For many, avoiding burnout and sustaining interest in the wind down time before Beta news floods WoW fansites means capitalizing on the chance to explore the world of healing, Resto Shaman or otherwise. In my forays through all levels of dungeons, I’ve happened across a good number of first-time healers giving the hps side of things a try and a handful of re-rolls anxious for a better healing “fit”. And wonderfully enough, (or at least as “wonderful” as things can get for someone who likes writing guides,) the majority of healers that I’ve come across have been only too eager to expand their knowledge on the how-to’s and why’s of the raid role I’ve come to love.
Amazingly though, when I recently found myself chatting about some hard-learned healing lessons with a Shaman who kept me in the Thunderclapping business despite some particularly heinous group pulls (not my fault, I swear! *shifty eyes*), the healing wisdom that I offered up wasn’t about rotation or spec, but rather about some of the core values that good healers share.
Ultimately our conversation led to one question that I struggle with to this very day. In fact, this Shaman’s question to me was fairly simple—what can I do to become a great healer? The answer I gave him went something like this (albeit in an abbreviated format, heh):
1. Know the toolbox, be the toolbox
Like any skilled tradesman, it’s important to know the right tool for the job and how to make your tools work for you. Some classes may not have very large arsenals, but regardless, developing your own spell selection roadmap will go a long way to increasing your healing effectiveness. And to take it one step further, don’t be afraid to try out various tools along the way to see how they work for you. At first, using Binding Heal on my Disc seemed awkward and clunky, and my transition between thinking “hrm, I’m taking damage … and the tank is taking damage … (gears churning) … OH! I know!” and actually hitting my bind was anything but swift, but the more time I spent practicing the smoother the transition became. Likewise, knowing your spells’ strengths and weaknesses can assure that when stuff hits the fan, you’re not fumbling about trying to top a group by using Healing Touch or Healing Wave. Yes, it make take a few fumbling attempts to get to that zen point, but if you stick with it and view every mistake as an opportunity to learn, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of a very complex decision-making process.
2. WTS Chatterbox
Although I’m loathe to suggest that healers step up and actively manage every group they’re ever in, a “vocal” healer can easily be a group’s best asset. (By “vocal” I don’t mean screaming into vent or using RAWR CAPS to berate fire-dwellers.) By and large, the great healers that I’ve played with have been ones who have a continuous and open dialogue with their teammates. Accordingly, they were the most informed about when a tank popped his CD’s (and when he didn’t), when players needed additional healing (and when they could take care of themselves), and when minor adjustments in strat yielded big results. And while I’m not suggesting that you actively narrate every issue you have as a healer, those healers that do speak up when they’re being challenged often encourage the group to step up their game as well. (For example: when was the last time you asked an entire raid to use their healthstones at a precise given time? For me, it was last night in Sindragosa, when three raid healers were out of commission due to Unchained Magic and Ice Tombs. Believe me, it made a difference.)
Ultimately, talking about your challenges can open you up to criticism, but short of ESP, it’s the only way to let your teammates know how to work better with you. Even in dungeons, a little strat discussion can go a long way, because what works for a shaman + all melee team might not work with a Pally + ranged. Moreso, when you do step into the world of 10- and 25-mans, communication becomes vital to eliminating the “I thought Bob was taking care of that” slip-ups that a mute healing team can fall victim to.
3. Eyes Up
Back in the days of Aftermath, when we were making the transition between ToGC and ICC, we had one of our DKs switch mains (with the endorsement of the GL) from his tank to his Resto Druid. Ultimately it proved a resounding success, but the first couple of weeks were more than a bit rough. He died to everything, and some things that we didn’t even know you could die to, on fights that he had successfully tanked multiple times before. Amazingly, his problem wasn’t a lack of skill or attention—he was resolute in his intent to be the best healer he could be—but rather he focused too much to the little squares that were set in the middle of his screen.
