The Other Side: Defending Positional Requirements

Here’s a couple of interesting snippets from the comments of my latest blog.

“Up until I read this post, I was willing to let Blizz get away with ‘wait and see'” – Mechaninja

“I was going to go all devil’s advocate on you and make the old ‘retain the integrity of the class’ argument but” – OneRogue

While flattered that my opinions are being heard and my arguments are convincing, I can’t help but find it somewhat disturbing that my clearly one-sided post seems to have gone unchallenged.  It’s the devs’ job to make good decisions, which at the very least means their actions have merit.  While I represented the anti-positional requirements stance and was quite harsh on those who disagreed with my premise, the fact that Blizzard is currently keeping Backstab positional requirements means quite a lot.  So, what exactly is the other side, and why is it so compelling?  Clearly, answering a question this big requires somebody with both a deep understanding of the playerbase, and vast experience with Subtlety:


Me, Haileaus!  This, is Hopefully not Copywrite Infringement Against the Colbert Report for Making a Cheap Knockoff of Formidable Opponent!



Thank you for coming Haileaus.

No problem, anything to prevent the rogue community from becoming an echo chamber.

Let’s get to the crux of the issue.  The other day I made it pretty clear why people who disagree with my views on Backstab are wrong, and now you come in, the prominent blogger that you are, and say that it is in fact I who is wrong?  I thought we were on the same side!

If by us being on the same side you mean we both want what’s best for the Subtlety spec and the rogue class as a whole, then we are on the same side.  But yes, you are wrong about Backstab.


Please, I was about to until you interrupted me.

Sorry, do go on.

Look, the fact is between your two blogs that addressed positional requirements you’ve done a very good job at explaining the issue as seen from above.  That is, that from the perspective of the heroic progression raider, Subtlety’s viability is far too dependent on a single situational factor – time spent behind targets – which must necessarily affect it significantly more than the other specs in order to be noticeable.

So I win then!  Thank you for join –

Not so fast.  The problem with your argument is that it only holds true for an extremely small subset of the playerbase.  While concerns about spec choice with regards to Subtlety are valid for the elite, the vast majority of players are not heroic raiders.  Even in Mists of Pandaria the experts on the rogue class including you have held that all three specs are perfectly viable.  So yes, while there may be issues with balancing out the maximum potential of the three rogue specs, very few are actually testing those limits.  Moreover, even for sub-heroic progression, the difference between the specs is close enough that what limits progression is not spec but skill.

In an ideal world, I would agree with you.  It is true that I and others far smarter and more influential agree that all specs are viable for normal raiding, however the typical player does not base their decisions off of what folks like us say.  In this game it is much more common for people to look at the best of the best and copy what they do.  This means that while meaningful difference may indeed be limited to the higher level, the discrepancies it produces trickle down to all levels.  Remember Dragon Soul?  While Subtlety was still rarely played there was a huge spike in its popularity due to high level raiders taking up the spec for heroics, since the combination of Subtlety and Combat was so potent for so many fights.  Was Assassination unviable for the typical raider?  No!  However nevertheless a large number of players felt compelled to drop their Assassination spec because the best of the best were using Combat and Subtlety.

You’re correct in that I exaggerated how limited the effect of positional requirements on raiders is, however your scope is still far too small.  Let me tell you a story which will hopefully bring some perspective.  It is a story of three rogues – perhaps you know them.  The first rogue was a noob who was leveling back in Vanilla WoW.  Let’s call him Jimmy.  Jimmy had no idea what his DPS was, or what the optimal rotation was, or that rogues could equip swords.  He was so bad in fact that he would use whatever piece of gear provided the most armor/DPS, even if it had intellect and spirit on it.  There was one thing that Jimmy knew though:  He was a rogue.  When Jimmy looked through the talent trees his reaction was to wonder why people would pick anything other than Subtlety.  Clearly, people who picked Combat or Assassination were not true rogues.  What did Jimmy look up?  The combos on the WoW community site, of which to this day the only one that he can remember is the one describing how you can use Gouge to get behind the target for a Backstab.  There wasn’t any question what combo point generator Jimmy should be using, since it was obvious:  As a rogue, he should be using Backstab.  Tell me, Haileaus, what do you think Jimmy’s reaction would be if Blizzard removed Backstab’s positional requirement?

…Bad.  But he’d realize it was the right decision when he hit max level and tried to start raiding.

