I’ll come right out and say it: I like the addon Healers Have To Die. This addon looks through your combat log to see who’s casting healing spells around you; if it detects that a player has cast a healing spell, it puts a big red cross over their nameplate. Friend or foe, it doesn’t matter. There’s also a mouseover function that will sound a chime when the nameplates aren’t visible, though I confess I don’t play with the sound up loud enough to hear it.
In a chaotic place like Tol Barad, Isle of Conquest, or Alterac Valley, this kind of information is a godsend – my screen gets very cluttered, I have trouble seeing who is doing what, and I rely upon nameplates to convey information. HHTD marks those folks who cast healing spells – not healers, that’s an important distinction – and marks them so you can target them easily. In a courtyard scrum or pitched fight in a keep, HHTD makes finding the healers easy, and killing them easy, too.
Healers Have To Die is also one of the most hated addons in the game right now, with people on the forums regularly calling for it to be banned or broken by Blizzard, at the same time people are encouraging its use in Tol Barad. It is a hard time to be a dedicated battleground healer because of HHTD, with opponents focusing on you relentlessly. If you’re sitting behind a group of your teammates, healing away, you may find ranged fire focusing on you. Melee will cut through the crowd to get at you. Stuns, interrupts, CC – all are directed your way, and in some part because of the spread of HHTD. It doesn’t feel fair, and it certainly doesn’t make BGs very much fun.
So here we have a UI addon – just like Gearscore, or DBM, or Recount – which changes how World of Warcraft plays for people. It has limits, but it’s also an incredibly powerful tool when enough people run it.
It’s also a litmus test for how you feel about addons in general, though you may not know it yet.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Addons take information that is already available to players and display it in a different, hopefully more useful, manner. Recount and Skada parse through your damage logs to give an accurate measurement of how your character performed. Deadly Boss Mods looks for boss emotes, buffs, and debuffs to track events in dungeons, raids, and battlegrounds. Gladius helps Arena players answer tricky questions like: is their trinket still up? (Always assume yes, until you see them blow it.)
None of them do anything that you couldn’t, theoretically, do yourself. Recount would be extremely difficult to do in real time, mind you, but you could manually parse the logs afterwards if you really wanted to. DBM shouts out warnings that aren’t necessary if you’re paying attention to cues within the encounter. Are you in fire? Don’t stand in it. Boss yells about something or other? Get ready to move.
Addons which confer knowledge also confer power. You don’t need these addons to play well – you honestly don’t. But by increasing your awareness of what’s going on around you, of parsing information and giving you only the important things you need to know, addons can help you play better.
And that gets to the crux of the first complaint about HHTD: that it makes targeting healers too easy.
You know how I used to identify healers in a battleground before HHTD came out? Easy.
Look at the opposing team’s roster at the beginning of play. Check in periodically. See those folks leading the healing column, without a lot of damage done? They are the healers, memorize their names, they have to die. This is the most straightforward way to identify who the healers are in any situation – see who is healing!
What about when there isn’t a scoreboard?
Hey, those people standing in the back? Wearing cloth or leather, casting spells with green or yellow sparkly bits? The ones who aren’t shooting out black beams or fireballs or lightning bolts?
They’re probably healers. They probably have to die first before anyone else on the other side dies, so kill them.
What about when things get crowded and you can’t see what’s going on?
There are only four classes in Warcraft who can be healers, and their healing specs all have highly distinctive visual effects.
- Druid hanging out in caster form? Not in cat or moonkin form? Uses travel form a lot? They’re a healer.
- Priest not in shadowform? Healer.
- Shaman not running after people to smash their faces in, and not casting big bolts of lighting? They’re a healer, too.
- Paladin not running after people to smash their faces in? Maybe wearing a dress? Healer.
Members of these classes are highly visible, and any addon that lets you see classes can get you almost all the way to the functionality of HHTD. If they show cast bars (which they should), you can see the spells their casting and be absolutely certain they’re a healer or not.
These methods are all tried, true, and mostly independent of anything other that situational awareness. The information is all out there, and is accessible in ways that any player can learn to detect.
But Healers Have To Die takes all of that information and boils it down to one thing: a big red cross over a healer’s nameplate.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
Is using addons the mark of a bad player?
