Lore and Storylines: The Sunwell

A couple weeks ago I made an entry including screen shots of my guild’s first look at Kil’jaeden and the Sunwell. In the comments section of this entry, I noticed a rather startling question posed by Matt from World of Matticus.

What’s up with the chick? (Or general backstory?)

The “chick” in reference appears in this screen shot:

Anveena in a prismatic bubble.

Having read The Sunwell Trilogy and played Warcraft III and The Frozen Throne, I felt I could answer this confidently and provide the full backstory. However, after writing my long explanation, I began to question just how much of the Sunwell’s story is explained within WoW itself. While the Sunwell does contain one of the best presented arcs in all of WoW, I realize it contains some major flaws that highlight the general problems regarding WoW’s usual presentation of plot.

The War and Events of Quel’Danas as Told in WoW: A Summary

The Sunwell’s story arc, as it is presented in WoW, provides some intriguing developments. However, it also leaves a few holes unfilled and questions unanswered. Furthermore, the story is not self-contained, as there are many crucial details omitted that exist in material outside of the game. So the experience of playing through Quel’Danas, Magister’s Terrace and the Sunwell Plateau are simultaneously compelling and perplexing.

A Brief Summary of the Events as They are Presented within WoW Itself

  • Kael’thas survives the assault on Tempest Keep and promises to deliver the wrath of Kil’jaeden.
  • Kael’thas and his Legion minions flee Outland through a portal located at Kil’jaeden’s Throne in Hellfire Peninsula.
  • Kael’thas has his felblood elves steal M’uru from the blood knights of Silvermoon City, bringing him to the Sunwell Plateau.
  • Lady Liadrin seeks aid from A’dal in desperation after losing M’uru as the blood knights’ source of power.
  • Kael’thas intends to summon Kil’jaeden into Azeroth, seemingly through what appears to be the Sunwell.

Kil\'jaeden and Kael\'thas

  • The blue dragon Kalecgos comes to Quel’Danas to rescue Anveena, a woman who once rescued him.
  • Kalecgos explains Anveena is not mortal, but a powerful entity.
  • Anveena is imprisoned in a primatic bubble in the chamber where Kil’jaeden is being summoned.
  • Kil’jaeden seems to be draining Anveena’s power.
  • Kael’thas is holed up in the Magister’s Terrace and meets his final demise there.
  • Kalecgos is briefly captured and possessed by a nathrezim of the Legion, but is freed by adventurers.
  • Madrigosa, a blue dragon who accompanied Kalecgos to help find Anveena, is killed by the pitlord Brutallus during her interrogation of him.
  • M’uru, now a being of darkness, serves to protect the chamber in which Kil’jaeden is being summoned.
  • M’uru turns into a powerful voidwalker named Entropius before he is defeated.
  • The adventurers, with Kalecgos, halt Kil’jaeden’s summoning before it is fully completed, meaning he can only come halfway through the portal.
  • The adventurers do battle with Kil’jaeden and push him back through the portal.
  • During the battle against Kil’jaeden, Kalecgos professes his love for Anveena. This causes her to awaken from enslavement and sacrifice herself to weaken Kil’jaeden.
  • In the aftermath of the battle against Kil’jaeden, Velen arrives with Lady Liadrin to fulfill the prophecy he foresaw regarding the Sunwell.
  • Velen states that he has saved the heart of M’uru. And, using it, he reignites the Sunwell and its power.
  • Lady Liadrin atones for her sins in having drained M’uru’s power and appears redeemed.

Thus ends the story arc. But it does not satiate an appetite for every hole to be filled and question answered. Instead, if you consider the story as it is only told within WoW, you would be left to wonder:

  • How did Anveena rescue Kalecgos?
  • Who was Anveena really? Why was she so powerful?
  • Why was the Legion draining her power?
  • How exactly was she captured and imprisoned?
  • How did Kael’thas go about summoning Kil’jaeden? Did he play a part in Anveena’s capture?
  • Why would Kael’thas be holed up in Magister’s Terrace if the most important cause of the Legion is to summon Kil’jaeden?
  • Why do Kalecgos and Anveena love each other? Is this love romantic or platonic?

