While it is one underlining issue it manifests itself in a myriad of ways why I believe that item level is just not a great way to judge players, at least not on its own. A few recent events made me think about how much I dislike the item level system not because of what it does but because of how people perceive it. Using item level as a gating system for content is fair, to an extent.
While it might be true I could amass more damage done during the course of a fight with a 455 item level hunter than most people in 480+ gear could in the ToT LFR at least I can not get into the ToTs with a 455 item level hunter. So that could be considered an issue in and of itself couldn't it? So while item level is about as reasonable as any arbitrary gate could be when it comes to being easily identifiable it isn't always the best way and there really are no better ways sadly. So that really is not one of my issues.
I think my main issue with item level is that it causes people to make false assumptions based on it. Someone with a 526 item level surely has to be better than someone with a 504 item level right? Someone with a 510 item level has to be ready to down some stuff in ToT if my group first started it without even one person at 500. It is the misconception of the community, at least the one I see most, the one on my server, that makes people think their item level is proof of what they are capable of doing. And that is where my issues start.
It is all about potential:
I have often tried to explain to people when they ask things like "what item level do I need for that" when we are doing a real raid that it is not about item level, it is about ability. I usually get a follow up where someone says but the more gear I have the better I do.
This is right. The more gear you have the more potential you have to do better. It is basically a sliding scale. If a boss needs the average raid member to pull 90K for instance, and your gear is so low that your maximum potential on a patch work fight would be 80K you are not geared for the content. It is not an insult, it is a fact. You do not have the potential to do the fight and at least carry your own weight.
It isn't just for damage dealers either. A tank with more gear can take bigger hits. A tank with better gear can avoid more hits. A tank with better gear can do better at equal skill level than he would with less gear. More gear increases their potential. Healers too. Some fights just push out too much damage and unless you can pull your own weight you are asking others to do the heavy lifting. If you do not have the gear that would make it capable for you to pull your own it might not be a skill issue. It might very well be a gear issue.
So item level is important. It shows you have a higher potential than someone in lesser gear. What you do with that potential is another part of this post however and does not belong here. Here is about potential.
Two people with a 480 item level do not have the same potential:
This is something that starts to get to the heart of what my issue with item level really is. People believing that all things are equal. I'll use myself for example. When I hit 480 on my rogue and first went into the ToT LFR I think I was pulling roughly 50K or around that if I remember correctly. I will be the first to admit I am not very good at my rogue, but there was a reason I was that low and it was not all because of my lack of skill at being one. I had 2 450 weapons. If, for example, I had 2 450 rings instead of 2 450 weapons and my weapons were 483 and 489 I would have been doing 70K and not 50K.
The difference between two low weapons and two low rings would leave me at the same item level, 480, but with two completely different results of 50K vs 70K. That is because the weight of the weapons to my performance is leaps and bound higher than that of the minor stat carrying rings.
So even saying you have a 480 item level is not exactly clear cut on what your potential would be. While I never actually looked at the real numbers I will assure you with 100% certainty that my rogues potential with 2 450 weapons and a 483 & 489 ring would be substantially lower than that of my rogue having a 483 & 489 weapon and 2 450 rings.
Item level is all fine and dandy for a simple gating system but it doesn't really tell of someones true potential because of the variables involved. Lets take this hypothetical situation where someone has a mix and match of 522 and 450 pieces. One has their main pieces, gloves, chest, shoulder, legs, head and weapon(s) at 450 and everything else at 522 vs someone that has those main pieces 522 and all the others 450. The person with the fewer 522s thus a lower item level will have a much higher maximum potential than the person with more 522 items and a higher item level tanks to the fact of which pieces are the 522 ones.
This is part of my problem with the item level system. It does not weight which pieces someone has better ones of appropriately and gives people, the uninformed ones at least, the false impression of what potential they should expect of someone based on item level. In the end you can not expect 2 rogues with a 480 item level to do the same DPS when one has 2 450 weapons and one as 2 450 rings.
What item level do you need?
I swear I despise that question with a passion because there is no cut and dry answer to it. I get it a lot these questions in the last few months when trying to fill out those last few places for the 25 man. I'll ask in guild if anyone wants to come along and someone is bound to say, what item level do you need?
I've said a lot of different answers. None of them were item levels unless I was really just desperate. You really can not judge someone by item level.
What item level would I like might be a more appropriate question. Be at least 510 at this point in the expansion. Is that what I need? No. I need someone that at least has done the fights in the LFR so it makes it easier for me to explain them. Being I only expect to get the first three bosses down in the allotted time frame we raid I need someone that can run when they got lightning on them and not get everyone killed. I need someone that will stack when it is time to stack and spread out when it is time to spread out. I need someone that can hit the appropriate kill targets and interrupt when needed. I need someone that understands the simple concept that if you are charged run into a position that the head or tail is not in the group when it charges. I need someone that understand stack for frost bite, but not everyone, and don't stack for biting cold. I need someone that can switch to the call target the moment I call it and not 15 seconds later. Basically can you follow instructions, know how to play you class, and have at least the minimum working knowledge of the fights we will be doing tonight. If so, lets roll.
