State of the Ladder: the Ferals are coming

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With that out of the way, let's take a look at the State of the Ladder.

Summary: Rating continues to be stable despite Blizzard's inflation efforts, and the gear distribution continues to creep upwards. The 2v2 meta has seen very significant changes, with Feral Druids and Assassination Rogues emerging as new meta-defining melee specs, together with ever-prevailing Arms Warrior. Restoration Druids and Holy Priests constitute the primary healers of the 2v2 bracket, and BM Hunters are now most played DPS spec in high rated 2v2.

The 3v3 meta has seen far fewer changes, with Arms Warriors, Retribution Paladins, Fire Mages, and Shadow Priests being the most played DPS specs at high rating. However, even in 3v3, Feral Druids and Beast Mastery Hunters are making significant inroads. Despite their fall from grace in 2v2, Holy Paladins remain the top 3v3 healer, together with Discipline Priests.

The data

The ladder data is obtained from 87,186 characters pseudorandomly sampled from EU and US realms (with an even split from each region). Details on the sampling technique can be found in the FAQ. For the rating distribution analysis, we look at characters that have played at least 50 2v2 games (N=15,914) or 35 3v3 games (N=12,747) in the current season. The leaderboard data is made up of the 5000 top rated characters in each bracket on EU and US servers (total 10,000 characters). For the ilvl and spec distribution analyses, we have looked at the active ladder, which is defined as characters having at least one game played in the appropriate bracket in the previous week.

Rating distribution

Despite Blizzard's announced changes to the 2v2 rating system which was supposed to inflate ratings in this bracket, 2v2 rating remains largely unchanged. The distribution for active players (not shown) is similar to that for the overall ladder, but shifted a bit to the left (median around 1300), likely reflecting that many people are now playing alts.

Gear and rating distribution

The bars here show median ilvl for players who have played games in the first week of May. The error bars show the 25th and 75th percentiles. You can hover over the bars to see the actual values. The way to interpret this is that for players in the 1400-1599 rating range, the median ilvl is 213 (50% of players had a lower ilvl than 213). The 25th percentile is 207, meaning that 25% of players who actively played in 2v2 in the 1400-1599 rating range had an ilvl lower than 207. The 75th percentile for this rating bracket is 220, meaning that 25% of people who played in this rating range had an ilvl higher than 220.

These data have largely remained unchanged from the previous State of the Ladder, with the notable exception that three lower rating brackets have all seeing a lift of ~1-2 ilvl. Thus, whereas the median ilvl in the sub-1400 bracket used to be 200, it is now 202.

These data show that ilvl is currently very high, even in the lower rating range. This is likely due to a combination of factors, such as people being able to obtain gear from multiple sources (e.g. RBGs, raids, M+, or even purchasing arena boost for gold). The data we have shown here is for 2v2, but the picture is virtually identical for 3v3.

Spec participation on the active ladder

The data shown here are for characters that have played games in the first week of May, 2021. This therefore shows an overview of the active ladder roughly at the time of publication.

Melee (2v2)

Retribution Paladins, Sub Rogues, and Arms Warriors are the three most commonly seen melee specs at lower rating. However, at high rating, we see the emerging dominance of the Feral Druid. From our last State of the Ladder post one month ago, Feral Druids have gone from a representation of 2.8% to a representation of 6.8%. Typically, when we see the rapid emergence of a spec on the leaderboard in this way, this is usually followed by the emergence of this spec in the general PvP population. At high rating, we also see a very high prevalence of Assassination Rogues, which is typically paired with a healer.

Fury Warriors, Unholy DKs, and Outlaw Rogues have been essentially absent from PvP this season and remain at the bottom in terms of representation at high rating. Frost DKs had a period of doing pretty well in the 2v2 meta due to playing relatively well into Arms Warriors and Mage/Rogue. However, our 2v2 comps data show that Frost DKs play very poorly into BM Hunters, which is likely a contributing factor to their decline in the 2v2 bracket. Enhancement Shamans and Havoc Demon Hunters see some play in the 2v2 bracket, but remain pretty significant underperformers.

