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Character effectiveness in WoW: what's the player skill: gear ratio?
December 18, 2013 9:11 AM   Subscribe

At or near the top end of the WoW performance curve, how much does gear contribute compared to player skill?

I've started playing World of Warcraft and am having a great time. I've been leveling with dungeons and quests and played with people of, shall we say, varying competence.

This has made me wonder about the contributions of player skill vis a vis gear (item level). How much of a given character's effectiveness in her role is due to gear and how much is due to the skill of the player? I asked my guild mates, and they had two major replies. First, that because the latest content (which I have not played as I am not even close to max level) is gated by item level, there's no real way to see if an undergeared but highly skilled player can be as effective as a lousy player with great gear. This was disputed by some members so I don't even know if it's true or not. Second, that the increases in power granted by the top tier gear compared to the tiers directly below are so large that any player can face roll their way to victory with the top level gear, no matter how unskilled they are at the game. This is an appealing idea to me because quite frankly I am terrible at video games.

My actual question: given equal skill levels, how much performance difference is there between a character of a given class with 496 item level gear and a character of the same class with 522 item level gear? Could a very skilled player of a given class in 496 item level gear perform at the level of an average skill player of the same class in 522 item level gear?
posted by Sternmeyer to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
It depends some on the class and the content. For example, in a straightforward fight against a single enemy, most DPS classes just run through the same cycle of abilities over and over. It's pretty close to autopilot, so long as they don't pull aggro. In that case, gear level will dominate.

Compare that to, say, a healer in a fight involving multiple enemies or an enemy that threatens the whole party. Then they have to keep tabs on multiple players and make sure their healing keeps pace with the damage being dealt while staying efficient enough not to run out of mana. Skill is pretty important there. Gear can help a lot, but it can't make up for using mana-inefficient spells or simply failing to keep people healed.
posted by jedicus at 9:29 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Disclaimer: I haven't played WoW since Wrath of the Lich King.)
posted by jedicus at 9:29 AM on December 18, 2013


Oh lord. My husband does extensive research into this, as he is in a Very Serious Raiding Guild, and his stats from older gear sets sometimes showing him outperforming better geared players, but he says it's not easy. For a skilled 496 I-Level player to out-perform an average 522 I-Level, the 522 I-level player would have to be "kinda bad"--but that a really good 496 I-Level could match a 522 I-level player because "not playing a class well loses a lot of effectiveness, despite gear". But he doesn't have hard numbers handy and can't give a better answer than that.

Apparently, the next expansion has an item level adjust because "at max level, the gear increases [effectiveness] exponentially."
posted by crush-onastick at 9:31 AM on December 18, 2013


I've not raided in an expansion or two also, but my experience mirrors jedicus's. DPS classes tend to have a lower skill cap than tanks and tanks lower than healers (someone will argue tanks and healers are flipped there).

For raiding, each encounter also has its own skill cap that depends on the mechanics involved and how much coordination is needed.

The lower the skill cap, the more important pure i-level is. Higher the skill cap doesn't necessarily make up for bad gear, but those encounters are typically tuned with lower raw-gear requirements allowing skill to shine through a bit more than just having the best gear.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:37 AM on December 18, 2013


Can a skilled player with lower ilvl gear perform as well as or better than a crap player with higher gear? Absolutely, if they're a very skilled player. As jedicus pointed out, there's some variance depending on class, role, spec, and type of fight. DPS is more heavily gear-dependent than a healer, but tanking's the most skill-dependent of all roles.

I'm in a raiding guild, though not a raider; but I can and have come in as a sub who's staggeringly under-geared, and held my own. But then, I play a druid (Feral/Guardian specs), and have done since Vanilla, so I've got 8+ years experience playing those specs and that class. I hope I don't sound like a bragging asshole, but playing a feral druid, I've often been the one to save a PUG that's gone horribly wrong when the tank and healer die. I rez the healer, go bear form to tank, and can take and dish out enough punishment while healing myself to take the boss down. While I am an experienced player, the druid is a class specifically designed to be that versatile, as are shamans and paladins. Could I do that as a rogue, priest, or mage? Hell, no.

