Allison Robert on WoWinsider posted about the warcraft realms stats that have druids not being dead last (where I remember them always being). I think I’ve lost track of how popular druids were. I still assumed we were near the bottom, since I stopped paying attention to those numbers, I was always used to being the underdog…
The druid class seems to have turned “flavor of the month” somewhere between the 1.8 patch and Burning Crusade, which seems like it was forever ago, but even then we weren’t super popular for a long time. Druids now are no where near the popularity level of paladins and death knights in the stats listed in the wowinsider post. Given Warcraft Realm’s likely margin of error, I figure we’re basically tied for third with hunters and warriors.
I think what brought druids up from second to last to tied for third sis that we can fill all 4 possible roles in a raid. This wasn’t always true. When we were just healers and leveling sucked, we had low population numbers. When leveling finally became fun, and they fixed the feral and balance trees, druids became a fun class to play.
I’ll help out Allison with a brief history of the druid class (as I see it) & how our popularity has changed over time.
Before patch 1.8 – druids had to level up as resto, had to play resto for instances, and had to heal the majority of the time. Tanking was possible as a resto druid in “tank” gear.
Between 1.8 and 2.0, we were in a bit of a transition phase. Feral & balance were starting to be a little better, and moonkin form came out (giving balance and end-tier talent worth picking up). However, the “hybrid penalty” was still in effect, where we couldn’t do anything quite as well as the “pure” classes at level 60. Mostly, the people who tried to go moonkin really were OOMkin, and I got mocked almost non-stop when I spec’d into moonkin.
Burning Crusade - During Beta testing, we got to play with an overpowered version of Mangle that got toned down. However, mangle (along with other new feral talents) really helped feral to become much better spec (decent tanking with decent damage in the same spec!). Resto got lifebloom and really came into it’s own for healing, and became really popular as a PvP Arena spec for a while. Moonkin got a bunch of good fixes for level 70, and became very group-friendly, even if their DPS numbers were low (they put the Boom in Boomkin). I personally gave up raiding on my druid for a while in Burning Crusade and leveled up a shaman healer (on alliance side) to spam chain heal & top healing meters. So, in general, I think the class in Burning Crusade was popular, but it just didn’t have the right tool set for each spec to really feel worthwhile in every situation.
WotLK - When they first gave away all the moonkin buffs to other classes, I almost cried because I was scared that moonkin would never get raid spots again. Fortunately, with the death of unique buffs we also saw the death of the hybrid penalty. Moonkin & cat druids now have at least some chance of topping damage meters at some point. Feral tanking is definitely good and accepted. Druid healing has a ton of spells to use and interesting dynamics in raid instances. We can fill any role just about as well as any class, and we can have two specs (yay dualspec system!). Being able to spec both moonkin and resto has been a ton of fun for me, and I bet a lot of other people leveled up their druids to 80 so that they could fill multiple roles with the same class.
Also, there are a LOT of people now with multiple 80s, that make the numbers really hard to interpret. You can have an 80 DK and never actually play it. It could be that some classes were fun to level up to 80, and then got put on the backburner in favor of what their “main” is.