Exceptional Raiders – Situational Awareness, Research and Preparation
As a preface to the following article…. it wasn’t intended to be quite so long, rather a “brief” look at raid awareness and the steps we can all take to improve our own. As happens sometimes, the ball starts rolling and these things write themselves and hours later you look back and think “hmm, that’s quite lengthy”. This is one such article 😉
I’m always amused by the argument spewed forth by so many people; “World of Warcraft PvE is easy.” I won’t argue that there are probably “harder” (though this is often easily confused with “more time demanding”) games out there. I won’t argue that there have been chages in WoW to allow raid content to be more accessible. However, if the high end PvE scene is so very easy, why then is finding good raiders so difficult? Furthermore, how many of the people avidly claiming that anyone can succeed in PvE have all the achievements and hardmodes available in current content?
Through my time in this game, I’ve been everything from a guild leader to a general, raiding member. One role that seems to haunt me is that of recruitment officer. I’ve somehow ended up with this charge multiple times so I like to think I have good insight into this sector of the game. One illusion I’d like to shatter is that recruiting becomes easier the more successful your guild is. This isn’t exactly true. The number of applications you receive undoubtedly correlates to the current success or “fame” of your guild. However, the more successful you are, the more skilled players you need. For the guild’s competing for world firsts, their potential recruitment pool is often reduced even further by requiring insanely high play times during new content progression. Some of these guilds begin raiding early in the afternoon thus requiring that not only do their players need skill and dedication but they need a flexible enough “real life” that they can commit a lot of time to the game when it’s needed.
I have pondered many a time what makes a really good raider and undoubtedly it’s an acquired skill. While the ideal recruit will boast a good amount of PvE experience relevant to the level of the guild, this isn’t always possible. There are times when you need players and holding out for that one gem is unrealistic. So, what makes a really good PvE raider?
- Dedication and commitment
- A reasonable amount of “free time” in relation to the guild’s schedule
- Situational Awareness
- A genuine enjoyment for the game (and your class)
The above list is in no way definitive but for me it covers some of the core aspects that go into creating a really good raider.
Dedication and Commitment
Raiding in WoW (or indeed in any game), can be a time consuming process. It’s not uncommon for players to dedicate upwards of four evenings a week to their hobby. While there are rewards in the form of pixelated items, if you’re doing this for loot alone, you won’t last. You need to derive a genuine enjoyment out of spending those hours with your in game friends attempting to forge and execute strategies to help you kill new challenges. Many people argue that in the case of WoW, there are boss strategies all over the internet and any element of surprise or learning is removed. While in a sense this is true, if it was as simple as watching a movie and replicating, guilds wouldn’t vary in degrees of success. Everyone would be guaranteed boss kills and there would be no excitement over racing to get a world / EU or server first. Movies and guides help without a doubt but another fact worth remembering is this:-
- What works for one guild will not work for all
If you look through a number of boss guides or watch multiple movies, you’ll soon realise that in most cases, people have different strategies. Sure, there are some bosses where there is very little variation, but on the most part, you will find differences. Particularly in the case of ten man guilds, their class setups can vary enormously and frequently, they don’t have the luxury of switching around class and spec compositions just for a specific encounter.
Further to this, knowing the strategy for a boss is not the same as executing it. Many fights depend on very good execution of a tactic. They require the players to practice until they know the encounter inside out, thus lessening the chance of small mistakes which can often wipe a whole raid. First hand experience is invaluable.
So what makes people attend raids night after night? It’s not always fun. Wiping on a boss over and over again can be frustrating. Every guild out there will have evenings where, for whatever reason, things just don’t come together and they will wipe on content that should be on farm status. A few players are maybe distracted or have issues outside of the game making it difficult to focus, a few mistakes are made here and there and before long what should be an enjoyable evening can turn into a wipe fest. People will become angry and short tempered, cross words will begin to fly and the atmosphere will turn sour. What keeps me raiding every night? Aside from the fact I do genuinely enjoy the game (and specifically, the raiding game) is that I have a degree of dedication to the other people in my guild. I may argue or disagree with them, but I’m still a part of something larger and greater than myself. For small guilds, one person missing can mean a cancelled raid and another nine people feeling disappointed.
