State of the RBG Ladder: Month 3 in the Shadowlands

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Summary: The RBG meta is dominated by Subtlety Rogues, Balance Druids, Affliction Warlocks, and Discipline Priests. This is in stark contrast to the arena meta where Windwalker Monks, Arms Warriors, Fire Mages, and Holy Paladins are the most prevalent specs. In RBGs, Balance Druids alone account for 15% of the leaderboard, while Discipline Priests account for another 12%. Other solid performers include Frost Death Knights, Shadow Priests, and Elemental Shamans. While the top performers differ from the arena meta, the bottom performers are the same: Restoration Druids, Mistweaver Monks, Arcane Mages, Frost Mages, BM Hunters, and Demonology Warlocks are underperforming in both arenas and RBGs.

RBGs have emerged as a very popular type of rated PvP content due in part to the high rates of Conquest and Honor earned in this bracket. The average rating in RBGs is also significantly higher than in 2v2 or 3v3 meaning that it's (arguably) easier to reach the significant milestones (1400, 1600, 1800) in RBGs than in other brackets (i.e. a higher percentage of players who participate reach the rating milestones in RBGs than in 2v2). Both of these factors no doubt contribute to the resurgence in interest in RBGs we have seen in the Shadowlands expansion. With that in mind, and by popular request, it's time we take a closer look at the RBG ladder.

RBG rating distribution

The data shown is for all characters in the sample of 53,198 characters that have played at least 20 RBG games this season. 3885 characters fit this criterion (1546 for EU; 2339 for US). Within this sample, the median rating for RBGs is 1602 on US servers and 1633 on EU servers. The median rating has gone largely unchanged since the previously reported State of the Ladder figure on the 26th of January. The 70th and 90th percentile have also seen very small changes (between 0 and 15 rating). Rating on EU servers are generally slightly higher than on US servers, which is phenomenon that can be seen across all brackets.

Quantifying spec performance

There are a number of ways we can quantify how well a spec is doing in a given bracket. The most obvious thing is to look at how well represented a spec is on the leaderboard. For this purpose, the leaderboard is defined as the top 5000 characters in the RBG bracket (this is defined by Blizzard, not us). A big problem with considering only representation is that some specs are very popular whereas other specs are not. For example, a huge number of people play Arms Warriors, whereas far fewer people play Elemental Shamans. Thus, even if all specs were equally strong, we would expect to see more of the popular specs on the leaderboard than the unpopular specs. In other words, we need to be able to account for the fact that some specs are just played more than others. One way to account for how popular specs are is to calculate the representation on the leaderboard relative to the representation on the overall ladder (herein referred to as the ladder representation). This relative representation thus describes how often we see a spec on the leaderboard relative to how often we see it on the ladder. If a spec is given a relative representation of 2, then the spec is seen twice as often on the leaderboard as on the ladder (thus strongly suggesting that this is a strong spec for the given ladder). Contrariwise, if a spec is given a relative representation of 0.5, then we see it half as often on the leaderboard as we do on the ladder (suggesting that this is a weak spec for the given ladder).

Relative representation is an important, but partial view of the state of a spec in a bracket. Other aspects such as how much they're played at high and low rating are also important considerations. Consequently, we report leaderboard representation, ladder representation, and relative representation for all specs.

Melee

By a hefty margin, Subtlety Rogues, Arms Warriors, and Retribution Paladins are the most commonly played melee specs on the RBG ladder. The most highly represented spec on the leaderboard is the Subtlety Rogue, and even with their high ladder representation, they are still overrepresented at the top. An interesting observation is that while Arms Warriors and Retribution Paladins are number two and three in terms of both leaderboard and ladder representation, they are actually seen far less often at the top of the leaderboard than we would expect given how often they are played on the ladder.

Frost DKs are in a surprisingly good state in RBGs. They enjoy a moderate representation on both the ladder and the leaderboard, and are actually slightly overrepresented on the leaderboard. Frost DKs bring a very scary cleave-based toolkit that clearly shines in RBGs. Unholy DKs also appear to be in a pretty acceptable state. They are far less popular than Frost DKs, but their relative representation on the leaderboard suggests that they are a viable spec in RBGs. Do note, however, that a relatively small number of characters are Unholy and so this figure should be interpreted with an appropriate amount of caution.

Windwalker Monks and Demon Hunters both do pretty well both in overall representation on the ladder and and on leaderboard. Because this data is pulled from the active spec on logout rather than RBG match data, it is possible that a subset of Havoc Demon Hunters actually play Vengeance in battlegrounds. However, without looking at match data, it is hard to estimate how much of an effect this is.