Maybe.  But then, there are a lot of Jimmies out there, and I doubt all of them are going to turn into competitive raiders.  Rogue number two, who we’ll call Jimmy.  Jimmy just hit level 85 and was ready to start raiding.  He had been playing Assassination through Wrath because Subtlety was terrible and he felt a rogue who wielded anything but daggers was no rogue at all.  Now though, armed with the latest theorycrafting and a whole lot of stubbornness, he was ready to raid as Subtlety.  He found a group who needed a rogue and was willing to let him play Subtlety as long as it didn’t prevent him from pulling his weight, and then proceeded to show that not only could he pull his weight, but he could pull everyone else’s too – that is, everyone besides the warlock.  People would often tell him that Subtlety wasn’t a viable spec, and that he should instead go Combat or Assassination.  His response was always the same:  “You’re wrong.  Subtlety is viable, because I make it viable.”  Cocky though he may have been he was still one of the best rogues on the server.  Jimmy had read some people’s claims that positional requirements were holding the spec back, and he was just as dismissive to them as you were to people like him in your last post.  You see, the reasons Jimmy played Subtlety were the exact reasons why few others did.  Not only could he boast that he beat hunters who were better geared than him with an “unviable” spec, but he loved the challenges Subtlety offered, be them rotational, positional, or social.  When you say that positional requirements should be removed, what you really mean is that Subtlety should no longer be the underdog spec.  But have you considered Jimmy and those like him for whom much of the point of Subtlety is being an underdog?

Underdogs are by definition smaller than the group in question, so I’d argue that his views hold less weight.  That being said, I can tell you from experience that eventually he’ll tire of the constant pressure to respec.  Maybe he’ll be fine for a while, but as content gets harder he’s going to be asked to put out more, and the first thing that he’ll be asked to do is respec.  What’s he going to do, say no and leave the guild?  Maybe, but if he ever wants to push himself then caving will be inevitable, and all those other things he likes about Subtlety will be moot points.

I dunno, Jimmy is pretty stubborn.  Regardless, its time to move on to rogue number three, Jimmy.  Jimmy has been playing a rogue since Vanilla, and has been dedicated to the Subtlety spec the whole time.  Jimmy’s been through it all.  In Vanilla, he blindly stumbled around thinking he was awesome even though his gear was laughable and he had no idea what he was doing with the talents he was so proud of.  In Burning Crusade, he stepped into his first raids, and because people told him that Subtlety was unviable he changed specs to Combat.  In Wrath, he became more invested in the community, and played Assassination in PvE because it was the closest spec to the still unviable Subtlety.  Still, even though most rogues were using Assassination for PvP, Jimmy stubbornly stuck to Subtlety.  In Cata, Jimmy finally came into his own.  He had the confidence to play Subtlety regardless of what others said and even made a Subtlety PvE guide on the official forums, which led to them becoming a part of a wonderful community.  In Mists of Pandaria, Jimmy developed his interest in helping the rogue community by revamping his guide, starting feedback threads for each major patch to help get a feel for what the community wants, and even at the suggestion of a friend starting a blog.  Of course, Jimmy was familiar with the increasing number of people who have asked that positional requirements be removed.  As is his nature, Jimmy pondered the effect that these requirements have and came to the very same conclusion you did.  The thing is though, he pondered the effects positional requirements have on raiders, PvPers, and the game as a whole, and then based his opinion on those.  Never did Jimmy consider what he as an individual wanted.  Can you tell me, Haileaus, if Jimmy was being perfectly selfish in his consideration of positional requirements, would he still support their removal?

Of course not.  Honestly, I doubt even Jimmy knows the answer to that, since his opinion is so biased by what he believes to be best for the game.  Still though, its fair to say that if Jimmy is a competitive raider, then he will want to be able to raid as Subtlety on every encounter.

Exactly.  The thing is, nobody – not even Blizzard – knows what every player wants.  At the end of the day, all we can do is guess.  While the high-end raiders and those who follow them generally consider positional requirements to be problematic, there are far more people who don’t fit into those two categories.  Moreover, because in this day and age people are expected to do research before raiding seriously, online forums are likely to have an inherent bias towards them.  Sure, it could be that the majority of the players either agree with those raiders or don’t care, but then it could also be that most people who play a rogue do so because they like the immersion that Backstab offers, and removing positional requirements, though perhaps making the rogue class stronger, would hurt them.

Then nobody can be sure what’s the best course of action?

Nope, and that’s the beauty of it.  As strongly as we feel about something, and no matter how valid our arguments are, there’s always another side with its own strong feelings and potentially equally or even more valid arguments.

Huh, you’ve got a point.

