EPIC Skill: Some Would Say 1337, Even
The final category of FAILure might seem like the most daunting, but in my opinion, is often one of the easier ones to fix once attention is paid to it. This is because mechanics can take a lot of practice to perfect and can still result in fatal mistakes, gear can be time-intensive to find, preparedness might be outside of your budget, and spec is often just plain out of your control entirely. Skill, though? is entirely in your control; don’t pay attention to the nay-sayers harping about “natural talent”!
First Things First
The first thing to smooth out in your skill level is two things: your internet connection and your distraction level. Though latency is usually not a big deal, (One of my regular raiders lives overseas, and I have known others to use satellite without major lag between button presses.) frequent disconnections will make you pull your hair out until you find the fix, and will often wipe the group if you are a healer or tank. So only play when you’re fairly certain your internet connection will be stable.
Distraction level is also important. You just can’t be at your best if you’re talking on the phone, multi-tasking on another screen, or are distracted by the adult kids you live with, the real kids you live with, your bladder, your alcohol level, or your cat or your ferret or your rhino stampeding across your keyboard: I don’t care how good you are. Fix these things, and don’t be tempted to be sucked back into them, no matter what happens, if you want to keep your performance tip-top (and not annoy your fellow players). Hey, no judgement if you can’t control your pet miniature fur-elephant, your baby’s diaper just exploded, or you have a sick roommate to take care of, but in the other cases, it’s just good sense, and courteous, too!
Basic Strategies for Everyone
The second thing to learn is a few general strategies that apply for every class, whether they are DPS, tank, or healers. I’ll go into them in bullet-point form here. Note these aren’t in any particular order of importance.
- Always be casting. This applies to healers and DPS in different ways. As DPS, when you have to move, find an instant-cast ranged ability (not all classes have them, unfortunately) and spam it until you can get back to standing still and doing your normal rotation. As healer this means, if you are not actively healing, be contributing to damage instead. (Tanks may use both these tactics, depending.)
- If you’re a class with cast bars, click on the next ability in your rotation before your current spell has finished casting. The computer will automatically start casting that spell once your current one is done, faster than you could click on it yourself. This can also save you when lag is bad, because it will register the button press anyway. If you can stand the button spam, you can also do this with instant abilities by repeatedly pressing the hotkey your abilities are tied to. (If you’re ever watching a pro stream and hear a constant RATTA-TATTA in the background, that’s what they’re doing.)
- Use the mouse to turn your camera and turn your character: it’s faster and more accurate.
- Use your movement speed buff to close on bosses (including moving from safe spot to safe spot if you’re a ranged spec or the tank). This saves you a few seconds of time, that you can then use for more abilities!
- Strafe (“Q” and “E” by default, or just hold down your right mouse button) when you have to run away from something, as the computer reads this as you not turning your back on the enemy; you can then still attack it as you move and prevent any backstabbing abilities from hitting you. (The latter is ESPECIALLY important for tanks trying to move bosses.)
- Set up keybinds and get comfy with them. As much as I love clicking personally, your reaction times will be faster with keybinds. Often serious players will use button combinations (such as Shift-1, Alt-3, etc) so as to cut down on the amount of space their fingers have to move to get to certain abilities. Some may find it helpful to keybind all their movement keys to one hand and their combat abilities to the other, as well.
- Consider mouseover macros for DoTs or healing spells, particularly if you’re a class with a lot of instant cast spells of this sort, like Restoration Druid. It’s faster and sometimes safer than cycling through targets or having to click back and forth from the raid frames to your action bars. Another upside to macros is they will never break and will transfer computers (though not characters), unlike add-ons that might provide similar effects, because macros are included in the base game’s code and stored server-side.
- Also consider using add-ons. Though I believe in the vanilla experience, plenty of my fellow raiders swear by such add-ons as DBM, Weak Auras, Vuhdo, Hekill, and others to help you manage your rotations and improve your reaction times.
- When in doubt, ask questions. Be polite. There are jerks out there who will kick you from groups if they perceive you as an idiot, but taking the time to understand the fight before the party wipes will earn you more brownie points than never speaking up at all and keeping making the same mistakes.
- And a personal rule that I suggest others to adopt: never agree to a vote-to-kick unless you know why someone was being kicked from the group, agree with the reason, and most importantly, can verify it happened and isn’t just some troll making up excuses to bully someone. This helps to lessen the overall toxicity of Pick-Up Groups, though make no mistakes: some players are just plum beyond help and need the boot.