In conclusion, always make sure you consider the need and wants of the guild as a whole.
This is a somewhat relative term depending on the amount your own guild raid. In most cases, the guild’s competing for those world first kills dedicate a huge amount of time to raiding. Many will start early in the day and raid until late at night during progression. This isn’t always the case and I can close to guarantee that there are guilds out there to suit nearly all play schedules. Naturally for the most part, the less time you dedicate as a guild, the slower your progression will be.
It’s vital to be realistic about your play time however. This is a multi faceted issue for me so I will try and explain from my perspective as a recruitment officer. My own guild raid four evenings a week, in addition to this, we have one (optional) pug on a Friday evening and occasionally we’ll add an extra core raid night if we’re progressing on something important. The last time this happened for us was Sindragosa and it’s looking likely to happen again on the Lich King.
There was a time when raiding required a lot of time spent preparing in game. Consumable farming could be a timely affair. Gold farming to ensure you could adequately cover all repair costs during times of progression would also require a reasonable investment of time. These days, the demands aren’t as high. Changes were made in Wrath of the Lich King limiting the number of potions you could use during combat. When my old guild were progressing on a pre-nerf M’uru in tBC, I could get through fifty to sixty potions an evening due to chain potting. Even with these greatly reduced consumable costs, I’ve still had recruits in the past show to raids without flasks or potions. Their excuse? They don’t have the time or money to invest. Needless to say, these people don’t last long.
Earning gold now is easier than it has ever been. While daily quests appeared towards the end of tBC, Wrath grabbed hold of the concept and ran with it. The Argent Crusade is a small goldmine of daily quests. They’re not exciting but they don’t take long. Lacking gold for repairs should never happen.
Daily heroic dungeon quests allow an additional source of Emblems of Frost. Even at the time of writing this, most people will still be needing tier ten, miscellaneous items or even Primordial Saronite for their created items. Spending just thirty minutes a day can net you two additional emblems and in combination with the weekly raid quest, the Icecrown Citadel weekly quest and the boss kills themselves, emblems should accumulate fast.
When joining a guild, ensure you really can meet their schedule while also allowing for these factors. Most guilds will want to see a dedication to making your character the best it can be. For me, it’s a matter of pride. I want to ensure I can always perform to the best of my ability and gear and consumables falls into this category.
This is one of the most vital attributes to a good PvE player in my opinion. You can know your class inside out but if you fail to notice environmental events you are close to useless to a guild. There are a lot of factors that go into creating high situational awareness:-
- Technical considerations
- Personal attentiveness
- User Interface
A good computer will help you a great deal when it comes to this. While strictly speaking when I mention raid awareness, I refer to an individual’s personal ability to respond to an environmental event, it’s worth noting that your PC specs do indeed influence this. If you experience low FPS or random graphical freezes, you won’t see things in time to react. Turning off all effects isn’t always the answer. As an example, turning off projected textures in WoW will remove the spell details of some AoE effects entirely. Quite hard to move out of that fire if you don’t even see it.
Aside from your actual PC specs and ensuring the machine can handle the demands of raiding, a good monitor will help enormously. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to afford a wide screen monitor but they increase your peripheral view greatly.
The person focusing on the raid rather than semi watching a movie on the TV tucked off to the side will be the better player. It’s quite easy after doing content week in and week out for months on end, to simply switch off or find yourself on auto pilot. While learning encounters, it’s vital you can actually concentrate on what’s going on around you and often, to the feedback, orders and tactical discussions occurring on Ventrillo.
While you can increase your active attentiveness by ensuring you don’t have endless distractions happening around you while you raid, physical issues should be factored in here also. If you’re tired, you will struggle to focus. If you’re hungry or thirsty, you’ll be predominantly distracted by those feelings. Combating these is quite easy with good planning, both on the part of the individual and of the raid leader.
