Over 5 years ago, when I made the decision to roll my shaman, I was motivated by one very simple reason—I thought Chain Heal was cool. And 4 years ago, when I decided to make my Resto Shaman my main and forgo the dps spotlight for a more covert role, I was motivated by the desire to have a greater impact on the outcome of an encounter. 2 years ago, when I set my sights on the US top 50, I did so with the desire to prove my value as a player and as a healer. And a year and a half ago, when I launched a tiny blog, I was fueled by the desire to help the community and provide them with a resource that they had never had before. And up until two weeks ago, I never had the cause to regret any of these decisions.
The Rag-Shaman Kerfuffle
Two weeks ago, marked the death of HM Rag at the hands of two of the world’s top guilds. Paragon, with their stacked raid of Druids and DKs, burst though with world first; and Method, with a slightly more loose composition, nabbed world second only a short time later. It was an achievement that, according to their members, required an unparalleled effort of skill, research, and perseverance. From my own experiences with the fight and after watching multiple videos of the kill (all of which made it look so easy), I can attest—it’s one hell of an undertaking. But marring the celebration of and my excitement for an accomplishment that every serious raider dreams of was the ever-present shadow of the “Lack of Shaman”. And it didn’t take long for the posts to start; one even garnered a very stern CM rebuff:
It doesn’t matter at all unless you can verify and prove that Heroic Ragnaros is impossible, or way more difficult to kill, when a specific class or specialization is represented in the raid.
You’re forcing together a couple of incredibly fragmented pieces of data — and the sample size of that tested data is 25 players in the whole world fighting one boss in the entire game — to extrapolate an entire thesis on class balance. (Source)
To give our fellow blue poster some credit (because the poor guy is going to get mentioned more than a couple times in this post), Zarhym did concede that something might be amiss:
Yes, there’s certainly a pattern here. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t accurately draw such broad conclusions from this pattern, because the data has virtually no frame of reference in the grand scheme of World of Warcraft class balance and gameplay.
So, two real questions arise out of this entire mess. First, what is the pattern? And second, what conclusions can actually be drawn from it? To most, I think the pattern is pretty clear—Paragon has consistently excluded Shaman from their raiding roster. On their website, they include one single shaman, out of 34 players. Checking their screenshots from their multiple first kills, and you’ll see the same pattern—one or no shaman. So it should hardly be surprising that they don’t have very much dark blue on their raid frames because they simply don’t have it on their roster to begin with. And no, I’m not buying the argument that they can’t find good shaman—they’re bloody Paragon. Good shaman find them all the time. The point is that they have a take on the class and it happens to be a bad take. It’s absolutely no fault of the shaman they do have (and had), who I know are exceptional players; they have a stance on the value of the class as a whole.
But what sort of conclusions can you draw from that pattern? (This is where I think players get ahead of themselves). The obvious and the most concrete conclusion, at least in my eyes, is that Paragon’s Lack of Shaman demonstrates … you can be the most successful guild in the world without shaman on your kill roster. As Zarhym put it in that same post:
Yes, it’s working as intended that the first guild in the world to kill Heroic Ragnaros was allowed to bring whatever players/classes they were confident would help get the job done.
And I do agree with him … to a point. If it would have netted them a world first kill to have nothing but paladins in raid, Paragon would have done it. And that wouldn’t necessarily mean that every other class out there was horribly broken or useless. But just like CM’s have been quick to point out the Lack of Shaman doesn’t equate to the class being woefully neglected, I think the same can be said for the presence of shaman—just because Shaman might be included in later kills, does not support the conclusion that the class or any particular spec, is reasonably balanced in terms of HPS and DPS.
In the larger picture, what Paragon has presented WoW developers with is a hypothesis, and the fact that Paragon has been successful time and time again acting on that hypothesis, either represents that they’ve been lucky enough to have not encountered a situation which disproves their belief, or … *GASP* … they’re actually closer to the truth than we might think. But it will, undoubtedly, take more data to prove that.
So, should it be a slight cause for concern that Paragon, once again, was not disproven of their hypothesis? If you’re a developer who’s working on game balance, I would think so. Because as much as developers might assert that they can’t tune to Paragon’s exacting standards, the fact remains that even Paragon goes in with a tolerance for some variation in their dps and hps. They value the player so much, they have an army of alts (who arguably, are just as good as most players’ mains), in place of a mega-roster so that they can ensure raid team consistency even when the player’s primary class isn’t up to their standards. If shaman were up to their standards, I’ve no doubt they’d bring them.
