Your Optimal Isn’t Mine

I was going through my feed reader’s backlog when I ran across this post from Blessing of Kings. This is always a topic that will get my knickers in a bunch, so let’s get started, shall we?

High-skill players almost always use the optimal spec or strategy. There are a few exceptions, but they are very rare. The vast majority of the time, someone with a non-optimal spec turns out to be a low-skill player.

Encouraging medium or low skill players to feel that they are a “special snowflake” and don’t need to use more optimal builds dooms them and their group to mediocrity and failure. You have enough trouble with lack of skill, why further handicap yourself with a sub-optimal build?

And even the high-skill player with the sub-optimal spec does her group a disservice. If the high-skill player switched to the optimal spec, odds are she would play at an even higher level.

I always resent the whole “you’re holding everyone else back” flavor these discussions take on.  Sure, in a situation where you’re doing hardmodes, I can understand, and there’s truth to it–in that situation.

But, ladies and gentlemen, World of Warcraft is a game. We play games to have fun.  If I love raiding but the spec/class I enjoy most is (we’ll go with my favorite example) Beast Mastery Hunter, and BM hunter isn’t the current top spec, does that mean I shouldn’t have get to raid?

Of course not.

Does that mean that because I happen to enjoy something not the Flavor of the Month, that I am a less than stellar player?  Not at all.  I  know several people that are very excellent players and chose, at some point or other, sub-optimal specs. If you haven’t been so lucky then you’ve been looking in the wrong place, for there’s plenty of them–in guilds like mine.

My guild is full of people playing non-optimal builds.  For a guild that raids only twice a week, we’re still clearing content at a reasonable rate. I dare you to ask anyone in SiB if they think they are doomed to an existance of mediocrity and failure. 

We may not have a place in your Epic Guild of Awesome Leetness and Hardmodes, but we are not lesser players for it. We’re just over here enjoying playing our game the way we find most fun, and collecting shiny purples for it.

You’re more than welcome to play your perfectly valid interpertation of the game over in your corner, but the holier than thou attitude could do with a nerf.

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  1. #1 by Jezi on May 6, 2011 - 10:26 am

    Honestly, it depends on the situation you’re in.

    In a very devoted progression guild, doing cutting edge content? You DO owe it to the team to pull the max possible DPS. If you were to apply to one of those guilds, you’d probably not be accepted unless you were willing to switch to a higher DPS spec.

    But that’s not the case for EVERY guild, or even every raiding guild, as yours has proven. It’s a matter of play style and preference. It simply comes down to what’s more important to you — playing your preferred spec, or progressing the farthest and fastest possible — and getting into a guild with other people who answer that question the same way you do.

    For the record I *AM* a devoted raider who jumps specs based on what does the most damage and learns to love them over time… and yes, we HAVE benched people from raids for being in specs that did very low damage when we were doing difficult fights that needed really high damage. But that’s MY guild, and how WE decide to play the game. And I’d never try to make that decision for someone else’s guild or raid group.

  2. #2 by Mitchell on May 6, 2011 - 10:42 am

    I would think that there’s a world of difference between a raiding BeastMaster build and a random hodge-podge of talents that includes 31 in the BeastMaster tree.

    Would you think it’s okay to go raiding with someone with that build? I ask because, although I agree you can play however you like and it’s your $15/mo and there is no global “optimal play style”, if we’re raiding then we’re talking about a team sport and you aren’t the only one accepting the consequences of your decisions. If you can do 10K, then Argaloth will die before enrage timer. If you like the animation while doing auto-shot but not while casting specials and you insist that’s your playstyle, then Argaloth doesn’t die and 9 (or 24) other people have to pay gold for repairs and “enjoy” having their time wasted; is that a valid playstyle?

    I suspect, and this is totally without any evidence other than your observation that you’re downing content, that your raiders are in fact pretty close to optimal for their chosen class/spec. They probably did not choose talents at random, are probably not mashing random buttons while fighting, and are probably wearing the right kinds of armor with good itemization.

