A month or so ago, I had one of most all-around discomforting experiences of my raiding career. I had a moment, not dissimilar from showing up to class stark naked and lacking your homework, where I was simply stunned into immobility, slackjawed. Of course it was a moment prefaced by a memory error message and complete WoW shutdown (with some added /facepalm action as well). And when I recovered from it all, there I was, smack dab in the middle of a ToGC Faction Champs encounter with not one add-on to hide my modesty behind, a raw WoW interface on display for everyone to see. It was mortifying, but it was also a learning experience that was a long time in the making.
I remember it most distinctly because I had originally intended to the night’s back-to-back ToGC and ICC raids as a chance to finally sort out the IED versus RSD debate. But, sadly, with my addons in a disshelved mess around me, I spent the night trying to cope instead of putting my best foot forward. It did leave me with an interesting question though, as I was frantically trying to identify my “key raiding addons” so that I could continue through the night with minimal impact—am I someone with a healthy appreciation for helpful mods or am I a 12-step program shy of full add-on addiction? More so, were the addons making me better or simply making me more dependant?
It starts with the Gateway-Mod
Way, way back in the beginning, I raided Karazhan. Actually, more to the point, I was on my guild’s list of players to take to Kara when none of the other “regular” folk were on. I was in that phase of trying to prove myself, but which could also be interpreted as “bumbling around button mashing in the hopes I did something right”. So to support my noob efforts, at the urging of a guildmate, I downloaded my first ever epeen meter. Yes, that shot to the right is genuine, and yes I am whispering a friend to proclaim my awesomeness of topping meters on a trash pull. So clearly I was doing the major dps. Life was good, I could prove my worth in the group of players who didn’t quite want me there, and I was happy with my one mod (which I had no clue how to configure).
And then I learned about threat. (This was back in the day where only frost mages had iceblocks.) So naturally, at the urging of my slightly antagonistic Kara group, I went and downloaded KLH Threat Meter. It told me when I was in danger of meeting an untimely demise and I learned how to respond correctly to visual stimulus. And again, the world went back to the natural order of things and I was content with 2 mods. I still couldn’t configure them, but I knew I was better off with them on my screen.
An Add-on Explosion
It so happened that my introduction to raiding and to the wide world of add-ons was hastened by a crafting request and a miss-tell to a fellow mage, the crafter in question (intending to whisper my friend, I whispered the mage how shocked I was that I wasn’t being ripped off on the crafting cost. Whoops.) Two months and many hours of talking mage mechanics later, I received my first raiding guild invite and a spot in the evening’s Lurker attempts. Aside from the warm greeting I received, were the instructions to download three things—DBM, Decursive, and Xperl. Since I was incredibly green I happily went along, adding 3 new mods to my list despite the fact I had no clue what they did.
I think I can safely say, it was downhill from there. Combing back through my folders, I estimate that I’ve downloaded and tried over 100 addons, ranging from map mods to button facades, art panels, meters, the mage version of pally power, auction management and everything in between. At first, I started with a blanket template for each of my toons, but as my playtime increased on each of them, so too have they developed their own unique UI’s with character-specific information. For Vixsyn, this means raid frames are front and center, but for my DK, it means that rune management is a priority, while on my feral, BadKitty takes center stage. At the moment, my addon folder contains 39 separate addons, spread across 6 level 80s. Suffice to say, patch days are busy days for me.
But let’s get back to what I asked in the introduction—how useful are all the mods I run with? Are they necessary or are they simply “dumbing” things down?
The Innovation Misconception
There’s always an argument presented when the addon discussion comes up, even when it’s focused entirely on PVE—that great players can do what they do without addons; that using addons is a crutch that only bad players and noobs rely on. To this I say, resoundingly and wholeheartedly … bullshit. If you think that world firsts or even world 25th’s occur with a Vanilla interface and no innovation, then I have a frozen throne that I’d like to sell you. When I was testing Ulduar on the PTR, I was lucky enough to come across one of the most amazing rogues that I’ve had the pleasure of playing with. Why was he so amazing? Because Mister Falcx wrote an add-on right there on the spot, after our Mimiron attempt #3, that announced who was being targeted for the Napalm Shell and did a countdown for the Plasma Blast and Phase 2 spin-up. It wasn’t that we needed a crutch because we were bads—we simply realized that that kind of innovation would allow us to prioritize other information about the fight. With his quick and dirty macro in place, we could spend less time evaluating the arc of the Napalm to preemptively determine whether it was going to hit the priest or the boomkin and more time getting where we needed to be and *gasp* pushing healing/dps buttons.
In fact, the whole “real raiders play without addons” argument to me always seemed incredibly silly. It’s like claiming you’re hardcore because you wrote your thesis by hand instead of using your laptop. Or, for the excel geeks out there, that you manually sorted a data array into different sheets based on a single variable instead of taking 15 minutes to write a Visual Basic macro that could do it in one keystroke. Yes, the end result is the same, but what did you gain by doing it the harder way? Why cast aside innovation because it makes things easier?
How many is enough?
There is of course, the extreme case of innovation, where all of the cooldowns, timers, and alerts pile on so high that you are actually making things worse on yourself. Surely you’ve seen the examples of the information overloaded UI—those that track every conceivable buff and include every spell in the player’s spellbok and every consumable imaginable on a cluster of bars, with the combat log pulled out and scrolling, showing raid, target and party frames, etc. etc. etc. (An example of utter madness, compliments of www.ff14news.com) In this type of case, the pursuit of ease and innovation has gone awry, and you’ve basically swung to the opposite side of the spectrum. Your addons will actually hinder your ability to view, interpret and process incoming information.
So in the end, innovation and ease need to be tempered with insight and careful consideration. This is what a number of top-end players are exceptional at and what good raiders practice every day—separating vital information from the immaterial; condensing, segmenting, and prioritizing. Thus, the “how many addons” question is really answered by another question: what is it that you absolutely need to know? For Vixsyn my answer, listed by priority, looks like this:
- Raid frames (Grid)
- Healing Capacity (Keybinds/Clique)
- Dispelables (Decursive)
- Alerts (PowerAuras, OmniCC)
- Encounter information (DXE, Quartz)
- My health/target’s health (Pitbull)
- Text-based instructions (Prat)
Notice the common things that I don’t have on there—buffs, minimap, general chat (lawl), meters, totems, a threat meter, hps graphs, floating combat text, an overall status bar, etc. Things that I can manage through basic means or simply don’t need to do my job. (OMG big healing numbez are important!)
That incident over a month ago, while the source of much frustration at the time, also wound up being a nice wake up call. It was a not-so-subtle urging for me to re-evaluate the tools I was using to make sure that I had them there for a reason, not because I was simply too lazy to disable them. And then, with my UI back in place, I could be confident that it was being used as a resource and not a crutch.