Good Situational awareness means never saying “what the hell just happened?” Really good situational awareness means never saying “Woah! I did not see that coming.”
It is being aware of what is going on around you. Not just being there. Not just seeing it. Not just doing some stuff while seeing things. Being AWARE.
The first step of being more aware is realizing that you need to be. If you think you already are, but you aren’t, then you will not get any better. At first trying to pay attention to more things will seem hard. Overwhelming and stressful are two words new tanks use a lot. It gets better as you get better at being aware (among other things).
Camera control is a key aspect of situational awareness. If you are not looking AT a potential trouble spot you can’t keep tabs on it.
Take this situation:
The giant is dead, the boss is way down there and we are all clear to finish this HoL run off. But wait! Pan that camera round and let’s become aware of the real situation.
Last I checked I am not omnipotent. Neither is anyone else currently walking the earth in human flesh. Well except that one DK in your last run. I think he knows everything. But for the rest of us we don’t. The trick to knowing more and being more aware is focusing on things you need to know. As you get better at it you will be reflexively updating yourself.
There is a thing that pilots call the scan. As you are flying a plane you can’t see all your gauges at once. For a pilot it is deadly if you forget to check one of your gauges for a long time. So you scan them in a regular pattern, like a rotation. What is my airspeed? Ok, now how is my attitude? Now look out the windscreen. Ok, now check my engine status indicators. Good, now back to airspeed.
We do this when driving a car but cars are much more simple. Look at the lines look at the lines look at the lines ah $#@% where did that cop come from? @$#*! How did I get going that fast?
FAIL. A decent driver is watching the road, taking glances at his speedometer, and checking the cars around him all the time. A good driver is also keeping an eye on that car over there that looks like it might be about to change lanes without signaling while still keeping another eye on that intersection coming up, the one that people tend to roll through the stop sign. He might not be paying attention to what the passenger is saying because that is not important. This is what I mean by paying more attention to the things that matter. If you can’t drive and talk to the passenger at the same time you tell your friend to shut up. Likewise if you can’t tank and follow guild chat you might turn that off. Learning to be more aware of the things that matter and be less distracted by the things that don’t.
Let’s say you are a hawkeyed bodyguard for a VIP. You watchful gaze sees all, knows all. Well not really. You might be scanning the rooftops for a sniper and checking the shadows for a sneaky ninja, but you are not going to be getting distracted by the way that guy over there is wearing shoes that totally clash with his tie. You see that sort of thing and dismiss it instantly as not important. But, being a good bodyguard you do zero in on the important things. You don’t care what color the guy’s socks are but you are very aware of how the suit coat he is wearing hangs unevenly on his shoulders. Which means there is something heavy in his pocket. Something about the weight of a handgun. See what I am getting at? Some details matter and some don’t. The ones that matter really really matter and the ones that don’t are a distraction.
Trick is to pay attention to the things you need to when you need to.
At the start of a run you are checking: your buffs party composition and you might be checking a few things about the group, GS, server, whatever.
Then you are looking to the first pull. Part of setting your pull up is being aware of your target group. What is the make-up? Are there casters? Do some of them do some special tricks? How far apart are they? Which ones will be in my aoe range when I start the pull? Which are likely to pull off me? Now is not the time to notice that the hunter has a BM pet, it does not matter. But, if you notice him starting the ‘shoot something’ animation then that IS worth noticing.
What you are paying attention to can change depending on your group and how they play. Do they AOE a lot? Which ones get into fights quickly and which lag behind. Where does the hunter usually send his pet? Which one does the rogue prefer to go after when he ignores my kill order? Does the healer throw a big heal early in the fight? Is he far behind me?
Do I need to pop cooldowns to survive the first few seconds of the fight?
You are also need to be aware of things around the pack you are targeting. Not just other groups and pats but what the terrain is. Are there Line of Sight hazards? Is the group going to path somewhere strange when I pull them? Am I likely to fear out of range of the healer. Which nearby groups or pats are the most likely to get aggro on us.
This is all in the instant before a pull and in the first few seconds of a fight. It may seem like a lot but as you get experienced as a tank you can take in all that information and much more in the instant before a pull. Some of it is off of memory, knowing the dungeon, and some is just gut feel.
As the fight goes on some of the questions change and some of them stay the same but the answers might be different. Between fights you are checking some of this but also checking on the status and mana of your party members.
I phrases all those as questions, but being aware is not about questioning. It is about coming up with the answers quickly and then acting on them. You should be doing this proactively instead of just reacting as things happen.
Basically nothing should ever surprise you. If people in your party gets too close to a pack you were bypassing, you should have expected that. If a that mage over there is too close to where the patrol is, you should see the aggro coming from a mile away.
If you pull the pack an instant before they spot him, or even as they spot him, you will be a second or two ahead of the tank that just reacts to things as the happen. That second or two will save the life of the mage.
