Tactical communication is the one common thread that EVERY raid group must deal with, regardless of whether it is a pick-up group, a casual group of friends raiding, or a hardcore progression raiding team. Tactical communications deals with how, when, and what the team communicates regarding the execution of encounters and other combat functions in the raid environment. There are 4 areas at which we will look at this communication.
1.) Research, Fitting, Assignments
In order to match your team to your challenge, you first have to know the challenge. The complexity level of the game is such that there is more than one way to overcome any given obstacle, but given the wealth of information and feedback available from others who have accomplished these tasks, the pressure is not on you to be original right away unless you have a very unusual team. Research can and be done by each and every member of the team. It can be very beneficial to have each member do some research on their own, then come together and discuss their understanding of that. By discussing it prior to the challenge they can iron out finer details some may have missed and help solidify what they had learned to that point. Videos and written strategies are both very valuable sources of information as some people learn better by seeing, and some learn better by conceptualizing. Either way, it is usually smart to go back and forth between the two, the literature will help you understand what you see, and the videos will visually demonstrate what may or may not be clearly described in the writing. Multiple sources of information can also be helpful as different writers will describe things differently. If you are in the rare position of going in blind, or you choose to to make things more interesting, I will discuss methods for learning in greater detail in Article #3.
Each fight has 3 basic roles, we are all familiar with this: Tank, Healer, and DPS/Damage Dealer. I will assume that if you are reading this you understand the most basic dynamics of this relationship. When you are studying the encounters, pay attention to the demands of each role, particularly what sort of damage the tank will take, where healing will be needed and what scale will be needed in each case, and what target(s) are the highest priority or have special consideration for how you kill them. Take the time, if you haven't already, to speak with each of your tanks, each of your healers, and pay attention to the dpsers in-raid and by log collections (unless you want to interview all 8-20 people you rely on to kill things, which is certainly worth doing, albeit time consuming). Ask questions and learn what they feel most comfortable with, what their strongsuits are for their role (for example, high health meatshield type tank, strong CD's to match burst boss scenarios, or block-types who are strong against fast swinging bosses), and where they feel weak. Knowing your own abilities is as important as knowing that of your opponent, and will allow you to match the player, not just the class stereotype, to the needs of the encounter.
Your team will want to match the demands of the encounter to the strengths and assets of the team, this is a topic all in its own, and I will leave it to teams to figure out their own methods here. What this article is concerned with though is that when the time comes, you have an idea of who will be doing what, and you can explain your reasoning. It may not be immediately necessary to do so, but you need to communicate to each group and assignment what their role is, and should you need to reconsider your strategy, understanding *why* you were doing what you were doing will allow you to adjust accordingly on the outcome.
When explaining aspects of the encounter and assigning tasks to the team, the key to doing so effectively is in balancing enough information without giving people too much to remember at once. Before creating the assignment, identify for yourself, what is *the* most important thing this(ese) person will need to do, what is the simplest way to explain their objective, and what details are small or inconsequential?
Here are some examples of assignments:
A.) "Ok, during phase 2 there will be 3 different kinds of tentacles, Crushers, Constrictors, and Corrupters. The Crusher Tentacle is going to cast a debuff that will reduce all the damage in the raid by 20% for each successful application, they need to be interrupted, Constrictors will grab a person in the raid group. The Crushers have a lot of health so we'll have to work hard to kill them, <Rogue> you will be in charge of interrupting them, oh and the Corrupters will cast debuffs, but we'll be focusing on Crushers. There are different debuffs, each can be dispelled. If a Constrictor pops up, it needs to die then you can go back to what you were doing before. <Holy Paladin> you will be dispelling magic, poison, and disease. There will be a second team of people who will be going through portals, one portal per person, oh and <Resto Druid> can you dispel curses...
B.) "For phase 2 there will be 2 teams. Portal Team and Tentacle Team. Portal team will consist of <X-Z>, you'll be going in the portals that spawn around Yogg, one person per portal. #1 priority while you're in there is to always keep your back to the floating skulls, and no matter what, make sure you are out in under 60 sec. Tentacle team, there are 3 tentacle types, always kill Constrictors first when they pop up, they'll die quickly. Crushers are your second priority, it is VERY important that they are interrupted. If neither of those two are up, kill a Corrupter. Corrupters will be spamming dispellable debuffs, <X, Y, Z> you will be principally responsible for dispels.
