Gordon of We Fly Spitfires set off a bit of a blogostorm last week in his guest post on Matticus (Tanks and Healers Should Get The Biggest Rewards), an inciteful if not necessarily insightful post placing tanks and healers above the dps classes. Had he posted this on the O-Boards he surely would have been branded a troll (actually, at least one commenter did); as it was, he’s received some 90+ comments in 3 days, a direct response from Spinks on her blog, a kinda-sorta response from Klepsacovic (although he did say his post was written before the flap), and Larisa, to name a few. Most of the bloggers and commenters on the original post agree that special rewards for tanks and healers would be wrong, but I actually didn’t start writing this in response to the question-that-wasn't-really-a-question posed by Gordon. Instead, I wanted to address the root cause of the issue: the tank/healer shortage, and the reason for it.
Prior to implementing the Cross-realm LFG Blizzard had already taken steps to address the tank/healer shortage by introducing dual specs with the release of the Ulduar patch. This was designed as a way to encourage people to branch out into other talent trees without having to constantly pay for respeccing, reglyphing, regemming, etc. In raids it would allow a dps to not have to sit out a particularly healer-intensive boss fight, thus missing out on glory, loot and badges. Outside of the raid it allowed healers and tanks to switch over to actually do decent damage while questing or doing dailies. And it was surely hoped that it would alleviate some of the bottleneck that existed when trying to find tanks and healers for heroics or to fill that last spot in the raid. While dual-specs helped somewhat, the fact that Blizzard had to resort to Cross-realm LFG indicates the problem still exists. I see two reason for the tank/healer shortage: Numbers, and Mindset.
First the numbers. There are 10 classes available in WoW. Four of those classes can tank; four can heal. Four are ‘Pure’ dps classes. Looking at class breakdown based on census data from Warcraftrealms, about 47% play a tank-capable class. There’s fewer playing heal-capable classes: 39%. Based on this data, healers in particular would seem to be the choke point. However, there are no ‘pure’ tank or healer classes; just because 47% of the survey group plays a tank class doesn’t mean 47% of the players are tanks. Since the census data doesn’t currently show us who plays what role, we have to look at the different specs and make an admittedly big assumption: that there’s a roughly even breakdown of players by spec.
10 classes, 32 specs (druids get credit for 2 dps specs; Death Knights get credit for 2 dps specs and 2 tank specs*). If we look now at tanking specs, there are 5: Prot Warriors and Pallies; Bear Druids; Frost and Blood Death Knights. For healers we also have 5: Holy Paladins and Priests; Discipline Priests; and Resto Druids and Shaman. 10 tanking and healing specs vs. 22 damage-dealing specs: Is it any wonder there’s a tank and healer shortage? The options for tanking and healing are far more limited than for damage dealing, not just in terms of pure numbers of available specs, but also in play styles: DPS can be right up at the feet (well, rear end) of bosses or standing at a distance. Healers and tanks are always at the back or front, respectively.
The second issue causing the shortage is mindset. When dual-specs first came out, I spent a month hemming and hawing over what I would do. Finally I told my guild that I was going to take Retribution as my second spec (Holy is number 1) and I began picking up Ret gear on off-spec rolls, though I continued to defer to any other Paladin in the raid that might have even the remotest interest in it. I kept dragging my feet on actually getting the dual spec however, until the eve of patch 3.2. That night I finally forked over the gold for….a second Holy spec. I told myself then that I really needed time to experiment with the new ‘Bubble Spec’, but the truth is once I started using that spec, there was no going back, and no real reason not to change one spec over to Retribution, except for one thing: I’m a healer. It's what I do. I don’t like to dps on my Paladin, and I don’t like tanking. Having two or even three specs isn’t going to make me change that, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels that way: you’re either a healer or a tank, or you’re not. Yes, there are players who are perfectly capable of excelling at any role, but I suspect most players are like me: we have a role that we like to fill with our toon, and we stick to it as much as possible. Unless Blizzard radically changes the nature of the game I don’t think you’ll see any great change in the numbers, and we’ll always have a disparity of numbers.
Finally, I have to wonder if this problem is even that great a problem at all. Maybe the current tank/healer shortage of 2010 is being caused by heightened expectations – we’ve all been suckered into believing Blizzard’s slick advertising pitch: ‘Use our New-And-Improved LFG System and make those irritating wait times *snap* disappear!’ In short, we have been sold on a belief that we wouldn’t have to wait, and this belief was upheld in the first two weeks when everybody and his uncle was running random heroics in an effort to get emblems, cheesy pets, and easy achievements. Now that the novelty has worn off, the wait times have gone up, and our patience has gone down. In a response to a comment on her post, Spinks said “…there is still an issue there of supply and demand, and keeping the customer base happy with regular instance runs rather than having to wait 15-30 mins in the queue.” I seem to recall having to hang around Dalaran sometimes for 30-40 minutes, spamming trade and general, while constantly refreshing the LFG/LFM window once the guild and friends’ list was exhausted. The current system is much more a ‘fire and forget’ and go back to whatever you were doing until the Ready Check pops up. Seems to me much of the problem is in our own minds and not with the system or lack of tanks and healers. But then again, so many of the problems in the world of the World of Warcraft are of our own making.
*I admit to knowing very little about Death Knights and how they work, as mine is sitting gathering dust in Hellfire Peninsula at level 60. I might have actually shortchanged them a tanking and dps spec.