State of the Ladder: Season 3 roundup

Season 3 saw a return to a less inflated rating distribution, with median ratings generally being around 1600 (though varying with bracket and region). The melee meta was primarily dominated by Fury Warriors and Subtlety Rogues, and 2v2 also seeing the strong performance of Survival Hunters and Outlaw Rogues. The ranged meta saw the emergence of Demonology Warlocks as one of the top performers (alongside Fire Mages), while Holy Priests remain the dominant healer.

Going into Season 4, there are a number of important balance changes which will likely radically change the meta, particularly decreasing the dominance of Holy Priests across both brackets.

The data

The ladder data is obtained from characters pseudorandomly sampled from EU and US realms. We only included characters that had logged on this season. This yielded 157,034 characters for EU realms and 142,683 characters from US realms. In order to be included in the analysis, a character must have played at least 50 games of 2v2 this season (N=50,317) or 35 games of 3v3 (N=31,683).

Rating distribution

The median rating for 2v2 is 1640 for US realms and 1570 for EU realms, while for 3v3 the median is 1624 for US realms and 1538 for EU realms. Over the past three months, the median rating has increased by approximately 30 rating for all brackets in both regions. The 90th percentile rating have seen an increase of around 50-100 rating, a markedly larger increase than the median, suggesting that the rating distribution is elongating at the tails. This is generally what we see as the season matures, and the effect is particularly pronounced at very high rating, where the R1 cutoff tends to progressively increase towards the end of the end of the season.

The rating distribution is on average lower on EU realms, with the difference being particularly dramatic for 3v3, where the 50th, 70th, and 90th percentile are all roughly 100 rating lower than on US realms. This is something that has been consistent throughout the season and is not something we have seen in previous seasons.

Out of characters with at least 35 3v3 games played, 1.8% have a personal rating above 2400 on EU realms, while 3.4% do on US realms. This means that as a percentage of the active character base, roughly twice as many characters reach the Gladiator cutoff on US realms than on EU realms. This parallels the effect that we see on rating in general (with 3v3 rating being on the whole lower on EU realms). In previous seasons, the relative cutoff has been fairly similar between regions. One factor that may explain this disparity is that more characters play 3v3 on US realms than on EU realms (30% of US characters have played at least one 3v3 game, while only 24% of EU characters have, P < 0.001).

Spec representation

Melee (2v2)

At higher rating, the melee 2v2 meta is dominated by Subtlety Rogues, Fury Warriors, Havoc DHs, and Survival Hunters. However, relative to how often we see these specs in the general population, Fury Warriors and Havoc DHs are actually underrepresented on the leaderboard (being incredibly popular at low rating, and their representation declining as rating increases). Among the most overrepresented specs are Outlaw Rogues which have ended up becoming a very popular pick in 2v2 at all ratings (but especially so at higher rating).

Feral Druids, Windwalker Monks, Assassination Rogues, and Unholy DKs conclude this season by being decently performing, middle-of-the-road specs, having a leaderboard representation roughly in line with their overall representation. Arms Warriors have seen an enormous fall from grace this season, with part of this no doubt reflecting the availability of Fury as the superior 2v2 specialisation. Retribution Paladins are among the most common spec on the ladder (i.e. at all ratings), but are hardly ever seen at high rating. Enhancement Shamans and Frost DKs continue to underperform in the 2v2 bracket.

Ranged (2v2)

This season has seen Demonology Warlocks becoming the dominant ranged spec in 2v2, enjoying a leaderboard representation that is over twice as high as their ladder representation. Fire Mages, BM Hunters, and Shadow Priests are all performant in this bracket, while Elemental Shamans, Balance Druids, and the two other Warlock specs are middle-of-the-road performers.

Marksmanship Hunters are in a similar position to Retribution Paladins: they are played by a huge number of people at lower rating (presumably due to the very high burst potential of both specs), while hardly ever being seen at higher rating. Frost Mages and Arcane Mages are all but absent in this bracket.

Healers (2v2)

Holy Priests have continued to be incredibly dominant, accounting for 17.6% of the leaderboard. This means that 35% of all teams have a Holy Priest in them. While this number is lower than the >40% we've seen previously this expansion, this is still an incredibly high number highlighting the extreme strength of this spec in PvP. Indeed, going into Season 4, Holy Priests will have received a major nerf, hopefully levelling the healer playing field.