    If you have cleared any raid bosses at all in Cata, then you are by definition the “elite” player corps. Any patterns you notice in your raiding companions are subject to that constraint. The “average” player is rather farther down the “optimality” scale and might be surprised that you’re surprised to see a DK wearing cloth armor; he might very well point out that it’s a higher ilevel than the piece it replaced and it’s the only way he can queue for heroics, so it’s a winning strategy. He’scan point out that things have always died while he was questing and in regular dungeons (mostly) so obviously it’s good enough.

    And that’s the average player, which means there are people even farther down the “optimality” continuum from there.

  3. #3 by Kotakh on May 6, 2011 - 10:48 am

    To give commenter an idea, we’re 10/12 (with Alakir in P3 and we havent bothered with Nef for more than 2 hours over a month ago).

  4. #4 by Matt on May 6, 2011 - 10:54 am

    The problem isn’t you, or your guild, or it’s member running unique builds… I think what he was getting at is the folks with a talent tree filled out completely, and the remainder jammed in at random. The people who pay that little attention to their specs also (sometimes) pay that little attention to their position, boss mechanics, their party’s situation as a whole, etc. Your guild can run specs off the beaten paths because (I assume) they’re good players as a whole, and they either decided the “optimal spec” was not quite for them, or figured out their own “optimal” through experimentation or common sense while reading the talent descriptions.

    The people who can’t be bothered to read even the mouseover descriptions of their talent choices, don’t understand that is poison, fire, shadow vortexii, etc. on the ground beneath them, stand in front of dragons, and whatnot, those are the people queueing for randoms, making life miserable for the people who want to succeed in said dungeons. I myself run with a unique spec, because I don’t raid, I solo old stuff, and I don’t want 2 prot specs. It works great tanking 5mans, and I pay attention. Just like your guild, I have no problems. Most people don’t mention my spec once we start, because they have no problems, either, at least with my contribution.

    Much love, man!

  5. #5 by Anaora@Drenden-US on May 6, 2011 - 11:15 am

    This issue isn’t once with that everyone will agree on, but take a look at Portal 2 (if you haven’t had the chance to play it yet, take my word for the specifics, and make your own decision about my analogies).

    EDIT: This turned into a rant about Portal 2 and vegetarians. If I had my own blog, I would put it there. Unfortunately, I typed it here instead.

    In Portal 2. there are no builds, specs, talents. There is a puzzle, there is a VERY limited set of tools (jump, place portal, use, and walk), and a similarly small set of mechanics (use block, avoid enemy, press button, and a few others). The entire game is execution, and in single player mode you advance when and only when you successfully use the tools that you have and interact with the mechanics that are present to solve the puzzle.

    In Coop mode, you only advance when you and your partner work in tandem – not one of the Coop puzzles can be completed alone – failure to execute means you are holding back your buddy, and vice versa.

    WoW is far from portal 2 – there are not 4 tools, but several scores per class. There are not five or ten mechanics to interact with, but hundreds. And most importantly, there is no uniformity of your “portal guns”, as each talent build, spec, class, and even race and profession combination performs differently.

    And with all that, it is still game of execution, of using tools you have to interact with the mechanics at hand to complete a puzzle, and failing to do something will cause your group to fail.

    Of course, with only two people, who is at fault is clearly visible. When you move to a heroic dungeon of five people, the healer’s inability to heal, or the tank’s inability to absorb damage or hold threat will prevent the party from succeeding. The DPS have some leeway – most fights can be done with only two dps, so a dps’s inability to put out damage is forgiven.

    Moving to a raid, there is far more leeway. When there are three healers, one of them could go down for a potion, get stunned, silenced, frogged, and the raid will go on. In some cases he could die, and everything will still work out. But the two tanks for Cho’Gall? They are still playing a Coop game, where failure to work in tandem will cause failure. Fury will kill you, depravity will kill you, adds that spawn too close will kill you, taking aggro at the wrong time will kill you. Worshipers not being interrupted will kill you. Healers not cleansing your sickness will kill you. Beams not being controlled will kill you. Healers using their cooldowns on anyone but you will, in most likelihood, cause you to die later on.

