For many of our serious readers, this is going to be something they already understand and are aware of. But scattered comments, both on the WHU and elsewhere, lead me to believe that not everyone understands exactly what we mean when we talk about ability homogenization (it goes by other names…that’s just what I’m calling it), and how this affects our play. So I wanted to spell it out, because in 5.4, the understanding of this principle is more important than ever.

More Is Less

Scenario A:

Your rotation consists of 4 buttons, and your dps is at 1000 (we’re ignoring things like auto-shot here for ease of the example). And let’s say the signature shot does 400 damage and the focus dump does 100.

Scenario B:

Your rotation consists of 10 buttons, for 1000 dps. Your most powerful signature shot is at 200, and the lowest is 50.

Now you’re in a fight and focused on fight mechanics. You’re doing your rotation pretty well, but not perfectly. Your best signature shot comes off cooldown, and you should cast it. But you miss out on it right away, and cast a focus dump shot before casting it. This happens several times in the fight and, along with some other errors, causes you to lose out on 4 signature shots because you were casting your focus dump. In scenario A, the theoretical gap for your error is 1200 damage for that time span. In scenario B, it’s 600 (technically, not exactly, even in this dumbed-down scenario, but it’s close). The point is, the penalty for screwing up your rotation is significantly smaller, as is the penalty for delaying a shot by, say, tenths of a second.

Now make the gap even smaller. Let’s say signature is at 110 and the focus dump is 90. Now there’s barely any difference at all. And for many, it’s going to be roughly equivalent dps for them to spam a particular shot than it would be to try to do the proper rotation but screw it up occasionally.

Now add in passive dps (procs, auto-shot, pet damage, etc.). Let’s say passive dps makes up 50% of our total dps (that may actually be low, especially in BM). At this point, any mistakes in Scenario B are likely to be within RNG (Random Number Generator) ranges, and accounting for a very small swing in dps percentage lost. So it’s hard to even see the difference in many rotations.

“…I found this GREAT new rotation…”

Frostheim routinely gets emails concerning rotation (or priorities) in our abilities. And more than once, he’s received a super-excited email claiming that casting nothing but an initial Serpent Sting followed by ONLY Arcane Shot and Steady/Cobra Shot is actually better than the accepted “correct” rotation.

What these people are seeing is what I described above. For them, they’re missing enough casts in fights that it actually helps them to focus only on 2-3 abilities. Or the difference in rotation is so small that a few nights with good RNG numbers, and they think they’re seeing an increase when they really just have a small sample size and some lucky rolls.

Recent Developments

Recent or upcoming changes have brought this into the limelight. Stampede, once a beastly (pun intended) cooldown, is now testing at only about a 1% increase to overall dps in fights, sometimes less.

Arcane Shot, already not too far off our signature shot damage, has been buffed significantly recently. And in 5.4, the 2-piece tier bonus will make it even more important.

I’m not saying that Arcane spam is the way to go. I’m not saying you should ignore Stampede. What I AM saying is that, if you ignore Stampede and spam Arcane, you’re not going to be that far off hunters who are doing things “right.” Contrary to the belief that more buttons means more skill is needed, it actually means that, in most cases, it will lower the skill gap between the excellent, good, mediocre, and bad hunters out there. As long as you’re casting something, what particular ability you’re casting almost doesn’t matter.

Perspective and “Bring the Player…”

I’m the last to start yelling that the sky is falling. It’s not here either. If enough rotations change to ignore major abilities, Blizzard will no doubt tweak things to bring us back to normal.If you’re upset, take a deep breath and relax. If you truly enjoy the hunter class, abilities tweaks aren’t going to ruin it.

Second, in all cases, even when button homogenization is particularly bad, the more skilled hunter will always do more dps. There are still little things that make the difference, and that’s what we’re all about.