And you sir, are a formidable opponent.


6 thoughts on “The Other Side: Defending Positional Requirements

  1. Arli says:

    Great article, really enjoyed that one over breakfast! I play subtlety because it’s the only spec in which I feel like I’m playing a proper rogue – but I don’t raid and only casually PvP so I have the luxury of choice based on immersion in the class.

  2. Pathal says:

    You stick largely to ‘feel’ and subjective qualities of staying the course, but positional requirements can actually have practical use.

    Positional requirements can encourage spatial awareness and engagement. Combat and Assassination are very easy to tunnel vision with.

    They also can’t be parried (well, before Warlords?). Which adds a safety buffer that Combat/Assassination don’t have.

    • nextormento/dazer says:

      I think those were subtly implied with the gauge into backstab bit: such kind of tiny combos are what craft how your experience and relation with the game will look like along the path.

      I was that Jimmy once. I remember crystal clear the moment -leveling through old no-mount stv- I figured that those funky balls around my portrait were the fabled combo points my abilities kept talking about; there was a reason for some of my spells to not be available at all times; everything clicked in place. I felt very embarrassed, while at the same time extremely impressed: that was the first time I was presented in a game with such a clear and obvious double resource system. The whole realization came as a shock such that it kept me paralyzed as a random tiger gnawed me down. It kept me speechless for long enough for my partner to notice. Sex that evening was probably the nerdiest thing I’ve had in my life as it followed the cadence of combat cycles.

      My experience is just a single data point. I suspect others will have their own. Behindstab is just another less-than-straightforward move that enable players to build such experiences.

      As for the article, I have a question: who won the debate? it’s frustrating when I don’t know that; it’s like you both walked me through the path of enlightenment and then can’t give a clear answer. What am I supposed to do? develop an opinion on my own, while at the same time respect the views of others?

      • Haileaus says:

        Despite the fact that anything I write after reading that glorious reply seems hollow and uninspired, you did ask me some questions.

        Ok so this turned out to be a really long reply, so sorry about that. I’ll add a TL;DR at the end. Also, when you asked the first question were you asking for my personal views on the subject ignoring things like what I think would be best for the community? Because if so I didn’t answer it but I totally don’t mind.

        “Who won the debate?”

        Answer 1: Me, duh.
        Answer 2: That remains to be seen. One of the problems with playing devil’s advocate with oneself is that it means you have to make an effort to acknowledge an understand dissenting arguments/opinions. This is exacerbated by my unwillingness to make arguments that I know are stupid. The result is a fair amount of dissonance which has yet to be resolved.
        Answer 3: Red Haileaus, who for the sake of distinguishing the two we’ll call Jimmy. The reasoning behind this one is that while on the surface Jimmy was arguing for positional requirements, the message that should be taken away from his arguments is that while it may be pretty straight-forward to argue that something is good/bad for a certain portion of the playerbase, the diversity of the playerbase is so great that it is extremely difficult to prove that it is good/bad for everyone else and the game as a whole.
        TL;DR: Shrug? Maybe red but only vacuously (

        “it’s frustrating when I don’t know that; it’s like you both walked me through the path of enlightenment and then can’t give a clear answer.”

        Why do you think characters who possess great wisdom are so damn infuriating?
        TL;DR: …seriously?

        “What am I supposed to do? develop an opinion on my own, while at the same time respect the views of others?”

        Eh…at least of of those is good but I’m not sure which. Maybe neither.
        I suppose I’d say that people shouldn’t feel obligated to form an opinion. If for example there’s a proposition rename “Shadow Step” to “Shadowstep”, then I would have to work pretty hard to care, especially since I’m not even sure which it is, meaning there’s about a 50% chance that it already is Shadowstep. Heck, when I think about it, 80%. If something doesn’t affect me or I just don’t care then there’s no reason I should bother making an opinion since all it does is add useless noise.
        As for respecting the views of others, that’s tricky. I really want to say you should, but I can’t quite bring myself to. After about 5 times writing this paragraph, I now can. Yes, people should respect the opinions of others, but only on the basis that everyone is entitled to their opinion. This is different than passing judgement on an opinion, since I firmly believe that while everyone may be entitled to their opinion, it can still be a wrong opinion. Honestly though, as long as people are open fairly considering arguments regardless of alignment, then I don’t give a damn whether or not you respect those who bring them up or their opinions.
        TL;DR: I don’t really care what you do as long as you make an effort to avoid confirmation bias (

  3. Theofilos says:

    It seems the PVP player base and its perspective on the issue is always alienated

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