- Make sure you eat before the raid! If you can’t or know a raid will be lengthy, ensure you have computer friendly snacks on hand (by this I mean foods that don’t require effort to eat nor result in ridiculously sticky fingers hindering your keyboard or mouse usage).
- If you’re tired, you’re of no use to anyone. Don’t show up to raids having not slept.
- Try to ensure you have good posture while you play and consider the ergonomics of your mouse and keyboard to try and combat muscle problems
For your raid leader:-
- Try to schedule a ten minute raid break during the course of an evening. Firstly, if everyone knows there will be a break, you will reduce the number of random bio and drink breaks that occur over the night. Secondly, while most people learn through repetition, there is nothing to be gained from having people sat staring at a screen for hours on end with no break.
Anyone who frequents this blog will be aware of the important I place on a good user interface. Here are a few factors to consider:-
- Can you easily see your own unit frames?
- Can you easily see your raid frames?
- Can you easily see your raid warnings?
- Can you easily see your debuffs?
- Can you easily see environmental effects and events happening around you?
- Can you easily see boss mod timers? That is to say, do you know how long is left until the Lich King casts that Defile?
- Can you easily see what the boss is casting? How about whom it is targeting?
These are all important factors that will effect your situational awareness and ultimately, your ability to perform well in a raid situation.
Your Unit Frames
There are a lot of unit frame addons out there. Some people prefer to use HuDs in addition to their unit frame. Personally, I have my unit frame about a third up the screen just below my main field of view.
However you choose to hand your unit frames, ensure you can see all necessary and pertinent information for both yourself, your target and your focus target. I prefer to keep my unit frames simple, I’m not a fan of 3d portraits and the like. For anyone wonder the small number below my target’s unit frame is Time To Die – an addon that predicts the time left before the boss dies (assuming current levels of DPS). It’s particularly useful for enrage timers and achievements that require speed kills.
This is probably one of the areas of an interface that most players lose too much screen space to.
While my main spec these days is elemental, I’ve done my fair share as a restoration shaman in my guild. I use grid for my raid frames. I always have and despite having tried a number of other addons to handle raid frames, I firmly believe that this is the best option. My grid configuration and positioning changes depending on whether I’m healing or DPSing.
It can be configured to show anything you could need to see and it’s amazingly space efficient. If half of your screen is covered by raid frames, you won’t notice the fire underneath them.
(Note: I’ll be doing a guide to Grid configuration soon!)
Raid Warnings and Boss Timers
There was a time (and other games) where boss warning addons didn’t exist. My early days of raiding were indeed in another game where members of our guild had to sit with stop watches and in game macros (voice comms. weren’t common place), timing and announcing AoE and boss abilities for the rest of the raid. These days we have the likes of BigWigs and Deadly Boss Mods to alert us to incoming nasty spells.
Given these are meant to aid us, take the time to set them up so they can fulfil that role. If you tuck your warnings off to some remote, dusty corner of your screen, don’t be surprised that you fail to notice that incoming AoE.
I’ve touched on this before (and in more detail) on another section of my blog which can be found here. Being able to see your own debuffs is crucial. You shouldn’t always depend on a huge skull being placed over your head as the indication that something bad is about to happen. Always research an encounter and know exactly what debuffs will occur that effect you or that you have to respond to. Configure your UI correctly so that you can’t miss any of these debuffs occurring on you.
Cast Bars, Focus Targets and Enemy Nameplates.
Seeing what a boss is casting and on who is vital during a raid (and it can be equally vital in regards to adds too). In most fights, I enable enemy nameplates (the default key binding for this is “V” by the way). There are various addons out there that allow you to skin and configure these name plates. They will alert you to what a mob is casting and also, for example, whether or not it can be interrupted) without having it as your main target.