There are also flaws in the manner of this plot’s presentation. Cutscenes are extremely limited until you actually play through the Sunwell Plateau. Before this, the plot is explained merely through quest text, dialog, events from before those in Quel’Danas, and a brief event in Magister’s Terrace involving Kalecgos and a flyover of the Sunwell Plateau. It is not until you experience this flyover that you begin to become involved in the deeper story on a more personal level. But the amount of information revealed during this event is limited to seeing M’uru hovering before the summoning chamber and Anveena imprisoned above the Sunwell. Additionally, you learn that Kalecgos has come to put an end to the Legion’s activities in the Sunwell.

That said, the presentation of the storyline within the Sunwell Plateau itself is second perhaps only to the Black Temple. But it is the best in terms of encompassing the most bosses of any instance. Five of the six encounters either have characters involved in the overarcing plot or provide prologues or epilogues that relate to the story. So there are many positives to be had once you begin to delve deeper into the story. But, as stated before, portions of the plot are left unresolved and some questions unanswered. Of particular note, the closure provided for Kalecgos at the end of the Sunwell, despite his “love” meeting her demise, is minimal. And there is no way for a person who has only played WoW to really make assumptions about just how Kalecgos might come to terms with her loss, because Anveena’s history and existence are never explained. However, her backstory does exist outside of WoW itself in a three-part manga titled The Sunwell Trilogy.

Shedding Light on Kalecgos, Anveena and the Sunwell with Material Supplemental to WoW

Anveena is a major character from The Sunwell Trilogy, a three-part manga by Richard A. Knaak and Kim Jae-Hwan officially sanctioned by Blizzard as canon. In the trilogy, her backstory is provided, shedding light on the events of the Sunwell that occur after its destruction during Arthas’ march on Quel’Thalas in the undead campaign of Warcraft III.

Anveena’s pre-WoW history is directly related to the destruction of the Sunwell and its rediscovery. Of all of the characters in The Sunwell Trilogy, Anveena’s connection to the Sunwell is by far the most profound. This is because she is the Sunwell, or rather a manifestation of its remaining energies put together as a result of the red dragon Korialstrasz’s efforts. In the aftermath of the Sunwell’s destruction, Korialstrasz rescued these energies before others could find them and chose to hide them in the unassuming guise of a young girl named Anveena. Unaware of what she truly was, Anveena became more than a mere illusion, developing into a young woman with emotions and a life of her own. However, it was only a matter of time before she would begin discovering the powers she contained.

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Several years after Anveena’s creation, the blue dragon aspect Malygos detected strong energies emanating from somewhere near Tarren Mill. Sensing this anamoly, he sent a young blue dragon named Kalecgos to find it. However, during his search, he was assailed by dragon hunters and dropped from the skies. But before the dragon hunters could reach his point of collapse, Anveena found him in his human form and rescued him. This event served as the beginning of a series of adventures involving Anveena, Kalecgos, Kalecgos’ “suitor” Tyrygosa, a paladin Jorad Mace, and a baby blue dragon named Raac. Anveena, Kalecgos, and their band of followers were persued by a numerous host of characters, amongst whom the primary antogonist is Dar’Khan.

Dar’Khan was once a member of the Convocation of Silvermoon. However, he believed he lacked recognition for the accomplishments he made as a member of the convocation. Eventually, he turned his back on Silvermoon and offered his aid to Arthas during the Scourge’s march on Quel’Thalas. His intentions were to claim the Sunwell as his own in the aftermath of Arthas’ war with Silvermoon, but he did not meet his goal because Arthas wrought the Sunwell’s destruction by using it to resurrect the necromancer Kel’Thuzad as a powerful lich. In the aftermath, Dar’Khan began searching for the remnants of its energies, but to no avail because of Korialstrasz’s intervention. However, with Kalecgos coming in contact with her and peril becoming a part of Anveena’s life as a result, the energies could no longer be entirely hidden. And while no one initially suspected Anveena herself of containing these energies, Dar’Khan suspected she and Kalecgos knew where to find them.

Over time, Dar’Khan recognized Anveena for what she truly was: the Sunwell itself. In discovering this, he seeked to drain its powers from her and take them for his own. He enslaved her with his powerful breed of necomantic magic granted to him by the Lich King, and she became as a zombie uncognizant of her own existence. But Kalecgos and a host of characters too numerous to explain arrived to stir her from her catatonic state. Awoken, she realized her true powers and incinerated Dar’Khan with a simple exhibition of the power he helped her to discover.

