What do you prefer: a simpler rotation that you can easily master, or a complex rotation that does more damage?

To answer this, you probably want to know how much more damage the complex one does. If the increase is minimal, would you prefer the simpler one? How much more damage would a complex rotation need to do before you prefer to use it?

You should answer this in your head right now. It will make the next sections more fun.  🙂

Rotation damage tradeoffs

I ran a survey that asked people the same type of questions I asked you (but in a more structured form, of course). I ran it across Twitter, Reddit, Mmo-Champion, Discord, and any other source I could think of to get a representative sample of Warcraft players. (The survey had 2,700 responses, which gets the margin of error down to 2%)

One question asked if they would prefer a complex rotation that does __ % more damage, or a simpler rotation that is easier to master. Each survey taker was presented with one of five percentages – they were randomly assigned only one. The possible percentages were 0.25%, 1%, 2%, 5% and 10%.

I segmented answers by people who were on Normal, Heroic, and Mythic teams. The chart below shows the percentage of players (from each difficulty) who prefer simpler rotations.

For example, the first teal bar shows that almost 80% of Normal-difficulty raiders would rather use a simple rotation that does 0.25% less damage. The last teal bar shows that almost 70% of Normal-difficulty raiders would rather use a simple rotation, even if it does 10% less damage.


As you can see from this chart:

  • The vast majority of players prefer simpler rotations as long as they are within a couple percent of complex rotations – including Mythic raiders.
  • Simpler rotations are still heavily preferred by Normal and Heroic players, even with a 5% difference.
  • 45% of Mythic raiders still prefer simpler rotations with a 5% difference, and 35% prefer them even with a 10% difference.

Why would half, or even one-third of Mythic players be willing to miss out on a potential 5% or 10% gain in DPS just to use a simpler rotation? They cited a very logical reason in the survey: a simpler rotation makes it easier to focus on boss mechanics.

Focusing on what matters

Top players know that optimizing around boss mechanics is more important than complex rotation tweaks that add minimal damage.

It turns out that complex rotations only add 1-3% DPS on top of a simple rotation that a human can easily do. The only way to lose 10% DPS is to strip it down to the most barebones set of rules you can think of.

During progression, boss fights get chaotic and there is no shortage of things competing for your attention. A simpler rotation helps you free up that mental space to focus on mechanics. Otherwise you end up concentrating so hard on a complex rotation that you get tunnel vision and shut out your environment. And then you die.

Another big thing that factors into your damage is to “Always Be Casting” (ABC). A majority of players that aren’t performing at their full potential are just not casting enough spells. Simple rotations make it much easier to concentrate on this ABC skill.

Once you have the boss mechanics down and are consistently “Always Casting,” adding in smart rotation complexities can be a fun way to boost your damage. Keep in mind that a fancy rule isn’t a silver bullet that will take you from a 50th percentile rank to a 90th percentile. The damage gains from adding complexities isn’t that large (as you’ll see in the next section). Instead, most of the damage gains come from mastering the fight and the ABCs.

Rotation rules: measuring damage

There is no shortage of advice on the rotation rules for your spec. Many guides emphasize specific rules that you ‘must do.’ Videos show you how to properly execute advanced rules. This is all very helpful.

But something has been missing: the amount of damage each rule adds to your rotation. That information can help you decide if a complex rule is worth the extra mental focus. Without it, it’s hard to definitively say if a part of the rotation is a ‘must do.’

Throughout Legion, we researched a lot of complex rotation rules to determine their value. We spent time publishing a handful of these into detailed articles (Arcane Mage, Marksmanship Hunters, Retribution Paladins, Havoc Demon Hunters).

A few trends emerged from this type of research that can help us put these things into context.

First, let’s revisit that Simple vs Complex Rotation chart, which showed that a large number of people would use a simple rotation even at a 10% damage loss.

It turns out that complex rotations only add 1-3% DPS on top of a simple rotation that a human can easily do. The only way to lose 10% DPS is to strip it down to the most barebones set of rules you can think of. This is not just simple, but barebones.

Simple rotations have smart rules. These are the rules that increase your damage the most, without requiring the help of addons or macros. In some cases, the simple rotations are nearly equal to the complex ones. In other cases, the complex rotations increase damage by roughly 1-3%.

MM Hunter Rotation Analysis

This image is from the Marksmanship Hunter analysis we did in LEGION – you can see the actual damage gained from each rule, building from a barebones rotation up to a simple version (purple) and the more complex versions. (Click for a full size image).

This makes things interesting, right? Now you can start answering some of those questions I asked earlier. Would you use the simpler rotation, knowing it might lose up to 3% damage but help you focus on boss mechanics better? Is the content on farm and it’s a good time to try out some of these complex rules?

Complex rotation rules don’t always increase damage

We tested simple rotations against complex ones with boss scripts modeled after actual bosses (instead of patchwerk or target dummy scripts). It turns out, when you remove the ability to do uninterrupted rotations (which require near-perfect timing), they don’t always perform well.

Simpler rotations aren’t just easier to do, they are also more robust. They can stand up to the interruptions from a real boss fight, like movement, knockbacks, and switching to adds that need to be nuked down. A lot of complex rules lose all of their benefit when these types of interruptions happen and either offer zero DPS gain, or in some cases, cause a DPS loss.

BfA – More analysis, more articles

We’ve been comparing simple and complex rotations with BfA talents and gear. It looks like the difference between the two will be even closer this expansion. That’s great news for all of the people who prefer simpler rotations so they can focus on boss fights and other things in game.

We plan to provide more data like this throughout Battle for Azeroth. Some of it will be long and detailed articles like the ones we did in Legion. Others will be much quicker reads, answering questions like “Is this part of my rotation worth it?” (And we hope to have a lot more charts like the MM Hunter one!)

What we don’t want to do is tell you ‘the one and only way’ to play. Instead, we want to provide data to help you evaluate different viable ways to play. Then you can confidently choose the best option for you.

We want to do the hard work outside the game, so you can have more fun in-game. If you want to get notified of future rotation analysis articles, be sure to sign up for our email list. Since most companies spam you after signing up for emails, I want to be very clear that we respect your inbox. You’ll get 1-4 emails a month, and only when we have something interesting to say. We will not send promotions.