Healing Coordination: Going the extra mile

There is an elephant in my room and it’s bright blue. It’s been there ever since I’ve taken up blogging on WoW and it’s starting to soil the rug now. All my friends and co-healers know how passionate a holy priest and healer I am in WoW. I’ve coordinated raid healing ever since my first 40 man guild. I’ve had the pleasure to work with 3 different healing teams over the years and to experience and coordinate every encounter in the game since Molten Core, with the exception of the last few bosses in AQ40 and most of the Sunwell. Every encounter I think back on or look forward to in WoW, is from a healer’s perspective. I love healing and I love being a part of healing teams.

The reason why I haven’t blogged about this sooner, is simply that there are already many great posts on healing coordination out there, guides full of useful tips by other very experienced healers and bloggers. I love reading and scrutinizing these topics and while I take a lot of it for granted by now personally, I know it’s not; there’s a great many raidguilds out there still running without dedicated healing leads and raidleaders. They’ve my sincere sympathies.

Healing coordination, the successful kind, is all about a great deal of things: knowing your healers, knowing your classes, knowing encounter specifics, knowing how to prioritize, giving precise assignments (that includes things like positioning or save rotations), re-adjusting raid setup constantly (to correspond to more specific assignments and make your healers’ lives easier), communicating and keeping feedback flowing, keeping your team’s spirits high – just to name a few.

Most of all however, it is about someone willing to do all these things; from pre-raid preparation and discussions with the raidleaders, over the actual coordination, to post-raid analyzis. There’s a lot going on for healing coordinators during raids, especially on a progress night, and chances are you will never know because you never really see them adjusting things in the background. Most non-healers do not notice the healing coordinator’s job in a raid – they only notice his absence, in some obscure, nondescript way.

I don’t like repeating things that others have said before me and already put into elaborate words just for the sake of it. That’s why I’d like to point out a few guides first that I appreciate for their overall information and insight on the subject matter. I know there are many more, these are simply three I remember for being good places to start:

  • Raid Rx: 3 steps to assigning healers – an older breakdown by Matticus which does something before all else: simplify. Sometimes less is more, especially if you’re just starting off. A thing that I’ve said time and again is that healing isn’t rocket science, there’s no need to make it sound that way.
  • Zen and the art of healing assignments – a good example of the essentials of the trade and how healing coordination is about keeping a cool head and adaption.
  • Kurn’s Healing Lead Philosophy – I liked this particular overview because it emphasizes several points that I personally find very important, such as maximizing clarity or dealing with parses the right way.

That’s really all your essentials to start off as a healing lead. Might sound like a lot, but you grow into a role and will refine procedures and macros over time. What you cannot necessarily learn is things like having a “knack” for leadership and overseeing these kind of things – having an analytical yet creative mind for problem solving and strong nerves to deal with short-term changes or unhappy raidleaders. Healing leads need broad shoulders. Not everyone is up to be a co-leader in WoW but if you are, your tools can be found in those articles.

…So, what can I contribute to all this that might haven’t been mentioned? What tips would I like to give to other healing leads out there looking to get back to business in Cataclysm, based on my very personal practice and experiences? I think I have a thing or three to add. I can’t promise you to keep this short, but I can promise to include everything that might be useful to somebody else.

Going the extra mile: further methods to optimize healing coordination

Over time I’ve been stuck in situations where I felt the basic tools weren’t quite enough to prepare us for the tactics of a fight or then we were simply struggling at a boss with more complex mechanics. Multi-phase encounters especially can be a challenge to coordinate if all you have at your disposal are assignment macros and manually typing and reacting in the healer channel. You know that there’s a raidgroup waiting and while all good things need time, holding others up for too long is uncomfortable. Here’s three means of helping yourself which I’ve used frequently in the past and cultivated in our healing team:

1) The pre-pull peptalk / PPP
The pre-pull peptalk is going to make your life loads easier on encounters where there is a lot of details and roles to discuss, positioning, multiple phases and so forth. You do not only feel that spamming so many lines is too overwhelming, but you want to make absolutely sure that everyone is on board and has a chance to ask questions if unsure about any objective. For this, I would usually grab my entire healing squad over to a separate ventrilo channel at raidstart where I would go through all the essentials of the upcoming fight in a very swift and reduced manner: an overview of what’s ahead, what difficulties there are and what every healer is going to be in charge of – while also spamming the summary macro. In only 5 minutes you can explain and emphasize a lot more than you ever could by typing and you get to ask two fundamental questions: “Everyone clear on their targets? Any questions or suggestions?”