    From the tank’s perspective, this is not a game of personal responsibility – it is a game of Coop between themselves, and the RAID as one blob. So when you look at WoW raids from the eyes of a tank, each person who doesn’t pull their weight is responsible for killing that tank. Healers have it pretty hard, so they are only blamed when their HpS is significantly lower than the other healers. But healing is a different game altogether, with different priorities – and healer builds vary like it’s their job. Whether you prioritize haste, or crit, or mastery, the results are still minute – your skill in mana management, triage, and cooldown use is almost separate from your gear choices or talent build. You can get in with skill and low gear, but you wont say for long with gear and no skill.

    But for DPS? You are the first to get replaced. There are many of you, your raid buffs, dispels, enrage removals, etc are non-unique, and so the only thing that keeps you playing the game (with the raid in question) is your high DPS coupled with the propensity to not die. You only pulled 7k on Halfus? You are doing something horribly wrong – whether it is your gear, your rotation, your lack of offensive cooldowns. Your only method of redeeming yourself is to optimize, thereby keeping you in raid. It’s why ret pallies stack Bold Inferno Rubies and ignore socket bonuses in all but the rarest of cases. And the tank who just died through no fault of his own will blame you – because it is easy to do when your dps lags behind.

    The argument for optimization isn’t to “not hold others back”. The argument for optimization is to “prevent yourself from being called out for holding others back”. Because just like Portal 2’s Coop mode requires a partner, a WoW raider requires a raid. If you can use a “suboptimal” spec/gear set and still pull top dps, more power to you – you have just redefined what “optimal” is (since the spreadsheets don’t take into account the fire on the ground, the time spent worshiping, the interrupting you have to do or gongs you have to hit). When enhancement shammies started using spellpower weapons, it wasn’t the “optimal” thing to do, but they were pulling higher dps. That’s how it became the optimal thing to do.

    As a raid tank who sat at 10/12 for two months before the guild fell apart, I can tell you right now: “enjoying the game” only lasts for so long. Once you hit full purples, for both of your specs, and build up a third set for the hell of it, running those same 10/12 for shiny purples is not fun. You are playing for the social interaction, and to down that #11 – but when the raid consistently fails despite working through the mechanics, you have to wonder if that 10% wipe could be fixed with a little optimization. And you inspect the dps players, and find that overall, they could respec and boost their damage by a whopping 12%, thanks to the fight mechanics. “Fun” and “game” are nice words to hide behind, but you are not alone in this – there are people who enjoy “progression” and “success”, which are also core reasons to do things. They are the ones who will tell you that you are not optimal, and will kick you when you refuse to try it their way – because you are holding them back, and they have the power to take your “fun” away from you.

    I don’t think you have to follow Elitist Jerks to the T, but unless you can rationalize, at least to yourself, why your choices are subjectively better than theirs, you should at least start with what they offer. If you are of the “I’m a vegetarian because I don’t enjoy meat” type of non-optimizer, bring your veggie burgers but make sure you’re not a buzz kill. If you’re the “I’m a vegetarian because eating meat is animal cruelty” type of non-optimizer, get the hell out of my barbecue, because your ideology clashes with the theme of the event.

    /end rant.

  6. #6 by Andy/Betancore on May 6, 2011 - 12:24 pm

    I completely agree… up to a point. One of my top DPSers is a BM hunter. He knows his class, knows his spec, and is all-around kick-ass. Yes, he would probably do more damage as Marksmanship eventually, but I don’t want to force him to make that switch just for 500 or so more DPS. If someone is completely knowledgeable about their chosen class and spec, they can completely make up for a suboptimal spec, especially with the buffs a BM hunter can bring in our raid of 3 hunters and 3 priests.

    That being said, if you’re not pulling your weight in my raid, one of the first things I look at is your spec. If you’re playing a suboptimal spec and pulling beyond sub-par numbers, I’ll ask you to try the optimal spec out. Remember our kickass BM Hunter? That SAME EXACT PLAYER is the worst Arcane Mage I have ever seen in my life. But, when I asked him to give Fire a shot, his numbers improved dramatically. It seems like it takes class knowledge to be able to pull off a suboptimal spec.

