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Scattered Shots: State of hunter DPS

Brian Wood

Every Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union uses logic and science (mixed with a few mugs of Dwarven stout) to look deep into the hunter class. Mail your hunter questions to Frostheim.

A couple days ago, I posted some 4.2 DPS analysis by spec, looking at how different specs' DPS deviates from the median of all specs. This research was partially in response to a quote from Ghostcrawler in a Developer Watercooler where he talked about the change to the 10% AP buff:

Ghostcrawler - Lead Systems Designer
Hunter DPS is fine, or even high in 4.2, so we didn't want this buff to extend to them, which is why the AP benefit is now 20% for melee attacks but still 10% for ranged.

When I was digging into the data, I looked at a lot more than just the eight charts that I posted in the DPS analysis article. The majority of the data sets I looked at supported just about everything Ghostcrawler said in his Watercooler -- including the state of melee DPS and fury warriors.

While I truly have a fondness in my heart for many of the hard-working support classes in WoW, I did not really do that research for them. I did it to learn more about where hunter DPS stands. So please join me after the cut today as we take a look at the state of hunter DPS.

Data review

I'm not going to repost everything from the DPS analysis, but here's a quick glimpse of the layered charts for all Firelands:

Keep in mind here that we're looking at the median of the top 100 parses for each spec. This particular data set tends to distort the poorly performing specs, making them look much worse because many of the best players are only playing the top spec.

From this data, BM definitely looks far down the DPS food chain, and SV is also substantially low (though notably within 10% of the median). MM is generally above the median, though not above by a lot.

One of the trends that was noted by many hunters was that as you scale up to 25-mans and 25-man heroics, MM's lead drops down until they're just at the median in heroic 25-man overall (though still ahead for 25-man heroic Baleroc).

Some hunters speculate that this is an indication that MM is performing more poorly at the highest gear levels. It's an interesting theory, but I'd hesitate to endorse it without more data than that one chart. Another fact that needs to be considered is that when you get up to those higher tiers, you have more and more casters in those top 100 parses wielding their legendary caster weapon -- and legendaries are supposed to push your DPS up above the pack! And we really saw some of the caster DPS go up crazy-high in the 25-man heroic parses, which fits the legendary theory at least as well as the gear scaling theory.

When you look at DPS across all parses rather than just the top parses, MM DPS looks even better -- and perhaps this is what makes MM look slightly high when you're looking at all the data that Blizzard looks at (which is assuredly a lot more than we have access to).

Where we want to be

From an unbiased design perspective, we want to be at the median. And we want everyone else there, too. Of course, while this kind of design might be close to possible if every boss was a target dummy, it's not ever going to happen with the involved boss mechanics of any actual raid tier. So then we have to say that our goal is to have all specs within some delta of that median. Too far either above or below should make a spec subject to corrective action. (And this is a gross, gross oversimplification, of course.)

What I'm trying to get at here is as hunters, we deserve the adoration of the support classes, and we deserve to be served by gorgeous, bronzed-fleshed fans -- but we do not deserve to do more DPS than any other DPS spec.

A lot of players feel incredibly strongly that pure DPS classes deserve to do more DPS than hybrids. My inherent suspicion of any position based so strongly on emotion aside, we have never in the history of any raid tier been able to see any evidence of the so-called hybrid tax (and if you're interested, here's a detailed history of the hybrid tax with the relevant GC quotes).

Don't get me wrong, it's OK to want to be on the top of the meters; it's OK to want to do more DPS than anyone else. It's good to want things. But if you expect the game designers to deliberately design the mechanics that way, you're going to be a sad, sad little hunter on Christmas morning.

Over here in Realsville, the goal is balance among the DPS specs. From that goal, MM is indeed looking quite good -- a bit above the median, sure, but not troublingly so. On the other hand, BM is decided not in a position to reach that goal. Let's take a look at some more data.
Theoretical hunter DPS

Let's set aside for a moment all of the raid data that we can get our hands on and the arguments over which fights should count and which shouldn't, whether normal or heroic matters more. Let's take a look at the theoretical models for hunter DPS and see what they have to say about the different hunter specs.