Among the poorer performers, we find Survival Hunters, Enhancement Shamans, Fury Warriors, Feral Druids and Assassination Rogues. Feral Druids and Enhancement Shamans both appear to be doing fairly well in the arena meta, despite being moderately unpopular specs. Consequently, it is noteworthy that they are both very rarely played on the RBG ladder and even more rarely seen on the RBG leaderboard. As noted for Unholy DKs, the relative representation figure can be unreliable when there are a very small number of characters with the given spec. Thus, the fact that specs such as Fury Warriors and Outlaw Rogues have high relative representation does not on its own mean that these are low-key solid RBG specs. This is not due to sampling error (which the error bars account for), but instead due to the fact that a Subtlety Rogue might log out as Outlaw, and their active spec is what is reflected in the data. For very unpopular specs, a small number of cases can skew the data.

Ranged

Moving on to ranged DPS, we find perhaps no surprises at the top. Balance Druids are the kings of the RBG, accounting for a whooping 15% of the leaderboard representation. In fact, this is almost twice as often as we'd expect to see Balance Druids given how often they're played by the general RBG player population. Joining them at the top are Affliction Warlocks, who despite being only played by 4.2% of the ladder, account for 6.9% of the leaderboard. Affliction Warlocks bring a large amount of spreadable, undispellable dots, which also come with an undispellable 50% slow due to their Corruption legendary.

Shadow Priests are also doing moderately well, accounting for approximately 5% of both the leaderboard and the ladder. Marksmanship Hunters follow a very familiar pattern: as in arena, they are played by a huge number of people on the ladder, but are very uncommon on the leaderboard. In fact, we see Marksmanship Hunters less than half as often on the leaderboard as we would expect based on how commonly they are played. "Bad, but popular" is a perhaps the concise way of describing the state of Marksmanship Hunters. Fire Mages, Elemental Shamans, and Destruction Warlocks all appear to be middle-of-the-road specs. Interestingly, Fire Mages are fairly uncommon on the leaderboard, despite being one of the most popular RBG specs on the ladder. This is an interesting deviation from the arena scene, where they remain one of the strongest specs in the meta.

The bottom of the list is graced by many familiar faces: Frost and Arcane Mages, BM Hunters, and Demonology Warlocks.

Healers

Looking at the leaderboard representation, we see that Discipline Priests and Holy Paladins are the two most common specs at high rating. Interestingly, however, Holy Paladin is by some margin the most commonly played spec in RBG. While 7.1% of the ladder are Holy Paladins, only 5.51% of the ladder are Discipline Priests. Nevertheless, a remarkable 11.72% of the leaderboard are Discipline Priests, while only 6.96% of Holy Paladins are. After accounting for how often they are played on the ladder, Discipline Priests are seen twice as often on the leaderboard as Holy Paladins. Discipline Priests bring excellent offensive pressure through Mind Games and Fear, as well as high throughput AoE shielding and healing via Barrier, Radiance, and spammable Rapture shields. Holy Paladins, on the other hand, bring Blessing of Sacrifice and Freedom, which can be very strong for supporting flag carriers. They are also often used synergistically with Balance Druids to create high impact setups using Aura Mastery and Blessing of Protection.

An interesting observation is that if we look at the relative representation, Holy Paladins are not actually doing much better than Restoration Shamans. In other words, they are more popular, but given their popularity are not found more often on the leaderboard than Restoration Shamans. This is probably in part because many top teams prefer having two Discipline Priests in their lineup, meaning that there is a bottleneck that reduces the number of Holy Paladins that can run in these teams. Holy Priests also appear to be in a pretty decent state, but with the normal caveat that this is a very uncommon spec which complicates the interpretation. Restoration Druids and Mistweaver Monks are both fairly uncommon and severely underrepresented on the leaderboard, further demonstrating the acute need for major tuning for these two healer specs.

Tanks

For tank specializations, there are only really two viable options: Vengeance Demon Hunter and Guardian Druid. Vengeance Demon Hunter is the most popular tank spec in RBGs, followed by Protection Paladins. Looking at the leaderboard, however, it seems that Protection Paladins are not seen much at all at high rating, despite their popularity on the ladder. On the leaderboard, we find that Guardian Druids are actually pulling ahead of Protection Paladins, despite being played incredibly rarely. In fact, Guardian Druids are the most overrepresented of all tank specs on the leaderboard. Their rarity in RBGs is likely due to the fact that Druids have several good specs available to them (with Balance being the current king of the RBG meta).

Protection Warrior, Blood Death Knight, and Brewmaster Monk appear to be very rarely played in RBGs, and, together with Protection Paladins, have vanishingly low representation on the leaderboard.

PS: This article was greatly improved by helpful comments from alcaras, creator of Subcreation, which provides statistical analysis for Mythic+ data. If you also like doing M+, check out the site.