The Secret to Being a World-Class Healer

Should I hold you in suspense or should I just get down to it? Ah heck, I’ll let you guys know right away. I’m going to let you in on a secret. World-class healing has absolutely nothing to do with talent.

Think about it.

No one is innately born with the skills of being really good at healing. Or DPSing. Or playing video games.

It’s all about deliberate practice. We become better wired at certain activities based on the amount of time and effort we invest into it. Granted there is still the necessary ingredient of wanting to get better at something.

Transferable skills

Project Plan - Gant ChartIf you ever wonder why the learning curve is difficult for some players and easier for others, it’s possibly because of the fact that the players who have an easier time picking up stuff have played games for a longer time.

This concept of transferable skills in real life? I bet it applies to WoW. Certain mental schemas for WoW can be taken from other games.

A player recognizing the fact they’re in a fire or in a void zone clicks frantically to get out of there based on past experiences against Korean Protoss players with Psionic Storm casting Templars.

A different player trying to run away from an incoming AoE spell or ability is drawing on their previous days of Counterstrike after witnessing incoming HE grenades.

Such players have been able to identify various forms of threats and just know instinctively how to react. Its not deliberate practice, per se. But they’ve performed these same moves so often that it’s virtually second nature.

It’s the nature of repetitive action.

Practice, practice, practice

Let’s veer away from WoW for a sec. On December 30, 1975, a child was born. Earl Woods was the father. At the age of 2, he would sit in his dad’s garage and watch his Woods Sr. putt after putt after putt. This was a young golf prodigy in the making. Tiger was exposed to golf at an extremely young age. He would eventually go on to win multiple championships and tournaments.

But was it because of talent?

How a typical golfer practices

How does a typical golfer practice? I’m going to use my dad as an example. This is what he likes to do. He’ll head out to the driving range, throw some coins into the machine and just get a bucket of balls. He heads out and gets set up. Obviously he needs a target. So my dad picks any number or flag on the range and tries to aim for it while not caring if he realistically hits the mark or not. He’s on the range just just swinging away.

How Tiger practices

Here’s how Tiger does it. He heads out onto the fairway. Tiger looks around and spots a sand trap. Instead of heading away, he’ll make a beeline for it. As he tiptoes his way into the bunker, Tiger will reach into his pocket and grab a golf ball. He’ll close his eyes and randomly drop it somewhere around him. Oh, and just for good measure, he’ll step on the ball a bit just to make sure it’s firmly planted. Then he whips out his club of choice and starts working on powering balls out of the trap.

Rumor has it that he’s hard at work perfecting his Jesus shot. Here’s a clip of it below (Which I probably linked to before but it’s just so awesome).

As a personal aside, no, I’m not into golf. I tried it but I never got into it. Just had a hard time hitting the ball and lost interest. Now give me a hockey stick and I can make that sucker fly.

The underlying point here isn’t simply practice. It’s deliberate practice. Sometimes I’ll go out of my way and join a pickup culling of Stratholme group consisting of undergeared melee players. Other times, I’ll drop in on some PvP and heal for a few rounds. If its the day before a raid resets, I’ll join a quick 10 man.

  • It doesn’t matter if its PvE
  • It doesnt matter if its PvP
  • It doesn’t matter if its a raid
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re soloing


The key is to place yourself in situations where you have to heal. No matter what area of the game you prefer, the more you heal, the better you become as a healer. Its unfortunate we don’t have healing equivalents of a test dummy.

Anyway, we might prefer different aspects of the game. But in the end, we are all healers.

A story aside

I remember many years ago when I was young and foolish, my dad bought me this game called Warcraft II. I installed it on my old Pentium 166 Mhz machine. It still had Windows 3.1 on it. I played through the Human side campaign and there was this one map where you had to avenge the death of Lothar. The great hero of the Alliance had been sent in to parlay with the Horde but was ruthlessly assassinated (in the game, though I heard it was retconned). I was so pissed and disappointed. It was around this time that I figured out the game had cheat codes.

Now you gotta remember that every game released in this era had some sort of god mode cheat. Warcraft II was no exception. God mode (and one shot kills) were enabled by typing in the phrase “it is a good day to die”. I remember I wanted so bad to save Lothar so I could have him as a hero and just own the Horde with. I thought if I could somehow cheat his death, I’d be able to command him.

