Hunter Pedagogy: Why the Unskilled are Unaware

Some of us like to be prepared

The other day, I was re-reading a popular essay, titled Why the Unskilled Are Unaware: Further Explorations of (Absent) Self-Insight Among the Incompetent (here), which got me thinking about some of the requests for hunter help I get, on this sight or in general forums.

The common request tends to be something like: "I'm doing my rotation right so I know that's not the problem; will you look at my gear to tell me how to do more DPS?"  Of course many are more nuanced than that, but several times I've seen someone write that they know they are doing their rotation correctly.  In a totally unscientific, anecdotal study based on a sample size of "those I can recall off the top of my head", hunters tend to analyze their own performance exactly in correlation with each of the five studies shown in Why the Unskilled.

This is, of course, exactly what we would expect (we being, anyone who's read that essay, or others on the same subject); the popular reasoning being that the less skilled you are at playing a hunter, the less able you'll be to adequately evaluate your play.

A popular youtuber, on the channel Veritasium, wrote his phd dissertation in science education on a similar subject. His basic point (if I may be so bold as to boil down years of research into a few words) was:

People generally overestimate how much they know about a subject, or how much they understand how something works. Because of that, when presented with new information on a subject, they will assume the data support their previously held view, instead of considering whether or not the data challenges that view. Therefore, educators must first convince someone that they are misunderstanding a topic before they can teach them to understand it differently.

This seems to be the biggest problem with trying to teach someone "how to hunter": most players are already convinced that they're playing the best way possible, they just don't have the right gear, or don't have the best pet for the DPS.

Self - Analysis

The reason I brought all of this up, is not only because I want to complain about people asking for help, but at least somewhat, because I'm curious how often I'm suffering from the same problem.  I can think of several occasions where I've been raiding with another hunter who out-dps'ed me, and of course my first thought isn't "I should look at their log and see what I could have done better" it's "they must have had better RNG than I". There's obvious dissonance between my analysis of myself and my actual performance. 

One of the conclusions from Why the Unskilled... was that there is a causal relationship between how well students adjudicate themselves (or how not overconfident they are) and being taught that intelligence, or traits are malleable. That is, if a student believes that there are some people who are just good at math, and some who aren't, then they're very likely to think they're performing better at math than they actually are; whereas a student who believes that "good at math" is something you can learn is much more likely to have an accurate impression of their own abilities.  

I've been trying to imagine how this could apply to playing a hunter.  Is it the case that people who say things like "I know my rotation is right, so why is my dps so low?" believe that people are either good at video game or not, instead of believing it's something you learn and get better at?  That's certainly conceivable. 

Inward Analysis vs Outward Presentation

One of the largest problems for young hunters out there, I'd imagine, is segregating self-analysis from how we present ourselves to others. That is to say, while it is demonstrably true that the more over-confident we are, the harder it is to improve, it also seems to be the case that the more over-confident we appear, the more people trust you know what you're doing.  

If you're playing WoW at any sort of competitive level, the vast majority of raid leaders won't know how to play your class, so if you say you know what you're doing confidently and can provide at least a little explanations, they'll tend to believe you and think you're a good player. This is very unfortunate then, for raid leaders hoping to be good at recruiting, as the opposite tends to actually be true. 

While I tend to think that being duped by the presentation of confidence is a sign of a bad leader (whether in game or out) it's still a reality that most players will have to deal with.  If we're actually trying to get better though, the trick seems to be to learn to segregate the confidence you need to present in order to be given a chance, and the realistic self-analysis you need to improve as a player.

Getting the Message Across

The main point of me writing this down, other than simply because I like thinking about interesting things, is I'm curious if we need a new approach to hunter guide writing.  Perhaps one that doesn't just say "this is your rotation" but says "this is how to think about rotations".  I've been a bit cautious of employing that sort of writing anywhere but on this blog (which has a much more particular reader base than, for example, the WHU, who, I hope, are more interested in the theory behind things than simply the results) because I know I've been frustrated when playing other games very casually, and I simply want a quick easy answer on "the best X, Y and Z".  But I'm certainly curious if it's been a disservice to those reading the guides.

How to actually write guides that are both challenging in that manner, and accessible is currently beyond my knowledge of pedagogy.  It is, however, definitely something I'm interested in, both because I want to be an effectual guide writer, and I want to improve as a player.  


