Backstab Positional Requirements: But seriously.

Ok, looks like its time for me to write another post about Backstab’s positional requirements.  If you aren’t familiar with the arguments against positional requirements, I suggest you study up, since I will be assuming you are.  (By the way, the one that I wrote was one of my very first blog posts, as evidenced by it being posted before I made this blog.)


First off, I want to reiterate my response to those who think the solution to positional requirements is to make them “soft”.  That is, to change Backstab from being unable to be used from the front, to merely providing a damage “bonus” when used from behind.  During a conversation about this on Twitter Copperbolt brought up an interesting point on this matter.  For context, the “proposal” softening the requirements.


Ok so, this brings up a really interesting question:  “Can differences in damage output based on position be a bonus?”  As usual, I’m going to be presumptuous (hey, what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t be?) and attempt to answer this question in a way that I’m sure will convince every one of my readers if they weren’t already.

Generally speaking when we ask a question about whether or not something is a bonus, there are two ways of looking at it.  The first is psychologically, and answers the question, “Do most people think that having X is a bonus rather than X being the norm and not having X being a penalty?”  The second is mathematically, and answers the question “Will the fact that X exists result in an increase in effectiveness (in this case PvE DPS/viability)?”

Usually these answers coincide.  That is, something typically feels like a bonus if and only if it actually is a bonus.  Unfortunately, right now it seems the two are in disagreement.  That is, while we can’t be certain what Psychology will determine, many folks appear to be saying that positional dependencies can feel like a bonus, while Mathematics clearly states that positional dependencies are strictly bad for a spec.

We now take a break from our irregularly-scheduled blog to kill a hunter.


And we’re back!


The Arguments

Hmm, where was I?  Oh yes!  So before the break I pointed out the strange disparity between Psychology and Math, where one says positional abilities can be a perk and the other saying they are anything but.  Now I should say right off the bat that as with most things, we actually have no idea whether or not most people agree with what I’m calling Psychology.  That said, at the very least there is a large subset of the playerbase that for the moment does agree, and this warrants discussion.  Before I leave this paragraph, I should make one thing clear:  What I said in my last article about being able to Backstab being the norm which makes positional requirements actively feel bad will hold as long there are positions relative to the boss for which it is impossible to Backstab.  Not many people disagree with me here, and the ones that do do so on the bases of flavor and tradition, which while potentially tasty and a good song respectively, do not hold water as arguments.  So, to be clear, when I say positional requirements, I actually mean positional bonus/perk/modifications.

As a math-minded person, I really want to do some sort of proof for why both sides have merit.  Unfortunately, despite how hard it tries, Psychology isn’t a science, and as such I can do no such thing.  That said, the sheer amount of QQ on the forums regarding the removal of positional requirements should be proof enough that Psychology is right in that some people think that positional requirements can be rejiggered to look and feel like bonuses.

Now its Math’s turn.  The thing about math, is that you can prove things with math.  Moreover, while it is often the case that what Math shows doesn’t correspond to anything in the real-or-otherwise world, when it teams up with History, things get pretty convincing.  So, let’s do some things with numbers and variables.  To those who are not mathematically inclined, I will try very hard to make this clear, and I’m sorry in advance for when I fail.

Let’s say that between DPS, raid utility, and all that other stuff that you want when raiding, Blizzard wants each melee DPS to have on average 100 worth (from now on, W) with skill and gear all being equal.  That is to say, if you take Jimmy the Assassination rogue while they raid Siege of Orgrimmar, they will have ideally had 100W.  Maybe Jimmy was overall less useful on Dark Shaman because they were dodging fire a ton so for that fight they had only 95W, but then perhaps on Immersius Jimmy’s ability to slow/stun the blobs made them extra useful and they had 105W for that fight, so the two averaged out.  This is fine.  Certain specs should do better on certain fights then others.  That said, if the difference between two specs is large enough, people will switch specs, as was often the case when Combat had a super OP cleave.