    This will probably be the subject of my first post back from hiatus if you don’t mind, Lyrandre

  7. #7 by Rohan on May 6, 2011 - 12:31 pm

    First, there is sub-optimal, and their is sub-optimal. Note that even EJ will give you the best build and rotation for raiding Beast Mastery. They’ll tell you it’s currently behind the other two specs, but if you want to play Beast Mastery, this is the optimal way to play. Heck, I have a hunter in my current guild who will occasionally bust out a corehound (named Lolshaman) for fun.

    Versus a BM hunter who doesn’t use Kill Command.

    Second, your guild hasn’t hit a wall yet. I was in a guild like yours once. And it worked for a while. Then we hit Lady Vashj and Kael’thalas. And we could not beat them. I think we had the skill to beat those two fights, we came pretty damn close on Vashj. And then the guild fell apart after that. The better players left for guilds where they could see the rest of the content. The remaining players stopped raiding as they started struggling with content they had already beaten.

    A little bit of optimizing, if more people had been willing to look at EJ and use the optimum rotations, that would have been enough to push over that hump. And the guild would not have died.

  8. #8 by Achloryn on May 6, 2011 - 3:37 pm

    I think Rohan pretty much nailed it on the head in the difference between optimizing and optimizing. There was a commenter on one of Amber’s previous posts about how if she was DW frost, then she should have been 2h frost because that was “top dps”.. While that may have been true, it’s not like DW was *bad* dps by any means. I know Amber, and while she may not have been playing the “top spec this month” she was playing a perfectly valid spec, played the way it’s supposed to be played, gemmed, reforged, enchanted etc as it was supposed to be done.

    When Amber’s talking about allowing people to play how they want to play, it’s not a “lol you can autoshot and whack off if you want lol” it’s more “pick a spec, and find out how to do it right, but we won’t tell you what spec to play”.

  9. #9 by Andy/Betancore on May 6, 2011 - 5:50 pm

    @ Achloryn: Yeah, that’s pretty much what I mean. I never tell my raiders “switch your spec or you’ll get knocked back to the standby list,” it’s always “improve your DPS or you’ll get knocked back to the standby list.” There’s pretty much only 2 specs that I either absolutely will not bring, or will ask you to have an alternate spec ready if you can’t hack it: Frost Mages and Sub Rogues.

    However, both of those come with the “unless you prove me wrong” caveat. BM Hunters used to be on that list too. If I see a Sub Rogue kick all kinds of ass without crazy gear, welp, there goes another one.

  10. #10 by Achloryn on May 6, 2011 - 7:45 pm

    Poor sub rogues and frost mages. Permanently delagated to pvp obscurity. (owait, they kinda kick ass at pvp…. nvm)

  11. #11 by Brian on May 6, 2011 - 10:12 pm

    To be honest, I think the only real source of tension comes up when different groups cross. The EJ type players have fun their way, and the more casual players have fun their way…and that’s cool. But if the EJ players and the casual players end up in the same group, there are problems. Because people not trying their very best aren’t “fun” to the EJ folks, and getting yelled at for doing things slightly wrong isn’t fun for the casual folks.

    I think the real problem is that EJ and casual is a sliding scale. And many if not most guilds have a mixture of more elitist and less elitist players. And the folks at the extreme ends up the spectrum for the guild are going to dislike each other.

  12. #12 by Jaedia on May 8, 2011 - 3:58 am

    [Jaedia likes this.]

    Seriously, if I have to play THE spec to do the damage people expect, and I don’t enjoy that spec, I won’t play it. Did that with BM in early Wrath and I kinda regret it. Prime example, my Death Knight. I adored playing Unholy, until it was nerfed and Blood became the omgwtfawesome spec of choice. I tried Blood, hated it, went back to Unholy, and eventually Frost. All I do is heroic. I like to do good damage, but I’ll play what I like thanks.