But, what about people other than developers and world first guilds? Should that Lack of Shaman be a cause for concern for them? Absolutely, fucking not. (Yes, I’m dropping the f- bomb, so you know I’m serious about this). But will it still be a cause for concern? You bet your ass it will. And the ramifications of the Lack of Shaman will be felt both near and far.
Vixsin, the Grumpy Guss
Before we get into the personal impacts of the Paragon kerfuffle, I want to set the stage a bit here. And trust me, this should start to clue you in on where this whole post is going (if you hadn’t figured it out already).
When I was interviewing with PC, one of the questions I was asked was the predictable “do you have a problem with sitting the bench?” Like most raiders, this is a question I’ve fielded many times before on many different guilds’ applications, and is something that I’ve asked at a couple interviews when I was on the opposite side of the table. Any right-minded individual knows the correct answer to this question: “No, of course not”. But, instead of giving the typical response, that night I decided to say what I truly believe (paraphrased below):
Yes, I have a problem with sitting. And I have a problem with anyone who thinks that it’s okay to be sat. Because I’m applying as a raider, for a competitive roster in a guild that’s working to be one of the top in the US. I want, more than anything, to be in on every kill, for every attempt, for all the time that we’re raiding. And that’s what I’m going to work for—to prove that I deserve that spot. Because once someone becomes okay with being sat, they stop having that edge that made them great. If they don’t want to that spot, then they don’t deserve it. So, class stacking aside, I will never be okay with being sat. I won’t come to you to bitch about it, but you can bet that behind the scenes, I’ll be trying to figure out a way to up my game. Because, being sat, to me, says that I haven’t worked hard enough to convince you that I should be there. I know that’s not a common response, but it’s at least an honest one.
My SO, sitting right beside me, completely slack jawed, thought I had just blown it. But, come to find out, that honest answer was one of the things that won me a trial. Fast forward to today, and you must be asking, “Okay Vixsin, but what does that have to do with this topic?”
It’s with no small amount of reluctance that I admit to all of you, that some of my darkest, hardest weeks have been spent in this tier. I struggled, so much, on HM Baleroc, knowing that if I had been a holy paladin, the fight would have been that much easier. (Bear in mind, this is pre-nerf; the fight is fundamentally different today). Night after night of attempt, of me not measuring up, of trying to find the absolute perfect rotation to keep my soaker targets alive (bless them, they even took survival talents to try and help me out), of having a healing lead constantly leaning on me to step up my game, of feeling absolutely and completely broken down, of trying to squeeze every bit out of a mana pool that seemed to evaporate in the blink of an eye, took its toll on me both mentally and physically. And I tell you, I have never, in all of my raiding days, been so thankful for our first kill.
We made short work of HM Domo after that, and then headed into Rag’s inner sanctum for the final showdown. At that point, there was little information out there about the encounter, although friends in other US and EU guilds shared with us some of what they had learned, including the fact that we needed to be healer-light. So night 1 we went in with 5 heals, and quickly realized, it wasn’t light enough. Night 2 came along and over half of our 9-person healing team sat on the chopping block. And the first ones to go were … the 2 Resto Shaman. Not because of skill, or seniority, but because we are Shaman.
It was hardly surprising, but nonetheless, it felt like being punched in the gut. It marked the first time that I have ever, in my raiding career, been sat because of my class.
And the interesting thing about it was … I understood why. Running through the rational side of my brain was the list of reasons why it wouldn’t be as easy a fight for me as it would be for another healing class (and I mentioned a number of these reasons during Rawrcast):
- Heavy burst damage
- Unpredictable and rapid focus fire
- Lots of movement
- Spread raid where CH/HR are tricky to use
- Weak, proximity-based CD
But despite these very sane reasons, which my SO took care to repeat over to me in the most calm and careful way possible in a futile attempt to cool me down, I still succumbed to the inevitable emotional response. Because the fact of the matter is, as the answer to the interview question implied, I genuinely believe that the only thing standing between a player and a raid spot is effort. There is no one who is more subscribed to the idea that it is the player that matters, not the class, than I. And that harkens back much further than WoW, back to the days when I decided I wanted to play in the NCAA, no matter the fact that I was about 5 inches too short and about 30lbs away from the lean beach bodies sported by all of my California peers. I simply don’t take kindly to being told that I can’t do something because of some commonly-accepted belief or twist of fate—whether it’s a coach telling me that I don’t have the right genes to play college ball or whether it’s a raid leader telling me that I can’t heal a fight because my toolbox happens to contain totems.
