“Balance”. It’s a word that inspires both optimism and pessimism in a community focused on measuring the contributions of its players. The optimists, through naiveté or iron resolve, look at class balance and see the potential for an even playing field, a world where “bring the player and not the class” is decidedly within reach. But the pessimists look at balance through different glasses, possibly clouded by sentiment or cultivated discontent, and see performance tolerances that invariably result in continued disparity on meters, tier after tier. And somewhere in this debate over class balance, are players like you and I, with one ear open to the theoretical discussion but who, in this battle between the Vocal Minorities and the Blizzard Blues, just want to play the damn game.
Admittedly, it’s oftentimes hard not to get caught up in the debate, especially if it’s your class that’s in the spotlight. And sometimes, as you’re trying to avoid being caught in the crossfire, you come up against a question that, in the weeks since 5.2 launch, many Resto Shaman have been struggling with, and which was posed to me via email:
“I do have a question for you about morale when playing a resto shaman. I find it hard not to get upset or angry with my class when reading all the negative posts, benching, forum issues and class weakness/under-performance that currently surround the resto shaman. It seems to happen every tier lately and really can be quite disheartening. What would you say to a raider who lets this kind of stuff get to him but doesn’t want to switch classes?” – Dreadfox
As you might have guessed if you read my post several years ago during Firelands—Life in Group 6—class balance and I have a somewhat … tenuous? strained? frosty? … relationship. Unlike some top-end players who oftentimes switch “mains” based on the needs of their raid team, I still cling (for better or for worse) to the distinction that I made back in BC: Vixsin is my main, and all my other healers, no matter how much I play them, are my alts. While I’ll happily heal on my other characters for the purposes of guild progression, and have done so in the past, I will always be the most comfortable on my shaman and the most proud of my achievements on her.
And so, I do oftentimes struggle to remain positive in light of overwhelming negativity about the class, whether it’s from the forums, the community or even from my guildmates. I won’t lie; the first few weeks of Throne of Thunder, where Resto Shaman were arguably not the strongest of healers, were tough. A 20% buff to our AOE spells emphasized how much our design had missed the mark. (And I thought that 15% Purification buff we received at the start of Cata was the worst it could get!)
But, there was something slightly different in my perspective this time around (versus in Firelands, almost 2 years ago), something that helped me bolster my defenses for the rough times ahead. So, in answer to the question above, here’s what keeps me afloat when things start to seem bleak.
I want to get this one out of the way first, because by and large, perspective is hard to come by when you venture onto forums (and blogs, natch). And it’s even harder to gain when someone links a Raidbots graph, which although it oftentimes gets panned by developers, is actually closer to the “global” perspective of performance than the community has ever been before.
Anyway, back to the point about perspective … You might not realize it, but Raidbots provides you with a number of ways to look at the data set that it’s able to pull from World of Logs, and the default option (the one that is consistently linked and referenced in many “I’m underpowered” posts) is oftentimes a capture of the top 100 parses for the classes listed. Now, while you might argue that the top performers of a class are just as valuable a metric as any, the point remains that you’re looking at players and conditions which are, by definition, out of the ordinary. In fact, when it comes to top healing parses, you’re often looking at results which are either engineered to favor someone in particular, where someone was deliberately pushing max HPS, where a mechanic was intentionally gamed (think: Diffusion on Megaera) and/or where some aspect of the strategy went awry.
It’s also important to remember that, firstly, class performance is going to vary by raid size and by difficulty, and secondly, when you’re looking at aggregate performance over an entire tier, the values can be incredibly skewed based on incredibly high or incredibly low performance on a single encounter. In regards to the former, to give you an example of just what I mean, I took all of the Raidbots “Overall DPS” values for today, dumped them into one table, and then color-coded each parse category from red to green (red being the lowest value in that parse category and green being the highest value):
So, as you can hopefully see, there’s no one healer dominating in every single category. Looking at the above, you could say that Disc priests *tend* to be doing well, while Resto Druids and Resto Shaman *tend* to be doing poorly, but if you made a blanket statement on either of those cases, you’d obviously be incorrect. Further, and this relates to my second point, it’s important to remember that the values in the table above represent an aggregate (median) HPS for the entire tier. This means that if there’s a fight where a class does incredibly well or incredibly poorly, their overall HPS is going to be skewed because of it. Similarly, if WoL isn’t parsing a fight correctly, or guilds aren’t making logs public (and a number of top guilds don’t), their performance values won’t be represented in the data. So, in sum, all of this isn’t to say that the numbers presented by Raidbots are wrong or misleading, simply that it’s up to you to understand the context and how the values are derived.
The second thing that you should be able to rely on when things get rough is support.* Although it hasn’t always been the case, in T15 I’m lucky enough to have a guild leader and healing teammates who recognize the benefits and the limitations of every class. They’re not going to cut me any slack when it comes to performance (and, rightfully they shouldn’t, because the guild is about progression, not keeping my ego suitably fluffed) but they also understand that every class has strengths and weaknesses.
