Are target dummies obsolete?

I had a very laid-back weekend, game-wise. Friday night I ran our alt raid with my resto druid and managed to not embarrass myself too badly. I took Saturday off and did actual real world social things. Sunday I devoted a lot of hours to grinding away at leveling my void elf mage (still only level 68, it is a LOOONNNGGG grind). I also managed to squeeze in a half hour or so on my main, whaling away at target dummies.

The last activity got me to thinking — with all the gear and talent complexities of Legion, and the inevitable proliferation of computerized simulations, do most players still even use target dummies? Anecdotally, I have noticed that there are almost never any other players using them when I am, and I remember when it was almost always pretty crowded, before Legion. I suppose for one thing we now have them in more places than we used to. We are not stuck with going to a capital city if we want to use them, we have our garrisons and class halls. (Although I am continually annoyed that there are none in Dalaran. If we are on such an emergency war footing for Legion, and if Dalaran is the center of the resistance, you would think there would be accommodations for troop training. Sheesh.)

When I first started using target dummies (early Wrath, I think), I would usually go to Ironforge, plunk myself in front of one, and blaze away at it. I don’t think I even knew exactly what I was trying to measure or test. Eventually I got a damage meter addon, and then I used it to have a damage number I could tout in whispered exchanges with someone looking to fill a raid.

Sometime along about the middle of Wrath, an excellent raider took pity on me and showed me how to get a whole lot more out of target dummies. Standing in one spot was useful for a couple things, he told me, but just because the target dummy was stationary did not mean I had to be. So I learned to strafe and jump disengage and move while using them, I switched targets, I called my pet off and sicc’ed him back on, I simulated stuns on myself, I would pick some hapless player next to me and aim a mid-fight Misdirection at him (it didn’t do anything, of course, but it was good practice for me). I varied my regular rotation with some of the then-abundant utility shots and even traps we hunters had, sometimes vaguely simulating a particular boss fight where I knew, for example, that a tranq shot was needed for an add or that I needed to keep my healer protected by traps.

I even spent hours perfecting the hunter turn-around jump shot, where you run away from the target, then rapidly turn around to face it again, simultaneously executing a disengage and a concussive shot and then face away from the target before hitting the ground to keep running. I am woefully out of practice on it now, but I was damn good at it for a while, thanks to hours with the target dummies. (The ones in Ironforge were never any good for this, I had to use the ones in Stormwind. Later, in Mists, the ones in the Shrine were ideal, as you had that entire long and broad front platform to use. Even now, neither the garrison nor the hunter class hall begin to approach the Shrine in terms of running space.)

I thought it was a terrific quality of life move when in WoD Blizz gave us healing and tank versions of target dummies. There are still some problems with them, of course. It would be nice, for example, if you could create a group with the friendly dummies you need to heal. Also, there are times when the game doesn’t really consider you to be in combat when you are engaged with target dummies, along with times when you can’t easily get out of combat with them. I have not often used the tanking target dummy, so I can’t speak to how well it allows tanks to practice.

I always had high hopes for proving grounds to be the equivalent of target dummies on steroids. Sadly, they did not really work out that way. The mini-scenario structure of them limits you in terms of working on a specific thing, and you are stuck with the scenario playing itself out, even if, for example, you are just working on openers. Where Blizz went wrong with proving grounds, I think, is that they made them into achievement-based competitions rather than leave them as a vehicle for simple practice.

My ideal of proving grounds would be that they would be more player-configurable. For example, you could select from a list of different types of fights — trash, Patchwerk boss, boss with adds, boss with movement, etc. Kind of like the various sim scenarios you can pick. Also, I think it would be useful if players could bring in other players to the proving grounds. So for example if two tanks need to practice something, they could both go in. Or if someone was having a problem with damage numbers, that person could go in with a mentor and practice better techniques while getting immediate feedback and advice.

We basically have three different levels of practice activities in WoW now — target dummies, proving grounds, and LFR. (Maybe four if you count battlegrounds.) Each of them has their own pluses and minuses. I don’t mean to denigrate LFR — I actually think the latest tiers have restored a little more of the challenge to it. But I often use it just for practice on alts, rather than for gear or other reasons. This is especially true of my healer alts where, for example, people stubbornly standing in fire are a pretty good simulation of a heal-heavy boss fight. If I know I will be a designated tank healer in an alt raid (not often with my resto druid, but still…), I may step into LFR and take it on myself to heal the tanks, watching closely to see where the big damage points are.

But back to target dummies. I still use them quite a bit, even on my main hunter. I use them to practice new rotations (for example if I switch from a BM zoo build to a dire frenzy build, or if I equip a legendary or trinket that changes my rotation), or to field-test a couple of competing simulation results. I also use them to test out addons from time to time, especially new Weakauras I want to use. Sometimes I just need to retrain muscle memory I have gotten lax on.

