State of the Ladder: gear and rating distribution in 9.0.5 and beyond

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

Summary: Rating largely remains unchanged, and 2v2 rating has not inflated despite Blizzard's recent changes to 2v2 rating. Average item level at this stage of the season is very high. In the active 1400-1599 rating bracket, the median ilvl is 212, which is far higher than the ilvl available from this bracket (207). Consequently, we support the calls in the community for introducing an improved catchup system for alts at this point in the season.

Subtlety Rogues, Arms Warriors, and Windwalker Monks continue to dominate the 2v2 melee meta. Assassination Rogues have made a reappearance at high rating while having low active representation at lower rating. BM Hunters have joined Fire Mages and Shadow Priests as the top ranged 2v2 specs, while Holy Priests and Restoration Druids have taken over as the high-rated healers of choice in 2v2. In 3v3, Arms Warriors continue to be a meta-defining spec, together with Fire Mages and Shadow Priests. The healer 3v3 meta, has seen far fewer changes, and Holy Paladins and Discipline Priests remain the top specs.

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

The rating distribution remains mostly unchanged. This is noteworthy given that Blizzard announced changes to the 2v2 rating system which was intended to inflate ratings in this bracket. Currently, we do not see this in the data. One potential explanation for this is that we previously observed a net rating decrease due to the influx of new characters. This now appears to have stopped (i.e. median rating remains constant). Whether that is because fewer characters are entering the ladder or because of the rating inflation adjustment introduced by Blizzard remains to be seen. We will continue to monitor this as the season progresses. One thing looks certain, however: 2v2 rating is not inflating fast.

Gear and rating distribution

One of the major factors that have fueled the popularity of rated PvP in arena this season has been the significant gear rewards that are attached to hitting rating in PvP. Combined with the steep gear power curve we see in the Shadowlands expansion, this has led to concerns that it is too hard to climb for new players who both have to overcome a skill or knowledge disadvantage and a gear/power disadvantage due to their characters not having unlocked gear from higher rating. We previously collaborated with Warroid to show the ilvl distribution for different rating brackets. Here we provide an interactive version of this which will remain a part of the State of the Ladder segment for as long as this is a relevant topic. Note that this data shows only the ilvl distribution of characters that have played games in the first week of April (beginning 30th of March for US, 31st of March for EU). Thus, we are excluding characters that are no longer playing, and we are exclusively showing an overview of active characters.

The bars here show median rating, while 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 212 (50% of players had a lower ilvl than 212). The 25th percentile is 205, meaning that 25% of players who actively played in 2v2 in the 1400-1599 rating range had an ilvl lower than 205. The 75th percentile for this rating bracket is 218, meaning that 25% of people who played in this rating range had an ilvl higher than 218.

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. Given the length of this season, we support the call by many members of the community for an improved catchup system for gearing alts.

Spec participation on the active ladder

Normally, we show an overview of the ladder with relative representation. As the season progresses, both the ladder view and metrics we calculate from it become stale as people stop playing the game or move to other characters. Thus, at this point in the season, it makes more sense for us to report figures for the active ladder. The active ladder data calculates how many games have been played by a given spec in the first week of April.

Melee (2v2)

Sub Rogues are currently one of the more active specs on both the leaderboard and on the ladder. This can be partly accounted for by the fact that Sub Rogues overwhelmingly play Mage/Rogue in 2v2 meaning that games are faster and a given player gets through more games. However, if we look at total number of unique active characters rather than games played (not shown), we get a broadly similar picture with Arms Warriors and Sub Rogues topping the lists (with Arms Warriors ever so slightly ahead). Windwalker Monks and Feral Druids are fairly active, and Assassination Rogues have recently entered into the meta, being particularly strong with a healer. This has opened up more viable comps for Rogues, since Subtlety plays very well Mages due to their high burst and immense control, but enjoys far less sustained damage than Assassination. Retribution Paladins are played by a huge number of people on the general ladder (from the rating distribution given above), but pretty rarely on the ladder. A potential explanation for this is that while Retribution Paladins provide some of the highest burst potential in the game, they are very unlikely to kill anything outside these burst windows. As people are more comfortable effectively exchanging cooldowns, it becomes significantly more difficult to land kills as Retribution Paladin/Healer. The high prevalence of Retribution Paladins on the ladder also help explain why Retribution Paladins are the beneficiaries of a great deal of lament regarding their one shots.

The bottom performers in this bracket have remained fairly consistent throughout the season: Fury Warriors, Outlaw Rogues, and Unholy Death Knights are virtually absent in high rated 2v2. Frost DKs and Enhancement Shamans are also relatively poor performers in 2v2, but are both fairly performant in 3v3.

