Thursday, October 27, 2011

No Loot Is Healer Loot

Well, except for that spirit wand, right? Surely self-respecting mage or warlock would want it, with 60%* of a secondary stat completely useless. Only a priest would want it...only a heali... 


Well, there's the rub. A shadow priest would like it just fine, since spirit can be converted to hit for any ranged DPS spec that's part of a hybrid class.

So why does that matter? Isn't the spirit wand still healing priest loot, even if a shadow priest can use it, just as any spirit gear is healer loot even if other DPS specs can use it? And, for that matter, as healers become less beholden to their blue bars, isn't any intellect gear they can wear that contains no hit rating also perfectly viable healer loot?

Hello. I'm a healer. And in all of those cases, my answer is a categorical no. That's why I took a bold step.

In our raid group, we have a very, very simple loot system. It's round-robin. We maintain a loot list and when you get a piece for your main spec, you drop to the bottom of the list. The list adjudicates who gets a piece when multiple people want it. Highest person on the list receives the loot. It's meant to be fair, impartial and distribute loot relatively evenly across everyone.

And I want no part of it.

Thus we come to my bold step: I asked to be removed from the hallowed loot list.

The consequence of this is that it's never "my turn" for loot. Anyone else in the raid has a higher claim than me, by this decision of mine. I'll still receive upgrades, but only when no one else needs the piece.

Am I just that noble? Well, yes, I am. However, it's for a reason that I feel is perfectly rational. The subject of which shall be meat of this post. 

Defense Sells The Tickets, But Offense Wins The Game 

For those of you not steeped in the ceaseless avalanche of cliches that is sports commentary, there's a popular saying that "offense sells the tickets, but defense wins the game," suggesting that people enjoy watching scoring but ultimately preventing scoring by the other team (the "less glamorous" role) is what matters most.

I'm here to tell you, that it's reversed in World of Warcraft. If I were to craft a pithy maxim that makes sense within the context of the game, it would be "Healers* win normal modes, but DPS wins heroics."

*When I say "healers" here, I actually mean "tanks and healers." It's just not as pithy and catchy when you throw in "and tanks." 

The reason for this can be summed up in two words: enrage timers. Heroics, pre-nerf at least, tend to have hellaciously tight enrage timers. This is why many raid strategies for heroic modes advise raids to cut healers and tanks wherever possible, to pack in more DPS.

When doing normal modes, you're learning the basics of the fight for the first time. Tanks and healers are the most important for this step, because they extend the raid's lifespan. The longer you live, the more of the fight you see and the more practice you get. Go healers!* 

*And tanks 

Once you mosey on into the heroic modes, though, the focus changes. You mostly know the fights. The heroic modes have somewhat different mechanics, but most of the original mechanics are still there and the concept of the fight is usually very similar. You might want a few "Just survive as long as possible so we see the new mechanics" wipes, but you don't gear around the first few looks at the fight. The main thing is the DPS. It must be high...very high. Obviously, everyone is going to have to play well, but the fights really shift away from healers as a main focus. DPS must beat the enrage timer and everyone must avoid as much avoidable damage as possible. That's the design of heroic modes, it's how they're balanced.

Therefore, "getting over the hump" means getting DPS geared enough to beat the enrage timer. After that, gearing up healers certainly helps...the stronger the healers are, the more margin for error the raid team has. But no healing team is going to make up for the "didn't beat the enrage timer" error. 

Healers Cannot Reach For The Stars 

Remember when our mothers and fathers told us that we could rise as high as we wanted if we worked hard, that there was no limit? They didn't mean healers, they only meant DPS.

DPS has an infinite horizon. You can always do more DPS. More gear, more skill, more buffs will all equal more DPS. Further, you can do more DPS and that unholy death knight you hate can also do more the same time! It's not zero person doing more DPS doesn't lower the ability for someone else to do DPS.

The healing game is very different, for three key reasons.

One is that there isn't infinite capacity to heal. A healing team's healing output is strictly capped to the amount of damage done to the raid team by the boss (and his or her minions). You cannot heal damage that doesn't exist. If a raid boss does 21 million damage over the course of an encounter, the maximum healing the team can do is 21 million.

Number two is that as your raid team gets better at the fight, the damage taken is going to go down. Some damage is unavoidable but lots of it is not, a design choice aimed at making dance skill matter. The better you do the dance, the less damage you take. So as time goes by, that maximum amount of healing available to be done shrinks, leading to lower output from healers.

