Healers and Battleground Roles

If you can heal, you should be healing in a battleground. That is the rule. No matter how unfair it is to the players involved, no matter the other strengths of the class or player involved, if you can heal, you should.

Forget about the awesome PvP abilities of some of these hybrid classes. Who needs Enhancement Shamans powering a node’s defense, Retribution Paladins dominating front-line combat, or Shadow Priests destroying swaths of the enemy? Never mind that Feral Druids are some of the best flag runners and node cappers in the game!  If those players want us to win they should be healing!

Do you see how silly this attitude is?

This ridiculous strawman what happens when you take an observation – healers win battlegrounds – and turn it into a prescription – everyone who can heal, should. Carried to this extreme it becomes patently absurd.

Yet, even though it is absurd, you’ll hear well-meaning people say it. I’ve probably even said it once or twice.  But the scarcity of healers is no excuse for pigeonholing players into roles they either choose not to play, or frankly aren’t very good at.

The source of the problem lies in the lack of defined roles in a battleground. You don’t select Healer, Damage, or Crowd Control when queuing for a battleground – you just show up. Random chance governs your healing team, if you get one at all. So when you look around at the class compostion of your team, you see the potential healer pool. The actual team is far smaller.

Good healers win battlegrounds. That statement carries with it a terrible burden of responsibility that no player should be saddled with, especially because it is only part of the whole truth.  I propose a new axiom: Good players win battlegrounds. Players who know how to lead, players who know how to fight, players who know how to control the enemy, and yes – players who know how to heal.

Battleground raid roles are not as simple as PvE raid roles.  The Tank-Healer-Damage trinity simply doesn’t apply to PvP, and is instead replaced by situational roles for each battleground.  Within the smallest battleground, Warsong Gulch, I can think of a dozen roles in two different configurations.  Zone coverage would be broken down into Flagroom Defense, Midfield / Offensive Support, and then Offense / Flag Carriers, each subdivided into Control, Damage, and Healing.  Or you could abandon zones and go with task-based role assignment: Flag Carrier, FC Support, Midfield Control, EFC Hunters.

However, trying to communicate these kinds of complex role assignments to a random PuG before a battle is madness.  The reason Simple Battleground Strategies work is because they present a way for your team to work together quickly, easily, and independent of raid composition.  Unfortunately, that simple way of thinking bleeds into how we consider healers and healing-capable classes because there is no refinement within them to consider the other roles a hybrid class can play in the battleground.  Good hybrid players go and perform those roles within the structure of the simple strategies anyways, but it would be nice if we started seeing more refined roles that didn’t just go “Healer / Not Healer.”

I think that the introduction of Rated Battlegrounds in Cataclysm will have a dramatic impact of how we think about our strategies.  PuGs are still going to happen, but I really expect to see more battlefield organization through guilds and general PvP alliances.  The incentive to organize is going to be there, so people will be thinking deeper and longer about how their players should work together and the roles they fill. This is really exciting.  We could be on the cusp of a renaissance of battleground strategies as more players get involved.

We could also be on the verge of losing one of the great charms of battlegrounds, namely the casual, laid-back nature that appeals to many busy players now.  PuGs facing premades can be very frustrating for those on the disorganized side.  Sometimes, you don’t want something serious, you just want to go pwn some Horde or Alliance, and having to execute a complex strategy is not how you want to unwind.  My biggest fear with the introduction of Rated Battlegrounds is that the casual aspect of bgs will be lost.  I am holding judgement until we see more about the implementation, and see how that implementation changes people’s playstyle.  It has tremendous potential both for good and ill.

There’s an unfair expectation on hybrid classes to heal in battlegrounds right now.  My hope is that Rated Battlegrounds will bring about a greater recognition and respect for the other specs those hybrids bring to your team, and that those healers who are there are playing because they enjoy it, not out of some sense of obligation or guilt.

Only time will tell if that hope will bear fruit.

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39 Comments

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39 responses to “Healers and Battleground Roles

  1. I am one of those healers who really enjoys battleground healing. I’ve finally picked up some resilience for my druid and I’ve been going into BGs grinding honor.

