Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why are there so few tanks?

I was torn as to whether I really should write this post. On one hand I feel like tanks are a dying breed, and I wouldn't want to do anything to scare potential baby-tanks off. On the other hand I hope that this kind of post could hopefully enlighten some non-tanks about the troubles of tanking and how we really deserve the most patience and understanding of all.

I've heard plenty of people who've tried to tank, complain about how difficult it is. Actually I don't think I've ever heard someone say "wow, this was fun!" the first time they do it. One could really wonder why people keep at it at all. It's difficult not only skillwise, but because you ultimately are fighting not only the mobs, but against your own group as well. Not only do you have to play your class, you have to bend to the will of everyone in your group. They won't help you, they will fight against you. This might sound pessimistic, but if you start tanking with any other ideas, you will be brutally disappointed. Unfortunately, Blizzard have designed tanking to be a teamwork effort, just as healing and dpsing is a teamwork effort. Dpsers need the tank to position and keep aggro on the mobs. The healer needs the dpsers and the tank to use cooldowns and not stand in bad stuff. The tank need dpsers to help out with interrupts, cc and focus fire. When one fails to help out, they are not the one who gets the blame, but the one who fails with their job. Dps dies in a fire, it's the healers fault. CC target kills the healer, it's the tanks fault.

Another issue about grouping
is that there are 3 of the dpsers but only 1 of the healer and the tank. When the tank (or healer) has a problem, none of the others will care about it because it is not their problem. The healer doesn't understand your issues and the dpsers won't either, and even if they do they don't care. Or if they happen to have a tank of their own they expect you to be able to handle every situation as perfectly as they are, although you probably don't have 5 years of experience, run with guild groups and mostly epic gear. You wouldn't imagine how bad people are at understanding that just because something isn't difficult for them doesn't mean that it isn't difficult to someone else. It is these people who will scream at you to make bigger pulls (with no regard as to the increased difficulty level for the tank and healer) just because they want it to go faster or to be able to use their fancy aoe skills. It is these people who will laugh at you for wanting to use crowd control, with no idea that good cc makes it alot easier for the tank and healer.

It is true that alot of tanks are rude, selfish and bossy. Although I could say this is true of most people in a pug, it shines through the most in a tank. There are several natural reasons for this. Some I will talk about further down, but also the tank is supposed to be the natural leader of the group. Experience can turn a tank who usually tries to make everyone happy into a tank that forces everyone to do it his way - here you might get an understanding as to why this is.

1. When you tank, people expect you to read their minds
Good tanking is ultimately about being provided with good information. If you know what to do and how to do it, tanking is really easy. When you know that something will be ccd, or that problem X will be solved by someone else, you know that you can focus your energy somewhere else. In random pugs, because the written communication is hampered by the fact that we also use our keys to tank/dps/heal, you will have to learn to read peoples minds instead. People will rarely take the time to stop pressing their buttons to type out some information to you. The only one who occasionally does this is the healer, who in the same time threatens everyones lives by stopping to heal to tell you something. Ideally dpsers would help you out, but they never will.
  • When a cc breaks you are supposed to know whether it will be re-ccd or if you have to tank it. People won't tell you, so you have to make a quick decision as to whether you trust the player who ccd it or not.
  • When you make a pull, you are supposed to know which target each dpser is taking. If you don't, and lose aggro you're a "bad tank". It doesn't matter if all dpsers choose different targets, don't go for your marks or the fact that it really is them who should take your target, not the other way around.
  • You should know when the healer needs mana. The healers are fairly decent at telling you when they desperately need mana. They won't tell you however if they think they need mana when they are at 30-40-50% mana before a boss pull. Some healers need all the mana they can get, some do just fine with half a mana pool. You should know which kind of healer your healer is without having to ask. If you ask, you are a tardy tank who pulls too slowly.
  • You should keep track of everyones cooldowns. You can't mark for a repentance when it is on cooldown! The paladin won't tell you it is, but you should've known that before you pulled.