Finally, healing is a zero sum game. Since healing to be done is, as established, a capped resource, every healer in the raid is competing for a piece of it ("competing" in a literal sense, not necessarily from an attitude point of view). One healer pushing their healing up massively simply diminishes the possible output of any other healers in the raid. All the healers cannot simultaneously heal significantly more unless they were woefully over-matched from the start.

So when you have one group of players (DPS) who can turn gear into bigger and bigger output and another group (healers) who cannot, it makes a lot of sense to bias the gear distribution in favor of the group who can convert it into no-questions-asked larger output. 

Personal Reasons Are Personal 

While the idea that DPS can use gear upgrades more powerfully than healers is the large majority of why I made the decision to remove myself from the loot list, there was another reason that was simply a personal choice (which is why I'd never even suggest to my fellow healers that they do the same as me).

I want to de-emphasize loot for myself. There have been times when I've been frustrated over not getting the piece I need to drop, or losing it to someone else. I know, though, that loot is not why I play. At least, that's what I believe. WoW Insider had an article a month or two ago (I'm too lazy to find it and link it) about how everyone, at base, is motivated to raid by loot. The writer said (paraphrased), "If you don't believe that you are [motivated by loot], ask yourself how long you would raid if you never got a single piece of loot."

Not long, but I think that's a meaningless question. Never getting loot is the same as never raiding, because you'd soon no longer be geared enough to raid. Loot is necessary simply to be able to raid. The question is how much you're motivated by the Gollum-like desire for shinies.

But we wants it! We'll reforge the expertise to spirit!

So a better question is, "How long would you raid if you were always the lowest priority for loot?" That's what removing myself from the loot list accomplishes: placing me at the lowest priority.

I think I'll keep raiding for a long time.


  1. This is a really great post. I'm actually facing the transition from healer to DPS on hard modes, and conversely, my raid team has started to treat me as a main-spec DPS in order to increase our output that little bit.

    However, I understand that loot isn't everything. Technically, I was next in line to begin collecting our legendary staff, but we had a new shadow priest who would benefit more (and longer as we go into the next tier) from the upgrade. I took myself out of the running despite the disparity in our guild time because the overall raid > my individual desire for pretty pixels.

  2. Thanks! Hey, we're healers (at least when we're not doing something else)'s our lot to be self-sacrificing for the greater good, right?

    I fully believe in "gearing the raid" over "gearing the individual(s)." I recognize that human nature is such that most people like "getting stuff," so you don't want someone left out for too long. But by and large, loot should go wherever helps the raid the most, IMO.

  3. Excellent call. Our group uses EPGP, and I roll "minor upgrade" on most items that are upgrades for me. That makes sure I'm the last to be considered. That is because I have crossed over to the point that my mana now lasts as long as any fight we are tackling. We've only just made 6/7 HM, but I am comfortable with my blue bar. I really can't justify any more upgrades for me. All future gear drops can only benefit my "mana regen" by going to someone else who will make sure to the fights are over faster! Go go, caster DPS!

  4. Nice post indeed.

    But looking at it from a flip point. The stronger your healers are the more margin for error a raid can have.

    I know we have given stuff to DPS (aka the crystalized firestones) to our hunters to upgrade their crossbows as that is a pure DPS upgrade over giving it to a caster to upgrade a stat stick.

    But yes gearing the raid is a great idea. :)thumbs up!

  5. Thanks, David and slice.

    David, I agree. I did get upgrades as we were doing normal modes, and I feel I'm "geared enough" to do the heroic modes. Would I be more powerful with more gear? Definitely, but I think the gains for me would be more marginal than for my raid's DPS.

    slice, I agree with that flip point and I mentioned it in my post. It's definitely a non-zero benefit to the raid for healers to get upgrades. I just feel my raid's destiny is less tied to the strength of my heals than the strength of our DPS. I still work my hardest to squeeze every bit of healing I can out and bought an upgrade on the AH with my gold.

  6. When you have 4 healers, 2 tanks, and 19 dps, putting gear on a healer is going to effect the healing output of your raid 5x more than the dps output of the raid would with the same increase.

    But, healers and tanks cap out on the usefulness they get out of gear. Set bonuses aside, getting more gear on a tank is pretty meaningless, unless it allows you to CTC cap. For healers, unless you're hitting a haste breakpoint, it's the same thing - a bit more throughput is rarely the difference between life and death.

    Tanks > Healers > DPS on normal mode.
    DPS > Healers > Tanks on heroic.

  7. Pliers--

    It's very true that each healer has a larger effect on their "domain" (healing) than each DPS does on theirs (damage). I should have mentioned that, as one of the reasons why healers (and tanks) are more crucial in normal modes.