    It’s fun to go tree, pop barkskin, and then hop around stacking rejuvs and lifeblooms on the 2 or 3 others near me while the enemy tries in vain to make me stop. If I see them coming and hit Nature’s Grasp before I hit tree, it’s even more fun, because then they either have to burn their trinket or watch me bounce around like a rubber ball healing everyone back to full.

    Ahhhhhhh. Love it.

    • I was having a terrible time motivating myself to tank through the 40s and 50s. Once I switched to healing it’s been easy.

      I love it, but I think I need lessons in How2Tree! Fortunately I’m just getting started.

    • Trees…I hate trees. I HATE trees. I HATE TREES. I. HATE. TREEEEEEEEEESS!!!!!

      Sorry, just had to get that out of my system there.

      To be more precise, I hate fighting them. I ran a few randoms the other day to get some honor for a pair of upgrades I’d completely missed the existence of and found myself in EotS.

      I’m on my mage and rather than bothering with Frost for survivability I go Arcane for mass slaying. I find a Tree sitting all alone up on a node so I decide it’s time to rip a few limbs off and away I go. I get him down to about 70% and then he’s back to full.

      Challenge? I accept! I go after him and start to unload a bit more. 70% to full. I go in again, pop a trinket and a cooldown. 50% to full. WTF!??! I burn all my cooldowns, pop the other trinket and throw everything I have at him. 90% to full, 80% to full, 85% to full, 70% to full, 90% to full, triple stacked AB crits followed by a Missile Barrage with every crit, YES!!!..? 25% to FULL!

      And then I was out of mana.

      I hate trees… /sniffle

      • *waves branches at your mage*

        (Isn’t your druid like level 70 by now, though?)

      • Actually, Trees have become one of my favorite adversaries.

        Fire Mages have lots of interrupts.

        Combined with spell steal, it brings tears of joy to my eyes to lop TreeDruids.

        Let them get a few HoTs off, interrupot, steal, interrupt, steal, destroy…

      • Possum

        Spellsteal my friend. A trees HoTs are your HoTs. Once you’ve stripped off the leaves counterspell them and you can go for the trunk.

      • Bob Hope

        Funny. You hate “fighting” resto druids. Umm, resto druids aren’t hurting you and odds are they didn’t start the engagement. You have initiated the fight. It is a shame that you can’t mow them down in 10 seconds, but realize that resto druids have little other roles in BGs other than healing. It isn’t much fun and frankly is indeed a burden more than any sort of fun.

        Running around healing idiot DPS classes who care nothing for your own survival or doing nothing to help reach the battleground objectives is demoralizing to say the least.

        So, whaa… God forbid you can’t kill them in one shot.

  2. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I believe the mindset of “healers win battlegrounds” comes from the fact that armed with a competent healer (not good, just competent), a strategic node is almost unassailable.

    The EFC is free to run around (especially as a druid with a healer following) and I submit that the might of ten people cannot take this duo down in most cases. 15v15 WSG might change the calculus of that matchup, but in most cases, druid EFC with healer = cap. A DPS + Healer pair can hold almost any AB node since killing a healer in less than 30 seconds takes more people than you should be committing to an AB node assault.

    The strategic bg’s, EotS/AV/SotA/IoC, are quickly becoming my favorite battlegrounds. They tend to be about controlling the team presence and that is more important than individual random class matchups. One person makes little to no difference (unless they are driving a glaive) and team synergy gets to flex it’s muscles.

    Healers are balanced against 3-5 DPS hammering on them and when those 3-5 DPS are not used to working together to coordinate shatter combos with conflag crits, it gets even more unbalanced. When Cat hits and healthbars skyrocket and healing per second plummets, I might change my mind, but right now, I have to disagree with you. If you can heal, you should be healing. It is the #1 way to victory in the “tactical” battlegrounds.

    • I think back to a time in Wintergrasp on Cynwise where I was playing above my head — where I first hit the zone, where my brain shut off and I did things I never thought I was capable of doing. Four Horde with 10 stacks of Tenacity jumped me and a holy priest. These guys were monsters, absolute beasts with those buffs. I remember wading in with two priorities: protect the healer and kill the enemy.

      Two minutes later the horde lay dead at our feet.

