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Scattered Shots: Damage meters are awesome

Brian Wood

Welcome to Scattered Shots, written by Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union and the Hunting Party Podcast. Each week, Frostheim uses logic and science mixed with a few mugs of Dwarven Stout to look deep into the hunter class. Got hunter questions? Feel free to email Frostheim.

I love damage meters and raid parses and any other source of data that can help you evaluate and analyze your performance. I strongly believe that any hunter who is interested in doing the best he can should absolutely run a damage meter. Whether you prefer Recount or Skada or something I've never heard of is up to you, but you want to use damage meters just like you want to use any tool that can help you improve your performance.

Alas, damage meters have gotten a bad name, and it is now very in vogue to hate the damage meters and the people who run them. For today, we're going to set fashion aside and ignore what's popular to talk a bit about why damage meters are so awesome and why you should absolutely use them. We'll also look into exactly why it's important to do as much DPS as we can.

Using a tool vs. being a tool

Damage meters are a valuable tool, and the reason they get a bad rap is they are sometimes used by people who are themselves tools. There's an important difference here.

There is a mistaken belief out there that damage meters make bad players. The theory is that having that damage meter in the corner of your screen makes you obsessed with your DPS or your position on the meter, and suddenly you're focusing on nothing else but your DPS. Personally, I think people have the causality reversed there. Meters don't make bad DPS-obsessed players; instead, bad DPS-obsessed players are obviously always going to use and abuse meters.

The first rule of damage meters is this: A damage meter is a tool for you to evaluate and improve your performance.

Unless you're a raid leader or DPS captain, you should not be concerned about anyone else's DPS. Never post the meter in raid or party chat. Do not send unsolicited meters to people in tells. Do not use the meter as an excuse to be a busybody and complain or gossip about someone else. Your meter is for you.

DPS is not your top priority

The second rule of damage meters is that DPS is not your top priority.

The old saying that a dead DPSer does no DPS is now so clichéd that no one pays attention to it anymore -- but it's as true now as it was back in vanilla. Understand that it is not the healer's job to heal you. No, it's not. It's the healers job to heal the tank and to heal the unavoidable damage that you take. Now we all make the occasional mistake, and our healers are often there to lend us a crutch to help us through the stupid stuff that we do from time to time.

But if you deliberately wait for that last Steady Shot to finish casting before moving out of the way of an AoE and take a couple ticks of damage as a result -- that's on you. That's over and above what the healers are there to heal. At that point, you're basically counting on the fact that your healers are better players than you are.

I sometimes feel that the design of ICC really encourages sloppy DPS behavior. Our healers have limitless mana, so there isn't much consequence to doing dumb things. With the ever-increasing raid buff, I see more and more DPSers ignoring avoidable damage in favor of getting just that one last shot off. I'm excited to see that mana will start to matter again for healers in Cataclysm and force those sloppy DPS back into shape. Those DPS that are using the ICC raid buff and limitless healer mana to get into bad habits are going to a burden on any raid in Cataclysm.

The following things are more important than your DPS:
  • Avoiding any avoidable damage. This means void zones, slime sprays, rocket strikes, explosive spirits, shock vortex, bouncing goo, etc. There's a lot of it, and it's all pretty easy to avoid. I mean, most of the time it's a massive graphic accompanied by a boss mod warning blasting through the headphones and flashing text on your screen. You almost have to work to not avoid it, really.
  • Obey the fight mechanics. This means hiding behind ice tombs, placing your Defile correctly, clumping for valkyr or spores, switching targets to DPS the correct thing at the correct time, etc.
  • Fulfill your special job. We hunters are more apt than most classes to get special jobs on fights. Yes, they lower our DPS, but they are also one of the reasons we're invited to the raids, why we're such an awesome class. This means shooting down orbs, bouncing up orbs, kiting blood beasts and zombies, assisting in Valithria healing with our tenacity pet, boosting the raid speed on Sindragosa ... All those big and little things we can do to make the fight a success.
  • Don't pull aggro. Seriously, we're hunters; we have the best toolbox for not pulling aggro, and we should never do so in a raid.
DPS matters ... a lot

With all that stern talk out of the way, we get to the reason we use the damage meters in the first place: DPS is important. It's very important, in fact. All that stuff that we just listed that's more important than DPS is, in fact more important than DPS; however, without enough DPS, we still cannot beat any bosses.

The notion that a player is bad for paying close attention to his or her DPS or that a raid leader is bad for chastising the DPS for poor throughput is just wrong. Every fight these days has some kind of minimum DPS requirement. If you can't put out that level of DPS, the raid fails. On some fights, the requirement is laughable; on some fights, it's short-burst DPS that's important, for adds or special effects; and on some fights, the throughput can be quite severe at starting gear levels.

The point here is that your raid leader or DPS captain is not being an ass or elitist by requiring a minimum DPS throughput on certain fights. They aren't the ones making this decision -- Blizzard is. It's the way the game is designed, and if you want to defeat the boss, a certain level of DPS is needed.