Perhaps the most troubling thing I see with this trend, though, is that it reduces the emphasis on player skill and increases the emphasis on Blizzard’s balancing of classes. In the past, it barely mattered where your class was (in PvE at least) compared to other classes. If you were skilled, you could beat nearly anyone with equivalent gear. This is still true, though to a far lesser extent, but it also means we’re more at the whims of class balance. If Demo Locks (or any class, really) are crushing it, there’s less we can do to close the gap. And less we can do to distinguish ourselves from the overzealous hunters who spam Arcane. Blizzard’s tagline for a time has been “Bring the Player, not the Class.” I still think that’s true in many cases – especially where fight mechanics trump your individual contribution to dps or heals – but for many top-level groups it’s probably less true than it was in prior expansions.

The other thing that it does relates to the feel of the class. How many remember Kill Command hitting like a Howitzer? The special feeling as the thunk of Chimera or Explosive ticks wrecked opponents? There’s a subjective satisfaction there. And I think it goes away when we’re managing 10+ abilities and cooldowns, that begins to feel much more like the timing simulation that dps is, and less like an active RPG experience.

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  1. Arth says:

    I tweaked the math a bit to be more realistic. Technically, the dps loss wouldn’t be exactly 1200 and 600 in the scenarios, even with my dumbed-down numbers. But it would be in that neighborhood, and it illustrates the point well.

  2. Zetora says:

    Good post, thanks Arth.

  3. Hecubus says:

    Yes, we need to be careful here. We might end up like ret paladins were in Wrath. So long as you were pushing a button, didn’t matter which one, you were doing okay dps. I’d rather not have to manage a hunter Inquisition-like ability to add complexity into our rotations.

  4. Kheldul says:

    Arth, thanks for keeping the buzz up.

    Tip: Never lead off a post with math. :)

    PS: Setting up a twitter account for wow took about 3 minutes but could be a lot faster.
    Tweet @Ghostcrawler about hunter spec homogenization.

    • Arth says:

      Heh. Never lead with math? Haven’t heard that particular tip, but I also pretty much just make this stuff up as I go along.

      I set up a WoW Twitter account yesterday too, after I read your suggestion. I’m not sure in what capacity I’ll use it, but it’s a cool extension for creating awareness for these types of issues.

  5. Peter says:

    I’m really interested in what Blizzard will cook up for Tier 16/Patch 5.4. The real core issue with homogenization has always been PvP damage and much less the buttons. In PvP dps is less relevant than burst damage.

    If my signature will do ‘400’ damage, and I get a crit and I then use readiness and get another crit I can two shot my opponent. That is not fun, so damage of all shots is capped regardless of whether I have 2 or 10 buttons to push during PvE rotation.

    The readiness nerf is therefore a potential blessing in disguise. Especially for BM in PvP the burst was too high. Especially because pets abilities, talents like MoC/Dire Beast/etc and stampede are parallel with hunter shot abilities, you could get insane damage.

    Now with the nerfs to stampede and readiness there is less parallelism and burst capability, making it perhaps possible to increase damage of signature shots.

    Of course Blizzard may be either lazy and just add some % damage to Aspect of the Hawk instead, or not be lazy but be of the opinion that e.g. a boosted KC, Explosive Shot or Chimera Shot is still too powerful. E.g. a Power Shot with boosted Chimera Shot damage combo is perhaps too lethal in PvP? (Note I’m not saying it is, but Blizzard may feel it is …)

    [ I do want to add one note though. Currently as-is, Arcane Shot is actually nerfed. Only a 40 percentpoint boost for 50 percent more focus cost. Of course Tier 16 will encourage Arcane usage, but Arcane itself is actually nerfed (except perhaps if you were having too much focus.) ]

    • Arth says:

      I was also referring to the recent Arcane hotfix buff, but you’re right that the upcoming change is a slight nerf.

      You definitely are getting into the nuance of the issues here, but I purposely left some of this out because I wanted to make sure the core idea comes across. 5.4 changes or not, ability homogenization has been a growing issue throughout MoP.