Notice, the information was essentially the same, but the manner in which you deliver it, and the highlights on what you really want them to remember make it clear and succinct. Poor descriptions will cause your group to struggle until they understand the fight for themselves, no matter how well *you* personally may understand it. If this organization doesn't come naturally, you may want to write down the important points on paper and mark them so you can add emphasis where appropriate. For your own purposes, list the details of the fight. You can mark off the inconsequential or unuseful information and exclude that until it actually becomes important (Constrictor's debuffs have nasty effects, but your focus is on dispelling them before they can really do anything, detailing every aspect of all 4 is a time waster and stretches the capacity people have to remember what is more important). Mark off details that are vital for people to know (Freya creates green spotlights, stand in them to regain sanity, if you don't and you run out, you'll turn against us). Then from the things that fall somewhere in the middle, make a judgment call about whether or not it is worth sharing, and when the appropriate time is (maybe they don't need to know on their very first attempt, in which case you can share it for clarification once they've seen a lot of the mechanics play out).
The key in this preparatory communication is all about being succinct. To little information and people will be confused and less effective, too much information and people will lose some of the details and feel overwhelmed.
2.) Framing, Movements, and Designated Directors
Phase 1, planning, happens in advance of the actual raid, assignments will be given in advance within the raid. One of the most important portions of the process though, in the interest of acting in unison, happens simply with the 'go' command and the other transitions between phases and activities. In order for your raid to execute tasks effectively, they need to be unified in timing as well as purpose. A teacher of mine always said, "speed is bullsh*t, timing is everything." Coordination is even required by many of Blizzard's designs to succeed. This includes coordinating the start of pulls for multiple tanks to pick up their assignments, or healers responding to a phase switch and a new need for healing, or for the dps to switch in unison and nuke a target hard and fast when directed (Emalon comes to mind). Effective communication makes this substantially easier. So what is effective communication in this situation?
First, for the sake of organization, you'll need designated directors. This is the person or people responsible for giving each direction when the time is right. I leave this ambiguous because the need will change with the situation. the raid leader will often be the person to do this, or the main tank, but sometimes it is easier for a dpser to see the need and call for the switch/move. At any rate, it is vitally important that it be decided and declared in advance who is responsible for this, otherwise you run the risk of having multiple people call out in comms, and 6 people can all say the same thing, but the message can be completely incomprehensible. Choose your directors, make sure they know, and that other people know not to duplicate directions, or worse, make up their own.
Framing is a term I use to describe the method of giving lead-ups to an important shift. For example, in the Gluth fight in Naxxramas, the raid leader will call, "30 seconds to Decimate," "5 seconds to Decimate, dps be ready to turn around and kill the Zombie Chow," "Decimate! Nuke the adds quickly and get back on Gluth!" This framing makes it so people are ready with whatever personal preparations they may need. Maybe you gave the dps directions to all stand up by Gluth, and the 30 second mark is their cue to move back into the room so they can turn on the adds more effectively. Either way, no warning and a sudden direction can leave people scattered, or catch them unexpecting and result in poorly coordinated turns. Framing, as with everything else is an exercise in tact. Too much framing and people get jumpy or comms get cluttered, too little and people are caught off-guard or lose focus.
If you are a director, it is in your best interest to briefly consider the most concise way you can give your needed directions. This can be made easier with nicknames and common terms the team uses. For example, I refer to the trio of spirits in Freya's adds as "the threesome" and everyone immediately knows what I'm talking about. In Karazhan, the packs of elites mixed into the party guests were known as "Death Squads." They are simple short-hands that make people laugh at first, but since they are used to attaching that name to them, they can immediately make the connection, which allows for brevity. "Conservitor," "Lashers," "Threesome." One word and the group knows which adds are up and snap into action on the prepared response for each. Short and sweet is hard to be distracted from, and can even be slipped into comms while someone else is calling out instructions with less risk of losing the message.
3.) Improvisation, Strategy Changes, and Exectutive Decisions on-the-fly
The best laid plans do not always work, and sometimes things in an encounter will change. This is when it is vitally important that you have designated directors who know to be the only ones giving directions in comms, and when you are greatful you have a raid leader who is keeping their eye on the big picture.