This is a serious question. You see this charge thrown around in various forms on the forums, on blog posts, on twitter, usually with more vitriol than I care to repeat. Sometimes it’s about using a specific addon, sometimes it’s about using addons entirely; but when people start making the charge that only baddies use a specific addon, I take notice, because underneath the ad hominen attack, the underlying argument is fascinating.
“Only baddies use Addon X” breaks down to the following logical form.
- This game has tasks with a set difficulty.
- Addon X reduces the difficulty of performing these tasks by some amount.
- Player A is able to complete the tasks without Addon X, thereby completing tasks at their normal level of difficulty.
- Player B is able to complete the tasks with Addon X, thereby completing tasks an an easier level of difficulty.
- Because Player A exhibited more skill in performing the task than Player B, Player A is more skilled than Player B.
The final statement is incorrect for two reasons, of course. First, Player B may be more skilled at performing this task at the normal level of difficulty than Player A, which would be masked by the different standards each player was asked to perform at. Second, attributing overall competence based upon performance of a single task gets tricky.
And then there’s the unavoidable fact that this is an ad hominen argument – the personal attack upon Player B (and by extension, all users of the addon) has no relevance upon whether players should or should not use it. It’s a logical fallacy, a red herring to distract you from considering what’s being said. It’s not about the skills of Player A or Player B, it’s about the only truth within the entire statement:
Addon X makes the task easier to complete.
That’s it. Ignore all the name calling, take away considerations of the community of users, and you have that simple truth. Addon X makes it easier to do the job.
You have a tool that makes a task easier. You can either:
- Use the tool and complete the task with less effort, time, or error than without the tool, or,
- Forego using the tool, complete the task without it, and have the satisfaction of having done more with less.
Neither option is inherently right. There can be value in using a manual screwdriver over a powered one; perhaps you need very fine control, or you’re learning how to use a screwdriver in the first place. But that doesn’t mean that the powered screwdriver doesn’t have value, either – just ask someone putting together furniture with many, many screws to tighten!
In some cases, choosing to use addons feels like the choice between manual or automatic transmissions in a car. There’s more to keep track of with a stick shift, but you have a lot of control over the vehicle, you’re always aware of how the engine is performing, and the slight inconvenience of having to shift becomes automatic. At least, until you have to spend several hours in stop-and-go traffic, where having an automatic transmission is invaluable.
In other cases, choosing to use an addon can feel like it’s reading the Cliff’s Notes version of a book instead of the book itself; hindering learning by just giving you the knowledge you need to pass the test, without imparting deep understanding of the subject. I honestly think there’s something to be said for learning to play a class with fewer macros and addons than you use at the end game, just so that you understand the subtleties of your abilities better.
But I also think that once you know what you’re doing, automating actions, making your workflow more efficient, running a lot of addons – optimizing your UI is actually the mark of a good player, not a bad one.
Yes, you can argue that using addons is the mark of a bad player, because it reduces the difficulty of the tasks you’re asked to perform, therefore allowing players with lower overall skillsets to accomplish more than the default program would allow. Running without addons is a great way to learn the intricacies of your character.
You can also argue that not using addons is the mark of a bad player, because they are refusing to use tools which would reduce that difficulty, therefore choosing to play a harder game.
The counterargument to “only baddies use Addon X” is “only baddies don’t use Addon X,” which , in the case of some popular PvE addons, you see a lot of. A good threat meter and a boss tracker are practically requirements for endgame raiding.
Like I said: I find this argument fascinating when it comes up.
THE ADDON ARMS RACE
Due to the nature of the environments, there’s a big disconnect between PvE and PvP addons. PvE addons are reducing the difficulty of a static task with no dependencies on other humans; there may be random elements in the encounter, but by in large PvE is static. The utility of an addon is measured in relation to a static environment.
The effectiveness of PvP addons is always measured in relation to the opponent, and, by extension, the addons that they may be running, too. Magmaw doesn’t get to run DXE to tell him when to interrupt your healing spells, but Ipwnyou-Arthas can run as many mods as he likes to gain an advantage. Addons confer advantages in combat that stack with your natural skill; you can choose to not pursue those advantages, but other players will likely not, and you’ve made winning harder for yourself as a result.
I think the behavior of the top raiders and gladiators helps illustrate this point.
