State of the Ladder: the season of the Holy Priest

Summary: Overall rating continues to be low, with the R1 cutoff being approximately 300 rating lower than this time last season, and the median rating being around 150-200 rating lower. The meta has changed to become increasingly caster heavy, but caster cleaves remain about as popular as melee cleaves in the 3v3 meta. Subtlety Rogues and Fire Mages do incredibly well in both 2v2 and 3v3, and 3v3 has seen the rise of the ever-oppressive Frost Mage/Destruction Warlock combo.

The domination of Holy Priests has actually grown, with over 40% of teams now having a Holy Priest in both 2v2 and 3v3. Quantitatively, the melee and caster meta seems fairly well matched in 2v2 and 3v3: despite a few overperforming and underperforming specs, most specs are fairly viable even at very high rating (with the notable exception of Arcane Mage, and arguably Frost DK). However, clearly the major outlier at the moment from a balance perspective is the radical overperformance of Holy Priests which warrants immediate attention.

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 76,565 characters for EU realms and 68,431 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=21,394) or 35 games of 3v3 (N=12,721).

Rating distribution

The rating distribution has remained relatively similar throughout the first month, and marks a return to a more deflated rating distribution than previously. We can see this not just from the median ratings and the various percentiles, but also from the rating values at the top of the ladder. According to Xunamate, at this point last season, the R1 cutoff was approximately 2900 for US and EU realms, compared to 2600 currently. Our ladder data shows that the median rating last season was fairly consistently around 1750 in both 2v2 and 3v3 throughout the season. The median ratings for this season hover in the 1500-1600 range, meaning that the median rating is around 150-200 rating lower than last season.

At the time of writing, there are roughly 800 characters above 2400 rating on US realms, and less than 500 on EU realms. In terms of percentiles, 2400 in 3v3 is approximately the top 1.1% and 0.4% on US and EU realms, respectively. Notably, EU has a rating distribution that is shifted to the left (i.e. with a lower median rating) than US, which manifests itself both in it having far fewer players above 2400 (despite a similar player pool), and also a lower median rating: in 3v3 the median rating is 1581 for US and 1491 for EU. We do expect to see that the rating distribution slowly inflates as the season progresses, especially at the upper end of the rating distribution. Note, however, that this is not the reason why this season's rating is different to last season, since at this point last season the median rating was 150-200 rating points higher.

Participation on EU realms is slightly lower than on US realms (17% of EU characters have played at least one 3v3 match whereas 21% of US characters have). One possibility is that this (partly) accounts for the lower overall rating on EU realms.

Spec representation

We present an overview of each specs' representation on the leaderboard and on the ladder. The leaderboard is a Blizzard-defined list, given as the top 5000 characters on each ladder. The ladder, on the other hand, refers to the overall sample of characters that actively play rated PvP. For the tooltips (hover over the plots to activate, or press if on mobile), we show both ladder and leaderboard representation, and changes from the beginning of the season (March, 2022) are shown in brackets.

Melee (2v2)

The three dominant melees in 2v2 are Subtlety Rogues, Havoc DHs, and Survival Hunters. Of these, Subtlety Rogues and Survival Hunters are overrepresented on the leaderboard relative to how often they are seen at lower rating. Being overrepresented in this way is typically a pretty good indicator of the strength of a spec. While Havoc Demon Hunters are also seen with high frequency on the leaderboard, the fact that they are played by a huge number of people implies that they underperform slightly at higher rating compared to Survival Hunters and Subtlety Rogues.

Windwalker Monk, Feral Druid, and Assassination Rogues all appear to be at a similar level of performance (all are similarly represented on both the leaderboard and the ladder). Interestingly, Assassination Rogues have not taken over the leaderboard despite their very strong four-piece set bonus now being available to a large number of players. Fury has superseded Arms as the dominant Warrior spec, but neither are doing particularly well in 2v2, with both being underrepresented on the leaderboard compared to how often they are played on the ladder. In other words, while these specs are seen relatively often at lower rating, they become increasingly rare as rating increases.

Unholy Death Knights are fairly uncommonly played in 2v2, but are occasionally seen in 2v2 at very high rating (mostly with either a Holy Priest or a Holy Paladin). Outlaw Rogues are a pretty unique case. Despite their low leaderboard representation and even lower play rate among the general player base, the 4th most common comp above 2400 rating is currently Outlaw Rogue/Holy Priest. Thus, it seems plausible that most lower rated players tend to opt for either Assassination or Subtlety, whereas a smaller subset of high rated players tend to favour Outlaw in 2v2. In fact, this is a clear case of where using representation alone is probably misleading, since, as noted, Outlaw/Holy Priest is one of the most played comps at the highest level in 2v2. The most underperforming melee specs in 2v2 this season are Retribution Paladins, Enhancement Shamans, and Frost DKs, with the latter being in a particularly abysmal shape. Both Retribution Paladins and Enhancement Shamans are fairly frequently played at lower rating, but are incredibly rare at higher rating.

Ranged (2v2)

The last month has seen Beast Mastery Hunters pull ahead as the dominant ranged spec, with Shadow Priests and Fire Mages also enjoying a prominent role in the ranged 2v2 meta. There has been an enormous surge in the number of Destruction Warlocks at higher rating in 2v2, with their leaderboard representation going from only 0.9% at the beginning of the season to 2.5% currently. Destruction Warlocks have no doubt benefited greatly from their very strong tier set bonuses (the two-piece bonus granting an instant cast Chaos Bolt) and the widespread use of the Echoing Resolve trinket.

