3 Proper Steps to Switching Mains

Throughout my tenure as GM, I’ve had to address a variety of challenging situations. One of the questions that GMs will undoubtedly face in their reign is the topic of switching mains.

Allow me to provide a scenario.

BarryManaLow is an Arcane Mage. He’s one of the main staples in the DPS lineup. Barry routinely comes in consistently as top 5. For his efforts, the council of Elrandom rewards him with the items necessary to contribute.

And then it happens.

Tragedy strikes.

Barry needs to take a 3 week leave of absence. Let’s say he’s got some real life issues and it’s the time of year where school exams are going to strike and he needs to focus and get it out of the way. He’s also getting slightly bored with the game and wants to recharge a little.

The boss signs off on it and brings a call up from the lower ranks to substitute in for good ol’ Barry. MissilesMcGee does an admirable job. He’s not quite top 5, but he’s coming in at a respectable top 10 placement.

Fast forward 3 weeks and Barry returns from leave. He discloses that he wants to switch mains. He’s not satisfied or happy playing on his mage. Barry has an alt Death Knight that he’d like to raid with instead.

Now it’s perfectly normal for any GM to be annoyed at this point. After all, you’ve spent time gearing the player up only to find that gear is going to go to waste and isn’t going to be contributing anymore.

So before you flip out and completely lose your cool, stop for a moment and breathe.

Step 1: Determine if there is a need

Is there a current need in the guild that needs to be fulfilled? Are you missing a tank or a melee DPS? Maybe you’re low on a healers. At this time, Conquest was lacking a solid third tank. We knew we would need one heading into the recent patch and we were doing what we could to find potential players to come in. Not many players responded because they didn’t meet our tanking requirements or just couldn’t fit our raiding schedule.

Barry provided an alternative as a Death Knight tank. He already knew the fights and our procedures. That solved that question. Chemistry wouldn’t be an issue since he knew how the guild operated. We wouldn’t have to worry about his in game smarts. This would bring up two more concerns.

Step 2: Can she hold her own?

Does the player demonstrate that they know what the heck they’re doing? If I were to switch from healing to tanking, I’d fail pretty hard at it because I wouldn’t know what the heck to do. When dealing with main switches, find out if the player has done the job before. An agreement was made where Barry had to work his way through a few lower level raids to prove his ability to tank.

You can think of it as a modified trial run. After all, Barry was re-applying to the guild with a new character after all.

Step 3: Is their gear on par with the content we’re doing?

Bite back the urge to say gear doesn’t matter.

Because when you’re a tank, it does. A Naxx level tank is going to have a tough time working on Trial of the Grand Crusader. I stipulated to Barry that if he wanted to get into our raids, he’d have to work on gear himself which meant pugging what raids he could and crafting any other pieces necessary. Emblems of Conquest allowed him to purchase items he didn’t win from pickup groups. The condition was that Barry had to bring his own character up to an acceptable raiding standard before we’d insert him into our primary lineup.

And he did. He got into as many heroics as he could to farm badges. He transferred money to purchase mats to craft tanking items and augments.

After about 3 weeks of solid gear acquisition, Barry was ready to rock. We gradually threw him in our 10 mans and kept a close eye on him before bumping him up to the 25s. He’s just about ready to tackle Trial of the Grand Crusader.

Final thoughts

There’s nothing inherently wrong with main switching. Players do get bored from time to time or maybe they undergo the grass-is-greener complex. View this as an opportunity for them contribute in a different capacity. To raiders, there’s nothing wrong with switching mains as long as long as you keep these 3 things in mind:

  • See if the guild has a need: If they don’t, you’re going to have to leave and go elsewhere. If the guild has 9 healers to select from, it’s not likely you’re going to see any action as a healer. There’s simply too many. You’re better off playing a role that a guild is lacking. The leadership will be much more receptive.
  • Prove your skills: Show that you know how to play the class and role. Prove that you’ve done your research. Take the time to be familiar with how your role might be different in certain fights. DPSing Freya is certainly different than tanking Freya.
  • Get your own gear: Different guilds handle this differently. But under my watch, if you’re going to switch mains, you better be willing to get your own gear. The guild might contribute a few BoEs or enchants for a discounted price or something, but it’s up to the individual to put in the effort. Show your willingness and passion for the class. It also proves you know what you’re doing. What kind of message does it send if Barry the Death Knight did nothing but pick up gear with shield block on it?