Make no mistake, part of my response to being benched was fueled by pure, unadulterated ego. We all think we’re good players, and I’m no certainly exception. But beyond that, and what I think could be so easily misunderstood as being driven by ego, I was more upset about the idea of not being given a spot because of my class versus not being given a spot because of my skill (because PC has one hell of a skilled healing team). For someone like me, who optimistically, or naively, chooses to believe that the only true limits are the ones you place on yourself, it was enough to make me see red.
When Paragon’s kill video came out a week or so later, along with Method’s and then Envy’s, they were seen as confirming a slightly skewed hypothesis from the one I established earlier in this post—not that you can be successful without a Resto Shaman on your team, but rather, you can’t be successful with a Resto Shaman on your team. And with each kill, sans Resto Shaman, I felt the yoke of popular perception settle down on my shoulders. Doubt started to creep in and I found myself wondering “Have I climbed so high on the progression ladder that I completely overshot the point where I could earn a raid spot based on competency alone? Am I deluding myself in thinking that I could outplay the so-called limitations of my class?” And serving as a perfect foil to all that self-doubt was also the feeling that I would be letting down an entire community of players, readers like you, if I decided to concede the point that Resto Shaman shouldn’t, or maybe couldn’t, heal every fight in game. And I think that was the idea that broke the camel’s back.
It had started with Baleroc, an insidious hint, just a niggle, that I wasn’t good enough, and it festered and grew those subsequent weeks into the idea that maybe I had hit the proverbial class glass ceiling. And there, under the stress of it all, (it’s slightly embarrassing to admit) I completely broke down. I started writing this post, appropriately playing on the title of my blog (‘cause hey, even when I am awash with raw emotion, I still strive to be witty). I resigned myself to not seeing Rag until a month or two from now, when he is safely on farm, and when it would be “safe” to bring the Resto Shaman in.
And that would have been the end of the story, if not for what happened this past weekend.
On Sunday, it came to pass that our Holy Paladin’s net was down, so low and behold, leadership made me decision to put me in for the night of attempts. And despite the hoopla, despite the fuss, and despite all the resistance, I found myself in the middle of the healing pack, all night long. I healed my butt off (predominantly with GHW … diaf t12 4pc) and I did pretty damn well because of it. It wasn’t easy, and it was slightly awkward, but as I told our healing lead in not as many words “Fuck you, I’ll make it work”. And amazingly, despite the slow progression, I ended the night with every ounce of confidence I’d lost over the past several weeks. More than that, I ended the night with plenty of reasons why I was a good choice for a healing spot, none of which centered on anything having to do with Resto Shamans’ specialness). And, let me tell you, that meant the world to me.
Why do the people in Group 6 matter?
So here I am at the end of this post, looking for meaning in all this mess, and I find that I keep going back to the statement that Zarhym made (again in response to a poster’s assertion that shaman have consistently been excluded from World Firsts over the past several years):
It’s as though you’re suggesting the answer to perceived shaman woes is for us to buff them until the top guilds in the world must bring them to their raids for world first kills.
If you would have asked me a couple weeks ago, while I was sitting in Group 6, frustrated with the fact that I was suffering through what Resto Shaman have already suffered through twice before (once in Ulduar and once in Tier 11), I would have said exactly that—shaman need something to set them apart, something to make them valuable. If I would have been able to navigate through the emotional haze and into WordPress, I would have written a post that said something akin to “FFS BLIZZARD, MAKE SHAMAN SPECIAL AGAIN!” I would have poured my heart into it, and I would have been, entirely and completely, wrong.
Because after Sunday, I realized that I didn’t want something unique or special to make sure that another class was sitting the bench instead of me. Just like I didn’t want to be in Group 6 because I play a Resto Shaman, I didn’t want to find my way out of Group 6 because “we need a shaman for X”. I simply wanted a chance to prove that I could do it. And that, Blizzard developers, is a chance that every player should have, regardless of if they’re in Paragon or Super Casual Happy Chipmunks. Every player out there deserves the chance to prove the hoopla wrong, and more so, to have the hope that they can. It’s the reason I continue to put so much effort into a blog that doesn’t pay me a dime—because I want to inspire players to believe that they can be better, and that the only thing standing between them and whatever they want to achieve, is effort.
So Blizzard, give me a chance to be Vixsin, not just that Resto Shaman in Group 6. Give me that chance, and I’ll do the rest.