Throughout the trilogy, it is rather apparent Kalecgos has a zealous obsession with Anveena’s well-being, despite him being unaware of her true power until the very end of the trilogy. Tyrygosa constantly urges him to abandon his quest, reasoning that she is merely a mortal girl for whom risking their lives is pointless. Her lack of compassion for Anveena makes her appear cruel and even jealous, while Kalecgos appears noble in his selfless pursuit.

A New Perspective Given Supplementary Content and The “New” Sunwell

So with the events detailed in The Sunwell Trilogy we suddenly have answers to some the questions left open before.

  • Anveena saved Kalecgos from a band of dragon hunters.
  • Anveena is the Sunwell.
  • The Legion is draining Anveena’s power because the Sunwell’s energies are some of the most potent in the history of Azeroth. They could be used to power the summoning and strengthen Kil’jaeden to a point where he may be unstoppable.
  • Kalecgos probably loves Anveena because of the care she showed for him in saving him. Perhaps he had also distanced himself from Tyrygosa, given her cruelty during The Sunwell Trilogy. And Anveena probably loves him because he was selfless in seeing to her well-being.

This radically changes the perspective a person has on the story as it is presented in WoW. After fully reading the trilogy, I found an excerpt of dialog occurring between Kalecgos and Anveena to be truly compelling.

Kalecgos: Anveena, I love you! Focus on my voice! Come back for me now! Only you can cleanse the Sunwell!

Anveena: Kalec… Kalec?

Kalecgos: Yes, Anveena! Let fate embrace you now!

Anveena: The nightmare is over! The spell is broken! Goodbye, Kalec, my love!

After which Anveena sacrifices herself, throwing Kil’jaeden into a fit of desperation. And in having read The Sunwell Trilogy, one realizes the Sunwell’s remaining energies were sacrificed along with Anveena, meaning she can’t reignite the Sunwell herself. Perhaps this is why M’uru’s heart was used in her stead.

The Unresolved Thread of the Story

Even with the supplemental material, however, there are still a few points left unresolved. For example, the consequences of Anveena’s sacrifice are left unexplained within WoW, so they can only be assumed using information from The Sunwell Trilogy. And the fact that Velen doesn’t even address her sacrifice in his epilogue still leaves me perplexed. It’s as though Blizzard wanted to recognize her importance from the trilogy by including her in the storyline, but forgot about her halfway through shaping the way the events would unfold. For this reason, I can’t imagine players who haven’t even read the trilogy being anything but confused by her involvement in the story.

What Blizzard Did Right

Despite my grievances with the story, there are many things Blizzard did well in presenting the Sunwell Plateau’s backstory. The biggest success of the instance is that five of the six encounters contain elements directly relating to the overarcing plot. While Madrigosa and Brutallus initially seem like peripheral characters, they become more involved when Madrigosa interrogates him about Anveena and meets her demise in the process. Brutallus positions himself as an important figure merely by aggressively exhibiting that he is a protector of the Legion’s knowledge and intentions involving Anveena and the summoning of Kil’jaeden.

M’uru also seems like a peripheral character, at first. But in watching the dialog between Lady Liadrin and A’dal in Shattrath and recognizing he was the naaru who was being drained by the blood knights in Silvermoon City, one can understand his role to play in the story itself. Especially when Velen arrives and uses his heart to rebirth the Sunwell.

Kalecgos is a constant figure in the story, as well, making his purpose and intentions known midway through the Magister’s Terrace all the way through the end of the Sunwell.

And, obviously, Kil’jaeden is rich with history and is constantly referenced throughout all WoW.

However, Blizzard did not do with the Sunwell what they did with Black Temple. Before a person can enter the Black Temple, they must complete a long questline with several cutscenes involving Akama’s backstory and actions leading up to his entrance into the Black Temple. The Sunwell only contains one introductory cutscene inside Magister’s Terrace. There is also no cutscene showing the imprisonment of Anveena, no cutscene showing Kael’thas’ actions leading up to Kil’jaeden’s summoning, and no cutscenes throughout the entirety of WoW exhibiting Kil’jaeden’s importance to the story. Instead, you have simply in-game dialog without voiceovers and quest text that act as remote references to these events. And, furthermore, while Kil’jaeden is constantly referenced throughout The Burning Crusade, he is actually never seen until the very end of the Sunwell Plateau. Even if he was too busy to oversee Outland directly, cutscenes could have been made to detail his backstory. Powerful mages can conjure images to emphasize the stories they tell, yes?