Ranged (2v2)

Currently the most active on the leaderboards are Fire Mages, Shadow Priests, and a recent addition: BM Hunters. BM Hunters were graced with a significant Versatility buff in 9.0.5 (i.e. the PvP trinket set bonus now applies to pets), and a range of other minor buffs that have seen them propelled to 2v2 greatness. BM Hunters have even seen some play in the AWC, with the Golden Guardians dusting off Jellybeans. Shadow Priests remain a viable spec in 2v2, having a range of double DPS and healer comps available to them. Balance Druids are still mostly seen at lower rating in 2v2. All Warlock specs appear to currently be enjoying some play, with Holy Priests being the preferred healer for all specs, providing excellent synergy for Affliction Warlocks with Mindgames, and scary setup potential with Chastise for Destruction Warlocks.

Frost and Arcane Mages and Marksmanship Hunters continue a long line of general underperformance in rated PvP.

Healers (2v2)

In the previous State of the Ladder, we reported on the emergence of Holy Priests as a healer. Holy Priests have now completely taken over the high rated 2v2 meta. Behind them are now Restoration Druids as the second-most common healer. Indeed, this is a very significant change in the 2v2 meta and a stark difference to the general ladder, where Holy Paladins and Discipline Priests remain prevalent. Interestingly, Holy Priests are the most popular (by some margin) at high rating, but the second-least popular among the general 2v2 population (only ahead of Mistweaver Monks). This differential meta at high and low rating might reflect a time lag, where lower rated players are yet to widely adopt the new meta healer specs.

While Holy Priests are clearly overperforming in this bracket, Mistweaver Monks continue to be a deeply underperforming spec in all forms of content (PvP and PvE). Aside from these two points, the 2v2 healer meta seems to be broadly in a good spot.

Spec performance in 3v3

Melee (3v3)

It will come as no surprise that Arms Warriors dominate this bracket. With solid damage output and enormous defensive and offensive utility, Arms Warriors remain a meta-defining melee spec. Retribution Paladins enjoy high representation at high rating in 3v3, owing to their high burst, excellent utility, and potent off-healing. Subtlety Rogues are largely restricted to playing RMP variants, but have decent representation due to the popularity of these comps.

Frost DKs appear to be in an acceptable state presently, having a number of viable 3v3 comps available to them. Feral Druids and Enhancement Shamans are much more often seen at high rating than at low rating. Indeed, Jungle Cleave (BM Hunter/Feral/Healer) is emerging as a staple of the new meta, and Turbo (Enhancement Shaman/Arms Warrior/Healer) has been a very potent 3s comp throughout the season.

On the lower end, we find Havoc Demon Hunters which have been struggling for some time and find themselves in the twilight zone of viability. They are currently seen less frequently in 3v3 than in 2v2, suggesting that we may be long overdue for a Havoc DH tune-up (after all, PvP was once upon a time meant to be balanced around 3v3). Assassination Rogues are very rarely seen in 3v3. This is presumably due to the weaker setup potential afforded by Assassination Rogues compared to Subtlety Rogues. The remaining specs - Unholy DK, Fury Warrior, Outlaw Rogue - have been absent from competitive PvP for the entire season.

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, and have consistently been top performers over the past few months. We are currently seeing that Balance Druids are fairly well represented on the active leaderboard together with Elemental Shamans. BM Hunters also enjoy popularity in 3v3, with comps such as Jungle Cleave being very strong presently.

Poorer performers in 3v3 include all Warlock specs. Affliction is the most played of the specs, with Shadowplay (i.e. Affli/SP/Healer) being the most common comp. In general, we observe that the percentage of Shadowplay comps decreases as we move up in rating. At the bottom of this list, we find chronic underperformers of the season: MM Hunters, Frost and Arcane Mages, and Demo Warlocks have all been consistent underperformers in 3v3 (and PvP) this season.

Healers (3v3)

The healer meta in 3v3 has seen far less radical changes. Despite their newfound mana issues, Holy Paladins remain the most popular healer, followed by Discipline Priests. Holy Priests in general are fairly vulnerable to getting trained and so this might partly account for why they are seen with far less frequency in 3v3 than in 2v2.

Restoration Druids are doing far better now than they were pre-9.0.5, which is very welcome news indeed. Restoration Druids received some minor buffs in 9.0.5, and essentially all Restoration Druids now run Necrolord, which has massively improved the survivability of the spec. Mistweavers... are not good.

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