2. Whatever choice you make, it is the wrong one.
There are five wills in your group, and you have to accomodate everyone (and know what they want without them telling you, see above). Each and everyone of those has a different idea about how fast the dungeon should be done, how to make every pull and just about everything else about the instance. If you try to please one, you will step on the toes of the other - this is a fact.
  • If you wait for healers mana, you pull too slowly. If you don't wait for healers mana, you pull too fast. Like I said above, healers expect you to know whether they need mana or not, and if you make the wrong choice (which you will), you are a bad tank.
  • When a cc breaks and you decide to go for it before it gets aggro on the healer you are a cc breaker, if you don't, you are a bad tank. Like I mentioned above, whether you decide to trust the ccer or not, it will turn out you made the wrong choice. The ccer might sometimes re-cc and sometimes not, but you should know which.
  • If you don't mark targets, you're a reckless tank. If you do mark targets, you're a slow, cowardish and bad tank. It also doesn't matter how you mark targets, it will be the wrong way "Go for caster first! No the healer! No the other guy!".
  • If you use an addon to announce your skills in the party chat (like cooldowns and interrupts) people will be annoyed. If you don't, people will be annoyed (this is true for all classes though).

3. You are supposed to know everything, at once.
It doesn't matter that it is the first time you tank, or do this instance, or do this pull. As a tank you should know exactly how to proceed and deal with a situation. When the dpsers and healer don't know the tactics of a boss, they will turn to you. And if they do know the tactics of a boss, they expect you to as well. If you ask for help you will get heavy sighs thrown your way, at best. Worst case you're kicked. The amount of knowledge you should have extends to tiny details. You should know that you have to sidestep at that precise moment, that you could've avoided that skill by using intervene/anti-magic shell/stun.

4. You have to solve the problems other people create.

In line with all the above issues, when something goes wrong you are expected to solve the issue. Perfectly. If people don't know how to play their class or how to do the dungeon, you are the one who is going to have to fill in for them and fix their mistakes. Why? Because when the group dies it will either be your fault or the healers, it doesn't really matter if the dps were the cause of the wipe. They are 3 against 2 (and the healer isn't always on your side either) and their caps will win.
  • If someone ninjapulls or breaks cc or otherwise fails, they expect you to fix it. They won't get the blame if you fail, you will.
  • If the dpsers don't kill the adds, you will have to.
  • If the dpsers don't know how to cc, you will have to solve the problem of tanking 5 ranged mobs and using all your cooldowns to survive.
5. You have to be the best
Fortunately this has become more equal during Cataclysm than it was before, but it is still a fact that everyone expects the tank to not only have the best skills, but also the best gear. This comes partially out of necessity - the skills and gear of the tank will affect the group the most. If one dpser doesn't perform at max, the group will still probably do well (if all dpsers have bad gear, you have a problem though, but yet again they are three and you are just one). A badly geared healer can still manage to heal a group without problem if the tank is well geared. But a well geared healer can't save a badly geared tank. Survivability is one issue about bad gear, threat another. As a tank you carry the entire group on your shoulders, where a dpser only carries himself. I really don't understand people who wait 25 min in queue and then whine about the tank taking 5 seconds too long before a pull. You might think that I am joking, but this happens commonly in random pugs. Your performance will always be compared to the best performance. If some tank managed to do that pull without cc, you should too. If some tank managed to do this instance in 20 minutes, you should too. They don't realize that the group is completely different now, and that you have to factor in the skills of the healer, the other dpsers and yourself. And gear differences. For some reason, everyone thinks "it is possible, therefore you should succeed". "Best" is of a totally arbitrary and unmeasurable value, which means everyone will have a different idea of how you can do something the best way.

6. Everyone knows how to do your job better than you.
This point sort of wraps up all the other ones - everyone seems to know how to tank, yet no one does it! People don't seem to realize that a tank that gets to do things the way that suits him best, will almost always be the best for the group as a whole. A tank who constantly has to repair mistakes (ninja pulls, broken cc, no cc) will naturally do a bad job. The situation was shitty to begin with, a tank can only do so much to make it better.

As with every other part of this game, people tank because they enjoy it. They want it to be fun. Unfortunately, there is no role where the fun is easier to ruin than the tank role. Tanking is already a challenge, and it doesn't necessarily become easier with better gear. Because we combat the group as much as the mobs, there will always be a high difficulty level of tanking as compared to healing/dpsing with good gear. Towards the end of Wrath, most healers could place a hot, tab out of the game for a minute and return and no harm was done. Good gear made healing ridiculously easy. Dpsers killed mobs so fast that instances were a joke. But to the tank the challenge of keeping aggro is always the same. We do not need or enjoy the added challenge of ninja pulls, broken cc or no cc at all. We do not think it is a fun part of our tanking to repair and fix your mistakes - yet you expect us to feel that way. Because many non-tanks like to make tanking more of a chore than the fun that tanks hope to get, people avoid it.


  1. Seems to me that pretty much all of these problems comes from doing pugs. Wherein everyone is a rude, selfish asshole, totally incompetent and unknown to you... Which is bound to cause all of these issues.

