Friday, April 24, 2009

Understanding SA in Raiding

Situation awareness, or SA, is the perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future.
One of the biggest things that I see going wrong in raids is movement. There are whole mods out there to tell on people who didn't move on time, and who caught a flame wall on sarth. There are mods that are supposed to help you move, DBM will give several signs of warning, and I even remember an entire mod telling you where and when to move on Sharaz. Or how about the little flash game that helped you learn what the constructs were doing.

The consequences of lack of situational awareness are that players either:
  • become really careful and dedicate most of their time to moving, and forgetting what they came to do (dps/tank/heal), ending up not being useful for the raid.
  • or, and this is the more common one, they forget the moving, focus on their core job, and consequently die because of standing in "insert random bad stuff here".
In short one of the biggest hurdles players have to take is not only in being good, but being good in the situation. Making sure that they will move out of this, into that, away from here, and towards that is really really important in the game.

So how do you really learn this situational awareness thing that is so important to raiding? The sad answer is that I don't think you can really learn it. However, I do believe there are little tricks that can make your life during raiding easier if your situation awareness is lacking. These tricks involve work and time investment, but they can definitely help you improve.

3 stages in SA

1. Perception
The first step in achieving SA is to perceive the status, attributes, and dynamics of relevant elements in the environment. Thus, Level 1 SA, the most basic level of SA, involves the processes of monitoring, cue detection, and simple recognition, which lead to an awareness of multiple situational elements (objects, events, people, systems, environmental factors) and their current states (locations, conditions, modes, actions).
For World of Warcraft this can be translated into seeing the visual cues of things happening, hearing the audio cues and actually noticing and recognizing them. By knowing where people will be standing, and where you should be standing at every point of the fight.

This can be learned by repetition, by becoming familiar with the fight and by doing it many many times. The problem is of course that if you take longer to learn than others that you will be the cause of wiping the raid while learning the fight, and we all know how shitty that feels.

To prevent this from happening you can do what most raiders do, find a video of the fight. Watch it, not once or twice, no a hundred times if need be. Find a player in the same role as you and watch what this player does. Where does he go, why does he go there, at which moments does he move, etc.

Watch it often enough that it doesn't only get to recognizing when something is about to happen, but that your whole internal body timer is set to go 'there should be a flame wall now' and that 2 seconds later that flame wall happen.

2. Comprehension.
The next step in SA formation involves a synthesis of disjointed Level 1 SA elements through the processes of pattern recognition, interpretation, and evaluation. Level 2 SA requires integrating this information to understand how it will impact upon the individual’s goals and objectives. This includes developing a comprehensive picture of the world, or of that portion of the world of concern to the individual.
Now we'll take it one step further. You now know what will come, now try to understand why the fight has been created like this, why Blizzard introduced a flame wall right at that moment. Did the boss react to an internal timer? Did he reach a certain point of health, what was the trigger?

Most of the times you can find this information on the various sites that describe the specific boss fights, sometimes they even mention it in the video you've been watching, but what is important is understanding.

Only through understanding can you interpret what is happening, and actually react when some other player is not reacting like was planned on the video.

If your MT healer dies (hah! he didn't watch the video you did!) and your raidleader tells you to switch your healing from the OTs to the MT you will need to know where the MT is at that point, what the movements of the MT healer were etc.

Understanding what a boss will be doing next is vital in quick reaction in unexpected situations. Which leads into the next step.

3. Projection.
The third and highest level of SA involves the ability to project the future actions of the elements in the environment. Level 3 SA is achieved through knowledge of the status and dynamics of the elements and comprehension of the situation (Levels 1 and 2 SA), and then extrapolating this information forward in time to determine how it will affect future states of the operational environment.
From knowing to understanding to anticipating. In this third step you get to use all the knowledge and information you got from the video and the practive to anticipate on boss moves.

You know when loatheb is going to drop his anti-heal aura, use this knowledge to think one step further. Casting your heal takes 2.5 seconds, so when you start casting your heal in anticipation of that shield to go down you can land 2 heals in the time of the aura being down instead of 1.

And of course Loatheb is one of the most obvious examples, but there are many many bossfightst that work like this.


This doesn't come from any known theory other than my own, but if you're having trouble with situational awareness, then make sure that the only environmental input comes from the situation you want to be aware off.

Don't have the radio on, don't watch TV in the middle of raid, chat on msn with some of your friends on the other screen, etc. If you know you're having trouble with moving then don't divide that much needed attention over 3 different activities, stick with raiding at that point.

The quotes in this post all come from Wikipedia.


  1. The ability to be aware of everything going on is especially important in Ulduar. Almost all of the fights have something you shouldnt be standing in, somewhere you have to move to, etc.

  2. Very informative post, great job!

    This seems to be where players lack, and what usually stops good players from being great players. As mentioned above if this isn't a skill you have yet, if you plan to go to Ulduar, you better start taking the steps mentioned in the post. You will be moving and there will be a ton of things going on in the fights!