Are paladins popular enough yet?

I’m always fascinated when Zardoz publishes one of his regular Armoury Datamining updates – this is about as accurate a census as anyone outside Blizzard can hope to compile. It’s based on current armoury data, from which he can assemble tables of most popular classes, specs, races, and even most popular items of gear.

It’s a terrifically underused resource, but if you believe in the wisdom of crowds and want to know which are the most popular builds (for example) or which race has the most even gender split (blood elf, possibly because no-one can  tell the difference?), there’s a lot of current information to be had there.

So from Zardoz’ site, here’s the current state of the level 80 WoW population as of 21st Jan. There are ten classes, so a totally even split would give 10% of the population playing each one.

There is no information here about which characters are mains as opposed to alts, but that’s not such a big distinction as it once was.

% of level 80 characters Class
15.4 Paladin
13.8 Death Knight
11.4 Druid
9.9 Priest
9.8 Warrior
8.8 Mage
8.4 Shaman
8.2 Hunter
7.4 Rogue
7.4 Warlock

So, a few things that jump out.

  • Four out of the five most popular classes are (or can be) tanks
  • Three out of the four most popular classes are (or can be) healers
  • Four out of the five least popular classes can only dps.
  • The most popular class is over twice as popular as the least popular class.
  • The least popular class/spec combination is Subtlety specced Rogues which make up a mere 0.5% of the level 80 population.
  • Female Dwarf Rogue is still the way to go if you want to stand out, they are the least popular class/race/gender combination.

Zardoz also tabulates the most popular talent trees and specs for each class. So what role are those hybrids playing? It’s difficult for me to interpret Death Knight data since any talent tree could be a tank, so laying those aside.

Paladins: The majority are retribution, but both holy and protection are also popular secs. Paladins are relatively easy to play and have three strong trees at the moment, all of which are highly played. To put this in perspective, there are more people playing the second most popular paladin tree (Protection) than are playing the most popular druid tree (Resto).

Druid: The majority are resto, although feral isn’t far behind. I can’t tell how many of those feral druids are tanks, except to assume that it won’t be 100% of them. Balance lags behind – perhaps there are just plenty of options for people who want to play healer hybrids and not everyone wants to look like a fat owlbear while doing it.

Priest: Shadow beats out Holy for popularity by 0.4%, Discipline lags behind. So the majority of  priests are healers but a lot of people like the dps tree also. I think Blizzard has done a decent job on priest class design – fun dps, fun heals, and can use similar gear for both. I suspect that this is why they’re the more popular of the non tanking classes.

Warrior: Protection has always been the most popular Warrior spec and that’s still true. Arms and Fury are close in terms of popularity, I think well geared raiders are shifting back to Fury at the moment, but Arms is viable and still the preferred PvP build. Although Warriors are a less popular class than the other tanking classes, there are probably still more warrior tanks than druids or death knights. Clearly Paladins are by far the most popular tanking class at the moment, though.

Shaman: It has always been strange to me to see Shaman lagging behind priests and druids in the tables. They’re all healer/caster hybrids who can use similar gear for both roles. Shamans (like druids) also have the option for a melee dps spec, which is usually popular with players. Maybe people just don’t like totems, or shamans aren’t viewed as interesting to play?

So what has changed?

Here’s an older set of data from July 2009 (just after patch 3.1). Main changes are:

  1. Paladins overtake Death Knights. This is a large leap, so lots of people have levelled Paladin alts since then.
  2. Priests overtook Warriors. Not such a big percentage change, but they’ve clearly been popular alts too.
  3. Shaman overtook Hunters. Again, people looking to the hybrid classes as popular alts.

Solving the Tanking Problem?

One thing is very clear. The tanking problem isn’t that the classes are not being played, it’s that either the barriers to tanking are too high, people are enjoying the other specs more, or people just don’t want to do it.

So I’d expect to see Blizzard making tanking (even) easier, and exploring ways in Cataclysm to let tanks use melee dps gear (we know they are talking about this). People are evidently flocking to their paladins so that design has to be seen as a success.

