Originally posted in the PTR forums:
Since there isn’t another thread, I will express my concerns, and the concerns of several of the knowledgeable people that work on Windwalker stuff with me, with the current state of Windwalker Monks on the PTR, both before and following the recent nerf of our t19 2pc and t20 4pc. I’m sure I’m becoming somewhat of a meme at Blizzard for the length and breadth of my posts, but… here we go.
Although it may seem like it, I am not asking specifically for Windwalkers to be buffed or claiming that we don’t have enough damage. So far the reactionary buffs have been appropriate, bringing Windwalkers from far below to the bottom of the average range when (consistently) needed. I understand statistics and that someone has to be at the bottom. What I’m concerned with, and writing about, is the Windwalker community and its continued decline in size, skill, and confidence.
I’ve been playing Windwalker since a few weeks into Mists and been an active part in the community since Throne of Thunder, and one of the de facto leaders for several years. So I’ve been around for awhile, seen the ups and downs, and talked to hundreds of players, heard their concerns and why they chose to play Windwalker or change to another spec, for a real long time.
The first thing I wanted to do was to look at spec and class representation for as far back as I could look.
Not only have Windwalkers been the least represented of the top specs of each class, but the proportion of Windwalkers in raids slowly declining since their introduction, with a spike at the start of Legion when the rework made it much more accessible and fun for more players.
Comparing Windwalkers to Demon Hunters, as the two newest classes, is an insane realization that even at their most represented in Mythic raids, Windwalkers (in Siege) were 2.2% less represented than Demon Hunters in their least represented Mythic raid so far, Trial of Valor pre 7.1.5. There are many factors that cause Windwalkers to consistently be the lowest representation, no small part due to starting at level 1 when other newer classes have started at 55 and 98. However, small population is an oft mentioned drawback for many players looking to consider giving Windwalker a try.
Just looking at the Windwalker numbers in Legion, 2.8% Mythic representation at the start of EN has been cut nearly in half to 1.58% currently, and that’s with a small rise from 7.2.5. In Heroic, the drop is from 3% to 2%. If all specs were evenly distributed, Windwalker would be 4.16% of the population, but its below half of that in Heroic and nearly ⅓ of it in Mythic. Obviously, that’s a perfect world where every spec is viable and played equally, but the reality is so far from it that it bears mentioning.
After writing this, it was pointed out to me where to find good data on M+ dungeons and class representation there:
Based on this data from Raider.io, Windwalkers are 2.4% of all M+ runs that they’ve recorded, over 5.7 million samples. This means that the problem isn’t specific to raiding, but to M+ also.
This data shows that in Mythic, Windwalker is toward the bottom, but within a standard deviation from the mean. In Heroic and Normal, however, Windwalkers are more than a standard deviation away from the mean, typically considered “outside of the normal range”. And when you factor in that Windwalker doesn’t have another spec to switch to, the comparison is even worse since players who want to play Monk and want to DPS only have one option, Windwalker or nothing.
The problem with Windwalker being within a standard deviation from the mean in Mythic is that its information only someone who’s looking for it will find and gather. What people care about, right or wrong, is that Windwalker is toward the bottom of the colored bar graphs they look at, whether it’s the SimCraft stacked rankings with all their caveats that people don’t know about or ignore, or the data available on Warcraft Logs based on real world data:
- Mythic – 20th of 24: https://www.warcraftlogs.com/statistics/13#aggregate=amount
- Heroic – 22nd of 24: https://www.warcraftlogs.com/statistics/13#aggregate=amount&difficulty=4
- Normal – 22nd of 24: https://www.warcraftlogs.com/statistics/13#aggregate=amount&difficulty=3
- LFR – 22nd of 24: https://www.warcraftlogs.com/statistics/13#aggregate=amount&difficulty=1
When players come into Discord, considering playing Windwalker, saying they enjoy the spec, but concerned about how the DPS fairs compared to other, that’s the data they reference. That’s the data that people are basing their decisions on. They electronically nod their heads when we tell them that Windwalkers are better than those charts show, that they’re quite strong in difficult fights and, currently, in burst single target. But this is the majority who are taking the time to come ask, not the more casual or uninformed players who just accept the colored bar graphs as the word of God.
Those players see Windwalker toward the bottom, tier after tier, see that on Mythic, all 3 Warlock specs, all 3 Mage specs, both DK specs, 2 of 3 Hunter specs, and every class except Paladins are higher, and they base their decisions on that. They don’t know or don’t care that statistically Windwalker’s are “good enough”, that Windwalker is currently an incredibly fluid and fun spec, they don’t often get to that point in their thought process because of how those bars look. It may be an imperfect system and world, but it’s the reality that we’re living and playing in, whether its right or wrong.