How can you keep up with all of this and not to nuts? Learning the instances helps, getting reflexively fast at your tanking skills keeps them from getting in the way of your ‘awareness’. but in the end it comes down to focus and lack of distracting emotional reactions.
Someone WILL pull off of you. The time to be bother by it is AFTER the fight (or never). The healer will let someone die. Don’t worry about it. It is critical to not get distracted and forget about something you need to pay attention to. One of the biggest things to cause this is people pulling things off you. It is easy to instantly focus on getting it back and to lose track of everything else. When you do that you are highly likely to drop aggro on something else. And then things completely brake down. So what do you do? Well there are a couple things. One is TANK TRIAGE. This is also known as ‘you yank it you tank it’.
At some point very early in your tanking career you will find yourself with several DPSers that are blowing your threat away. These jerks are going to be pulling off of you right and left. Part of situational awareness is knowing both who is most likely to pull off you and who can take a few hits. This is where knowing other classes comes into play. If a hunter and a mage pull off you at the same time who do you burn your taunt cooldown on? This is a trick question. The hunter has FD so she is on her own. And the mage is dead a half second after he pulls off you anyway. Heh. Mages have several ways to dump aggro but most mages are BAD at using them. So if they use one you can round aggro back up and if they don’t you have a nanosecond to taunt off them and then they drop.
Tank Triage is the art of knowing who to pull a mob off of and who to let die. Ideally this will never happen. In reality it happens all the time. The number one of course is the healer. You absolutely have to keep them off the healer no matter what. Pop quiz, when is the most risky time for the healer?
Adds. Adds always go for the healer first because the healer is usually throwing a heal when they show up. The second riskiest time for healers is when the pull first starts. A very good healer will time his or her first couple heals until a split second after you get aggro on the whole group. There are a lot of not very good healers so you can expect a nice big heal to pull something off you right at the start. It will usually be that caster mob over there in the corner. You know, the one that can two-shot your healer. This is where awareness and a form of triage comes into play. I often ignore that caster. At least everyone thinks I am because I rounded up everyone else except that one. But in reality I have my camera aimed right at that guy and I am waiting for the ‘changed target’ notification. When that happens I am going to taunt him. Then I will have the 30% margin before he pulls off me again. Alternately I might opt for charging and interrupting. I do this because I am a bear and bears have no tools for moving caster mobs around. Basically, no ranged silence. That is what a ranged silence is, a way to move a caster mob somewhere. The only other way to do it is with Line of Sight. Doing THAT during combat, while the healer already has aggro is a challenge. It requires a fast taunt and a quick movement while still maintaining aggro on everything else. But that is not the focus of this post.
Tunnel vision versus ‘in the groove’.
Those two things are similar but not the same. Tunnel vision is when you are forgetting something you should be paying attention too. ‘In the groove’ you are aware of all the things you need to be aware of. You are ready for the things you need to be ready for because even if they have not happened yet (adds, pets, people pulling off you, etc) they could happen at any time. The thing to learn is getting all the things you need to be aware of in your ‘groove’ and not forgetting any of them. Or, if you are sort of forgetting them, you are ready at anytime to start paying attention to them. But not with tunnel vision. You are ready, when something ‘unexpected’ happens, to add those new things you need to pay attention to into your awareness while not dropping any of the things you were staying aware of before.
Oh no adds! Target, turn, charge, aoe, turn back, back into threat rotation. All with no hesitation or loss of focus. Did I miss one? A quick taunt and then back to what I was doing. Once you develop the skills and tricks to rapidly pick up a group of adds it is not very difficult to simply be ready at any time to do those tricks. Being a tank is about having a bag of pre-set tricks, skills, and tactics. I have this bag ready at any time to grab up the one I need an apply it. The key to making it all work is not hesitating. Don’t get distracted by something happening, just rapidly apply a strategy to the changed situation. If that does not work do another. ANY strategy is better than no strategy. The perfect actions a few seconds late is not the perfect action. Some half-ass sloppy moves done quickly with no hesitation can save the situation.
In theory being able to react very quickly can take the place of being so ‘situationally aware’ that you see everything coming. But that is a poor tradeoff. Being more and more aware of what is going on, and what could happen, or is about to happen allows you to decide in advance. I don’t have to react to that hunter backing up too far and aggroing the giant because I saw it coming. I had the giant targeted and was pressing the charge button before it took its first swing because I knew that would happen. This lets me be one step ahead of the tank that only reacted when he saw the hunter run past him with a giant on his butt.
Note for DPS and Heals on tank awareness: Dealing with an unaware tank. I will do a post on this someday but the best and easiest thing to do is get near the tank but not too near. Be far enough away that it is obvious when something pulls off on you but close enough that you are not out of his camera view. If you are well behind him an unaware tank will not see that thing eating your face. Yes, that is totally his fault for being fail, but if you want to live move close to him. Don’t get too close though. If you are lost in the melee he will be just as oblivious that you are getting om-nom-nom-ed.