So, great.  So far we’ve established what everyone already knows:  Even if on average all specs are similar, a spec that does extraordinarily good/bad on specific encounters encourages people to spec to/from that specialization respectively.  Obviously, since you read my last post on positional requirements, you know that this is the case with subtlety, where it is either OP or UP on certain fights depending on how well it is balanced.  Neither of these situations are good, since History has shown that they discourage spec choice.

“Wait, so what’s the deal with the W business?”  You might well ask.  You see, since every spec is balanced around having 100W no matter what, the concept of differences in the damage/utility of an ability being either good or bad quickly becomes absurd.  I mean, sure, say you make Backstab do 100000% extra damage from behind, or proc Feint, or have a chance to proc Find Weakness.  Great, Subtlety rogues still have to have 100W, which means that no matter what as long as there is a difference between attacking from the front vs. the back beyond parry (which affects all melee equally and therefore can be ignored), Subtlety rogues will either be handicapped when fighting from the front, or over powered when fighting from behind.  Again, we consult History, which tells us that at the end of the day, being OP is worse than being UP, which means that while an average worth of 100 is ideal, Subtlety will have to settle for less.


Who Wins?

Math.  It’s not even close.  At the end of the day, positional requirements hurt a spec.  Maybe they are so small that you don’t notice the damage, but at that point positional requirements are meaningless anyway, except by those who read assholes like me who say that positional requirements hurt a spec and criticize you for playing it.  Whether this difference comes in the form of damage or utility doesn’t matter, because the fact is a difference is a difference and either it is noticeable – and therefore a problem – or it is not, in which case it is at best irrelevant.

I know it sucks to be told that your opinion is wrong, but if you think that positional requirements can do anything but hurt the classes that have them, you are wrong.  It either hurts the people who want to play the spec by being under powered, or people who prefer one of the other two specs by being over powered.  I don’t care if the difference is going to be small.  I don’t care if the carnival of ineptitude that is Subtlety rogues trying to solo is going to be addressed through other means.  What I want is for people like me who want to play Subtlety on every encounter to be able to do so without hurting our raids, and for people who don’t want to play Subtlety on a given fight without hurting their raid to be able to do that too.  If this was any other game, the answer might be different.  But this is Warcraft.  This is the game where people say stuff like this about a theorycrafter over a year after he left, and the rest of the community nods, because its true and because they remember.  This is the game where people have spent hours of their life creating complex models and simulators in order to maximize their effectiveness, and for whom the question “Why?” doesn’t even justify a response. We rogues are numbers-obsessed to a fault, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s true that everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but if you’re opinion is that there can be a meaningful distinction between attacking from the front and attacking from behind in a raid setting without being destructive, then you are flat wrong.


7 thoughts on “Backstab Positional Requirements: But seriously.

  1. madsushi says:

    Sounds like a skill issue.

  2. […] To which rogue blogger Haileaus replied, “Say whaaaaa?“ […]

  3. Up until I read this post, I was willing to let Blizz get away with “wait and see”, because they can literally do anything they want in game. However, if someone like you doesn’t say “No, that’s a bad idea”, then we can’t later say “He told you so” when they don’t solve this problem.

    No, I didn’t mean if, I meant when. Sadly.

  4. OneRogue says:

    Good post. I was going to go all devil’s advocate on you and make the old “retain the integrity of the class” argument but really “Some Rogues don’t do it from in front” already pretty much negates that. I think that the crux of your piece is this, “What I want is for people like me who want to play Subtlety on every encounter to be able to do so without hurting our raids…” and I completely agree. On fights like Ultraxion you were screwed. Blizzard could come back and say, “oh well we won’t have any fights like that in WoD”…but that’s just not a good enough solution. Certainly skill can compensate, but even so, giving people such a solid reason to not try/play/include a spec seems like a bad idea. This is not really a fun or interesting complexity.

  5. […] Here’s a couple of interesting snippets from the comments of my latest blog. […]

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