(Note: I’ll be adding a section to the blog about enemy name plate addons and configuration in the future)
I make extensive use of focus targets in nearly all raid encounters. On the Lich King encounter while I’m dpsing and slowing a Valkyr, I want to see exactly who the boss is targeting for that imminent defile. While most boss mods are updated promptly for new encounters, the Lich King is an excellent example of DBM initially not announcing who a defile was cast upon (for reference, this is fixed now however). If I have to interrupt a specific mob while still DPSing another, then I’ll add it to my focus target so I can see exactly what it is casting.
My actual cast bars is AzCastBar but most mods, such as Quartz, can easily be configured to ensure you can see what all your targets are casting. Many of the more popular unit frame addons also come with cast bars that can be turned on for the same effect.
The size of your monitor and the resolution in which you play dictates how much screen space you have. However much that is, be protective of it! Poorly designed user interface setups are one of the biggest culprits for players failing to notice environmental effects. It really doesn’t matter how much DPS you can potentially do if you’re one of those people frequently dead because they fail to move away from a nasty spell.
Here are some additional tips on maximising your screen space
- Cut the excess scrolling combat text spam!
- Key bind as much as you can and remove any action bars you don’t need
- Zoom your camera distance out
- Don’t let fancy textures eat away at a quarter of your screen space
- Keep addons tidy and minimalistic
Scrolling Combat Text
If you use these, consider carefully what you really need to see on them. Many players will download them and use the default settings. These can be horrifically distracting and what’s more, pretty useless by all accounts.
That text is serving to “shield” a segment of screen space, in the first case, right in the centre of the primary viewing area where you’re most likely to need to move out of an effect that can kill you. I don’t use scrolling combat texts at all. I find them extremely distracting and that they add very little to my own play. For those who do, configure the addon to only show what is important for you to see, in addition, don’t let it appear in huge yellow writing across your screen.
While I don’t use scrolling combat text of any kind, I do use Eavesdrop which can be seen below.
This is an excellent addon that I’ve used for years now that shows everything a scrolling combat text addon would, yet in a more log type visual.
(Note: This addon is sorely out of date as the creator has quit. It is, however, still fully functional for anyone wishing to try it)
Key Binds and Action Bars
There is little excuse to “click” your skills. Clickers are considerably slower in comparison with players using keybinds (consider the amount of time you lose as you scroll between skills and then “click”). If you find yourself struggling with enough key to bind skills to, check out my hardware guides covering gaming mice and keyboards.
Key bind as much as you can, learn your binds and then remove as many of your action bars as you can stand to. It’s quite easy to keep adding more and more skills to your action bars to suddenly realise they’re cutting into your screen space drastically.
I frequently spot UI screenshots where you’ll see people having consumables or tradeskills showing on their main action bars. Presumably as they aren’t key bound and it saves opening bags or respective menus to hunt them out. Firstly, remember that most action bar addons will allow you to fade out bars so they only become visible upon mouse over. (Note: This is also a good idea for people learning new binds or switching from clicking to hot keys). Secondly, there are a couple of addons out there that allow you to bind an otherwise invisible action bar to one key. Pressing they key will make the bar appear wherever your mouse cursor is at the time.
The above picture shows one such addon by the name of Opie. I first started using this addon a couple of years ago on my Warlock. There I had it set up to handle lesser used spells and demons without the need to have them visible on screen (or attempt to remember a key binding to summon a voidwalker that I only saw once a year). On my shaman I use Opie primarily for consumables (the ones not used during an encounter obviously, I have haste potions bound) and for tradeskills.
Whatever addon you use to handle your action bars, keep things compact and be realistic about what you really need to see on your screen.
This is another obvious tip but the more “zoomed in” you are to your character, the less you see of what is around you. Scroll out as far as you can to maximise your view of your environment.
Addon Configuration, Style and Textures
Nearly all addons will come with the ability to scale and resize. Try to keep things reasonably small and tidy (obviously not so small that they are of now use anyway) to maximise your screen space.
There are many UI packages out there that will feature texture artwork on the bottom segment of the screen. While it’s obvious that sometimes a great deal of work goes into this art, consider how much of your screen it blocks off that you would otherwise be able to see.
