State of the Ladder: Shadowlands Season 2 roundup

Summary: The rating distribution has inflated by around 350 points in 2v2 and around 300 points in 3v3. The median rating in 2v2 has gone from roughly 1400 last season to roughly 1750 this season. The median rating in 3v3 has gone from roughly 1450 last season to roughly 1750 this season. We discuss the relationship between current title cutoffs and those in previous seasons.

The melee meta has been dominated by Arms Warriors, Sub Rogues, Havoc DHs, Windwalkers, and Feral Druids. Top ranged specs include Fire Mages, BM Hunters, Shadow Priests, and Balance Druids. The buffs to Mistweaver Monks have facilitated a bit of a comeback this season, but Holy Priests remain the most represented healer at high rating in both brackets. Despite the Holy Priest dominance, the healer meta has been relatively balanced throughout the season.

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 43,172 characters for EU realms and 42,041 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=17,008) or 35 games of 3v3 (N=11,737).

Rating distribution

Last season was characterised by a distinctly deflated rating distribution, with a median rating around 1375 in 2v2, 1430 in 3v3, and 1600 in RBGs. In response to this, Holinka announced that they were making changes to the rating system which should inflate the rating distribution. Indeed, this is very much what we're seeing. For both EU and US, the 50th, 70th, and 90th percentiles are around 350 rating higher than in Season 1 in 2v2 and 300 rating higher in 3v3.

Last season's rating thresholds more or less corresponded with the old PvP titles, with Rival being roughly top 10% and Duelist being roughly top 3%. Last season, 2400 rating in 3v3 corresponded to roughly the top 1% of players (1.3% towards the end of the season). Given that the requirement for obtaining Gladiator requires sustained wins above 2400 rating (or more precisely, 50 wins as Elite rank in 3v3), this is probably not a million miles off the difficulty level of obtaining the end-of-season Gladiator titles.

This season is notable, however, in that 2400 rating in 3v3 is the 95th percentile (for both US and EU). In practice, of course, not everyone who achieves 2400 rating will obtain Gladiator. However, it does seem pretty uncontroversial that with a 300 rating inflation this season, last season's Challengers become Rivals, Rivals become Duelists, and so on, without any change in player ability.

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 end of last season (May, 2021) are shown in brackets.

Melee (2v2)

It will be no surprise that Arms Warriors have continued to dominate the 2v2 bracket. Passive tankiness, strong offensive cooldowns, and enough utility to fill a modest-sized shed means that Warriors are both a fun and strong class to play. It is worth noting, however, that while Arms Warriors are well represented, they are not necessarily enormously overrepresented given how often they are played by the general playerbase (i.e. we also see a large number of Arms Warriors at all rating levels, meaning they are played by a huge number of people, which accounts at least in part for their high representation at high rating). Subtlety Rogues have continued to be a viable spec, enjoying play with Fire Mages and other double DPS comps and occasionally paired with a healer such as a Holy Priest.

One of the big winners of this season have been the Demon Hunters. Going from relative obscurity last season (and relying almost entirely on kill windows with The Hunt) to a veritable powerhouse of unhealable damage. The transition to Necrolord has given Demon Hunters more tankiness and far more sustained damage, meaning they once again are well represented on both the leaderboard and the ladder.

Windwalker Monks, Feral Druids, and Survival Hunters have all enjoyed a relatively solid season, with decent representation both at high and low ratings. A common theme behind Feral Druids and Survival Hunters is that they are far more common at high rating than in the general populace. Survival Hunter in particular appears to have a stigma as a high skill-cap class, and it seems plausible that many players at lower rating opt for the arguably simpler playstyle of the Beast Mastery spec. Retribution Paladins have been enormously popular among the general public for most of the Shadowlands expansion, but do fairly poorly at higher rating in 2v2. Assassination Rogues were fairly well represented last season, but appears to be a very middling spec in 2v2 at the end of Season 2.

Outlaw Rogues are occasionally seen at high rating (even at the very highest rating), but are not commonly played either at low or high rating. If anything, however, they are slightly overrepresented given the play rate on the ladder (which is also very low). The underperformers this season are, unfortunately, familiar faces: Enhancement Shamans, Frost and Unholy DKs, and Fury Warriors all generally do very poorly in this bracket (with a very low leaderboard representation compared to their ladder representation).

Ranged (2v2)

Fire Mages and BM Hunters both enjoy a decent leaderboard representation relative to their ladder representation. Paired with a fairly high leaderboard representation, it's a fair assessment that both of these classes perform relatively well in 2v2 (i.e. they are not enormously popular, but there are a fair few of them at high er rating). Shadow Priests have been incredibly strong throughout the Shadowlands expansion, and while 2v2 is arguably not where they are the strongest, they do very well in terms of their leaderboard representation. They are also one of the most popular ranged DPS in 2v2 at all ratings.

A consistent theme for both Marksmanship Hunters and Balance Druids is that they are played by a fairly high percentage of the general public, but are relatively underrepresented at higher rating. This, of course, does not mean that these classes are not viable in 2v2, simply that while a lot of people play them, not a lot of people make them work. Nevertheless, the changes to Marksmanship Hunters from last season have seen their representation on the leaderboard double, which is a welcome change. Affliction and Demonology Warlocks are fairly middling specs, uncommonly played at all ratings, but nevertheless seen occasionally at fairly high rating.

