Rogues currently occupy an exclusive spot in the raiding world. We're the scrappy melee fighter, bumping shoulders with the plethora of plate classes standing behind the boss. Their metal armor clanks and clatters as they swing their hefty two-handers, while our leather flexes with our swift blows. While other melee classes focus on big crits and heavy hits, rogues are all about wearing their target down with a barrage of different attacks.
In Mists of Pandaria, our niche is going to get crowded. With the formalization of cat druids as a distinct spec and the introduction of windwalker monks, rogues will have some competition. All three of us wear agility-based leather, all three of us focus on melee damage, and many of our abilities and mechanics are shared amongst the group. How can rogues differentiate themselves from the growing pack of players out for our gear and raid spots?
Too much in common
It's no secret that cat druids are loosely based on the rogue class. Energy and combo points form the core of their rotation, abilities like Kitty Leap and Shadowstep are nearly clones, and we've always shared gear. Cat druids can stun their targets and apply deadly bleeds, and they're the only other class with a positional attack like Backstab. They can even Prowl all by themselves. A cat druid is essentially a Rogue Lite, although their new identity as a defined spec should bring them some additional diversity.
Windwalker monks, while definitely not rogue clones, still feel very similar. Chi and spirit are closely linked to combo points and energy and will feel nearly identical on single-target encounters. We'll be rolling off against monks for slower weapons, as they're also a dual-wielding class. With an arsenal of healing/tanking cooldowns and other utility at their disposal, windwalker monks may become our direct competitors for raid spots. Like death knights before them, monks have a plethora of unique utility at their fingertips that will make them highly desirable. How can we recruit new players to the rogue class when the flavor of the month seems so similar to us?
Our current image isn't working
When I am playing other RPG-style games, I don't usually pick the rogue or thief classes. Rogues in other games are traditionally weak in direct combat situations. They focus on setting and disarming traps and picking pockets, as well as unleashing sneaky assassination techniques. You spend a lot of time waiting in the shadows for the right minute to strike, and your encounters are short but furious. When a new player looks at the rogue class, they expect a frail assassin who can't hold his own in a battle.
As you know by now, that's not how the rogue of WoW plays at all. While yes, we do use poisons and we disarm the infrequent trap, we're a powerful melee class at heart. We spend most of our time in the open, slamming our maces into a boss's body. Rogues are more about their rotations than their openers, and we're more focused on our persistent DPS instead of our burst DPS. We have the cooldowns and the techniques necessary to survive without using Stealth at all. The rogues of WoW simply don't match up with our thief ancestry.
I have heard from many new players that the rogue they play at 85 is nothing like what they read on the class description page. It's not as if the class has actually evolved much from our original state; it's simply that the thief archetype has no place in a raiding-based MMO. Every DPS class needs to be able to deal terrible, terrible damage without relying on notions like Stealth or a deadly ambush from the shadows. Sustained damage is what's important in WoW, which is simply incongruous with the thief archetype.
What's worse is that there are players who realize that thieves won't work in WoW, and so they avoid the rogue class altogether. They don't want to constantly worry about Stealth and cooldowns. Many players want the simple pleasure that comes from executing a rotation excellently. An outside observer knows immediately from the class descriptions that mages are all about shooting Fireballs and that hunters focus on blowing targets up with their ranged attacks. The same observer has no idea what a rogues are all about, and this disconnect between our perceived image and our actual mechanics isn't helping our less-than-thriving population.
An image makeover
We need to change our image. While we could change the class' name to Metta Awesome Rogue, I don't think that would have the desired effect. People need to know that rogues are more about smashing faces and stabbing backs and less about spending 20 minutes crafting poisons and opening locks in the trade district. The heart of the rogue class is found in battle, as our weapons swing swiftly at our enemies. Managing combo points and energy is what we're about, and we need for players new and old to recognize that.
There are millions of players that have been scarred by a rogue, crushed under the weight of our weapons as we ambushed them from the shadows. In their minds, the rogue has no rightful place in the world and lashes out due to the fear of becoming irrelevant. While stealth attacks are part of the class' character, they represent very little of what we actually do.
Just as the child can only imagine the heroic firefighter battling the fire and flames every night, many players are shocked to find out that we do anything besides sneaking around in Stealth. The truth is that any finesse that rogues once had is long gone. The days of the technical stunlock and the 5-8 kite are gone, replaced by the brutal pit fighter of a class that we've become. We face every encounter as a furious race to the bottom -- of our opponent's health bar.
We need to become known for our combat mechanics, not for our style. We need for players to see the simple serenity of a predictable rotation without superfluous procs or asinine extra UI elements. We need for players to see the beauty of a combat system that has survived for nearly a decade due to its perfection and not due to developer disregard.
I want for new players to be in awe of the furious strikes of a combat rogue under the effects of Adrenaline Rush or a subtlety rogue dancing with the shadows. Assassination rogues are about constantly slathering their opponents with Deadly Poison and watching the acid burn away their flesh, and not about popping all their cooldowns and then returning to the shadows to sulk. Once we can get people to understand what rogues are really about once you peel away the veil of shadows, they'll be able to see the beauty of the class as it really is.
Sneak in every Wednesday for our Molten Front ganking guide, a deep-dive into the world of playing a subtlety rogue -- and of course, all the basics in our guide to the latest rogue gear.