The tank shortage situation

March 16, 2010 at 5:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

While the recent release of the LFD system may have renewed discussion about the tank shortage (see here, here and here, among others), it is by no means a new phenomenon (see February 2007, August 2007, March 2008 and May 2008 references to such). There has been a shortage of tanks at least since the release of The Burning Crusade in early 2007 and possibly before. Since then, several attempts have been made to rectify this situation. In this post, I examine some of the attempted and proposed solutions and discuss their actual or potential efficacy.

Tanking has changed a lot since the days of Vanilla WoW. Protection warriors no longer have a monopoly on good tanking following changes to protection paladins and feral druids as well as the addition of three different specs of Death Knight tanks. To these changes it appears that others will be added, such as making arms warriors viable tanks in 5 person dungeons. It seems likely that 9 of the 30 specs will be viable for tanking in heroics. But will these and other changes actually increase the number of tanks entering LFD?

Let’s look at some of the previous changes made to tanking…

Make paladins and bears viable
I began playing at the very tail end of Vanilla, so it is hard for me to say if the changes in Burning Crusade to paladins and bears made an appreciable change to the number of tanks available. It is my understanding, though, that both classes went from barely capable to reasonably strong under most circumstances. If I assume that this helped to increase the number of tanks available, I have to wonder just how bad the tank situation was in Vanilla given that there was a tank shortage through much of BC (see earlier links).

Making two existing classes viable as tanks did not, as far as I can tell, reduce the tank shortage. Perhaps somebody that was more active at this time can correct this impression.

Introduce Death Knights
Following the tank shortage of BC, Blizzard introduced Death Knights, a new class of tanks with three (!) talent trees that can tank. A lot of players created Death Knights and, given the ease of leveling a DK from 55 as compared to a warrior/paladin/bear from 1, it would seem the natural class for experienced players to roll as a new tank. Judging from the tanks I see on my server as well as the ones to which I am assigned in LFD, however, few of these new DKs are in LFD for heroics. To be fair, though, it is my understanding that the tank shortage in the level 55-65 range is much less severe thanks to the influence of new DKs.

Despite being a new class with a lot of advantages (faster leveling, new starting zone, designation as a ‘hero’ class, etc.), it does not appear that DKs have made a significant impact on tank populations (most tanks are warriors).  Anecdotally, it appears that the great majority of DKs became dps, potentially exacerbating the problem of supply imbalance between tanks and dps.

Change bear gear requirements
Prior to Wrath, bears needed +defense on their gear as all tanks did. This created some difficulties as most leather was not itemized well for meeting the goal of crit immunity. Furthermore, due to the mechanics of block in BC, bears were forced to regularly eat crushing blows whereas other tanks did not. With the release of Wrath, however, this changed: bears received crit immunity from talents and crushing blows were no longer a concern against max-level content.

While bear gearing was much simplified, I don’t know that bears are any more popular than in the past. I recall reading a post from one of the developers stating this but, sadly, I cannot find it. In any case bears, like DKs, do not make up a large portion of the tank population.  In other words, simplifying bear does not appear to have an effect on the tank shortage.

Dual spec
Prior to Wrath, everybody was limited to a single spec at a time. Now, however, it is possible for tank-capable classes to have both a tank spec and another for other sorts of content. One hoped-for consequence of the introduction of dual specs was that more tanking classes would have a tank spec. Players that wanted primarily to dps/heal/pvp would be able to fill in as a tank when needed. Furthermore, tanks that switched spec for the weekend to pvp would no longer be unavailable due to having the wrong spec at the time. This was a particular concern during BC for Warriors.

It’s hard to say for certain, but my impression is that dual spec has been a mixed success. While it does not appear to have solved the tank shortage, it may have increased the number of players with a tank spec (as an example, 72% of warriors have at least one prot spec while neither arms nor fury exceed 50%).

Now let us examine some of the proposed changes for Cataclysm…

Remove defense rating
The intention here appears to be make it easier to gear for tanking. Though I am unconvinced, the consensus at Blizzard seems to be that gear is the reason for the tank shortage (see here, here, here and here). Reaching crit immunity will no longer be such a large and important hurdle for new tanks. In other words, removing defense rating may lower the barrier to entry for new tanks. Whether new tanks will decide to remain so, however, will depend on other factors.

As we have seen with dual spec, it is not difficult to make more tanks. Making more tanks enter LFD, however, is an entirely different matter!

Make additional specs viable as tanks
I have commented previously on making arms warriors capable of tanking, so I will try not to repeat myself too much here. As with the introduction of DKs, making more classes or specs capable of tanking does not address the matter of making players capable of or interested in tanking.  Chances are, a warrior that didn’t want to tank as prot is not going to want to tank as arms either!

So what?