In the case of the latter, I appreciate they are somewhat a matter of taste but I personally prefer to keep everything transparent to be fully aware of everything around me. Another common “feature” in many UIs are grossly oversize chat windows with solid black backgrounds resulting in the bottom quarter of the screen being a large black box. Again, consider what this may cost you in viewing area.
Good raid preparation can save you quite a few pointlessly stupid wipes where raid members fail to move away from basic boss abilities. I’ve mentioned before on this blog (and it was partly my inspiration for creating my own boss guides from an elemental perspective), that I struggle with reading tactics. I have the time to do so and I’m fanatical about preparing for raids but I have a really difficult time visualising what I’m reading about. Luckily, I tend to pick up encounters very fast.
If you’re starting on a new boss, try to take the time out to read his basic abilities and focus in on those that affect you. As a ranged caster, you don’t initially need to know about a debuff that the melee need to deal with. Naturally, I’d encourage you to understand the fight from all perspectives eventually, but when learning, I find it better to break it down into manageable chunks that directly affect you. Look for movies, preferably from the perspective of a player sharing your role. When you eventually get to the boss, try to make yourself familiar with the whole room. If you’re using an already documented strategy, look for “land marks” to help you on positioning. Making mental notes like this will help you to navigate the room faster and be where you’re meant to be.
Preparing goes further than simply knowing the boss. Make sure you have all the consumables you can possibly need. If you occasionally need to raid on your offspec, try to take all that gear with you.
If you switch glyphs depending on the fight, then make sure you have spares of all the glyphs you can use over the course of an evening.
If you’re getting a guaranteed upgrade over the course of an evening (such as you need a few more emblems to buy a certain piece from the vendor), then take the enchants and the gems with you so that you can equip it immediately.
If you need reagents for certain spells, then make sure you stock up on those before the raid. If they’re vendor bought consumables, there are even addons that will do this automatically for you (and refresh your amounts whenever you drop below a certain threshold).
Try to run scans on your addons and download any available updates for them. This is particularly important in regards to boss mods.
Enjoying the Game and Your Class
As I mentioned at the start of this article (which, incidentally, feels many hours ago now), if you’re purely loot motivated, you’ll probably burn out from raiding fast. It’s a lot of time to dedicate to one thing if you don’t really enjoy it.
Onto another misconception… the best players aren’t always those topping the meters. Despite the best efforts of the WoW developers (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here), classes are not always balanced. There is often that one class spec combination that dominates on most fights. The best players are the ones that can adapt to any situation and know their class inside out. They’re the ones that sacrifice personal DPS at times to perform another role in the raid. The chances are that role won’t win you any fame, but without it being fulfilled the boss just may not die. A mage that can top the meters but can’t dispell or has poor situational awareness isn’t an amazing player. The shaman that happily sits there casting lightning bolts while a spell that needs interrupting is murdering the healers, isn’t really fulfilling his or her class potential.
A will to perform and go that little bit further comes, most often, from an enthusiasm for the game and from the class that you play. Try to keep on top of changes to your class and consider how these might affect you when they eventually go live. If possible, spend time on the PTRs adjusting to these so that you don’t have a period of adjusting during your live raids. (As an alternative, if your actual DPS rotation is likely to change, I highly recommend mashing it out on target dummies until it becomes as innate as possible).
Finally, nothing makes up for actual hands on, raid experience. You can read all the guides in the world and have the best in slot gear, but there will always be “things” you learn directly from participating in each encounter. When you first learn a boss, most things will be very precise. You’ll probably run the maximum distance possible from an AoE spell. Your priority will be survival rather than pushing DPS.
The more comfortable you become with an encounter, the more you begin to test just what you can get away with and where you can gain that extra bit of DPS.
In the case of new key binds or learning to play with a new UI, I highly recommend target dummy practice and PvP in battlegrounds. When learning a new rotation entirely, I will literally sit in front of a dummy repeating the sequence until it’s ingrained into me. Playing your class in that sense should become instinctual allowing for your focus to go on the changeable factors of raiding; that is to say, the boss!