What about you, do you still use target dummies? Do you want to see Blizz improve them, or should they be just a holdover from earlier days of the game?

8 thoughts on “Are target dummies obsolete?

  1. I still use target dummies from time to time, but only for getting used to a rotation change. I follow that with LFR runs for the same purpose, but with actual mobs (sort of a “live fire” drill). As you indicated, with sims now mandatory, dummies never really fulfill a role any longer in my attempt to maximize dps. Spending time getting the proper sim settings to appropriately echo my play style is time much better spent IMO.

    I love your idea of the training ground that can be used as — well — a training ground. I specially think it would be helpful to have other players involved for practice. So, too, would it be good to be able to set them to “friendly” with the NPCs so that they can simply watch and instruct w/o worry of aggro. (An “invisible mode” if you will.) Being able to pause, tune, and restart the scenario on the fly would be ideal as well.

    Back in vanilla, I practiced the jump shot mechanic for the Rhok’delar quest by firing concussive shots at lower-level mobs one after another after another. It was tedious work. A hunter friend of mine and I would also duel and practice on each other. That allowed us to practice a long kite on the run, which better suited the challenge. Not ideal, but you used the tools that you had available.

    1. I do use the target dummies to try out competing sims. For example, if I get 2 sims using different legendaries or different trinkets but fairly close in numbers (within 1 or 2%), I may try out both equipment sets on the target dummies, just to see which is most comfortable for me, or which works better with my rather frenetic movement style, etc.

      Love your ideas on proving grounds — absolutely the ability to pause, tune, restart the scenario would be very helpful. Unfortunately, I think it is a really long shot that Blizz will ever improve them. They seem to have totally moved on from the idea.

  2. I’ve found I use World Quests as my training dummies these days. If you’re weak you can group up and get a bit of practice before the target gets nuked down, if you’re feeling strong/optimistic/cocky you can try to solo one and then kite while inviting others to help when you realise the size of the hole you’ve just dug for yourself.

    Added bonus: you get loot from them.

    I’ve had similar thoughts about the wasted potential of the proving grounds. I’m hopeless at anything with a timer on it (hence I avoid M+) so I loathed them in WoD. But having steady waves of different mobs, or a big boss with waves of adds, or just a big boss to pew-pew would be really useful.

    Sims are all well and good for telling you what you should be able to achieve, but you can’t beat grinding out practice to get the rotation into muscle memory and stand some chance of obtaining it.

    1. I am with you on the timed activities — I just do not like them and tend to avoid them whenever possible. The only reason I run M+ once in a while is that usually whatever guild group I am in is only interested in beating the timer, not in establishing records. And it is not even a big deal if we do not beat the timer. But the timed aspect of the proving grounds is probably the main reason I never venture into them any more. Even with all their shortcomings, if that part were removed or made optional I would definitely make much more use of them.

      I use sims a lot, but I am mindful that, as you say, they are “good for telling you what you should be able to achieve”. They mostly assume flawless execution, something most of us will never attain. If you run some of the more advanced versions — particularly on your own computer, not the web-based ones — you can do a few things to simulate less-than-flawless execution, but I just don’t have the patience or time to set those scenarios up. So I use them as a guide for gearing or talent speccing and do the same as you — make my way to the target dummies and try to get close to what the sim says should be possible with a particular build.

  3. I do use those Target Dummies still, but I guess I belong to something of the past – since it appears there are far more accurate ways to find out how to play?

    I used them when I was doing Brawler’s Guild, to mess around with my spec and see what I could get the most dps out of.

    Perhaps a target dummy that would deal damage and be impredictable would be pretty neat.

    Though, every time I made a new character – as soon as I was able to, I went into Proving Grounds. Especially as a Healer, it gave me the practice and helped me stay on my toes and prep for LFR (I know, but it’s all I have time for these days 🙂 )

    1. I think, with the complexity of gear in Legion, sims can really save you some time by narrowing down your “best gear/best talents”, giving you maybe the top 2 or 3 possibilities. (I am a big fan of Simpermut and Raidbots.) Once you have those, you can actually implement them and go to the target dummies to see which ones work best for you and your play style. And if you are significantly lower than the sim predicts, that tells you you have some work to do in terms of rotation practice or whatever.

      But in the final evaluation, I think target dummies are still one of the best ways to, as you put it, “find out how to play”, mainly because they require an actual person to execute the moves and rotations, not a perfect computer simulation.

      1. Ohh, ok, I see, thanks for the info on those sims. I’m a tad clueless today about those, been a long time since I raided in a serious level.

        Yeah, I would love to see a new version of it; perhaps with the AI introduced in BfA we might get it?

  4. The Proving Grounds are fail for what we need as players.
    And, I use the LFR if I am testing talents — when I am raiding or dungeoning I never have the meters up but with the LFR I can watch (kinda) what is happening.

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