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How Meta Skews Spec Strength Perception - A Collaboration by Wowhead Writers
13/02/2019 alle 19:00
Ever thought about the importance of the meta in World of Warcraft? We invited some of the Wowhead Class Writers to discuss the impact of the meta, including factors that influence perceptions and how players can overcome the challenges that each meta poses. The Wowhead
participating in this collaboration are:
A specter is haunting Azeroth - the ever looming presence of the meta. It affects players at all levels of difficulty; from the casual pugging normal runs on Sunday nights, to the hardcore mythic raider that's gearing up several alts. Its tendrils reach both the bloody arenas of PvP and the shrouded groups in Mythic+. It takes the form of bouncers standing guard in the dungeon finder and bosses pressuring you to reroll to the 'better' spec. It shapes and turns the way we look at the game and skews our perception of strength.
There are many opinions of what exactly constitutes the meta. Some say that it's the spec that deals the highest damage. Another might suggest that it's a specific setup in Mythic+. A third could grumpily claim that it's another spec of the class they play, which is so much less fun. Truth is, all of these people are right. The meta is what we as a community perceive to be the strongest. It exists in pretty much all situations; we will always find a way to crown the optimal DPS, the fastest comp and the superior spec.
What we define as "strong", and therefore meta, changes for each situation where the meta exists. In Mythic+, utility is an extremely important aspect of the meta. The
Presa di Malacarne
from the Blood
Cavaliere della Morte
, unique effects like these contribute greatly to making these classes part of the Mythic + meta. It doesn't matter that an Unholy
Cavaliere della Morte
deals the most damage in big AoE, or that Demonology
pump on bosses; they don't bring the required utility to be a mainstay of the meta.
In raids, many things can influence how the meta comes to materialize over the course of a tier. However, it usually falls into 3 categories depending on the makeup of the raid: damage output, environmental/encounter factors, or unique utility. A quick example of each of these:
Incubo di Smeraldo
was heavily influenced by the existence of Shadow
s due to the original
Resa alla Pazzia
. This was so oppressively powerful in the hands of a good player that it dictated how high the possible output of your raid was, and in tandem how you could tackle different encounters.
Environmental factors usually encompass raid tiers that have significant punishment on certain damage/survival archetypes. A quick example is the drastic shift in the strength of
Soffio di Sindragosa
when moving from
Rocca della Notte
Tomba di Sargeras
. The different encounter layouts heavily impacted a spec that required high uptime in cooldown related windows and made the ability too cumbersome to capitalize upon, thus forcing it out.
Unique utility is something that is much harder to predict, but when it happens it is made abundantly clear. The clearest cut example is the strength of Aspect of the Fox in Blackrock Foundry, or more recently
These are tools that are so fundamental to the most difficult encounters in a given tier that the class is effectively given a pass and in many cases a requirement of a successful raid team. Healing in the current Dazar'alor raid has also had strong examples of how unique utility has affected the meta. Resto
Totem del Risveglio Ancestrale
to reset stacks on the
encounter so that tanks do not need to swap or the power of
Totem del Collegamento Spirituale
on most encounters in the raid have pushed
from an underwhelming performer in Uldir to a must-have in
Battaglia di Dazar'alor
When fight mechanics become more favorable to a class, in conjunction with throughput buffs, a spec can quickly skyrocket to the top.
Now, knowing that these three things can happen, any one of them can be the overarching theme of a tier. This isn't to say that some classes might evade some of the more specific instances of this, but it is always a possibility that any of these three could push one spec or class into or out of the ideal group.
How is the Meta Created?
The formation of the meta is like the birth of a river: it gains strength through the addition of many smaller streams. It flows from the content creators of Twitch, showing us their choices when playing at a high level. It is forged in the endlessly scrolling channels of class Discords, where thousands of people gossip about their opinions. It is broadcast around the world, when the best players of the world compete for the coveted MDI trophy or the prestigious world first. When close to its source, like the start of an expansion, the meta is unknown to most people and opinion rules all. However, after it has gained enough traction, it's a fast-moving tidal wave that ripples throughout all areas of the community.
We now play a game that is somewhat different from what it used to be. Players are identified less as members of their given community as an individual; and instead are defined by their class, logs, and progress/raider.io score. It has never been easier to quickly search for, and access a large number of, players for your content that fits your desired ideals. Therefore it makes perfect sense for many players to take the easy way out; pick the
for your +10 run instead of the Survival
who has an equal score; auto-decline the Guardian
because it isn't the tank you want, or wait for a couple more minutes until a decent Blood
Cavaliere della Morte
has applied. It's so easy to make these choices, and we are to some degree justified in making them. It's formed by risk aversion, why risk wasting 30 minutes in a failed run when you can hang around for 5 to get a perfect comp? Chances are, we are more likely to do well on the key if we run with a better setup. The reality is for many players though, most of the time you would've done just fine with something that deviates from the ideal.
