Tank Ego Dissected

April 6, 2011

Over at Further Adventures In LFD, there is discussion amongst healers of a particular breed of tank, to wit this comment from Lara:

I’m not sure why, but there is a certain subspecies of tank that seems to believe using crowd-control is a sign of a weak character. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these tend also to be the tanks with some combination of poor situational awareness, weak threat, and low health.

My planned response to the “why” was starting to get lengthy, so it goes here instead.

Tanking, as I’ve said before, is an extremely visible job and one that will bring out your inner control freak whether you thought you had one or not. No matter how meek and unassuming you may be before you start (if you do at all, it’s not a job that typically appeals to the meek *because* of this), tanking is experienced as being the person who’s always leading from the front even if you’re not actually calling the shots; the pull doesn’t begin without you, you have first say over how the fight proceeds, and if someone tries to yank that control away from you, they’re socially in the wrong and will usually die if you choose to let them. You can be a decent person and include everyone else as much as possible for input and mindfulness, or you can be an asshole and run as though the other four party members weren’t there, but the show still runs on your schedule and over time that sense of your role will sink in.

All three roles have a certain degree of ego bound up in their role and how well they do at it. DPSers have one immediate, direct thing to point to in the form of the amount of sheer damage per second they produce, and more sources in the form of never pulling threat or never taking unnecessary damge; a good DPS will mark himself on all three, while a bad one will attach to the numbers alone. Healers will take pride variously in their own HPS (an even worse idea than it is for DPS), or more commonly, simply never letting anybody die- or never overhealing, never going OOM, or just in being able to heal big damage on the tank.

Tank ego, likewise, can bind up in several different things, depending on what the tank in question thinks their job actually is. For me, it goes like this:

1. Survive and make sure the rest of the party that isn’t doing anything actively suicidal survives. This makes being able to do threat adequate at least to hold on groups that the DPS is focus-firing and making sure I can survive the experience easily the same job and occupying the same priority one slot.

2. Don’t threat-cap the DPS. It’s one thing to expect of myself that I can keep threat on a pack that our strongest DPS are each targeting a different one of (i.e. a ludicrous thing), another to expect I can control a large pack the best of our AoE are going to town on. (Here I am thinking of the Phase Twisters in BoT, and our very competitive DK DPSers with the insane AoE. I mostly keep threat. Enough that righteous defense keeps everyone comfortably alive anyway.)

3. Support the healers. Anything I can do to make their lives easier, I should do. I have to admit this isn’t as selfless as it seems; like I said, this is an ego thing as much as it is a good-gameplay thing. I wasn’t satisfied with myself in Cataclysm until my healers went back to watching Hulu and Pornhub during trash and heroics.

I am not all tanks. Another one I ran with (that I was not very happy doing so because our priorities were so different) considered the most fun/ego-satisfying thing to be invincible on threat, and second to dish out damage competitively. He would ask our healers how much they could handle, and wear DPS gear accordingly and pull everything in the room. At the time he could (mostly) get away with it because it was the end of Wrath and everyone was insanely overgeared- though he was so focused on pulling and damaging he did let people die from time to time, including the healer at least once- but his runs were still a very, very different experience from mine. I refused to take off tank gear or wear DPS gear to keep the healers more amused because I saw that as anathema to doing my job right; he refused to slow down because he saw that as not doing his as best he could. Probably different healers would have preferred either of our styles depending on if they were more in for utterly safe or excitement. Either way, the overgeared state highlighted what each of us marked ourselves on and actually thought was doing our jobs to our best, since it allowed us to play however we wanted.

Getting back to the original comment, about the subspecies of tank that sees CC as a threat to their tank ego, and that usually going along with weak threat and survivability: these are either inexperienced or immature/shallow tanks who are essentially cousins to DPS that consider their recount string their only measure of job performance. If a dumb DPS thinks the numbers are a hard reflection of performance and considers anything that lowers them asking too much of them or asking them not to do their jobs in a way that lets them shine, a dumb tank thinks the only measure of HIS performance is being able to survive a lot of incoming damage. In this light, a healer asking for CC means not letting him show off his own best performance while refusing to give theirs.

Why is it usually the tanks with poor threat, poor awareness, and poor survivability? Because they’re the ones most likely to be inexperienced enough to think this simplistically about their own role.