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Scattered Shots: What's wrong with Marksmanship hunters?

Brian Wood

Every Thursday, WoW Insider brings you Scattered Shots for beast mastery, marksmanship and survival hunters. Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union and the hunter podcast 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.or ask him on Google+.

In every expansion there is inevitably one spec that is the red-headed stepchild of DPS and a host of hunters fond of the spec crying into their ale at the unfairness of it all. Right now MM is that spec, and MM-lovers everywhere are sloppy drunk on their own sadness.

Actually, if you look back far enough there was often only one raid viable spec, rather than one bad one. In the memory of Grandpappy Frostheim, it goes something like this:
  • Vanilla: MM is the only raid viable spec.
  • BC: BM is the only raid viable spec.
  • Wrath: BM Briefly on top, then nerfed to the stone age. SV briefly on top, then MM for most of the expansion. After the nerf BM never recovered and held DPS 20% behind the leader.
  • Cataclysm: SV briefly awesome and overpowered, then over-nerfed. MM on top with SV just behind and BM in third. BM wasn't so far behind, but was significantly so. The three specs were closer in DPS potential than any time in history.
Nowadays we have BM back in the lead with MM in last place. And if you look at the logs, MM DPS looks horrible. However, recent comments from Blizzard confirm what hunter DPS simulations show us: MM's dps is in theory very close to BM's.

So what the heck is wrong that we have MM so amazingly low in the logs -- almost always in very last place against every other DPS spec in the game?

Someone is always in last place

The first thing we have to keep in mind before we start complaining is that someone always has to be in last place, and that isn't a bad thing. After all, the only way for all specs to have exactly the same DPS in all situations would be for them all to have exactly the same abilities, at least mechanically. If you want the specs to play differently, you'll always have one spec ahead and one spec behind.

And that's okay, depending on how far ahead or behind they are. After all, if MM was doing 90,000 DPS and BM was doing 90,001 DPS, no one would care, right? So right off the bat we have to throw out the concept of "last" or "worst" and instead focus on their DPS.

So here's a question for you: what percentage lower can the worst spec be compared to the best? If the worst hunter spec does 5% less DPS than the best hunter spec, is that a problem? A big problem? What if it was 3% behind? Where's the line?

Different people will have different answers to where that line should be, but take a moment and figure out where yours is. Make a note of it. Drop a comment and let us know.

Why MM DPS is so low

There are four principle reasons why MM is performing so poorly in raid logs.
  1. Hunter DPS is a bit low. The first thing to realize is right now it appears that hunters as a class are a bit low on the meters compared to the rest. Not horrible disaster low, but low enough that I think we need a bit of a nudge (and perhaps casting Cobra/Steady on the move will be that nudge). Certainly part of MM's dps problems are actually hunter dps problems.
  2. MM is tuned a little low. The actual mechanical abilities of MM hunters are tuned -- at this stage of gearing -- a little bit lower than the other hunter specs. Not a lot lower. Not disastrously low, but a little. They could certainly stand to have a knob turned a little into the MOAR direction.
  3. Selection bias. We see this every expansion, and I talk about this every expansion. When it is widely known that one spec is the worst DPS spec, if only by a tiny bit, suddenly very few people play that spec. And by definition the best raiders -- the ones who count when you're looking at the top 100 parses -- are the ones who are going to be least likely to raid as the worst spec. So the people who are playing MM tend to be less geared, not in those top-end guilds, and can also sometimes be less skilled (but not necessarily). This makes log reports like Raidbots an inaccurate look at these less favored specs.
  4. MM is harder to play optimally. This, I think, is one of the bigger pieces of the puzzle, after selection bias. MM is more difficult for most players to play optimally. A lot of this has to do with managing the Steady Focus uptime, which requires Steady Shots in pairs within a 10-second window and if you screw up you hurt your DPS. Happily, Blizzard is making some changes in patch 5.1 to address this: the buff on Steady Focus will last a whopping 20 seconds, making it incredibly easy to maintain. There will even be a glyph to cast Aimed Shot on the move and of course the Steady Shot on the move change will benefit them as well.

How low is MM's DPS really?

Amidst addressing why MM's DPS looks so low, let's take a moment to look at how low it really is. After all, Lead System Designer Ghostcrawler recently said in a tweet:

MM's damage is virtually identical to BM, SV. It just asks a lot more of the hunter. We could potentially simplify the rotation.

Is he right? Is MM actually capable of the same DPS as BM and SV? We have three good sources of data to check up on this:

Simulationcraft, FemaleDwarf, and raid logs. The first two give us DPS simulations against a single-target standstill fight -- and it's worth noting that thanks to our phenomenal community, the hunter theorycrafting for these tools is usually very good and have a solid track record of calculating comparative DPS.

But ultimately only raid logs can let us see how we're actually performing in real fights against the bosses we have to fight -- not the mathematically perfect world of Patchwerk. Alas this is also where we run headlong into selection bias. For the worst spec, raid logs often give the worst data.

That said, for the logs of 10-man heroic, 25-man normal, and 25-man heroic the sample size for MM hunters is too small to be a statistically significant measurement. For 10-man normal, MM hunters are showing DPS that is around 38% lower than BM dps.

However, when you look at our simulation tools, the picture is very different. In fact with Simulationcraft the perfectly executing MM hunter is only 3% behind the perfectly executed BM hunter in DPS, and barely behind SV at all. This matches up very closely with what Ghostcrawler has said.

Opinion time!

So let me turn the question back to you guys: do you think MM is theoretically only a few percent behind, but is suffering from a too-complex playstyle mixed with selection bias? Do you think they're actually a whopping 38% behind? And what was that percentage I asked you to think of back in the beginning? How far behind can the last spec be, in terms of percentage, and still be more or less balanced?

Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. 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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