My typing speed sucked. I was still a kid at this time. Every time I started the level, I’d try my best to enter the cheat. I’d usually make a typo. Maybe I hit the wrong key or hit the space bar one too many times. More often than not, I just couldn’t keep up with the pace. I wasn’t able to save Lothar in time. I was off by 3 seconds.

Then 2.

Then 1.

Then milliseconds. I was so close. Time and time again he would be killed by the surrounding Ogres and Troll Axethrowers. I kept hitting the menu and restarting the level over and over until finally I looked up and saw that he was still alive.

And he beat the living Kodocrap out of the Horde that tried to ambush him. His escort was dead, true. But he was alive with barely a sliver of red in his health bar. I remember amassing my army and trying to gain possession of him. But I couldn’t.

Good thing too. I checked his stats? They were the same as an ordinary Knight.


Anyway, just remember how much repetition and practice can help you become better. Keep healing non-stop.

And hey, you don’t have to hit practice if you don’¢t want to. It’s optional.

18 thoughts on “The Secret to Being a World-Class Healer”

  1. My baeball coach in high school used to say “Practice makes permanent, not perfect”. Definitely true though. Think about those clutch moments when you instinctively hit the right key binding – and those awkward days after changing your keyboard or switching to a game pad. I like to PvP or heal PUGs to increase my twitch healing. I don’t feel as bad when people die in PvP, and there’s something truly epic about pocket healing some juggernaut of death.

  2. I doubt the kinesiology or complexity of games really require any talent. Generally games are oriented at a broad audience which, by definition, excludes high demands. But when elevating your game to world or professional level, training can only bring you to the limit of your abilities. And that limit is defined by your talents.

  3. This is my “coming out” comment. I’ve been stalking TWOM for a while though. Great post. You’re absolutely right too, it all does come down to practice. The difference between practicing your golf stroke and practicing healing is that in order to practice healing, well, someone has to be dying.

    Personally, I once tried to “get into” Holy Paladin healing and gave up. Why? Because after a group wipes a few times in a heroic 5man because your heals are too slow, or whatever (lack of skill, I’m sure), they don’t invite you back. Your practice just went out the window.

    I’d like to give Priest or Druid healing a shot but that means rerolling. I may do that at some point though.

    Anyway, my point is 1) great article and 2) practice really is the only way to improve.

  4. @Zusterke: I was reading the other day about a study on tennis players. For example, on serve returning, there was only so much reflexes that tennis players could rely on to return the ball back. It seemed that they hit the ceiling on how quick they could return (if they could at all). But there were a select few players (Nadal, Federer, etc) that not only relied on reflexes, but relied on visual cues. They could tell by the body positioning of the other player, their posture, and other things WHERE the ball would land.

    So their reflexes didn’t get better, but their ability to read the play improved leading to faster decision making. We’re talking differences of miliseconds, too. It’s quite amazing ^^.

    • Josh: It took me A LOT Of time and effort. But I was able to get invincibility up SO fast, that he managed to live throughout the entire map.

      I mean he just stood there and all. But he was alive!

  5. The game is indeed about practice. That’s something I really realised when a player rerolled in my guild from rogue to holy priest. I tried to give her tips about how to heal, which stats to stack, how to spec,… But even with all those tips I saw her not really failing but not doing great. Eventhough I told her exactly how I’m healing. People say I’m a good healer and I reply most of the time the following “I’ve been a holy priest for 4 years now though.” And that’s true, I have 4 years of experience compared to a rogue who rerolled priest 6 months ago. I’ve read up on soo much more, experienced more,… It becomes simply a reaction, a mere habbit. Even gaming is, (damn this will turn into a big rant sry guys!).
    A week or 2 ago we got the buzz game and we decided to play a round (my sisters, brother and I). I was on the winning hand because of the timed rounds. Eventhough they knew the answers as well I was simply faster at looking and pressing a button. In the final my brother was behind by far so I took his char and ended up first place. =/ Simply because of the fact that I’m faster then they are (no they do not game).
    It’s all about experience, I do think one person learns faster then another. So maby you can call that “talent”? I wouldn’t know… I’ll stop talking now! 🙂 Nice post!

    SuicidalPriests last blog post..WTB time

  6. Csikszentmihalyi would be very impressed with your “port” of his concept of “Deliberate Practice” to the world of video games 🙂

    You are dead-on too… Action repeated under circumstances where the actor is relaxed and in a state where they can perform the action almost without thinking, will lead to improved performance – even in WoW 🙂 The key, however, is in the state of the user… as a player you must be actively engaging in your “practice” not simply going through the motions.. Caring about how well you heal (or DPS or TANK) and actively going through the process of repeating the things that you do to fill those roles is the best thing you can do to get better at it.

