. Level 15 - when dungeons become available
2. Level 40 - when players pick up dual specs and take a tanking off spec
3. Level 58-60 - when Death Knights enter the scene
4. Max Level - having gone through leveling people will try out tanking or are bored with one role and want to try out another.

That said, players gain the basic tools for tanking early on - in the form of defensive stance, righteous fury, bear form and frost presence and the appropriate taunts - but there are a couple of issues still which I'll address at specific points.

Low Level Rage
This issue is actually the culmination of a number of issues - in some respects there isn't a big issue with actually generating rage. This is largely an issue for bears/warriors - paladins might share some of the issues, but have the advantage of starting with the tank full (assuming they drink)
1. Starting with an empty tank in an environment where people don't wait for you to establish aggro.
I would say this is largely a 'culture' thing - looking back at when I leveled my warrior in vanilla I don't remember having these issues because the maxim was known and maintained to 'wait for x sunders' before attacking. These days you're lucky if the dps isn't trying to pull for you. It is all part of the 'go go go' mentality which you can deal with at max level because you have the tools (and know what you are doing) but when you are just learning this can be a bit issue. Recently, when first playing my bear I would pull with faerie fire and run into range and pray that I would get enough rage to be able to swipe before the dps unloaded.

2. Ways to improve your rage generation aren't obvious.
There are lots of ways to improve the above situation by managing your rage properly. As someone new to bear tanking and also returning to low level rage tanking I didn't manage my rage particularly well to start with but through asking others (via the above blog post and follow up posts and responses on other blogs) I found some ways to improve it. Things like rage potions and stopping attacking towards the end of the fight to preserve your rage for the next set of mobs are good methods but aren't immediately obvious. Also, at that level doing damage is actually one of the better ways to gain rage and so choosing defensive talents can actually hamper your progress - if you are thinking I am the tank and I need to survive then that can actually be working against you - this can come down to talent and gearing choices where gearing for avoidance/mitigation hampers it. This is particularly true for starting bears since they can't pick up Natural Reaction till level 34.

3. The gear requirements are already higher for tanks
I saw my rage issue diminish on my bear when I bought the heirloom weapon (Repurposed Lava Dredger) to replace a mace I had got in deadmines (from the first mini boss). Defensive stats wise it isn't so big an issue, but in terms of doing damage to get the rage it was a big issue. Without heirloom items the need to constantly upgrade the weapon just to maintain rage could be a big issue.

4. Out leveling an instance creates rage starvation.
Much like in the end game once you have some decent gear - you can actually end up being rage starved. When I first came back to my druid I queued via LFD and got Stormwind stockades 3 or 4 times in a row. I was about level 24/25 to start with and so in the dungeon finder interface it was actually coming up as yellow and then green. Because of the level difference I was taking very little damage, and therefore not getting much rage from the incoming damage.

I'm hoping some of these issues will be addressed by Rage Normalization 2.0 (or is that 3.0) but I wonder if there is space for inflated rage generation for lower levels, much as has happened to mana so that in the beginning tanking is about learning group dynamics before slowly introducing rage management on top of that.

In game training about tanking mechanics
I'm not sure how much of this should happen, but I can see a place for having some form of in-game training in the basics of the tanking mechanics. Ideally this could be incorporated into the quests that give the stances (although there is no quest for righteous fury for example) - so that the players get given a version and then get thrown into a situation where they have to use stance and taunt for example like hunters get the taming stick before actually getting tame beast.

The simpler version would be just to integrate a brief explanation into the quest texts or with the change to specializations chosen at level 10 this could theoretically be incorporated into the selection dialog - which would be useful for all specs - something like on the class pages on the (but improved - some of the tips/explanations are very lack luster).

For DKs I think it would have been ideal to incorporate the mechanics into the quest where you fight Patchwerk - there is no healer, but you could have a basic taunt rotation with a mob - having them yell out to taunt off them when they get to low health or something like that?
I imagine it would be a huge development effort, but the ideal situation would be to have some form of 'training dungeon' where players could go and learn about the roles they can play in a dungeon, with scripted events to show the diverse tasks appropriate to the roles. In this way melee dps could also learn about behind behind the mob etc. 

