5 Mans and Basketball
It’s that time of year again. It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m enjoying 3 different college basketball games on TV. Once March arrives, college basketball will briefly take over many of our lives as we fill out our brackets and lose the NCCA pool to our Boss’s daughter’s best friend who “just really likes the color blue!” So, what does this have to do with WoW?
I’ve always completely made up seen some parallels between a basketball team and a 5 man instance run in WoW. For those of you who may not be basketball fans, let’s go over the basics of what makes up a team. You can have five players on the court, and they tend to divide into a few different roles. Not all teams will break out this way, but it’s a good general framework for understanding the game.
The point guard is primarily the person handling the basketball. He specializes in making great passes that will allow his teammates to succeed. He’s probably the shortest player on the team, but he wins the game by letting others do most of the scoring. At the end of the game, he knows he did his job if he has a lot of assists (passes that led directly to points) without a lot of turnovers (handing the ball to the other team). A good point guard sees the whole court while he plays, even while focusing on the basketball and his next move.
The center is usually the tallest player on the team. He spends most of his time down near the basket, both on offense and defense. In this position, he takes a fair amount of punishment, and dishes it out as well. He uses his size to gain a good position where he can score or rebound missed shots. A good center will command a lot of the other team’s defensive attention so that the rest of his team can score.
The “scorers” are traditionally your shooting guard, small forward and power forward. Yes, I realize this is a gross over-generalization, but I need to make an analogy here! A shooting guard generally plays on the perimeter of the court with the point guard, while the power forward is down by the basket with the center. The small forward can do a bit of both, depending on his skills or how he matches up with his opponent. While players at these positions need to play good defense and rebound, and some specialize in one of those areas, they generally make the big bucks when then can score a bunch of points.
Hopefully you can see a potential overlap with your typical 5 man group here. Your healer is the point guard. A healer’s job is to make everyone else better, and keep them alive so they can do their thing. They need to keep an eye on the entire group, while also making sure they don’t die to any area effects. A good healer is one that you hardly even notice is there, because everyone is staying alive, and the run is going smoothly. If the healer dies, however, you usually notice it right away. In basketball, if a shooting guard tries to play point guard, it’s usually pretty obvious, and rarely successful.
Your tank is the center. He’s down low in the trenches making the “defense,” or in our case all those angry mobs, focus on him so other people can score. He still gets to do some damage himself, and the best tanks do more damage and cause more threat. But, at the basic level, his job is to take up space, occupy the mobs, and play some great defense for the rest of us. You aren’t going to be very successful without a real tank, and most basketball teams are not going to be effective without a real center. When a tank has a strong connection with his point guard, you have the makings of a championship team.
The DPS round out the other three positions, which is not to say they are unimportant. You can’t win a basketball game unless you score more points than the other team. Ranged DPS are your classic shooting guards. A mage bombing spells from range is like a good shooting guard bombing three-point shots from beyond the arc. If the tank can keep the mobs focused on himself, your ranged DPS can do a lot of damage. The same is true on the basketball court, where a good center will draw a double team, leaving his shooting guard open for a back-breaking three-pointer. Mages, warlocks, shadow priests and hunters are your classic shooting guards.
Melee DPS, especially the plate wearers, are more like a power forward. They are right in the center of the action with the tank. If things go bad, they can take over and draw the mobs’ attention for a little while. Unlike the tank, however, they are primarily looking to score points. Life can be a bit more hectic in the thick of things, but a good melee DPS does a ton of damage with their powerful hand to hand combat. Similarly, a good power forward can take over the game with his devastating power and ability to score points from close to the basket. Ret paladins, death knights, DPS warriors and rogues are the power forwards of WoW.
Hybrid classes are the prototypical small forward. Whether you need more ranged DPS, melee dps, or healing, a hybrid can step up to the job. Like a good small forward, they are often doing several of these things during one instance run (or “game”). Shamans, Paladins and Druids are your classic small forwards (although of course many other classes can fill this role), with the flexibility to do several things at once for the benefit of the team. They can all DPS, or score points in our strained basketball analogy, and most of them can also tank or heal as needed. A good team usually has a solid small forward who can do all the little things necessary for victory.
What can we learn from this (hopefully not too far-fetched) analogy? Basketball is my favorite sport to play, because it takes a high level of teamwork and a solid understanding of your role to succeed. I don’t think its a total coincidence that I enjoy WoW. Five talented players that are all fighting for the ball and have not played much together will almost always lose to five average players who know their position and know how to play as a team. Watching a great basketball team is like watching a work of art in motion, as each player instinctively knows what to do, and how to cover for his teammates when they need help.
A great group in WoW is the same way. Well, assuming we had challenging five man content anymore it would be. Let’s say we had a five man equivalent of Firefighter, Mimiron’s hard mode. If you just toss five random players with a high gearscore in there, all of them trying to top the meters and grab the fame, it’s going to be a train wreck. In contrast, a nicely balanced team of a tank with good survivability and threat, a healer who can prioritize heals and stay alive, and 3 DPS who can do a lot of damage while not pulling aggro and dodging the fire, will have much greater success.
Basketball is also often played in pick up games, just like we run five man instances now. You show up at the court by yourself or with a few friends and wait for a game, and you often don’t know your teammates. If you want to win, you’ll need to rely on your instincts, and naturally start to fill out the roles of point guard, center, and scorers. When you play with more experienced players, you find that everyone seems to know where to go, even though you have never discussed how you are going to run plays or who should play which position. The same can be true of a PUG in WoW, and it’s one of the strong points of this game for me.
Of course, you can also get the opposite. You can end up with scorers who are always fighting for the ball and committing turnovers. Your tallest players may seem allergic to rebounding or playing defense. Your point guard might be unable to make a good pass to save his life. Sound like DPS trying to top the meters, tanks who can’t hold aggro, and healers who would be better off in their DPS specs? It sure does to me. Anyone else ever notice this, or similar connections between WoW and other real life games?