Even though your class might only be slightly worse at the content you apply for, it is disproportionally more difficult to gain admission to it. Just as your first entry-level job might require previous job experience, the difficulty of finding groups only makes it more difficult to join groups in the future. Without a guild or a group of friends, gaining access to higher levels of content as a non-meta class can be excruciatingly slow, and often requires a lot of time wasted on unnecessary content to climb the ladder one rung at a time.
The question is: is the meta the absolute truth? Are the favored specs so much stronger, and are the rest really that much worse? The answer is arguably no; the meta skews our perception of strength as a self-fulfilling prophecy. In reality, all specs are viable in the majority of current content. A good player will perform well in any class, regardless of how bad it is perceived to be. Furthermore, the meta can sometimes get it wrong if it is formed before all avenues are explored. The community as a whole sometimes misses certain talent combinations or situations where a spec could perform much better.
How is it then that our skewed perceptions evolve? Why do they affect us so much and how can they be wrong? Most of it boils down to our ability as humans to trivialize complex and nuanced situations. We look at two competing specs within a class and if one of them performs 1% better than the other, we instantly label it as better. If we are to make a choice between two players of different classes, we assume that the player of the \u2018superior' class will automatically perform better. When seeing a player with a low Raider.io-score, we assume he has no idea of what he's doing. We superimpose general trends in every situation we encounter, thus making us correct on average. Too often now simple numerical values are assigned to make judging a player easier, be it expected DPS, HPS or .io score. Working out whether damage profiles, utility, and survivability is often too hard to assign a metric too, so can be frequently lost in the ether.
Being wrong is something the meta knows all too well. Early assumptions and guesses can often be false, setting the meta off on the wrong foot at the most volatile period. Often these early expectations of what is and isn't good are defined by a number of factors. This is usually sourced from raid testing, simulations, a touch of common sense or experience, and what has historically done well in the expansion thus far (patch day nerfs notwithstanding). That's really the only way that people can judge what might be good when they step into the first raid (and why many theorycrafters are intentionally vague in the lead up), but what is usually tends to crystallize over the first month of a given patch.
This is often a slow burn of people seeing strong players perform well, murmurings on forums and statistical data showing classes exceeding expectations. As this begins to coalesce, a rough hierarchy is formed that becomes the building blocks of the early meta during a patch. It might be that one Mage spec is better than the others, that Balance is better than Feral, that Monks are weak, that Rogues are mandatory - and it tends to cause many to overthink how important these 'facts' are compared to the reality of the situation. Often the difference is not nearly as stark as is painted, and that can lead to many specs being left behind and unexplored.
A great example of this was in
Regno del Tuono
, when Enhancement
were privy to a number of extremely powerful raid healing tools both in
and the since-retired Glyph of Healing Storm when coupled with Healing Rain. In combination, this effectively allowed them to slot in as an additional healer when the situation called for it with minimal impact on their damage output. This flew under the radar during most of the progress due to Enhancement being seen as an underperforming spec. As the tier continued it became increasingly obvious that it was an overwhelmingly powerful utility option. This was quickly removed entirely before the following tier,
Assedio di Orgrimmar
, was released. This indicated that not only was it strong enough to warrant immediate action but was left completely untapped in the only progress period it existed. While these events are few and far between, it's entirely possible that in any given patch something out there exists that could be tier defining but has not been adequately researched.
This concept is echoed in the fact that sweeping nerfs such as this are often reserved for meta defining specs due to their power in specific scenarios. Demonology
in particular show just how dominant a single spec can be when we look at
Fonderia dei Roccianera
. The sheer power of burst windows and front-loaded AoE in many of the encounters made it a powerhouse - so much so that the expected nerf came quickly alongside the infamous "We'd rather you didn't play Demonology" quote.
Progressing the Meta
The meta isn't driven solely through anecdotal evidence; it also makes use of hard data to fortify it. Logs, simulations and player testing all contribute to determine what is best. However, the data we use to evaluate different specs isn't always telling the objective truth. Just like the players, in a somewhat ironic way it is affected in a circular loop by the meta itself. Let's have a look at a quick case study of this happening.
We'll base this discussion on the specific example of Unholy and Frost
Cavaliere della Morte
during Mythic Uldir, but all the arguments and examples can be transferred to pretty much any class with multiple DPS specs in any tier. Let's say that Frost is objectively 1% better than Unholy; objectively meaning that if we split the player base completely in half and then measure their performance, that's the number we would get. The reality is that the difference won't be 1%, it will be magnified by the fact that Frost is perceived as superior.