This cut down on the amount of people willing to try Windwalker, willing to raid as a Windwalker, and the willingness of raid and guild leaders to consider Windwalkers for a raid spot. This has created a feedback loop where the people who do give Windwalker a try are told that they’re wasting their time, restricted from groups, or asked to reroll to a “better” spec/class, which then feeds into less players playing it, fewer “skilled” players playing it, and thus the colored bar graphs showing Windwalkers toward the bottom.
PTR T19/20 Nerfs
First let me start by saying that I understand the need for these nerfs, in principle. The current “6 piece” bonus is strong enough that it results in people running Nighthold for the chance of tier and higher titanforging (granted, that’s part of the point of the titanforging system right? Keeping past content relevant?). This is a bummer of a system for many, and enough that we’re seeing people avoid the spec because they don’t want the hassle of having to find a group to farm Nighthold. So I understand that the interaction between the tier bonuses is currently too strong.
However, with the new raid comes a new batch of easily attainable higher item level pieces. This new higher item level gear would have, except in extreme cases, be enough for nearly everyone to drop t19, and shortly after, t20 for higher item level pieces, even with the relatively meager current state of t21 bonuses. Even now people are seeing that t19 is not all powerful, and at this point in the raid cycle, some people are finding that it’s better for them to drop their t19 in favor of higher item level Tomb gear. Factor in other legendary choices, and it becomes even easier for people to drop the “6 piece” for Antorus gear. Fwiw, I explain it a little bit more in an article I wrote a few weeks ago: http://www.peakofserenity.com/2017/09/20/babstrodamus-7-3-5-prognostication/
The real problem with these nerfs is that they’re taking a spec that is already toward the bottom, based on current WCL data, and nerfing the gearing strategy that +90% of its users are using by 5% or more (we’re still trying to figure out, but 5% is kinda a minimum).
Players are looking at Windwalker now, seeing how low they are on the colored bars, and seeing that we got nerfed, and thinking “Well, no point in even thinking about Windwalker, it sucks now and is only gonna get worse.” Current Windwalkers are looking at the nerfs and feeling like a dying horse that’s just been hit again, not quite dead, but the prognosis isn’t good; as they try to continue to justify their raid spots to their raid leaders and justify the enjoyment of playing Windwalker when they could be doing more DPS, with more utility, and an easier rotation with several other specs. Raid and Guild leaders are asking their Windwalkers to consider other specs and classes.
No amount of us saying, “Yes, but there will be class tuning shortly into Antorus, and Windwalker has been decent after class tuning all Legion” is going to convince many of the people to ride it out. The prognosis for the first few weeks between 7.3.2 and any class balancing that sees Windwalkers get some likely needed buffs will be very rough for those who try to stick it out. I fear another post-nerf Highmaul situation of Windwalkers getting benched because of the spec, even in knowledgeable guilds with highly skilled players, due to a low ceiling.
Current PTR T21
If you’ve spent any time in the Windwalker channels of the Monk Discord, you’ll see countless people talking about the t21 bonuses and how “crap” they are, how “good”, and “fluid” the 6 piece combination feels, and how “t19 2pc should be baked in”. No amount of assurances from myself or a few others that we’ll be balanced appropriately in Antorus can assuage their concern about the “feel” of the spec.
Current Windwalker is smoooooth in single target: very appropriate energy regeneration for our abilities, without much excess or scarcity, abilities that work together and flow from one to another in a logical fluid manner, tier bonuses that increase how often the larger and interesting abilities are available, making the spec feel consistently powerful, and a burst cooldown that pairs so perfectly with tier bonuses and legendaries in such a perfect way, that it’s pushed Windwalkers into a realm of strength we’ve never seen before: burst single target.
Tier 21 bonuses throw that all out the window. Instead of a smooth and consistent rotation of flowing cooldowns and perfect resources, we’re given a feast of resources based on a proc with a base 8% chance and 8% more with traits. Windwalker will be overflowing with Chi with Blackout Kick! Proc becoming a bigger chunk of our damage (although still quite small with current tier balance), and going from being free to providing an extra Chi, for swing of +2 Chi compared to a normal Blackout Kick.
