There are columns I don't like to write. This is one of them.
When multiple players from all levels of raiding tell you that they've dropped the warrior class for better alternatives, there's a problem. When people who have played a warrior for six years (and who therefore have survived from BC through Wrath and Cataclysm to the present day) tell you they had to switch to keep from hindering their raids, there's a serious problem. It's not just tanking, it's not just DPS, and it's not just PvP - it's all of them. When the expansion opened, arms warriors were at a ridiculously high 14% of high end PvP - now that number has dwindled to around 5%, and that's around a 2% drop in two months. Meanwhile, prot warrior numbers in raiding have only fallen slightly, but that doesn't change the fact that other tanks like Death Knights, Paladins and Guardian Druids are all going up in numbers - even Brewmaster Monks are up to 2.2% of the raid population.
Another way to put it is like this - protection warriors are 2.5% of total representation in raiding, but overall are 3.5% of the game population. Both Guardian Druids and Brewmaster Monks see more representation in raids than in the game at large - prot paladins are almost twice as common in raids as they are in the game. Death Knights are an interesting outlier, in that they make up 3.7% of raiding, but 4% of the total DK population - clearly DK's are still very popular tanks, but even they lag behind the prot paladin juggernauts.
We've talked about fury warrior DPS and the complete lack of arms warriors in raiding - to some degree, arms will probably see a bit of a bump when 5.4 comes out and significantly buffs their AoE DPS. Since the PTR hasn't done damage balancing yet, harping on fury or arms DPS issues seems disingenuous. We'll wait for that balancing. Let's talk about where warriors are going, instead.
This of course doesn't mean there aren't warriors out there having fun at their class. I'm still playing. I did consider switching to my shaman full time this expansion, which is something I haven't seriously considered doing for the entire history of World of Warcraft. I mention this because of several conversations I've had with long term warrior and ex-warrior players who all said the same thing when I mentioned this fact, namely that it should go into a column.
Raid balance in terms of class representation indicates to me that warriors have almost universally gone fury for PvE, with the tanking warriors who held on to their positions doing so either through stubbornness, skill (sometimes class abilities and mechanics can be compensated for by an understanding of your class and role) and the fact that many guilds simply don't know how much easier it can be to use a different tank. If you've always had tanks A and B, and tanks A and B are the same two classes, how would you know that tank A might well be much, much easier to heal, put out more DPS and help your raids progress as a different class? Current tank representation is in many ways the legacy of Dragon Soul, where pallies and blood DK's rose to prominence and protection warriors were only saved by specific fight mechanics that favored warrior mobility. But with a full tier left to go in raiding, with warrior mobility now equaled or even exceeded by other tanks, and warriors lacking anything like the DPS of other tanks (we have yet to see how the Vengeance changes and patch 5.4 changes will affect warrior tank DPS relative to other classes, admittedly) it just makes sense for players to either switch roles, or switch classes.
So what's the answer? Well, for PvP, I doubt we'll see any changes this expansion. Warriors have been put firmly back in their place as free kills for ranged players, the brief glory of launch long since replaced with the endless kiting we're all so familiar with. It's not that warriors (especially skilled ones) can't compete, it's just that other classes do it better.
For PvE, the problem is two fold. For tanking warriors, we'd need either to see other tanks reduced to around our level (no more being able to simply ignore entire mechanics or self-heal almost as well as a warrior with a healer on him or her, no more ludicrous 500k DPS pulls and near-DPS player levels of DPS on bosses) or warrior tanks would need bigger buffs than what 5.4 has in store so far. As we said last week, pretty much every change we have coming is a good one, but they don't go far enough. We need to see some numbers. The fact is, warrior tanking design went from an extremely well-thought out, well designed one in Cataclysm to one that is simply inferior in pretty much every aspect of the modern tanking game. Part of this seems to come from an odd conservative streak when it comes to warrior tank design. The memory of classic WoW, when warriors were the only really viable tanks, hangs over our heads today, and often changes are made to keep warriors from becoming the overpowered flavor of the month tank entirely based on the potential that we might become too strong.
Raid leaders see the writing on the wall. Those that are warriors are either changing for the good of their raids or standing stubborn in the face of pressure to make changes they'd rather not have to make. Do you force your healers to work harder to keep you upright? If a raid leader is saying "Well, there are better choices" to you, how do you respond? Do you level another class? For some players the answer is clearly yes. Yes, you do. Now, this has always been the case, and always will be - it's only worth being alarmed when people who have played the class for years start considering making the switch, or actually making it. When I switched servers at the beginning of this expansion, part of the reason I left the Alliance guild I was in at that time was because I felt like taking a warrior tank to any fight was always the worst possible option with paladins and druids available. I went DPS rather than hold people back.
I don't feel like that's an acceptable choice to put on players. Tank choice shouldn't be so disparate and so clear cut. Healers shouldn't weep in gratitude to see a DK tank over a warrior. Some of the changes coming in 5.4 will address aspects of this, as tank DPS won't be so magnified by Vengeance and warriors will have a bit more DPS relative to other tanks, but without a numbers pass we have no idea where we'll shake out, and even then, it won't fix the huge advantage certain tanks have in self healing or mechanical immunities. Those need to be addressed, either by removing them, or coming up with parity for warriors one way or another.
Next week - I don't know yet. I'm really hoping for a numbers pass on the PTR.
At the center of the fury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, from hot issues for today's warriors to Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors and our guide to reputation gear for warriors.