This post should have been posted last week, but somehow I forgot about it and left it with the rest of my drafts, but it's still pretty relevant, so I figured I'd post it now.
I was reading an article on WoW.com about the dearth of bear tanks, and the column looked into why there might be fewer bear tanks. I'm not exactly sure why there are less these days, though the article does give a few reasonable speculations, but it's something I've noticed. On my server, the vast majority of tanks I've seen in pugs have been paladins followed by DKs. I might see a warrior, but I can't remember the last time I'd seen a bear, if ever. If there's a bear tanking for my group it's usually me.
The WoW.com column presents various reasons why there may be fewer bears than there used to be; same boring bear butt no matter your level of progression, having to fight with rogues and other dps classes for gear vs. the abundance of plate tanking drops, looking like a clown wearing a mix of rogue and druid gear with a hunter weapon slung over your back… But the reason that stands out most to me is the flexibility inherent in the druid class. We are the only class that can be tank, melee dps, ranged dps, and a healer. It's honestly viable to be full-time cat in Wrath of the Lich King.
Look at bloggers Jacemora and Runyarusco, both TBC-era tanks, who now blog about kitty dps.
When Blizzard came out and reinforced during the WotLK beta that it was not going to be possible to be a good cat and a good bear with the same spec I even thought of making my feral alt primarily cat at level 80, just because I remembered having so much fun with it while leveling. Real cat dps? Nice!
So where did the bears go? Well, if bloggers are any indication, the love of being a dps kitty can finally be fulfilled, so ferals who were both bear and cat just because they came part and parcel in the past are now able to go with the form that suits them best, so I would not be surprised if a fair number of them are now indulging themselves as the cats they always wanted to be in TBC but couldn't.
I've mentioned before that there are now a lot more moonkin than there used to be. I hadn't really thought where they had come from before, but now that I do… could they possibly be former ferals? The WoW.com article points out that the druid population hasn't plunged, so the druids are still playing. They're just different specs.
When TBC came out suddenly a bunch of druids, freed from the necessity of going resto for end game, were feral. Now with WotLK and moonkin being viable, are those druids now shooting their owlkin lasers?
So I decided to check out my favorite armory dataminer and see what data he'd pulled for level 80 druids.
According to this data from August 2009, we are split 25% balance, 36% feral, and 39% resto. By that measure we're still over a third feral, which leaves the question of where the heck did all the bears ago. But, if we look at dual specs, we can start getting a better picture of our level 80 druid population.
The most popular dual spec combination? Balance and Restoration at 31%. Feral and Restoration is close behind at 30%.
Given that almost 40% of the druid population has a resto spec this is not surprising. Unfortunately there is no way to tell whether the feral specs are cat or bear, but there is one more interesting data point.
Percent of the population with two feral specs? A mere 9%. And this is important, because the traditional feral tank keeps two sets of gear; one for bear and one for kitty. If a mere 9% of the druid population behaves as the TBC-era feral tank then it's no wonder that they're so rare!
It's entirely possible that a balance/feral or a resto/feral has a feral tank spec (I do), but due to the fact the gear sets do not easily overlap it's probably less likely that any of them primarily function as a tank for their guild. A feral who regularly tanks probably has a kitty off-spec because it's easier to function as both in a raid where they tank one fight and dps the next (and there's less gear to collect). In the case of a resto main spec, the feral off-spec could easily be for questing and doing dailies.
I do see druid tanks on my server. I can think of at least two progression guilds off-hand that use them, but when it comes to pugging they just aren't out there, which says to me that a bear tank either finds a guild that wants her to tank on a regular basis (in which case we never see her out in the wilds of pugging because she's always in a guild group) or she specs for something else.
What I don't understand is why there aren't more off-spec bears. I generally pug as a bear because it gives me more control. The first thing I do when I open LFG is search for a healer, and then round up the dps to fill out the group. It saves time when I don't have to hunt for both a tank and a healer. And if I'm a dps with a crappy tank or a crappy healer there's not much I can do to save the pug, but if I'm the tank, I can better deal with a crappy healer because of my cooldowns, my gear, and knowing how to play.
Of course, the same could be said for pugging as a healer, which I regularly do on Gillien, and maybe that's what the druids are doing, a good 40% of them. Maybe they're happier to pug as a healer than a tank.
There was a rogue I pugged with and a ring dropped. I wasn't certain it was an upgrade, so I only greeded it. The rogue greeded and won, but then shortly thereafter whispered me asking if it was an upgrade for me. I told him I wasn't sure and that's why I only greeded it. He opened up trade and told me to take it just in case. He said that he really liked bear druids but he hardly ever saw them around. I suppose it was his way of encouraging me to keep playing a bear, but it saddened me that he thought that we were that rare.
This was several weeks before the WoW.com article ran, so I didn't think about it much, but looking back on it now, I guess bears really are rare. I'm guessing many of them went completely cat, went moonkin (because there definitely are more of us now), or went back to tree; especially because there are so many tanks out there now. I've seen as many as three tanks idling in LFG for the heroic daily at once, tanks are scrounging for guilds to join (my guild has had at least two tanks inquire even when we weren't recruiting for them), and maybe in that kind of environment it's easiest to just respec and run as something else.
I'd value both over my freedom
11 hours ago