Whenever you group up with other people in WoW, in the vast majority of cases you will have people fulfilling one of three roles – tank, healer or dps.
Tanks are the guys that stand at the front and taunt all the bad guys to hit him. He’s the guy often wearing a tin can and his main job is to have everything attacking him.
Healers, conversely, stand at the back, trying desperately NOT to be noticed by the bad guys, whilst keeping everyone alive.
Tanks and healers, generally, fulfil exactly the same job on every encounter – they often have fewer spells or attacks to learn and once they know how and when to use them, they can pretty much do their job “on the fly”.
The final role to be filled in a group is the DPS – the damage dealers. In any group you have more of this role than any of the other two. They are the guys who actually need to know which target to attack first, which targets to incapacitate, which to run away from, which groups need single-target attacks and which groups can all be hit at once.
The onus is on the damage dealers to ensure they do not gain the attention of anything they are shooting – yet if they do, react quickly in either misdirecting back onto the tank, using any talents to remove that attention or using a talent to incapacitate (crowd control) the bad guy.
Damage dealers also have to be aware of everything around them, especially the location of the healer, to ensure they are always within range of heals and to be ready to help the healer or other team mates if it looks like they are in trouble.
When the party is attacking a larger (or hard hitting) group, the damage dealers are often called upon to “crowd control” (CC) – a method of temporarily taking individual bad guys out of a fight whilst everyone concentrates on killing the rest. Different classes of your party will have different types of crowd control – the onus is on each of them to know how their crowd control spell works, what it actually works on (ie beasts, elementals, undead, humanoids, etc) and how long it will work for. They should also be ready to reapply any crowd control when it wears off, until the tank is ready to take it on.
But the main job of the damage dealers is to kill the enemy. Every fight is a race against time – the more damage can be dealt out, the faster the bad guys die. Conversely, the longer a fight lasts, the more damage everyone in the party takes, which means more healing needed – at some point in every fight, if it lasts long enough, the healer will run out of mana and no longer be able to heal – very soon after that the bad guys win!
How do you know how much damage is being doled out? Most people use a damage meter addon such as Recount or Skada. These will track how much damage is done per person, per fight, and on an overall basis. You could also use a website such as World of Logs to upload combat logs to – this will break down your full combat log and enable you to analyse individual elements of each fight.
Do you need to know how much damage you’re doing? No – not really. At the end of the day, as long as you do enough damage to kill the bad guys before they kill you, it doesn’t matter. I know a lot of people feel that it is the be all and end all – even the name of your role reflects that. However, it does depend on what you want to do. You wouldn’t say that, just because you could swim a few lengths in a swimming pool, you would be ready to swim across the channel from England to France – it is a matter of knowing your current limits and your targets. The same goes for doling out damage – there are certain known “estimates” in place for various types of encounters.
You do have to bear in mind, however, that certain expectations are in place when you join a group of others. The others in the group expect that you are able to fulfil the role you signed up for, to the best of your ability, and without them feeling they are compensating for you in some way. If their damage meters are showing that you are doing less than you should be for any particular encounter, consistently, and it is causing problems for the group as a whole, this will cause bad feeling and may result in either the group splitting, or your removal from the group. Being consistently average in a group is not a problem – being consistently bottom with a group that fails in encounters is a problem.
In order to know if your output is good enough for the type of encounter you wish to do, you put an imaginary group of people who have identical motor skills, reflexes, abilities and output as you into that encounter. If they win – you’re ready. If they don’t – you’re not.
Some raid encounters – those that require a group of either 10 or 25 people to do them – have time limits. For example a raid boss may “enrage” after 5 minutes, basically meaning that if the group doesn’t kill it within those 5 minutes, the full group dies.
As we know how much health those bosses have, and how long we have to kill them, and how many people in any given raid group will be damage dealers, it is then fairly easy to work out, on average, how much damage each of those raid members need to do in order to successfully kill the boss. Once you have that figure, you know what to aim for, and whether or not you’re ready.
