To run instances (dungeons) in the World of Warcraft, you generally need a party of five characters occupying three roles. The roles are tank, healer and DPS. The healer role is self-explanatory: this is the character who heals the others, thus keeping them from dying. DPS (damage per second) characters are the damage dealers-their job is to kill the monsters. The tank’s roll is to act as the shield for the party. To be specific, the tank’s job is to keep the attention of the monsters off everyone else so that they can do their jobs.
While each role has its challenges, tanking is probably the hardest role. After all, the tank has to judge how many monsters to engage, keep them occupied, watch for wandering monsters, and keep and eye on everyone else. If the tank fails in his job, the result is usually a wipe (that is, everyone dies). Not surprisingly, while players appreciate a good tank (or they should) they tend to be rather harsh with tanks who fail. Also, being a tank is costly-since the tank is taking the most beating (and will tend to have expensive gear) the tank’s repair cost for his gear will be the highest in the party. Given these factors (difficulty, abuse and cost) most people chose not to play tanks.
Of course, some people do have to play them-otherwise people would not be able to run instances or do the dungeon raids. In addition to the need factor, there are also other reasons to play a tank. One is that the wait time to get into a dungeon will be rather low. As tank, I usually wait about a minute before getting into a random group. As a DPS, I usually wait 8-15 minutes. Another reason is that some people enjoy the challenge of tanking. A final reason is similar to that given by Plato: being a good tank means that you do not have to suffer with a bad tank.
Tanking, I have found, seems to require certain traits. I am not claiming that only people with these traits can tank well, but it seems to be the right sort for the job.
First, there is the matter of knowledge. A good tank has to know how to craft his character, what gear to use, what abilities to use, and the tricks of each fight. As in real life, ignorance is a major killer. Some of this knowledge can be gained by reading on the various web sites about character builds, optimal gear, boss fights and so on. However, just as in the real world, experience is also very important. It is one thing to read about how to handle a situation, quite another to actually do it.
Second, there is situational awareness. While all players need to be aware of what is going on, the tank is responsible for the whole party and the monsters. While most players just look at their health, the tank has to watch everyone in the party to see if anyone has attracted the attention of the monsters. If this has happened, the tank has to get the monster’s attention back on himself quickly. A tank also has to keep an eye on what is going on around the party. For example, there are often wandering monsters and the party can blunder into them (or they can wander into the fight). The tank also has to be aware of what the monsters are doing and act accordingly. Many of the boss fights in WoW have tricks that make the difference between death and victory and the tank has to be aware of when the situation arises for such tricks. A tank also has to be aware of the condition of his party and where they are. While some tanks expect everyone else to simply keep up, that is a good way for a tank to find himself alone in a roomful of monsters or to suddenly find that the healer has almost no mana.
Third, there is timing and resource management. In WoW, character abilities generally have cool downs and use resources. For example, the paladin’s consecration uses mana and takes time before it can be used again. Roughly put, simply mashing buttons does not work-the abilities have to be used in the proper order and the tank has to decide how to manage resources such as mana (paladin), rage (warrior, druid) and runes (DK). As in real life, good timing and resource management leads to success. Poor management and timing leads to failure.
Fourth, a good tank keeps his cool and remains calm. Just like in real life, panicking or freezing tend to have bad consequences. While a good tank will generally not be in bad situations, they can easily arise. The healer might lose his connection, a hunter’s pet might accidentally pull extra monsters, a DPS character might make a targeting error and pull extra monsters, or some people might just leave the dungeon without warning. As a tank, I have encountered all of those situations. One of the most “interesting” was in the Halls of Stone Tribunal of Ages fight. As the fight started, the healer disconnected and then another person suddenly left the party (probably to avoid being killed). This left me, a DK, and another DPS character to finish the fight. I had just hit level 80, so my gear was not epic. The other players were under 80, so their gear was not epic either. But, no one panicked and each person played his character amazingly well and thus we won the battle. Of course, this does not always work out so well-sometimes remaining calm merely delays an inevitable death.
While I was somewhat reluctant to try tanking, I have found that I really enjoy it. I suspect that much of it is because I have the right sort of personality for the job. It also helps that I am resistant to insults and have a quick wit (these are important when making the mistakes that are inevitable part of learning to tank).
As a final point, while folks often consider video games to be a waste of time, I have found that tanking does have real life benefits. To be specific, I have found that it helps me hone the above qualities and this is useful in real life as well.