It is NOT an item level. There is no item level for a raid you walk into. I've downed bosses with people that have a 460 item level in the group because they did mechanics right and even if their numbers were a bit lower than most they made a solid contribution and I have wiped in a group with everyone over 520 item level because people did not interrupt the damn venom priest because everyone thought it was someone elses job and did not listen to their interrupt assignments.
Gear means nothing might be an extreme over statement because gear does mean something, but in sentiment, gear does mean nothing if you don't do mechanics. So who cares what item level you have sometimes.
Can I just say 500 and move on? Sure I can but there is a reason I do not do that, and that is the next problem I have with item level.
I have a 510 item level why can't I come?
Because I have run with you before. That is about as polite as I can say it really. Should I tell them they suck? Yes I should. I tend to go about it nicer than that however. I will usually tell them I will do some heroics or the LFR with them and when they start to get better with raid awareness they might be invited to come along on the raid.
But I can do high DPS. That is usually the follow up to me telling them they need to work on raid awareness before they can come on the real raid. They don't grasp the concept of one person can wipe the group and it is not all about DPS. I do not give a flying fuck if you can pull 200K plus on the first boss. If you get lightning on you and stand in the puddle because your DPS is too important you and kill us I will kick you from the group.
We are not a hard core guild, not by any means what so ever, but even if we are casual in our approach if you can not move when we tell you to move, even yell in vent over and over for you to move, you are not a raider and no, you can no come to our raids no matter what item level you have or what your DPS is. You are not a raider.
And that is another item level problem. With a 510 item level and all skilled players ToT isn't really much of an issue once you learn it. For brand new people you might still experience some mistakes and a few wipes, I accept that, it is part of being in a casual group and having a rotating few in a 25 man. But when you do not even have the slightest raid awareness you are not a raider even if your item level might tell you that you are.
Item level means nothing what so ever when you suck at raiding. No seriously. I would rather an empty space then having you there when if you get targeted we wipe. So it will take another 20 seconds to down the boss missing a DPS or two, I'll spend the 20 seconds more to down it and not wipe. No thank you, your item level means nothing to me. Keep working on it all you want but no matter how high you get your item level you will not be invited to a raid until you put as much effort into raid awareness as you do in gearing up.
I have a better item level which means I am the better player?
Call this one part jealously because I have my bad luck and call it a second part of WTF are you talking about willis. I see it all the time where people say 526 item level LF something. As if their item level will sell them. Perhaps to the unsuspecting person.
I've grabbed a few of these "have to post my item level as often as I possibly can even if I am not running anything because it shows everyone how awesome I am" types for a heroic scenario. I have yet to meet one that could at least hit the standard that someone in 480 gear and skilled would be doing.
I even see people in my own guild having this mentality and I want to slap them upside the head sometimes for it. Your item level does not make you a good player. Being a good player makes you are good player.
One of my hunters, a 523 item level, was in an LFR with me and was saying how he is destroying the other hunter. I inspected the other hunter and said to him, next time look before you speak, he is doing a hell of a lot better than you are. You need to step up your game. His reply was I am beating him by 40K. I said, you also have him by about 40 item levels too. He is getting the maximum out of his gear. You just have more gear, that is why you are beating him. He is doing exceptional, you are just doing good.
It is as if he has begin to fall back on his gear to use that as a measuring stick to show how good he is. He is letting his gear do most of the work and beginning to slack off. Not just him, I see it all over the place. People in the LFR talking about how great they are when in fact they are not.
Like that one time when there was someone telling the raid how they carried them all in the LFR. Looking at the person in all 522 or better (this was before upgrades came back) and knowing everyone else in there was barely in 502s mostly and myself on my rogue was not even 500 yet and just behind him, it made me realize how bad people really are. Not as in how bad the others in the group were, but how bad the person leading the pack was. In all 522s they were bragging they were #1 DPS in a LFR. Two things came to mind. 1, in all 522 or better gear you should be pulling a hell of a lot more than 104K and 2, being you are the only geared person in here you should be #1. It is not something to boast about, it is exactly the place you should be in.
I was in a run with a rogue doing over 300K single target, did he brag and say he was carrying the group? Nope. Once I saw these two elemental shaman from the same guild fighting it out both over 250K, did they say they carried the group? Nope. When I go with my main damage dealers from my 10 man us 5 are the top 5 with 6th usually somewhere around 90K less than our lowest but do we say we carried the group? Nope. Because people in better gear are supposed to be doing better. It is not something to brag about.
But in his mind he has the better gear which means he is the better player, even if he is not, and that mentality seems to be running through the game as a whole. It seems that people forget that in better gear you should do better. Just because you have the gear does not mean you are better. Like the case of the hunter in my guild that said what he said. He was actually doing worse than the other hunter. Your item level does not mean you are the better player, it just means you have more gear.
I don't have the gear for it?
I am a reasonable person, or at least I like to believe so. I also think I am a fair judge of my own ability. One night some time back we were doing a ToT run and had only one healer. We normally three heal it but there were no other healers around. We were up to the turtle boss and quite honestly I did not believe I had the gear or the skill to switch to heals so we could to two heal it. Either way, I offered to switch and give it a shot.
