Tools for Mentoring

A few months ago, I wrote an article on ways to turn bad players into good players.  Today I’m going to expand on the mentoring advice that I laid out in the hopes of showing some practical ways you can help even a completely new player improve their game very quickly.

Advice vs Mentoring

First, let’s be clear on what mentoring is.  It’s not just throwing someone a few URLs to your favorite class specific blogs or sites and expecting the person to perform better next week.  In order to perform the job of  a mentor well, you need to analyze their current performance, identify the problems, help them find workarounds, then measure the improvement.  It’s a coaching role.  A football coach doesn’t just show up at the start of practice and tell the team “just kick the ball better this time” before walking away.

This means that mentoring is a non-trivial thing for a member of your guild to do.  If this is not something that someone has already agreed to do (say by becoming a class leader), then make sure they understand what they’re getting into.  This may be a good place to offer loot system bonuses, commensurate with the amount of time invested.  If someone’s going to spend even two hours per week talking with and measuring the performance of another member – time that they can’t be doing dailies or random heroics – then shouldn’t they be rewarded in the same manner as you reward people for time spent raiding?

What you want to avoid is having someone say “sure, I’ll help _blank_ get his DPS up”, only to have them get frustrated and quit (or be short with the person they’re helping) once they realize the scope of the task.  I’ve been playing for nearly four and a half years, most of that as a healer.  I’m now pretty close to the top of my game, but to transfer what I know today to someone who is new to WoW and/or new to healing is going to take several weeks of coaching, as well as some heavy hands-on with user interfaces and explaining the nuances of experience.

To Match Class or Not

Let’s say that you’re a small guild, or one which is light on a few classes.  You’ve recruited a resto shaman but their performance isn’t where it needs to be for the content you’re on.  The only other shaman in your guild is enhancement and is very good at DPS, but only heals in a pinch for 5-man runs, never in raids.  Pairing the two shaman may seem to be the obvious choice, but I would argue that any raid-capable healing class would be a better mentor.

In 5-mans, there’s no other healer to compare yourself against, and you rarely have to heal continuously for more than a few minutes.   Overhealing doesn’t matter, there are no healing targets to stick to, and the mix of spells you use isn’t that important.  Any sufficiently geared shaman with a resto spec can chain heal spam their way to victory.  When you get into a raid environment, everything changes.  You have to pay attention to more people, you can’t afford to overheal too much, and you have to know when to not heal a raid member because another healer is assigned to take care of them.  If you don’t heal raids, you won’t have this type of discipline.

For everything related to healing, I’d rather pair up the resto shaman with a priest, druid or even a paladin (who, for all their history vs shaman are probably the least like them in healing style).  When it comes to things that are shaman specific (such as totem synergy), you can either rely on web site resources, or pitch those questions over to the enhancement shaman.

Know the strengths of your potential mentors and match them up based upon the value they can provide, not just the color of their raid frame.  This is itself an argument against class leads and more towards role leads – a technique I’ve found to be more effective in the guilds I’ve been a member of

Web Site Resources

It may seem easy to just throw someone towards TankSpot or PlusHeal or Elitist Jerks and be done with it.  This may work for some people, but not everyone.  If you have a background in WoW (in the case that you’re switching classes or roles) or a history with other MMORPGs, you will probably be able to absorb the amount of detail these sites offer.  Jumping in without knowing the lingo can be quite disconcerting.  Certain sites also have a more friendly community when it comes to newbie questions.

If you do send people to sites, I would suggest going there yourself first and finding specific threads to point people to.  For example, if you go to EJ and look at the topics in the Shaman forum, you won’t find a “here’s everything you want to know as a resto shaman” post.  You will find that post over here – in the Theorycrafting Think Tank.   This isn’t consistent – the omnibus post for Death Knight Frost DPS is found in the Death Knight forum where you’d expect it to be.

If you send someone to the front page of such a site, they may miss the posts they need to read or even worse find outdated information in the obvious place to look.  This is part of the time investment of mentoring – you need to help the person get the concise information they need.  When I meet a paladin tank with a wonky spec using Seal of Wisdom, I send them to this post on Maintankadin, because everything they’re doing wrong is corrected in that one post.  This is a case where the post for 3.2 is the best place to start – there isn’t a 3.3 version of the post up yet, and the two major changes are covered in their own posts that go beyond “here’s what you’re doing wrong right now”.

