First, a little history. I started my World of Warcraft tanking career on Anvilmar (US), not long after the release of The Burning Crusade at a time when every guild on the server was hurting for tanks. My druid was just starting out in Outland, having kitty-catted her way up to this point, when the leadership made a plea for more volunteers before we had to turn to recruiting. What could I do, I heeded the call. Not that I really wanted to, but keep in mind that back in those days, cat DPS reputation was in the gutter. If I wanted to stay feral and still be useful, I pretty much had no choice.
Some people say that tank is the hardest role in WoW, and I know I might be biased, but I have to agree. As someone who has played all three roles (Healer, Tank, DPS), I think the debate goes beyond simply what buttons to press and when, or where to go or stand (anywhere but in the fire!) Based on experience, the stress of playing a tank pretty much trumps all. Healer comes close, but not quite. First of all, when I die as a healer in a raid, there’s still some hope of at least one other healer in the group picking up the slack. When I die as a main tank on the other hand, it’s almost always a guaranteed wipe. Tanks are also heavily relied upon to know the dungeons and their encounters, even more so back in the day when heroics weren’t AoE orgies. Any tank worth his or her salt knew to mark each target for kill order and crowd control.
In the end, I don’t think I could have done it if not for the wonderful help I got from my guild. I was lucky. I had the unending support and patience of a close group of friends while I picked up tanking from scratch. They made adjustments for my noobishness, I wasn’t immediately lambasted for making any mistakes, and I had time to get feedback and fine tune my technique. It was the best way one could possibly learn. Not everyone has that luxury today, and I sympathize with but also respect those who have had to learn to tank amidst total strangers in pick-up groups, in this ever fragmenting WoW community.
Now, I’m by no means a perfectionist, but I can be a fussbudget about certain things — like tanking. When I tank for a group, I’m like the mama bear who wants to keep all her cubs safe. Even after all this time I’ve never completely gotten over what I call my “tank guilt”. That said, I used to beat myself up every single time someone in my group died, even when it wasn’t really my fault. If a trigger-happy DPS pulled and got himself killed, I’d wonder if it could have been avoided if only I had been a bit quicker on the taunt, or working a bit harder on aggro. If the raid wiped because the healers screwed up for whatever reason and couldn’t keep me up, I’d still blame myself for the deaths of 24 other people, cursing myself, “If only I had had more health/been better geared!” It took me a long time to let go of this guilt, and realize that I’m powerless to prevent some deaths, and that it is a fact of life that some idiots just deserve it.
All this was before my break from WoW. I’ve recently picked up tanking on my main again, after nearly a year, and unfortunately I think the guilt is coming back. Plus the dynamics of groups have certainly changed. Random grouping is more commonplace due to the convenience of the Looking for Group system, with an undesired effect — healing and tanking have become increasingly thankless jobs as PuGs are quick to blame either or for any mishaps. I’m paranoid now. I’m starting to second guess myself again every time someone goes down, wondering if it’s my fault. Then I wonder if the group will vote to kick me if it is. I pray to the PuG gods each time I enter a random instance to please please please be kind and spare me the jerks and assholes.
If this post is turning out more whiny than I intended it to be, I apologize. I just know that tanking is quickly become a source of stress for me, even though it’s something I’ve enjoyed doing for years. But times change. With Cataclysm due to hit stores in a little more than a week, it’s the perfect time to re-evaluate if this is the path I want to keep for my main or if I should establish myself in a new role. I can see myself still tanking once in a while in the new expansion, but at this rate I have a feeling keeping bear as my main spec is going to end up giving me an ulcer.
Lucky for me, druids are one of the most flexible classes in the game. I’m going to need some time to decide once and for all, but right now I see very little point in continuing something once it stops being fun.