I once wrote about how I think that playing alts can actually make you a better player. I still believe that to be true. If you’ve played a class, you’ll often better understand the cooldowns and abilities available. This helps with leading raids and organizing rosters. In PvP, it helps you understand how to counter another class because you know what to expect. I am a staunch advocate of alts! I love getting inside another class and seeing what makes it tick – or in the case of my paladin, making a list of spells with various iterations of Hand, Blessing, and Divine to try to keep any of them straight.
There’s just one possible pitfall, and I’m afraid it blindsided me. I think it’s a fairly common scenario. If you’re a raider, your raiding main is decked out in great gear. You take your main to raids, but other than raids, they don’t “need” anything. So… If you’re like me, you play an alt. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and of course, it all depends. There’s no right or wrong way to play a game, there’s only deciding what’s right for you. But if you are a progression raider looking to maximize your play, I’m going to suggest something radical: playing too many alts might be hurting you, as it was me.
On the surface, there wasn’t a problem. I mean, I wasn’t routinely at the bottom of the meters in raids. I think my performance was solid. I continued to enjoy raiding as a mage. I was just playing Vidyala, my paladin, constantly outside of raids. She was the one who needed Valor Points to upgrade her gear! She was the one who needed gear. I get a bit obsessed with upgrading gear, because it’s such a tangible improvement. I’ve geared alts to the teeth only to completely abandon them once they no longer “needed” anything, having hardly used the gear at all. I just like the completeness of it. It also happens that I enjoy healing, and I enjoy five-mans, and so I didn’t see any detriment to this alting – except when I started to take a hard look at my own performance. With the kind of gear I have, I felt I should be performing better. I’d grown complacent. I wasn’t pushing myself to excel and find ways to maximize my damage output, due in large part to the fact that I wasn’t playing Millya as much as I could be.
I decided that I wasn’t satisfied with the state of my DPS or my play. I wrote a whiny blog post (and deleted it, unpublished). I asked myself, “Do you want to put energy into complaining that your numbers aren’t where you’d like them to be, or do you want to put that energy into figuring out how to improve your numbers?” I checked up on mage resources to make sure that my theorycraft was current. I asked our guild’s other mage, Fsob, to look at my World of Logs. He is both my respected colleague and a wizard (har) when it comes to reading WoL. He gave me some valuable feedback that I used to plan my improvement, but the grunt work would have to come from me. I needed to play Millya as much as possible. One of my problems was not casting enough. Especially when a fight is new, it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics and movement and not nuke as often as you should. To improve this, I was going to have to really focus on it.
I resolved that when I wanted to run a pug, I’d do it as a mage (thirty minute wait be damned). When I ran a BG, I’d do it as a mage. I ran dailies constantly. Tol Barad fears my name. The Argent Tournament is tired of seeing me. I was all mage, all the time – and I got results. Really and truly. Partly through a combination of research and practice, I improved my damage on heroic Valiona and Theralion by 1000 in just one week. I nearly doubled my number of “main nuke” casts, while keeping Scorch casts at the same amount. If you’d asked me before, I would have answered that I was “always casting” on the first V&T fight I looked at. But to see such a marked improvement in such a short time the following week floored me. I hadn’t received any significant gear upgrades in that time. I was just playing better.
"Thanks for killing my worthless minions!"
What Alts Can Do For You
(Doesn’t) Stand In Bad
If your goal is to maximize your raiding performance, in some ways alts can help you with that. Some things are completely universal – situational awareness, for example. High survivability is something I’ve always prided myself on, and that tends to be true no matter what I’m playing. As a healer, I can usually dance out of something oozey and painful very quickly. As a tank, I can neatly sidestep something coming my way. I believe situational awareness is a skill that can be learned, or at least honed – and you can practice that no matter what you’re playing.
You know the big spider forest in Tol Barad, and how those spiders will spit a big puddle of green goo at you? Did you know that you can usually start to move before the goo hits the ground so that it never hurts you? Half of situational awareness is anticipation. The same thing is true of the dark oozes that play a huge part in the heroic version of Maloriak (and it used to be the case for Trial of the Crusader and countless other raids). You can see the ooze flying at you and actually move before it hits the ground. Forget about getting out of bad – how about never getting in it? Of course, this isn’t possible for everything. There are some things that will hit you no matter what you do, and you really do have to move out of them. That’s something you can practice no matter what you’re playing!
At What Level Did I Get That Ability Again?
