What's so different about tanks and healers?

The Call to Arms debate continues to rage and after almost everyone agreed that bribes are probably not the way to go, discussion has turned towards tanking in general and why not enough people want to do it. A lot of bloggers have made a lot of good points, but one question keeps nagging at me whenever I read another post about how tanks have too much responsibility and don't get appreciated enough: What about the healers? Aren't healers in exactly the same boat? They carry the burden of keeping the party alive through the most suicidal of pulls, and since the dungeon finder replaces them just as quickly as a bad damage dealer, people are quite happy to abuse and kick healers at the drop of a hat. And yet there is no real healer shortage in the dungeon finder despite of that... why?

There's probably more than one reason, but as someone who mainly plays healers and really enjoys the playstyle, the first thing that came to my mind was that healers simply don't have a choice to not group. If you enjoy the act of healing and playing whack-a-mole with little green bars, you need other people. Yes, you can heal yourself while soloing things in a painfully slow manner, but then you'll probably spend more time focused on killing things than on healing. You could aggro something and just let it beat on you so you can heal yourself forever! Except, you'd be achieving absolutely nothing by doing that. If you want to kill mobs through healing, you need at least one other player who does the actual killing for you while you heal them. Healers need groups; there are no substitutes. Even if the group plays badly and treats you like crap, if you at least enjoyed pressing your buttons to heal them you got something good out of it. From this point of view it's interesting that so many people claim that healing is boring and no fun - clearly it's interesting and fun enough that a lot of players keep doing it despite of the downsides!

Tanks sort of used to be like that once, I think, though that was before I tried tanking myself. They were quite good at surviving attacks from multiple mobs, but they did so little damage that it was always questionable who would wear the other one down first, and self-healing was very limited. Going out into the world and rounding up mobs to tank them only offered a very limited amount of fun. Only a group allowed you to really shine, being the only one who could stand up to the most powerful mobs, with a healer at your back and damage dealers by your side.

But the game changed since then. Blizzard wanted to make soloing for tanks more fun and make it easier for them to gain and hold aggro, so they increased their damage output and their survivability. Successfully! Questing on my paladin tank is easy, I round up a load of mobs, AoE them down effortlessly, and Word of Glory keeps me at full health the entire time. It's just like tanking, only without any other players to pull aggro or otherwise annoy me! Wait, does anyone else see the problem with this?

I wonder how many people out there have a tanking spec these days without actually doing any tanking for groups most of the time. They literally have nothing to gain from grouping in terms of pure gameplay fun. Even if the rest of your party is well-behaved, making sure that nobody gets aggro, waiting for the healer to get mana and so on only adds extra work. Otherwise you could have the exact same fun of being in the middle of a large bunch of mobs and feeling invincible while out soloing elementals or whatever. Or alternatively, you could just be dps and be slightly less invincible while killing individual mobs a bit faster. Not that much difference anymore.

For damage dealers it doesn't make much difference whether they are soloing or grouping a lot of the time, in terms of how fun their gameplay is. In a group you might have to pace yourself a bit and maybe crowd-control something even if you don't care much for it, but on the plus side someone keeps the mobs away from your face and you get heals if you stand in something bad. It's pretty much a wash. A healer may have to deal with people giving him or her a hard time, but on the other hand they get to enjoy the game in a way that's simply not possible while playing solo. A tank only gains more things to watch out for, with no benefits (assuming he doesn't group with people he adores so much that their mere presence makes things more fun - but once again that's something that affects every role).

I've heard some arguments that tanking could be made more fun if only the tanks could have even more power, hold aggro even more easily, vote-kick anyone as they please etc. I have to disagree with all of those because none of them actually make grouping more fun than soloing for the tank. I think if Blizzard could change anything about tank gameplay to make it more fun, they would have to ensure that the tank actually benefits from grouping, and I don't mean in a material way. Like healing, tanking used to be a role that was all about the party, and sometimes it seems to me that even the developers themselves have completely forgotten about that in their endless pursuit of making everything as solo-friendly as possible. No really, tanks don't have to be awesome soloers! They are supposed to be awesome in groups, and when on their own they can switch to their dual spec, just like healers seem to be expected to do. Maybe tanking abilities could be tweaked to require friendly targets to be nearby to have their full effect - just something to make it different and beneficial to be grouped.

Though yeah, improving the quality and attitude of the average dungeon finder pug would be a good thing too of course - for everyone, not just for tanks.


  1. I play a tank and have just leveled a healer too and must say that healing is much less stressful and receives far more praise than tanking does. If a pull goes to hell due to dps hitting the wrong mobs, and the tank and healer work their fingers off grabbing the mobs back and topping up the damage dealers who are taking the damage - and somehow save the day - you can bet that the dps will say "great healz", however the tank was working just as hard but gets cursed at.