      The priest turned to me and said, “Holy shit.” I was shaking with adrenaline. Neither one of us could have made it if the other hadn’t done an awesome job, but there we were — still alive, him because of me, and I because of him. We both did our jobs exceptionally well in that encounter.

      I trot this example out a lot because it was pivotal in establishing in my mind how important healers are in a fight. Healers are essential. Healers win battlegrounds. You have no argument from me there.

      But let me twist the example somewhat. Let’s say that instead of playing a Warlock, I played a Retribution Paladin with the same proficiency. I’m a really good pvp Ret Pally. But I suck at healing as Holy, so I never do it.

      Would the outcome have been any different had I been a Ret Pally? Probably not. It might have even taken less time!

      But what if you put me in the healing spot, even though I’m not as good of a pally healer as I am a damage dealer? Are we as effective as getting someone who likes to heal and is good at it — and of letting me crack skulls because I’m good at that, too?

      The screenshot at the top of this page is of me on my Resto Druid, zoning into WSG to find 3 other trees. Four trees in a raid group of ten players. We won, though it was not quite as easy as you might expect. We dominated until the trees ran out of mana, and then we had to really play hard. Several players got [Wrecking Ball] along the way as our forest charged across midfield.

      I’ve been playing a lot of battleground on my baby druid, and have focused entirely on healing. It’s been an eye-opening experience. There are many times that I can wade into a fight and single-handedly turn it from a lost cause into a victory. I spam glyphed Healing Touches and Rejuvenates like nobody’s business, waving my arms around, doing quick and dirty heals, clicking VuhDo like mad. I feel like a demigod on the battlegrounds. My team lives because of me! And I love it. I absolutely love it.

      But once the healing rush leaves me and I’m cooling down in Dalaran, I have to be honest with myself — I didn’t win that battleground. The whole team did.

      I may not have made this point very well because of the strawman argument I presented at the very beginning of the post. I’ve seen a lot of people tank and heal dungeons out of a sense of obligation instead of real enjoyment. And that kills me. It absolutely kills me to see that in action. But at least in an instance, there’s a choice hybrids have — they can just click the role they want to play right then and the other roles will be filled for them. I think Hots and Dots had a post about this a while ago, about how liberating it was to just click Damage and not Heals. The system is set up so that your choice has no negative impact on the group’s performance.

      Within a battleground, though, there are no roles to choose upon entry, and no guarantee that others will fill those slots. So there’s social pressure there to heal, even if that’s not what you want to do – or are good at.

      My point about healers, such as it is, is that you should play what you like and what you enjoy. If that’s healing, you will be a valued member of the team and contribute very strongly to the potential success of your team.

      But if it’s not healing, that doesn’t mean that you’re not also contributing, and that you’re not contributing as much or more to your team’s effort than if you were healing.

      • I think the summary of this is, “Just because you can heal doesn’t mean you have to heal. But if you’re willing to heal, you have a chance to make one of the biggest contributions to success.”

        Healers make a huge difference, no doubt about it. They probably make one of the single largest contributions that can be made. But there are three things you can’t heal even at level 85: stupid, lazy, careless.

        No matter how good your healers are, if you don’t have DPS then you’re never going to recap your flag in WSG. No matter how good your heals are, you’re never going to kill Drek if your tank can’t hold agro. And no matter how hard I try my mage will never kill a resto druid.

        Everyone has their part to play, and every role is important. While a BG doesn’t have certain roles that require being filled, it’s still similar to a raid in that any roles that you’re missing or running low on hurts the overall performance of the group.

      • “Just because you can heal doesn’t mean you have to heal. But if you’re willing to heal, you have a chance to make one of the biggest contributions to success.”

        But, if you are the only healing capable person in the BG… assuming you want to win, now is the time to heal

        Have to… no…
        Want to… well, do you want a crack at winning?

    • Ran a WSG the other day.. 3 healers protecting the EFC.

      Normal rules of target the healer sort of get screwed when there are three of them, and the primary target is skipping up the field.

      was a fun, if lost, BG.

      • Agreed. If there are 3 healers on the EFC then I switch priority back to the EFC and focus on burning him within the time it takes the healers casts to go off.

        If you can heal, and you’re the only one or one of the few who can, then your most useful position for the team is going to be as a healer, but a FC with a couple of CC heavy classes can do just as well if no healer is present.