26 thoughts on “3 Proper Steps to Switching Mains”

    • @Honorshammer: First we have to determine what the shape of the guild will be like when Cataclysm debuts. If our tanks plan on calling it quits, no problem he’ll have a spot. If we’re loaded on tanks going into Cataclysm, tough luck. After two expansions, it’s important to find out what everyone’s plans are. Some people might want to retire from the game. Others plan on continuing. You have to take stock of the roster first.

      If he’s satisfied playing the Arcane Mage right now until Cataclysm, there’d be no problem. Remember we have a gear reset coming in when the expansion hits and he’d have five levels plus whatever introductory raids to get accustomed to his tank anyway.

  1. Nice post Matt- it’s actually something that I’m dealing with in my guild at the moment. I may not be the GM for my guild, but being the raid leader means I am very much in charge of who I select for our Ulduar/Onyxia raids (sadly not quite up to ToC level yet). I recently changed over my main from my DK tank Lysix, to my Disc Priest Fiorra. I worked my ass off farming badges to get my gear on two different specs (we were in need of both a Disc Priest and a SPriest at the time). Now even though I am still needed on heals, we’re lacking in the DK tank dept…and poor Lysix has Naxx25/t7.5 gear…so it’s time to start working on her gear again so I can run with the rest of the guild.

    And now t10 will be coming out soon…so it’s a never ending cycle of replacing gear. Sheesh.
    .-= Fiorra´s last blog ..Twitter =-.

  2. From a non-officer’s perspective (and I do get the whole “is there a need” factor you talk about), if it came down to raiding extensively on a character whom I didn’t enjoy playing or not raiding at all, I’d take not raiding. I think it comes down to how the officers can talk to the person. If they’re allowed to bring the alt occasionally if a need arises or there’s a time-limit that can be placed on “X will be your main in 5 weeks,” then it’s easier to swallow.

    I made this mistake in WLK when I made my DK my first 80 instead of my Priest or Shaman. I was stuck DPSing when my heart was in healing, and my guild told me they were too full on healers, but they needed my DPS. I didn’t care, as I was burning out quickly because I had made a choice to switch archetypes and failed. I eventually quit the raid game because of that. I don’t see the point in playing a game if it’s not for fun. And my guild wouldn’t do what I mentioned above. I was never able to bring my healer, even on farm raids; they always wanted my DK. So I left because my time was more valuable than that.
    .-= Professor Beej´s last blog ..[TVverdict.com] Fringe – The Pattern Returns in “Momentum Deferred” =-.

  3. I think the key for these type of situations is to have rules in writing ahead of time. If a policy is already established then the member will know in advance what is expected of them before they can change mains.

    One you have a policy set it is very important to not make exceptions. Doing so will leave you open to claims of favoritism.

    Of course the more casual a guild is, the more flexible they can be with this type of thing.
    .-= Verile´s last blog ..UI Addons 1 of 3 =-.

  4. @ Prof Beej: I see where you’re coming from, but if letting you switch mains penalized the other healers, I wouldn’t have let you switch, either. Sure, it’s your $15, but that doesn’t mean that your raiding team should be negatively affected by you putting your desire to raid as a specific class before your desire to raid.

  5. When I was an officer in a 25 man guild (before our switch to a pure 10 man) we had the same policy. If someone wanted to switch they basically had to reapply under their new role. In our case, one of our tanks had to take a break, and when he returned we’d recruited to fill his spot. We were short on mages though, so he changed for that – same with a pally changing to a holy preist.

    As a tank or healer, I despise dragging someone through even a farm run – simply because they want to play an alt. I don’t get to bring my alt DPS because there’s no alt-tanks – so why should I tank for your alt? Sometimes I want to blow stuff up too….thank goodness for my ret spec. SoC Cleave and Divine Storm to greatness!
    .-= Adgamorix´s last blog ..The glory of being OP – and what it really means =-.

