One of the most critical things, for a tank is confidence. Many people giving advice on tanking will mention it and all agree it is important. By why? Here is why…
An acronym somewhat common in military circles is OODA. It is an acronym for the process by which people decide things. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. These are the steps use to make a decision. You see some situation; you orient yourself in relationship to it, decide on a course of actions, and then execute that action. In combat situations they describe this as a loop. You start at Observe, run through it, and as soon as you get to act you are back at observer. You see what changes have taken place in the situation, you orient yourself to those changes, decide what to do next and then do that. In combat this all takes place at blazing speed with no actual pausing or deliberating. But those steps still exist and you still go through them as a cycle.
Years ago fighter pilots discovered that when two people go head to head it was not the person that made the BEST decisions that won the fight. It was the one that made the FASTEST decisions. If both combatants are using the loop you can visualize how as soon as the first person decides and acts she has changed the situation. The other person might be making a technically better choice. But they made it a split second too late. When the first person acted the situation changed. As the fight goes on the ‘better’ decider is falling farther and farther behind in each ‘loop’ around the OODA circle. They call this getting ‘inside’ the other person’s decisions making loop.
It is like a boxer keeping the other person off balance. The other boxer might have a really great left hook that is sure to cause a knockout, but if he is always off balance he can’t throw the punch.
These concepts apply to tanking, though not in precisely the same way. You, as the tank, are making decisions in this OODA loop. The Observing step applies to situational awareness, something I have talked about in the past. The Orient step has to do with both awareness and positioning. Deciding and acting must be quick smooth and confident. We don’t have time to be second guessing or rehashing mistakes. We have to start the loop again and react to the changing battle.
We are not going up against another human in single combat so we are not pitting our loop against another loop. We are, however, pitting it against the programmed actions and reactions of the packs we are tanking. These actions are fast paced but not all instant so there is a time factor. We still have to pit our decision making against the pace of the instance. Or, against ourselves if we are setting a ‘gogogo’ pace. The harder we push the faster we have to be reacting and deciding.
Tank vs Party
But wait! There is more! We ARE pitting our decision loop in head to head combat with others… those others are our own party. How much this is a ‘versus’ depends on how good they are at following your lead and how good they are at being good party players in general.
The other day I was in a pug and a boomkin, well geared and a solid player, was mentioning how great they are at cycloning things before they get to the healer. I pointed out that doing that prevents the tank from taunting them back into the AOE threat zone. The response I got was something like ‘oh that is ok. I saved the healer.’ They missed my point that if the tank taunts an instant after you cyclone it is wasted. Or maybe they tried to death grip, judge fearie fire, or otherwise toss some threat at the wayward critter. The boomkin thinks they are being helpful and saving the day but in reality they quite well could be messing up the tank. Something similar happens if a mage frostnovas a pack off adds. Now you can’t’ get those into the threat zone quickly. These are not party wipers (usually) but they can throw a tank off stride, they force you to react to a changed situation. You reaction is yet another quick loop around the OODA cycle as you see what they did, and react to it. The slower your loops around the circle are the farther behind you get and the more you are at the mercy of your oh so helpful party. We have all been in one of those. Maybe it was a hunter that was on speed and tagging everything in sight. Or perhaps some DK gripping orcs around the Ramparts like crazy. And we have probably all seen the groups where our tank was just so slow to react they could not deal with anything.
This is where ‘confidence’ comes in. What we mean when we say ‘confidence’ (with respect to tanking) is the ability to make a fast decision and act on it with no hesitation or pausing to rethink. Do we go left or right? Left! Go! Do we jump down? Weeeee. Do we pull the left ones or the right ones. *kapow*! Before the dps has time to ponder, second guess, get bored, or pull themselves the tank has already decided on a path and a plan and put that plan into effect.
Yes, in WOW it is possible for a tank to be extremely slow and deliberate. You can set up every pull with carful precision and deliberateness and try to make it so you never have to react quickly to anything. You can also mercilessly kick anyone that upsets the balance even a little. But that does not make you a better tank.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying carful pulls are a sign of a bad tank. I am also not saying that all good tanks set a high speed pace. NOT AT ALL.