    For more enjoyable tanking I recommend running with people you know.

    By the way I tank a bit on the side with my Death Knight and I tend to do pretty good even with puggers just because I just flat-out ignore them.

    The first pug I tanked in Cataclysm was with 4 guys from the same guild who was trying to cause a wipe with every pull and they just kept shouting in chat "YOU'RE GONNA DIE NOW", "NOOB TANK OMG", "FUCK OFF HAHAHA", etc.

    I just kept on going and managed to rescue every fuck-up they did to try and cause a wipe. We cleared the instance, they failed.

    Now that was fun. :)


  2. Spot on.
    When a 25 raid needs a tank proprotion of 3/25, and a 5man needs 1/5, you get this pressure even in guild.

    After running multiple groups of guildies through the same instances, you do start to resent the ninja pulling. Yes, I could save you, but actually, you're ruining my fun!

    PuGs are almost easier, because I can just ignore the flaming and let people kill themselves. Bad tank.

  3. I agree with everything you've said, especially your point that tanks are essentially fighting the mobs and the group - I'd never thought of it that way before, but all too often it's the truth.

    Personally, I hate the typical riposte to tanks' troubles: just run it with your guild! Firstly, no everyone has a guild, or guildies who are willing to run heroics with them. Secondly, some players prefer to learn a new role under the guise of anonymity.

    Thirdly, and most importantly, this so-called solution means that the victim of jackassery is being called out instead of the perpetrators. It's like seeing a kid being pushed around by a group of bullies and, instead of setting the bullies straight, turning on the kid and demanding they take better care of themselves. It's not a rational response. Reminding stressed-out tanks that stepping away from the situation can help? That's fine. Shaming them if they don't? Really not.

  4. @Gav
    Wow, that must have been even worse than my worst pugs tbh ^^ I would definitely not have had the patience to stay and I definitely wouldn't have tried it again if that had been my first experience of it :P I salute you.

    It really depends from guild to guild, fortunately my guildies wouldn't flame me (other than jokingly) if I mess up, or if they mess up my tanking. Not sure I would stay in a guild with people who make my tanking miserable <.<

    You make a great point actually, and I like you analogy to the "bullied child". As often is the case, people want to fix the bullied child, rather than the people who are bullying. This is exactly what we are seeing in WoW. Then again, it is difficult to imagine what Blizzard could do, because it really isn't about class mechanics but about player attitudes. One thing that I have discussed earlier would be to give baby-tanks some heads up of what is to come through regular game-play (solo). Right now tanks have to trial and error themselves through instances, and that probably isn't very helpful to the issue.

  5. I thought "4. You have to solve the problems other people create." was a really good point, a mechanism that ultimately makes it easy to -always- pass the blame on to the tank.

  6. I can't figure out why Blizz let's the situation persist. Surely there must be a solution. Perhaps give tanks some sort of buff that corresponds to the groups gear score (weaker group makes tank stronger), aoe crowd control (a super aoe trap), huge rewards for tanking (10 times points), or other such things. Why does Blizz let the situation persist when they go out of their way to address very small balancing?

  7. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for this post. I just made a depressing tank post on my own blog today after I dusted off my Bear Tank. I agree with everything. Some days I am that defiant tank who bends others to her will and some days I go Resto because it's easier on my emotions to be a Tree.

    It's all well and good for people to suggest to me that I should "run with people I know" but I work second shift. Everyone I know has a tidy, 9-5 week days only job that doesn't fit into my rotating days off 330-midnight schedule. I love running with my guild when I can but that's not often these days so I have to deal with the PUG lovelies.

  8. Sadly I can only agree with this and it's not encouraging to pick up tanking again. My main will be kept behind the scene and I will stick to my healer alt for now.

    During runs with an imo inexperienced tank I try to give some guidelines and helped when possible (in whisper mostly) as far as my abilities goes offcourse.

    I really hate it when dps constantly outaggroing or outrunning the tank, making things unnecessary harder. I warn those dps and when they don't listen I stop healing them (when justifiable offcourse).

    I can take a lot more flaws or faults from a tank than I can take from dps and I always stand up for the tank in case of argues, defending or helping her/him against whining, unreasonable or pigheaded dps. (as long as the tank isn't a pighead her-/himself, than everything ends offcourse)

  9. I agree with everything you said. I first started playing this game wanting to tank. I'm pretty good at tanking and can do a great job with a nice group, but because of all of the reasons you named, I stopped tanking. I want to keep a tank toon for guild runs though. So I sometimes pug as dps on that toon hoping for tank gear scraps that our actual tank didn't want or saving up points to buy tank gear. People are always asking me why I quit tanking. From now on I will just send them a link to your post.

