The old mmo joke is “Aggro means the healer is dead.” But understanding aggro is a key part of fulfilling your part in a flashpoint or operations group. I want to start off by giving proper credit to the folks over at Sithwarrior.com who did the testing to come to these conclusions. They are doing really good work on developing a theorycraft community which will no doubt help SWTOR players for a while to come.
What Is Threat or Aggro?
Imagine every enemy in the game had a little datapad where they tallied who had hit them and for how much. And as people hit them they adjusted the numbers and in general went for the person at the top of that list. That is known has having “threat” or “aggro”. Or in other words, congrats you are that guy/droid/beast/sith lord’s most hated person at the moment and their dying wish is to wail on you.
There are three ways to “get aggro”.
First is proximity aggro, which just means you got too close to an unengaged red enemy. If anyone else had touched that guy you could stand right behind it for a long time and it would never give you a second thought.
Second is doing damage. The more damage you do, or the more damage the enemy thinks you are doing, the higher your threat on the enemy will be and the more likely you are #1 on that threat list.
Finally there is healing aggro. Your enemies are not terribly fond of you helping the people that they are trying to kill. Think of how annoyed you get when an enemy heals themselves or someone else you are working on killing, well it goes both ways. The difference is that most enemies aren’t smart enough to kill the healer first.
How Do We Measure Threat?
The base unit for measuring threat is 1 point of unmodified damage. So think of a DPS character with no buffs that adjust threat or special abilities that modify threat in play doing their base attack. If that lands for 500 points of damage they now have 500 points of threat.
Healing is measured at 0.5 points of damage. So a smuggler who heals a tank for 500 points only gets 250 points of threat.
Tanks are not designed to be DPS machines, but they have abilities that allow them to seem more deadly than they actually are. Look at Ion Cell for example. Vanguards have the ability to modify their threat score by having that active. All tanking classes have some form of this buff. So a Vanguard with Ion Cell active who hits an enemy for 500 points of damage would get 750 points of threat.
Similarly there are buffs and talents which reduce threat generation like Guard and the Sage Talent Foresight. So that DPS who hits for 500 points, if she has Guard on and is staying within 15 meters of the tank would only generate 375 points of threat for example.
It is important to understand how these abilities and talents work so you can maximize the effectiveness of where you are on the threat table for each enemy.
It is possible to have more threat against an enemy and not pull it off the tank, but it is tricky. There are thresholds for how far you have to be above the current threat holder before the enemy will start attacking you. This threshold is directly related to the distance between you and that enemy. For players closer than 15 meters the threshold is 110%, or in other words if the tank has 100 threat points built up and you are at 109 it will not switch to you, but if you are at 110 or more it will leave the tank and start hitting you.
For players more than 15 meters that threshold is 130%. So a tank at 100 will not lose threat to a ranged DPS or healer at 129, but will lose it to a ranged player at 130 points.
Most DPS classes or specs have abilities which allow them to force themselves down the threat list. For Commandos it is Diversion, but many classes have similar abilities. It is important for DPS to realize they have these abilities and use them early and use them often. Tanks have a lot of things to manage in a fight, and unlike DPS they often have to use other abilities which may not even be related to the enemy you are fighting. This can include taunting another enemy in the area, using an interrupt, or popping a survival ability. The tank sets what the maximum threat on a target can be, but it is the responsibility of the DPS not to cross over that line.
“I fart in your general direction.”
Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. – Monthy Python and the Holy Grail
Taunts are another tool tanks can use to get to the top of the threat list. If they are already on top it will do no good, but if a DPS or Healer gets aggro, a taunt is the method the tank can take the enemy back. Typically these abilities have a medium length cooldown (about 15-45 seconds). It is important to remember just because the tank taunted that lumbering baddie off of you, it doesn’t mean you can go hog wild again. The enemy will attack the tank for usually 6 seconds guaranteed, but after that if the DPS exceeds threat again you are back in the mess you were in but the tank’s taunt is on cooldown.
And Then It Goes Crazy
Another thing to realize is that some enemies have very specific behaviors which do not follow the traditional rules of threats. Sometimes they will be munching on the tank’s face and then do an aggro dump, or in other words reset aggro to zero for everyone. Other times they will direct most of the attacks against the tank, but occasionally do a special attack on someone else. That could be whoever is number two on threat for just the special attack, or whoever is furthest, or random. And then switch back to the tank like they had been doing most of the fight. It is important to learn which encounters or enemies work like this so you can be prepared for extra healing or position, or cooldowns.
“I Will Kill You Last”
Kill order matters when you are tackling groups. Remember that a tank can only generate so much threat on any given enemy. If DPS is split among targets it is really hard for the tank to keep up with all the mini-fights occurring. Also you are prolonging the amount of time the various enemies are up making your healers work harder.
Let’s illustrate this with some easy math. Let’s say that we have 4 enemies. Each one does let’s say 100 points of damage per second to players while they are alive. At the start of the fight that means each one is attacking and the healer is having to heal 400 points of damage per second to keep everyone alive. If you eliminate one that reduces the amount of healing needed down to 300 per second, kill another and you are down to 200 and so on.
But you also gain a lot of efficiency by all attacking the same target. If you can kill one of these bad guys in 20 seconds, having two people working on it reduces that time in half, throw on some tank damage and you are down to 6-8 seconds perhaps? Following a kill order allows you to minimize the amount of time the first target is up, and then moving onto the second target. It also increases the chances that the tank can keep threat on all the bad guys which reduces the total damage taken since the tank has more armor and shielding than most players.
So help your tanks and healers out by picking a kill order and sticking to it.
The Takeaway Lessons
The end result here is that the general rules of thumb for managing threat are as follows:
1. Follow the kill order
2. DPS should use aggro dumps early and often
3. Only Melee should be within 15 meters in most circumstances
4. Melee DPS is the priority for guard
5. Give your tank a chance to build a few seconds of threat before ramping up DPS
6. Follow the kill order