    • Nogz says:

      I secretly hope they’ll actually reduce Hawk %, buff signature shots (I want KC to be at the top, not after pet autos) and stampede (lower CD or smth).

  6. garfurion says:

    Was hunter burst too high in PvP, or was the problem that hunters could burst too often and other classes don’t know how to cope with hunters in PvP.

    If a mage uses iceblock does it matter how high our burst is a long as iceblock lasts as long as our burst?

    Bliz can remove all our burst for PvP reasons but it will leaves us just as broken for PvE.

    • Arth says:

      That’s a design and balancing question that we likely don’t have enough data for. Only Blizzard could reliably answer it, imo, or someone with a lot of PvP experience at a variety of classes.

      One might argue we’d be less useful in PvE, but broken seems a stretch. We had almost zero respectable burst to speak of for the entirety of WoW before MoP. Hunters were all about sustained dps. If overall dps remains intact, PvE will be ok.

      • garfurion says:

        Sustained dps used to be enough but more and more raid encounters have burst phases and in scenarios or brawlers guild we cannot rely on other classes for burst.

      • Browning2 says:

        Yes, before we may have been about sustained DPS, but our roots have always been burst (shadowmelded aimed front load). I like having readiness with its current mechanic because we get to plan and align our CD’s with incoming Hero. For most of our hunter life it has been if you aren’t blowing on CD you are losing overall DPS. I like the fact that play has moved slightly to aligning CDs more and the ability to have the on demand CD for burn situations. This is a change that I hope does not go to live.

      • ZBob says:

        Arth: uh, having low on-demand burst was *infuriating* in heroic Dragon Soul. Do you remember trinket stagger-equipping, chain-summoning for fresh CotWs, trap cheesing the adds, (which we won’t be able to do any more), and holding off on cobra shot to avoid triggering set bonus ICD, all so you could burst tendons on H-Spine… and then doing less burst for all that work than nearly any other spec?

        Sustained dps is “fine” if and only if that’s what the encounters call for. The more complex the encounter, generally the less well this works. The best sustained dps classes work by being silly overpowered (I’m looking at you, assassination rogues and aff locks) and then just accepting the detriments of encounter mechanics. Since it’s highly unlikely we’ll be silly overpowered, I am very concerned about this TO THE GROUND approach to burst.

      • Arth says:

        To all taking issue with this line of comments, I did say we’d be less useful in PvE. I just think the term “broken” is being thrown around loosely. I don’t like the new changes, but I also tend not to be overly reactionary.

      • Garfurion says:

        Maybe “broken” wasn’t the best term to use ;) but Blizzard seems to be nerfing our burst abilities 1 by 1, and without any burst and reduced survivability parts of the game like Brawler’s guild will become very hard.

        History also shows that bBizzard is not really good with nerfing hunter pvp abilities while keeping them viable in small scale (read Arena) PvP.

  7. Browning2 says:

    The aspect of trying to balance a game for PvP and PvE is daunting. But, as a PvE player and casual PvP, I really get tired of mechanic changes made for PvP. blizzard already has modifiers on spells in PvP, why not simply make the Readiness change only active in BG’s or Arena.

    • f0nZi3 says:

      Because that would make sense, show forward thought and show that they wanted to take the time to correct an issue they see that is specific to one area of the game. And we all know THAT is not gonna happen.

  8. I have certainly noticed that the payoff for increasing one’s skill is getting lower and lower over time; I’ve been maxlevel since Wrath and, back then, I had a lot more of a certainty that the key to getting better results was to improve my skill level.

    Skill and judgment matters at top level, and always will; but at lower than that? One can probably do acceptable DPS numbers in LFR now with an Arcane/Steady idiot’s rotation, for instance.

    Hunters historically haven’t been a faceroll class to play at an acceptable level in maxlevel grouped content; I don’t want us to be.