If time allows, have the trainee read a particular post, then come back to you with questions right away.  Not everything in these omnibus posts makes sense off the bat, and sometimes a simple statement from someone experienced can set things straight quickly (e.g. “Paladin tanks still use spellpower, but we don’t gear for it”).

Taking a Look under the UI

One thing I like to do is get a screenshot of a trainee’s UI.  Take a few shots – one while idle, one while grouped in a 5 man, one while fighting trash, one while engaged with a boss, and one while raiding.  Look at the information their UI is presenting.  Is it too much?  Not enough?  Spread out too far?  The WoW user interface is very customizable, but you can easily end up with information overload.  If someone has downloaded a UI pack (especially one that wasn’t sized to their display resolution), addon frames may be covering up important aspects of the game world.

If their UI has gotten out of control, consider starting over from scratch.  I prefer to start with the following skeleton:

  • a viewport (to get your action bars off the game world)
  • an action bar replacement (so that you have have you action bars in one place aligned with each other, not halfway across the screen)
  • a boss warnings addon (with the warnings and bars moved out of their default location of “right on top of your avatar”)
  • Grid + Clique (yes, even if you’re DPS – being able to quickly remove a curse as a mage or proc a 5-point maelstrom weapon healing wave as an enhancement shaman is worth it)
  • a libdatabroker (LDB) display.  My favorite right now is ChocolateBar.  Get the plugins to provide the important information on the display and keep it of the game world.  Many addons that would take up a large chunk of screen real estate can output just the important information (like personal DPS or threat) to the LDB display.

Most importantly, try to enable “hide in combat” for any graphical addons that you don’t need to look at during the fight.  It’s the raid leader’s job to monitor performance during a fight, not every individual member’s.  There’s no point having an updating DPS meter on screen during the fight if it pushes you to make stupid choices to boost your DPS.  Analyze your performance after each fight or after the raid, not during.

I like the damage meter Skada for this purpose – it can be configured to switch to threat display during the fight, then revert to your normal display (healing / dps / damage) when out of combat.  Without a bunch of clicking, you can’t see per-member DPS during the fight, and this is a good thing.

I’ll include the obligatory link to my UI (which goes far beyond the skeleton I’ve laid out, but adheres to its principles).

Watching Their Performance

Next, you want to look at their performance.  This varies greatly by role.  For healers, you’re looking for spell breakdowns, overhealing, healing per second, and depending on the content dispels.  If you’re going through heroics to gather this data, your damage meter may give you everything you need.  I suggest doing your first run without any hints to establish a baseline – do this even before you send them to read web sites.  Get a feel for what their instincts tell them to do.

You want to measure improvement in performance in a like-for-like manner.  The healing and DPS required in Azjol-Nerub is not the same as the Halls of Reflection.  Try to go for a four or five boss heroic, but not one that requires excessive amounts of movement (like the Culling of Stratholme).  There will be a time and a place for improving “on the go” performance, but your first goal should be to improve typical performance where you move from static pull to static pull.

For raids, you will probably want to use a combat log analysis tool like World of Logs.  When analyzing healing performance, remember that while much of the analysis is the same (spell mix, etc.), there is another dimension in that you will always have multiple healers.  Healing assignments don’t come across with the log, so make sure that you know what they were when checking who someone healed.  Be sure to discount “splash” heals that the healer can’t direct like Circle of Healing, Wild Growth and Chain Heal (which is difficult, as the jumps heals don’t stand out from the initial heal).

For DPS, this is much easier – you’re looking for idle time and damage output mainly.  Don’t forget to look at “damage received” though – a 5k DPS who stands in fire is not as good as a 4K DPS who avoids them entirely.

Tanking is probably the hardest to evaluate, as threat doesn’t show up in the combat log.  But you’re not really concerned about the quantifiable threat when evaluating a tank.  You want a tank that:

  • maintains agro
  • doesn’t threat-cap the DPS
  • doesn’t take too much mana to heal

This is easiest to evaluate in a 5-man group when you’re the healer (or a DPS who could exceed the tank’s threat if they wanted to).  In a raid, you may have to do some comparisons of your DPS players from a previous raid with a better tank.  Is DPS lower for the same encounter with the trainee?  Can it be explained by other RNG-factors?  If not, talk to the DPS.  They should be able to tell you whether they felt they were threat capped.