I'd worry less about gear level, because that will put you at the mercy of what drops. Go and practice in the Proving Grounds, and in PUGs. It can be daunting to learn what every single spell and ability do, but it's worth it in the long run, I think.
posted by culfinglin at 9:44 AM on December 18, 2013


I haven't played recently, but I played a druid back in the day and got fairly familiar with all the roles. I felt the easiest to hop into a raid with less gear as a healer than anything else - mostly because a lot of it is skill - knowing when and where to heal. Usually you need to take more healers than you'd strictly need if everyone played perfectly, just because people screw up sometimes and you're mostly just there to give them room to do that and not waste everyone's time with a wipe.

Tanking, I feel like gear is kind of a binary thing - either you can take the spike damage you need without dying or you can't, and everything on top of that is largely gravy relative to knowing positioning and fights and when to use cooldowns and general situational awareness.

DPS is probably the hardest to join in as since it is more gear based. So the main thing is being able to not screw up and die. Because you can't fight when you're dead. Once you're past that point, it's much harder to differentiate yourself, and since there are more people who want to play DPS classes proportionally than the tanks or healers you need, you may end up not raiding as much as you'd like if you're a newcomer.

If you're talking PvP, that's another whole beast which I know little about. But gear matters pretty substantially.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:57 AM on December 18, 2013


Oh, and the spouse has this addition:

For DPS classes, on a target dummy, absolutely, the higher geared average player can match or beat the lower geared skill player. Probably even on an ordinary MOB, but when you get into boss mechanics, not so much because dealing with mechanics pulls you away from the pure DPS measurement where you can more readily separate the skill from the gear.

"Let's put it this way, when I'm in a PUG, and I've out performed someone and I found out they're five gear levels above me, I feel I did it right."
posted by crush-onastick at 10:01 AM on December 18, 2013


Gear matters a lot, mainly because there's a large random input into most high-level encounters. If the mechanics drop a large bomb on your team at the wrong moment, all the skills in the world won't matter as much as large enough health and mana pools. Those numbers are generated from your gear numbers.

Skill matters a lot, because all those dps and hps and hp numbers only theoretically let you complete the encounter before that bomb shows up or the enrage timer runs out.

Lack of skill means a team never sees the enrage timer because they wipe due to stupid fails. Lack of gear means a team always sees the enrage timer because while they know the fight and can survive crazy attacks, they can't put up the numbers to beat the timer.

It's not so much which is more important. When you push your team--go after heroics or hard modes--you'll see where your weaknesses are, and weaknesses in either will cause problems. The best teams have to constantly be hammering on both.
posted by Wilbefort at 11:53 AM on December 18, 2013


First, that because the latest content (which I have not played as I am not even close to max level) is gated by item level, there's no real way to see if an undergeared but highly skilled player can be as effective as a lousy player with great gear.

While it's true that my i496 priest can't hit the last raids of the game, the higher ilvl players can and do run the lower raids (this is all LFR), so you can make comparisons. I've run with people who have astounding gear but even after 90 levels of every mechanic imaginable, have absolutely NO common sense. They're blowing mana on big heals when it's not necessary, they're not moving out of fire, they don't get that when the boss pulls you in, you should -- 9 times out of 10 -- run back out. That common sense is the equalizer.

Personally, I don't like running dungeons/heroics/raids until I have slightly outgeared it (doable through rep grinds/world bosses, etc) because the extra gear gives me extra confidence when I don't know the mechanics yet.
posted by kimberussell at 12:00 PM on December 18, 2013



My actual question: given equal skill levels, how much performance difference is there between a character of a given class with 496 item level gear and a character of the same class with 522 item level gear? Could a very skilled player of a given class in 496 item level gear perform at the level of an average skill player of the same class in 522 item level gear?