  1. Nice post. My day job is teaching so I could relate. One of the hardest parts of teaching is breaking down false preconceptions.

  2. Typo: It should be manner, NOT manor :P

    Speaking as someone who's questioned the use of Guides in their current form, I think I'd like to see changes based on how people assimilate information. I'm not sure you're ever going to find a way to deal with players self-perception, however :D

    1. ha. You don't think I should write guides that are challenging in a mansion somewhere? :-P

  3. I think a lot of the problem comes down to the hunter class being "simple" as in there is a clear cut what should be done. When people read a guide and see the clear cut what should be done they think they know how to do it because "I know the rotation".

    Knowing and doing are two completely different things. I "know" how to do my rotation, I probably babble about it in my sleep because I am always thinking how I can do it better, but the fact I "know" it does not mean I can not pick out at least a dozen times I could have done something better on even the best pull I ever had.

    Sometimes it is gear. Secondary stats mean a lot and two people in similar gear item levels can have extremely different results. Sometimes it is luck of the proc. The difference between a lucky pull and an unlucky one can really be huge, even more so if it is a short fight and you have horrid luck on the pull. There are many reasons why someone that "knows" their rotation could be doing less than they expect to do. But in the right here and the right now you can do nothing to change your gear or your luck, so you have to try and fix what you can fix, and that is your rotation because no matter how good you are and no matter how well you "know" your rotation, you can always get better.

    Three weeks in a row I had someone ask me in the LFR "you don't need anything from here, so why are you here" and I have said "to practice".

    If someone really wants to get better that is the best answer to give. Practice. Even after you know your rotation and are mumbling it in your sleep, keep practicing. No matter how good you are there is always room to get better.

    I am the exact opposite of you because I never think "they got lucky" and I always think "they are better than me, what can I learn from them". When I see someone do better than me the first thing I do is look at their gear and logs. I want to see what they are doing that I didn't, or if there might be another reason I am doing less (as in they are in all mythic gear or something). I love when I see a hunter with less gear doing better than me, now that is a teaching tool for sure. I have learned a lot reading what other people do.

    I once considered writing a guide but I figured that was well covered, and I am the exact opposite of someone that should write a guide. While I believe I am competent as a hunter, I do not believe I am good enough of one to teach others, I am still learning. But I think why I never wrote one is more that I am extremely long winded, tend to go into excruciating detail, and believe that no one would really ever read anything like that.

    I personally like the simple guides. Anyone that really wants to improve will look at those, read all the variables to the guides (such as procs, trinkets, interactions otherwise) and then practice until their confident they are doing well. Once they are confident they are doing well, tell them to practice some more because you can always get better.

    1. Well, you might not consider them "guides" exactly, but I definitely re-read some of your posts, over and over. How to Teach a Rotation (i think that's what it was called) was one of the best guides I've ever read. I still send lots of hunters to read it, even if a lot of the particulars are outdated, the theory is great.

      As for the "they got lucky" thing, man I wish I could get that out of my head. It's a huge hindrance to getting better, but no matter how hard I try, there's that little voice of pride in my head. I heard this story about Jimi Hendrix (I have no idea if it's even a little bit true, but maybe), that well after he was famous and a well established guitar god, he would go divey little bars to see any blues bands he could find, and when confronted about this, he said something like, no matter their skill level, if someone is really passionate about the guitar, then I can learn something from them. I'd love to have that attitude about, well, everything.

      "While I believe I am competent as a hunter, I do not believe I am good enough of one to teach others, I am still learning." That's exactly why I like your guides! The best teachers, I think, are those who are really excited about the subject, and are thus still passionate enough about learning themselves, that it makes you want to learn about the subject too. Co-discovery is much more effective than lecturing, I'd wager. I hope that's the spirit of this blog, at least.

      I don't think I mentioned this above, but the part of the essay I was quoting, was that the opposite is also true. Less skilled/knowledgeable people tend to think they're much better than they are, but also, the most skilled/knowledgeable people tend to underestimate themselves. One explanation is that for the most skilled people, when things feel "easy" to them, they assume it must be easy for everyone else, too, so they don't think they've done anything special, and furthermore, they're smart enough to know how much they don't know. So the more you know your rotation/priorities, you start not noticing the things that used to be really difficult, all the while noticing more all the mistakes you made.