How far ahead of the DPS a tank is is irrelevant if no DPS is even approaching the 75% mark.  Only when the DPS has to stop casting or attacking to avoid pulling agro does the threat output become something to focus on.  The gap is what’s important, and the best way to check this is to watch the threat meter in real time.

Watching Them Perform

Depending on the performance of the network connection, you may be able to use screen sharing tools to observe someone as they play.  The latest versions of Skype for Windows and Mac allow screen sharing, and the performance is surprisingly good.  It intelligently drops frames to maintain a usable rate, and unless the network is very slow, you should be able to spot things like not reacting to environmental damage, not noticing UI alerts, or clicking on spells instead of using keybindings.

You can also use this in the reverse direction, sharing your screen and doing a running commentary as you run a heroic or raid.  When I was learning to drive my instructor had me do a running stream of this: “check side mirror, check dash, check forward, check rear mirror”, etc.  You can easily imagine a similar stream for a healer: “moving out of the void zone, cleansing Foo, swiftmend healing the tank, refreshing water shield” and so on.  Sometimes people don’t realize that there really is something you can be doing on every single global cooldown, even if it’s just to scan the board and confirm that everything’s fine.

Another option is logmein, a service much like GoToMyPC, but available in a free version for personal use.  It doesn’t have the performance to keep up with a raid or heroic, but for basic training like “Grid’s telling you that this person is cursed, right click on their frame to dispel” it can be helpful.  It allows you to take control of the other PC as well, so it may be helpful if you’re helping someone who is not well-versed in addons get their UI set up.

Setting Goals

Every time you analyze performance, try to identify the biggest issue.  Is a shaman using healing wave instead of riptide + lesser healing wave and going OOM too quickly?  Is a DPS waiting too long to get into a fight, or not attacking from behind, or not building their initial rotation properly?  Make that the area for the trainee to focus on.  When you first start working with someone, you may find that there are a lot of things that need to be addressed.  Sometimes you’ll get lucky and be able to sort someone out with relatively little effort in the course of a week.   Other times you’re looking at a multi-week or even multi-month effort to bring them up to spec.

If there’s a lot to fix, list each of the problem areas and rank them in order of what will benefit the raid most.  Is overhealing way too high?  Make the goal to tighten up healing assignments.  Is initial threat too low?  Make the goal to establish a 50% threat lead in the first 15 seconds of an encounter.  Set reasonable goals, and come back to them each time you work with the trainee.  Either they’ll have met the goal, or you should be able to analyze why they have not.

If a problem area is big, don’t be afraid to set milestones.  It might not be realistic to get overhealing down from 40% to 10% in a week.  Set an intermediate goal of 25%.

If you find that your trainee is getting discouraged because they’re not hitting your targets, consider setting smaller targets that they should easily exceed.  There’s a huge personal morale boost to be found in knocking one out of the park.  Even if the goal was unrealistic and nowhere near the final target you need them to hit, it may get them out of a downward spiral and energize them to tackle the next problem area.

Mentoring as a Cure for Atrophy

As the various wings of Icecrown Citadel open up, recruiting is going to be easy – the further progressed you are, the longer the line will be outside.  Once the Lich King goes down in heroic mode and the Cataclysm beta starts, guilds will be facing atrophy again.  Some people will take a break until the expansion, and not all of them will come back.  People will move around to be on the same realm as new friends, and most guilds will have to re-build some of their raid roster.

While you can wait until your members hit 85 to open up the doors of recruiting, this will leave you with a mix of gear and skill for the early Cataclysm raid instances.  It’s much better to try to pick up people in the weeks and months prior to Cataclysm’s launch.  Identify those who need help and spend some time getting them up to spec when there is no leveling or gearing-up pressure to contend with.  Everyone’s going to deal with a gear reset, whether that’s in the first leveling zone or once they start doing heroics.  When gear is normalized, it’s skill (and attendance, but that’s another topic entirely) that largely determines how far and how fast you’ll progress.

Until Next Time

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