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Ready Check: Dealing with a weak healer

Tyler Caraway

Ready Check helps you prepare yourself and your raid for the bosses that simply require killing. Check back with Ready Check each week for the latest pointers on killing adds, not standing in fire, and hoping for loot that won't drop.

Welcome back, raiders. Last week, we talked about how to handle a low DPS player within a raid. The article focused more on the way that players attempt to deflect attention from any issues that they might be having; while that's useful information, there are other sides as well. This week, we will be focusing on healers. Much as with DPS, there are no weak roles within a raid. Everyone has to perform up to par in order to succeed; furthermore, just like DPSers, healers can get equally defensive when approached about a problem.

Join me as we explore many of the ways in which a healer can attempt to deflect proper blame against them and ways in which you can help them improve. Remember, a raid leader's strongest tool is information.

Knowing how to pick out the problem

First, you always need to identify that there is a problem, without a doubt. While DPS have meters which can easily track performance, dealing with healers is slightly more difficult. Even though healing meters do exist and have become more sophisticated as time goes on, they never tell the whole story. Raw HPS is a rather meaningless statistic for healers, despite its being the metric used by many popular tracking sites.

As an example, our raid healers like to have their fun just as much as anyone else; similarly, they also like to flex their healing muscles. Primarily, our biggest offenders are a holy paladin and a restoration druid. On real fights, their head is in the game, but on the more toss-away encounters, they'll find any way they can to push themselves. On Occu'thar, for example, they'll both stand inside the void zones on the ground in order to give themselves targets to heal. Doing this skyrockets their healing output on the meters, but overall this healing is meaningless.

This is part of what makes healing so difficult to pin down. The first key that you want to look for is if people are dying. When you have people dropping off when they shouldn't be, talk to who was assigned to heal those targets and look at why those players died. Were they out of range? Were they standing in something they shouldn't be?

When you have a consistent death problem and you suspect that it's a healer that is at fault, the way to go about pinpointing the problem is to change up healer assignments. If the general raid is dying when they shouldn't, don't just mindlessly toss more healers at the problem; instead, change who is healing. If the deaths follow the healer, chances are that they're the issue.

Also, talk to your other healers. Healers notice everything, and they're like the gossipy blondes of high school. If someone is slacking in the healing department, they'll pick up on it, and they will let you know. Meters may not be able to tell you when you have a problem, but other healers certainly can -- and boy, will they be quick to point it out if you bring it up.

Don't blame the spec!

This comes up quite often for healers just as much for DPSers. It doesn't help that many of the top raiding guilds can also perpetuate these feelings. When confronted with weak healing, it isn't uncommon for a healer to try and shift the blame onto their spec instead of themselves.

First, I want to address the concept of the weak healing spec. The entire thing is a myth. Are all healing specs equal? No, just as with any other part of the game, the minute mechanics of the game tend to favor certain specs or healing styles more than others. Yet healing imbalances as they exist now don't show up in the average raid. To a top-tier guild (which would get nothing out of this), minor differences can make the difference for a world-first kill; to every other guild out there, it just isn't going to make a difference.

That being said, not every spec works for every situation -- and let's not forget that healers also have the phenomenon of specs within specs, making it even more complicated. If you have a healer who just can't keep up with the raid's healing needs and believes that spec is to blame, then work with the player to identify ways in which he can tweak his spec in order to reach where he needs to be. A fire mage is a fire mage, but a holy paladin isn't just a holy paladin. There are mastery holy paladins and there are haste holy paladins, each with his own strengths and weaknesses. Restoration druids have more raid-centric builds and more tank-focused ones.

Many players may not realize this. Often times, healing guides can be fairly generalized for players that aren't heavily invested into the game, which can end up with their taking a spec that attempts to do it all yet ends up being slightly weaker in everything. If healers think it's their spec that's to blame, then help them fix it. It is never the spec's fault, but sometimes it can be the player's understanding of how to set up the spec.

It really isn't the boss's fault

Encounters can make or break healing styles far more viciously than they do for DPS. There are extremes wherein certain healing types just don't work out all that well. As mentioned above, it may be a question that a slight spec swap is all that the player needs in order to improve his healing output, but don't fall into believing that a certain encounter's mechanics are actually causing poor performance.

