If you ever have the inclination to study supply chain management, manufacturing, or production system design, you will likely bump into an evaluation technique called “The 5 Whys”. Originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and later incorporated into the Toyota Production System, The 5 Whys posits that to find the root of a problem, you generally need to dial down at least 5 layers of causality. I found myself reminded of this method while playing one of my alts this past weekend through a number of PuG instances and raids. The groups wiped, a number of times, for a host of reasons, but I’m sure every healer out there can guess what or who each of the groups identified as the problem. This lead me to wonder—as WoW players, I would argue that we are as familiar with wiping as we are with boss kills; so why are we so awful at identifying why we failed?
The Problem: We wiped.
Often accompanied by that sinking feeling, wiping can be the death knell of an otherwise smooth PuG. Heck, even a guild run through ICC can be disrupted by a series of unfortunate circumstances. Even before everyone has hit “Release” it starts—the finger-pointing, the blame, or even worse, the silence that falls before a PuG insta-disbands. These days it seems that players of all levels have little tolerance for wipes, no matter the reason or cause. But I look at wipes as a way to dial down into some issues that don’t often get brought up during the play-by-play critique. For the sake of example, let’s follow one such chain of whys which occurred during a pug ToGC25 Faction Champs wipe this past weekend.
1. Why did we wipe? Because everyone was dead.
Yes, this one is kind of a no-brainer. But, in following causality of a wipe it is important to note that one death, two deaths, multiple deaths, do not necessarily result in a loss of durability for everyone. The cause of a wipe is generally not that one person has died (although I will concede that in single-tank fights the likelihood of a wipe increases sharply once your tank bites the dust.) The cause of a wipe is generally that your raid has had a string of bad decisions or a chain of negative consequences. In terms of strategy design, redundancy is a great thing; in terms of player culpability, a wipe is never on one player’s shoulders alone.
2. Why did everyone die? Because they weren’t healed.
Another no brainer here, but somewhat interestingly, this is oftentimes where some players’ analyses end, as they ask the question that puts Group 5’s residents on edge, “What happened there, healers?”. Grrrrrrrr. As a healer, I feel a consistent tension between my responsibility to keep others alive and their responsibility to enable me to do so. The gist of this second why is what I have to remind myself of time and time again—my healing powers cannot work on someone who is oblivious to their own well-being. The lock who likes tanking the Bladestorming warrior, is likely going to end up dead no matter how much mana I pour into him. But this isn’t to say that I get to point fingers or QQ; in the end it comes down to me to keep those green bars filled.
3. Why weren’t they healed? Because there was too much damage going out.
Ah, now we’re getting into the heart of the matter. Assuming that there wasn’t a shiny distracting object outside my window, or that the fire department didn’t break down my front door to yank me away from an overheated and flaming Alienware, chances are I was actually attempting to heal through the damage that was going out. Chances are as damage ramped up, I started mashing buttons (or clicking, for us Clique fans) all that much harder. But despite my best efforts and split-second casting decisions, I was soon overwhelmed with the sheer volume of damage that everyone was taking. This point goes hand-in-hand with the preceding one—my healing powers are not limitless. Healers, like dps, have limitations.
4. Why was there so much damage? Because the adds weren’t controlled.
These days, it’s oftentimes too easy to lapse into the chain-pull-and-aoe-it-all mentality, and forget that there are mobs out there that hurt, that are meant to be controlled in some way, shape or form. Heck, even the concept of a “priority dps target” seems to be a thing of the past; eschewing AOE for single-target damage is something that most dps simply will not do without prodding. And while we aren’t back to the SSC/TK level of CC (ah, those were the days), the fact remains that some encounters are heavily reliant on control and execution; their problems cannot be solved with copious amounts of healing.
5. Why weren’t the adds under control? Because the players weren’t clear about their cc assignments.
Of course, I’m using the ideal example for when a communication breakdown can have disastrous results, but more often than not it seems that coordination between players, between the intention of the strategy and the execution of the strategy, is to blame. Maybe it’s your healers not being clear about their assignments, maybe it’s players getting confused about which frost patch to run to first; whatever the problem, chances are it can be solved with a greater investment of forethought and direction.
Honestly, this chain of thought isn’t that hard to follow or that mentally intensive. In fact, as one of my raiding teammates pointed out to me, the entire preceding causality chain is pretty dumb—and I quote: “No shyte you wipe cause people can’t CC! What the heck is the value of the 5 Whys if I can just skip right to the end?”
It is definitely a good question (and maybe didn’t completely deserve my stony/angry, protracted silence). What is the point of the whole evaluation technique? What does the process reveal with such a simple answer? [Just pretend I’m employing some artsy reverse-time-and-show-you-what-you-missed mechanic here.]
- A wipe is a string of bad consequences—there are very, very few times where one mistake by one player will be an insta-wipe (Hunters on Yogg-0, you prove the exception to this rule.) So capitalize on the chances you have to make a difference instead of simply going down with the ship.
- As much as healers can pump out massive amounts of damage mitigation, there are still things that non-healers need to do to help us do our jobs. (EG: staying in range, taking care of themselves, moving away from the big baddie, getting out of the beam of death, not focusing exclusively on bignumbaz, killing things that silence/interrupt, etc.) Educate your teammates; they are in fact on your side.
- Healers have a limit on what they can individually and collectively mitigate in terms of incoming damage. Don’t believe in this limit, test it when you can, but don’t be hurt if you fall short.
- Healing brute force is not an actual strategy. In fact, a little bit of prevention can go a long way to making our lives easier.
- Last but not least, communication, leadership, and execution can make or break a fight.
One of my past professors likened system failure to a block of Swiss Cheese, where the holes have coincidently all aligned to form one hole all the way through the block. This is to say that at any given time during a raid, or during a boss fight, there are any number of failures occurring. Little isolated holes, completely independent of eachother—untimely dispels, blown dps rotations, late heals, popped CDs, etc. On their own they are relatively harmless. Align some and you might have a situation for Nature’s Swifteness; align them all and you end up face down on the floor.