    • Voltigeuse

      @ Shieldbreaker

      I have a Resto Shammie that I raid with and love dearly but it can be a little intense so I go to BG’s to relax and Pew Pew as an elemental. This is great fun but sometimes spoilt by people shouting at me to ‘HEALZ FFS’.
      To all of these people I suggest that they roll a healer if they think it is the sure fire way to win.

      But if they did that then we would have no Warriors and DK and that would be such a loss………….or would it. -)

  3. skinnemuva

    Being very casual with only two people that I ever play with on my server, I really hope that BGs at 85 are still viable for me and rated bgs don’t ruin it. I guess only time will tell.

    On the healing subject, my old main was a balance druid that I spent many many hours in bgs at 70 with, including running premades. The heals that a dps specced hybrid puts out aren’t only not enough to carry a team, they also make them go oom very fast. If you are specced dps your main focus should be to dps. Of course you can still heal, but being a pocket healer as a ele shaman, balance druid or a ret pally is just going to make people to you to L2P.

    • I share your fear about rated BGs ruining the casual atmosphere. It’s one reason I haven’t posted about them before — we don’t know enough about it yet to really make a judgement call.

      The occasional heals hybrids can toss out can help, but like you said — you can’t keep up a whole group without running out of mana. I have enough trouble making it through long fights as a Tree!

      • If you have a heal offspec, but want to dps… make the decision during prep time.

        It may mean you need to *shock gasp* communicate with the others to find out of there are heals.

        But if the other 9 come back with can’t heal… then, that’s what you spent the 1,000 gold for.

        I originally went to BGs with Squid as Ele, soon realised Resto was needed… but occasionally would pop into a BG surrounded by a forest…

        Quick Respec to bring on the pain and everything was alright.

  4. I just finished reading every single one of your posts on this blog and your twinking one, and I must say I feel better at pvp already. (Was your first post really May 2009? I can’t find one earlier than that but it didn’t seem like an “introductory” post)

    Coming from the perspective of a newly-80 ret pally, I agree that people should not expect every paladin to be a dedicated healer just because they have a Flash of Light in their spellbook. However, anyone who has such a tool in their toolbox and fails to keybind it just fails, period. Straight from your philosophy of “whatever it takes to win” hybrids need to really embrace their hybrid-ness in order to be a truly effective force on the battlefield. No, I will never even come close to a holy paladin, but knowing just when to use which tool at just the right time can turn the entire tide of the battle.

    This doesn’t just go for healers, like you said yourself, “good players win battlegrounds”. A last-minute heal, a perfectly-timed CC, a clutch interrupt, a pro dispel, *any* of these can make a difference. And to win every player should bring every single tool they have and know how to use them.

    • Wow! I’m glad you enjoyed reading both blogs. I had to check – yes, my first post was in May 2009. I spent a little time today looking over those early posts, and it’s interesting to watch me find my voice and topics to write about. I didn’t really feel the need for an introductory post because I had no readers back then! But I noticed some things about this theme that make it difficult to navigate around through older content, so you may see some changes with the layout soon.

      Green Tinted Goggles has not received the attention it should have, which I regret somewhat. This blog has received most of the attention, though, so that’s okay.

      I like the phrase “embracing your hybridness.” The best PvP druids I’ve seen have done just that. They use all the tools in their toolbox to shift roles on a moment’s notice and really do amazing things.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read all of this! I hope it helps!

      • It definitely has helped. Last night I went through and checked *all* of my abilities for my paladin (again, I’ve been 80 less than a week) and found a few new tools for the ol’ toolbox.

        Divine Sacrifice = Breaks sap, polymorph, repentance, etc..

        And you very well may have inspired me to pick up my warlock again, currently sitting at level 39. I did always enjoy fear over polymorph, even though my mage hit 80 first!

  5. Here’s hoping that casual scrubby-fun unrated BGs are available for those of us who have no idea what we’re doing.

    I’m a lot more interested in learning and strategizing on a battleground than an arena team though, since it seems more the spirit of World of WARcraft to me.