Healers are different than other players in that they don't have the same indicators or the pleasure of planning that others do when it comes to working inside of an encounter. A DPSer only has to worry about keeping the boss in range, and being NPCs, bosses have prescribed methods of movement that can be predicted. Players don't work the same way. It's easy for a stray DPSer to jump out of range of heals, which can wind up with them dying, or worse, with the healer attempting to run after him, which causes other deaths.

An encounter will never be the reason that a healer is weak, but it can magnify the effect of a weak healer. Always be on the lookout for contributing factors that could also be causing player death. Is your placement setup all wrong? Perhaps it'd be better if you had people group or spread more. Maybe you need better positioning in order to keep healer movement down to a minimum as well as DPS -- something that I find is often ignored. Again, an encounter will never be the root cause of your healing issues, but the way you are tossing your face against it could be making matters worse.

Dealing with snipers

Heal sniping is a big issue that cannot be tolerated in Cataclysm-style raids, particularly in heroics. Having a healer stray off their assigned targets can easily lead to a snowball of effects. It causes them to expend more mana than they need to be, it wastes another healer's mana, and it puts the assigned group's health at risk. Fingering snipers is very tricky to do, but others within your healing squad will quickly be able to point out when it happens.

In this case, you can find yourself in an awkward position, particularly if people aren't actually dying. Wait, people aren't dying and there's a problem? Yes. Even if people manage to stay alive, that doesn't make the matter of one healer's sniping the heals of another. Even if you always continue to make progress, you are sitting on a ticking time bomb. All it takes is a single encounter that pressures healers to cause a breakdown, a single change to healing design to break all the dominoes. Not just that, it often causes frustration within the healing team that can cause drama or collapse the healing team as a whole.

There are no solutions to this behavior because it is simply inexcusable. Testing for it is rather simple, the best being to assign the suspect to tank healing then see how many non-tank targets they heal. Dealing with it can be tricky. These healers generally won't back down because the evidence is on their side -- their healing output is spectacular, better than all the other healers -- yet that is the exact same thing which damns them. Healers should all be within the same average, assuming that everyone is pulling equal weight. If one healer is super-high, others low but the low ones have high overhealing, you have a sniper.

All you can do is straight-up tell your sniper to quit it or get out. Healers must work as a team; this type of behavior is not supportive of that team.

Absorbs are heals, too

Even since discipline became a real healing spec in Wrath, the issue of absorbs has become something of a touchy subject for healers. Originally, absorbs couldn't be tracked by any of the methods that we use to track healer data because the game itself didn't capture the information. We see this with a few other healing effects as well, even today, but most of these invisible problems have been corrected.

Both damage healed and damage absorbed is tracked by parsing tools, and they will paint the entire picture for you. Don't let someone use this dead trick on you. Their ability is being properly tracked; the numbers don't lie, and even if they did, deaths don't.

Knowing your comfort areas

One legitimate excuse that I have seen from players is how comfortable they are with certain assignments. I once played with a priest who could not tank heal for the life of him. It didn't matter what you told him, how you helped him, or what assignment you gave him; he simply could not tank heal. He didn't like it; it wasn't within his comfort zone, so putting him to the task was always too much for him to handle, resulting in many tank deaths.

If you see this issue, where players just have trouble in a specific assignment, it doesn't always mean that they're terrible players. Sometimes they really just aren't comfortable performing that role. You can generally pick out these situations when a player only has issues on those assignments. In the priest's example, on a tank, his healing was always terrible and resulted in deaths. When placed on the raid, his healing was flawless, keeping up with every other healer in the field, and no one under his care ever died unless that person messed up.

There are going to be times where you can't be hard set on certain healers working in specific standard roles. Some players just don't function that way. It would be a shame to deny yourself useful raiders simply because the position that they are pushed into isn't one that fits them.

Ready Check shares all the strategies and inside information you need to take your raiding to the next level. Be sure to look up our strategy guides to Cataclysm's 5-man instances, and for more healer-centric advice, visit Raid Rx.

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