With the launch of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, Blizzard wrenched the world of Azeroth asunder. While the gaping holes and clefts carved into landmass most visibly alter the game, many minor adjustments have changed high-level gameplay. As a healer, the game has become significantly more difficult than before the expansion’s release. In fact, yesterday I was asked by a guild mate to explain why I liked healing in the first place, what he considered a stressful and unforgiving job. My response? Healing is a lot like playing goalie.
Growing up, the family television, when not occupied by videogames, blared soccer matches nearly every day. My father habitually consumes soccer games like they were cheap dinners, daily sustenance no matter the ingredients. My older brother, raised on soccer, spent many years of his life playing the sport competitively, most often in the goalie position. Admiring his skill and enthusiasm for the game, I too spent my time in the net. Within the sacred lines of the box, the game takes on a whole new meaning and imparts a unique sense of accomplishment.
To bystanders, a soccer goalie might look like the laziest person on the field, barking orders and pacing back and forth, gazing across the field where all the action is happening. In fact, their minds are racing non-stop. Goalies, good ones especially, play a meta-game, approaching a match from a different perspective than all the other positions, constantly analyzing the playing field.
A good healer is doing the same thing. Many raid and dungeon bosses in WoW incorporate a variety of changing character and environmental mechanics. A boss might leave glowing explosives on the ground, cause cave-ins, impale random party members, or alter the radius of certain attacks. Damage dealing, or DPS (Damage Per Second), classes must adjust their behavior accordingly and focus on maximizing their damage output. Healers must adjust themselves as well, but they are also paying attention to the health bars of all other party members and each of their party members’ locations. Why is the Hunter taking damage? Are all my team members within range of my heals? Is everyone in the right place at the right time?
No matter how skilled a team’s defense is, strikes on goal will always occur. Goalies must be prepared to understand a situation and respond with nearly prescient reaction times. Healers face similar circumstances in nearly every boss fight. While all spell casting diminishes a player’s mana reserve, DPS spell casters consume significantly less resources. Thus, healers are the only players expected to be out of mana during an encounter. In addition to maximizing our heal output, healers play a constant efficiency game unique to their role. A great healer must understand a situation quickly and decide whether or not to spend mana to heal a party member or save the precious resource for another time.
Healing and playing goalie also change how the player relates to their team members. Neither position is glorified. Goalies do not score the last minute game-winning goal. Healers do not unleash might sword strikes against towering foes. Both players occupy the background. Great healers, like great goalies, are the pillars that hold up a team. Like a masked superhero, they seldom ask for praise, humbly accomplishing a stressful yet exhilarating task. Few positions in any game, on Azeroth or astroturf, produce as much revelatory pride as being a team’s guardian.