As is probably obvious, I am not hopeful that these new proposals will do much to solve the tank shortage. Perhaps that is not the problem Blizzard aims to solve, but otherwise I find it difficult to understand the reasons behind making Arms a viable tanking spec.  It appears that Blizzard is focusing on reducing or eliminating barriers to entry as solutions to the tanking problem.  While this has some promise, I think that such an approach overlooks ways of keeping tanks as tanks.

I think there are a number of reasons why tanking is often an undesirable role to players. Here are a few I came across in putting together this post:

  • It can be difficult to get raid spots (see here and here). In other words, tanking can be a dead end for players interested in raiding.
  • It can be difficult to level as a tank. In general, the added survivability is not needed for leveling while the reduced offensive capability can feel like an impediment. I have heard, though, that this is much less the case now, at least for prot warriors.
  • Repair bills are high.  The disparity between tank and, say, healer repair bills appears to have greatly diminished since Burning Crusade, though it still exists.
  • Tanking is a lot of work. In the average heroic run, I can almost fall asleep when I heal or dps. I have mentioned before that the tank job does not get easier (and, where warrior rage generation is concerned, can get harder) as you gear up because the challenge of holding aggro never gets easier.
  • At least for warriors tanks, staying active on heroic strike/cleave spam is tough on the hands. I’ve seen this firsthand; I usually need to take a break after tanking 3 heroics, but I can heal or dps with no adverse effects.
  • Tanks frequently encounter hypercritical buttheads in the LFD system. This is probably a more significant barrier to entry than gear ever was. Sadly, tanks have no tools for dealing with this other than leaving the group.
  • Low benefits relative to responsibilities and headaches. The only advantage to tanking in LFD is that the queue time is faster.

Most of these issues are related to I believe that any solution to the tanking situation needs to address the issues that make tanking desirable to players. To put this another way: players tank, not classes or specs.

However you choose to think about the situation, I think Blizzard and the player population in general have an interest in solving the tank shortage. Some sort of incentive is needed. I would like to say that ‘fun’ should be the incentive, but I think that a lot of what can make tanking un-fun is the other people in the group. When Blizzard wanted more players to participate in arenas, they increased the loot rewards. It worked – players followed the loot. If you get what you reward, it’s worth asking: what rewards are there for tanking?

I’m hoping to make a post in the next week about other ways the tank shortage might be reduced.

(Edits: fixed a few links, clarified a few sentences.)



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  1. I think the biggest deterrent to people getting a tank up to snuff once they hit level 80 is the preponderance of asshats in the random heroic pool. If a tank doesn’t have a minimum of 4500 gear score and can hold aoe like a champ he gets kicked from runs on a regular basis. People in heroics only want tanks that significantly outgear the content. I know if I didn’t outgear every heroic I would be loathe to learn how to tank in that environment.

    It’s amusing that the new tool that is demonstrating the shortage of tanks is also adding to the shortage of tanks.

  2. “Tanks frequently encounter hypercritical buttheads in the LFD system. This is probably a more significant barrier to entry than gear ever was. Sadly, tanks have no tools for dealing with this other than leaving the group.”

    This. And what Exbob says. That’s the biggest problem here.

    I would bring down the number of reasons for the lack of tanks to one: it’s hard to tank. It’s not hard to dps at all, and it’s just slightly harder to heal (I have never healed in a raid situation so I might be on thin ice here, but I have done it in 5-mans)

    Let’s compare tanking to leadership. That’s hard, that’s something not everyone want to do, or even is capable of doing. If you make a mistake, people will get angry at you. If you make the wrong decision you have to take the consequences. But when you lead, you usaully get a reward (higher salary, bonus, rank, medals, whatever). In WoW you only get the yelling.

    The reason that none of Blizzard’s ideas works is that there is no reward for taking on the role of leading. All you get is a slap in the face and a kick in the butt – “go find a new group noob”. And I dont think that behaviour will ever change online, when ppl can hide behind an avatar.

    Now, lets say there was some Legendary gear you could only obtain by tanking…
    Or, you could only become raid leader if you were tank.
    Or, there was some epic quest series that only could be done if you had grinded together a tank set.
    Make tanks the rockstars of WoW! Give us limos!

    /Trade channel LF dps…


  3. […] appeal. More people playing healers means more people healing. After all, that’s been done for tanks, although results have been fairly […]

  4. I think something that would help this problem would be having raids be scaled up dungeons. You need 5 tanks, 5 healers, 15 DPS for a 25man raid (or 2, 2, 6 for 10man). That way, there are not so many DPS running around needing tanks and heals.

    The only way this would even sound appealing is if tanks did considerably more damage in raids. Currently, they are about 1/3 (at best) the damage of DPSers. If tanks did 80% of the damage of the DPS, and had some sort of active role in the boss fights (at least part of it), it would be more desirable to people.

