Monday, November 16, 2009

Keeping your head on a swivel

I used to hear that a lot when playing football, usually moments after I'd lost focus and gotten blindsided by some down-field lineman. I also heard it while I was in the Army, but that was usually in reference to being on watch or patrol.

Basically, we're talking situational awareness.

Situational Awareness, or SA, is the perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future (Wikipedia - yeah, not the best source, but I don't have an OED on my desk

It should be fairly obvious how this applies to WoW, but I think it get's missed a lot. Many players have problems anticipating the events of an encounter, or the actions of their teammates. SA is, for lack of a better term, also situational. For example I can react quickly to a changing PvE environment, but I'm not the fastest in reacting during PvP.

SA in practice

Nearly every boss encounter, especially in raids, has some form of AoE or add component that requires a player to be on top of their game if they want to excel. Perhaps the most glaring aspect of this can be seen in our Guild Alliance (PUG?) 25m ToC raids. Every week the same 20+ players come together for ToC, and every week I hear the same comments (from different people).

"Big add came right to me, where's the tank"
"Someone kited Anub right through the raid"
"There's no ice where I'm going!"
"Someone put waterwalking on me :( "
"I need to repair" (generally one or two pulls after a repair bot has been dropped)

Now I will agree, that some of these problems can be avoided by smart positioning, movement, or strategy. I will not agree however, that the infraction is not the fault of the player making the comment.

So why is this happening? Why are we seeing players fail to basic mechanics of the game? Raid leaders have been asking this question since the beginning of time, ever since the first "Don't stand in the fire" encounter occurred. It makes you wonder why anyone thought that Sarth's fire wasn't something to avoid

Breaking down Anub

Just looking at the examples above, let's break down where the issue really lies.

"Big add came right to me, where's the tank?" - as a tank, this one always bothers me. From the tank's side of things, they should be moving off the ice as soon as their adds are down. The problem is, there are times (especially after a burrow phase) where they aren't quite in the right spot. You look, and all the healers are clumped to the south, while Anub is in the north. I've got my face in Anub's crotch and I can see them coming from across the room. I'm fairly certain this is the real reason W-crusher learned to heal with his screen facing away from the boss.

"Someone kited Anub right through the raid" and "There's no ice where I'm running!" - I put these together since they involve kiting, although one is a raid problem, and one is a kiter problem. I will concede that a 'solid' strat that involves the whole raid moving in opposite directions (kiter goes south while the raid goes north) will prevent this from happening. Seeing as I can't get everyone to avoid Deep Breaths though - I'm not putting faith in it.

When I'm not being chased, I'm constantly looking around the room. Where are the spikes, where's the ice, are there any adds with low HP I can hit with a hammer. I might have this flexibility because I'm a tank and have no real responsibility during this phase, but come on. A little heads up goes a long ways.

"Someone put waterwalking on me :( " - this is just funny. Every week at least two or three people die from this, and I'm fairly sure it's because they ninja afk'd during loot/Arthas's speech. I know more than one person that carries a Skyguard Cape around just for this fall. This goes into personal awareness, and knowing what buffs you have. I've noticed that these are the folks who are the first to bug you about a Might/Kings rebuff - so you know they can keep track of it.

"I need to repair." - This is in my top 10 list of things that raiders say which piss me off. Short of a series of wipes, there is no reason whatsoever that you should be needing a repair bot by the time you get to FC. Even if you get soulstoned, battle rez, and still die again - you should be at 30% or so. If a bot does go down, used it even if you don't think you need to. My grandpa used to say "It costs the same to fill it up twice from half as it does once from empty. Why risk it?". Of course he said it with one of those voice boxes, so it sounded creepy.

I just don't understand the mentality that goes with not repairing. I make a point of repairing when I vendor if possible, simply to keep my gear in one piece. I even try to repair before dropping my gear off in the bank, so I know it's ready for me to use later.

The bigger issue

SA is key when the cart comes off the horse. Tank in Holy gear? Half the raid dead going into P3 of Ony? Warrior AoE taunted Anub's adds and got Anub in the process? If you're not paying attention, or have poor SA, these things will be unrecoverable. I know that with an average guild or PUG, our Twins fight would have been a wipe.

So what's the fix?

Unfortunately, I don't know what the fix is for the average player. Top guilds solve this problem by aggressive culling - if you die to dumb stuff regularly, odds are you're going to find yourself replaced quickly. I don't know anyone in Premonition or Ensidia - but I don't see Kungen putting up with the guy who stands in fire for too long.

Average guilds have a bigger problem. If they're too aggressive, they risk losing all their players, to the point where they can no longer field an effective team. Too passive, and you get the bear druid who is standing on the table during Moroes when he's supposed to be picking up adds.

Ideally you want to either train your raid force, or, simply reform as a smaller group of members with like mindsets. If everyone shares the same goals and ambitions, the odds are you'll have less players with poor SA, and more players who show up ready to go every time.


Clint Eastwood had it right in the movie Heartbreak Ridge - and following his motto is what separates the great players from the average.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

You can't do that if you've got you're sporting a Plexiglas stomach.


  1. Being ex-military you will appreciate this post I did on the OODA loop from military strategist Boyd. It also relates to situational awareness.

  2. Good read. I've found that the biggest issue for players is the inability to act based upon the criteria presented.


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