Tier 19 2p increases the number of RSK, so there is less excess Chi for BoK. Tier 20 2/4p does the same thing by increasing the number of FoF casts, leaving even LESS Chi for BoK. With those, my character should cast BoK an average of 6 times per minute (not counting those during Serenity NOR Blackout Kick! procs). Without those, the BoK rate goes to 14 per minute. Add in the Tier 21 bonuses and the BoK rate goes over 16 per minute, that’s more than 1 BoK every 4 seconds, when currently it’s 1 every 10. *All numbers based on my spreadsheet, but should be very accurate*
This overflow of Chi and Blackout Kicks lead to a devaluing of Serenity, a lack of GCDs to cast all the BoKs with, leading to needing to use Spinning Crane Kick in single target to dump the excess rather than waste it. If you add in the legendary Chest and its long Crackling Jade Lightning channel and the legendary Helm that will almost certainly also be the best legendary for single target, and you’re given so many resources and casts that, without dumping excess, would put you trying to squeeze 70 seconds of channeling and global cooldowns into every 60 seconds.
This is such a stark change in playstyle that its practically a different spec entirely, and feels as such on the PTR. Windwalkers are currently GCD locked with our tier bonuses, to the point of using Eye of the Tiger because there aren’t enough chances for Chi Wave, and t21 bonuses are 15-18% more casts. It’s just not temporally possible to play it without throwing Chi down the drain on Spinning Crane Kick that does less than half the damage per Chi that Blackout Kick does. There is not enough time to do everything, by a large margin.
I understand, from my perspective at least, that these tier bonuses are exactly what the people wanted. I was actively involved in the thread that suggested what has now become the 2pc, granted it was suggested at 300% and I calculated it would need to be closer to 450% to be roughly equivalent to the t19 2p bonus. I read people’s complaints and comments about how the spec feels too slow, seen people think that they need to be spamming something every second, and complain that Blackout Kick! is no more than an annoyance. I get that these bonuses assuage all those issues by making it do more damage, be more interesting with the extra chi, *clearly* drastically speed up the spec, cutting downtime to a negative level, and giving players MORE than enough to press every single second. We’ve learned our lesson.
The 2pc bonus is perfectly fine, in playstyle, but the 4pc is what is causing Windwalker to feel like a different spec, and one that many people are not liking at all. We’ve seen the top of the mountain with a fantastic playstyle from a set of tier bonuses in the “6 piece”, and understandably, anything different is going to feel inferior, but the t21 4pc seems to be the polar opposite, bottom of the valley, playstyle that I fear will drive away what little community there is left with variable, proc based, spammy playstyles; all 3 things that are the anti-thesis of what brought the majority of players to Windwalker in Legion; consistency, flow, and pace.
**From a more selfish standpoint, the current t21 4pc, and the effect it will have on needing to dump Chi with SCK will require an unfortunately large overhaul of parts of my spreadsheet filled with hair pulling and circular dependencies. Please don’t make me do it… please**
As I said previously, I’ve been a part of the Windwalker community for years. During that time I’ve defended developer actions, seen the methods to what others think is madness, and been derided for being an “apologist”. I’ve spent thousands of hours helping Windwalkers, talked people into continuing with the spec, and seen other big community figures quietly bow out to another class, or stick around in the community wishing they could play their Windwalker again. I’ve stuck around through all the Mastery changes, the good times of Rune of Re-Origination, and the bad times of post-nerf Highmaul. I was over the moon about the changes coming into Legion, loving how they’ll bring in an influx of new players to the community, and watched it slowly slip away over the course of the expansion.
In its best times, Windwalker wasn’t a popular spec, and we’re currently around the worst of times for spec representation. With the current community perception, t19/20 nerfs, and state of t21, it will take something large to reverse the trend that is continuing. I fear that even a few weeks between 7.3.2 and Antorus will be too much of a nail in the coffin for Windwalker to really recover without some unprecedented buff to make Windwalker toward the top of all the colored charts. As I mentioned above, I’m not asking for an “unprecedented buff”, or any buff at all, just hoping that all I’ve put forth here will identify that there is a problem that must have a solution other than slowly watching the community that I love get smaller and slip into some weird internet depression.
At the very least, the t21 2pc needs to be buffed and 4pc redesigned to help stem the tide of people reluctantly leaving. Incorporating the t19 2pc bonus into the spec’s base kit would also go a long way as it’s far and away the most popular request we see people hoping for on Discord.
And if this isn’t the way I should be doing things, then please advise, because this was many hours of research and writing, and it would really suck if it wasn’t helpful.