The question I will try to answer for these posts are;
What kind of information does a combat logger provide and how can I use it to improve my (or others) performance?
First out is the most common used mode of combat loggers - the damage done and dps modes.
A common mistake made by people who use these kind of loggers is to assume that being on top of damage done (or healing done, which I will discuss in another post) means you're doing it right. It is true that being on top, or high on that list, is an indicator that you're doing something good, but as we will soon see there are a million reasons for why someone outperforms someone else on these meters, and the answer isn't always "because he is a better player".
|This is an example of the Recount window. Name, damage done (dps, % of total). Highest dps doesn't equal highest damage done.|
When looking at the damage done meters you can with a glance see who is doing the most total damage on the current fight (or overall). This is helpful because dealing damage is ultimately the way to achieve your goal, which in WoW almost exclusively is to kill something. What you can say about the ones on top of these meters is that they're at least not slacking. But are they necessarily doing a better job than anyone else? Here are some things to think about when trying to decipher Damage Done information (not taking into account gear differences between players);
It's a good thing that classes differ in WoW, but it also means that each class has their strength and their weaknesses. Even if one assumes that, at least in a raiding environment, people are playing the specs that is the strongest for their class, there will be some classes that simply are better than others. This will never change, there will always be a couple of classes that overall do more damage than others. When writing this survival hunters, unholy death knights and affliction/destruction warlocks are among the classes that deal the most damage right now. This can change from one patch to the next, and keeping an eye on this is good if you want to understand some of the information from a combat logger. By knowing about these differences you can also assign dpsers to the right positions. For instance some dpsers deal better aoe damage, some better point damage. Some are more punished by constant target switching (like combo point users), and some less. All these things factor in for who in the end will do the best damage.
Before you go off yelling at someone for being so low on damage, take a moment to assess the fight you've just done. In what way does it allow the players to do their part? Some fights require melee to run around alot, which of course will make it difficult for them to do damage on the boss. Or a fight requires for some people to use continous cc. Even if doing damage is a big part of what dpsers are supposed to do in a fight, there are tons of other things they might have to do as well. The goal of the fight is ultimately to kill the boss, this isn't always (actually quite rarely) achieved by pure damage. Often there are other things required by players that will take their attention from doing damage. A hunter who has to kite adds or a dpser who has to step in and do some emergency healing are a few examples. All dps classes have the possibility to do other things in a fight than damage. If someone is low on damage done, you should take a moment to think about what that player might have done in the fight besides dpsing, but that was still necessary and beneficial to the fight as a whole. For the vast majority of fights you actually want a dpser who can do other stuff than dps rather than someone who does great damage but can't cc/kite/avoid fire.
The only good way to compare two players are when they happen to play the same spec and the same class. Even then you have to take the above into account, since one of those two might be doing something else than dpsing, because he has to! They don't have to play the exact same spec however, instead if they don't and you notice that the one is dealing less damage than the other, you have grounds for discussing his choice of spec, when the other might work better.
Hitting the right target
One of the best way to use the Damage Done feature, at least in Recount, is that it will tell you exactly what targets a player had. This is great, because there are fights where you want people to hit, or not to hit, certain targets. If those targets die too slow or die too fast (depending on what you want) you can easily check who wasn't doing their job. A great example is when ranged are supposed to kill adds in an encounter. If the adds die too slowly, you might first check if all ranged actually help out, before you draw the conclusion that your ranged damage is too low and take extra help from melee.
|Two fire mages in a raid, the one on the right dealing slightly more damage. Can you see a difference in skill usage?|
If you've taken the above into account and still feel like someone is low on damage done, you've got a reason to dig a little deeper. The best way to do this is by checking what skills the player has used and see if they seem to actually know how to play their class as good as possible. By checking the players top 5 damage abilities you get a good insight in how that player seems to play their class. If you happen to have two players who play the same class and spec and that were supposed to do the same things during a fight, you can compare their skill usage to try to find out what the one is doing better than the other. That way you have a great foundation to discuss why the less good player is playing the way he does. "Oh you're using this skill alot more than the other guy, why is that?" or "Would it perhaps work better if you tried to use this skill more and that skill less?" and so on.
This is also a good way to see how tanks are using their skills. If a tank is doing bad threat, you can check which skills they use to evaluate what they might have to change in order to do better.
You can also check how efficient damage dealing items work, like trinkets or bombs.
One of the questions I got was "what is the practical difference between Damage Done and Dps anyway?". It's a good question actually, and overall people tend to ascribe too much value to dps. The biggest difference between dps and damage done is that the one is interesting before a fight and the other after a fight. Dps only tells you how much damage a player has been able to produce per second for as long as he did damage overall, hence dps - damage per second. The last part is important, because if you manage to do 90.000 damage over 3 seconds you will have some damn impressive dps (30.000). But if you die after those 3 seconds, or in any other way stop doing damage, you will overall only have done those 90.000 damage and that isn't very useful for most boss fights. What you want to know before a fight, when asking about someones dps, is how good they'll probably deal with the fight. Damage done will tell you how good they actually dealt with the fight (taking into account the above factors). You don't need players who can dish out enormous amounts over a short period or players who can dish out a small amount over a long period, you need players who can dish out a decent amount over a regular boss fight period. So in what ways does dps matter?
Most boss fights in raids have an enrage timer. That means that if you have people that deal too low overall damage, you won't manage to kill the boss before he enrages. Even in fights where there are no enrage timers, like heroics, you can't go on forever because the healer will eventually go out of mana. By checking a persons dps, or when people ask for a certain amount of dps for a group, it is because they want to make sure that you can deal enough damage for you all to be able to deal with the encounter. But like I mentioned, all the dps in the world isn't worth anything if you can't deal it for the full duration of the fight. What people want to know is your average dps, because it tells alot about your average damage done, which ultimately is what they're after. All classes have their highs and lows in dps, when using cooldowns or when having to move from fire things will go up and down. Telling people about your dps in an optimal situation might allow them to assess how much damage you can deal in a regular fight situation, which is far from optimal. But again, your dps isn't worth anything if you die, because you will be low on damage done which almost always is worth more.
There are a few times where a high dps actually does matter alot. Those are the burn phases. There are a couple of bosses that have it, and the old Sarth 3D encounter is a good example of where being able to dish out as much damage as possible as fast as possible really was all that mattered in the fight. But these encounters are rare.
If someone is low on Damage Done but high in Dps you can see whether this was due to the player dying (or otherwise failing to deal damage) early in the fight, or because he had to go do other stuff (cc, heal). In this way dps can tell you whether there is potential in a player or not because someone with very low dps will almost always deal less damage overall as well. So again, you want to know that the player can hold a good average dps, which tells you that he will deal a decent amount of damage while also dealing with other parts of the fight.
That concludes this part of the series!