DK's start with gimmick taunt only

Death Grip is a signature of Death Knights, so I can understand that it is there to start with (as well as being a gap closer for PvP). However, Dark Command isn't available until level 65, by which stage prospective (eager) tanks will likely have tried their hand at tanking. For tanking purposes as the sole taunt it is on too long a cooldown, particularly when DKs don't have an equivalent to Commanding Shout. Additionally, Death Grip also serves as a ranged interrupt/silence (yes I know they also have strangulate) so the dual purposes mean that the long cooldown on the only taunt means you might have other control issues if you are saving it purely for taunting.

Tank Threat new to 80 (gear scaling)

The implementation of Vengeance will hopefully go some way towards helping this (although that is primarily aimed at help geared tanks keep ahead of the DPS) but for tanks new to 80 jumping into LFD to learn how to tank they are immediately at a disadvantage. I've seen it first hand going back to tank on my warrior who is Naxx 10 geared. Going into normal ToC I couldn't maintain threat against the DPS even on single target fights where the DPS were reasonably geared (e.g. had some i232 gear). Some of this is the result of the LFD matching system not being perfect and giving appropriate DPS to the tank's gear level. In reality this is failure by the DPS to check their threat when running with a lesser geared tank, but with the current state of the impatience of LFD it is all too common an occurrence and proves to be yet another barrier to tanking.

What it does mean is that the safest path for someone wanting to tank is to gear up with off spec rolls queuing up as damage or heals. This builds upon the already high gear requirements just to be uncrittable (for non-bears) and particularly for those that already have a main that is in the DPS/Heals role - they're more than likely to give up before going all the way along that path. I guess I feel this particularly as I have limited play time and can't spend the extra hours that this would entail (when I returned to WoW just before 3.3 I had said I wasn't going to gear a tank up again for this reason... I failed because tanking is what I love to do, but I did end up going down this route - as main spec heals, and started tanking when I had amassed tanking gear as off spec rolls).

Bears/Paladin's ranged pull (FFF/Exorcism isn't at 15)
This is relatively minor - but was picked up by another blogger that had been leveling their bear - that there was no ranged pull for a starting bear. I've always had it ground into me that you don't pull with a taunt, so I can understand the sentiment. Paladin's should have this solved by Avenger's Shield become the protection baseline, but giving FFF to bears at 15 would solve this.

Being the Defacto Leader
As the tank, even with the 'Dungeon Guide' tag, it often falls to the tank to be the leader in the dungeon. I have actually not found this to be too bad in the past - particularly with leveling dungeons or when Wrath was release as long as I explained that I hadn't run the dungeon at all/very much. There are two main issues:
1. Knowing the pulls
If you aren't with a sympathetic group it can be very intimidating knowing what to pull and where to pull it. In some respects the just pull and tank it all mentality of Wrath has done away with this, whereas with the careful pulling from Vanilla/tBC it was a bigger issue. With the focus changing in Cataclysm this might resurface once more. I know bears in particular have had an issue with having no ranged silence and having to coordinate line of sight pulls. Yes there are general maxims that can be learn - like pull the caster, but it does mean that the tank in theory should have done more research before entering a dungeon. I actually hope that the change to more strategic pulling will actually improve this situation - with a greater understanding that the pull plays a vital role in the success of the dungeon and people will be more patient with those that are up front and honest in saying they don't know what they are doing, this could also mean it is worse, particularly as the expansion gets older and people are running the dungeon for the umpteenth time - and we have a new player/tank meeting the content for the first time.

2. Navigating the dungeon
I've actually been tempted to make a post just about this, but as the defacto leader you need to know where to go. This is particularly bad in vanilla dungeons which are not linear, tBC and Wrath improved this by making them pretty much linear. Simply put - the best aid here for the tank is having a map of the dungeon like you do with the Wrath dungeons. I hope as the old instances are being done-over that instance maps can be added to all those dungeons too. It won't necessarily help know what the short cuts are, but it does mean you can get some more general idea, and build up more of an idea as you run the dungeons multiple times.

