WoW 101: Learning to Spectate

BY Andrew Miesner / November 18, 2009

WoW 101: Learning to Spectate

by Sascha “Yiska” Heinisch

Granted – WoW as an e-sport is not very spectator friendly. The general rule applies – the better of a player you are yourself, the more you understand of what’s going on and the more you will enjoy watching WoW Arena games. Processing this huge amount of information is tough but we at Complexity are willing to give new spectators a hand and help them to understand what is going on. Today we will talk about the spectator interface.

The spectator interface is very comparable to CS interfaces some broadcasting stations use for their streams. Unlike tools like HLTV, the spectator client is only available for shout casters and it’s currently the only way to follow the Arena action despite 1:1 streaming from a player’s PC. This means you will only get to see what the shout caster or the player shows you. Let’s take a look:


On top of the party unit frames on the very top left and right corner, you see the team names written either on a yellow or a green piece of cloth. The color of the cloth is the same color as the flags which every arena player has on his back. In conclusion; If you don’t know which team a player is on, just look at the color of his team and the color of the flag he carries.

Group frames – Located in the top left and top right corner are the party or group frames. They are probably the most important windows to watch during a game as they contain most of the information. Let’s break it down:

Character names: This should explain itself. It should be noted that often players don’t name their characters like their online nickname. Also from time to time, you can figure out skill and gear choices based on character names. Fictional example: Reckful might have set up two Rogue characters for a tournament, one as Mutilate/Prep (the cookie cutter spec) called Reckful and one as deep Assassination with Hunger for Blood sometimes used when you don’t expect your Rogue to be the main target. That second Rogue might be called differently as changing your gear and spec might take too much time.

HP Bars: The probably most important information you gain from the entire interface are the green HP bars as the objective in Arena is to kill the opposing team. Most of the time the HP bars are a good indicator of who is winning the game. If you see one or more team member of a team being low, chances are they are on the defense. As a new person to WoW Arena, you should be keeping an eye on these at all times. It takes a couple of games to get used to it, but ones your eye is trained to keep track of them while watching the actual in game footage, it gets easier to understand what is going on. In the current tournament season gear, most players have between 18 to 25 thousand health points based on their gear choices and class. Even though this number looks pretty high the current state of the game might make you miss a key play if you dare to blink. The most important thing to note is a) Once a player drops below one health point he dies and most of the time the team with the first dying player will lose the game unless a cross kill happens in the following seconds.

Mana/Energy/Rage/Runicpower-Bar: WoW has four different types of resource systems and based on class and spec they have a different type of importance. Realistically a new player should only watch out for the dark blue bars of caster classes which display their remaining manapool. In some matchups, the manabar of the healer is just as important as the life bars as they indicate how much more healing power the healer has left in the can. For damage dealing classes like Mage the mana bar is important as well as he will deal virtually no damage without mana. From time to time a spectator should check those to understand how much more offensive or healing power is left for each team. The health bar remains the most important information in the UI though.

Class icon: Next to the HP- and Manabar is the class icon. Every class in WoW has a different icon and currently WoW has 10 different classes. Let’s take a look at them.

Death Knight

Each class has three different skill trees. What their job is and what their abilities are will be a topic in a future article. For now, it’s just important two remember those classes and their class icons.

Buff/Debuff Bar: Below the health and mana bar is the debuff/buff bar. It shows which effects are currently on the target. Buffs are all abilities which increase your characters effectiveness or help it stay alive. Debuffs have all kinds of functions such as dealing damage (damage over time spells aka Dots) or decreasing the effectiveness of a character. A very important part of the debuffs are the CC-abilities (Character Control). There are all kinds of different CC-spells but what they all have in common is that the character affected by these spells loses control of abilities or even of the entire character for a certain duration or until dispelled or broken otherwise. As debuffs are a crucial point about WoW arena, this will be outsourced in a future article as well. The most important things to note for now are:

There are buffs (good for the character) and debuffs (bad for the character). Buffs come first, debuffs are displayed on the second bar in the spectator UI. CC-spells are an important part of Arena and prevent the character from functioning like it normally does. Some buffs and debuffs can be dispelled from certain classes. As this bar has a limited amount of slots, not all buffs or debuffs are displayed at all times if those exceed a certain number.

Green and red numbers next to the unit frames: All the time you will see red and green numbers appear next to the unit frame. Red numbers are damage and green numbers are healing. Rarely does someone pay attention to these numbers. It’s just useful information to see if the target received healing or was hit by a high damage ability.

This is it for the party/group frames.

Spectated player: The frame on the down mid-left is the character that the spectator client user has currently selected as the character he likes to follow while the frame on the right is the target of the spectated player. There are two additional things you get from those frames: Cast bars and above the cast bar “last spells used”-bar.

Quick explanation about casts: There are basically three different types of casts: Instant, Channeled and normally casted. Instant casts happen as you press them and will only be displayed in the “last spell used” bar. Channeled casts such as Divine Hymn have an effect as soon as they start (in the case of Divine Hymn: Healing every two seconds starting) and the effect will repeat itself periodically until canceled or over, which is displayed in the cast bar by running from full to empty. Casted spells start from empty and go to full and only when the bar is completely filled the effect will go off.

The “last spells used”-bar is simply a display of which abilities the player or its target has used in the last couple of seconds.

Cooldown tracker: Below the group frames is the cooldown tracker for both the spectated player and his target, which has been introduced in a newer version of the spectator client. While the ESL uses the newer version, the MLG shout casters didn’t have the cool down tracker in Anaheim. As it’s a nice feature, I will explain it anyway.

Every class has certain abilities that can only be used once and not chained after another. They then go on a cooldown that can range from 3 seconds to ten minutes which depends on the strength and role of the ability. Moreover every ability has an icon which is unique to this very ability. The longer these games last the more important does this bar get. The importance of certain abilities will be a topic for a future article. Let’s summarize:

The spectator interface shares a lot of information, some more relevant than others. As you learn more about the game, you will be able to process more information. If you’re completely new to WoW Arena as a spectator the priority of watching an arena stream should be the following:

HP Bars
The actual in game battle field and especially the positioning of players
Checking buffs/debuffs especially on the team that is under pressure
If the pace of the game is relatively slow, watch manabars of the healing classes.

If you follow this priority for now, you should be able to understand a great deal of what’s going on in WoW Arena. The topic is much more complex, not only for the spectator but also for the players. Complexity will continue to give new spectators a hand to enjoy WoW as an esport as much as we do. Stay tuned.