But I do wonder how far ahead one class will be allowed to get in popularity. My guess is that paladins are a lock-in for the rest of Wrath and that Blizzard will be aiming to make other classes more appealing when they revise them for Cataclysm – we know that’s going to be a substantial amount of work.

Having said that, does it really matter if one class happens to be the most popular? Maybe people just like their knights in shining armour more than their demon-summoning warlocks?

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40 thoughts on “Are paladins popular enough yet?

  1. Cool stats to see, but in the end, it’s stats. I’m sure if we just looked at a sample of the top 100 guilds all of a sudden, Prot Warriors become the most popular tanking class and it’s that data that Blizzard cares about. Today anyway…

    So my point being, I don’t see this as something to be excited about to bring to Blizzard even though that was my initial gut reaction when I read it over the first time.

    And even if it applied on a top 100 level, Blizzard like any other human construct rarely looks at stats and then creates a solution based on them, but instead creates a solution and then finds appropriate stats to support it. (or ignores stats if none do)

    And this isn’t all QQing, instead it’s more… a word of caution to those that would consider using this data to QQ or feel that this is PROOF that Blizzard must fix Prot Warriors.

    It isn’t, they’ll do what they’ve always done… whatever they want. All we can do is enjoy what we’re given :D

  2. I’m sure that they are well aware of these numbers, and also that Protection Warriors still make up a large number of raid tanks. And I also don’t think they’ll want to nerf any tanking spec right now because of the effect on the dungeon finder.

    I actually think it’s quite cool that both priests and warriors represent a straight 10% of the population. But still interesting to see how popular the hybrid design is in WoW with players. People don’t actually hate playing healers or tanks.

  3. Paladins have always been a very popular class. They were popular back in Classic when they were pretty terrible power-wise, they were popular in TBC, and they are popular in Wrath.

    It’s one of the reasons I think that most people don’t choose character class based on current power level. It makes a difference only at the high end.

    • What I’d like to draw your attention to is that they seem to be getting more popular, not just staying at the same level. I’m not saying it’s a problem, I just wonder how far that trend continues. What happens when 20% of all level 80s are one class, for example?

    • I strongly disagree. Paladins were once limited to the Alliance and Humans/Dwarfs. This alone was a huge limiter. They soon became UNPOPULAR because “When does a Paladin start fighting a mob? Right after Server Up, so that he is finished before Server Down”. Then the Blood Knights came, and as BE’s cannot have a warrior, some just picked the Paladin class – which was not bad, despite doing “no dps”. Really.

      But today, we see a clear trend that HYBRIDS become very popular, and Paladins are the BEST HYBRID:

      TANK+HEAL+DPS. Okay, one can say OR instead of +, but they are extrremely versatile. They all get this on top of their special role in the lore, which was made more popular with the Knight-themed Crusade stuff in Northrend.

      Spinks noticed that Hybrids are highly popular. Now take a look a the Rogue and the Warlock. There were, despite the common fear of Fear, never too many Warlocks. But Rogues were VERY popular, especially as PvP class.

      Both classes, as well as the Hunter, are PURE DPS. There was once a HUNTER OVERKILL, now see, there are not too many left of them by now! The only thing I wonder about, too, is that Shamans are still not that popular. Especially now that their achilles heel, lack of proper CC, is no longer that important. Chain Lightning and Healing rocks a lot.

      One can also argue that a DPS is not as much wanted as a Healer or Tank druid, and this might be the reason of less Moonkins than the other specs.

      Paladins were buffed to heaven with this 3.x patch, and no nerfs after that changed that by much.

      I was shadowbolting a lone Bloodelf Paladin in Darnassus, he was running away, swimming away. Do you think I managed to kill her? She hesitated after a while, swam back and just killed me.

