I don’t play World of Warcraft anymore, and I haven’t in a couple of months. There’s a lot of reasons for that, and I really don’t want to turn this into a QQ post, because I’d actually like to come back and enjoy the game again. One of the biggest reasons that I burnt out on the game is that my chosen role in WoW seems to have become a deprecated position. I haven’t played the game in a couple of months, but looking back it feels like I haven’t done any tanking in almost a year.
Between mechanical changes to tanks and what seems like a change in encounter design philosophy, the role of a tank in a raid right now feels like the least interesting and least responsible in a raid – the role least able to contribute to raid success.
Early in Firelands progression, there was the great threat nerf – tanks were told that we already had enough to do, it felt unnecessary for us to have to also run a clean rotation in order to succeed. No matter what way you look at it, the bar was lowered for tanks. Perhaps in another era, that might have been a valid argument, but I’m not sure what other tasks Blizzard thought tanks might be performing in Firelands. Barring Alysrazor – the fight where the threat nerf changed nothing, where you were encouraged to run a clean rotation anyway – Firelands was the least demanding instance to tank since I started playing the game. Naxx 25 included. ICC included.
We were left with a tier where tanks had very little movement to do, very little position to worry about, no threat rotation to be concerned about – our job was largely to show up and stand in front of a boss. Showing up was essentially the entire bar to success as a tank, there was no opportunity to fail. And without an opportunity to fail, there’s no way to succeed or excel.
Looking at Dragon Soul, we saw a very similar philosophy in encounter design. While some of the fights were interesting and new overall, for the tanks there was nothing. Very little movement or kiting or positioning – nothing to make a fight feel dynamic or interesting for the tank – in short, nothing unpredictable to react to. Sure, you hit your cooldowns on cue – but that isn’t a compelling game mechanic on it’s own. We’ve been hitting cooldowns on cue for years, just like we’ve been running a threat rotation for years. In the absence of dynamic elements, it’s just autopilot. We already have the simplest rotations in game, mechanically – as tanks in the current era we also have the simplest job in encounters.
I miss fights like Firefighter – where as the tank you were expected to maneuver the boss – not just in such a way as to keep out of fire, but in such a way as to keep Raid DPS high – by keeping everyone in range, by moving the boss such that people could stay on target fulltime. Your decision-making and movements were critical to raid success, and were based on raid positioning and environmental effects – frost orbs, doomfires. Awareness was critical.
I miss Freya3, where I got to tank the boss, and an add or two – where wave by wave I had a different job to worry about – whether it was handling an add, or standing under a mushroom, or kiting away from seed explosions. The fight was generally in motion, it was your job as a tank to keep raid movements as small as possible, based on whatever environmental effects were forcing you to move.
I miss Thorim, where good clean pulling techniques made the difference between triggering hardmode or not. I miss Hodir, where running a good threat rotation (and being quick on the taunt if someone was having a very good night) made or broke the fight. There wasn’t that much more to either of those fights beyond that, really, but at least I could feel like I was contributing to the raid – my failure had consequences.
I think the point is pretty clear – and I didn’t even have to leave Ulduar to make it – that there are ways to make encounters that are exciting and vibrant and interesting to tank which are also challenging and interesting for the rest of the raid. Encounters where all three roles have an important part to play.
Not every encounter needs to have much of a role for the tank. Insisting on kiting and positioning in every fight leads to too much encounter design constraint – and fair enough. But I think the opposite applies as well: Not every encounter should be static. I could have written off Tier 12 as a one-off mistake, but Dragon Soul makes it look like an intentional design direction choice to deprecate the role of tanking.
I don’t like it. I might be alone in that, but I don’t like the current direction. I don’t think it’s fun for experienced tanks to suddenly have the challenge and responsibility removed from their role. I don’t even really see a reason for it – I think it’s insulting to new tanks to suggest that they can’t handle it, and I hope that’s not the reason. Was the tank too important to a progression raid group? Was the position too responsible? If so, it’s gone too far in the other direction.
In heroic raiding DPS have an extremely important job, in general – maximizing their output. Every GCD counts when you’re fighting a hard enrage timer. Most fights will force DPS to make movements, or force some subset to perform another task, and there’s always an optimization problem there. Despite the individual performance focus, it’s a very teamwork oriented role – one player doesn’t beat enrage timers on their own. In addition, many fights have dynamic elements for DPS that simply don’t apply to tanks in the current design. Showing up and autoattacking just won’t cut it for them.
Healers, similarly, have to manage their GCDs and spell selection, they have to keep the raid alive. They have to find ways to pick up the slack when other people fail, and when they blow a GCD it’s very likely that someone dies. Often, that’s a wipe. Their role is responsible, and important – it’s dynamic and requires awareness. And I’m jealous of that.
With what we’ve seen so far of Active Mitigation – the promised panacea to cure all tanking ills, I can’t imagine it comes anywhere close to solving the problems. It doesn’t really address the issue at all – that there’s nothing dynamic involved in tanking anymore.
I miss being a tank. I miss tanking. I’d really love to hear that it’s making a comeback sometime. Sometime “Soon.”