So with this lack of cutscenes and treatment of the events leading up to the Sunwell Plateau, and with holes and questions left open, Blizzard could do some things better.

Make WoW Self-Contained

The first thing Blizzard needs to do is drop its reliance on supplementary content to tell WoW’s stories. If people haven’t read the game manuals for Warcraft I, II or III and their expansions, nor studies some of the literature produced outside the game, they won’t understand the holes left within WoW itself. This is perhaps the folly of franchise. And while this is acceptable when such information is not crucial to the developing arcs within WoW, Blizzard needs to understand it will only confuse people if information important to explaining plot occurrences is left omitted from the source material.

I’m reminded of the way in which the producers of the TV show Lost approach their content. While there is supplemental material outside the show that provides insight into some of the backstories, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (the shows primary producers) have stated that they do not want this material playing a role in making Lost‘s story complete. Rather, their goal is to make the show self-contained, giving people an experience that feels whole when simply watching only the show. And while mysteries and questions might exist before the show’s conclusion, they should be resolved once the show has run its course.

Lost

WoW, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be produced in the same manner. When a character has been given an integral role within WoW, there should be at least some explanation addressing his or her background and purpose. Leaving random characters and minions unexplained if their purpose is to simply act as filler is acceptable, but Anveena was too important to only refer to her obscurely throughout WoW. People shouldn’t be required to read The Sunwell Trilogy to obtain any insight into her presence.

Tie Up Loose Threads

I think it’s a disservice to WoW’s playerbase for Blizzard to leave the stories of seemingly important characters unresolved. I also think it’s important for Blizzard to explain the relevance of various events to others. The consequences of Anveena’s sacrifice should have been explained. If M’uru’s heart was meant to stand in stead of the energies lost during Anveena’s sacrifice, this should have been explained. And I believe Kalecgos deserves much better closure than he received for his involvement. It would have been nice to have Velen address Kalecgos’ in his epilogue.

Conclusion

If the end of loose plot threads had been tied, Anveena’s existence better explained, and Kael’thas and Kil’jaeden better highlighted throughout The Burning Crusade, the story told in the Sunwell Plateau could have been epic. Instead, we are left with a plot that is highly visible, but flawed in its open-endedness. And while the presentation of the Sunwell Plateau itself advances the needed refinement in making all encounters more relevant to overarcing storylines, the introduction of it was a step backwards from what we saw with the Black Temple.

Blizzard needs to take more care in constructing WoW’s stories. While they have exhibited profound skill in doing so with their RTS games, WoW’s presentation has proven to be a difficult nut for them to crack. With dungeons becoming more accessible by providing a 10-man version of each, Blizzard needs to ratchet up their treatment of WoW’s plots and encompassing backstories. Otherwise, WoW will simply remain as entertainment with superficial narratives.

Artwork and media related to World of Warcraft is copyright Blizzard Entertainment. Panels from The Sunwell Trilogy are copyright Blizzard Entertainment and Tokyopop. Screens from the show Lost are copyright ABC, Inc.

Video Games As Art

My entry into this discussion comes two years after its height, but it is relevant as a precursor to an upcoming column I will be writing that addresses the presentation of storylines and plots within WoW. But in order to justify some of the statements I will be making throughout this upcoming column, I must state my case that video games can indeed be art.

Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control…. the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship [however elegant or sophisticated] to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers.

This was a statement made by Roger Ebert in response to a question asking him why he had been receptive of comic books and animation, but not video games. And though he acknowledges “a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience,” he still treats the medium with unwarranted disdain. To any video game buff who can appreciate a great storyline with insightful treatment of meaningful themes, it’s almost insulting to have this sort of argument presented by a well-respected critic of any field. And it’s certainly a setback for video games as a medium ever being treated with any sort of respect from critics in general. But as gamers, we should take heart in the fact that Ebert’s argument is a sinking ship.

Ebert assumes all video games require player choices, despite the fact that a large percentage of video games do not require choice so much as they require the execution of actions by the player. In his naivety, he doesn’t understand video games actually provide the largest amount of tools for conveying artistic expression over both film and literature. The pure and simple fact that game developers can choose to either guide players through linear stories or force them to make choices as part of dynamic ones gives them the ultimate “authorial control.” But never mind that the mere act of providing players the opportunity to choose, or forcing them to choose, can have artistic ramifications in and of itself.

