Ghostcrawler, “Talent Tests,” and Proper Understanding
I’m not one of those people who is consistently down on Ghostcrawler for everything he’s ever posted on the official forums and his blog, or for his refusal to give me a pony. But, I’ll admit, I’ve never felt the urge to stand up and applaud something he’s written … until today.
In his most recent blog post, Ghostcrawler discusses a wide variety of player concerns with the new talent trees. The tone of the post is a bit more confrontational (or perhaps upfront, if you prefer) than we usually see, but I think it’s appropriately so – especially when dealing with “concerns” like this:
“I like being better than noobs.”
It was surprising and a bit disappointing at how frequently we saw this argument. The players in question fully admit that they don’t experiment to find the best build. They accept the cookie cutter spec that is offered from a website, but then they use the fact that they knew the cookie cutter to mock players who don’t. Intimate knowledge of game mechanics certainly is and should be a component of skill. But knowing how to Google “4.3 Shadow spec” doesn’t automatically make you a better player. Sorry, but I’m just going to dismiss this one as an illegitimate concern.
This is so spot-on that I wondered how anyone could disagree with it – and then I saw the comments on the blog post claiming it was “condescending.” (Granted, this being on the official forums, I probably should have known better than to read any further.) So, in case anyone out there still has any doubts that knowing how to spec properly is a fair measure of whether you’re a “good” player, let me try to break this down a bit.
I’ve been on about the notion of pass/fail talent choices (and how important it is to break these kind of choices in the Mists of Pandaria talent trees if they are to be successful) for the last few months, but I suppose I haven’t really explained what I mean by that phrase. Here’s a simple example from the talent tree with which I’m most familiar: Malfurion’s Gift is absolutely essential for any resto druid PvE or PvP spec. It’s the only way that resto druids can get Clearcasting procs, and it significantly lowers the cooldown on our most powerful group healing spell, and any resto druid guide worth its salt will tell you that you NEED to put 2 points into this talent.
But imagine that you’re a brand new WoW player who’s been faithfully leveling her druid over the span of the last few months. Malfurion’s Gift first becomes available to you at level 39. Being a fairly astute gamer, you read over what the talent point does. Lifebloom, you realize, is something you don’t get until level 64, and Tranquility is an even further away at level 68. So, thinking (correctly!) that there’s no point in spending talent points that buff abilities you don’t have yet, you skip Malfurion’s Gift. You’re proud that you’ve reasoned through the language of WoW’s talent system and you pop a point into Nature’s Bounty because Regrowth is a spell you actually use.
Your reasoning was perfect and it was logical. Maybe, when you hit Outland or Northrend you stop to respec considering how many new abilities you’ve learned recently. But you never find a use for Tranquility in 5 man dungeons, and you never worry enough about mana to think Omen of Clarity is worthwhile – assuming you even have any idea what Clearcasting is, since it’s not explained anywhere in the talent itself. My point, which I’ve taken too long to get back around to, is that players can make rational, apparently informed decisions about talent choices as they level and be completely wrong. Until you hit a raiding situation, or you find someone who knows more about your spec than you do, its possible to make decisions that look logically correct when they’re really the opposite.
This doesn’t mean that you are necessarily a bad player, have flawed logic, or don’t care about what you’re doing in-game. The only thing it means is that you’ve fallen into one of many traps created by the current talent system, which is inherently unfriendly to anyone who does not know to look outside of the game itself to get the full picture on how spells and stats work. At level 85, Malfurion’s Gift isn’t a talent “choice,” it’s a talent test. If you’re a resto druid and you haven’t spent two talent points in Malfurion’s Gift, then you failed the test.
So why is it that we, as a raiding community, often immediately discount people like this because they haven’t done the necessary research – research they may be blissfully unaware is mandatory for the end-game aspects of WoW? Let’s be clear: this is NOT a case of a student refusing to do her homework; rather it’s a case of a teacher holding a student accountable for homework which was never actually assigned. From a teaching standpoint, I would much rather work with a raiding applicant who may not be speced perfectly, but who can provide intelligent and logical answers to questions I ask about why she is speced the way she is.
I’ll pick on my guildmates for a moment to make the point. Yesterday, in guild chat, someone asked what Spirit, Mastery, and Crit values were desirable for resto shaman. It wasn’t a question that was framed as “at what point does crit become more valuable than mastery,” or “what are some ways to tell that my Spirit is too low” but rather as a request for specific numbers. As I’m sure all of you reading this know, that’s a pretty vague thing to ask. Values like that will be dependent upon dozens of factors – what gear you have, what upgrades are available to you, what content you’re working on, what your raid composition looks like, just to name a few.
I’m glad that the guild member in question wanted help and was willing to ask the guild for it. But memorizing a number (or copying a talent spec, for that matter) is rote learning. There’s nothing about copying a talent spec or simply knowing to reforge your druid’s haste to 2005 that requires understanding. WHY is Malfurion’s Gift more essential than Nature’s Bounty? WHY is haste good for resto druids, and WHY does it lose its value beyond that point? It’s possible (and, I’d venture, pretty common) for a player to know to do all of these things correctly, but have absolutely no idea why they’ve speced or reforged as they have.
So yes, I will thank the Blizzard gods and their prophet Ghostcrawler for a much-needed end to this arbitrary roadblock that can prevent intelligent people from progressing in end-game because they’ve failed a test they had no idea they were taking. Give me a hundred raiding applicants who are speced atrociously but who can provide me with logical reasons for their choices next to a hundred perfectly speced applicants who know nothing except how to copy a spec from a popular website, and I will take the former every single time. It’s time for serious raiders to get off our high horses and admit that our current talent system cannot possibly be used as a measure of whether a player is truly skilled at their class. Critical thinking skills can’t be copied and pasted.