  10. I've leveled my paladin from 80 to 85 almost exclusively by tanking. The offspec on my druid is feral tank, because sometimes I don't have 40 minutes to wait for my 70 vp's.

    So here's my perspective on it all as a healer and a tank.

    As a tank in a PuG you have to suffer a huge amount of abuse. God forbid you let an add slip on a group. Even if it's because the lock is happily blasting away single target on an unmarked mob while skull is still alive. You almost always suck and are crap. I can imagine why a lot of people would rather pass on the experience.

    Tanking isn't hard. At least not an a paladin and a druid, I can't speak for the other two tanking classes. But it might be too hard for some of the (mostly ranged) dps I meet in instances. You meet a lot of underperformers that basically stand still and just spam the rotation they got from EJ or whereever completely oblivious to what's going on around them. Don't stand in fire seems alien to them ... would you want them to tank?

    While leveling as a tank though here's a tip: if you get a good group before the last boss tell them you are doing more instances. More often than not at least 4/5 will stay and you can have a couple of nice instance runs. They will ofc stay because it means no 40 min waiting for them :)

    And why would you level as a tank? Well at level 83 I was in full i308+ blues, at level 84 I was at full i318+ blues and two evenings after hitting 85 I'm at i328 average. And my retri gear is mostly up to par with that. Only two items I did not get in instrances: a cheap inscription relic that I made anyway leveling inscription and my alchemist stone.

    Tanking is the single fastest and cheapest way at gearing a character, even if it is your offspec.

  11. In addition to what I wrote above a comment on 'the tanks is supposed to know everything.' Regarding encounters it is my opinion as a tank that this is true! A tank that doesn't know the encounter is usually a far more serious problem than a healer or a dps.

    Unless you are going into new uncharted territiry (only on PTR these days) read up on the instances before you enter.

    Consider preparing and not doing a random until you've done them all.

    When you know all tactics go and have fun in randoms.

    Don't leave at the first wipe, it's annoying for everyone and a wipe is not always a sign of a bad group. I've been in excellent groups that wiped on the first trash group of heroics. Only to then take 2 minutes to coordinate and steamroll through it.

    If you are tanking for the first time as a low level go for it. Believe it or not, there is not much you can do wrong! If you are tanking for the first time as a level 80(+) go with friends until you are comfortable with it.

    And also ... fighting everyone is fun! Tanking is fun when you know what you are doing. If you are starting at tanking don't let the asshats ruin it for you. Learn the trade and enjoy it

  12. This was a really nice description of how the rest of the group makes the tank's job more difficult. Your last point -- everybody knows how to do your job better than you do -- reminds me of some of the irritations faced by teachers: the people with the strongest and most obnoxious about how teachers should do their job are usually those with no experience as teachers. So when Arthasdklol is hassling the tank while doing less damage, remember that he'll probably grow up to be a politician.

  13. You make some very good points, and I think bad attitude from players is really 90% of the cause behind most problems in WoW.

    Then again, tanks aren't immune to bad attitude themselves, or to a lack of understanding of the difficulties in another's role. I've run into tanks who expect me to trap but then won't let me trap pull, who expect me to know when to trap without being told, who expect me to know and employ the strategy they prefer to use even when it's not the one 90% of groups use...

    So it all comes down to "some players are jerks".

  14. I started tanking as a break from my hunters, I had rolled three with the highest around level 78 or 79. At that time I didn't really know what was involved in tanking but thought it would be a nice change. Though I do enjoy tanking I do not like running randoms for the issue you mention above. I do like running with my guildies as they will usually give me tips along the way (move from this, don't pull him until later, etc). Which I usually find quite useful and helpful.

    As you've mentioned before, there is no "training" in the game for this, you just have to do it. I am sure a lot of newbie tanks get scared off by running a few randoms with a group of jerks and move on to something else. I have had this problem but just quit running randoms alone.

    I am wondering if Blizzard couldn't impliment a daily dungeon quest for specific classes or groups (tank, healer, melee dps, ranged dps). This could be done on a daily basis like any other daily (but could maybe give vp also). It would have to scale to your level and the rest of the group would be npcs in the dungeon. I think even a 3 or 4 person group would suffice. This way it would new players a chance to practice without the possible abuse of a pug group. It could even give daily tips from the "trainer".

    Anyway, love your blog, am currently working my way through the older posts.