Friday, December 4, 2009

Being Extraordinary

Let's face it; the current game can be largely brute-forced. Unless you're doing some select hardmodes, you can rofl-faceroll your way to victory. There may be some wipes, some frustration, but eventually the stars will align and you will be teh winnar. And it's this kind of situation that reinforces the "good enough" mentality. This works, kind of, so it's "good enough."

But, seriously, who wants to be just "good enough"?

If you like being just "good enough," sliding through content and so forth, you can feel free to stop reading now. There's no shame in it, you just won't find the rest of this post interesting.

If you're still here, I'll assume you want to push past the "good enough." Maybe you're working on hardmodes or are entering a srs biznas raiding guild. Maybe you just want to be more than "good enough" because you're an over-achiever. Maybe you wish to be hyper-critical of any advice I post here! Whatever your reasons for sticking around through my rambling drivel, I salute you.

So, what does it take to be a better-than-average healer? Many things. However, there are some basics that first must be met before you can even start healing. These are:
  1. You must understand your spells. If you don't understand the mechanics upon which your healing operates, you cannot heal.
  2. You must be willing to adapt based upon what situation you are facing. Not every encounter behaves the same way, so neither can your healing follow a singular routine.
  3. You must be able to quickly react to a changing situation as it occurs, in hindsight, and in foresight.
  4. You must have OCD that operates upon a switch and has a shiftable focus.

Those are the basics. And, no, point number 4 is not a joke. I am quite serious.

Let's break these points down a little more and explore the differences between "good enough" and "super awesome" before going further, shall we?

First up is understanding your spells. This seems like a no brainer, but if that's true then I'm not quite sure what some healers are using to operate their characters. Perhaps a sea sponge? I digress. But, really, don't just read the text and go "Oh, huh. Neat-o." Actually attempt to understand what you're reading. Look at how the puzzles pieces fit together. The spells don't have labels on them (yet) telling you which situations they fit. They don't come with a manual. There isn't even a "healing dummy" that can give you practice. Outside of actual implementation, you need to understand the basics of each spell before you throw it into the fray.

Of course, you also have to be able to adjust this understanding with each new patch or hotfix. Just something to keep in mind. Moving on!

All right, adapting to situations! This is key. We don't have a "threat rotation" or a "DPS rotation" like the other members of our raid (the non-healers). We have certain spells that do certain things and make no sense to be used in a rotation (usually). And, as every encounter has its own unique "quirks," these need to be met with an ever-changing arsenal and selection of spells. Sometimes this can be predictable, sometimes it won't be. You have to be prepared for both.

The next part is your ability to react to change, quickly. QUICKLY! TOO SLOW THEY'RE DEADWTFMANWHEREWERETHEHEALS?!

Sometimes, things just go wrong. Or they go correctly but someone does something stupid. Sometimes RNG just spits in your face and then curbstomps you to the ground. And you, the healer, need to heal through that curbstomp as best you can so you can tell RNG to go fornicate itself inappropriately. You have to be ready for the melee to scramble through poison and void zones and lightning bolts. You have to be ready for the tank to forget his cooldowns or not have one up. You have to be ready for a sudden wall of white orbs bearing down upon your black-aura'd group mates.

Yes, you. Don't sit there and go "Oh the others will cover it." Maybe they will, maybe they won't. You don't know because this is an unexpected situation. You should react as quickly as you can to remedy it within your capacity as a healer and without neglecting your assignment. And you have to make that decision in a matter of seconds. Less than seconds. RIGHT NOW!

Too late.

And, the final part of the basics, your healer OCD. You must obsessively, compulsively, follow health bars, boss mechanics and fire-huggers. You must be able to shut this OCD off during boss fights in which it is inappropriate (see Anub'arak). You must be able to shift the focus of this OCD based upon your assignment. And you must be able to control this OCD to allow for trust upon the other (hopefully exceptional) healers.

To check a healer's OCD, raid leaders should follow this procedure: invite someone to the raid, who is not near the instance, with less than full health. Count how many frustrated healers begin roaming around the room, exclaiming in Vent and clicking/jamming buttons frustratedly. You hear that? That is their OCD on overtime.

All right, that's the basics. But that will just make you "good." Remember, we're going for EXTRAORDINARY. In caps. So, what do you need to lump on top of those basics?

