The definition of "Skill" is the ability to do something well.
Is WoW a game that takes skill? Does it actually require people to practice? Today I'll go through several aspects in WoW PvP and also my own personal opinion on this topic.
Basics of WoW Arena
The basics of WoW PvP these days are actually somewhat demanding if you're a new player to MMORPGs. This is due to a few factors, but one would be the amount of keybindings required to even function in arenas. Besides that is also understanding the concepts of macros, setting up your character, and more.
When a keybinding is needed to be used in arena, it's essentially the same as having another button or combo to press in a game. Imagine a game with 4 buttons versus 40. While it's true certain abilities are spammed more than others, most classes have 10+ abilities that's frequently used in arenas and should be keybinded. 10+ keybinds which is very little for WoW (many top players have 40 or more) is already much more than the average game. While more keybinds doesn't necessary make a game harder than one with less, it certainly does make the game more challenging and require more practice for a person to adapt to.
Macros are different for almost every class. WoW is one of the few MMOs that I've ever played requiring a decent amount of knowledge with using macros. In order to function properly in PvP nearly every class needs macros. The knowledge of macros to experienced players is simple, but to beginners they are a hurdle to cross. One example is arena target macros. Arena target macros lets players easily get their crowd controls out without sacrificing time to target others. This makes them act faster. Getting used to macros take experience, and some people get used to advanced macros faster than others.
Gearing / Glyphs / Talents
In WoW, gearing, glyphing, and talents usually has a cookie-cutter build. With the armory being easily accessible most people can find the top level player of their class and copy them. They can also do research by looking up guides or videos. Even experienced players can find something to learn from by using top players as reference.
It's hard to say setting up your character takes "skill", but if you look at the amount of people that sets up their character wrong for PvP or PvE it's quite flabbergasting. While skill might be the wrong word, it definitely takes a lot of time and effort to set up your character correctly. Even after you get the cookie-cutter set-up down, there's still more to it. At higher ratings most players swap glyphs, spec, and gear depending on what they are matching up against or who they are playing with. PvP changes a lot depending on the situation, and "skilled" players know when to change things up to increase their chances of winning.
Video of my 3 Favorite Games this Season
This video shows my 3 favorite games I played in this season. Just by looking at my teammates and opponents you can definitely see "skill" involved. In the first game any regular priest would not have juked that counterspell when I was at 1% HP. In the third game the Rogue Mage Priest despite losing had great coordination in peeling my team's offensive cooldowns. This kind of coordination, in my opinion, shows skill.
The Ability to Predict
In sports and games, one thing that sets apart "skilled" players and regular ones are their ability to predict opponents. In WoW, besides predicting your opponents you also need to understand your teammates. No matter how great your communication between your team is, without understanding what your teammates are going to do your success will be limited. If you can't understand your teammates there's a high chance you'll overlap cooldowns which will cost games.
Predicting your opponents is another huge factor in WoW. Priests that can death blinds frequently, Paladins that can Hand of Sacrifice instant crowd-controls, Death Knights stealing Pain Suppression and more. All of these takes a good amount of ability and skill to predict. You have to understand the game well, understand your opponents, and be able to calmly understand the situation you're in to make these kinds of prediction. In my opinion, this is a great form of showing "skill."
The Mind Games
WoW has it's own little mini mind game when it comes to interrupts. Top healers are almost never interrupted on cast. It's crazy how different it is from a 2200 healer and 1500, or 2600 and 2200. Their ability to calmly juke casts is on another level. This also works the other way around with the player who is interrupting.
Besides the mini game with interrupts, there is also strategies that can play with a team's mind. Thing such as dragging a team into the room in Ruins of Lordaeron, or a Warlock jumping off Blade's Edge. The knowledge to use this positioning for a team's advantage is another huge aspect of this game. When is it right to jump down to catch that Warlock? When is it right to overextend and go in that room?
Strategies is something teams talk about almost a little before every game. When I play with my team, we always have set strategies for openers so we know what to do when the gates open. Forming strategies and countering it is another part of WoW that requires "skill." The effectiveness of a strategy is something that experience and a person's ability determine. Teams who use the wrong strategies such as hitting the wrong targets will find themselves losing a lot more than a team doing it correctly. Basic strategies are always simple, which mainly include what targets to hit.
Strategies in WoW however especially at higher levels get more and more complicated. For example, a Rogue Mage Priest opening strategy versus a Retribution Paladin Death Knight Priest could be sap the Paladin, set up, open on Priest, and fear when the Priest is stunned by the rogue. After Priest uses Pain Suppression or gets Hand of Protection swap on the Retribution Paladin to force bubble, then Mass Dispel since there won't be Pain Suppression and instantly kill him. A solid strategy like this is much better than go on the Priest and do whatever you guys want. By having more valuable strategies a team can succeed more often because things will merely line up better that way.
On Demand Thinking
On demand thinking and changing strategies mid-game is very common. Lets take the Paladin Death Knight Priest for example, lets say the Death Knight Unholy Frenzies himself and the Paladin Hand of Sacrifices the Death Knight to not get sapped and charges in. What are you going to do now as the Rogue Mage Priest? You would have to adapt, try to go for a Sap on Priest and open Paladin instead. Once teams are more experienced with this Paladin Death Knight Priest, they may even make branch strategies of changing their openers around depending on how the opponents play which is what PvP is exactly about!
Playing the game, predict your opponents, know your own stuff, and do your best to win. It gets more and more complicated down the road but that's the fun of it. That's how a player improves and gets more "skilled."
Teamwork and Communication
Communication has always been hard with human beings. People have been having difficulty communicating with each other since forever. That's why it's amazing when you see a team with great coordination and synergy. Players that can understand each other really well, and communicate the rest of the gaps.
Check out this previous article I wrote on communication for some more analysis from me:
EQ and skill is two completely different things, but in some ways they do relate with each other. EQ is after all, the reason of success to many things for human beings. Being able to maintain composure even in tight situations and making the right call is not something every player can do. In fact, many players lose it when they lose a game! I'm sure all of us have at least played with that one negative guy before who just won't stop complaining. He just loves blaming everything on someone but never himself. These are the people NO ONE wants to play with, and probably won't do well in the end either.
I personally feel WoW does take skill to play. Most if not all of this ability can be acquired through practice and a right state of mind which I feel is a good thing. There are certainly other games that require more "skill" than WoW in certain elements such as Starcraft 2. Starcraft 2 requires a player to be absolutely insane at predicting, and strategies plays an even more important role. APM in Starcraft 2 is also much higher. However at the same time I'm playing WoW because to me I feel a much stronger attachment to the game. WoW is an MMORPG before PvP, meaning you get to build your character from scratch. Starting from level 1, you're already building your character to the way you envision it, and when it caps out on level you start gearing it towards your needs. PvP nowadays has a much more set rule in gears etc, but there's still a lot of room for creativity and "skill" in how to do gearing, glyphs, reforging, gems, and more. It makes PvPers not only research on how to PvP properly, but how to make their character a proper fitting for it. For me, being attached to the game is something important when I play, and WoW has done this quite well which is why I've sticked with it for so long.
What do you guys think?