Among the remaining healers, Restoration Druids and Discipline Priests appear a clear tier above the rest, with both being overrepresented on the leaderboard. Restoration Shamans, Holy Paladins, and Mistweaver Monks all appear to be in a similar state in this bracket, with Holy Paladins arguably being in the worst state due to being the only healer that is seen less often at higher rating than at lower rating. This is unusual due to the fact that Healer/DPS comps dominate in higher rating games.

Spec performance in 3v3

Melee (3v3)

Fury Warriors are incredibly popular in the 3v3 bracket, being the most commonly played spec at both high and low ratings. Despite their popularity, one should be careful to conclude that Fury Warriors are enormously overtuned since Warrior as a spec in PvP is simply played by a lot of people. When a spec is played by a lot of people, we expect to see them at all ratings more commonly, and that is indeed what we see. In fact, Fury Warriors are seen as often at low rating as at high rating (roughly 8% of characters). Contrast this with Subtlety Rogue, which is played by far fewer players, but are seen nearly twice as often as their representation at lower rating would suggest.

A number of other specs are doing moderately well, including Feral Druids, Unholy DKs, and Retribution Paladins. Retribution Paladins are, of course, commonly paired with Fury Warriors, and Feral Druids mostly play Jungle variants (i.e. paired with a Hunter). Unholy DKs have been tearing up the ladder with Demonology Warlocks, which is currently the second most popular comp at above 2100 MMR (with the first, of course, being RMP). Havoc Demon Hunters see the opposite pattern of Subtlety Rogues: it is a spec played by a large number of people, but is seen relatively rarely at higher rating. This is often indicative of an underperforming spec.

Among the lower tier of melee specs, we find Windwalker Monks, Arms Warriors, Survival Hunters, Enhancement Shamans, and Outlaw and Assassination Rogues. Both Outlaw and Assassination are clearly very performant in particular contexts (with Outlaw seeing a huge amount of play in the AWC), but they are nevertheless rarely played on the ladder, which is an interesting puzzle (and a difficult balancing task). Arms Warriors are not underrepresented and so this probably suggests that many simply opt to play Fury instead of Arms. Indeed, Arms still has a number of viable 3v3 comps available to them, such as Ret/Warrior and Turbo (i.e. paired with an Enhancement Shaman). Frost DKs are in a pretty miserable state, seeing essentially no play in either 2v2 or 3v3.

Ranged (3v3)

Fire Mages continue to be the dominant ranged DPS, but are now challenged by Demonology Warlocks. While Fire Mages essentially always play RMP-variants, Demonology Warlocks have a range of comps available to them, with some of the most common choices being to pair up with an Unholy DK, Elemental Shaman, or a Shadow Priest. Indeed, both Elemental Shamans and Shadow Priests are relatively performant. While Elemental Shamans appear largely locked to Ele/Demonology/Healer, Shadow Priests enjoy much greater compositional freedom.

Among the more middling specs we find BM Hunters and Balance Druids. Balance Druids still largely play Balance/DH variants as their primary comp (though this comp is far weaker now than it was in Season 2). Marksmanship Hunters, Frost Mages, and Destruction and Affliction Warlocks are all largely underperforming in this bracket. Arcane Mages have been completely absent from high-rated PvP this entire expansion and remain in a desperate need of tuning.

Healers (3v3)

The Holy Priest dominance remains largely untouched in 3v3, with the second-most common spec at higher rating now being Discipline Priests (generally seen in comps such as Jungle and Ret/Warrior). The remaining healers are roughly in a similar situation, as very middling healers. It is interesting to note that Mistweaver Monks are nowhere near in the terrible state that they were previously this expansion. For example, at the end of Season 1, only 0.35% of leaderboard characters were Mistweaver Monks. Compare that to approximately 2% today and it is clear that major improvements have been made to the Mistweaver toolkit. Monks generally are the least played class in the game, and so we do expect to see fewer Mistweaver Monks than we do Restoration Druids. The changes with the start of Season 4 increases the damage output of Mistweaver Monks and so may further improve their standing.

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