Meanwhile, the rest of the raid is busy with getting their own directions from the raidleaders. In Adrenaline the raidleader and healing leader work closely together and prep each part of the raid separately (and we’ve usually already talked this through pre-raid). Nobody is going to miss the healers in these 5-10 initial minutes.
I have used this method at Malygos, Mimiron, Arthas and Dreamwalker to name a few examples. In general, it’s worth doing when you know you’ve got a wipenight ahead. It does not only help you but makes your team feel like a real unit.

2) Visual aids
Fights like Lady Vashj, Mimiron or Sindragosa, do not only have complex mechanics but assignments that are absolutely crucial to be followed meticulously by every single member in the raid. Positioning is one big factor here among several others. Whenever we were facing fights of such complexity, with all the mayhem and chaos of first wipenights, I posted a small overview on our forums with visual aids for the healers (usually useful to others too). Take a screenshot of the boss room if feasible and make a graphic for your team that clears up points like movement and positioning once and for all.
I am a very visual person myself and I know from my educational background that if you’re trying to teach more elaborate concepts, you always want to use more than just words: a lesson that’s accompanied by pictures and/or voice, stimulates several senses at once and always leaves a more lasting effect. And: there are far fewer misunderstandings going on when people have looked at the same graphic!

To give you an example of such visual aids, here’s what I did for Lady Vashj, Mimiron or Sindragosa in the past. Pictures were accompanied by detailed strategy. If you have a forum account at Plusheal.com, you can also check here or here for the complete guides.

3) Post-raid analyzis sticky
Tanks, DPS and healers run their separate post-raid sticky threads in our guild forums. Looking back at what went wrong as much as what was done really well, is an important part of preparing for your next raid. It can be difficult to get everyone engaged in these discussions, but in the healer team’s case you have an easier job to get people to participate and we’ve had some very fruitful feedback and tactical discussions there in the past.

In our topic I would regularly publish a round-up after particularly intense nights or new encounters, pointing out briefly what the healing difficulties were, what still needed improving, linking further reading and also: highlighting the good stuff. I have a tendency myself to focus on negatives but it’s crucial to celebrate success from time to time. Get used to writing short post-raid summaries like that and encourage your fellow healers to feedback.

Things to cultivate in your team

This is a more personal part about the core values I have personally come to believe in and uphold in the healing teams I’ve been part of and coordinated in WoW over the years. An atmosphere of trust, honesty, mutual respect and friendship are the corner stones of every functional group of people. As a healing coordinator, it is your role to cultivate qualities such as these while being the leading figure who is in charge of maintaining a sense of order and get to the bottom of  whatever issues. This role can be a demanding task when under pressure and as always, communication is key.

1) Primus inter pares
At any given time, I perceived my role in the healing team as that of the primus inter pares – “the first among equals”. This distinction has always been vital for me to convey. I am my team’s coordinator: that means, I fulfill a necessary and logistic task for my raidguild. I do this for a variety of reasons which range from natural disposition over know-how to the lack of anyone else willing to commit himself to this task (and that last reason has stuck with me wherever I went).
What I am not is your boss, babysitter or mom. I am not all-knowing, perfect or better than any of my team members. When I assign tasks and responsibilities, they will be clear and detailed but I never tell my healers how to heal or play their class. They know what is required – the how is left to them. If things go wrong and it’s really due to a single healer’s poor choices, there is still time to address it when you’re crossing that bridge.

We all see eye to eye in our team even if I am the one calling the shots. If there’s a situation where I need a serious word with one healer, I will do that subtly, via whispers or after the raid. I will never humiliate anyone publicly in the channel and undermine his standing with the rest of the team. Healing teams depend on trusting each other and anyone can have a bad night. I’d rather make a light-hearted joke in such a situation or laugh about it together than blow things out of proportion.

I cannot possibly stress this point enough: your team’s willingness to cooperate, be open and communicate with you is going to depend on your relationship with each other and the role and attitude you establish for yourself as healing lead. That doesn’t mean you cannot be forceful if needed, but there is a difference between resolve and arrogance.

2) There is no “not my problem”
There is no ‘I’ in team, only ‘we’. If there is any issue in the line of healing, it concerns each and everybody. No one is allowed to lean back with a self-sufficient smile while there’s still unresolved issues around. Healing is teamwork: there are no stars here and nobody will be left behind. Without meaning to sound too militaristic: each healing team is only as strong as its weakest link. There are encounters that will push you to a limit like that and where there is no room for ego.