  6. While the article has some good basics on the proper way to deal with those things, I think Prof Beej mentioned a very important thing: you need to make sure that the member knows that in this situation, his own needs as a respected veteran member are only second to the guild’s (which, of course, includes him as well). This means working with them to find a good way to eventually make sure both the guild and the member get what they want. Small sidenote on this is that this is pretty much a requirement for mainswitchers as far as I’m concerned: don’t come asking me for a mainswitch if you aren’t a respected veteran member.

    In Prof Beej’s case I would not have let him switch right away, but would have given him the assurance that from that moment on, I would be completely dedicated to getting him back into a healer role as soon as I could. This assurance (and my dedication to it), together with the proper kind of loyalty that I’d expect from a core player should be enough to make this kind of thing into a win-win situation. Obviously this kind of thing requires that you’ve engendered an atmosphere in your guild where players actually feel this kind of loyalty towards the guild (and you as a leader, ideally), otherwise they’ll would likely just put the “I get to switch or I’m out” in front of you.

  7. The one thing I’d like to see from Matt is what you do with frequent main-switchers or spec-changers.

    Our guild has a few people who either switch from favorite toon quite frequently, or who go back and forth between specs a lot. In both cases their gear and experience isn’t an issue. It all comes down to the first step, but can you really forbid your members to play a different role if you need their current one more?
    .-= Vaadren´s last blog ..Keeping Your Cool: Settling Disputes =-.

  8. Vaadren: Yes you can. If you’re the ranking GM or raid leader, you can lay down the law. It’s up to you to reconcile your feelings with what needs to be done.

    The way I see it as a GM, I have a finite number of positions available. I need to have a certain amount of tanks, DPS and healers to get punch through the raid. Those numbers and compositions become even tighter when it’s hard mode. I don’t look at it so much as “I need their current character more.”

    I would look at it as “I need this class/spec and it doesn’t matter to me which player fulfills that requirement”. It’s not a threat. It’s a statement of your raid needs. The player can choose to satisfy that requirement or not. It’s really up to them. If they choose to, great! If not, hope you have someone on standby who can come in then.

    There’s a fine balance to walk between accommodating players and raid optimization. It’s much easier in Wrath than it was in Burning Crusade, but there is still some strategic composition that has to be done.

  9. Very nice post from the point of view from a GM! I am a deputy GM myself and have started my blog a few weeks ago because of an issue like this, only with myself and not with a member of the guild.
    I play what the guild is in need of and that is one of your points as well in your post. A year ago I got asked to heal, no experience nor gear, but that was fixable. My main was a mage and has been for over 3 years at that time.
    However lately I started to miss my old main. The synergy I have with the mage is so much different then with my priest and I notice myself only logging on to my priest to do my “job” in a raid and besides that you can only find me on my mage online.
    Now is it fair to say that people have to play a class that the raid team needs? Should we not look further to see when a player plays the class and spec he really enjoys, he would be on top of his/her performance and would enjoy the raids more than having the feeling of doing a job?
    In game and also in real life it is generally that if people like and enjoy what they do, they do a better performance then being in a role they don’t set as priority and of course it is natural that they want to get out of it what they can, but when the “fun” factor disappears what can you do as manager of a guild seeing someone raid in a class cause it is needed and not having fun while that person would love to raid a different toon, feel happy but the raid team is not in need of that?
    .-= Bouncy Gnome´s last blog ..Holy specs =-.

  10. “BarryManaLow” took me a while to get past this. LOL

    The few times this has come up when I was an officer it was almost always when there wasn’t a need. Tanks and healers tend to burn out quicker than DPS and more than once we’d have a healer lay down the law (so to speak). Nobody wants to lose a good player and in those situations I’ve always felt that the player held more power than the guild, if you know what I mean.

    I also think it’s important to point out there are good times, even within the lifespan of 1 expansion, and bad times to switch mains:

    1. 1 month after a new raid has been released when you have just upgraded half your gear: bad
    2. 1 month before a new raid is released: good

    Absolutely they have to prove themselves in their new role/class and gear themselves. Switching mains puts the guild at an inconvenience (unless requested by the guild, which is more rare). Expecting your guild to run old content to gear up your character is not going to endear you to anyone.
    .-= Cassandri´s last blog ..Improving the Interface Using Addons: VuhDo (Raid Frames) =-.

