Is playing BM a defense mechanism?

Sigh. The healer community got an awesome healer webring survey, and the hunters get gnashing of teeth and rampant controversy.

There has been a lot of furor and fuss about the raiding viability of Beast Mastery lately, all starting with a Scattered Shots column written by Frost over at Warcraft Hunters Union. Frost has written more about the subject on WHU, and other well-respected Hunter bloggers like Brigwyn and Euripedes have chimed in with their own thoughts.

The subject's not exactly new - BM has been behind for a while. Frost's column just brought it to mass attention and into the spotlight. Since the column published, the discussion, while simple at heart (essentially math/results vs. preference/enjoyment) has really heated up with a number of different perspectives.

Personally? I know BM is mathematically behind the other two specs. I don't agree that playing BM is the same as playing unenchanted/ungemmed, but I see where the argument comes from. On the other hand, I love BM, usually top DPS meters for pug raids, and am not clearing current ICC content where my DPS is hurting the raid. So I'm content with BM where it is, but I certainly don't deny that the other specs can - and should - outperform us. If a MM/SV hunter was chosen over me for an ICC run because of our respective specs, I would be disappointed, but not offended.

Aside: Is this what Subtlety rogues feel like? Never mind, silly question. There are no Subtlety rogues.

However, trawling through the long comment threads, I have realized that many BM hunters are so dedicated to the spec that they refuse to acknowledge anything negative about it. My fellow Beast Mastery hunters, I love you for your passion...but this is just an excuse. It's a subtle way of setting ourselves up to have our cake and eat it too. Consider these two scenarios.

If a BM hunter outperforms an equally-geared MM or SV hunter, the BM gets to feel proud about how great he did, since he beat a "superior" spec. Maybe he screenshots the Recount window. Maybe he remembers this result to later use in a pro-BM discussion on Hunter blogs. I'm certainly no exception to this. We're damage machines...who doesn't enjoy being #1?

However, if a BM hunter is outdpsed by an equally-geared MM or SV hunter, the BM hunter can simply ignore the result, telling himself "the other hunter only beat me because I'm playing an inferior spec on purpose. He's not really better than me." It is conveniently forgotten.

This is a pretty blunt example, and I think most BM hunters are more realistic about results than this. I'll be honest though - I definitely remember the fights where I was on top more than ones where I wasn't. I can also recall instinctively thinking this excuse while looking at 3rd or 4th place on Recount behind two MM hunters, trying to cheer myself up a little. I quickly shook the thought out of my head, and resolved to find ways to up my DPS to get better results, but it was there.

It's's just basic competitive spirit and the urge to win, clashing with passion about playing your preferred style. But it IS an excuse. If gear is equal, and BM beats MM/SV, it doesn't mean BM is just as strong. It means the BM hunter was more skilled than the MM/SV hunter. Judging from the number of BM players claiming to be topping their damage meters, it seems that most loyal BM hunters have developed nice skills and are able to squeeze the spec for all the DPS it's capable of. This is great! /highfive! But an equally skilled, equally geared MM/SV hunter WILL beat BM, hands-down.

Beast Mastery hunters are already making the conscious choice to play a spec that even Blizzard has said is a little behind. Many of us have devoted the time and effort to maximizing our damage potential, and we'll always do well, but sometimes, inevitably, we will be behind. We need to know this, expect it, and accept it. We shouldn't embarrass the noble Beast Mastery spec by crediting it when we top Recount and blaming it when we don't.