It is not "I can't do this," it is "How can I do this?"
There is no such thing as a fight you cannot heal. There may be people you cannot heal, there may be healers you cannot work with, but there is no encounter you cannot heal. None. Zero. Don't even start with me because I have healed every fight and I say you can too.

There was a time where I was under the impression there was some stuff I couldn't do. Like healing people through Ignis's crotch pot. My HoTs just didn't tick fast enough! Well, I was wrong. I had to adjust my view. I had to think about it. I had to refresh my knowledge of my skills and my current gear situation. After all that, I adjusted so that I never allowed a crotch pot victim to die where I had a choice.

If something is not working, adjust. If the adjustment doesn't work, adjust some more. You can heal it. No ifs, ands or buts. It's like that cheezy can-do attitude stuff you learned in Kindergarten, only it doesn't apply to things like believing you can be a dinosaur.

You may hit some sort of wall, like your tanks need more mitigation or your DPS starts believing that standing in fire gives a buff. But that doesn't mean you can't heal it, it doesn't mean it's impossible.

Now, I know you can eventually bash your head aganst content and it'll fall over and give you its loots out of pity, but that's the "good enough" way. We're working on being extraordinary. Never forget that.

Use Raid Awareness to Precast
There will always be damage you know is coming. It's not about intuition or psychic powers, it's about a boss having scripted mechanics. Koralon is going to Burning Breath now, Gormokk is going to Impale now, XT is going to throw a hissy fit now. You know when it's coming because you have DBM or an equivalent/better, or you simply watch the boss. You know these things are coming.

So, what do you do with this knowledge? Precast.

You know that Koralon's always going to do Burning Breath before he does any Meteor Fists. There should be HoTs ticking all over that raid before he even fills his lungs. You know Onyxia is about to breathe fire on the tank because she's pulled her head back. Your Holy Light should already be processing. Gormokk's about to stomp and cut off half the melee's HP. You're already channeling a Chain Heal, cutting it off if it's about to be wasted, right? Of course you are, you're extraordinary.

Learn the Difference between "Aggro" and "Attention"
Many addons used to create special healing frames (such as Healbot and Grid) have the option to adjust themselves visually in some way when a character has aggro. This is incredibly helpful to healers because tanks often don't call when they're grabbing Gormokk (because they like watching their health dip?) and you can quickly adjust to healing their uncommunicative butt.

However, this also lights up when a raid member gets the boss's "attention." This isn't aggro, this is simply the boss switching to target them for a moment to cast a singular spell, usually a debuff. They then immediately return to the tank. This can be seen on Jaraxxus or Onyxia during the air phase.

Why is this important? For starters, someone who gains boss "attention" is about to either receive damage, or do some damage to others. Paying close mind to these "attention" warnings can give you anywhere from a split second (instant-cast debuffs) to a few full seconds of preparation time. When Onyxia is in the air, people who gain her attention have a few seconds before they, and the people around them, are victims of a fireball and splash damage. This gives you time to prepare with either a HoT or precasting a spell.

"Attention" is a common mechanic used by many bosses. XT, Jaraxxus, Onyxia and Icehowl are just a few of the bosses who utilize "attention."

Never Discount a Spell Completely
There are spells many classes scoff at, say are worthless or useless. For Druids, this was Healing Touch. Only wanted if his girlfriend, Nature's Swiftness, was doing the talking, he otherwise never got invited to the parties. He chilled alone with Tranquility, but at least Tranquility was cool on the 5-man scene. Healing Touch, he couldn't catch a break.

Then along came a boss called Hardmode Anub'arak and this guild, Apex, and they decided HT totally needed to come to the party, just so long as he was fast. And, indeed, with the proper glyphs and gear, HT was cast in under 0.8 seconds and verily did Anub eat much dirt.

Never, ever, take a spell and throw it out the window. Never assume a spell is pure trash. Somewhere, somehow, there is a purpose for that spell. It may not have been invented yet, but its day will come. And then won't you feel foolish when you have to go digging through the dumpster and apologize to it?

Don't Fall Into the "Good Enough" Trap
Be wary of the healer rut. You can get so used to something that "works" that, when you come upon the antithesis of your working model, you break down into blubbering healer tears and mutter disconsolately at the shattered pieces of your bubbles and earth shields. That's when the warlocks gather your tears and sell them on the black market. And you really don't want to give 'locks extra income.