      There's another psych theory, which doesn't necessarily seem to be congruent, but anyway, it's called the 4 stages of competence, those being: Unconscious Incompetence, where someone doesn't understand something or recognize that there's something they don't understand; Conscious Incompetence, when someone doesn't understand something, but recognizes that they don't understand it; Conscious Competence, when someone knows how to do something, but demonstrating the skill requires concentration, or thinking about it, that is, they're aware of every step they're doing; and Unconscious Competence, where someone has so much practice with a skill that it feels like "second nature" and they are able to do it without concentration, and without even recognizing all the steps they're taking (hopefully my RL, who told me about this, will comment on here and correct me if I explained that wrong). Anyhow, as raiders we want to get to that last level of competence, where your rotation feels like second nature; however, the best teachers tend to be those who are at the third level, because they are aware of all the effort it takes, and every step you need to perform.

      My point is, Mike Jordan is obviously the greatest basketball player ever, but that doesn't mean he'd be a great coach. Wait, what was I talking about? probably not basketball...

    2. It took me a while to get there, but I'm just like you Grumpy. When I see another hunter rocking out I think, "Whoah this person is skilled." I think some of the disconnect is players "learn" their rotation on a training dummy where nothing is happening. They should be learning it where you and I both practice: easier level raids. I'm currently working to get better at DPS while not getting pinned by Beast Lord (getting out of bad is NOT my forte).
      Oh gear. People always want to blame their gear. I was no different for a while. I got lucky. For about 3 years I was on a team with a very skilled hunter. I had better gear and he did more dps consistently. It was just obvious that he's a better raider than me. We had a very productive rivalry that made us both better in the end, but whenever someone tied to "play the gear card" as we used to say, we would tell them to compare our gear and dps. Gear just wasn't an acceptable excuse on that team. If your ilvl was high enough to get an invite, it was too high to be blamed for poor performance.
      It's pretty dated now, but when I used to have hunters insist that gear is their only issue I would ask them to read this article by Frostheim.


      The last section is a pretty conclusive bit of theorycrafting against the gear argument. Better gear will help you, but not very much if you're doing fundamental stuff wrong.

    3. Glad you liked the rotation one. It might be really dated now but the concept behind the post still holds as true today as the day I wrote it. It is how I try to help all the new players that come to me looking for advice.

      I love Jimi, he was a guitar god for sure and that is the attitude I try to live by as well.

      It is easy to write something off as "he got lucky" and sometimes that might be true. But even if he got lucky, it is worth looking closer. I actually love when someone beats me in LFR. It gives me something to look at. I get ideas on how to better play better. I do this on all my characters and it takes time but I slowly get a little better with them.

      Now if only I could navigate the rogues I see doing insane numbers I just can not duplicate. That is a classic, I "know" the rotation thing, I can even do it in my sleep, but I am doing something horribly wrong. It is not a gear issue, it is a skill issue. Some people just refuse to admit that.

      I am stage two on my rogue (my worst class), stage three on my hunter (my best class) I guess. I really hope I am not a stage one on any and I think I am too much of a perfectionist to ever settle into stage 4 because I over think everything.

      @JC Sway

      Gear does matter, but I would like to think any competent raid leader judged people based on what they do in the gear they have, not just what they do. If I see someone doing 20K when the rest of the raid is over 30K I do not think he is bad when he is in 640 gear, I think he is doing damn good. So context matters. Sadly some people just look at the bottom line and numbers are all that matters. That is why I say the role of a damage dealer is the hardest. You are judged by your numbers.

      Frost wrote some really great stuff, that is for sure.

    4. Well put. Gear in context does matter, especially when you're talking weapons, trinkets, set pieces. It just doesn't dictate your dps as much as most players think. Using one's cooldowns right, prepotting, talents and buffs are always going to impact your dps more than good gear.
      I might try to replicate some of what Frost did in that article so I can back my opinion up better.

    5. I did a test some years back about latency and you might be surprised that even a 0.1 second delay on every shot can add up to a huge DPS loss. I don't recall what it was off hand and I would have to go back and find it. But the ABCs are very important for a hunter as in Always Be Casting. Any loss of time, even a fraction of a second, can mean a huge DPS loss. That is something worth looking at if your numbers are not what you think they should be. Are you missing any shots? I always ask that question of people.