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Myths and Misconceptions – A Tank’s Perspective

I’ve mentioned more than once that I’m a tank. But what I might have forgot to include is that I didn’t always want to be one — once I realized what it involved. Theoretically, tanking is what it’s all about. Throughout the entire solo game, you’re  a tank, regardless of your class. You’re up front, in the the thick of things, and eye to eye with that precious loot pinata. You’re the one (wo-)man army, kicking ass and taking names. It always surprises me how few people actually make the jump into that role when they play with other people.

Group play in WoW — though, the same can be said for other games — depends on working together. The lone ranger style of play that applied for the first 85 levels no longer matters. Everyone, healers and DPS alike, is thrown into a whole new play style, almost entirely separate from how they operate individually. You have to know your abilities inside and out, and are better off if you know those of your group members too (or at least the important ones).  Within this little ecosystem, no one player operates within a vacuum.

Unless you’re a tank, because then you feel about as alone as a grouped player can feel — at least in the beginning.

There’s this fear that surrounds tanking, and it’s big enough to dissuade most players from even trying it. You’ve probably heard the tales. It’s stressful. People yell at you. If the group wipes, it’s automatically your fault. It’s your job to mark the mobs, know the fights, keep people alive. It’s not surprising, really, because from the outsider’s perspective, that tank’s responsibility just went from one person — themselves — to five people. If the mage pulls threat, you must not be doing your job right. If you pull a full pack and one gets away, it’s your own screw up. For shame, new-tank!

Except, the reality is actually pretty different. That fear is so unwarranted, yet so instilled, that it will keep most players from ever trying out one of the most rewarding play styles in any MMO. Let’s go through some of these myths and misconceptions with my own experiences in the pilot’s seat:

Myth: People yell at you. Usually they don’t. I can count on one hand the amount of times someone has really gotten angry at a wipe and blamed it on me. Every single time, the rest of the people in the group thought they were crackpots. The things is, yeah, sometimes you have to tell people why an attempt didn’t work. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be marched in front of the firing squad (pew pew!). In today’s WoW, the worst you’ll get is a “…” or “/sigh” because someone has their knickers in a bunch. If it gets worse than that, I’d bet dollars to donuts your group will agree to a vote-kick.

Myth: If the group wipes, it’s automatically your fault. In the last two years, I’ve done the VAST majority of my tank runs with PUGs. The great myth here is that people attribute the blame to the person with threat. Well, no. The truth is that most people want to avoid confrontation. Your group mates will get frustrated, sure, but what I do is simple: if they blame me, I explain why they’re wrong. One of the great parts about being a tank is that you have to be more attentive that most players. Chances are, if something goes wrong, the tank will be the first to see it. There have been a few times where people have gotten rude and then, well, you’re at a crossroads most other players don’t have. I never stick with a group that sucks the fun out. When I have a really bad group, I drop — assuming you’ve downed at least one boss. If the boss hasn’t been downed, I’ll try again but, if it’s really bad, I ask for a kick. If they don’t oblige, I make fair use of the “teleport out of dungeon option.” As a tank, there is no reason to put up with groups who annoy you. That’s an often under-highlighted feature of the role.

Misconception: It’s stressful. When I first started tanking — and I mean FIRST started, with my Warrior in TBC — I hated it. It was the single most stressful thing I’d ever done in the game and I wouldn’t have done it again  if you’d asked me. Today, though, WoW has come a long ways. There are times, sure, when I’ll catch myself getting a little more intent that the situation calls for. Then, I re-orient myself, look at what abilities are up (most of them) and go about building threat or taunting whatever mob needs to die. That’s literally all there is to it.

These days, the only time I find tanking stressful is when something goes horribly and irretrievably wrong — like Vortex Pinnacle yesterday. The CC didn’t stick. The mobs were positioned poorly, smack dab in the middle of the anti-magic zone, and a friend kept asking me if I was breaking the CC with my blood boil. No, no, and no. That sucked. The key thing, though, is that I seriously doubt is sucked any worse for me than the other members of the group. What happens when DPS can’t pew, a healer can’t heal? When they’re both getting beat on because the tank is trying desperately to pull the healer mob into kill range (and competing with the oblivious hunter)? We wiped. We learned. And the next pull was a success.

Misconception: It’s your job to know the dungeon inside and out. Contrary to popular belief, WoW wasn’t made with strategy sites in mind. Everything you need to learn, the game will cue you to. It took me a while to break free of the “watch it on Tankspot first” mentality. I’d waste half an hour watching someone else run the dungeon, when I could have been learning for myself. These days, I queue. If it’s a dungeon I don’t have totally memorized, I ask and I try. At level 85, I had good enough gear from questing and the AH to take on the introductory dungeons through trial-and-error. Even with those videos I was still religiously studying, it didn’t quite cut it. But, you see, those other people, they don’t want to die. Faced with a clueless tank or a couple lines of explanation, most will give you the summary you need.