Basic Strategies for DPS
Healing and tanking is often about being “good enough”, while DPS is often about squeezing every little bit of damage that you can out of your character. For this reason, I’ve included some additional tips that apply to the DPS role specifically. They are:
- If you have Damage-Over-Time (DoT) spells (and you probably do) keep them up ALL THE TIME. There’s a concept here that we call the Pandemic window, where refreshing your DoTs just before they’re about to run out comes out to be as more DPS overall, as opposed to waiting once they’ve worn off. Something about the math and human reaction times?
- DoT everything, or as many enemies as you can, in large group fights before moving on to your normal AoE rotation. It’s usually more damage. As above, refresh these DoTs before they run out, too, unless the enemy is going to die in the next few seconds.
- Check: some specs’ AoE abilities are cleave abilities, meaning they do more DPS than single-target abilities when there’s at least two targets present, while some need three, four, or even six targets to be more efficient than just focusing things down one at a time. Check your class and spec guides to know this for sure.
- Help your healers. Use your healing abilities or defensive cooldowns when you notice yourself getting low. You do more damage when you’re not dead!
Should your latency, distraction level, and general know-how of the game be up to snuff, the next thing you will want to look into as a FAILure on skill is your rotation.
As you dig deeper into good game-play habits, you’ll probably run across the term “rotation” a few times. Back in ye good olde days, your rotation was literally just that: you would press the same few abilities in the same order, without variance or fail, for all of your fights. These days, many classes rely on random “procs”–as abilities coming off cooldown or that will auto-cast themselves at random times are termed–and all classes will also have to deal with fight mechanics that force them to move or to save their best abilities for certain windows.
Though the mechanics thing is just something you have to learn through practice and the odd how-to video, random procs are now covered by what rotations have evolved into in recent years. A rotation, in the last few expansions, is now best described as a priority list. Some of your abilities will do more damage, more healing, or more mitigation than others, but have longer cooldowns to compensate. Some of this you can feel your way through just by knowing which are your best abilities and using those as often as you can (as DPS) or saving them for those oh-crud moments (as tank or healer), but for the full run-down, I again would refer you to a website like Icy Veins. If you’re struggling, this is the best way to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.
Once you know your ideal rotation, it’s practice, practice, practice. Change it up a little as you do. If you’re whacking on a target dummy, force yourself to move occasionally. If you’re in a dungeon (and an easier one, please: don’t be pulling random stunts like this on that +10 keystone!), try to gauge for yourself how much time you REALLY have before you have to move out of that puddle of doom, or different ways you can increase your damage or healing while on the move. As healer, drain your mana down to empty and so learn how to more efficiently use it. Also learn to gauge the pace of a fight, using your slower, more mana-efficient spells for dull moments, and saving your fast high-healing spells for those oh-crud moments. As tank, get a feel for how much damage different enemies, or combinations of enemies, do and which of your defensive cooldowns are best for those situations. (I won’t lie. I mostly do this by the Red Screen Error method: if my screen flashes red, press my second-best cooldown. If it keeps flashing red, keep pressing cooldowns until something sticks.) As a tank it’s also a safe bet to use your self-heals whenever you get to half health or below, even if your healer has things well in hand.
And finally, the last and most important thing I could probably touch on in this guide, whether we are talking improving player skill or something else, is the ATTITUDE one brings to the table.
Working with other people is stressful. (There’s a reason this comic from “Dark Legacy Comics” is one of my favorites!) Trying to beat timers or play a fiddly Frogger game with instant-death mechanics is stressful. Some players also use this game to escape from real-life stressors, whether you’re talking a crazy-busy day at work, annoying in-laws, debilitating health conditions, or, yes, even abusive situations. While ideally this shouldn’t bleed into the game, we’re not robots, and some of this will leak through no matter what we do.
So be kind. That means both to others and yourself. Use humor (tastefully). Give the benefit of the doubt to people, at least, until you are all out of doubts to give, then vaporize themwith impunity! –er, and with kindness too, of course!
Also pace yourself. Don’t view skill as a talent–“you either have it or you don’t” mentality–but as a journey and a challenge. You can get better at all these things if you choose to dedicate yourself to it (though you may chose not to, and that’s okay), and there’s always something, somewhere, that you can improve on. This means don’t get a big head about things, for you’ll never be perfect, but also know you are never beyond hope, because there will always be something you can do a little differently to improve.
(This advice works for a lot of real life stressors too, so it’s not a bad philosophy to carry with you!)
And in closing…I’m all out of quasi-inspirational words to say. So, don’t be a jerk. Have fun. More or less in that order. And happy gaming!