First of all, what is a shot rotation?
It’s a repeated sequence of shots you use.
Why should I care about it?
Crafting a good shot rotations allows you to do the most damage AND makes efficient use of mana so that you can do it longer.
When do I need to worry about it?
Really you only need to worry about it once you get Steady Shot. Before that, just use what you have. The reason is that unlike other shots, Seady Shot is meant to be woven between your Auto Shots. If you don’t do it right, you delay your next auto shot and lower your DPS.
What’s the best shot rotation?
Shot rotations depend on the speed of your bow, the haste effects such as Serpent’s Swiftness and quiver, talents such as Improved Arcane Shot, your own reaction time, and game lag. So, you have to craft your own. Or rather, you’ll have your own ideal weapon speed as you’ll see below.
Here’s the deal. Lets make this a super simple example with no haste to worry about, zero lag, instant reaction time, and only thinking about auto and steady shots. This example bow A has a 2 second firing rate. As the auto shot fires, Steady Shot is instantly used and goes off 1.5 seconds later. Now there’s two choices, you wait for the next Auto Shot to fire Steady, or you fire steady right away. The first way, in 30 seconds you’ll fire 15 Auto and 15 Steady. The second, you end up with 10 Auto Shot and 20 Steady every 30 seconds.
Several things to talk about now. Generally speaking, Steady Shot does slightly less damage than auto shot, and second, Steady Shot costs mana while Auto is free. You can see that, button mashing not only costs you more mana, but also gives you less DPS. This is why you want a shot rotation, instead of just spamming whatever cooldown is up. HOWEVER, also note that this is dependent on the speed of the bow.
Example bow B has the exact same DPS as A. However, it has a speed of 3 seconds. With this bow, delaying a second steady shot doesnt make sense. With 1 Steady per Auto we get 10 Auto and 10 Steady in 30 seconds, but with spamming steady we get 10 Auto with 20 Steady. Definitely more mana intesive, but DPS is obviously improved as well. You would get the exact same DPS results with a 1.5 second bow with the same DPS, each auto shot would just be half the damage of bow B.
Ok, now lets say I’m looking at upgrading my bow A with a new bow C. Math Incoming. Example bow C has a speed of 2.5 seconds and is +5DPS, and from this equation Steady Shot increases by 14 damage. Lets try some shot rotations. If I wait for auto before every steady, I get 12 Auto Shots, and 12 steady shots in 30 seconds compared to bow A’s 15 Auto and 15 Steady. So what do I gain and what do I lose. I gain 150 damage from the 5 DPS over 30 seconds, and with 12 steady shots I gain 168 more damage than if they came from Bow A. But notice that I lose 3 whole steady shots. So unless my steady shot is only doing 100 damage (which i doubt), the better DPS bow (C) is actually worse in practice than bow A.
Given there are other factors you can throw in, such as C may give you enough time to throw in Arcane shot or maybe you can’t get 15 Steady Shots in with Bow A because you have a laggy connection, but you can see that shot rotation makes a big difference to the point where it can make inferior weapons better than an upgrade. If nothing else, making an effort to optimize your shot rotation is the difference between being an asset to the group/raid, and a huntard.
There are guides out there to help you set up a shot rotation, but since they can’t know your reaction time and your lag, the only true test is to get a damage meter, head out to NS, and test it out on old Dr. Boom. Go for a few minutes until you’ve got a pretty constant DPS going and then reset and try another.