    Elitism pisses me off >.>

  13. #13 by Bruce Baugh on May 8, 2011 - 10:09 am

    I was talking about this with a friend the other day, who had a good point: How many of the people pressing for the most ruthless optimization right now will be spending weeks and months on end going “there’s nothing more to do” later on? Balancing optimization with some personal enjoyment seems to produce a pacing that uses the flow of new material better.

  14. #14 by tytalus on May 10, 2011 - 10:08 am

    Yeah, the measure is skill, not just spec — although people who spec badly are nerfing themselves. If they can overcome that and be adequate or even great, then that’s awesome. More power to them. Speccing optimally is no guarantee of good performance or skill, though. Neither is gear. They can be crutches to compensate for lack of skill. And we don’t have to be that good to down this stuff. There is wiggle room.

    But I can empathize with those who finish their prep/gear/learning of a fight, and are stuck waiting for the rest of the raid or just a little part of it to figure it out. We downed Cho’gall lately, after about 3 or 4 raid days of wipes over several weeks. It is no fun wiping for 2 hours plus until the trash respawns, waiting for somebody else to figure it out.

  15. #15 by Temnyi on May 10, 2011 - 3:10 pm

    As most of the guildies know by now I am far too competitive to accept being “sub-optimal.” I love that #1 spot and if I’m anywhere below second, I’ll get more focused and try to kick that up a place or two. I like to think this makes me a credit to team (Just call me “Engineer”), but I also know I can get pretty obnoxious about it. I won’t meter spam, but I’ll gloat a little going over WoL.

    That being said, I’d still play an arms warrior over a fury warrior, or (if I were allowed to play them) a marksmanship hunter over a survival hunter. To me, flavor is a big deal, and if I can’t get into the spec’s thematics I won’t enjoy playing it. Looking at a site like State of DPS, or reading EJ, shows you what the cap is, not what you’ll expect, and MOST specs are so close to each other that the increased enthusiasm for the spec you enjoy will make you do better than trying a higher dps cap spec.

    The exception is subtlety rogue. Don’t ever let me catch anyone trying to raid as sub, or I will show them how subtle I can be in my disapproval.

    Anyway, I’m rambling, but I got the important point across. If you don’t enjoy the spec you’re playing, don’t! Try another spec, or even another class. If you’re not enjoying it, you won’t have the enthusiasm to really make that spec shine, it being the ideal or not.

  16. #16 by ILikeBubbles on May 10, 2011 - 3:10 pm

    @Rohan – I’ve run SiB this way from the get go, and BoO before that. We never hit a wall in Wrath, and I don’t really expect that we’ll hit one in Cata, either. Sure, there were some HMs that we never did–but we didn’t really care, either. It’s definitely a guild flavor thing, but at the same time–that being what it is–we’re not holding anyone back with our specs.

    No, what’s holding us back is my inability to kite Nef adds. >.> /wrist

  17. #17 by Nassin on May 13, 2011 - 3:41 am

    This is part of the reason why I am really enjoying my Arms/Prot warrior atm — there’s no “right” way to build a warrior in 4.1. Even EJ can’t agree on a universal “best” build. In fact, if you look up a few different warriors, odds are they’ll all be specced uniquely.

    On top of that, Arms no longer plays second fiddle to Fury in modern raiding. Fury’s single-target DPS is better, but arms will produce more output with less gearing, and has the added bonus of severely pro AoE, and brings Improved Battle Shout and Colossus Smash to your raid.

    That being said, if your guild is not on a mission to go 13/13 CataH, then why worry? Just play whatever makes you happy, and experiment with builds. I’d rather have a skilled BM hunter in my raid than a newbish MM or Surv that copies everything straight from EJ and shows no flexibility at all. On the other hand, if you guys start going after Realm Firsts, then it’s ok to expect people to be in the “optimal” spec.

    Bottom line, if you are happy with your toon, and neither your expectations nor those of others are not being met, then who cares? Don’t let the elitists spoil all the fun as they wag their finger about how you’re missing 200 dps/tps/hps because you didn’t spend 1 extra point in Talent X. On the other hand, if you want to raid at the top level, you sacrifice some freedom in how you set up your toon in exchange for being able to down some of the hardest content in the game with less effort.

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