While individual performance matters, the thing that still counts the most for the rest of the raid, is the overall outcome of a fight. Therefore, consider every issue your issue and help your team mates out with suggestions or add your feedback and ideas in the healing channel for the coordinator.
This is what I expect of each team member and nobody is left out from it. We celebrate our successes together and we also work as a team when things go wrong. Anything else will make me really unpleasant really quick.

3) The only way to the healers is through me
This is something I have always been adamant about, sometimes to the dismay of a raidleader or co-raider. By now, most of my mates know why this is so important though (and they’re also a little scared of me, haha!). What I’m talking about is that I expect raid leaders and members alike, to take any form of feedback or critique on healing through me. I am the person in charge and I am also the person with all the information: who has been assigned, to what, how and why. So if there are any questions, issues, wishes or criticism, there is no use to moan at an individual healer in the team, bicker in raidchat about healing or trying to give out orders of your own – they won’t listen to you. We’ve had a trialist or two in the past that actually thought they needed to scream “HEAL ME!” during our raids or blame the healers in the DPS channel; they didn’t last very long. This is not how we deal with issues in our guild.

I’m the one you should be talking to if you want to resolve something and that’s not because I am on some sort of power trip: I need to know what’s going on in order to coordinate healing better and I can’t do this if you by-pass me, this only creates utter chaos. Talk to me, I am actually here to help. Respect the job that I’m doing and let me do it, don’t go over my head or behind my back. Not if you’re hoping to get heals in the future, anyway.

I’m also the one who has a fairly good idea about whether a screw-up is really due to healing or not which is something that’s usually assumed by others overly quick. That said, no healing team is perfect, of course there are healing issues sometime and they can cause the loss of an MT or even wipe a raid. But there’s many many potential reasons behind a screw-up, so if you have anything to convey or ask, then ask the healing lead because he holds all the information. Also:  If you want to blame somebody, blame me. There’s really no use blaming other healers for their assignments.

Final words

These are probably my most valued and personal tips I can give to anyone about the things I’ve learned and situations I’ve been in. I still learn new things every raid, such is the beauty of dealing with human beings rather than NPCs: we’re all unique and fallible and that fallibility is what actually makes leading a required task and a fun challenge. It’s also the reason why encounters stay interesting for healers. Human error is the spice of our trade: if the rest of the raid was constantly 100% on top of tactics, things would get boring quickly. But we never quite know what’s going to happen and as a healing lead, you always need to be ready to react, re-evaluate and work with the choices before you. I love the first weeks in new raid instances for this reason.

Adrenaline will start with official 25man raids sometime around the start of January 2011. I look forward to new challenges and also to welcome Stumps, long-time raidleader and GM of Adrenaline, back in our healing team. I’ve successfully poached him to play his resto druid in the expansion and share the role of healing coordinator with me – I know we’ll have a lot of fun (it’s gonna be fiiine!). There’s been a few changes in our setup, but it still stands strong with both long-term healers and few newcomers. I can only second Lodur’s hommage to his healing team: WoW is so much more enjoyable for me thanks to them and our lively raid channel. We are not just fellow raiders but comrades and it’s worth your time and extra effort to lead such a dedicated bunch of people. Happy coordinating everybody.

8 comments

  1. Thanks Issy, I appreciate it. :)
    I’ve probably never written a post with more care or poured more of my personal wow experiences into it.

    Healing has really kept me in the game for so long, I doubt I would’ve stuck around had it not been for this role or my team. In a way I feel sorry for non-healers in WoW a little, hehe – it’s just rare to find the same kind of teamwork in other ‘role camps’ (even though our tanks coordinate quite a lot too).

  2. Wow, it shocks me you only got three comments here – it’s one of the weird ups and downs of blogging, isn’t it, that you can publish something you pulled randomly out of your arse and people will flock to it like flies to honey and then you publish something incredibly thoughtful, insightful and eloquent and nobody has anything to say. I think possibly it might be because the only answer is “YES, like she says” but still.

    Excellent post.

  3. Thanks muchly Tam!! =)

    Yeah it’s one of those things we must not take to heart too much, do we? Hehe…
    Then I knew the timing might be somewhat off with the general life in the blogosphere almost coming to a halt around the Cataclym launch – but I felt I needed to write this before it hits (the elephant threatened to flood my floors!). Some things we also write for ourselves.

  4. I think one reason many people wouldn’t comment, and the reason I wouldn’t have if not for Tam’s reply, is that I pretty much agree with everything you said, and I’m reluctant to post just “+1” or “Yep, I agree”.

  5. I found this post fascinating, in spite of only just beginning my adventures into healing. Thanks for the insight into what is (or might be) going on behind the scenes – now if only healing leads like you were a bit more common!

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