Furthermore -- and this is an important point -- fights get easier and easier the more DPS you put out. High DPS also allows for a larger margin of error. More DPS means a shorter fight, which means less healing, less time for horrible mistakes to be made. More DPS means that even if a couple people screw up and die, you'll still have enough damage throughput to take down the boss. And of course you know mistakes are going to be made on progression when your raid is just learning a boss. So it's not enough to just do the theoretical minimum DPS, because if one person dies 20 seconds before the enrage timer and you're all doing the minimum ... you just wiped.

Unlike healing, there's no ceiling on DPS. We can keep doing more and more and more, and the more we do (assuming, again, that we're being responsible DPSers), the easier the fight is for all involved.

Certainly there's a point where DPS increases cease to be terribly meaningful in terms of success. I don't really care if you're doing 10k vs. 12k DPS. Either way, we're probably smacking that boss around like a red-headed gnome. However, 6k vs. 8k is a huge difference in terms of how difficult an encounter is and whether we'll beat the boss.

We could have a lot of debate about how much DPS a hunter should do on any given fight. What is a reasonable minimum to be a valuable contributor? But the point for today's discussion is that it doesn't matter what that number is, if you have no way of knowing how much DPS you're doing.

How to use your meter

Your damage meter is best used after a fight, not during it. There's not a lot of value in looking at the little colored bars moving while the fight is progressing (and if you are, then your eyes and your mind are not where they should be). Raid parses, by the way, can serve the exact same function as a damage meter. They have the advantage that you can go through and review each boss at your leisure. The only disadvantage is that you won't have any of that information to go over during the raid. I mean, what else are you going to do while the rest of the raid is running back from a wipe that you FDed out of? Other classes often don't appreciate the special pain and boredom we hunters must endure by avoiding those pesky wipes.

Couple of things to look for when reviewing your damage meter:
  • What's your DPS? Of course you want to know this! You should have a general idea of about how much DPS you can put out on any given fight, and each night, your goal should be to beat your record.
  • Damage done vs. DPS The damage done chart is more accurate than DPS. For various reasons, damage meters can get some wonky results on the DPS end for some classes. For us hunters, the number seems pretty accurate, but if you're interested in comparing yourself against another class, compare the damage done, not the DPS.
  • Consistency is the mark of good DPS. A good hunter will do about the same DPS from attempt to attempt. So your Rotface DPS from week to this week will be in the same neighborhood. Sure, the forces of luck might make it a few hundred DPS more or less, or maybe you particularly picked on by the boss one week, but in general it should be about the same. When your DPS swings by a thousand or more, that's a sure-fire indication that you are not executing your rotation consistently. At that point, you need to find out what you're doing wrong and why you're doing it wrong.
  • Don't just look at DPS. While you should be interested and always trying to improve your DPS, the true value of a damage meter is the ability to drill down into exactly what's going on. See what percentage of your damage each shot is giving you. How many of each shot did you fire? How many Kill Shots do you usually get? That will tell you whether the Glyph of Kill Shot is good for you. What was your Serpent Sting uptime? If another hunter (of the same spec) is out-DPSing you, this is where you find out why. Compare how many of each shot you fired. Typically the hunter who did less DPS did not get as many shots fired (in other words, it's a skill thing).
  • Check out why you died. Being dead has a huge impact on your DPS. If you died, go look at the death meter and see what killed you. Often you'll find out it was your fault. I remember once being annoyed that I died to Infest on the Lich King and promptly looking at the death details. Turns out I stepped in front of the Raging Spirit and ate a Soul Shriek on the transition. Sure, if I hadn't taken Infest damage, I wouldn't have died to it -- but more importantly, if I hadn't stood in the wrong place, I wouldn't have died either. The healers did their job to keep me alive through unavoidable damage. I failed in my job to not stand in front of easily avoidable damage.
It's what you do, so do it well

While it's true that there are other things that are more important than our DPS, ultimately we are a pure DPS class. Sure, we kite and trap, but other DPS classes dispel and CC and have their own things as well. The reason we are invited to a raid is to do as much damage as possible. The more quality damage we deal, the easier every fight is.

Even when we're kiting zombies and blood beasts or juggling Blood Prince balls, we still want to put out as much DPS as we possibly can. After all, imagine yourself as a raid leader. You have two hunters vying for one raid spot. Both avoid void zones fine, both switch targets well, follow instructions and do their special jobs on each fight. One does 6k DPS on average. The other does 9k DPS on average. Which do you bring to your progression raid? Certainly you may prefer a lower DPS hunter who avoids void zones and drops Defile properly over a higher DPS hunter who's a spastic coke-head. But when you're comparing two hunters who both have basic raid skills down, you will always want the one with higher DPS, because that will make the fights easier and make you more likely to get your first kills.

And that's why we care about our DPS.

You want to be a hunter, eh? You start with science, then you add some Dwarven Stout, and round it off some elf-bashing. The end result is massive DPS. Scattered Shots is the column dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. See the Scattered Shots Resource Guide for a full listing of vital and entertaining hunter guides, including how to improve your heroic DPS, understand the impact of skill vs. gear, get started with Beast Mastery 101 and Marksman 101, and even solo bosses with some extreme soloing.

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