    It’s *supposed* to be about the epic battles. Finding my niche as midfield defender or 2nd point widget-whacker in a larger strategy appeals more than “Who can burn who the fastest”

    • I think with how heavily PvP related some of the Cat changes are that we’ll see more interest in PvP, but I also think they’ll keep the “scrub” BG’s around to help new players learn how to do it in the first place.

      I could be wrong, but I don’t see Bliz cutting people off of something they’re now encouraging.

  6. Balthazar

    Well, if you can heal in a BG, you should… but that doesn’t mean you should be running around constantly healing on your ret paladin with a Bryn.

    It does, however, mean that if you have healing abilities that you can use to take the pressure off, or just keep yourself upright when you’re about to die, you absolutely should use them. You should cleanse, decurse, and use other hybrid healing abilities at least tactically.

    • I agree. If you’re a hybrid, be a hybrid! Use everything you’ve got in your spellbook!

      On a related note, Mages who don’t decurse bug me a lot. I get missed some decursing, but refusing to do it at all gets my gourd.

      • damn.. must fix my decurse addon.. it just laughs at me when I need it…

      • Agreed. A mage who doesn’t make use of a spell he gets at level 18 that’s still used in end game raids has some problems with team contribution.

        It’s almost like a paladin that never did his Resurrection quest…

  7. Battlegrounds are my “thing”. I have over 167k hks to back that up. I am dual specced boomkin and tree with 1280 resil in both specs, same level gear etc. I know my bgs and I tend to lead the pug ones and love to lead my premades as well. With all this being said here are a few rules that I have for myself.

    I do a quick check of the raid make-up. This is not as important in AV or IoC. In fact, I go in there as what I want, or my group that I am in there with needs. If we are low on heals or the gear of the other healer is sketchy, I’ll go tree. If we are loaded with healers, I go boomkin.

    Another rule is this… I CAN HEAL AS BOTH SPECS. If I see someone getting rolled, I will do my best to heal them even if my boomy heals are a little on the weak side. I hate hybrids that refuse to toss a heal here and there. No, I don’t expect you to stop your dps just to heal one person and put yourself at risk, but get in that team mentality.

    Seeing as even in little ol’ WSG 2.2+ million heals or 1.5+ million damage is not unusual for me nowadays, I like to do what is best for the team.

    Most classes have skills and abilities that they seem to underuse in bgs. Topping the charts seems to be more important than the game itself. (Bring on those rated bgs!!!) But really, if you are a DK, peel off the healer that is keeping you alive! Mages… decurse! You wouldn’t believe how many shamans refuse to purge! I could go on.

    I kind of take my bgs seriously. I do well there and I like that my % of wins is better than what I hear other people complain about.

    Above all, battlegrounds (and the game in general) should be fun!

    • Purge is one of the most frequently underused, or not used in the first place, spells in the game. Shamans that don’t PvP as they level basically have no use for the spell because it’s not important while questing/leveling.

      I think BG’s are probably the best place in the game to step out of your comfort zone and try an aspect of your class that you’ve never done before. I used to hate healing, right up until I made shifted out of cat form in AB to heal the Rogue I was with against two hunters, a pally, and a lock. We won with my feral spec heals, both of us lower level than our opponents, and that was it.

      I had the same experience after switch to Resto on the Druid when we had another healer that kept things under control so I switched to balance and was throwing Starfire crits with sick, sick damage. I went from a kitty fan to a Tree’kin lover.

      The same thing happened when I switching my Rogue from a crit-happy EFC killer to a solo flag defending Sub spec.

      BG’s should always be fun, but stepping out of what you’re comfortable doing to see just how much you can help by embracing your different aspects is how you change from knowing your spec to knowing your class, and that’s where true knowledge lies.

  8. I was under the impression that rated BG teams were only going to be matched against other rated BG teams? A bit like Arena, I suppose? I didn’t think the individual joining a BG was going into a rated BG in Cataclysm. Of course, I could have made that all up or made the wrong conclusions based on the small amount of information already released.

    I think one of the most fun things about playing a hybrid in a bg is that, even if you’re healing 95% of the time, there are going to be small windows when dealing a bit of damage is going to help your team more – when you find yourself in those tiny skirmishes of 2v2 or 2v3 and you discover your partner in crime either can’t kill the others on their own, or they might just be another healer!