  11. I’m a raider, (i’ve done the gm officer thing, not doing it too much BS)

    and we have our ONE ret pally, going to take a month off, due to family and then hinting he’ll come back on “whatever we need” ” I have alot of toons”

    first loosing him is huge for me, I love his JOL and replentishment as well as his good attendence and he as a person.

    now i’m stuck with dealing with recruits to fill a cruicial role, and maybe by the time our very well geared ret comes back and announces he can now play oh say his lock, we will have a half trained raider that will fill the role of ret and we are gearing.

    it flat out sucks.

    do it at expansions douchebags.

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  13. Is there a point at which you draw the line, even if someone reaches all of the 3 requirements listed?

    Example: In a previous guild, we had a key healer switch mains during the middle of Ulduar hardmode progression, from a holy pally to a disc priest because he “didn’t like healing on his pally anymore.” While this would seem to be a 1-for-1 trade, since they were equally geared and both filled similar healing roles (thus fulfilling req’s 1-3), the one main distinction was that his pally already had been awarded our first 10 fragments.

    Was this a case of a series of bad decisions (the first of which was awarding the flakey pally the fragments in the first place), or simply one based on the belief that this guy was one of the best healers on the server (which IMO, he was) and should be retained under any circumstances? Further, what sort of message did that decision send to the rest of the team?

  14. I think an issue that went untouched was the main-switched players ability to get loot upon his eventua insertion into the main raid. While its mostly a question of DKP in guilds who use that system, the question is more applicable in LC type systems.

    You have Barry coming into tank, he’s needed and a valuable member now but lets say Barry and the other OT both need a piece of gear, would him being a switched main be able to be used as a factor. He already had gear spent on him, which is now relatively useless to the guild while the other OT was not a main swap and has been useful to the guild in the time Barry has been away.

    Would the size of the upgrade come into play(Barry is obviously not in the previous tier BiS) or would the other OT attendence and role consistancy play a larger role(lets say the item is one he’s been after for a long while, rare drop)?

  15. Nice post 🙂

    I’m a nut when it comes to leading guilds but I’ve always gone for the communist, equality approach over who has the best gear and needs the best stuff. So I always tended to just let anyone sign up based on a first-come, first-served basis or something like that. Made raiding a pain in the arse but the point is to have fun right? 🙂
    .-= We Fly Spitfires´s last blog ..“You’re in Our World Now”: How Much Does Setting Affect MMO Enjoyment? =-.

  16. @Canedom: Will address your point in the future.

    @Vixsin: Yes, I would argue that itt was a case of bad decisions. You can award the best healer on the server as long as they’re consistent in showing up and have no future plans to shift position. You can recognize “career” players pretty well. For instance, players that only have one main and have played since vanilla are the ones you want to watch for as it’s unlikely they’ll switch.

    Another example: If you have a player in the guild that’s serving in the forces and might get called up on deployments, it might not be a good idea to award frags to him. Yes he’s a good guy, and yes he’s a great healer, but the point is he might not be here to put those fragments to use.

    In your case, the decision it sends is that a poor choice was made in awarding fragments. It’s up to your leaders to decide whether to retain a player or let them walk. There are plenty of skilled players out there. It’s just going to take some time to filter out those who flake out from those who won’t. But this would have led to another topic entirely on either letting the guy walk versus looking for a replacement healer. It’s a question of keeping a player who is familiar with us and our system versus pulling in a new recruit who we know little about and who may not gel in the system.

    And that’s a tough choice to make. You gotta think about cost/benefit.

  17. @Canedom – this is exactly the problem we’re facing today : a bunch of players (with BiS gear) decide to switch mains, and because of it other people stay behind because gear that would otherwise be theirs now has to be shared with these new characters.

    Not very fair and a good source of friction.

  18. When you look past the excuses I tend to see two distinct reasons for switching:

    The great player. This guy makes every raid and is the best in his position. He gets geared quickly. He’s got two choices. He can farm while everyone else gears up or he can start rolling an Alt. He’s got his loot… so he becomes bored.

    The not so great player. This guy is finding it tough to compete in his group. Just can’t hang with the big dogs and is looking for a change so expectations won’t be as great.

    In either case the answer is usually no. Main switching causes a lot of problems for guild leaders. We are currently thinking of having people re-app to the guild if they want to switch. It can be that bad…


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