Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Healers are at the Mercy of Everyone Else

While recently talking to someone that has been a long time player that is just getting into healing it made me think back at my starting days of healing.  While going over how I started healing it helped me in my effort in giving him some advice.

It came down to 3 simple tips for the beginning healer which I will not expand too much on much being that is not what this article is about.

1) Always carry drinks and drink often.
- Do not count on there being a mage around ever and do not count on people allowing you to sit and drink.  Bring a bunch of drinks and sit whenever you get the chance, even if it is only for 5 to 10 seconds.  It will help.

2) Speak up.
- A tank or damage dealer saying "I'm trying my best" while not doing well will usually not go over well but in most cases saying that as a healer you get a little slack, as long as you can bank it up with some facts.  I'm trying my best but you seem a little squishy tank.  I am trying my best but could you please wait for me to drink next time, I went into that pull with no mana and I can't heal without mana.  I am trying my best but people are taking too much damage because of avoidable damage or pulling aggro.  As long as you are not a jerk about it "I'm trying my best" as a healer can very well be the appropriate response when something goes wrong.

3) Have thick skin.
- When things go right you will be unnoticed many times but when things go wrong the healer usually gets the blame.  If you speak up about your own failures, as mentioned in number 2, politely mentioning why you had an issue you might be okay, but you need to be able to take the remarks.  It is hard sometimes, you will be called a lot of things after a wipe, some of them might even be new ones.  People love to come up with new and interesting ways to insult people. 

Also, while leveling, each healing class goes through phases where no matter how good you are you will not be able to keep up.  This of course could lead to a lot of harsh remarks aimed at you.  Take them all with a grain of salt and take everything, even failure, as a learning experience and try not to let it get to you.

After I got the basics out of the way I started to go into group dynamics and how the group really makes a difference in your healing.  This is something most new healers don't seem to understand.  It takes some experience before you notice it.  I believe people that are meant to be healers, those with the natural ability for it, pick up on this right away but for others it needs to be addressed.  It is something that can be taught if only someone points it out for the new healers, so I try to when people ask me about healing.

If you have a good tank that keeps aggro, your healing becomes infinitely easier.  If you have a group with great DPS, your healing becomes infinitely easier.

Healers, in effect, are at the mercy of the group around them.

I explained that as a healer your game is not your own.  It never will be.  While group dynamics work for all classes they are not as heavy for any one role as they are for healers.  A group can cover for DPS issues by pulling slower and smaller.  It can cover for aggro issues by waiting on the tank.  These fixes are usually easier but when it comes to healers, the fixes require people to actually play better and in some cases, even more so with random people, that is not a quick fix and might very well be impossible.

I gave him a few examples.

Example 1 -  In the low level world.

When healing on my priest in a low level dungeon I had a bear tank that was going down in a matter of seconds every single pull.  It resulted in wipe after wipe after wipe.  The tank of course blamed me, remember what I said about thick skin.  He said all I need to do is use heal and he would be fine.  I said I don't think so because he is taking way to much damage but I will try it. 

He made his next pull and I started casting a heal after putting a shield on him as he was running in, he was dead before the heal landed.  He took so much damage it broke the shield and killed him in less then the 3 seconds it takes to cast heal at that level.  We wiped, I said, heal has a three second cast, you can not last 3 seconds, told you heal would not work but you wanted to try it so don't blame this wipe on me.  Remember what I said about speaking up right?  The group was firmly on my side there.  The tank pulled again as soon as we were back in and then dropped group.  A warrior in the group switched to defensive and tanked them and I kept the warrior up no problem.  We got a new tank and never had any problems.

I said to him, see what I mean.  While to someone that did not know better it would look like it was all my fault for the tank dying in the end it was just a squishy tank.  At low levels without a lot of tools, you can only do so much.  Do your best and hope for a good group.  A good group means no problems and a bad one means wipe after wipe.  Just like that one run showed.  6 wipes with a bad tank, none with a good tank or a DPS warrior tanking.  The group makes a huge difference when it comes to healing.

Example 2 - In the max level world

When the expansion first came out I had one hell of a hard time healing on my priest because they where iffy until they got some good gear.  My first ever dungeon was an all guild run of deadmines and I had no problem what so ever.  I was left to ask how is everyone having so many problems healing.  I had heard nightmares about healing deadmines and we walked through and one shot everything.  Sure we needed to watch our pulls and CC when we could but it was no problem at all.  I thought everyone was exaggerating the difficultly of healing heroics.  That was until I tried to do it as a random.

After a few runs with guild and no real healing issues outside of being OOM every three seconds it seemed I thought I would do some randoms and realized why I love guild runs so much.  The same deadmines where I had no issues with people that where all in the 335 item level range I could not heal it in a random, with the buff, and people in all 345 item level plus.  It was near impossible.  No one waited for me to drink.  No one used CC.  No one interrupted.  No one avoided the avoidable.  No one watched their aggro.  No one did anything and I could not heal it.  It was impossible.  I tried and tried.  I did not give up, that is not my style, I do not give up that easily.  I took it as a challenge.  Being I have experience healing I knew I was at the mercy of others but in a way it was a great way to learn the harder aspects of healing, by challenging myself in a situation that was near impossible.  We lost a few people here and there and got some new ones, as the bad ones left and better ones came we finally made our way through there.

Basically, I was at the mercy of the players.  They needed to get better or I would have never been able to do my job.  Once better players, even slightly better ones, came in I was able to finish the run.  My ability never changed over the course of the run.  I did not suddenly get better.  The group did by changing people.  The people around me dictated the difficulty level I had as a healer.