Marksmanship Hunters and Balance Druids are roughly in the same performance bracket: both are fairly popular at low rating, but pretty rarely seen at high rating. Balance Druids in particular have seen a decrease in their leadership representation over the past month. Elemental Shamans, Affliction Warlocks, and Demonology Warlocks are fairly middling performers in 2v2, while Frost Mages appear far less often at higher rating than we would expect given how often they're played. Most ranged specs appear to be at least somewhat viable in 2v2, with the notable exception of Arcane Mages which have been a consistent underperformer this entire expansion.

Healers (2v2)

Holy Priests have continued and even extended their shocking domination in 2v2. In fact, their leaderboard representation has now increased from 18% to 20.8%. In practice, this means that 41.6% of teams at higher rating contain a Holy Priest. At this point, it may be prudent to inform the reader that there are in fact 6 healers in the game, and having a single spec account for almost half the healers at higher rating is a very high level of imbalance indeed. Holy Priests have had some minor nerfs, notably Holy Ward being reduced to a 15 second duration and a 45 second cooldown. However, this does not seem to have slowed down the spec's performance in the slightest.

The remaining healers all seem roughly evenly matched, but it is hard to say anything particularly meaningful about the state of the remaining healers when the healer meta is as imbalanced as it is.

Spec performance in 3v3

Melee (3v3)

The melee 3v3 meta is perhaps one of the most even we have seen in a very long time. Essentially all specs are viable at high rating. Subtlety Rogues are arguably the melee king at the moment. Despite having nearly identical leaderboard representation to Fury Warriors and Havoc DHs, Sub Rogues are generally played far less often than these specs (Sub Rogues account for 2.8% of the ladder while Fury Warriors and Havoc DHs account for 5.9% and 7.2%, respectively).

Retribution Paladins are in a much better state in 3v3 than in 2v2, though being mostly locked to Ret/Warrior comps (with the option of playing with either a Fury or Arms Warrior). They are also increasingly seen with Windwalker Monks. Both Fury and Arms remain viable and commonly played specs in PvP, and both see play in a wide variety of comps, including Retribution Paladin/Warrior/Healer Fire Mage/Warrior/Healer, and Enhancement Shaman/Warrior/Healer.

Despite their generally low leaderboard representation, Feral Druids appear to be in a pretty good spot. They have a very strong comp in Jungle Cleave (i.e. paired with a BM or Survival Hunter), and are seen fairly often at high rating given their low rate of overall play. Unholy DKs, Windwalker Monks, Survival Hunters, and Assassination Rogues are all very viable specs in 3v3, and most of their lower leaderboard representation can be explained by their overall lower rate of play.

Outlaw Rogue is a niche spec, and while not necessarily bad, it is probably the case that most Rogues opt to play either Subtlety or Assassination over Outlaw in 3v3. Outlaw Rogue did even see a bit of play in these past AWC series, implying that they are viable even at the highest level in 3v3. Indeed, this means that the only truly underperforming melee spec in 3v3 is the Frost DK, which has far lower leaderboard representation than we would expect given their overall play rate.

Ranged (3v3)

There are two major changes to the ranged meta. The first is that Fire Mages have overtaken Shadow Priests as the most dominant spec. They enjoy very high leaderboard representation (5.5%) that is over twice as high as their ladder representation (2.5%). This is an exceptionally high level of overrepresentation for a DPS spec and speaks to the incredible strength of Fire Mage in the 3v3 meta. While Fire Mages overwhelmingly play RMP, they also have other options available to them, such as playing with a Shadow Priest, Arms/Fury Warrior, or Windwalker Monk. The second major change we have seen to the meta is that Destruction Warlocks and Frost Mages have emerged as prominent specs, with Destruction Warlock/Frost Mage/Holy Priest being the second most common comp at higher rating (just behind RMP for the moment).

Beast Mastery Hunters are doing fairly well and have a few different comps available to them. In addition to Jungle Cleave, they are also occasionally being paired up with Unholy DKs and Retribution Paladins. Balance Druids, Elemental Shamans, Affliction Warlocks, and Demonology Warlocks are mostly in a similar state, having modest leaderboard representation, but with a number of viable comps available to them. Elemental Shamans, for example, regularly pair up with Affliction Warlocks, Windwalker Monks, Destruction Warlocks, and Balance Druids.

Despite their seemingly acceptable leaderboard representation, Marksmanship Hunters are actually underperforming by quite a margin given how much they are played on the general ladder. This has been a general trend for Marksmanship Hunters throughout this expansion (i.e. being played by a large number of players, but not really working well for many players at higher rating). The biggest underperformer of all is Arcane Mages. Arcane Mages are very weak currently, and Mages also have two incredibly strong alternative specs available to them, making Arcane a complete novelty pick for most players.

As many players have observed, this season has transitioned into much more of a caster-dominated meta. However, if compare the numbers for the two roles, we can see that melees and ranged DPS are fairly evenly matched in terms of their representation. In fact, out of the top 30 comps played at above 2400 rating, only 6 are caster cleaves (with Destruction Warlock/Frost Mage variants accounting for the bulk of this).

Healers (3v3)

The Holy Priest dominance has grown also in 3v3. 13.5% of leaderboard characters are now Holy Priests, meaning that 40.5% of the leaderboard healers are Holy Priests. This is an equivalent level of imbalance that we see in 2v2, and quite clearly means that something very urgent needs to be done to tune the healer meta.

As in 2v2, the remaining healers all seem fairly evenly matched, with even Mistweaver Monks doing fairly decently. It is important to note that Mistweaver Monks are the least played healer and so we would expect to see a lower leaderboard representation from that fact alone. It is interesting to note that some healers that "feel" weak currently (such as Restoration Shamans) could in large part be feeling weak due to Holy Priests being so incredibly strong. It would be very interesting to see what the healer meta would look like if Holy Priests were brought in line with the other healers.

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