  2. The power of subjective experiences! In my experience healing as a much better social experience, with more praise and people are often more willing to pay attention (or at least the tank), but the mechanics just stress me out too much. Give me tanking any day.

    Keep in mind that there will be no healer shortage until they break the 3-1 needed ratio with DPS. I'm 99% certain there are fewer healers than there need to be, but since there are even fewer tanks, we won't see that deficit influence group formation. Tanks are the limiting reagent.

  3. Here here! I agree. I am a healer at heart but while playing my tank I am extremely alert at what is going on -- I can't let my party get hurt!

  4. I agree with Shintar that tanking is not sufficiently "fun" in heroics to incentivise the tanks in, whilst healers kinda have to group if they want to do "their thing".

    Another issue is tanks, as a breed (I think) tend to want to be "leaders" and feel responsible. If they sign for a dungeon, they expect to complete it. The game CONDITIONS them that they should do so, because when I tank, I know if I drop group I condemn the group to 30 mins wait. The game CONDITIONS me to know that as a DPS, I can drop, and will be instantly replaced. No harm is done. As a tank, I HATE the idea I will not finish an instance. Unfortunately, in Cata, I might see Deadmines or Batol pop up. Which means hours potentially of grim grind OR feelings of self-dislike when I bail on a group / fail to complete. Sure, sometimes I am surprised, but often even if the team is nice, DM can take 1.5 hours plus. That's a big chunk of time. So game design CONDITIONS me to feel responsible for my group, PUNISHES me if I don't with feelings of failure, TAXES my time in random and unpredictable ways up to 2 hours with no reward aside 70 VP. It is no surprise that the solution is not to tank.

    Honestly, I really believe that there are many aspects of WoW that exhibit good game design, especially the new 1-60 and raids. But IMHO most (all?) of the recent structural design changes are poor game design. Bribery included.

  5. Was a healer first (disc priest), but leveled a DK tank recently.

    Gotta say, all that questing and soloing helped me get a handle on my blood dk abilities moreso than I would have had if I had leveled as dps spec.
    For DKs this is especially tough since the abilities come so quickly and there are only a few levels from start to finish.

    As far as explaining the tanking shortage through viability of tank spec for soloing...I don't buy it.

    Sure, a tank CAN pull a bunch of stuff questing, but just like the point of healing is to group up, the whole point of getting a tank spec is to tank 5-mans and raids. You can't do that solo.

    I don't know which role takes more abuse.
    I've seen friendly and unfriendly players when I was healing and when I was tanking.


  6. I think you're spot on there Shintar. I too have rolled my eyes at the debate lately, wondering why tanks would get so much attention, as if things were so different for them than for healers (who imo still have the scapegoat card in WoW when parties go wrong). instead of asking how to make life even easier for tanks and bribe them to do what they're SUPPOSED to do, maybe it would be better to check why they can afford to be so picky. you're absolutely right that tanks in wow have become too self-sufficient, too powerful solo - they have gotten more and more over time there while healers are still only one third of a whole and depend on others. so should tanks. wanting to participate in a group should be everyone's main interest in cooperative games.

  7. @Anonymous & Kleps: Well, I'm glad that there are places where healers do get appreciated. :D But as I said, I don't think I've seen anyone ever initiate a vote-kick on a tank for anything other than being AFK or disconnected, while I've seen healers get booted over vague accusations such as "not healing enough" even when they kept everyone alive just fine.

    @Chloe: I'm not sure who you're agreeing with, me or the comments above yours? ;)

    @Boxer: I don't know, it's nice that you feel responsible for completing the instance when tanking, but generally I would think that if anything the tank has the least investment in a pug group right now, considering the instant queue (meaning he can drop and get a new run very quickly). A damage dealer "giving up" means forfeiting the wait time they already invested and another longish wait in the queue afterwards. I see just as many tanks drop group for no reason as dps, if not more.

    @Potatoe: But what's so different about tanking for a group compared to soloing? The only ability you won't get to use is your taunt.

  8. I think people forget how things used to be.. There have always been a lack of tanks in WoW. Back in Vanilla and TBC you could spend hours in trade chat trying to build a group and find a tank if you didnt have a good, big strong guild to help out.

    When the dungeon finder got introduced along with a shift in the way Blizzard did things, that being catering to the cassual part of wow players, a number of things happend. A lot more people who had never played a mmo started playing wow. These players for the most part wanted things to be easyer and both Blizzard and the new dungeon finder system catered to that. This mean that sins levelling didnt take long, gearing up took even less time and your random heroics was done in a blink of an eye. Every 8 year kid and he's little brother could tank these heroics.

    So Blizzard in my eyes only have to options.
    A) Make the game super easy again so all can tank and/or heal.
    B)Try everything they can to get the good tanks and healers to do more heroics.