    I realize that the problem with making 5 tanks necessary is it complicates fight design tremendously.

    Unless they find some way to even out the ratio of tanks and healers to DPS, the shortage will always exist.

    Very nice article by the way.

    • Reducing the difference between tanks and dps by increasing tank damage to 80% of a dedicated dps would be interesting (though some might brand it as homogenization). From the little I have read so far, it does appear that Blizzard is moving in that direction from the opposite end by increasing dps survivability relative to tanks through measures like increasing the armor on cloth/leather/chain and increasing stamina across the board. I don’t know if this is a good idea or not. In some ways, it would be further reinforcing the ‘bring the player, not the class’ mantra by making it possible to complete content with the wrong number of tanks/dps.

      Also, it’s interesting to note that the ‘tank shortage’ at the level of heroics becomes a ‘tank oversupply’ in 25s. I recently switched guilds and am realizing that my fury gear and skills are far behind where they ought to be for the current level of content.

  5. Excellent post. Solving the tanking shortage is going to be tough one. I’ve also been scratching my head over why Blizzard is thinking of making arms spec Warriors viable for tanking. It might be a continuation of the design trend we saw with the Death Knight where you could practically tank in any spec. I don’t think that was necessarily a good way to go about the class design and since it made it harder for DKs to sort out their specs for tanking, it’s probably the reason so many DKs just went DPS instead. I remember we discussed this before together on my site and I’m not sure how you incentivize more people to adopt tanking. To me, tanking requires a certain personality – one willing to lead groups, sticking their necks out in front of other players, and not afraid to take charge of difficult situations and dealing with difficult players. Not everyone is suited to that role or has that sort of personality. As someone who plays either a healer or dps, I’d really like to see the shortage solved but I’m not optimistic after the last expansion. Looking forward to your next post.

    • Arrowrest, I’ve come to some of the same conclusions regarding player personality and ability to perform the tank role. My thinking has been influenced both by your comments and those of others in addition to some conversations I have had with friends that tried tanking and didn’t enjoy it. While they could do it and even play to a fairly high standard, it just wasn’t something they enjoyed or felt much compulsion to do; it was sort of a chore for them. While I think that most players are capable of tanking, I don’t think it is a role that suits most very well. So trying to increase the number of players that play tanks is probably an uphill battle.

  6. I do hope we’re not going to see Righteous Fury ret tanks! While fun to heal at low levels, I don’t think I’d ever stop myself throttling each and every one of them. But I digress.

    Tanking is a one of a kind job, requiring skill and knowlege, and often meaning they call the shots while they’re at it. These people are certainly one of a kind, and respecting tanks for undertaking their vital responsibility is the least LFD groups can do to encourage growth of the tank base. It may (as you note) not be too hard to get the basics right, but if they’re being whined at while doing so, they won’t do it again.

    • Anolaana, if you know a ret paladin with very good gear, encourage them to give RF tanking a try! It will certainly take the snooze out of healing heroics. A few thoughts from my own experience: as a tank, I can get away with wearing almost all dps gear (I keep the T10 head and shoulders for the great set bonus for threat, my tank mace and a shield). I find I need to use cooldowns a little more often or earlier, but otherwise it’s very doable, even with healers in half blues. As a healer, I have healed friends doing this. It requires a lot of care in terms of pulling, though. I find paladins are more accustomed to pulling 3-4 groups at a time, which just isn’t viable for ret. In any case, give it a shot! At the least, it’s a change of pace from the (oftentimes) drudgery of heroics.

      Also, I think you point out something important: there may be players with the right mentality to tank who were scared away by the early, rocky parts of the tanking learning curve. Dungeons with runners or streaming adds can be a real challenge for a new tank.

      I’m not certain how to resolve the new tank issue, but I do think that the game could do a better job of teaching players how to tank. Currently, players must learn what the role entails from other players; the game provides no clues. There is a level 60 hunter quest that, I think, might serve as a good prototype for how to teach players about their role. In the quest, the hunter must confront four demons with unusual abilities. One of them hits extremely hard and must, as a result, be kited. So kiting, as a skill, was necessitated by the quest. I think an escort quest involving streaming adds might be a good way to ‘teach’ tanking. Mobs would arrive progressively faster and the player would have to prevent them from reaching the healer being escorted. Teaching other skills, such as LOS pulls, collecting dispersed mobs, gauntlets and so on could be done in follow-on quests.

  7. […] suppose from the name of this blog, is a tank.  I’ve also written about the tank shortage before as well as possible solutions.  In that latter post, I suggested five serious suggestions  (and […]

  8. […] a subject I find very interesting, so it’s no surprise that I’ve written about it before.  In this post, I’d like to talk about how the leveling experience can support players in […]

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