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Ghostcrawler, “Talent Tests,” and Proper Understanding

December 8, 2011

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.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2011 4:46 pm

    I am one of the people who often think he’s condescending, rude and a variety of other things too impolite to mention but here as you say, he’s spot on. I’ve been a supporter of the proposed talent system since about five minutes after I first read about it. I confess the first four minutes were spent whining and the fifth one actually thinking about it but I think it’s what the game needs.

    • December 8, 2011 5:02 pm

      Haha! Well having some experience moderating (MUCH, much smaller) forums, I can sympathize with the feeling that you need to resort to condescension and passive aggressive behavior when it seems like the community is particularly against you on a matter. That said, I don’t think that behavior is at all healthy for the community, and that it’s probably a very clear sign that it’s time for you to take a step back – as he did. I think Zarhym and Bashiok are currently doing a much better job of toeing the line between professionalism and personal sanity. 😛

      I had about the same experience with the talent tree announcement as you did. I’m still very worried that, while there may not be a “right resto druid spec,” there may be a “right resto druid spec for this fight,” which is something that even Ghostcrawler partially acknowledged in his post. STILL remaining cautiously optimistic, though.

  2. December 8, 2011 11:41 pm

    I *am* the player you talked about, though as a rogue, not a Druid; I picked talents that sounded cool as I leveled. Admittedly, this was with the Byzantine BC-era trees, but still, I went into my first raid with a mushy, click-what-you-want Subtlety spec and cheerfully admitted to my class lead that I had never respecced–yes, that’s right, I got to 70 without a single re-spec.

    And what did he advise me to do? Go get a cookie cutter Combat spec. Sure, he was right, and it maximized my DPS, and I was intelligent enough to try to understand why. But the understanding came from my own curiosity, not because it was necessary. All that was necessary was to copy his Armory profile.

    • December 9, 2011 10:54 am

      It’s sad, but sometimes I’m guilty of this even now. Rogues and Paladins are my blind spots, so when I get it into my head that I want to level one I always make stupid talent choices. I read the talents over and over again, think I’ve made the right one – then I look it up and I’m completely off.

      And, yeah, you’re the best case scenario Squelchy. 🙂 As we both know, that same curiosity just isn’t there for everyone who wants to raid, so they’re not going to take the extra step of attempting to think through the spec they’ve just copied.

  3. Paul permalink
    December 17, 2011 10:27 am

    Too often, “condescending” is used as a code word for “disagrees with me”. We saw this after the “Wow, dungeons are hard!” episode back in January, and also after Zarhym’s recent measured rebuff of a poster who didn’t like the existence of LFR.

    • December 17, 2011 11:36 am

      I completely agree, Paul. It’s one of the pitfalls of internet communication – risk sounding condescending when you’re attempting to be well-meaning because text can’t include the subtleties of vocal tones. And, of course, attacking an opponent on a personal level is a good way to avoid discussing the actual issue.

  4. Rauxis permalink
    December 18, 2011 1:47 am

    Although agreeing with much of your post I still feel the itch to give a bit of a counter here.

    Maybe I was lucky, for my first character was on a German server and “grew” up in a very nice guild. At that time there where was not so much “elitism” around – I raided with Boomkins healing, Cats taken along for their innervate (their damage was considered a nice side effect) and even Ret Paladins were allowed to hit on the boss as long as they kept their group buffed.

    During BC we grew a little bit more professional. But still – I can’t remember a single time someone ridiculed me about my (sometimes slightly wierd) Tree or Bear speccs. Things only turned ever worse after the community went down the drain – and I still see LFD as main reason for this.

    And I don’t see the new system preventing such condescending either. It will lead to situations “everyone knows class x has to specc and use ability Y in phase Z – get rid of this noob, he only causes wiping” – simply because some elitists will always find something wrong with everyone else. In a pre LFD/LFR area such people had more troubles to get into a “position of authority”.

    Even though GC is right in this specific case, with regard to the question “is the new system more fun” IMHO the point therefore is rather irrelevant.

    Rauxis, chosen of CAT

    • December 18, 2011 4:53 pm

      Thanks for reading and for offering a counterpoint. I actually agree with everything you’ve said! 🙂

      It’s hard for me to say whether LFD is the primary cause of current elitism in WoW, though I think you’ve made a sound case for that. I was still a very inexperienced player at the end of BC, but I spent enough time in pre-LFD Wrath to remember gathering a group of 5 people from my server to go knock out the daily heroic. While I might occasionally see someone be a little snarky about a green or blue item that hadn’t been replaced yet, or a talent point they didn’t agree with it certainly wasn’t rampant the way it is now.

      As for whether the new system will be more “fun” … I’m not sure yet. It will obviously depend upon how the abilities work out in beta and once Mists actually goes live, but my first reaction is that most of them feel rather gimicky. Of course – I thought Wild Mushrooms sounded horribly gimicky when that druid ability was first released for Cata, so I’ll just have to wait and see.

  5. January 10, 2012 12:43 am

    Thank you a thousand times for this, Tzufit! You win all the internets.

    As a sidenote: I admire The Crab’s (with capital T and C) patience. I myself would be far more rude than he is. My tagline would probably read “Danslate is [not] the lead systems designer for World of Warcraft. He had to write this blog post because sheep always let themselves be guided by the loudest sheepdog bark, no matter how wrong said sheepdog is. Maybe if sheep were guarded by dolphins instead…” and that’s very very very nicely formulated. And incomprehensible for most sheep. Oh bother… 🙂

    • January 13, 2012 10:38 pm

      But sheepdogs are so pretty, and their coats are so shiny … oh shiny thing!!!

      Sidenote – I have always wanted to win all the internets. 🙂


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