I used to run a top 1000 raiding guild. Player skill is the most important thing, hands down.

It's not so much about the numbers, because the numbers by and large don't matter. All the gear in the world won't get the tank to face the dragon away from the raid, it won't keep your tank healed, and it won't keep DPS from standing in fire. Mechanics are mechanics and you have to really, really, outclass the fight to be able to ignore mechanics - and even then sometimes you can't ignore the mechanics.

A fixation on gear is an incorrect fixation anyway. The gear will come with an increase skill. The faster the players can learn the fights, do the mechanics, and not make dumb mistakes the sooner the bosses go down and the more raids you can complete in a week - soon you're DEing crap other people on the server would give a kidney for.

Without skill, the raids fail, you spend hours recovering from wipes and your GL takes up drinking and avoiding logging into vent. Better gear just makes the raids go faster.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:18 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, to be blunt, if your guildmates think one tier of ilvls is more significant than player skill, then your guildmates are probably not top performers themselves, and you're going to be fine just collecting the gear and playing along with them.

It's well out of date, but the guy at Greedy Goblin used to rant about this all the time, and he formed a team called Undergeared to pull off stunts like downing Yogg-Saron and most other Northrend raid bosses in blue gear (i.e. gear not intended to last beyond the first raid instance).

It's not the hardest game, but you still might be surprised at the optimizations and quick reactions involved in peak performance. This is also out of date, but it's an analysis of a mage winning an arena championship that gives you some idea of what's possible. WoW is an extremely easy game to feel successful at, but there's also plenty to master.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:56 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


First, that because the latest content (which I have not played as I am not even close to max level) is gated by item level, there's no real way to see if an undergeared but highly skilled player can be as effective as a lousy player with great gear. This was disputed by some members so I don't even know if it's true or not.

Just incidentally, unless something has changed in the past year, the gated content checks for whether your bag has the gear in it to qualify you for the raid. You don't have to wear it, and an experiment like Undergeared should still be possible.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:39 PM on December 18, 2013


Gear vs. skill is also a kind of...not silly, but specific argument. Gear sets are mathematically optimized about 10 minutes after the gear stats are mentioned. Will anyone but the top 1% ever have that gear set in current content? Naaaaah. But in that 1%? Assume everyone has functionally the same gear and it is ENTIRELY skill based (and at the top, top levels, tiny adjustments and milliseconds count...it ain't easy to be a top guild with 25 moving parts).

The argument breaks down when you look at the other 99%. There is your group near the top 10-15% that does their gear optimization as best they can, and it generally follows that they will be skill based as well, since they will eventually be running heroic-level content, just not in the first week. There, class, skill, and familiarity will be king, but it varies with class. Mage right now? The rotation isn't hard, so the difference between 496 and 522 geared people will be gear based. Feral is the hardest rotation in the game (at least, that is commonly said), so a great 496 vs. a meh 522? Probably going to be a lot closer together, since it will be hard for a nubcake to balance all those DoTs.

Then you just see the rest fall into place pretty randomly as you get into people who do nothing but run LFR, and don't have a consistent raid team.

So, that all is for DPS. Healers and tanks overall rely on more "soft skills". Tanks are rated on how little damage they take and overall leadership qualities. If a tank is very good at cooldown usage, they will be way better rated than even the best geared numbskull who forgets they have cooldowns. If they take charge very well and smoothly can lead a raid through CC, fight explanation, tank switches, adds, raid callouts, ready checks, and all the rest - even a squishier tank can be well regarded. (Tanking is my jam, ask if you wanna know more about the role. XD)

Healers....if the raid is alive at the end and your healer buddy doesn't want to cut your throat, gear doesn't matter.
posted by aggyface at 1:40 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Skill also includes knowing the fights in advance, having your gear correctly gemmed, reforged and enchanted, bringing the right consumables, being able to pay attention for moderately long periods and being a team player.
posted by meepmeow at 2:45 PM on December 18, 2013


Gear is only greater than skill if you've mastered the essential skill of not dying.*

Simple numbers example: If I do 100 damage per second, and am alive for the entirety of a 1-minute fight, I've now done 6000 damage to the boss. If my gear is better, so I can maybe do a colossal 150 damage per second, but I die halfway through and am only fighting for 30 seconds, I only do 4500 damage.