If something doesn't work, you have to stop hitting your head against the wall. To really be extraordinary, you can't play by the "eventually it will work" rules. You can't think in terms of "good enough." Being extraordinary is a state of mind; it's in your approach, in the swish of your hips as you walk into the boss's room and tell him he might as well hand over your trinkets now because he is your bitch.

You got all that?

Good. Now go be extraordinary.


Forreststump said...

Will you bear my seedlings?

Kidding aside - EXCELLENT read. I've been playing around with what might be helpful in P3 of 'Nub - one was pulling out the Lifebloom glyph. And now, I see your hint at building for HT bombs. While I may be raid healing 99% of the time, the ability to drop a fast HT as assistance to the tank healers before reapplying Lifeblooms on my assigned group... Tasty stuff...

Thank you.

Dawni said...

I actually altered my offspec specifically for HM Anub and it worked wonderfully. I really enjoyed this post, and completely agree with the you. Why both being just decent when you have the ability to excel? The tools are definitely out there and for people willing to put in the extra effort the raid benefits are undeniable.

Paul said...

Well written post. Tells me that Healers need to be highly intelligent. Ran a healer for a bit in WAR. It was more of a twitch fest spamming heals all over the place. Currently I am not playing a healer, but when I do I will remember this post. Keep up the good work.

Nightwisp said...

Very nice post. . .I will take it to heart and become EXTRAORDINARY! Well, right after I become adaquate. . .

Kender said...

This was an amazing read (and linked off my guild's forums for my healer crew to read and learn from!) and so very entertaining.

Anonymous said...

What in the name of everything good and awesome does OCD mean?

Bell said...

@Anonymous - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

BlueFang said...

Truly inspirational words, Bell.
You gave me much to ponder about for the next couple of days.

Thank you for this and your awesome blog in general

Sodastereo said...

Hey Bell,

I'm linking this to my guild forums.

This reminds me of a show in NPR about wining. The winners are not the people that are good, or think they're good. The winners, the Olympic Winners, are those that think they're excellent, perfect, for all intents and purposes, they are God.

Healers are, in a sick way, in this position. We literally control the life and dead of our friends during the raid. I didn't really think about your points until you said it.

My guild is moving to H-TOGC this weekend, and your post could not have been better timed.

It really made my day.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

not to sound creepy but i love you. in a fellow druid i totally needed to hear this at this moment kind of i love you. ima go heal some fire walkers :P

Itai Greif said...

Healing Dummy. Brilliant. WTB Healing Dummy.

Button said...

I refuse to go back to healing, I refuse to go back to healing, I refuse to go back to healing.....

If I tell myself this enough times, that itch I get when I'm locked for every raid short of 10/25 ToTGC on my Hunter to go gear up my Paladin 4haelz will go away. I hope.

Cheezeberger said...

Excellent article and one all of us healers should never forget. Sometimes a raid will take us out of our comfort zone and this is a great time to learn a lesson or two. Go into 10 TOC with a druid or shaman and ask to heal the tank. It will teach you to swift mend or riptide like a champ. Or do the exact opposite and volunteer to raid heal as a priest or paladin and gain a new respect for what my guild calls 'super wack-a-mole'. Last but not least, be willing to ask questions of the healers who seem to know thier toon better than you know yours. They may teach you something or vice-versa. Thanks for the article and keep on writing!

Cybac said...

Loving the read,
Was interesting to read about similar frustrations with the fact a lot of folks are happy to just cruise through the game waiting for the content to match their skill/kit rather than taking control and increasing their skill/kit to match the content.

So many people i've spoken to just hang around and say to themselves "If I wait long enough Blizz will throw enough emblems at me that I can do it all anyway".

Love the bit about pre-emptive heals and being alert to the signs. I wrote something a while back discussing active, reactive and pre-emptive healing and it just seems to ring true.

Keep it up loving the stuff :)


Chris said...

I'm pumped, I'm at work and ready to heal some stuff. Oh, I think someone might need a bandaid for a's a start. I'm extraordanairiezzz.

Anonymous said...

I have a 60-something druid who will benefit directly from this post, but even my ICC-running mage is going to reframe these principles for a refresher in being extraordinary. I think your approach has application to every class. Bravo.