      So much about Paladins now and the Paladins of olde. Even my extra casual friend Andre played a Bloodelf Paladin, everyone recommended him to play one, because he cannot do wrong with a Paladin. So much about that. ;)

  4. I’m levelling up a variety of alts at the moment, currently the one with the most work going into it is the Warlock (Affliction). I am also doing my Death Knight but tanking on her. More often then not when on my Lock (25 as of last night) the random LFGs I join have at least 1 Paladin in, last night in BFD we had two and they just facerolled the place while the rest of us tried to keep up.

  5. Shaman was my main in classic WoW. Today however its one of the classes I like the least in this game.
    I have two Reasons:

    First: Totems as a mechanic just fail. They are a pain in the ass in every movement-encounter and in heroics they are annoying as hell because the two-second-delay at the beginning of every fight means that most mobs will already be at 50% health when you start the fight.

    Second: Healing as a shaman feels much less fun than as a druid or a priest. Shaman healers are simply lacking the tools. As a druid if I want to heal AOE-damage I hit Wild Growth and start HOTing everyone who was out of range. As a shaman Blizzard is expecting me to use Chain Heal? Thats a good tool to heal melee but other than that its situational at best. Tank healing is the same, it doesn’t feel like I have a handful of tools who are specifically made to solve a common problem in healing, it feels like I have a bunch of tools who are made for extremely rare conditions but if I abuse them right I will also be able to use them in normal situations.

  6. Shammies:- Bit of a vested intrest here as its by far and away my favorite class.

    I think it is indeed the totems, at least to some extent. Blizz have done a bang up job with the new(ish) totem bars but I still use totem timers to drop situational singletons and to track both time and shammy buffs (Water Shield, Earth Shield and weapon self buff). Having to move them all the time IS a pain nut I love their flexibility. And the new Troll totem art Rocks.
    The other issue is that Resto Shammy healing is tricky in 5 man. Its not rock hard like it used to be before Earth Shield or Riptide in the rather challenging TBC instances. But the toolset is no where near as comprehensive as a Priest or Druid…although we’re in about the same boat as healadins. Once you get geared (which isnt hard now) its not so bad at all and in low and mid level raids you’ll shine. But learning your craft is hard. Elemental is fun but I suspect most people who wanted to throw huge firevalls or lightning bolts rolled a mage or mebbe a ‘lock…

      • I didnt mention enhancement ‘cos I dont play one. Why? Well it’s simple rteally…you can try the spec out with your Resto gear. Then once you start seriously gearing you can still use a lot of the same gear. Even more so now us Resto’s are basicaly dumping mp5 in favour of Crit and Haste. Works in either direction of course.
        From a Raid leaders perspective its handy as Elemental Shammies can off-heal probably more effectively than any other DPS class (as Shadies and Boomkin need to change form) and having someone who can flip between roles while notr absorbing a double set of gear/drops can be usefull.
        Again I think that most players leveling to 80 and wanting to be a hand-to-hand whirling death machine will have rolled warriors or Rogues. Most people only level one or two to level cap I’m guessing and of course DK’s are the second choice.

        On the plus side for Enhancement is that there often is gear going begging in raids for them. I would probably have picked up a set cheap but for a informal agreement with my raids other Resto Shammy:- He’s gone off-spec enhance and I’ve gone Ele. Plus we have a couple of dedicated Enhancement types. These are either re-spec/role down the line or 2nd+ characters though I think.

  7. My main is a tankadin, and has been since mid-BC, so I think I know my tanking.

    I find it striking that, on my DK alt (recently dinged, /played is about 36 hours at 80), I could happily jump straight into heroics as DPS the minute I dinged. Obviously, I picked up a sensible group spec and glyphs, but I could chug away at about 2k, and nobody complained much.

    Adding 5 EoT purchases to my gear, I top any DPS meter that doesn’t feature a focussed raider, and I’ve got appropriate ilevel 200 blues, or better, for every slot in my tanking set – just from drops.

    So, what can I tank with that set? What could I DPS with an equivalent set? Well, I’m obviously capable of tanking any of the original heroics. TotC+ and up? Maaaaaaaybe. Convincing a PuG of either of these facts? Well, actually, the fact they can’t kick me for 15 minutes ought to give me a chance.

