This is one of the occasional music posts, so depart here if those annoy you. This one gets the WoW tag: we have a five-person group with three in the flashy front roles, but I’m focusing on the two in the less visible roles. Rather than one song, our music of the moment is Pentatonix in the third season of The Sing-Off. You can see all their performances in this compilation, but I encourage you to pursue the YouTube links for videos from “mrduckbear11,” who posts clips from the show, because the judges’ commentary is actually useful rather than just “the nice one, the mean one, and the overly excited one.”
The Sing-Off is essentially American Idol a cappella, skipping the part where you humiliate the lousy singers. The winners in the third season were a small, young group that was mostly noted for their interesting and risky arrangements. Five people, three lead singers, lots of interesting sounds. Listen to at least a few, and then listen to a recurring theme in the judges’ commentary: their percussion and beat box are great and tie everything together so that their lead performers can shine. Try starting at 4:30 on OMG or 6:08 on the Forget You/Since U Been Gone mix. Shawn Stockman’s phrase is “meat and potatoes”: they are strong on the fundamentals, not just the flair. Compare that to Delilah, another group from season three that started with one of the best performances in the series but was eliminated after a performance with a brilliant lead but a failure of support. The lead on that is actually better than The Band Perry, but the commentary is on-point: it becomes discordant without a base to stand on. Compare to Ben Folds’s discussion of their first performance, when the support worked well.
Do I need to unpack the analogy at this point? We even have the perfect analogue with a 5-person, 3-DPS group. You need those big, shiny numbers to win, but they don’t matter without your tank and healer. It got me thinking about the offensive line in (American) football: it is an unglamorous role with almost no statistics to support who is better or worse, and the camera is on the guy running the ball, but you can definitely tell when the offensive line fails and the quarterback is crushed before he can try to do anything interesting. If you know to watch, you can see the tank quietly being a superstar, but good support is usually invisible. (Grabbing another game, a friend loves to watch StarCraft replays at LAN parties and should about how the player trying to do something flashy or cheesy gets crushed on fundamentals. Grabbing a third, I still play League of Legends Dominion occasionally; people chase for kills, but capping the points wins the game.)
Do you have a favorite fight where the tanks and the healer really take front stage, rather than seeing people compare kill counts and damage meters? Flip back to the mix video and try 2:53, where the background gets center stage, the a cappella equivalent of a drum solo. Part of the appeal of City of Heroes was how support could be strong, essential, flashy, and featured, while a damage source is a damage source, and then there is the difference in LotRO DPS compared to WoW.
This comes on the eve of the Guild Wars 2 launch, a game eliminating healers and tanks, and I’m nearing the end of my time in Guild Wars playing a ranger as a support class.