Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Healing: A Misunderstood Art

It is so misunderstood I totally messed up my math on the last post so had to start a new one from scratch.  Thanks to Shintar for pointing out the error, it has helped me understand the numbers better myself.

That is why healing is the misunderstood art.  Because of numbers.  Healing, unlike DPS, can not just be boiled down to numbers where the highest number is the best.  There is a lot more to healing then just pushing out your biggest, fastest heals to inflate your numbers and somewhere along the line people seem to forget that.

While we all like to see big numbers, tanks talking about their threat lead, or saying how much DPS they can push out while maintaining threat.  Damage dealers talking about DPS, or more accurately, damage done.  Healers love to see numbers too.

Seeing yourself doing 25K HPS is no different then a DPS saying they did 25K DPS.  You are just sharing what you did, and if you did it well, you are sharing it with pride.

I look at DPS numbers from a maximum potential sort of thing and trying to attain my maximum potential is the single most important thing after doing it while obeying the mechanics.  For a hunter like myself it is nice to have a site like female dwarf to go to when I want to see my maximum potential as a damage dealer.  If I where to put in my stats, with the applied buffs, and see I can do a maximum of 25K I have a number to aim for.  The closer I come to that number the better I am doing.  It is really that simple for a damage dealer.

It is not that simple for a healer.  There are just way to many variables.

1) Lets say that theoretically you can put out 25K HPS does getting as close to that point mean you are playing your role well just like the DPS that gets close to their maximum potential?  No, it does not.

- Unlike with DPS where doing your maximum at all times is usually considered a good thing with healing it is not required.  If the incoming damage is not high you will not have a high HPS.  This is a common problem you see with people that over gear content and then when something goes wrong they blame the healer. 

If they look at the numbers and see that so far in the instance you where pulling 6K HPS they automatically think you are a bad healer when that isn't always true.  Healing can not be judged by numbers like that.  If up until something went wrong 6K HPS was all the healer needed to do, that is what they will do even if they are capable of 25K.

Healing is just not about pushing your maximum potential all the time.

2) In a 25 man raid your raid healers will usually have much higher HPS then your tank healers.  Does that mean they are better healers?  No, it does not.

- A healer can only heal what needs healing.  If the tank is not taking a huge amount of damage and the raid is having no issues that require you to throw out some assist heals here and there then the tank healers HPS will be very low when compared to the raid healers that are all healing multiple targets in an AoE setting.  You can not go comparing apples to oranges when it comes to healing and expect those numbers to tell the whole story.

3) If you pick one tank to spam with heals and find yourself doing 25K heals per second and then find another target and do the same and suddenly have 30K heals per second does that mean you are doing more then your potential or mean you are getting better?  No, it does not.

- Some classes or specs have abilities that increase their healing received.  Some trinkets do that as well such as the alchemy ones.  You can heal two targets with the same heals over the same amount of time and see two completely different numbers coming up based on things like skills and items that are not even your own skills and items. 

It is another case of comparing apples to oranges.  Even comparing two tank healers with each other, you might think you are using a controlled environment but unless they are both speced the same and wearing the same gear it is quite possible, even likely, that you will two completely different results.

4) If you can pull out 25K HPS for 3 minutes in a 5 minute fight does that mean you did your job effectively? No, it does not.

- If the fight is a five minute fight you need to plan to be healing for five minutes.  Just because you can brute force 25K HPS by burning all you have does not mean you are doing the job right if you can not last until the end of the fight.  You would be much better doing 20K HPS and actively healing for the entire fight than healing for a much larger amount and then doing nothing while you wait on mana.  

Numbers can be deceiving if you let them be but this is one of those cases I actively advocate looking at some numbers.  Over healing done.  If you have a high over healing done number that means that could be from wasted mana.  Mana that could be used to help you maintain that 25K over 5 minutes instead of 3 minutes.

5) If you do a random and pull 25K HPS the first run and 18K HPS the second run does that mean you are not doing as well?  No, it does not.

-  Randoms are random by nature but that also means you are not running with the same groups or people of the same skill set.  From my own experience only I can tell you that I usually have a much higher HPS when I am running with a bad group then I would when running with a good group. 