The underperformers here are again familiar faces: Destruction Warlocks and Frost and Arcane Mages. Mages having access to a very strong spec probably accounts for some of the low representation numbers, but it is an undeniable fact that these specs have been performing very poorly throughout the Shadowlands expansion and they should probably receive some tuning.

Healers (2v2)

The healer meta has been relatively balanced throughout, with a few stragglers. Holy Paladins were incredibly strong early on in the Shadowlands expansion, but now struggle enormously with mana conservation and healing throughput outside major cooldowns. Mistweaver Monks are in a better state now than they were last season (having received a few substantial buffs), but overall their representation remains low. It should be noted that Mistweaver Monks are not a very popular spec so we are probably never going to see them account for 9% of the leaderboard (barring some very large buffs). However, healers tend to be overrepresented on the leaderboard compared to the overall ladder due to the abundance of double DPS comps at lower rating. Looking at the leaderboard and ladder representation of other healers as a reference point, we would expect Mistweaver Monks to account for around 3%-5% of the leaderboard under a balanced healer meta. Presently, Holy Priests and Restoration Druids constitute the S-tier healers in 2v2.

Spec performance in 3v3

Melee (3v3)

It comes as no surprise that Arms Warriors are also dominating the 3v3 bracket. For most of SL Season 2, an Arms Warriors and a strong healer can be teamed up with almost any other DPS to make a very strong comp. Retribution Paladins are also commonly seen at high rating, but do not enjoy the leaderboard overrepresentation that Warriors do. This has been a relatively consistent pattern throughout the Shadowlands expansion, with many players presumably being attracted to the tremendous burst potential of a Retribution Paladin.

Subtlety Rogues are among the most overrepresented specs on the leaderboard, though being mostly locked in to RMP-variants. Feral Druids are another overrepresented spec, being strong both as Kyrian paired with a melee DPS (often a Warrior...) and as Necrolord in the ever-present Jungle Cleave (BM/Feral/Healer). Demon Hunters have a range of compositions available to them, but the one that has been tearing up the ladder recently has been the relentless DH/Boomkin. Windwalker Monks generally do not make the lineup in most S-tier comps. They are nevertheless still seen in a range of comps such WW/Boomkin, Walking Dead (i.e. paired with a Frost DK), or paired with a Fire Mage or another strong melee (Arms Warrior, obviously).

Unfortunately, we have a long list of underperforming melees this season. Enhancement Shamans are essentially locked into Turbo (Enhance/Arms Warrior), and Frost DKs suffer from a similar compositional predicament. Survival Hunters arguably don't have any truly top tier comps, but are most commonly seen in Jungle variants. The remaining specs are very rarely seen in 3v3 arena and desperately need some TLC going forward.

Ranged (3v3)

The top ranged specs in 3v3 are mostly the same as in 2v2. The vast majority of Fire Mages play in RMP variants and Fire Mages are massively overrepresented on the leaderboard relative to the general playerbase. Shadow Priests are also overrepresented, which is indicative of their strength, and they also have a fair bit more compositional freedom. Balance Druids enjoy about the same representation on the leaderboard as last season, but there has been a transition from Night Fae to Kyrian. Kyrian Balance Druids are often paired with any strong melee (Havoc DHs, Arms Warriors, Windwalkers) and Shadow Priests.

BM Hunters are somewhat surprisingly underrepresented on the leaderboard and remain largely tied to a single comp (Jungle). Elemental Shamans had a period of being incredibly well represented in 2v2 and 3v3 last season (relative to how often the spec is played), but currently are seen far less frequently at high rating. They do not have a canonical S-tier comp, so when they are seen they can be seen with a range of other strong DPS classes such as Arms Warriors, DHs, Fire Mages, or Balance Druids.

Affliction and Demonology Warlocks are in an okay spot and are usually seen in a caster cleave (e.g. Shadowplay). Demonology in particular is far better off this season than they were last season.

Marksmanship Hunters continue to be popular among the general playerbase (3.6% of the ladder), but are poorly represented in 3v3 at high rating (only 1% of the leaderboard). This is nevertheless an improvement on where the spec was at the end of the last season.

The three bottom specs - Destruction Warlock and Frost and Arcane Mage - are the same three bottom specs in 2v2, and just generally need some attention to work in PvP.

Healers (3v3)

Holy Priests have taken over the healer meta this season, followed shortly thereafter by Discipline Priests. This represents a departure from Season 1, where Holy Priests were largely a 2v2 phenomenon for most of the season. Restoration Druids and Shamans perform well, but are a step behind the two Priest specs.

Holy Paladins used to be top dogs, but now find themselves towards the bottom of the healer list. There are a lot of Holy Paladins out there on the ladder, so we do expect to see a fair few on the leaderboard as well. As in 2v2, they struggle both with mana conservation and healing throughput outside their Avenging Wrath. Mistweaver Monks are doing a fair bit better this season than last, having gone from essentially no representation (0.2%) at the end of last season to 1.7% this season. This constitutes a pretty significant improvement, and while Mistweaver Monks could still do with some work from the devs, it is worth noting that the healer meta is arguably far more balanced than either the ranged or the melee metas.

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