Ranged (2v2)

It will come as no surprise that BM Hunters have taken over the ranged meta. With extreme mobility, 30 second CD traps, and some of the highest sustained damage currently in the game, BM Hunters are ripping up the 2v2 bracket. BM/Holy Priest is now the second-most played comp in the game, right behind Mage/Rogue. Shadow Priests currently appear to be highly represented, but this is in all probability an artefact arising from the high number of Holy Priests on the ladder. Holy Priests who are logged off as Shadow Priests will be registered as Shadow Priests in this data. If we look at the active ladder overview for 2v2 (which is based on actual matchup data), we see a far lower representation of Shadow Priests at high rating in 2v2.

With the exception of Elemental Shamans and to a lesser extent Affliction Warlocks, we see very lacklustre performance for the remaining PvP specs. Frost Mages are due to receive a major buff in 9.1, but looks to be out of contention for the remainder of this season.

Healers (2v2)

Holy Priests continue their domination of the 2v2 bracket. A representation of 16.4% means in practice that 32.8% of high-rated 2v2 teams had a Holy Priest in it (since you're not allowed to queue double healer). Contrast this with their comparatively low representation on the ladder (4.36%). A further 16.8% of high-rated teams had a Restoration Druid, which together means that just over half of all games had either a Restoration Druid or a Holy Priest. Discipline Priests are a top contender in 2v2, but continue to struggle with mana in 2v2. Restoration Shamans are arguably the most mana efficient healer, but struggles enormously with throughput. Interestingly, at high rating, Holy Paladins have gone from being the most highly represented healer a few months ago to the second least popular healer at the time of writing. Holy Paladins received a major nerf to their mana regeneration and a separate nerf to Blessing of Sacrifice. Together, this seems to have severely hampered their viability in high rated 2v2. They nevertheless remain the most commonly played healer on the ladder. In general, it seems that the recent changes to the high-rated healing meta has not percolated down to lower rating.

Mistweaver Monks continue to be a deeply underperforming spec in all forms of content (PvP and PvE). Mistweaver mains will be welcoming the very significant buffs to Mistweaver Monks in 9.1 which looks very likely to propel this spec right back into meta greatness.

Spec performance in 3v3

Melee (3v3)

Despite some very significant changes to the 2v2 bracket, the 3v3 meta remains pretty static. Arms Warriors continue to be a meta-defining melee, with around a third of high-rated games containing an Arms Warrior. Retribution Paladins have become more popular on both the leaderboard and on the ladder, and they are the most popular melee in 3v3 at lower rating. Feral Druids have had decent representation throughout 9.0.5 with the emergence of Jungle Cleave as a meta comp, and they have increased both their leaderboard and ladder representation in the past month.

Frost DKs, Enhancement Shamans, and Windwalker Monks remain in a decent state, though being somewhat limited in the number of comps they can play. Havoc Demon Hunters and Assassination Rogues have both increased their active representation on both the leaderboard and on the ladder, but remain very rare at high rating. Unholy DKs, Survival Hunters, Outlaw Rogues, and Fury Warriors are all absent from high-rated 3v3, but most of these specs are looking to receive some serious tuning in 9.1, which should help with their overall PvP viability.

Ranged (3v3)

The top performers here require little explanation: Fire Mages and Shadow Priests have a huge number of very strong comps available to them (not to mention God Comp which features both!), and have consistently been top performers over the past few months. Balance Druids continue to perform very well in 3v3, while BM Hunters have seen their active representation increase over the past month. Elemental Shamans have seen a slight decrease in their representation on both the ladder and the leaderboard, while Affliction Warlocks are seeing slightly more play at high rating.

The bottom performers are the same underperforming specs that have been there all season. Demonology Warlocks, MM Hunters, Frost Mages, and Arcane Mages essentially see no representation at high rating, and people are very reluctant at playing these specs at low rating as well.

Healers (3v3)

The healer meta in 3v3 has seen very few changes. Despite their newfound mana issues, Holy Paladins remain the most popular healer in 3v3, followed by Discipline Priests. Both specs are far less mana efficient than other healer specs, but the higher pacing of these brackets allow them to shine. Restoration Druids are seen more and more in 3v3, and are also seen in a range of comps such as God Comp (SP/Fire Mage), Shadowplay (SP/Affli), and even melee cleaves such as Turbo and TSG.

Restoration Shamans are in a slightly precarious position. While they are very mana efficient, they struggle with throughput, and so are most commonly seen in comps that have a hybrid healer (e.g. with Ret/Warr, SP/Warr, SP/Rogue, SP/Affli), but also occasionally in TSG. Nothing much has really changed for Mistweaver Monks. They remain the worst performing healer in the game.

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