I've said it before, but let me say it again: there are many dimensions to a good player, and even more to a good healer. If you focus too much on one aspect, you risk forgetting about another. This is why HPS meters aren't a good, absolute form of assessment. Output is important, but so is appropriate response (doing the right thing at the right time), spacial awareness, and proper selection of talents and equipment. You can top meters all day but be useless at saving the tank in a bind. In contrast, you could never die to a single fire, flying slime ball, or spawned add, but only generate as much healing output as a level 79 elemental shaman healing a 5-man dungeon. The best players excel in each important dimension of good play.
The first and most important thing to assessing yourself is accepting that you will be wrong sometimes. You aren't the best player or priest in the world because you're not perfect; you can and will make all kinds of mistakes. In-game mistakes like the one I talked about in my story are one possibility, but so are poor gear or gem choices, or inappropriate spell priorities for certain fights or group compositions. Remember that there is always more than one way to do something as a priest, and your way might not always be the best way. World of Warcraft is a constantly changing game. We have to change with it so our style of play doesn't become outdated or obsolete. Take for example, the usage of Greater Heal during the Burning Crusade. This spell used to be a bread and butter spell; but if a priest went into a raid today and used Greater Heal the way she did two years ago, she'd find herself doing exorbitant amounts of overhealing and little to nothing for the raid. More recently, there is the newly popular Renew-spam style of holy raid healing. This method of raid healing wasn't as ideal for the unpredictable, spiky raid damage in Ulduar, but it's perfect for the type of damage in Icecrown Citadel. This is why we need to be self-aware, so that we can play to our strengths, especially if our class' strengths change overtime. What are your strengths as a priest? What about weaknesses? What about as a player? What standards of measurement are you using?
The first step off the alabaster pedestal is the hardest, but once you're down everything gets easier. The next step is finding good resources for yourself. I mentioned the words "standards of measurement" earlier. What I meant by that is what are you comparing yourself to, and how? What are your resources? A resource is anything you can go to for information about your class. Online resources are a great first step. Obviously, WoW.com is one of them. The official World of Warcraft website is another. There are also many other forums and blogs that can be found via any search engine and simple keywords like "warcraft," "priest," and "blog" will lead you to them. (Just be wary of fishy looking sites, and anything making mention of gold.) I recommend taking some time to review a little bit of content from each potential source you can find. If you come across something you like the style of, or consistently agree with, bookmark it and check back in once and a while. After that, look for something you disagree with and bookmark it as well; it's always good to review the writing and practices of an opposing ideology so you can be introduced to new ideas. Even if you never see eye to eye with that source, you'll know what kind of options exist.
Another source can come in the form of a friend or other player in game. This is a good way to get immediate or more specific answers to the questions or thoughts you have. When I first started raiding, I didn't have much to go on so I looked at what other priests were doing in my guild. I examined their gear, their talent trees, and where they stood in raids. (You'd be surprised how far the simple idea of "monkey see, monkey do" will get you in raiding.) After I started to get a hold of things, I found that I disagreed with some of my guildmates rather drastically, so I looked to priests in other guilds, then to other servers until I found a good network of players I respected and trusted. Some of those players have become good friends of mine as a result; other players I've never even talked to, I just check out their armory now and then to see what they're doing. If you want to do like me, be sure that when approaching a priest you don't know, that you're courteous and respectful of their time. Don't ask someone for help when they're in a raid or dungeon. Send them an in-game mail and suggest a time or way to talk that works for both of you. When you do get a chance to talk one-on-one, try not to be annoying: be thoughtful and intelligent with your words and questions. Try to minimize your personal complaints. If you have a habit of misspelling words or using bad grammar, say so upfront and apologize that it's a weakness of yours. If you tend to get off topic, prepare a list of questions ahead of time. Be sure to explain your situation to the person you're talking to, as it will give them a better context as to where you're coming from so they can answer your questions in a way that suits you. Obviously, if you copy your gemming from the priests in Blood Legion, it might not work for you if the encounters you face in your own raids last twice as long.
After you've found and reviewed your resources, you'll find you're already on a good step to becoming more aware. Just being exposed to more information will get you thinking about what you can do to become better. The next thing to get are tools to assess yourself. By tools, I mean AddOns or parsers that read and summarize your combat logs. Recount is one of the most popular in-game AddOns. For web-based logs, where you upload a .txt file copy of your combat log through a client, or browser, my favorite is World of Logs. Both methods do require extra game memory to run, so if your computer can't handle it, try to find someone in your raid who is willing to share log information with you later.
When you look at your logs, don't focus so much on your HPS or who you 'beat' on the meter. Instead look at what spells you cast, how many you cast, and who you cast them on. How much overhealing did you do? Think about how the encounter went. Did you have enough mana? Did you run out half way through or at the end? If you're doing a lot of overhealing, look at the spells you cast and consider if there are more efficient ones for damage you're seeing. If you're running out of mana, check to see if you used more mana intensive spells over more cost effective ones. You should be able to make many logical connections between the encounter as you remember it and your logs. If you want to improve yourself more, next compare your numbers to other healers in your raid, server, or broader (if you use World of Logs, you can easily compare yourself to all public logs availabe). Look to see how you might improve. Is a priest with the same spec as you casting a lot more and doing less overhealing than you? Look at what spells he cast vs. what you did. Think about it and see if what he is doing might be a good option for you or not. Consider if it's right for the role you're playing in your raid, your gear, and your abilities.
After the logs, there are a few more important questions to ask when you assess yourself as a healer: Did anyone die? Did they die because of a lack of healing? Was there anything you could have done to prevent it? These are questions that meters or resources don't always have the answers to. You have to assess this on your own, and it's often time the hardest questions to ask yourself. Be fair to yourself though; harsh self-criticism can be very stressful. Stay positive and set up goals for yourself to address any problems you find. Self-assessment is the means to becoming a great player, but it isn't an overnight process.
I know this article might strike some readers as very basic, but to others it might not be. There are many things about being a good player in World of Warcraft that just can't be taught, but it's my wish to force those unteachable ideas into submission. Research skills and networking skills are a surprisingly overlooked asset among WoW players. Perhaps because sometime doing all this research sometimes feels like work. However you feel about it, make sure that above all things you are having fun. If the way you have to play to be better is not enjoyable for you, consider another way of playing the game.
Now, on a completely unrelated subject: next week I would like to cover priest macros. If you have an excellent priest macro that you use, or an online source for them, please send me what you've got in an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can review them for next week! Thank you!
Want to find more great tips for carrying out your Priestly duties? Spiritual Guidance has you covered with all there is to know! And don't forget to check out our other Leveling Guides as well as our Wrath Guides and Galleries!