Hunter PVP is in a bad state right now. This does not mean that you can't get Gladiator with a hunter, but it does mean you have to be way better to do it than if you were to play, say, a warlock. You also have to do it in a very small subset of viable team compositions, where your warlock alt could succeed in a large variety of team compositions.
Before you burn a hole through that "add comment" button arguing with me about viability and how Arena representation isn't worth the pixels it's displayed on, remember that I'm arguing that it takes more skill to succeed in PVP as a hunter. I'm not arguing that you can't do it, and I know that Arena class representation isn't a perfect measure of class balance. The same way some specs (like BM) are underrepresented in the top 100 PVE raid parses, the highest-rated PVP players in the game tend to play classes they feel they will do best, which skews the representation farther away from some perfectly viable spec/class combos. Arena representation is, however, one quantifiable number we can look into for insight.
The Arena representation for hunters is low. Go to Arenastats.com to see how low. As you change your rating filter higher, it gets lower, and it's never above 4%. What this means is that very few people succeed at obtaining high ratings with their hunters. If you check the graph of the top 3v3 team comps just below, you'll notice that only one of the top 10 samples on the graph has a hunter in it, and it's the lowest one. This technically doesn't show us anything but the fact that hunters are unpopular in PVP, however I believe it's fair to infer that this is at least partly due to their being unbalanced to the point of not being fun.
I hear you furiously typing that Blizzard has started to spend more effort balancing around rated BGs, so my entire argument is moot. To this, I'd point you to the World of Wargraphs analysis of RBG class representation -- hunters don't get a represention bump when you raise the number of players on the team. We're about as common on 2,400, 2,500, or 2,800 RBG teams as we are on 3s teams at those ratings. If I had to hazard a guess about why this is, I'd say that the combination of our burst damage, control, team buffs, and survivability just doesn't stack up to the other options. Our "special sauce," traps and peeling, are nothing compared to (for example) Smoke Bomb or Death Grip.
So what's wrong with hunters?
My good friend Eidotrope wrote an excellent article about one of the reasons we suffer in PVP: focus. Essentially, we need to use focus to do damage, and while the damage we do when we're allowed to actively regenerate focus through Steady/Cobra Shots is good, it's very easy for skilled opponents to shut us down. Want to stop a Steady Shot? Get into minimum range, get out of maximum range, or get out of line of sight. You can do it when we start a shot or you can do it when the cast is about to finish. Bonus points if you put a cast speed debuff on us. It takes considerably less skill to reduce the active focus regeneration of a hunter than it does for a hunter to actively regenerate focus on an opponent trying to prevent it. All an opponent has to do is the same thing they'd do to any other ranged class: "pillar hump" (break line of sight). They even get a bonus free pillar on all maps that's 10 yards across centered on the hunter.
If this design were balanced by overpowering the damage we could do when we had our opponent cornered with the proper use of Disengage, Concussive Shot, Wing Clip, Entrapment, and Master's Call, we'd be imbalanced in other places (raiding, for example). As it is, when we're left alone to turret (or when we're better at getting shots off than our target is at avoiding them), our damage is good but not obviously better than our damage-dealing competition.
The current solution to many class balance issues has been to shift away from 3s balance and work on RBGs. The reason for this is that there's a large benefit in bringing a variety of classes, and as you increase the team size, this benefit begins to outweigh the differences between equally balanced class/specs. This may help the designers avoid having to balance each viable PVP spec around each comp they might find themselves in, but it's not a solution for hunters. The hunter class is fundamentally unbalanced in PVP and requires some changes to the class itself. Done properly, these changes will ensure hunters can earn a place in competitive endgame PVP.
How to fix hunters
Hunters need something really valuable in PVP in order to carve out a niche. Even if it's something as simple as face-melting burst damage, each class or spec has something it's really good at. The first design consideration, though, has to be overall balance. Ghostcrawler (Blizzard's lead systems designer) recently mentioned that Blizzard is happy with hunter PVE damage when they were adjusting the attack power buffs to exclude us. Any PVP change that's made to the class needs to be something that won't throw PVE balance way out whack.
Highest on my list are the PVP set bonuses. They stink, and it's a huge opportunity to change hunter PVP without really affecting PVE balance. Ideally, PVP set gear is something that hunters will only want to wear while PVPing; however since the PVE four-piece set has been historically hard to obtain, it's not uncommon to see people rocking three PVE pieces and two PVP pieces to benefit from the 70 agility. Instead of directly increasing how hard our shots hit (which is valuable no matter what you're shooting at), these bonuses represent an opportunity to improve the way hunters play in PVP:
- One of the Season 11 bonuses could be to remove the minimum range. This would put us on equal footing with other ranged classes; we could be LOSed, but not by someone closing in on us. We'd still lose more than other ranged damage dealers when we're LOSed and unable to find a target where we could cast a focus regen shot, as they only lose a global cooldown and we potentially push back our next signature shot.
- Another Season 11 bonus could be something that helps us regen focus. Something like the two-piece T13 set bonus ... Actually, unless these Season 11 set bonuses are improved soon, PVPers will be forced to choose between raiding to get two-piece T13 and losing games to hunters who do.
Next on my list are the skills and talents that nobody touches:
- Point of No Escape is on the second tier of survival and has never once been specced into -- not even by accident or for testing. Point of No Escape could be made into something that prevents or reduces the effect of cast slows.
- Widow Venom costs focus and doesn't prevent enough healing to be a better use of our focus than some damaging attack. All Widow Venom would need to become useful and used in PVP (but not PVE) is a damage component that doesn't stack with Serpent Sting, while keeping its heal debuff. Or it could be made to randomly proc a reset of Master's Call's cooldown.
Usually, the harder it is to land a crowd control ability, the better it is. Traps are cool and define our class, but the process of using them against a player takes focus and an extra global cooldown, as well as usually a Scatter Shot to prevent the target from scooting away before it's armed. It also breaks on damage and can be easily deliberately eaten by someone other than its intended target (usually when its intended target can cleanse it).
Don't get me wrong, traps at our feet remain an awesome part of our class. That slight hesitation in the eyes of the rogue deciding whether to Shadowstep you or the warrior about to Charge are one of the things that make having a minimum range almost worth it.
One solution would be to make traps placed at our feet remained unchanged, but make spending focus on an instant and macroable trap launcher caused the launched trap to arm instantly. Alternatively, they could simply change freezing trap to be a targetable CC, no launching needed. Also, whether it's direct or not, our primary method of CC needs to be made to prevent damage like a Cyclone.
This would simplify hunter control without dumbing down the class to the point where the exceptionally skilled wouldn't stand out.
Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From leveling your hunter and choosing the best patch 4.2 gear to learning the DPS value of skill, we've got you covered. If you're stuck in one of the nine support classes, why not move up to the big league and play a hunter?