As an even better example of dungeon runs being dictated by the other players as opposed to the healer would be when the Zuls first came out.  I healed them probably 100 times each on my healers and I saw all types of groups but the perfect example of being at the mercy of others are death knight tanks.

If I got a group with a death knight tank it was hit or miss.  If they knew how to tank, it was a cake walk.  Heck, the first bear run I healed was with a DK tank that I never needed to sit and drink once while healing.  Yet another DK tank I had, in better gear than the bear run tank, I had to sit and drink every pull.  No exaggeration there at all.  I had to drink after trash pulls, boss pulls, even minor pulls, the tank took way to much damage.  If it where not for the fact I was in raid gear it might have turned into a wipe fest.  If I where a fresh 346 geared healer getting in there it would have been impossible.  The tanks ability directly effected my healing and I am 100% certain that a 346 healer, even with amazing skills, could not have kept him up.

Once again, healers are at the mercy of everyone else around them.

Example 3 - In the raid world.

- In my guild we can usually count on people doing the right thing and doing it well.  The tanks hold aggro and the DPS can all throw out 30K+.  Even the DPS having a bad day can still muster 25K+.  Healing a raid with them in no problem what so ever.  I can finish quite a few of the fights at or near full mana.  I am not kidding.  The ability of the damage dealers to make the fight faster makes a world of difference.  You can use your expensive heals more often, because you know the fight will not drag on and mana issues will not come up.  Heck, you can use your mana regeneration abilities sooner too so you stay at full mana because timing them for the perfect moment is not imperative.

Now go into the same raid a different way.  For fun we decided to take a group of undergeared, pvp wearing, lesser skilled guild members in there just to get them some experience and some gear.  We knew we would never get past the 5th boss, but for people that are not raiders and not that skilled, it was a good chance to teach them and get them some gear.  Not to mention, being we lack 2 lockouts now it just gave us something to do, which was good enough reason.

The DPS that topped the charts was 15K and it was usually me, tanking.  Everyone ranged between 12K-15K which with the 15% debuff to the bosses meant we might have a prayer of getting a few bosses down.  But that is when the healing problem popped up.  The fights where taking forever.  Healers were screaming for mana.  It was becoming a major issue on every fight.  It really put the pressure on them.  Heck, it put the pressure on me too as a tank.  I had gotten so used to the tanks and one or even two DPS staying on the slime boss the whole time because they where not needed.  I don't even recall what the enrage timer was, heck, I did not even remember there was one.  We had one wipe sub 1%, to the enrage timer.  Doesn't that suck?  How the healers managed to get us that far was a testament to their skill and ability, the fight should have never went that far.  But when you have 2 DPS that are still not even geared enough to get into Zuls, we didn't do so bad but the example serves the purpose to show that the DPS that is being put out makes a huge difference.  We had many wipes that night that just came down the healers running OOM.  Word to the wise, you can not two heal anything other then the first boss when your top DPS is the tank.

Once again, the ability of others have the healers at their mercy.

The ability of other healers can make a difference too.

I was in a looking for raid the other week where there was four shaman healers for the second half.  I laughed and said, this is going to be a cake walk.  After the raid was over I said I had never had an easier job healing in my life.  Keep riptide and shield on the tank with the occasional heal and keep healing rain on the ground and no worries.  With all those fights being stack up and 4 healing raids always on the ground, there was never a need to emergency heal anyone.  It was a cake walk.

I try to enjoy those moments because it is not always like that.  I've also been stuck three healing many of the bosses because tanks pull without seeing if everyone is there or because some people just can't heal.  On the rare occasion (twice) I have actually seen shadow priests labeled as healers and when they were asked about it they said they signed up as a healer because it was a quick queue and six healers really aren't needed.  While that might be true, I gladly kicked them when the vote came up.  If you want to DPS from the healer role as a priest, roll atonement discipline, not shadow.

Every step of your healing life you will always be at the mercy of others.  Your job will always be directly connected to the ability of those around you.  Healing is super easy in a good group and is the hardest role in the game with a bad one.

When doing randoms you get more then a random dungeon as a healer, you get a random experience of how hard or easy it will be.

As a tank you walk in knowing how you will tank it.  As a damage dealer you walk in knowing how you will do your rotation.  As a healer you walk in only knowing you have to heal.  You have no clue what challenges await you because as a healer you are at the mercy of everyone else.


  1. I think your early lowbie "bad bear tank" example also illustrates an important part of healing (or tanking, really) - the willingness to be firm and push back when necessary, and when you know you are in the right. As a healer, yes, you're at the mercy of your tank's skill/gear, and your DPS's ability to actually kill things, but it's really important to not simply take the blame when it's not your fault. In your case, you clearly stated the problem and how the bear's death was NOT your fault, and the group backed you up, and sided with you. Calm, factual analysis and not letting yourself get pushed around really makes a difference, I find.

    1. I wrote a post about 2 years ago or so about healing and speaking up. I believe that a healer is the true leader of the group and if they are well spoken, polite, and detailed to the point of sharing knowledge but not being condensing, they will always end up with people siding with them.

      You need to have a voice as a healer. More then any other role there.

  2. So true!

    Having said that, I actually enjoy healing bad pug groups for the experience, because it tests you to the max. Things like rationing your heals to stretch your mana (eg when you get tanks that chain pull), dealing with add aggro (when dps pull aggro or tanks dont hold aggro), learning to heal on the move and being able to stay calm when the shit hits the fan are useful skills to pick up for use in raids later.

    1. I like that too sometimes but there is a thin line between exciting and frustrating at times.

      It is a good way to learn those things, I agree with that completely.