    But yeah. There we have it. If my gear is a tier better, and I’m at the point where heroics drop nothing but badges, I *might* be good enough to tank. If you were to exclude all the DPS who lacked skill and/or gear to perform at that level, queues would be nice and even again.

    Until then, even though I would *prefer* to tank, I’m DPSing so as to get the gear for it.

    And, of course, by the time I have community-acceptable gear, I’ll be hitting the end of the period when I gain much from spamming heroics.

    No wonder there’s a tank shortage.

  8. Hell yeah, the Blood Elf popularity and the case “Paladin replaces Warrior” is strong, you play in Argent Dawn Horde so just TRY to find any pug raid without Paladin tank, most will have 2 Paladins.

    Warriors? Usually deep buried in guilds, don’t PUG much.

    Druids are less popular I guess due to the race choice. There’s a ton of Druids alliance side, most are Resto, and most PUG raids look for Shaman and Priest healers for “last spots”. Horde side Druids are limited to Tauren which is the least-Humanoid looking race, and I see PUGs on Horde struggle to find a Druid.

    • We do have a lot of paladins on AD, but it’s also not uncommon for us to have up to 6 druids in a raid. So my experience is that both are popular among raiders, which is what these numbers also say.

  9. Stats about raidcompostions and their rate of success would be interesting. Top100 version, raw version and normalized version with high impact of top raidguilds removed.

  10. Shammies do suffer from a host of problems. They have probably the most depressing gearing issues in the game, with all their gear, even the gear intended for them, being poorly itemised. They don’t really have a niche anymore, beyond ‘Totems’, with nearly anything they can do beyond bloodlust/heroism being filled better by another class, including most of what the totems themselves do. Even trusty old chain heal has fallen behind.

    The pure dps classes drop is probably best explained by the fact that, once a hybrid does comparable DPS, what’s the point of being a pure DPS? The hybrids usally even have a larger toolbox to play around with, or at least a toolbox better suited to the needs of wrath. Admittedly, it’s also worth mentioning rogues were a bit shite for most of WotLK, so I imagine a lot of people changed to new mains.

    • “They have probably the most depressing gearing issues in the game..”
      Try playing a bear-tank. Those poor guys don’t even HAVE gear intended for them ;)

      I also think the whole hybrid vs pure discussion is extremely overrated. Sure, hybrids have a lot of advantages in theory, but when it comes down to it the overwhelming majority doesn’t want to tank or heal anyways. They want to DPS and that can be done by a hybrid or a pure class.

      • Agree with the gear. But on the other side: They got so much love from blizz, that they don’t need (very) special gear to do their job.

      • Rurjaos, the problem is more like: Its not about your job, its about fun. Those druid tanks I know don’t care one bit about doing their job because doing your job is pretty much a given. They want the fun of playing around with gear, getting stats they really care for and things like that.

  11. Here is my opinion of the overwhelming ranks of paladins

    But still the more interesting thing is gear itemization – 40% of the classes (plate) want virtually the exact same gear and weapons, some of them even 2. No wonder blizz is so lax with pouring gear and two handers that are not RNG dependent (QuelSelar, Shadow’s Edge). I assume that every raider what even his offspec to be decently geared.

  12. While Paladins are fun to play in any spec, getting decent gear at end game is too much of a grind for most people, and I think they are more likely to stick to their spec of choice.

    Dks are probably so popular because going from lv 55 to lv 80 with over geared armour is easier than starting again from level 1, even with boa items.

    Hybrids that don’t require a big gear change to swap from dps to healing will probably become more popular.
    Shamans definitely seem to be on the increase. Priests are also favoured with good healing and dps capabilities.

    As for the single spec dps, the future can only get worse.

  13. Although Paladin’s can tank, I wouldn’t call them a tank unless they took the tanking spec. I think a really interesting statistic would be of all of the players, how many are actually taking tanking specs. I reckon this number would be pretty low.

