It’s been two months since I set foot in a real raid, and one of the big questions I’ve been grappling with is to raid or not to raid. On the one hand, I’ve loved raiding ever since I was introduced to it – and it gives my healer purpose to her role (PvP breaks my wrists as a healer so I had to write that one off a long time ago, even though I enjoy it so much). The other side of the coin though is the whether the commitment of raiding in the current expansion makes it fun and worth my time.
It’s incredibly interesting that this dilemma has come up for me at a time when the community is ripe with debates on raiding in general this tier. There are discussions of teams getting burned out, skill differences, encounter difficulty in Throne and a general trend of a dwindling raiding population for normal modes and beyond. These general issues are great but for me it comes down to whether or not these affect my decision to raid this tier, as an ordinary raider.
And ofcourse the ultimate question is whether the raiding commitment in 5.2 and MoP is worth it?
To answer whether raiding (and healing) is still for me, it’s vital to look at a couple key points in the raiding world. The first is ofcourse an honest look at whether healing is still fun for me, next comes my take on what it was like to keep up with being raid-ready, and finally how Throne in particular fits into all of this.
The Joy of Healing
It’s good that I’m able to still say that – healing is still very much a joy to me. I’ve healed for the last five years now (egads, where did the time go) and I’m happy to say that I still enjoy it. That’s not to say, however, that it’s easy. It’s still a very stressful job while raiding. Blizzard may have made a lot of changes to healing but one of the things that will never change is that by lieu of our role, any other role’s mistakes will eventually be on us to carry. Did the tank taunt a little too late? Well, he needed extra healing for it and probably gave you a bit of a heart attack during that time. Was that player a little slow in running out of the group? It costs more healing and maybe even a cooldown to save the raid.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t mechanics that do encourage personal responsibility. If someone doesn’t move out of Durumu’s purple beam of nastiness, they will get blown off the platform regardless of what your healers can do. But there are still many mechanics that put more on a healer over and above the things a healer already needs to heal through. This is partly what makes the job so fun since you’re always living on the edge but also can make it very stressful as well.
As a discipline priest in particular, it’s gone both ways for me. Keeping track of all my cooldowns while healing in an encounter that has a million things going on is nothing short of crazy sometimes. And this is with me having almost everything tied to muscle memory. Add to that you have the dynamic oh-crap moments of a fight and it can be more stressful than expected.
Maintenance of Raiding
A good way for me to see how much time raiding maintenance took while I was doing it, is to take a look at what I’ve been able to do now with the time that’s opened up. While raiding on an already tight schedule, I simply didn’t have time to level up a second 90, finish out my reps, pet battle, level alts, and do old world stuff for fun. Some of it was simply that I didn’t have the time to do it. Other times, I was simply too tired mentally to play anymore. What exactly was my time filled up with while raiding?
Valour capping was a big one I remember. It was a pain at the time and I imagine it still is. It was necessary to try to get better gear so I didn’t hold my team back. Speaking of better gear, there was LFR as well. And to get that new gear, I needed the shiny coins which in turn needed the dailies that I didn’t want to do but felt I had to. It was great to run LFR when I simply needed to practice my raid mechanics or figure out my healing cooldowns beforehand. Not so great when I needed to run it for gear and valour. Even so, new gear wasn’t the end of it. There was the added cost of regemming, enchanting, and reforging. I didn’t have the time to bring up my alts to 90 so, I was sometimes stuck with the not-so-ideal auction house for my gear enhancement needs.
And then ofcourse, there were the consumables. I had to spend time, and my precious gold trying to get enough feasts and personal stat food. So if I wasn’t doing rep dailies for coins, I was doing cooking dailies for ingredients. If I wasn’t running LFR for gear, I was fishing for mats. There was also the daily chore of using my farm for herbs and vegetables for the feasts and flasks that I needed.
Finally, there’s the actual task of encounter research. This somewhat segues into my next topic but I’ll mention it briefly here. The more complex an encounter, the more time it takes to learn it. And the more outside research it takes to understand it. This is over and above what I was already doing to be raid-ready. Before Throne was released, I spent time writing many of the healing strats for the bosses. I think it’s safe to say that these bosses are decidedly more complex than many of the past raiding tiers. Council was on of the longest posts I wrote and I struggled to condense it into a something memorisable quickly for healers including myself. And that was just the third boss of the raid.
The simple way of talking about this is that sometimes, it just gets to be too much. Information overload. Lissanna of Restokin wrote a fantastic series talking about the complexity of encounters and the limits of human memory and reaction times. I’ve experienced some of this both in and outside of raids, and this is where Throne in particular comes in.
Gone are the days, atleast for this tier, where I could look at the general mechanics and quickly weed out what I need to know as a healer, thus condensing each fight into a few bullet points. The problem comes with adding complicated conditions to each fight that makes it more difficult to remember and requires more prep time outside the raid. As for the actual healing going on in the raid, you have call on that complicated order and memory during a high stress period. Very different from solving a complicated math problem on a quiet day, or trying to remember the laws memorised for the mid-term.
Being pressured to remember the intricacies of “run out of the raid group but only here and not there and remember to click twice or you will wipe the raid” while the tank is getting stomped and the raid will soon take intense damage in a few seconds, is far more difficult than remembering “run out of the raid group now”. It can get overwhelming pretty quickly. And this is over and above lining up Archangel with Spirit Shell, keeping track of cooldowns and Rapture etc. and all the other things healers need to keep track of regardless of what’s going on. When I was thinking about this today, I couldn’t help but remember an old post by Matticus in the days of heroic ICC where he talked about the limits of mental bandwidth for healers:
“I don’t know how complex future raid encounters will be. I just hope they don’t get any more complicated than they are now. As a healer, being pushed is fun. Having the opportunity and time to react is fun. I enjoy reacting to scripted and random events as they occur. However, what isn’t fun for me is watching eight timers on my screen, keeping an eye on debuffs, and keeping my other eye on my frames while figuring out if I have the time to use a medium heal or a fast heal.”
It seems as though ‘interesting’ has been equated with ‘complex’ this tier. The more ‘interesting’ the mechanics, the more ‘complex’ they should be. And I’m not sure that’s a good assumption the designers made. Because at the end of the day, from my healing perspective atleast, it challenges our notion of ‘fun’.
Looking at all of this had made me wonder if there is any room left in this expansion for the “casual” or “semi-hardcore” raiders. Raiding comes with a lot of maintenance if one wants to progress, even if the pace of progress is nothing close to the server-first chasers. Do I want to heal again? Yes, I miss it. And there’s something to be said for wondering what a healer is doing if she isn’t healing. But despite my love for the role, I cannot ignore the baggage it comes with this expansion, and the challenges of this tier. I do not want to spend hours poring over boss fights. I do not want to raid struggling for a gasp of mental air the entire time. And, I’m sure there are others who decided to stop raiding this tier for these reasons.
After my previous dreadful raid team experience, it was suggested that I start my own team and have the freedom to raid on my terms. But simply thinking of keeping track of all the encounter mechanics in Throne of Thunder, in addition to my healing decisions on cooldowns, spell-usage and mana management made me hyperventilate.
As far as raiding goes for me, it’s a tough decision that I’m unable to make one way or the other. A good start would be to see if I can muster up the courage to do a couple PuGs, and see if I still enjoy raiding. I’ve been wanting to do that but I’ve always chickened out and I think it’s partly because I feel compelled to take on the raiding maintenance all over again. I will keep trying though. If I enjoy it, great. And if it feels unfun to me then it might just be time to call it and sit this tier out.