So, in my case, will be things that shaman are great at, things that we’re not-so-great at, and things that we bring that may not necessarily show up on meters. Yes, I hate this argument as much as the next player out there, but it is true–meters still cannot capture all of the benefits of a class. Ancestral Vigor is a great example–10% health may not seem like a big deal but it can oftentimes be the difference between life and death. That’s 10% HP to keep your raid alive during Megaera’s Rampages or tip the scales of survivability during Iron Quon’s Fist Smash. It’s 10% more HP on a tank who’s otherwise getting 1-shot. In other rough terms, that’s ~1.3M additional raid HP if you’re able to have it stacked on a 25-man team which is also about 50% of the throughput of one Healing Tide cooldown. And the same argument could be made for things like Misdirect, Power Word: Barrier, Smoke Bomb, and a litany of other class abilities that have zero HPS or DPS values, but a huge benefit when used correctly.
* Notice that I’m not talking about forum empathy here, because threads talking about class imbalance rarely are successful and most times become an argument of who’s worse off. Other classes join in, “yeah, but you have [x]” arguments fly, and no one emerges with a positive outlook.
I’m sure my mother could write a novel about the ways in which my stubbornness has led to more problems than solutions, but when it comes to performance I am consistently someone who believes that all it takes is sufficient willpower. I’ve met plenty of very gifted gamers over the years, some of whom have absolutely blown me away with their raw talent, and all of whom have convinced me that when it comes to being blessed with innate skill—I am not one of those people.
And yet despite my struggles, which if I had simply conceded defeat would have had me s-keying out of fire along with Donald, I’ve managed to secure a spot on every healing roster I’ve aspired to join, all the way up the ladder. Because while I may not be innately gifted, I have a stubborn streak that keeps me subscribed to the idea that, I think, Randy Pausch expressed perfectly:
The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.
So, when it comes to being aware of class balance issues but not letting myself be completely restricted by them, a little bit of pure stubbornness goes a long way.
Lastly, what keeps me going despite the ups and downs of class balance is the appreciation of the fact that as much as I like to think of myself as a Resto Shaman, I am, more importantly, a raider. And the qualities that distinguish a great raider are qualities that transcend class—awareness, adaptability, communication, problem-solving, attentiveness, and execution. Playing a flavor-of-the-month doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility of being a good raider any more than it keeps you alive while you stand in a fire.
Believe me when I say, that a great way to close the divide between your own performance and the performance of your teammates is to stop focusing on what you can do with your class and start focusing on what you can do as a raider. I’ve made up some pretty big disparities in the past through very simple techniques like:
- Timing cooldowns better or more aggressively
- Being more precise and meticulous about movement (knowing where players are going to be before they get there)
- Paying more attention to damage patterns and visual cues of incoming damage (like actually watching the movement of my teammates instead of my raid frames)
- Knowing more about the fight and its nuances (research, research, research)
- Tweaking my raid frames to show more information (like debuffs, tank swaps, personal cd’s, etc.)
- Executing special assignments (add kiting on Vashj, dispel management on Kalecgos, Sinestra and Spine, or most recently, running constellations on HM Twins).
High HPS or DPS is a good thing, but consistently solid raid performance is going to trump it nearly every time.
Ultimately, I think perhaps the reason that the question posed at the start of this post:
How do you stay positive in light of class negativity and poor performance?
resonated so strongly with me is for two main reasons. Firstly, because it’s a question that I’m forced to battle with as someone who has created such a specific image for themselves in game and in the community. Search “Vixsin” in Google and my blog comes up as the #1 result, suggesting that I am tied to the game as much as I am to the class. So when something affects Resto Shaman, it’s difficult to divorce myself from it because it’s a part of my identity.
But secondly, I think it’s an important question because it highlights how we often we let comparative performance influence, or even dictate, our enjoyment of WoW. For example, I have a blast in BG’s when I’m winning, typically by heal-botting another geared player on an absolute rampage. But, the flip side of that “fun” is that it requires that someone else be losing (and likely not enjoying the game as much as I am). And yes, I enjoy topping meters by a mile on an incredibly OP class, even when it means that other healers have to feel underpowered (as many Resto Shaman have since 5.2).
The fact is, there will always be a Flavor-of-the-Month spec, one that’s dominating in PVP or PVE, healing, dps or tanking. Perfect class balance simply isn’t obtainable in a game as nuanced and complex as WoW, which means that someone will always be on top and someone else will always be losing. So the pessimists have it right in that regard. But if you base your enjoyment of WoW on “winning” the balance game (being the OP class of the hour), then you have a mere 2.9% chance (11 classes, 3 specs ea. / 4 for druids) to “win” at a game you can’t control or even influence. And I don’t know about you, but I think those are pretty shit odds.
So what would I suggest? Don’t try to win the balance game. Be stubborn, nurture a broader perspective, hone your skills as a raider, and find a group of people to play with who like playing with you. And in the end, stick with whatever class you enjoy playing for the simple fact that you enjoy playing it. The best successes, in my opinion, are the ones you have to work for.