Friday, August 19, 2011

Breaking up with threat

I nearly choked on my morning tea when I casually read mmo-champion the other day. Ok, that's not entirely true since it wasn't morning and I didn't have any tea (alas), but you get the idea. So Blizzard has finally decided to get rid of the burden mechanic that is threat. Not remove it alltogether, but make it sufficiently less of an issue that tanks should basically not have to think about it. In case you wondered what I think about this I'll put it like this - I'm happy.

Don't get me wrong, I like threat. The whole idea about threat is really interesting and a good one. But it is designed around two premises that just don't practically work. So theoretically I definitely see why Blizzard ever thought threat was a good idea and why they've decided to keep it for as long as they have. The idea behind threat is A) that there should be a teamwork between players and B) that the tank should have something to do. Looking at the first premise we can see that Blizzard did hand most dpsers (sorry warriors) some sort of tool that would allow them to help tanks with their threating, either it be tank targeted skills like MD and TotT or self targeted skills like FD, Fade or Cower. Because Blizzard initially dreamt about how players would assist eachother in attaining their common goal, how they would struggle in trying to make the experience as pleasurable and easy as possible for everyone involved. *cough* Unfortunately we all know that's not how the vast majority of random pug experiences has turned out, and they never will. If you ever read any of my guides regarding tanking you'll know that my motto as a tank is "the group is the enemy, not the mobs". As a tank you struggle against the other players rather than collaborate with them. Everything you do revolves around how you can trick your fellow group player into making tanking less of a hassle for you. I'll admit that I, in some sort of masochistic way, enjoy this part of tanking. Probably because it keeps tanking challenging. Unlike with healing and dpsing, you can't really outgear instances in the same way as a tank. The challenge depends mostly on the skills of your group. So threat can be fun. But that is only as long as it goes well - as soon you end up in a group where the dpsers only minimally outgear you, you'll have hell. Sometimes I'm even happy that I am the one dealing the most damage in the group, because it means keeping aggro is so easy. It's also a major reason to why I enjoy lowbie tanking so much - threat is no problem at all.

The tools for reducing threat aren't that great either. You could give everyone a Feign Death (and then watch no one use it, as with hunters), but that would remove the whole issue about threat anyway. If everyone could just swipe their threat clean, then why even bother with threat in the first place? Skills like Fade that reduce threat temporarily are very similar to this and also make threat overall kind of moot. Or you could give players a threat reducing mechanic like Cower and Feint, and although I think these skills actually have the most interesting mechanic, by forcing the player to keep an eye on their threat constantly instead of just swiping it clean when they over-aggro, these skills have one huge problem. They're worthless when you need them and you don't need them when they're useful. Cower reduces threat by 10%, but the only time when threat is an issue is usually very early on in a fight. Early on you don't have much threat anyway (just more than the tank) and 10% from barely nothing is nothing. Early on you might get aggro from 2-3 skills, from being good on threat to suddenly having aggro. Cower won't save you. Later on in the fight when you might have a big chunk of threat, the tank is usually so far ahead of you anyway that you don't need to reduce your threat by 10%.

Looking at the second premise we all know that most tanks think that threat is a necessary evil. Much as Blizzard said in their post - no tank wishes to gear for threat and do it only as much as absolutely necessary, because survivability is so much more important. But I understand that they're afraid to make tanking too easy and boring. I will admit that there are plenty of raid bosses that are dreadfully boring to tank, especially if we look at the normal modes. Some bosses you sleep through, like Magmaw and Atramedes. Some bosses require a minimal effort of target switching, like Halfus, V&T, Council, Al'Akir, Nefarian (unless you're the add tank in phase 3), Chimaeron, oh my god the list just goes on. I haven't tanked in FL yet so I'm unsure about that, it seems like a similar mix of challenge and dull staring into a crotch as t11 was. Most of the time, honestly, it's not the tanking part that is challenging, it is surviving all the other things that everyone is trying to avoid that is challenging. As a tank I have to mind the fire and stand in the right place as much as the other guy. I have to think about making the boss face in the right direction as much as the raid has to think about not standing in front of it. And furthermore, threat only has two phases in raiding anyway - the problem phase early on in the fight, where some dpsers might snatch aggro and get insta-gibbed, or the non-problem phase, where after a couple of target switching the tank is so much ahead of threat that no dpser has to worry about it anymore (as mentioned above). So threat in raids is already not working in a good way - it's either too much of a problem or no problem at all.