- Take a look at a world first boss kill, or any hardcore raiding video. How many are running stock UI, no Omen, no raid frames, no CD tracker? I would wager you can’t find a single one that doesn’t use addons.
- Watch tournament Arena games. How many are running modified UIs? None, because they’re not allowed. Stock UIs and macros are all you get, and it’s to keep the playing field level.
On the one hand, you have top players using addons to make progression raiding easier. I don’t think this is limited to world-first guilds, by the way – most raiding guilds I’ve encountered have requested UI screenshots to validate that you’re running certain addons. This is part of a hardcore raiding philosophy – you do whatever you can to make downing a boss easier. Addons make the game easier. It’s a simple truth, and it doesn’t have a thing to do with being a good or bad player. By presenting the right information to the player, addons can make anyone play better, both in PvE and PvP.
The lack of addons in tournament PvP play sheds light into the nature of addons. Addons are inherently unbalancing – they augment player’s skills, and in PvP, that means that when all else is equal, addons can tip the balance. Getting the right information at the right time and making the right decision off of it can lead to clutch plays – that’s why people use Gladius in Arenas to consolidate information about their enemy’s status. Tournaments ban them precisely because they are unbalancing, and at that level, the matches are truly supposed to be about skill versus skill.
But outside of tournaments, addons are prevalent and extremely useful.
Addons in PvP are an arms race. If you don’t have them, your opponent almost certainly will. Just like gear is likely to not be equal in any given battleground, there is no standard interface people are required to run in normal PvP, and I’m a big advocate of pursuing every single advantage possible.
The spread of Healers Have To Die has been part of that arms race, and an interesting one at that. In places like Tol Barad, the more people on a side who had the addon, the more efficiently they could eliminate opposing healers, which often led to victory. But, word certainly has gotten out, and now there’s a more equal distribution curve between factions, which negates the early adoption advantage – but it doesn’t nullify the effects upon healers, which is that they are dying more rapidly now than before.
I’m not arguing that you should download a crapload of addons from Curse and that running them will make you a better PvPer. Picking the right tool for the job is essential if it is to improve your play.
But not running with an game-changing addon like Healers Have To Die in today’s PvP environment is deliberately crippling your own play. It’s totally fine if you don’t do it – but you can probably find healers faster with it than without it. You’re probably going to be more effective in battlegrounds if you plug it in.
Choosing to bring a knife to a gun fight is always a viable option. You’re just better off bringing a gun with a scope.
HEALERS HAVE TO LIVE
We’ll just start off with this: all healers are your friends.
I do not care if he is from a different server and has a silly name, he is your friend. Bad people are going to try to hurt your friend.
Save him and he will reward you by making you immortal.
Do not ever abandon your friend to the rogues.
– Dusk’s How To BG
The problem with Healers Have To Die is actually very simple: healers are dying more than they used to. Now that a critical mass of players have downloaded the addon, healers are finding themselves focus-fired in battlegrounds where they formerly were assured relative safety in the crowd. No more – now healers are finding themselves huge targets on the battleground, unable to do their jobs while getting cut down by ranged fire and charging melee.
My first battleground healer was a druid. I went into lowbie battlegrounds and had a blast running around, healing from caster form, hotting everything I could reach. People didn’t bother me, apparently not suspecting that the night elf running around behind the lines, waving her hands with green swirly marks might be, you know… healing?
But it all changed when I got Tree of Life form. Shifting into ToL meant I became an instant target, and BG healing became a lot less fun. A tree is a highly visible target, one that I reflexively sought out on my Warlock, and being on the receiving end of that focus was absolutely miserable. No one helped defend me. Two rogues climbing all over me? You better believe teammates would run past me.
I mean, did my flailing branches look like they’d be super effective at swatting the rogues away from me? Did my running around spamming glyphed Healing Touch on myself inspire confidence that I had this under control?
Being targeted as a healer sucks. Being targeted as a healer without peels or support of any kind sucks even more.
And there’s the one real problem with Healers Have To Die – it makes it easier to spot and kill a healer, without the corresponding balance in healer survival. There is no corresponding Healers Have To Live addon which alerts you to healers on your side, those folks who need protection, who you need to be watching out for at all times.
Except… wait. Healers Have To Die also picks up the healers on your team and marks them. Healers Have To Die has the functionality we’d want out of Healers Have To Live, only it is not having the effect you’d expect. It could be used to protect your own healers… but it isn’t. Why is this?