Personally, I've never had the highest gearscore in my raid groups, but I always keep up on the meters by maximizing my uptime (% of time actually doing damage.)

*not dying includes defensive cooldowns (deterrence, ice block, divine protection, etc.) as well as mobility cooldowns (sprint, disengage, blink) to get out of bad faster.

All of this gear/skill/rotation min-max stuff really only comes into play if you're alive and on the boss. Master those skills first. (Not that the game gives you much chance to do so before max level due to old content nerfs. But try!)
posted by Wulfhere at 4:12 PM on December 18, 2013


Mechanics are mechanics and you have to really, really, outclass the fight to be able to ignore mechanics - and even then sometimes you can't ignore the mechanics.

I remember in Cataclysm, or maybe it was WotLK, a random group of us got together to run AQ40 because why not? We had completed the expansion's quests and were looking for something to do. So, why not just roll through some old content? We didn't have 40 members, but we weren't really worried, we were close enough. Remember, when Burning Crusade first came out, the gear you immediately got from quests were so far and beyond the gear in Vanilla. And this trend tends to continue throughout the expansions. So, even though we were lacking in numbers, we were obviously outclassing what AQ was designed for. Yet, we couldn't for the life of us defeat the Twins.

Despite the huge advantages we had, we just didn't have enough synergy to actually complete the boss mechanics. I think after a number of tries we just gave up.
posted by SollosQ at 5:26 PM on December 18, 2013


Came into say the same thing as Wulfhere: the most important skill is not dying. When you get to endgame, all of the raids will have some sort of mechanic(s) that will either take individual players out as you go along, or set a timer on the encounter such that the boss enrages and blows up the raid. Think of it as a mini-game. In a raid encounter, you have to competently do whatever your class is supposed to do (tank, dps, heal) and you have to do whatever the mini-game is for that particular encounter without making a mistake.
posted by kovacs at 5:31 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I haven't played since WotLK and I was never in any top raiding guilds. I always took raiding very seriously but I just couldn't put in 4 days a week for raiding, so I was always in guilds who tried their best for 3 nights a week. I've played warlock and hunter at different points and have always been top or near top DPS in whatever guild I was in.

Looking at guides on the gear, it seems like it makes a significant difference. I found this website http://www.noxxic.com/wow/dps-rankings and it looks like there's almost a 25% difference between the maximum dps for 496 gear and 522 gear.

That being said, I don't know if I would necessarily call it skill as much as I would say that there's a big difference due to preparation and dedication. As others have said, not dying is the biggest boost to your DPS, but the little things do add up. For every second you're out of position and moving to get where you need to be, that's a second you're not DPSing. Having the right gems, consumables, enchantments, talents, glyphs or whatever they have now all contribute.

For another example of big differences due to little things, one time there was another hunter in my guild who had nearly identical gear to me, but I was killing him in DPS. We went to the training dummies to find out what was going on. Turns out it was because I was constantly mashing the next button in my DPS rotation so it would fire immediately. He was waiting until the previous skill was done and then pushing the button. That 200ms of human reaction time was probably dropping his DPS by 20%. Same class, same gear, same rotation, etc, but a huge difference just from how you push buttons.

I think the important thing is to learn as much about your class and the fights and be a heads up player. Gear will come when you're raiding with people who you trust and who can rely on you in return.
posted by cali59 at 9:42 PM on December 18, 2013


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