Tanking UI
1. Visible Threat
Presently I would say Tidy Plates - Threat Plates is an almost required add-on for tanks - particularly for beginner tanks. Being able to visually see the mobs you don't have threat on is an enormous help. Otherwise learning who has the aggro from what mob is hard to tell (and why Righteous Defense is an awesome taunt). I would actually suggest making this a visual effect on the mob or under the mob itself perhaps through a colored aura of some description - as I came across a situation where just having it on the name plates I didn't notice because I was in a tunnel (gauntlet up to Tyrannus) and couldn't see the name plate on the elemental because it was too big and the automatic zooming meant I couldn't see the top of the mob to see the name plate. It is the alternate red, yellow and green coloring of the name plates is the advantage I see - the resizing of the plates isn't a feature I use. I understand there is some implementation of this in beta (100% on the name plates?) but I haven't heard how good/effective it is.

2. Overlapping name plates not the default
The other side of this is that I think the default for the overlapping of name plates should go back to not be overlapping. As a tank trying to select the appropriate mob is a nigh on impossible in a big group of mobs. Yes it is still difficult because the plates jump around, but it is easier than trying to click through multiple mobs.

3. Player/Target frame position
I actually like the default unit frames (the main two things I miss when using the defaults are the class coloring and the combo points for kitty/rogue are not visible enough - I tend to play with a dimmed screen) - however the default positioning of the frames is not ideal. I find this for all characters - but most important when tanking - that i like to have my frame central at least so I can keep track of my health without taking my eyes away from the action. I have a macro set up to allow me to move them, but this should be a configuration option (lock/unlock) - and even using the macro the target frame always resets it's position on logout (or technically on a UI reload)

So those are the points I see as barriers to entry - some I don't have clear ways to effectively solve them, but I figured it would be good to have some discussion about it. So please chime in if you see solutions, or have other issues that you think are a barrier to entry for tanks.


  1. Starting bears and paladins are in fine shape for ranged pulls. For druids, simply wind up a wrath (later a starfire), then a moonfire. With this, you have threat on 2 mobs right off the bat. Then go bear as they make their way to you. As a bear, I've tanked most every 5/10/25 in the game. I'll agree that not having a ranged silence is sometimes annoying, I'm a living example that it's far from a deal breaker. Also, ever since paladins were given Hand of Reckoning (level 16, 30yd range, 8 sec CD, damage if not currently targeting you) they can't really complain, unless they can't wait that 1 extra level. Paladins and Bears both have better ranged pulls than Warriors until 80, when Warriors finally get something other than shoot/throw.

  2. Starting out of form... did I forget that? I guess I did - I actually picked up my bear after a big hiatus where I go to level 22 in vanilla WoW (and I'm Alliance and you wouldn't have thought of trying to tank Deadmines before level 18 at least). But Vid from pugging pally had raised that as a concern.

    The one issue with starting out of bear form is that it doesn't work if you are conserving rage between pulls - although you would have the aggro by pulling with those attacks anyway. For that I'd still advocate for Furor moving over to the feral tree - to at least start with something.

    Hand of Reckoning is an evil beast - it doing damage is just wrong. It is a taunt! That is the old vibe that I have to fight every time I use it for pulling or anything that isn't taunting. Admittedly I'm not as concerned when doing it as a Pally because I have Righteous Defense to fall back on (and I tend to use in preference anyway - the mechanics are easier to work with).

    My point was really - that in order to encourage new tanks that are super keen, it would be better to have the basic tools available the moment they can start tanking. So I think it wouldn't hurt moving FFF to level 15 (well 14 since you normally get them every 2 levels).

  3. Creative bear tank pulling is one of my favorite things about being a druid. The hurricane pull is great for large groups, and The Flying Bear (when you go cat and feral charge the back mob in a pack, shift to bear once airborne, and swipe as you land) is awesome. Another of my favorites is The Surprise Bear. You go cat and stealth past the mobs and then BAM! Bear from behind! I can imagine the shock of the guard in Durnholde keep the first time I tried that one.