I've said it before too, there is no other role that can be locked out of its own reason to exist in the way a tank can. If I join a group and everyone in the group has aggro but me, for any reason, it makes me rather obsolete. Imagine if you somehow could keep the healer from healing or the dpsers from dpsing? If I end up in a group where no one lets me pull or where I just can't keep aggro I either tell them I might as well go dps, or leave the group. Because I'm not tanking. And unlike with healers and dps, my failure might have nothing to do with skills, but plain old lack of gear. There is nothing I can do on my ilvl 340 tank against Loves threat, and it is equally annoying for both him and me.

So the argument to have threat because it makes tanking more interesting doesn't really work either (as Blizzard also said). It only makes the fight more "interesting" very early on, and does nothing really later on. So what could make the fight more interesting and challenging to a tank throughout the fight instead of just the first 30 seconds? Survivability. As a healer you notice at once the major difference between a tank that knows how to use cooldowns and one that doesn't. Giving the tank more power over their own survivability would definitely make tanking a lot more interesting, and definitely sort between the good and bad tanks in another way. I think the only reason they haven't done this already is because it could make tanks too good. It could make some tanks into one-man armies (hello DKs), because most tanks do good damage and have some sort of self-heal already, increasing their ability to survive by themselves might do them overpowered in solo-pve and/or pvp. But it would make pve-tanking so much more fun. It seems now Blizzard are thinking in the same lines and might implement this kind of skills later on.

Right now threat is iffy. Nothing can annoy me more than just not being able to keep aggro, regardless of what I do. My Taunt button goes hot, and after a while I just can't be bothered anylonger. I can only imagine the amount of players who've given up on tanking because the whole idea of threating seemed too overwhelming to them, the whole idea of having to fight every player in the group just didn't sound very appealing (gee, I wonder why?). Tanking shouldn't be about the struggle for threat, it's about doing nice pulls, locking down the right mobs, leading the group through an instance in a smooth way and staying alive while taking a beating. Right now, threat is designed to be regarded as part of a boss mechanic, part of the fight and that everyone has to work together to overcome. This is very rarely what actually happens, and I am glad that Blizzard have finally realized this (although I would've really wished for threat to work, because like I said, as a mechanic it's an interesting one). Instead, everyone is frustrated at this pink elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge but it's there and you have to get around it somehow.

Will it make tanking too easy? This is really what I was dreading when I initially read about the change. But then I thought - is keeping aggro the only tricky thing about tanking? Definitely not, as I wrote above there are tons of things to do as a tank already, and most of the time I've thought of threat as something frustrating rather than fun. I'm happy when I keep aggro of course, but I'd be equally happy if I could unload all my focus onto using my survivabililty skills at the right time, moving around in the right way, not standing in shit, keeping the pace through an instance and knowing that the dpsers can fully focus on just doing dps (which they were anyway, but still). As a tank we definitely have way more things to think about already than the average dpser/healer (although that isn't always true in raids). The change hasn't made tanking EZ-mode, as a tank I'll still have to combat the ninja-pullers, the random afking healer and the no-ccing dps as much as before.


  1. I love your reasoning here, and I totally agree. I see threat as an archaic mechanic that's similar to the vanilla reputation grinds. It's "fun" in that you feel accomplished once you achieve it, but it's the opposite feeling when you fail to do so. The process of getting there was never fun. I think it's far more interesting when my primary job as a the most survivable person in the group is to keep myself alive instead of keeping the bad guys off everyone else so that they can do their jobs.

  2. Hmm, I dont know. For the tanks that have been dealign with the whole threat issue, this change coudl very well feel like a 'dumb down'.

    I dont say this to make anyone feel bad, but personally, and maybe because I am a healer and biased against all DPS(Its ALWAYS thier fault), but the DPS should be held accountable for thier actions...even DPSing.

    I could be wrong, but I beleive there was a comment some time in the past on this very blog to the tune of just because a DPS has the ability doesnt mean they should always use it right then.

    I guess it feels to me that it takes more self responsability and accountability for actions out of the game.

    You mentioned your tanks ilvl and how you would not be able to handle Loves threat. at the same time, especially in a PuG 5 man wehre threat is really the big issue, it would be Love's responsability to control his threat, not yours.

    Threat is NOT just the tanks problem. Cataclysm has been about putting responsability for thier own actions back on the DPS. DPS often get themselves killed these days. Mechanics and paying attention to where you are standing is once again on the list for DPS.

    As for the fade issue and threat dumps/reducers. Personally that adds to some of the fun for me. If I grab healing aggro, part of the O shot factor that makes the game fun kicks in.

    Nobody likes to fail over and over, but at teh same time, a hard run/boss defeated gives a sense of accomplishment.

    Have you ever noticed how in a guild 5 man run if the DPS pulls aggro and dies they often apologize for being a boob? In a PuG they point fingers or complain, or the group turns on eachother at times.

