The Ron Popeil WoW Tank – Set It and Forget It

This is interesting. (And thank you to Spinks for the tip). For as long as I can remember, WoW has suffered from a tank shortage. Over the years, Blizzard has done a lot to try to overcome this phenomenon with, quite generally, temporary results. According to this latest dev log, it seems that Blizzard has decided to remove threat and its management as a concern almost entirely.

We expect the community to gradually stop using threat-tracking mods as players realize they don’t need them. It’s an important distinction that the concept of “aggro” will still exist. If a DPS spec attacks an add the second it shows up, then the creature is going to come at her. However, if a tank gets an attack or two on a target, then the target should stick to the tank. Worrying about who has the creature’s attention should generally only be a concern at the start of a fight or when additional creatures join the battle.

Since tanks generate more threat than other classes as part of their normal rotations, these upcoming changes will essentially mean the first few hits generate more threat than anything a DPS can  do. White on rice. Stuck.

It would be very easy to cry out that this is one more way in which Blizzard is “dumbing down the game,” but that’s not the approach I’m going to take. Believe it or not, I support this change. Tanking has long been the singular role people avoid most. It carries the most responsibility, requires the most strategy, and the person playing is most often seen as the reason a group wipes; not to mention that it also asks the player to do much more research outside of the game.

Reading this, though, several thoughts comes to mind that we need to consider. Taking one of my favorite blogger’s leads, let’s move to bullet point format.

  • Without threat, what fun is there in tanking? Holding aggro is what defines every aspect of playing a tank. If that’s no longer a concern, how is playing a tank any different than playing a DPS? Management is what makes any class fun. What do we now need to manage? And don’t say cooldowns — yours or otherwise.
  • Tanks will be rated on comparative DPS. If threat management as a skill is no longer a consideration, it becomes a matter of survivability (which shouldn’t be an issue if the classes are balanced properly), damage, and buffs/debuffs. Since tanks have always been designed around being buffed first and buffing others second, damage will now be a primary differentiator. A whole new balance issue arises.
  • Will this really solve anything? I don’t think the tank shortage has a lot to do with the mechanics of tanking. More than anything, I believe it’s related to the perception of leadership. Not everyone wants to shoulder the burden of leading their group and being responsible for its success. I don’t say that to sound cocky, but the expectation of leadership is something every single tank has to face at some point. Most players, I firmly believe,  just want to “roll with it.”  Removing threat and reworking stats doesn’t address the underlying issue that DPS is simply more fun to the vast majority of players.
All that said, this is a big step in the right direction. I find tanking fun. Managing my threat, coordinating my pulls, and swooping in to save the clothie are things that I enjoy. If taking threat out as a consideration gets more people to try it out, I support it. For as many people that will be upset by this — and I understand why, see the first bullet — this is the kind of big change that needs to happen to shake things up. Bribes aren’t enough. Re-working mechanics, well, now we’re on the right track.
Still, there are some big questions to be answered here. How will Blizzard change tank classes whose rotations are nigh-entirely based on threat generation? I don’t know a single tank who’d rather be a shoddy DPS. How do they keep tanking challenging without re-hashing tank switches and dance circles in every encounter? More importantly, how do they convince people that tanking is something they would enjoy anyways? The culture of fear inherent in trying something new has no stronger place than in the pointman of the holy trinity.
Audio Blog Version for your web perusal: [audio: http://www.gamebynight.com/episodes/gbnab81711.mp3]

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