It is equally ignorant of Ebert to imply that there are no profound works amongst video games. Certainly, to his knowledge, no one has been able to cite a game worthy of comparison to great entries from other fields. But that’s probably because he knows no one who can name them. Honestly, I’d find it difficult to believe no expert in the field would mention Metal Gear Solid as an interesting treatment of moral ambiguity. Or Planescape: Torment as a complex handling of cognition and mortality with existentialist undertones. Both of these games had their moments in the limelight before Ebert made his comments. And subsequently, after his statements were made, we’ve had BioShock addressing utopian and dystopian concepts presented in almost Orwellian fashion.

That said, I’m of the opinion that there are definitely lines to be drawn between art and entertainment, however subjective they may be. I certainly believe the 1960’s Batman TV series is merely entertainment, while Batman Begins is an artistic representation of themes involving existentialism, justice, fear and morality. But to extend the generalization across an entire medium that has potential to actually outdo other mediums in opportunities for artistic presentation is folly in the most grandiose sense of the word. Especially when a video game can be structured like a movie with the simple added element that the player must control the actions of the character to succeed in progressing the storyline.

But if it’s the case that video games provide the most flexible of mediums for artistic expression and authorial control, why are there so many people who perceive otherwise? Perhaps it is because video games also provide the largest opportunity for the production of pure entertainment. Often developers will rely on the fact that games can be enjoyable without a great storyline. So they let the progression and subtle details of their stories falter in light of the fact that a lot of people won’t care, so long as the gameplay itself provides amusement. Michael Swaim wrote a great article listing games with ridiculous premises but great gameplay proving “you don’t have to be Tolstoy, or even coherent, to design a hit game.” So the percentage of games with great artistic expression is considerably lower than that of movies and literature for this reason. So perhaps this is why there is such a large amount of prejudice held by outsiders that video games cannot be art by definition.

However, in picking Ebert’s argument apart and providing examples of games with a high degree of artistic value, we show that video games have the potential to contain great and meaningful stories that treat abstract concepts and themes with the intelligence they deserve. That is something even Ebert admits. But it is upon the shoulders of video game developers to continue this trend and create more masterpieces that establish video games as a medium deserving respect for more than being simply conduits of entertainment, but also for insightful artistic expression.

Raid Leading Guides: Healing Meters, Parses and Assessing Your Raid’s Healers

I’ve always been a big fan of information. But it has also been my worst enemy. It frightens me the number of times I’ve seen someone take and use healing meters against people, despite the fact that healing meters illustrate neither an attempt at an encounter nor a raid.

Healing Meters at a Glance

WWS: M\'uru Jun 9th

Before you begin to dissect this parse, you should know there are actually six healers and two shadow priests (Shards and Lightofwest).

At first glance, it definitely seems like we either have awesome druids or terrible shamans. If I went to the EJ forums and asked what’s wrong with this parse, a lot of people would respond, “Your resto shamans should be outhealing your druids.” But, aha! That’s the wrong assumption to make.

First and foremost, it should be noted this parse comes from M’uru. In this fight, you have four different tanks in phase one: one for the void sentinels, one for the void spawns (who appear in the location where each void sentinel dies), and one for each set of “door adds” (there are two sides, each including a caster and two melee mobs). Some people do this differently, but that is how we do it. Typically, as well, someone other than the traditional tank might soak damage from the caster mob on each door. I would elaborate, but I’m cautious of my server’s competition stealing our exact strategy.

Because there are so many tanks, our healing strategy is such that our druids are rolling four different stacks of lifebloom on people taking near constant damage. Considering our gear, both mine (Lilume’s) and Siafu’s triple-stacked lifebloom ticks for over 900 each. Mine typically ticks for about 950 (per second). So four of my triple-stacked lifeblooms produce a total of 3800 potential healing per second (HPS). Of course, however, the actual healing is much less, considering there are periods where the tanks are topped and a lifebloom tick heals nothing. Furthermore, there is a second phase where there is only one tank, so we switch to spamming regrowth on the raid, which has a lower HPS potential in general, but is more reliable in terms of saving people who drop dangerously low in that phase. So, across both phases of the fight, my HPS averages out to about 1653. That’s certainly less than what a resto shaman can produce on certain fights like Teron Gorefiend, but it is also important to point out that the raid-wide damage on this fight is not as heavy as the raid-wide damage you see during Teron. So a resto shaman’s HPS is going to be somewhat lower than it would be on a few other fights.