Long story short, we did not down the boss with only 9 players and 2 of which were healers, but we kind of did prove something. I need a lot of practice on my healer and it can be two healed. Yes, it can be two healed even with a lesser skilled and much lesser geared healer. Each attempt we made it further. I worked with the other healer, we had people using personals. We basically took advantage of whatever we could and with enough attempts we pushed it about as far as we could.
I had roughly a 483 item level at the time and the other healer a quite generous 515 in comparison. I was pushing about 65K HPS (I know not the best judge but it is to show you) and the other healer was closer to 95K. By the end I think I was in a rhythm where I was doing close to as good as I could with my skill level and the gear I had and I thought, if only I had a little more gear it would be a breeze. If I were at the same item level as the other healer we might have pulled it off. We had so many sub 20% attempts but I just ran out of gas.
This proved two things, one, you can two heal tortos with two decent healers, and I would not be one of those two decent healers until I could get some gear. However, in my gear I would be more than capable of doing it in a 3 heal group. Gear can make a difference, but in this case I think it was more a skill issue. A more skilled player in my same gear would have been able to get it done. So my 483 is not exactly equal to the 483 of a more experienced and more skilled player. They would have been able to do it if I was able to come that close. And that brings me to the next point about why I really dislike item level.
Item level is a crutch.
The example I just gave is the perfect example of item level is a crutch. I said, a more skilled player might have been able to do it in that situation. But my solution was to do what? Get more gear. I could get better at playing my class or I could just get myself to a 515 item level like the other healer and then easily 2 heal it.
That is why item level has become such a crutch. If only we had more DPS, we get the damage dealers more gear and their DPS will go up. What about addressing the fact that people are working at about 50% efficiency. If the gear they have has them capable of doing 100K fully buffed and they are doing 50%, don't just get them more gear so their DPS goes up, get them more skill so their DPS goes up. Getting them more gear means that their 140K potential gets them to 70K but getting them more skill too means it might get them to 100K. There is more to be gained with skill than there is with gear in many cases but gear is just the easier solution for most.
Gear, and as long as it is there, is a crutch. It can hold you up, hold you up to the point you arrive where you do not belong. So to speak of course. If I could not two heal that boss at 483 and another more skilled healer could have, I don't deserve to beat that boss. Sure if I gear up more I can do it, but that means nothing because I took the easy route.
I sometimes wish we lived in that instant gratification world were everyone had all the gear they wanted but not for the same reason other do, just because they want easy gear. I wish we lived there because then gear could never be used an as excuse for under performing. Too often I hear, if only I had the gear.
Yes, there will be many times you meet something that you will not mathematically be able to conquer without more gear but in many cases it is only a matter of execution. If you were better, you could do it. As long as there are upgrades to be had there will forever be people saying, "I could do it if I had that trinket", "if only I had that weapon I'd do more DPS", "I don't have enough stats for this, I need more gear". But in truth, many of these cases are not really gear issues, they are skill issues.
So yes, I could use gear as a crutch and get some more so the next time I try to two heal it I can or I could do something so different and so extraordinary that no one would believe me if I told them it was possible, I could just get better. Item level is that crutch. That leads to the next part.
It is only easy for you because you have a better item level.
This is true actually. What is the difference between going into ToT at item level 500 as a group or item level 520 as a group? Roughly the same as a 10% debuff? 20% maybe?
Yes, fights become easier the more gear you get. This goes to what ghostcrawler said when he explained how things get nerfed over time when people collect (and upgrade) gear. The better gear you have the easier it becomes. That is just common sense. Yes, even GC does show some signs of common sense once in a rare while.
But this turns into the pug mentality that I once complained about when I saw someone assembling a DS pug last expansion. Looking for people 395+ for DS normal. Excuse me? If I am 395+ I am doing heroic, not normal. Or at least I should be.
People just always try to choose the path of least resistance and they think item level is the answer to anything. Just like I saw all 395 people not get past the second boss in DS I see all 520 people not get past the second boss in ToT.
So while it might be true that the higher the item level the more you can do, it does not translate into the higher the item level the more you actually do. There is still some sort of ability needed. It is not all about it being easier for people with a better item level. It should but it isn't always.
I just do not like item level.
I think I have actually completely lost focus on what I was being grumpy about but that is the net result here. I just do not like item level. I wish there were a better way to judge a player but item level is not one of them. Not even in the slightest and not as long as the range of top to bottom is so damn wide. When two people in the exact same gear can give you two completely opposite results on what they do, judging people by item level alone is just not a viable way to base someones ability. And in the case of my rogue example, when two people with the same item level and the same skill level can have two completely different results because of where that item level came from it shows that item level is really not all that.
What would you suggest being a better way?
Is there another way?
I don't think there is and don't think there ever will be. I just really dislike that people get all hung up over item level as if that is the only deciding factor on what they are capable of doing. If I hear one more person ask "what item level do I need" when I am looking for people for my 25s I am going to shoot someone. Well, being I am a hunter and shoot people all the time that doesn't mean much, but you get the idea. I really hate this item level society sometimes.