A good tank decides quickly and acts confidently no matter what the paces is. There are always adds, or fears, or unexpected events to react to. A good tank should endeavor to learn fast and confident decision making to enhance their abilities. This does not always mean charging ahead. But if you are stopping for mana, you can say “mana!” or “30 second break” in chat and you can do it fast an confident without standing around for 20 seconds agonizing over if the healer has enough for another pull while the DPS wonders if you are DCed. Same thing with pulls. You don’t have to charge in fast, but you can’t just stand there for 1 minute while considering all the angles with the DPS thinking you are walking the dog. If you need a second, quickly and confidently say “give me a second”.
Aura of Confidence
Along with just deciding the fast you are projecting to your party the aura that you are confident and know what you are doing. Even when you don’t know, project it anyway. Even if you are asking for advice on a pull or asking to be reminded of what a boss does. Even asking for help can be done in a confident and timely manner. People can usually respect a brain fart and a quick ‘what does this guy do again?’ Those same people are unlikely to respect 2 minutes of ‘er, um’ and ‘let me check my notes’ before finally asking the same thing. The key is to make people think you know what you are doing. Not through lying but thorough an aura of confidence and competence. Even when you are admitting you have no clue you can do it in a way that shows them you are CONFIDENT you have no clue. Don’t lie about not knowing and blow their trust. Be honest but project confidence. As I said, even asking for advice can be done in a leadership fashion. Observe the following two methods.
A: “Ah, I have never tanked this one… does anyone know it? Anyone?” (someone else comments) “Er does that work? Are you sure? Anyone else have an idea?”
B: “Alright guys this boss is a new one to me. Does anyone have a good strat?” (insert comments) “Ok sounds good. We will do that. Lets go! Pulling in 10 seconds”
See the difference? How did each make you feel about the group and the likelihood of success?
Communicate clearly and unambiguously. Don’t make them go ‘what?’ If you handout advice, instructions, or strategies don’t make them have to figure out what you meant. They should not have to guess what bush you are beating around by the sound of the branches. Tell them what you mean. Tell them what you want them to do. Tell them clearly what YOU are going to do. You don’t have to be a jerk about things to be firm and clearly state what you mean.
Tanking is a leadership role. Almost everything written about leadership applies to tanking in some way or another.
Final note on Pacing versus Decision Making
The pace you set and the speed you decide are not the same. Not the same but they are closely related. One of the reasons we are seeing so many overly fast tanks is that they can go fast. Not because they are any good, but because the over gearing and dumbing down of content has made it so that most tanks can just charge in, hammer their aoes and expect the fight to go well. They can set a fast pace because they have almost nothing to decide. The same goes for impatient DPS. They can act fast because they have nothing to think about of figure out beyond who to put an arrow in first or which one to beat on next. That takes no time or actual thinking so they can plow ahead at an unsustainable pace.
Each tank will have to find their own ways of slowing people down. I usually do it by setting pace that is either flat out insane, or simply setting one that is just fast enough to prevent boredom and the stupidity that follows. You may be finding people pushing you or making your tanking life miserable by doing dumb things. Keep in mind that if you push yourself a little harder things might actually get easier. Once you get your decision making loop ‘inside’ your dpsers, or set a pace just fast enough to not let them get bored, you will find the random stupidity starts to decrease and things get smoother and easier.
Finally, setting a slower more careful pace can be a crutch for slow deciding but that is not at all 1 to 1 correlation. Also that is not to be confused with running content with a sub optimal group just to add challenge. This slows things down by forcing more complicated and difficult decisions. It can be fun and rewarding.
It might be a nightmare at first. Forcing people to use CC (as they have said will happen more) means fights are going to be harder and more complicated. Tanks will have to do more than just AOE spam. Also healers are going to have to get better at triage instead of just ‘topping people off’. All this means instances runs may well be a rude awakening for many. Personally I am hoping for it. I am hoping it will blow away the current level of stagnation in randoms and get people think more and do more. I only hope that overgeared morons will not be able to steamroll their way to 85. I want to see them slam hard into the wall and learn to play again.