Next, you’ll note that our shadow priests outhealed our holy/discipline priest. That’s not supposed to happen, right? Well, both of our shadow priests were running improved vampiric embrace (VE). And in any fight where the entire raid is taking a constant stream of damage, and the holy/discipline priest is assigned to a tank, you’re going to see shadow priests with improved VE outheal them if the VE can outpace the damage the tank is taking. Also, it would be irresponsible of the priest to try to pad the meters by healing other people, considering a lack of his attention can cause his tank to die.

In this context, it would be erroneous to make the assumption that our druids are awesome and our resto shamans are terrible, and a mistake to assume our holy/disc priest sucks. In truth, healing meters merely reflect the trends set by both the healing strategies and the features of each encounter. This is the one thing most raid leaders and recruitment officers fail to recognize and I cringe every time someone tells me “healing meters matter.” Yes, they matter, but the point at which they matter is very subjective. It’s very important to consider the situational strengths of each healer, the task(s) they’re given, and what tools they use to heal.

Mana Potions at a Glance

WWS: June 9 M\'uru Mana Pots

This screenshot shows the number of times someone used a mana potion. Now, considering Siafu and I performed similar roles, it can be argued that Siafu should have used three potions instead of two. Considering the fight lasts over seven minutes, he should have had more than enough time to chug another mana potion. We do spam regrowth for a solid 90 seconds in phase two, afterall, and using only two mana potions puts him at risk of running out of mana before the fight is done. So the optimization of using mana potions is extremely important, and he probably should have planned to have his third mana potion available either for the start or the middle of phase two.

However, it’s also important to consider what exactly each person in the raid was given to work with. For example, if one of the resto shamans had a shadow priest (and one of them did), it is likely he would have only had to chug one or two mana potions to remain at full mana going into phase two. This could have potentially provided him the opportunity to chug a haste potion for the final 15 seconds of the fight instead of a mana potion.

Miscellaneous Information (Using Innervate as a Specific Example)

It would take me pages upon pages to cover every single aspect a WWS parse can tell you about what your healers are doing right and wrong. You have to look at mana potions, water shield, mana tide, mana stream, shadowfiend, symbol of hope, trinkets, vampiric touch, gear choices, flask and elixir choices, gem choices, weapon oils, talents, innervate, etc. But, if you’re considering deaths, you also have to look at things outside of your healers’ control: healthstones, last stand, shield wall, shield block, shadow word: death, recklessness, deathwish, ironshield potions, etc. And this doesn’t include encounter-specific issues like people not standing in cave-ins during Gruul.

So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s look at the use of innervate from the same M’uru parse used earlier.

WWS: Jun 9 M\'uru Innervate 1

Only one innervate, which came from myself. At this point, the alarm bells should be ringing for a raid leader. There’s five druids in the raid (two resto, one balance, and two feral), and the feral druids weren’t tanking for phase two. But only one innervate was tossed out. There should have been at least five. Now, this was something we talked about after the attempt. And we did manage to rectify the problem the next time we saw phase two.

WWS: June 9 M\'uru Innervate 2

Much better, but not perfect. It should be noted that this attempt on phase two was shorter than intended. We made some errors on our positioning of the boss and this wiped us. So we never got a chance to use our fourth and fifth innervates. There was also some confusion because I had forgotten which person I assigned myself to innervate. So I innervated Dess, instead of Lightofwest. And the person who was supposed to innervate Dess was confused as a result, especially when someone else innervated Lightofwest. I also forgot about our balance druid and didn’t assign him an innervate. I probably should have assigned him to Caiyn, in retrospect.

This is an example of how a single element can add complexity to how people perform in a raid, however. If you plan your innervates and someone expects to receive one, they often shift their approach to the encounter with this in mind. Healers will overheal more often knowing conservation isn’t as big of an issue when they will be the target of an innervate. Without one, however, the healer will run out of mana sooner than expected or will adopt a mindset rooted in conservation. This can then put the tank he is healing in considerable danger, with the healer either running out of mana or downranking to conserve.

