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Tank Talk: Building and keeping your tanking corps, Part I

Tank Talk is WoW Insider's new raid-tanking column, promising you an exciting and educational look at the world of getting the stuffing thrashed out of you in a 10- or 25-man raid. The column will be rotated amongst Matthew Rossi (Warrior/Paladin), Adam Holisky (Warrior), Michael Gray (Paladin), and Allison Robert (Druid). Our aim is to use this column to debate and discuss class differences, raid-tanking strategies, tips, tricks, and news concerning all things meatshieldish.

This week on Tank Talk I'd like to step outside the technical aspects of being a tank and focus more on the psychosocial side of things. In particular I want to look at what happens when a tank is introduced into a tanking corps of a new guild, how to keep current tanks around, and how to deal with all those old tanks that have been in the guild forever.

For lack of a better phrase, I'll call the time from when a tank joining the guild until their eventual status as "god of all things tank" the life span of a tank. And perhaps the most important part of a tanks life is the new part, and it's something that I've been on both sides of the coin – the one doing the inviting, and the one being invited. Each is equally exciting. When joining a new guild I had not only the opportunity to see new content and progress to new heights, but also an opportunity to improve my skill and focus my ability to tank a mean game. And when I became class lead and eventually the guild's leader, I gained an opportunity to help new tanks become acquainted with our style of game play and watch them succeed and excel within the guild.

I like to look at there being mainly fives stages of a tank's life within a guild: Recruitment, Applicant, Raider, Senior Tank, and Mentor. Let's take a look at each of these and see how people in various stages can help usher a new tank into a guild's tanking corpse while keeping the old tanks around and happy. Since this is a long subject, today I'll cover the recruitment and applicant stages in a tank's life, with the raider, senior tank, and mentor stages coming in the second installment tomorrow.

The Recruitment Tank

A tank, or anyone really, starts out at the recruitment stage. During this time they're either being recruited by the guild for a specifically, or are out and about looking for a new guild. Being actively recruited by a guild is a rare thing – in particular for advanced content end game guilds. For instance, my guild recently snapped up a few raiders out of a guild that we learned was disbanding. During this I made sure that care was taken to explain to the new recruits exactly what they were getting into with our guild compared to their guild, how tanking strategies and assignments differed, and what similarities we had.

I find that when people are recruited directly from other guilds they have a shorter learning curve. This is an important thing as one of the main barriers/hurdles a tank needs to deal with is learning how the guild expects him or her to tank. Since guilds in close proximity to each other (ie: on the same server) generally have friends in each guild, things are easier to pickup when compared to tanks coming from different servers. For tanks being recruited in this situation it is very important to make sure that they know what they're getting into, and how their new situation is going to differ from their old guild's policies. Be nice about it, but at the same time make sure that all the facts are on the table. They are not in Kansas anymore (and my apologies to my friends who are in Kansas).

And with that said, the other type of recruitment is a tank coming from another server entirely. Most of the time these will be people who are browsing the recruitment forums or have otherwise heard of your guild's need for a tank. Their expectations, and yours, will probably be a bit different. Make sure they know what you expect out of them, and let them tell you what they want out of a guild. However remember that they are seeking you out and want to join your guild, so you do have the upper hand (in a way). They're going to have many questions which need to be answered honestly and completely. One thing that I've found is that I would much rather know about a guild's strengths and weaknesses before committing to a relationship than afterwards. The questions and answers in an interview is a great time to figure all of this out.

A better way to say this is to make it a point that everything is not roses and wine, and it shouldn't be presented that way. Each guild has its problems, and each guild has its successes. Being open and honest about these can lead to a better fit for both you and the recruit. As an example, I can't really tank well with sub-par healers. When I was joining my current guild one of the questions I asked was "What are the strengths of your healing corps?" The answer was, "We have several that are very good, and some that show a lot of promise." This is the kind of honesty that I enjoy. Since I would eventually become the MT, I knew that those good healers would spend a lot of time with me – and I didn't need to be concerned. It should be noted here that some tanks are also concerned more with DPS than healers, since they see the game as a race to kill the boss rather than a fight for survivability. Without passing judgment on which view is right in a given situation – my recommendation of being open and honest still applies here. If you have DPS that needs to improve, communicate this to your potential tanks and let them know that. They'll appreciate you're honesty more than anything.

And in the end they'll want to join your guild because you're honest, which is a surprisingly rare quality in the World of Warcraft.

The Applicant Tank

I like to think that the real work for a new tank does not begin until he or she has actually been accepted into the guild. It's during this time that they need to prove that the decision and trust the guild has placed in them is well founded. The applicant stage represents the time from a tank joining the guild until they have proven themselves beyond a doubt as a capable and competent raider.

For those tanks in the applicant phase it's important to remember that you're pretty much on trial. It might not be the best feeling in the world to have your every action scrutinized and nit-picked, but it will be. You better believe that someone will notice every time you miss a shield block, or every time you don't get spell reflect up on the Illidari Council. This nit picking and critical dissection of your style is not a slight on you as a new tank, but more of a reflection on the importance of your job as a tank.

However with the understanding that every move of a new tank is under the microscope, something else comes into play: whose job is it to be the one in charge of getting the new tank up to speed. While I won't go into a detailed analysis of guild structures here, training in and critiquing a new tank should generally be left up to the class lead and raid leader.

It is important that there is a clear line of authority here. If authority and responsibility is not clearly outlined for the new tank, things quickly devolve into "Well, the Mage wants more threat done, but the healers want me to have more stamina... I'm going to listen to the Mage." This isn't a decision that should be left up to one person (and especially a person not familiar with the raid's socio-skill dynamics). Instead it should be a decision made by the class lead, raid leaders, and others in positions of leadership. It is vitally important that things are clear from the get go for the new tank. Since a tank feels almost everything that happens in the raid one way or another, there can be a good amount of information over load. The only way to alleviate this is to clearly define who is the final source for information.

During the applicant time it is important beyond all else that the tank is fully immersed in the culture of the guild. They need to start learning what's going on in all the different segments of the guild, what each person's strengths and weakness are, and how they can best do their job.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II of Tank Talk: Building and keeping your tanking corps.

Filed under: Druid, Paladin, Warrior, Analysis / Opinion, Guilds, Tank Talk

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