Bad groups mean DPS taking more damage then they should be, which leads to more healing.  Tanks not using cooldowns or having lesser gear, which leads to more healing.  My bad group HPS might approach my personal cap because it has to but if you are running with a quality group of people that avoid damage and use cooldowns it would not be unheard of to finish a run with more DPS than HPS as a healer.  It does not mean you are not healing well, it just means not much healing is needed.

6) If you have healed an encounter a dozen times and usually pull 20K but start failing at it even if you are up to 25K does that means you are getting worse somehow?  No, not at all.

- A healer can only do what a healer can do.  You might be able to pump out more HPS when needed and perhaps even keep it going for a little bit but in the end, some damage, no matter how many times you have healed it before, becomes unhealable based on other players and having nothing to do with yourself. This is one of those situation where people love to look at numbers and the numbers are usually misleading.  HPS can not tell you why you could not heal it.  The answer to the healing problems most likely land on someone else's lap.

7) If the group starts to die to AoE damage even if every healer is pulling out their theoretical maximum HPS does that mean you need better healers that can put out more HPS?  No, it does not.

- Damage dealers deal damage as best they can on an individual basis.  Some might be helped by buffs of another but they are all individuals and their DPS is an individual number on longer fights.  For healers that does not always hold to be true.  Healers need to work together more.  If you are in a 25 man with two priests and their prayer of healing that only hits on a per group basis and the two priests always seem to heal group 2, 3, 4 and then 5 during an AoE phase there could be problems.  If the two heal in a different order everyone lives just fine and if they heal in the same order groups four and five could die. 

HPS mean nothing if people are over lapping targets and that is where things get misunderstood and people turn to numbers looking for someone to blame.  The problem does indeed lay with the healers but it sure as hell can not be found out by looking at HPS.  You need people to communicate to fix a problem like that, or even better, healers that can see what is happening and adjust on the fly on their own.

In all the above cases people look at numbers.  Numbers do not work for healers.  Numbers are just numbers.  They can tell you something for sure but they do not tell the whole story with healers.

Like I mentioned, I am a firm believer in the over healing done number being very telling of the skill of the player to manage mana.  I've seen it in the LFR many times already.  The top HPS person crying for innervates 2 minutes into the fight. 

Sometimes numbers can be nice to fine tune what you are doing right and wrong.  They can be nice to see just how much we can do, lets face it we all love to see those huge numbers.  They just should never be used as the basis of telling if someone is a good healer or not.  There is so much more to healing then just numbers.

Too much emphases is being put on straight out HPS and HPS only when that is not the only factor to consider.  Healing is an art form and there is much more to it.

Who do you heal first on the triage list when there are a few people in danger of dying?
Are you planning your mana regeneration abilities to get the maximum usage out of them instead of just saving them for when you need them?
Do you start casting a heal ahead of time when you know damage is coming to effectively get in an extra heal because it landed the split second the damage landed?
Do you know when the burst damage is coming and prepare for it during the proverbial calm before the storm?
Are you using your AoE when it would be better to single target heal?
Are you using your single target heal when it would be better to AoE heal?
Are you keeping track of the tanks personal cooldowns so you know how to coordinate yours with theirs for those big damage moments?
Do you heal even minor damage when you know that person will not be taking any other damage any time soon or wait?
Are you using your fast expensive heal when doing your cost effective but slower one would be fine?

All these things and so much more that a healer has to ask themselves over the course of a battle can lower a healers HPS.  Does that make them a bad healer?  Absolutely not.  Sometimes it is more about the bigger picture and the healer that can balance it is the healer that is doing it right even if their HPS might be a bit lower then someone else.

Effective healing is a nice buzz word we like to hear.  I say it all the time myself.  People that over heal by large amounts, in my opinion, are not effective healers.  They are wasting mana that they might need later.  Who cares if they don't need it, they might have, and using it for nothing is wasting it.

Healers that save the lowest DPS while letting the highest DPS die when they both where hit with that same unavoidable damage is another way to tell if a healer is good or not, but there is no way to tell which is which on recount.