Some of this is due to interface limitations. Much of the time, DPS run with Enemy nameplates on, not Friendly nameplates on, just to reduce screen clutter. So the information that there are healers on your side may not even be communicated.
But I also think that the UI is only part of it; I think it’s just hard to realize that someone needs help in a battleground. There is so much shit going on when taking a base in Tol Barad, I barely know who is targeting me, let alone how to help the healers that I don’t know about running beside me.
There’s the real problem. Unlike in Arenas, where I’m watching the status of my healer(s) very closely, in a random pug BG, chances are I don’t know you’re a healer until you do something to let me know. If you talk about it in /bg, if you are on the scoreboard with a lot of healing, if I actively see what you’re doing – then heck yes, I can defend you as a DPS.
One of my favorite addons for PvP is a simple mod called SaySapped. When a rogue saps you, you say “Sapped” to alert your teammates. You can modify the files to yell it, or say something different – but it is extremely effective because it communicates your problem to people who can directly help. I know what the sapped visual looks like in other players, and I watch out for it when guarding flags and towers – but actively, automatically communicating that information to people who might not know, or might not spot it is hugely valuable. People dismount, spam AoE, and find the rogue when that addon fires off. It’s awesome.
SaySapped helps illustrate the problem of making Healers Have To Live a reality. HHTD is personal information, only available to the player running the addon. Spotting a healer is something that can be done without the addon, players are learning that the healers have to die first, and there’s nothing stopping people from running a macro that says:
/bg %t is a healer, they have to die first!
(Interestingly, HHTD does not do this yet, though it’s a logical extension of the mod.)
I don’t actually see that level of communication in most pug BGs, but it’s a good macro to have in your toolkit, because it transforms the personal information of HHTD into intelligence the rest of your team can use.
SaySapped conveys this intelligence automatically to the people around you who are best suited to help you. This is what’s lacking in HHTD/L – actually conveying the information the mod picks up and making it information everyone can use. (I think this is actually a good thing, since you want to be selective about which healers you’re targeting. Not everyone who casts a healing spell in a BG is a healer.)
If I were to offer any advice on how to make Healers Have To Live a reality, it’s that healers need to be more proactive in battlegrounds about letting people know they need protection. The way to counter HHTD is not more nameplate mods, but rather a good macro:
/y I’m a healer, and I’m under attack by %t! Please help!
Bind that macro to a key, and when you get into trouble, hit it. Put a healing pot on it as well, or a free action potion, or Barkskin, or other defensive CDs – but take the initiative to secure your own safety and get assistance from your teammates.
And if you’re not playing a healer? Simple.
/bg %t is a healer and needs help!
They have to know you’re a healer in order to know that you have to live.
BANNING ADDONS IS NOT THE ANSWER
I’ll come right out and say that I hope Blizzard doesn’t ban HHTD. It sets a bad precedence for addons that provide any kind of information in PvP. Gladius tells me if someone has their PvP trinket up or not. SaySapped tells my teammates that I’ve been sapped, reducing the effectiveness of Rogues. Vuhdo and Healbot help me heal my teammates faster than I can do with mouseover macros – Vuhdo even tells me what direction people are in!
The real complaint against HHTD is not the addon, but that there’s no corresponding defense against it in PvP. It doesn’t share information positioning information like AVR did, or even exchange information like SaySapped does. It makes finding healers easy. And people are using that to kill enemy healers while not protecting their friendly healers, and that’s the crux of people’s complaints. Banning HHTD doesn’t address this fundamental problem, which extends far beyond the scope of a single addon.
What we need here is more aggressive identification of healers on your own team, not less. If you’re a healer, speak up. If you’re not a healer, find the healers and call them out to your teammates. Calling out healers should become your second priority in battlegrounds, right behind calling out incomings.
If you feel nervous about putting yourself forward as a healer, don’t. Your team needs you. Your team needs you alive, they have to know you are there to protect you. It’s better to be vocal and win than to be dead and lose.
If you feel nervous about calling out healers in your battlegrounds, remember: healers are your friends. Do not abandon them to the rogues.
Watch out for each other out there.
Update September 16, 2011: I’ve written a followup post on using HHTD to protect friendly healers that continues the discussion in this post. You may find it useful.