    Think about that. Bad DPS or bad tanking/healing in a PuG has now lead to a non threat issue. Is this truly the correct step?

    This issue most likely deals with under geared tanks or DPS that truly outgear the tank/instance as a raid group is going to(or should have) decently geared tanks in it. SO as PvP has affected PvE on a number of occasions with balancing issues, now PuGing has spilled into threat.

    My wife has a nice little rogue, she uses ToT as necessary. Its her responsability to do this, not the tanks. To that arcane mage who decides to use his CD's and try to blow up the world....I dont feel bad at all if you die...dumbass.

    A good group of people know what needs to be done and do it. Tanks, especially in a PuG, should be amrking atleast teh first 2 targets. With that said DPS, freakin use your assist key if you are not sure.

    Self Responsability...pretty much the real issue here.


  3. I don't mind this change, but I still have to disagree with you on some points here, specifically:

    no tank wishes to gear for threat and do it only as much as absolutely necessary

    From my experience tanks love gearing for damage/threat. I had so many issues at the start of Cataclysm with tanks who gemmed and reforged for hit and expertise while constantly going splat left and right because they had no survivability. In five-mans I rarely see a tank who'll bother to use a single survival cooldown, even if it could make the difference between saving a bad pull or wiping. From my experience tanks don't want to concern themselves with their survival because they consider that the healer's job (and in all honesty, to a certain extent I think they are right).

    In raiding things are a bit different, but is lack of tanks for raids an issue? I thought this was all about getting more tanks interested in running five-mans, where survivability is already becoming a non-issue? Boosting threat will make the tanks' job there marginally easier, but it still won't make the groups or the atmosphere any nicer - after all this is another change that is telling people that there really is no need to pay attention to what other party members are doing.

    Basically, I don't think that making threat less of an issue will make the game worse, but I also think that it will do absolutely nothing to make potential tanks more interested in the role.

  4. I ran lights for theater and dance shows in college. My sophomore year we had an old analogue board that required every queue to be set by hand, making the process of running complex shows like dance performances extremely challenging. The feeling of accomplishment I got from managing to turn total chaos behind the scenes into seamless perfection on stage was gratifying. The next year we got a digital board with fully preprogrammed queues that executed every change with the push of one button. I didn't miss all the extra work at all, and in fact enjoyed being able to actually watch the performances. I think the tanking changes will be similar; we'll fondly remember overcoming our past struggles with threat management, but won't miss it for a second.

  5. @Sunnier
    Exactly. Unfortunately the fine line where threat felt like a fun challenge was so small that you rarely stayed there. It either became an annoying issue, or not a problem at all anyway.

    I definitely agree with you, and I don't know how many times I've talked to Love about it. Everytime he would pull aggro on a boss and die (sometimes wiping the raid because of it) I would tell him "just don't dps, how hard can it be?". I agree that it ultimately is the dpsers responsibility and like I wrote at the end of the post I would've preferred it if they took that responsibility instead of removing threat.

    There are really two issues here - pugs vs raids. In pugs we've noticed that we can't really expect people to do anything except the mere basics. Yes, removing threat in pugs is dumbing it down - but only because Blizzard have thrown in the towel regarding their hopes that dps will EVER take their responsibility in pugs. They haven't for 6 years and they probably never will, and the tanks suffer for it. Blizzard are only changing removing a responsibility that the players obviously can't handle - it's sad, but I think we have to accept that maybe there was no other way.

    For raids the problem rarely is about whether a dpser takes responsibility or not, most people in raids don't want to be the reason the entire raid wiped after all (it'll probably make their raiding career rather short too). As I mentioned in my post, threat usually worked so that it was fine until you suddenly went on a crit streak and in maybe 2-3 seconds you'd be above the tank in threat. Either the dpser has to always assume this could happen and not do any dps the first 15 seconds, or just accept that with some "bad" luck you'd outthreat the tank faster than you could react for. That's not good game design.

    Maybe it's the chicken and the egg issue here - I like to think of it as tanks loving to gear for threat because they were SO annoyed when they dropped aggro. I know that is what I've been thinking when doing pugs. "Screw survivability, if I miss another Shield Slam I'll regem everything to hit".

    Although doing dps is fun as a tank, if I'd wanted to win the dps meters I wouldn't be tanking. I want to be able to do my job well, and keeping aggro has always been a big part of that, especially pre-cata when hit affected Taunt and a miss could effectively wipe a raid, forcing us to gear for threat. But that doesn't mean the mechanic was well implemented or fun to work with. As I said to Sunnier above, threat often was either not an issue or too much of an issue. You rarely got into the beautiful space where you thought that your skills made the difference between holding aggro or not (this is especially true for dks and paladins). Survivability is a lot more fun mechanic imo, and an area where a good tank can truly shine. And a tank who doesn't care about cooldowns doesn't care about threat either in my experience, because they're usually just plain bad.