    And yeah, I’m a bit disappointed that Blizzard looks ready to nerf our burst into the ground. What bugs me is the perception I have that certain classes are “allowed” to remain able to do certain things in PVP (e.g. insane burst, stunlock-to-death, or insane survivability) and others aren’t.

  9. Omogon says:

    I would not want to go back to the 2 button rotation of BM in BC but I really grew to hate the button mashing that was required of late. I have not played in 2 months and am actually starting to think about playing again, so I really hope things have changed.

  10. cabudeanie says:

    The problem here is blizzard has been a bad parent and spoiled us hunters, everything we ask for we got and now we are reaping the rewards:- button bloat and ability’s that are so close together that RNG can make a poor rotation into a good one.

    The only way realistically (I can see) to fix it is to upset a lot of the hunter community by removing ability and changing talents, which they will not do this expansion and may be rightly so.

    Personally I would change (in the next expansion) DPS cool downs:- rapid fire a MM ability only, stampede a BM only ability, and murder of crows (or something similar) a SV only ability and balance the damage/cd accordingly (giving burst needed when required without being able to stacking them).

    Make focus tier and one of the dps tiers passive or turn it into a utility tier.

    Then reduce the damage of auto shot.

    This would remove some of the button bloat (reduce the some of our stacking cool down burst without nerfing all our ability’s one by one) and should increase the room needed to buff signature shots. Making it obvious what rotation is best.

    But this will upset a lot of the community that have had ability removed from their spec of choice, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind and hopefully it will benefit the class as a whole.

    Let not forget that there needs to be room for new ability next expansion.

    • Peter says:

      A big issue is actually not so much the amount of buttons (which I love to death personally), but also the change from our cooldown from 1.5 to 1 second already probably forgotten by most of us. Also the change in MoP to have our focus generatioon much faster. These two are the core factor in why our shots cannot do so many damage relative to our dps. Not the fact we were given more abilities.

      The main issue is purely that we can execute more abilities in a shorter time, being less constraint than ever. Even if we only had two abilities, we could spam the sh#t of of those if they were instant. Especially the parallelism MoP gave us (pet, hunter, dire beast, MoC, etc) is an issue. If all those abilities were serial, took longer to cast, were hard to cast due to resource constrants, etc we’d be fine.

      You want higher signature shots, you must also accept higher focus cost, longer cooldowns, less parallelism/dots, etc. In essence anything that will not increase chain-crit-burst-ability too much. Else the PvP nerf axe will come down quick and hard again on us PvE guys…

      Personally I don’t want to be a TBC Hunter of Mage again, with so little buttons. More is more IMHO. You can I believe also solve the button bloatness, by having less to press at a certain amount of time as opposed to removing abilities. Now you easily can pres sthem all, and therefore must press them all, all the time. They all fit both time and focuscost wise. It is tight, but as we all know it can be done.

      Example: If MoC will be a cast of 3 seconds, you cannot just cast it during opening, but you would have to choose. Or if focus generation was back at Cata levels (pre-2pc bonus), you’d have to cast so many Cobra/Steady that MoC perhaps really was perhaps not worth it. You could then make MoC more powerful. Only when those choices exist, can they make shots and abilities more powerful. Not making proposals here, but making an example.

      The second core issue I believe – again IMHO – that more is more difficult, but currently being better does not yield into better dps. If handling all those buttons better, would result in topping the charts it was a reward. Now you’d still end up below the arcane/cobra spammer simply because he/she has 5 ilvl’s higher gear.

      • Garfurion says:

        Neither the current situation with too many abilities that do too little damage, nor the TBC single button macro situation are ideal.

        The basic rotations of the specs are fine and stampede fits the class well as a burst ability (with or without the pet-stacking mini-game).

        I think that most of the talented abillities like glaive-toss, powershot, direbeast, etc… are causing the button bloat. Most are abilities that we “need” to incorporate in our rotations instead of being situational abilities.

        I would like to see Blizzard change some of our talents to either replace baseline abilities (like Multi-Shot) or turn them into spec specific abilities.