For this little data point, I'm going to check FemaleDwarf to see the theoretical DPS of the hunter specs using a pretty good set of heroic gear.
  • BM 32,661
  • MM 36,978
  • SV 33,580
Keep in mind here that our theoretical models tend to be very good at qualitative analysis rather than quantitative. In other words, if a mathematical model says you should be doing 30,000 DPS, that doesn't mean you really will. But if it says you'll do 5% more DPS by making a change, then you will likely do very close to 5% more than you are currently.

We can see here that FemaleDwarf supports the notion of MM's being ahead of the other specs -- over 10% higher, in fact. This is assuming that the MM hunter is using an Aimed Shot hard cast rotation, by the way.

What's really interesting here is that BM and SV are actually incredibly close to each other's DPS in the theoretical model, but what we see from the top raid data shows BM significantly farther behind SV, rather than neck and neck.

There are a lot of theories for this, and I'm not certain which is right -- or what combination in what weights is the correct answer. Here are some possibilities:
  1. BM has a bad rap, and fewer people raid as BM than any other hunter spec (this is a fact); as a result, BM has fewer good players showing just what it can do.
  2. BM suffers more from movement fights with a melee-like penalty when pets have to move from target to target to deliver their signature shots.
  3. The range of Kill Command causes BM to miss signature shots even if the boss is just shuffling slightly, which weakens their DPS more than the mathematical models suggest.
  4. The pet stance changes have damaged BM's ability to DPS disproportionately; even the occasional screw-up with pets has a large impact on BM DPS.
  5. The mathematical model is wrong.
  6. BM hunters suck.
  7. Math sucks.
Personally, I suspect #1 is the most likely reason that BM appears so far behind SV. I think that #2 and #3 both contribute, but very little, especially when we're looking at the top skill levels.

What I think should be changed in 4.3

Here is my opinion on what hunter changes we should see in patch 4.3. I think that MM DPS is fine. You really have to work hard to come up with justifications for buffing MM DPS (and to be sure, we have hunters willing -- eager, even -- to do that work). Frankly, all the data I can find suggests that MM is fine and will continue to be okay even after melee AP is buffed (although combat rogues will become DPS gods with the AP buff and the legendaries -- since they're already doing at least as well as MM).

But while I think MM is fine, I think both BM and SV need DPS buffs. Not large ones. Nothing giant, but from all the raid data we can see and the theoretical models that the community has the message is pretty clear that they are at least 5% to 10% behind MM.

As fun as it would be for BM and SV players to eclipse MM and become the top spec, I don't think that is going to happen until next expansion. Ghostcrawler had a fascinating Developer Watercooler post about Blizzard's reluctance to deliberately buff a spec to be better than another mid-expansion, to avoid the roller coaster feeling from players that they constantly have to respec and regear. But BM and SV can actually go quite a distance without unseating MM.

We started out Cataclysm with some phenomenally close balance between hunter specs in 4.1, but between nerfs and bug fixes and the constantly evolving nature of gear and talents, the specs have spread out from each other. I think 4.3 is a fantastic opportunity to close that gap.

Here are a few ways to close that DPS gap:
  • Buff the BM specialization to give BM more bonus AP.
  • Give BM a talent to buff Arcane Shot damage.
  • Undo the SV nerf to Explosive Shot.
  • Alternatively, keep the Explosive Shot nerf and instead undo the nerf to SV specialization and bring them back to 15% bonus agility -- or to be very safe. go with 13%.
  • Nerf MM DPS slightly (stay with me here) and then allow all hunter specs to benefit from the 20% AP buff as well as melee. It makes the buff simpler and probably results in fewer changes overall (although I suspect BM and SV will need more than just that 10%).
  • Remove minimum range (not related to PVE DPS, but I had to slip that in there).
These are just the first things to come to mind and may not be the best way to go about it. What do you guys think? How would you buff BM or SV DPS? Would you buff it? Or have you been working hard to come up with a justification for buffing MM?

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?

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