Another thing that you can do if you love alts and don’t always want to be playing at end-game is to level an alt of the same class as your main. I know tons of people who have done this! Vosskah has something like four warriors. I have two level 85 mages, as does Fsob. I know that Kurn just finished leveling another paladin. Leveling your “own” class can give you insights into it. The game has probably changed since you leveled up for the first time. Even if you don’t level as the same spec, it can be a valuable experience (and still scratch that alt itch).
I’ve had folks laugh at me for having two mages at maximum level. It’s kind of a running gag for people who wonder why you’d ever want more than one character of the same class, but it’s actually more common than you might think. If you’re playing a class at 85, it’s probably because you enjoy it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the best players I know have “multiples.” They are so passionate about their class that it’s no chore to make a second one. I sometimes wish I could “unlevel” Millya just to do some quests again and revisit zones that I liked. That’s not possible, but leveling another mage alt might be the next best thing.
Playing alts (especially in pugs) definitely accustoms you to the controlled chaos of a raid. Or at least, it accustoms you to chaos!
What Alts Can’t Do For You
I’m Sure Iceblock Is Around Here Somewhere
My pugging has honed my emergency button reflexes. My instincts have me reaching for Hand of Sacrifice so quickly; it’s like lightning! Unfortunately, that doesn’t help me whatsoever when I’m in a raid, because I don’t raid as a paladin. You might have lightning reflexes that are completely useless if your muscle memory isn’t remembering the right thing. (I also happen to have a lightning-fast Iceblock reflex, but that’s neither here nor there). Experienced alters often mimic a “basic” keybind set-up between all of their characters. So if you’re playing a druid tank or a warrior tank, your taunt is the same button (no matter what it’s called). This can help ease the transition between different characters when you do play them. I think there’s no substitute for playing your own character, though.
In a raiding situation, you can’t look down at your buttons and try to remember where you keybound your emergency heal or health potion. Well, you can – but you might be dead first. The faster you can instinctively reach for your key abilities and cooldowns without even thinking about it, the better you’ll do. You also learn a rhythm for when things are available. It’s weird for me to play my second-string mage, Tazya, because she has less haste than Millya and she feels sluggish. I think the effective difference is only a fraction of a second, but it makes a big difference when I’m playing her.
Being attuned to the nuances of your own class takes time, and here’s the thing… the time we all have to spend on WoW is finite. We all have other obligations, families, lives outside of WoW (hopefully!) It can be a fun diversion to level an alt for awhile, but if you aren’t 100% satisfied with your performance and your main, that’s time that you don’t spend improving and learning it.
Practice Makes…Probably Not Perfect, But Closer
I feel that I need to add a huge, honking caveat here. I’m not saying that “You shouldn’t play alts,” or “Playing alts makes you a bad player.” No. All that I am saying, from my own, highly subjective and biased personal experience is that I wasn’t playing as well as I wanted to, and I think part of the reason was because I was playing too many alts. That’s a decision that only you can make for yourself. If I was in a guild where I could casually top the DPS meters in a raid, I’d probably never have worried about it. It’s only when I thought, “I could be doing better,” and started to seek out reasons why that I hit upon this conclusion.
I’m a big proponent of doing what makes you happy; in life, in WoW, wherever. If hitting the fifty character limit is something that’s fun for you, why not do it? Cynwise wrote a great post about making a low-level PvP character just for kicks. If you get tired of them and want to delete them, no harm, no foul! (I’ve been thinking of doing this…with a mage, naturally). For me, what’s fun is progression hardmode raiding. That is my passion, and it’s one that is shared by the people in my guild. If I’m not doing the best I can, then I’m not just hurting myself, I’m letting them down too.
So lately, if you’re looking for me, it’s a pretty sure bet I’m flinging fireballs at trolls, or freezing Horde to the ground in a BG, or running around a grim island off the coast of the Eastern Kingdoms stealing fish from villagers. I’ve been digging through WoL to figure out ways to increase my DPS, and usually when I’m in-game I’m practicing. Diversions like learning PvE Frost as my raid off-spec have kept me occupied. Far from being bored, I keep finding out things I hadn’t thought of before. Besides, playing a mage is never a chore! It’s my favourite WoW thing to do. It’s been nice to see tangible results, too. I’m sure I will always have plenty of room for improvement.
What do you think? Are you a one-character sort of person, or do you wish Blizzard would increase the ten-character per server limit? Has playing an alt helped you improve your main character’s play in an unexpected way? Zinn over at Jinxed Thoughts wrote some great tips for dedicated alters while I was still working on this draft, and the irony wasn’t lost on me! I’ll admit, I still have and love playing a bunch of different alts, I just intend to temper my playtime with equal dedication to my main!