So … what is dps and what does it mean? In the strictest translation – it means “damage per second”. It is the amount of damage you can give out in a second. Now obviously this is not literal. Encounters often require movement, and a lot of classes cannot do a lot of damage whilst moving. A lot of spells cannot be cast once every second, and a lot of them will not do a massive amount of damage when they hit. So in the true meaning of the phrase, it actually means the average amount of damage you can do, over a long fight. Basically, the longer the better.
You can test it approximately on a “target dummy” – one of those inanimate objects in most main cities where you can throw your spells all out without retaliation. In order to test it fairly you should do 3 seperate tests, each time starting with full mana or focus and keep attacking for 5 minutes, during which time you would use your big cooldowns, your focus/mana regeneration abilities, etc.
If you can, set your damage meter to show your damage as it is happening during the fight – at the end of your 5 minutes you may still have damage over time spells ticking on the target dummy, which will slowly reduce your “damage per second” figure until they wear off. This of course wouldn’t happen on a boss fight, as at the end of the 5 minutes (or the end of the fight), the boss would be dead so there would be no spells ticking over on him anymore.
Whatever figure you get – don’t take it as gospel. Bear in mind that it may go up in a good mixed group due to the number of extra buffs you will receive; but it inevitably will also go down as the majority of encounters require a lot of movement, changing of targets, crowd control, etc. If the amount of damage you do on the target dummy is approximately the same as that you can do overall in a 5 man heroic dungeon run then, congratulations, you probably know your class well, the encounters well, and are good at anticipating what types of attacks and movement is needed.
How do pets fit into it all? Most damage meters will actually include your pet into your damage shown (assuming you have that option selected). Some may not (currently, mainly the shadowy apparition for shadow priests). Basically your DPS is quantified by the amount of damage in total you (and your pets) do to a target, divided by the length of the fight. However, if you die prior to the end of the fight, your damage meter stops “averaging” at that point – so if you did 10,000 damage per second on average, but died only halfway through a fight, the damage meter would still show you did 10,000 dps. In effect though, your actual dps would only have been 5,000 damage per second – as for half of the fight you were not dealing any damage whatsoever.
This also relates to pets. If you are a hunter, for example, your pets damage can automatically be included into yours. If your pet dies halfway through a fight, then suddenly you are no longer getting the benefit of that pets damage. As you are still alive for the rest of the fight, however, the damage meter will average out the amount of damage until the end of the fight, thus taking into account the pet’s death.
Unfortunately, as mentioned before, some pets are not currently included in damage meters as part of your damage – notably the shadowy apparition. These little guys are basically a shadowy version of the priest in question – they turns up randomly if you have a specific damage over time spell running, slowly walking towards the target and then exploding when it gets there. Whilst one is around, there is a higher chance for another to turn up. Now if you watched one of these “pets” and physically worked out it’s damage per second from the time it appears to the time it disappears, you would realise without having a damage meter tell you, that its damage per second is low – depending on how far away from the target you are, it takes a long time to reach it, say between 5 and 10 seconds. The resultant damage it does must therefore be divided by the amount of time it was actually around for. It’s damage per second as it relates to yours must also then be factored in considering the amount of time it is there, compared to how long the fight is. If only one apparition appears throughout an entire 5 minute fight, then the damage it does has to be divided by the full length of the fight.
Looking at shadow priests specifically, there is a way to roughly estimate how much damage you are doing overall, including those apparitions – which is to make the amount of damage an apparition does on average a percentage. Having tested it myself, and having looked at other logs for much more accomplished shadow priests than me (ranging from around 10,ooo dps to 32,000 dps), it appears that this particular pet does somewhere between 2% and 5% of a shadow priests total dps. So – if a shadow priest is doing 10,000 dps in a raid, then you can add on (being generous) another 5% to take into account the pet (at least until this particular problem is fixed), making a total of 10,500 dps.
In conclusion …. “DPS” refers both to the role of damage dealer and the amount of damage they can do. As long as a damage dealer knows how much damage at a minimum is required for any particular encounter, and knows that they can do more than that consistently, whilst still carrying out all other role requirements (crowd control, movement and positioning abilities, etc), and can demonstrate that to others consistently, then it doesn’t matter how much damage they do. Basically, they must be able to “hold their own” compared to others carrying out the same encounters.