So, I read this article on WoW Insider a few days ago. This article, by Mathew Rossi, attempts to make the case for removing tanking from WoW entirely. While I feel this is the journalistic equivalent burning down a bar for the insurance money, I still find myself drawn to the argument, in a manner that can't be properly satisfied in a manner so transient as WoW Insider's woefully inadequate commenting system. So, I'm back at the blog. Maybe people still read me, maybe not.
The fundamental crux of the issue is, and has always been, the paucity of tanks relative to DPS, and even healers. This became almost mathematically measurable thanks to the dungeon finder tool. Tanks are in demand, and they get instant queues. DPS are in abundance and they have to wait. Those are the facts. There are, however, two things which need to determined with those facts. The first being what is causing this population imbalance, the second being what can be done to correct the problem. For the most part, Mr. Rossi's article focused on the former; because of this, so will I. The later is a tale for another day.
There are fewer tanks required in 25 man raids compared to 5 mans.
This is irrelevant to the concerns of the dungeon finder queue times. The overwhelming majority of raiding is currently being done at the ten man level, where the ratio is actually working against the DPS in that respect, and furthermore, this stratification insulates the dungeon finder from the problems of 25 man raids. A small portion of the level 85 player base raids. A fraction of that small portion runs 25 man raids. The notion that all 85 content acts as a feeder to the few 25 man guilds that still exist is laughable. I'd be willing to bet that the majority of level 85 players in the dungeon finder couldn't tell you which guilds on their server raid 25 man content. There's a reason why there is so much complaining about the imbalances in the dungeon finder versus complaints about problems with leveling content. This is because for the majority of the players in this game, 5 man heroic dungeons are their endgame.
There'd be more tanks if Shamen, Hunters, Warlocks, Mages, or whatever could tank.
Now, here's a fun argument, but ultimately one that's already been proven wrong on multiple levels. People claim that only having 40% of the classes capable of tanking is contributing to the lack of tanks. Blizzard introduced a new class in Wrath of the Lich King, which was capable of tanking on three different specs. It was brutally overpowered, and it didn't make a dent in the imbalance. If this weren't evidence enough that this isn't the cause, in the past few months, we've been blessed with new evidence. Rift. For those who don't know, Rift is a competing MMO that acts as more or less a complete clone of WoW. It has the same group build as WoW, 1 tank, 3 DPS, 1 healer. It has over a million active accounts, which is enough for an acceptable sample size. It also has a dungeon finder tool that acts just as WoW's does. What it has that WoW doesn't is 100% hybrid representation. Fully 75% of their classes can tank, and their Mages can heal. And yet queue times for DPS are very similar to the times found in WoW.
Do you want to know why tanks are a rarity, particularly in 5 man content?
Because it's a difficult position. It's more than what most people sign up for. Consider the blurbs written by Blizzard for their Role Forums.
Damage Dealing: A slash of the sword, a flick of the wand. Stow your weapons and discuss the strategy of damage dealing.
Healing: To aid your companions is to see success. Kneel and meditate on the art of healing.
Tanking: A wall unwavering, a leader unshaken. Gather and confer on the craft of tanking.
While DPSers cut and burn things, and healers help people, what do tanks do? They lead. While a good player can lead from any position in a party, most groups, and especially the groups thrown together anonymously by the LFG tool, the position of leadership falls upon the tank. It takes a special kind of person to take on the burden of leader by default. Most people log onto a game to relax, to enjoy themselves. They don't want to have to take care of other people. It's not fun for most people to have 4 lost souls looking at you to set them up for success. The majority of people don't have it in them to get dropped into a hostile environment with 4 other people they don't know, and look at those people and say "Follow Me."
Further making the tanking position unattractive to the majority is the complexity of it. While the complexity for DPS and healers ramps up heavily as they ascend into normal raid content, and even more so into heroic raids, in five man content, the tank is the star of the show. A tank has to do everything a DPS does, maintain a tight rotation, properly manage offensive CDs, avoid the omnipresent fire on the ground, and interrupt on the spot. While juggling all that, they have to do it while walking backwards, positioning the mobs, monitoring the healer's mana, picking up adds, and managing defensive CDs. While no individual position in 5 man content is particularly hard, anyone who doesn't think that tanking is the most complex is ignoring an important aspect of tanking.
Ultimately, the tank is a neccesity.
They are the glue which allows the player group a limited degree of control over mobs, and allows developers to include encounters with a high degree of complexity, while still retaining the complex class design. Almost every attempt at tankless content in WoW has fallen flat on its face. When looking at the PvE content of tankless MMOs such as EVE online, the differential in complexity becomes blatantly apparent.