Previously, I mentioned the importance of Feedback during an encounter. This warrants more detail. During the fight many many things will happen. Most of them will bear significance, some of them will need to be known, and many of them will not change anything when announced. Some examples: If a healer dies, it is important to know because their healing assignment will need to be covered. It will suffice to say, "<name> down." Short, sweet, and obvious. "I'm down" will only be helpful if your team knows your voice well, and there isn't much going on to distract, it is better to be safe than to have to further clarify, though. On the other hand, if a DPS'er dies, it is unfortunate, but it is not likely worth noting unless they had some other responsibility that will need to be picked up. When an encounter requires tank switching and the current tank will take a lot of damage (Kologarn comes to mind), it is important to announce to healers when the switch is happening so heals can be appropriated quickly. In most any other situation, if your health is low, it is NOT appropriate or helpful to call out for heals. It is the healers' job to know what everyone's health is and who needs heals. If you haven't received heals yet it is because they are not available, or someone more important needs the heals at the moment. Sometimes, unforeseen events happen, a new group of mobs joins the fight, someone fails to get far enough away when dropping an injection from Grobbulus, someone gets the Mark when they're in the middle of a Saronite puddle with a couple other people, etc. When this happens it needs to be known, but it is important that not everyone call it out. Having directors and a raid leader will normally allow for that information to be disseminated quickly and clearly, allowing the people responsible for this to make the announcement is another act of trust in your teammates.
Sooner or later, there will be a moment where you will need to change your tactics on the fly. When this time comes, make the direction clear and make the necessary changes clear. Do not be afraid to adapt on the fly, but be careful that you don't try to over-steer or micromanage your team when it happens, if this role falls to you. If this is not your role, respectfully keep quiet and let the leadership play things out. Even if you are right, trying to redirect the team may cause confusion and could have worse results than if you let things go.
4.) The Wrap-Up
Whether you clear or wipe, it is worthwhile to take a moment to reflect. This may be a discussion shared by the leadership or with the whole team, or it may be just a moment of personal reflection. When the pull is done, take a moment to remember what worked well, what didn't work well, where people followed directions well, where people had trouble with their assignments, and make sure these facts do not go unnoticed. This is the appropriate time for a variety of feedback, and where as a teammember it is important to let your leadership know what worked well for you and what didn't. Constructive feedback will include specifics and details, it is not helpful to simply say, "that sucked! Why did you make me do that?!" I will discuss the wrap up and the value you can take from it further in the next article.
This is also a key moment for the psychology of your team. Depending on the outcome the leadership and the team's responses will determine the way in which you think of the fight, and how you remember it. Positive responses will generally leaving your team stronger and more united, while negative responses will poison the group and sabotage future attempts or fights. Here are some examples of positive and negative responses:
- General back-patting "Good job team, sharp kill!"
- Special praise "Good job <name> you really pulled that one out." *be careful that you don't praise any one person too often, praise is best spread around to the people who merit it, even if their part 'seems' less important. Acknowledging a job well done, or improvement by members helps them feel like their added effort bears fruit beyond just clearing the fight.
- Positive criticism "Great job! Next time though let's try to tighten up the <xxx> so it is a little smoother."
- Humor "That was a complete mess! <laughing> But we pulled it off. Way to go!"
In a healthy environment for communication, people will be able to accept responsibility for their mistakes, and the team will be able to adapt, support, and adjust to support their weaknesses with their strengths. I will discuss more about how to create that environment, and what sort of tools can come of that in later articles.
- Finger-pointing "It was his/their/your fault, you screwed up doing <task>!" Whether or not it is true, assigning blame is not helpful and makes the atmosphere feel hostile. Feeling accused, right or wrong, is not conducive to trust, teamwork, or enthusiasm. There is value in highlighting mistakes, but care and tact should be taken when doing so. Often a well-placed whisper will be much more effective for making sure it doesn't go unnoticed, while not singling someone out for criticism.
- Unconstructive commentary "That was awful, it was so bad, we suck, you suck, <name> sucked, we can't do this, we're not good enough." Regardless of whether not any of it is true, it is counterproductive to add negative noise and pessimism to the situation. It only serves to discourage and damage morale.
The key point to remember about tactical communications is to find the best balance you can of concise fact delivery and sufficient information to allow people to do their job. Limiting who is responsible for giving directions, and having those people prepare for their communications are two major steps on the road to optimizing this.