The first time I did Vortex Pinnacle, I was nervous. We had little CC, poor gear, and almost no knowledge of the fight. Except for one guy, who knew one boss. He didn’t know which mobs needed to be crowd controlled or prioritized. So, I looked at their names. I looked at their models. If they have a staff, they’re probably a caster. If they’re especially ominous in their names, they probably need to be CC’d. Or, if they have a typical healer name like “adept,” they definitely have to be CC’d — healing mobs are your worst nightmare in Cataclysm. In the end, yeah, we wiped a couple times. But we cleared the dungeon, talked to each other the whole time, and made it through.

Note that I am not saying you shouldn’t do everything you can to prepare, especially for raiding — not doing so in a raid is irresponsible and poor form. What I am saying is this: you’re human. You can’t expect to memorize every little detail (even though you might try) before you even step in a dungeon. That will just make you feel like a failure when something unexpected comes up. Always remember that this is a team effort and we all learn the best by experiencing the content for ourselves.

Myth: It’s your job to keep other players alive. Here’s something you don’t hear a lot about in terms of tanking: DPS responsibility. As a tank, I see my job as keeping threat on the mobs. Keeping the mage alive doesn’t have a lot to do with that, ironically enough, because if they die it’s almost always their fault. Most times it will be because they were attacking a mob OTHER than the one everyone else is. Okay, fine. But, apart from actively slowing the group down, if they do enough damage to overcome my tab-targeting, that’s on them. Now, the nice thing to do it cover their slack and taunt the mob back off. I’ll try this every time, since any death slows the whole group down. Sometimes, stuff is on cooldown. Sometimes, they’ve gone balls-t0-the-wall just hard enough where you can’t pull it back off in enough time to save them. Time and experience have taught me one thing, in this case, though: if I can’t do it, it’s because they’re actively fighting me. You know what? That is the very definition of asking for it. Mage tanking, FTW, right? After all, if you’ve used everything else in your arsenal, what else can you do?

Don’t mistake this part. None of this stresses me out or, really, causes me to do more than shake my head. I’ve never had this happen when I’m running with the guild; It is almost entirely a PUG phenomenon.

The way I see it, my main responsibility is to the healer. The healer and tank are the cornerstones to any successful run and are tied — whether they like it or not.

Myth: The tank and the healer have to like each other. Not true. Yesterday, for example, we had the single biggest whiner I’ve ever met healing our run (it was 4 guild mates, one LFD healer). He had something to say about everything and actively criticized several of us. I called him out and told him to relax. His response was something like “dude i only said 2 things ffs;” I don’t remember exactly. Enough for all of us on vent to /eyeroll. Now, would I TRY to piss him off? No, because that’s asking to for a wipe before he quits. There certainly wasn’t any love lost, however, but in the end, we completed the run with only a single wipe more.

This fear people have ignores what it’s actually like to BE a tank. So, let me clarify how I experience it. Every run feels like your run. You set the pace. No one does anything with your go-ahead. Best of all, when things go well, it feels better than any big number ever could — for me. In a boss fight, you and the healer are the lynch pins keeping that run together. It’s a unique and very rewarding feeling.

I’d like to write more about my tanking experiences. It’s what I like to do most in this whole genre of video games, so it only makes sense to include that here. Ironically, writing about it is actually harder than doing it, so we’ll see what happens. I hope this helps persuade you to give it a try though. Honestly, it’s not so bad. And the pros FAR outweigh the cons.

2 comments

1 ping

  1. Nils

    I agree. I tank PUGs for a very long time now and with the exception of the first two weeks in Cataclysm it hasn’t been a problem at all. There’s only one thing you need: A healthy self-confidence.

    The reason I usually curse the dungeon finder in WoW is not that I consider those PUGs terrible. Most are quite ok. It is that being teleported to dungeons runs with anonymous players from other servers whom you will never see again completely violates every last bit of virtual world that might have been left in WoW after 5 years of patching.
    Nils recently posted..Wolfshead‘s WoW Bashing

  2. Sionel

    Nice post.

    I’ve been starting to learn tanking over the last few months and am discovering, much to my surprise, that I love it. There’s something highly satisfying about collecting ALL the mobs, putting them where I want them, and preventing them from dashing off to harass anyone else…or, at least, it’s satisfying when it works!

    A lot of the myths and misconceptions you mention are awfully easy to buy into, though. I always have to take a deep breath when I check the blue box on LFD, just for fear of completely sucking :P This was a helpful take on things, thanks!
    Sionel recently posted..WTB Barkskin!

  1. Roundup: Reactions – We Have Social Responsibility To Each Other In LFD | MMO Melting Pot

    [...] Myths and Misconceptions – A Tank’s Perspective – not related to Tobol’d post at all – in fact, Chris posted this before Tobold’s post. But it’s a timely and topical window into some of the tanking myths (and yep, misconceptions) on tanking he’s encounted in his time as a tank. [...]

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