How about the healer that will spam AoE heals when the tank is in danger of dying because AoE heals look better on the meter as HPS?  Another bad healer but one we have no one to blame for but ourselves.  We all get hung up on the numbers and think that the biggest numbers are the best numbers.

What if we could find a way to figure out if people where healing the correct person?  What if we found a way to balance it out so the person healing the tank gets as much credit as the person that is spamming AoEs?  What if there was a way to track who is healing thought all 5 minutes of the fight instead of just burst healing when they have the mana with no HoTs that might lower their HPS by ticking when they are no longer healing?  What if we had a way to actually figure out effective heals, real effective heals?

The question is, even at that, can we really boil down healing to just a number even a number like effective healing?  I don't think we ever can, healing is just so much more then just a number.

If in the end the boss is dead and the raiders aren't, you did effective healing.

Anyone can paint a picture but only a gifted artist can paint a masterpiece.

The same goes for healing.

Anyone can play a healer but only a gifted player can be a healer.

For the record, I just play a healer but I really admire the people that can be a healer. And I don't need to look at HPS or over healing done to tell the difference.  Real healers stand out, they are masters of the misunderstood art.


  1. (clap)

    You have no idea how many times I have finished a fight where I know for a fact I made a huge difference with either a well placed bubble, or a last second penance only to hear people congratulate another healer for there outstanding numbers.

    The measure of a healer is... are people dead?

    I am thankful that I have a healing team that works with me and not to compete with me. People still look at those numbers all the time, but they can be very, very misleading.

  2. @Logtar, I think the healers know what you did - maybe they don't know it was you but it's not something that can go unnoticed.

    @Grumpy Elf, isn't buzzword a word/phrase with negative meaning? I mean, if I said effective healing was a buzzword, that would make sense to me although I try not to be that rude.

    As for your overhealing, I don't agree with the importance you put in it. First, I agree with the "ABC" principle (Always Be Casting) that I read about a couple of years ago. Even if nobody needs healing, some damage might get through and the heal might not go to waste. Don't forget that heals often have more than just the direct effect. AA/A priest can DPS and stack their Evangelism, druid's Nourish refreshes Lifebloom (I think), paladin and holy priest can stack their mastery on the target, paladin and shaman can heal themselves with each heals... If nobody needs healing and a healer just standing around, the only reason is the purple globule, being OOM or having to move and being out of instants.

    Second, the purpose of your blue bar is to be converted into a stream of love to your group members (and yourself). I used to be like that with my CDs, holding on them for times of real need - but eventually I figured that the purpose of a healer is not to save their mana and CDs but to save their group members.

    As for your "what if we could find a way to X", the answer to most of them is World of Logs.

  3. I have never looked at HPS on recount for healer's performance when I am tanking and I die. I see the last 10 seconds of my death log , that shows healer's reactions to incoming damage , whether he used a Divine light /Greater heal or just popped a holy-light/renew on me and went on to heal others when heavy healing was required.

    Healing is a thankless job , when you do well everyone collects purples and go home , but if you fail all the hell breaks loose.

    So I take a moment to thank my GM/RL who despite of all raid leading duties manages to keep us alive through all the shit.

  4. @ Imakulata

    I agree with the mana and cool down thing. I still live with the occasional "fear of the cool down" when it comes to things like that but over all I have over come it. So much to the point that I have noticed my healing, tanking and DPSing get better.

    Using cool downs early and often when you know you will be able to fit them in more the once is a god send.

    I used to wait until the last minute to use mana tide totem and that was wrong. Using it early in the fight while I am still at 80%+ mana when I know I can get it in again made a world of difference in my healing.

    While it might very well be true I look at over healing as a waste of mana way to much, I do know that there are times where I do need to let loose and I do.

    I just prefer the conservative method when heavy healing is not needed. All fights are scripted, you should always know when your heavy mana usage times are coming and heal accordingly. At least that is how I play it.

    I'll still throw heals during the down time, I'll just throw the smaller and cheaper ones. But I always remember that even a cheap one is a waste of mana if it is over healing.

    If the last 1% of the boss comes and we wipe because I could not get off 1 quick heal on the tank because I am out of mana there is no one to blame but myself for wasting mana casting a heal earlier when it was not needed.