    Perhaps Tree of Life druids find it the hardest to switch to “DPS mode” mid-fight, but Shaman and Priests have quite a few damage spells within their grasp.

  9. Possum

    Healing BGs can be equally fun and frustrating. Sometimes you’ll feel like a healing god, making your teammates unstoppable by filling their health bars while the enemy tries in vain to kill them. You can hold off a group of enemies with just one healer and a smart dps.

    Other times you’ll find yourself focus fired by 5 enemies while your team mates run off to fight on the road then cry out “where were my heals?!?” after you’ve been smeared into a fine paste beneath the flag.

    The more risk though, I suppose the greater the rewards. When it works, it’s golden, When it doesn’t, better to go off and have a nice calming drink of tea until you’ve stopped muttering about hunter’s pets and rogues.

    One thing I’ve looked for but never found is a battleground healing guide. If anyone could point me towards one (priest pref) I would be very appreciative.

  10. Mibbs

    I used to pvp as ele until I started doing arenas, where I went heals. Even though this lead to the annoying dual spec of pve resto/pvp resto (no dailies :C) I find it hard to pvp as anything but a healer.
    A word of advice to all you damage dealers, if you find a reliable healer, stick close to them. To be effective I need to go where people are, so if you go to the ass end of nowhere, no heals for you.
    Also, I think this blog should be required reading for anyone interested in BGs.

  11. Corrosive

    Thank you for the interesting article.

    If I join a bg with my shaman from the start I usuaully check out the group for healers and switch spec if needed. That is not to say that a team with no healer equals a lose. Just last night I was in WSG with my Dk on a team with only DKs, rogues and a warrior. It was a little fusterating at first but once we figured out the kinks it worked really well and we won :)

  12. chckenmcbndy

    I would highly recommend to anyone just starting the pvp gear grind to go go healer if it’s an option. Since reading this article I looked into it on my own characters (5 lvl 80′s).

    My resto shammy is in modest pvp gear (compared to my feral druid) and pve healing spec. The nature of healing in pvp is to stick with the group. I usually get twice as much honor compared to my dps toons. I can’t remember a bg over the last week that we won and I wasn’t top of the chart for honor gained.

  13. Valys

    This post really identified a lot of the reasons I don’t PvP more. As a PvE healer fairly new to battlegrounds, I never seem to know who to follow. I usually just settle for a strategy of following the largest group and healing everyone I can reach….but it seems that there might be a better way of negotiating that even in a pug. Any advice?

  14. Sibyll

    I’m a shadow priest. I never heal, ever, ever. To heal, I’d have to drop shadowform, for one thing, and that would be bad.

    This AM in WG, someone asked if I would be someone’s personal healer, and I’m, like, really, you do *not* want me to be playing at healing, because I couldn’t heal a Band-Aid.

  15. Eli

    I found out a way of killing any healer (barring paladins who have their paladin off cooldown) using my Marksman hunter.

    Serpent sting, chimera shot + silencing shot, aimed shot, tranq shot, readiness, chimera + silencing, aimed, I have won by this point.

  16. Sag

    @Eli,

    I would say that this depends on both your gear and the resiliance the other guy has. My Dk is not top geared, but decent gear over 1k resiliance. A rogue and I beat on a tree for over 5 min. I’ve also had the case where the healer (a disc priest) saw me coming, but the rogue destealthed with a kidney shot and we locked the guy from 100->0 in about 15 seconds. As a resto druid (with 0 resiliance I might add) I kited 4-5 people around a WG tower for 3-4 min. Admittedly the resto thing was a while ago and I had top gear for a resto druid at the time.

    I know that 1v1 I cannot take down a single healer, and that is frustrating, worse if they are a shaman/pally/priest they can do enough damage to actually kill me given enough time. I understand the need for it based on PvE, the balance is delicate, but healing for PvP needs to be rebalanced. I’m sure it will be addressed, but man if healers aren’t OP.

    On another soapbox, classes that have healing spells and simply refuse to use them amuse me. Time and time again I see horde do this and steamroll me in BGs. Due to my resiliance level I can take a whole lot of damage, so 2 dps v me is possible 1 dps+1 healer v me = I lose. Every time. Why would you not do this to kill the enemy regardless of how inefficient your heals are. If you have them, use them.