When a new tier hits or class changes are made, the most dedicated players will quickly figure out which spec fits the fights better. They will choose whichever has the advantage, mostly independently of how tangible this advantage is. The rest of the player base follows this as gospel assuming there is some secret trick, and you end up with a large population disparity between specs. In Mythic Uldir, the ratio of Frost to Unholy is 4 to 1. Furthermore, dedicated players that play at a high level are more likely to switch to the better performing spec. We can see this by looking at the spec representation on the different bosses, and the deeper into progress we go, the larger the ratio.
This also means that one spec will be better geared on average. If we look at the 95th percentile parses on Taloc, Frost had an average ilvl of 381.8 (400) and Unholy 381.0 (200). The numbers in the parentheses here correspond to the number of parses used. The DPS for the two different specs were on average 15k and 13.6k, a 1400 DPS gap.
To figure out how much of this gap is caused by the difference in ilvl, we can look at how DPS scales with ilvl: We see that DPS scales linearly with ilvl between 370 and 380 (there are small outliers but these can be discarded as edge cases). Fitting a straight line to the orange curve, we see that 1 ilvl is worth roughly 250 DPS. We can, therefore, draw a conclusion that roughly 250 of the 1400 DPS difference can be attributed to the difference in item lvl of the two specs. This means that the gap is 20% greater than it would've been if both specs had the same average ilvl.
It could be argued that this difference actually isn't due to the fact that Unholy has worse gear, but instead only because Unholy chooses to play with items at low ilvl (such as certain trinkets which are really strong even at lower ilvl). However, the opposite is true: Frost is the spec that plays with low ilvl trinkets (
Distintivo del Gladiatore Terrificante
beats 385 raid trinkets at 340 ilvl). The DPS from the gear gap is therefore at least 20%, but most likely slightly larger.
Gear difference is only one effect that we can attribute to the meta; there are others that are not as easily quantifiable. This includes the shift of skill between the different specs. As we previously saw, players at a high level are more likely to switch to the better spec. This means that high performing players will disproportionately populate this spec. The effect of this is that the 95th percentile of Frost will contain, on average, objectively better players. If we were to look at the average rank of these players compared to all Death Knights, Frost would rank significantly higher. This exponentially increases the gap from two sides, making it seem even more stark.
Exactly how much of players' DPS that can be attributed to skill, and how much this contributes to the overall gap between any two specs, is something we don't know. However, it is hard to argue against it being a contributing factor, and it increases the gap.
That is not to say that imbalances do not exist; there are certainly imbalances and clear situations whereby certain specs outperform others, and it is important to acknowledge this. However in many cases, the degree to which a spec might overperform is exaggerated. This means for many players to temper expectations when you are told how wide the gulf is. Maybe a little experimentation will show that despite popular belief, you can do just fine as the spec you enjoy without feeling forced to change.
Healing is a great example of this. Unlike the DPS role, healing is a zero-sum game and is often not built on doing your maximum healing per second throughout the entire encounter. Instead, a non-meta healer can perform very highly through superior experience and skill in dealing with incoming damage. Spending only the required mana to be able to top off allies and avoid running oom is a key skill for healers no matter what the meta holds for them. Some encounters can heavily lean on unique utility from certain healers or classes such as
Totem del Risveglio Ancestrale
, curse dispels (i.e.
Mitica: Conclave dei Prescelti
Dissoluzione di Massa
Balzo della Fede
, etc. When selecting your healing roster these are often foremost in an officer's mind but so to should be the player behind the character. How well they handle progression raiding, surviving mechanics and contributing to the team in a positive way. Healers will often have a spec or two that are considered "mediocre" or off-meta but just like with DPS, a skilled player operating any spec will be bound to do well.
To add to this point, a certain specialization might perform better in the right situation or the right gear. Evidence of this happening has shown up throughout tiers, and have sometimes defined how a fight is dealt with above and beyond what was originally expected. For example, Subtlety
by design fit perfectly into the Zul encounter with a bit of strategic planning. Were they the best
spec throughout Uldir? Arguably not, but knowing your strengths and how you can exploit them makes you a better player than most and having that flexibility to try something you think may break the mold may just help your guild break through that wall. After all, what can you lose from a few wipes trying?
This article might seem slightly cynical and heavily analytical at a first glance. However, the whole purpose of it is to help you as a player overcome the challenges that each meta can pose to you. Try not to overthink it like so many do, and avoid dwelling on the negatives that tend to surround both your favorite spec and those that you are looking to play with. We play this game because we enjoy doing so, so choose to play the spec that you get the most out of. You are more likely to perform well playing a spec you love to play! Remind your raid leader to bring the player first and foremost, try to be more accommodating when you start your own groups and prove everyone wrong by excelling at the spec you love to play.
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