  7. Best practice you get in my opinion is doing 5 mans and 10 mans with really bad pugs and pvp. Both help increase your reaction time and your flexibility because both are so damn unpredictable. Only running with guildies makes runs too smooth, you don´t get those “oh sh…” moments ; )

  8. I know the blog is centered around healers. But a good example of “practice” for tanks is to solo 5-man quests. It teaches you how to survive and put out as much damage as you can (which means more threat). The better you can do on your own the better you will be with a healer behind you.

  9. I agree with Taraske that even bad pugs can improve your game no end. If you can heal a pug tank with no good gear, no good spec and no idea you can heal a good tank in a hard instance or a raid.

  10. I’ll have to agree with Zusterke. WoW is just not complex and can easily be summarized as pressing 3-4 buttons at the right time and react to a medium amount of visual impressions on your screen.

    And I absolutley think that computer games require some sort of talent as well as practice.

    As WoW isn’t an ultra complex game, I don’t think very much practice is needed. I see it in people switching their mains or playing an alt who perform at an absolute top level while other players invest a huge amount of time into their character and still don’t perform very well.

    The main reason is, that the PVE content we beat is static, very opposed to pvp or a sports game or a first person shooter, where practice helps so much more because you have to react to a bazillion of differen patterns your human opponent performs.

    Of course practice is needed, but I don’t think you should overdo it. Should you prepare a healthy meal or throw a pizza in the oven and run another heroic instance to practice? Should you do an additional hour of sports or train your reflexes in another BG?

    I won’t deny that practice is important, especially if you’re learning to play the game or the class from the scratch. But when you reach a certain level (e.g. you raid more or less successfully) I’d value a lot of other factors nearly as important as practice or even more important:

    -Balance your real life around WoW
    -Get a steady wake/sleep rhythm
    -Eat healthy
    -Physical exercise
    -A tiny bit of theorycrafting
    -Activities that help you improve the duration you can concentrate, this will help you in exams etc. as well.

    Playing the game over and over for me is just a little part of being a succesful WoW player, very opposed to sports, where practice is most curcial.

    In WoW, the challenging stuff for most players comes with raiding or pvp. When I raid, I learn so much about my class and the encounter I have to beat. When I do another heroic instance, I don’t learn that much. So my guilds raiding schedule is more or less exaclty the time I need to practice the game.

    drugs last blog post..Mimiron and more.

  11. I think your right to a point. The difference to me between an excellent healer and a good healer is awareness or perception or whatever you want to call it.

    I raid in both a hardcore progression guild and a more casual guild. The throughput of the healers is relatively the same, but I have noticed some differences in play style:

    The excellent healer attempts a boss and gets it (at least mostly) right the very first time. Could be due to having watched videos/knowing boss abilities.
    The good healer attempts the same boss and doesn’t do so well. The good healer does that boss a bunch of times and slowly gets it right through repetition.

    The excellent healer pops his people-saving CDs (or uses new abilities ala Divine Hymn) every fight.
    The good healer rarely pops his unless it is a required/helpful mechanic (Sarth 3D, Mimiron, Hodir). I think this is largely due to the fact that people-saving CDs are not something you can practice – there is no repetition in using people-saving CDs except where boss mechanics require it.

    There are other really situational cases too – eg. killing yourself off when you are OOM (for whatever reason – it happens) for 15 secs of mana free SOR healing when a boss is almost dead.

    And so on and so forth.

  12. I honestly think being a musician (not one of those soloists. . . but one that plays in a group) provides the skills that are needed to raid. Marching band in HS. . . yes, it was hell. But it taught me how to work in a group. It taught me that if 1 person F’s up the whole band looks bad. This was true to an even greater extent playing in an “end game” college jazz band. Individual responsibility was an even bigger deal. And it just so happens that of the 18 people in that band at least 3 of us are raiders. And good raiders at that.

  13. Totally right on the counterstrike part. This FPS not only makes your reflexes a lot better (as pretty much every FPS) but it also gives you malice. it opens the way you look at the game, enabling you to see the ‘shortcuts’. i have always said that ‘every game has a trick’ once you found it and exploit it, you will reach greatness =P. malice is also needed for pvp, i have to admit that i have won many arena games because of counterstrike ;P…


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