        BM: Lynx Rush can replace Multi-shot as BM’s AoE ability, MoC can replace Kill Shot and Dire Beast can be combined with Focus Fire.

        SV: Glaive Toss as SV AoE (even if only for the looks)

        MM: Barage can replace Multi-Shot

  11. Ragepoundin says:

    Great article! I’ve often wondered why they can’t make arena class changes only affect that class in an arena? Too much work maybe? But then would it really be more work than all the trouble it brings to pve balance? I see homogenization problem beginning with a class design adding to many buttons and then going to it’s current extreme because of pvp. I really hate how hunters current damage is mostly about item lvl and balancing. Why should I be getting Carpel Tunnel with all these buttons when I can just hit arcane shot for about the same damage… I had a boss fight last week that I performed my rotation and timing PERFECLY without much of a result for the normal curve. Losing fun factor…

  12. Nunya says:

    As a hunter that has struggled greatly in this expansion, I wouldnt mind a dumbing down of the rotation. I did fine in wrath and cata, but since pandaria I havent been able to get the rotations down enough and cant get a raider position in my guild to save my life, when in the past I could at least be within 80% of the top DPS parses. Now im barely able to hit 120k on non superbuff fights, and the more complex the fight, the lower my dps, and I have meta gem, 4 piece and 523 ilevel.

    Im sorry for all of you who enjoy having the complexity, but the difference between the average top players and guys who gear, gem, chant, and spec properly, play the highest dps spec, and can at least stay out of the fire shouldnt be a freaking ravine. Id like to be able to do 160k dps if the top guys out there are doing 200k.

  13. Fanny says:

    we need more situational abilities, or ones that actually work in raiding environment, and fewer buttons in our rotation. i want to be able to support my group and help downing stuff, i want to be involved in the strat, instead of simply focussing on the rotation. working with the tanks to set up perfect binding shots felt great. i want more of this kind of things. a raid cooldown maybe? a special aspect? better traps?

    all while keeping up with the dps, of course. not our rotation should be complex, the content should be. we have plenty of tricks in our toolbox, we should be able to use them. complex rotations become boring eventually, i’m already very tired of it. ever-changing content doesn’t.

    ps: oh, blizz can ***beep*** arenas. they are the reason for most of our stupid changes.

  14. Iridar says:

    WoW has too much automatic damage, and I don’t even understand why is there such a thing as autoattack. Imagine having a double-barreled shotgun.You can shoot from one barrel, reload it and shoot again. You can load it with different types of ammo, pelletes, slugs and whatnot. If you concentrate hard enough, you can shoot really fast (Rapid Fire).
    The second barrel shoots and reloads on its own, with zero attention from the shooter, you only need to point it in the general direction of the target. Does this make any sense? No, it’s not, and neither is auto-attack. I understand the need for it back in vanilla days, when hunters had two and a half abilities, but now, seeing as we’re GCD capped, I don’t understand why it’s still there.
    Currently, my Arcane Shots as BM deal rougly 25% of overall hunter DPS (not counting the pet and Kill Commands). So does auto-attack. Why not roll autoattack damage into arcane shot? Overall damage stays the same, with possible tweaks during Bestial Wrath, and then perhaps I could see my shots do more than tickle.

  15. Turadran says:

    Long time Hunter and fan of your site here, first time poster.

    I am very grateful for your comment about DPS having become a “timing simulation.”

    This is how I’ve felt for a while. There have to be other ways of separating the lazy from the skilled during boss fights and other encounters besides making the button sequence more complicated.

  16. Hetman says:

    Always lead with math if it is at the crux.

    I like it anyway.

  17. Chandrassa says:

    Just posting to agree, and say thanks for pointing this out. As it was, readiness rotations were the only thing I stressed about getting right, and now readiness is leaving. On the bright side, that recent blue post suggested that we can expect a buff to our signature shots… of course, it won’t be hard to press a button once every six seconds…