Now, consider that innervate is only one element in an entire raid. Factor in all of the other elements, and suddenly healing data becomes so complex you can barely wrap your head around it. For this reason, I value specific observation of performance and evaluation of all the elements in a raid over simply looking at the meters, cooldown use, etc. If the tank someone was assigned to died, but the tank missed a spell reflection on a mob that hits with a 10K damage spell, I shouldn’t hold the healer responsible as a raid leader. I should first question what happened leading up to that death, and rely on things like player feedback and GrimReaper to provide information about what might possibly have gone wrong.

Basic Tips for Assessing Healers

1. Specifically watch a healer’s performance in conjunction with the performance of the people they’re assigned to.

Don’t just rely on healing meters and deaths to asses performance. While their placement on healing meters can be correlative to good or poor performance, this is not always the case, due to reasons stated in the earlier sections of this entry.

Check to make sure they’re adhering to their assignment and understand why they’ve been given that assignment. Make sure they’re properly timing and using their potions and cooldowns. Make sure they’re in a group that compliments their role if needed (if it can be afforded). Make sure they’re downranking and upranking responsibly. And make sure the players they’re healing are doing what they need to do to make the healer successful at his or her job. You can’t tell if a healer is playing well or not if your tank dies because he can’t find his shield block, shield wall, last stand, nightmare seed, spell reflection, or healthstone hotkeys when needed.

After this, watch them. If you see them standing there as their assigned target slowly loses health, there’s something wrong.

2. Make sure they provide feedback relevant to the healing strategy.

Healers who actively contribute feedback relevant to the healing strategy are an extreme asset. If they are finding it difficult to keep a tank up because they have to downrank to avoid running out of mana, make sure they tell your healing strategist. This can be important to making group adjustments that compliment the need to uprank further. Or, if what they’re doing is keeping the tank alive with no mana problems, make sure they tell you this as well. You can potentially free up space in group that would be more synergetic with somebody else therein.

3. Make sure they’re using the right gear for the fight.

If they’re complaining about mana, and HPS isn’t the issue, and they’ve stacked too much haste, figure out why. Maybe they don’t have the gear to swap in and out to shift their style more in the favor of longevity. Or maybe they had the opportunity to and they made poor gearing choices by letting stuff rot, or poor gemming choices.

The progression of your guild can make or break applicants in this regard. I know I wouldn’t want a healer who is wearing nothing but haste gear in Sunwell. It certainly has its place, but screw him running out of mana on fights grounded more on longevity than HPS potential.

4. Sometimes healing assignments are actually the problem.

There are fights in Sunwell where healing assignments have to be so finely tuned that anything your healers do won’t possibly be enough if you don’t micro-manage enough. So sometimes failure is at the hands of the assignments, rather than healer performance. That said, however, it is in your best interests to possibly recruit a good amount of healers or players in general that can help point out any oversights if you make a mistake.

5. Sometimes raid or group composition is the problem.

No druids on a high-mobility fight? No resto shamans or circle of healing priests on heavy raid-damage fights where players are in close proximity? These are two examples of raid composition problems. Your healers likely won’t be at fault for people wiping in this case.

Conclusion

Assessing your raid’s healers is never as simple as just studying the meters, cooldowns, downranking, and talents of your healers. Raid and group composition, healing assignments and strategies, and even the performance of non-healers play a part in your raid’s general ability to stay alive. If people can’t get out of cave-ins on Gruul during high growths, they’re going to die, regardless of how good your healers are.

When someone places low on the healing meters, it might not always be their fault. A priest spamming circle of healing is typically going to run out of mana eventually if they don’t receive a shadow priest or an innervate. But meters can sometimes indicate performance, so don’t ignore them entirely. However, you have to assess the entirety of the situation before you can understand whether or not the healer is at fault or if there’s a flaw somewhere else.

Assessing and directing your healers is a complex job, and not everyone is cut out for it. You really need a strategic mind to fully understand it and no amount of talking by me will fully teach you how to lead your raid’s healers and make judgments on their performance, especially because strategies change per encounter. On one fight, you might have ten healers, while on another you might have six because you need more DPSers to make the DPS budget.

It’s not an easy job, but these tips should help you get started.

11% M’uru Phase Two

Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgh! We were on track for a kill, but either we didn’t move the melee off a void zone or our dispellers missed the dark fiend. I’m not sure which it was, but either way the dark fiend exploded for 5K and wiped us. Frustrating, but also rewarding to know we can kill this fucker!

Phase Two Muru: 11%