    So I guess the problem is that DPSing is just far too appealing and/or that there’s something about the concept of tanking that’s putting people off.

  14. One thing to keep in mind when pondering class popularity is that the data is tangled up with race popularity.

    Is shaman an unpopular class because of its play style? Or is it unpopular because its races (Tauren, Orc, Troll, Dranei) are unpopular?

    The raw statistics don’t untangle people’s reasons for choosing a particular class/race combination.

    • Aye, that’s a good point. I’ll probably try a Dwarf Shaman when they go online, since I’m not all that fond of the Horde, and Dranei just don’t do much for me.

  15. The paladin case is clear to me.

    The first choice is between druid and paladin, because only these two have on the one hand 3 specs to choose from and on the other hand the possibility to be healer as well as tank (both the most sought after specs in raids and groups).

    And the paladin wins out because he wears plate (no squishy). Easy as this.

  16. I’m surprised to see Hunters as low as they are. It always seemed to me that Hunters were everywhere. It seems, as an Enhancement Shaman, that there’s a Hunter in every random that I do that steals the gear that I need (from my perspective, obviously).

    My 2nd favorite toon to play is the Priest. I love both Shadow and Discipline, very interactive, can do many, many things, and even though they are not the tops in DPS charts, that’s not everything to me anyway. Strange thing is, I can’t stand playing a Paladin, it’s just not very…what’s the word…challenging enough, I guess that’s why I love my totems. Just my opinion in a sea of millions.

  17. I’m surprised to see priests as high as they are. They are my favourite class but I didn’t expect them to have such mass appeal.

    There was a post on WoW.com not that long ago where they asked if nerfs and buffs affected your choice of class, and almost everyone claimed to have stuck with with their class since forever in the comments, but I do think it affects people’s play, if slowly and subtly. For example I ended up levelling my paladin alt much faster and with more enthusiasm after they made them less clunky to play with the seal and judgement changes, and she’s now my “main alt”. It’s not that I actively thought out the most powerful class, but since they ARE powerful and easy to play it’s easy to get into it.

    I guess shaman totems are pretty much the opposite of that and that explains their lower popularity. If you think about it they are also an utility class more than anything else with all those buffs, and that’s not really something the game supports much anymore either.

  18. That’s a great discussion of my numbers. I must admit to being a bit puzzled by some of the data myself – especially that Blizz has allowed some classes to decline in popularity, without doing very much about it, despite all the patches, the GC-promised-me-a-pony forum posts etc etc…

    The basic point being made here – that pallys just have the right stuff – being flexible, effective and easy to play – seems right. The more challenging classes are likely to be more of a minority interest. But I wouldn’t have thought hunters fell into that camp. And rogues and warlocks are on a long-term decline so it can’t be just that they are difficult classes to play.

    The question of tanks is a difficult one to answer. If only there was an IsTank() function in the armoury!
    One idea I’ve had for a while is to use sites like WoWWiki to compile a list of tanking specs, then get a count of those specs from the data. That count will only be as good as the WoWWiki analysis, and there is always the problem of people making minor variations to the standard cookie-cutter specs that you get from sites like that, but it may be worth the effort to get some insight into the question.

  19. If I could make one change to the game it would be to remove all aoe. Tanking would be harder when no longer able to keep threath on everything on screen. Dps would have to concentrate and make use of the forgotten crowd control abilities. Healers would be challenged as well when overhealing can cause aggro so careful tactical healing would be recuired.
    But what a fun game it would be :P

  20. For what it’s worth, my two eighties are a Paladin and a DK…

    On Shamans: I think it might be a race restriction thing. The Alliance only got Shammies in BC and they’re restricted to the relatively unpopular Spacegoats.

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  24. Shamans suck to level, you have no idea how you are supposed to play them for the first 15 levels (or more, I didn’t get further), and I heard the totem quests take forever. No wonder they are the least favoured of the hybrids.

    And hybrids are popular as people don’t know til they get discouraged that they don’t really want to tank/heal, as you discussed in a more recent post about it.

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