Yes, healing can require some intense micro-management of those alluring green bars, as our dk-to-druid convert quickly discovered, but watching them to the exclusion of all else isn’t something that a great healer has the luxury of doing. Like the suggestion a friend gave me for long road trips—active eyes are the key to staying interested when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Keeping your eyes bouncing from frame to frame, to CDs and back to the fight, can not only keep you engaged but give you the extra edge that you won’t get from tunneling your Grid array. In fact, in our last LK HM10 kill, I was a little surprised to realize how much healing I actually do in my peripheral vision, in order to keep my eyes on the action (and my boss timers). Frankly, it’s a lot easier to assess who needs healing from watching the fight, than to try to asses what’s going on in the fight from watching raid frames.
4. It’s What You Know
In the business world there’s a common saying: “A cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind”. And although I don’t subscribe whole-heartedly to that belief, I have to admit that it tends to ring true. Having what I need when I need it, without going through the “I have my own filing system, tyvm” shuffle, generally means I can be a lot more efficient (and precise) with my time and my energy. So it should come as no surprise that in WoW, I tend to have the same approach—I make sure I have the information that I need, when I need it, via my custom UI.
No matter your stance on add ons, I think everyone can concede that top end performance in WoW is about multi-tasking, and multi-tasking well. And with the amount of information that’s available to track, great healers employ their own sort of filter (via mods and/or personal perception) to make sure they can extract the information they need and exclude all the rest. It may take a bit of time and effort up front to tweak your UI into a state that’s workable for you, but in the end, being able to see everyone’s status quickly and easily, managing buffs and debuffs, tracking hots and uptime, and responding quickly to encounter mechanics, can eliminate the guesswork about what’s going on and give you a faster access to a response.
5. Do you see the magic sailboat?
In the way back when, when people actually saw Malls as a destination, there was a wonderful fad of 3D art stores. At any given point during the day, you could walk past one and find several people simply staring at a blob of colors propped up on an easel. If you decided to join them in their efforts, after a while, one of them would exclaim (to the frustration of the others)—“Oh yeah, look it’s a sailboat!”
To me, WoW encounters are very much like those 3D paintings, where everything looks an absolute mess upon first viewing. Damage is everywhere, you’re on the move more often than you should be, and you’re in danger of becoming cross-eyed forever. But after a while, as you start to relax, patterns start to fall in place. Mental muscle memory begins to take over and events start to distinguish themselves from the background noise. As I mentioned in my post about my alt Disc Priest, I didn’t really have an ah-ha! damage patterning realization until very recently, but in speaking with healers from a number of top guilds, it seems like a skill they all share—they might not be able to tell you the exact timing between Infests, but even without looking at timers, they know when it’s coming up. Sometimes it takes a good amount of practice to get that inherent knowledge, but I assure you that the sooner you can see the sailboat, the sooner you’ll be able to master the encounter.
6. No one is perfect
It’s repeated in so many posts about healing, and I can’t help but bring it up again. As much as the perfectionist in me hates to admit, there are some things that I cannot handle. A group’s/raid’s success is not assured simply because I’m there, and likewise the players that I group/raid with are completely fallible themselves. Knowing this, in my mind the challenge facing every healer out there isn’t how you handle your successes, but rather how you handle your failures. In between casual dismissal and self-flagellation lies the opportunity for improvement, but only if you understand that everyone has room to grow.
In the end, contrary to what you would think when a die-hard Resto meets a baby one, we didn’t really discuss Shaman healing mechanics very much at all. In fact, the conversation actually highlighted, at least to me, that as much as I talk about rotations, mathematics, reasoning, stats and specs, those elements of gameplay can only take you so far. While all of the above traits might be a bit much to ask of someone still leveling, I think they serve as a good reminder to even us battle-worn healing vets that personal skill is something that still holds sway.
And despite what one PVP collective would have you believe, there is no definitive skill cap in WoW, only the one you give yourself.