    Indeed, and I think many people seem to think that tanking is only about threat and that there is nothing left once it is gone. People mention the mob-herding, the good pulls, the cooldown usage as if it was connected to keeping aggro - it is not. All that will still be there, and tanking will still be challenging. And besides, it's not like we can charge in and just stare at the mobs now while going AFK, we still have to do stuff to keep aggro.

  6. "You could give everyone a Feign Death (and then watch no one use it, as with hunters)"

    One of me most vivid memories of me early raiding days were standing next ta BigRedKitty in SSC, meltin' faces and listening ta him manage his aggro. Bang .... Bang .... Bang .... Bang .... hrrhhhhllll (thud) .... Bang .... Bang ...

    But yeah, nobody else ever done uses it.

  7. Sorry for the double post, but I wanted to reply to a couple of things Solaril said. I've been on both sides of the low-threat dilemma in pugs, and neither is any fun for anyone. Trying to tank against full HM-geared dps who won't hold back is frustrating and painful. On the other side, having to throttle dps output is no fun either. I've tanked zandis, bwd and firelands since the patch, and it's a real quality of life improvement. I really noticed it most on Beth and Nef, as I was tanking adds on both fights. A couple of taps and everything was stuck to me, letting me focus on what's important - not being dead. As a DK fewer runes spent on blood boil means more death strike!

  8. @Solaril

    I think your healers PoV is looking at the dpsers threat as something that is fully under the dpsers control, and it isn't, and it's not even something someone with more skill can manage with 100% certainty.
    A raid that is trying to push their limits in progress needs every last digit in damage done, and waiting for tanks Vengeance to ramp up is going to either make the encounter very much harder or possibly even impossible. The game design forces dpsers to hound the tank and to balance at the edge of pulling aggro, which will most likely cause a wipe.
    That's the bleeding edge end of the spectrum, and threat issues on the other end, the 5man or casual raiding end, is just pure boredom. It's not just annoying to have to stop attacking, your rotations can fall like a house of cards, leaving you with lower overall damage done than if you just unequiped a piece or two of armour and went with lower average dps (and tps).
    WoW isn't rocket surgery, but it's never as simple as "don't do x" or "just do x".
    Give any good dpser a proper threat management cooldown and he'll love it and hug it and cuddle with it, but make him stop dpsing, which is kind of what he's supposed to and likes to do, and you'll find he won't be as happy.
    I hope I didn't come off as too aggressive, but this has been a peeve to ferals, warr's and all other dpsers who has no good way of managing threat for years now, and Blizzard just refused to make an interesting mechanic out of it.

    Ranthorn out.

  9. Not aggressive at all. As you pointed out I am looking at it from a healer PoV, which is biased.

    Since I am not pushing hard modes and I am not in a hard core raid guild, I am only going off what our guild does.

    I admit I find it hard to see the end where people cant maange their threat. we had Omen for sometime and even the game has a built in threat meter so to speak now.

    Set it at whatever percent you need to realize, "Damn, I had best not push this next button or else...".

    In a straight up no switching of tanks fights I haev not seen a DPS than can pull off a tank that is basically able to stand there and build on a single target. Atleast not once past the initial burst. I rememeber back on Mags and Durn even we would just tell the DPs to count to five and then unleash hell.

    I have a alt mage who is just running T11 raids at this point. When I hear omen warning me, I pause...I damn sure dont drop a deep freeze just because its active!!

    Granted you poor bastards with no dump have the short end of the stick at times, but you also can just hold off on pushing a button.

    With the above said, I generally feel the issues are mainly in a PuG run and predominetly then in 5 man instances. I have yet to see a in guild raid that went kersplat due to a DPS pulling the boss off the tank...if it happens then definately someone was not paying attention.

    To be fair the comment about DPS ALWAYS being at fault is not always true...pretty damn close though.


  10. "Tanks, especially in a PuG, should be marking at least the first 2 targets."

    Um why bother? - the bad dps ignore them, and the good dps don't need them (rant). I mark the skull, and the CC targets. Sometimes just the CC targets.

    The changes have made idiotic and careless dps easier to handle, and has made keeping the mobs of your healer when it goes badly better too. Overall this has improved 5 mans a lot, and should not have had a single real affect on raiding - I see no bad here.

    The folks who sucked because they had bad habits in 5 mans will still be the same in raids.