Now that World of Warcraft's newest expansion, Shadowlands, has been out a few weeks and Season 1 has started, it seemed like a good time to look at covenant balance. I'm not talking balance of the abilities and soulbinds, but instead player balance within each covenant. Also, I'm only looking from a purely PvE perspective, so I'm not considering PvP yet. For this, I'll use numbers pulled from wowranks and based on data from Dec. 13th. Additionally, since I don't play every class and spec, I'll cross-reference Wowhead's covenant guide. There is a margin of error here, but these sources are mostly for framing the discussion, and I recognize it's only partial datasets that can affect some conclusions.
This is the breakdown of characters who have picked their covenants. The percent breakdown works out to Kyrian 29.05%, Necrolords 15.59%, Night Fae 31.92%, and Venthyr 23.44%. Overall, this is a much more even split than I would have expected. Necrolords is about 10% lower than if there was an even split, and Night Fae is slightly higher than it would be with an even split. Nonetheless, everything is pretty much even. However, when I started looking at the stats on a class by class basis, everything got far more lopsided.
The class with the highest deviation is Paladin, which has Kyrian at 72.61%, Necrolords at 2.94%, Night Fae at 4.65%, and Venthyr at 19.80%. Looking at what's recommended for Paladins, I thought maybe the Holy Paladins were skewing the results because Kyrian is recommended as best for both raiding and mythic+. However, Holy Paladins account for 16.17% of all the Paladins in the Kyrian covenant, so they certainly aren't affecting the numbers drastically enough to explain the massive margin by which Kyrian is winning over Paladins. Kyrian is recommended as best for both Prot and Ret in mythic+, which might mean most of those players are mostly interested in mythic+.
There is another possible explanation, though. The Kyrian are above all about service and duty, which pairs well with the general class fantasy of a Paladin. The holy warriors to protect those who cannot defend themselves. It is what they are all about and why the stories of fallen Paladins are so impactful. If it's an affinity with the ideals of the Kyrian which is driving this choice, that'd be a more challenging issue to fix than if it were a question of balance alone (which isn't to say balancing the skills and soulbinds is simple). I'm also not sure picking a covenant because you like it would be seen as a problem to be fixed either, as that would be a case of players deciding what they want regardless of what is "best." Without more data, there isn't a way to tell which case is correct, though.
Druids are in a similar position, with 70.56% of them picking Night Fae, which seems obvious. Everything about the Night Fae screams Druid after all. However, this seems less likely to be about flavor than it is about numbers. When it comes to raiding, every spec for Druid lists Night Fae as an optimal option. Balance is the least for sure because Night Fae is only situationally best for raiding for them. Despite this fact, Balance accounts for 40.62% of all Druids in the Night Fae Covenant. Night Fae isn't as universally recommended for mythic+, however. Necrolords is the lowest covenant for Druid with only 6.39%, and they are only recommended for Guardian raiding; that recommendation is shared with Kyrian and Night Fae. Given the standings of the recommendations, I'd say there's probably some work to be done on balance between the covenants for Druids.
Another fascinating observation from looking at the class dispersal in covenants is that only 2.48% of Demon Hunters choose Necrolords. This is by far the lowest percentage for any class/covenant combination. According to Demon Hunter's recommendations, the Necrolords aren't listed as the best option for either spec for raiding or mythic+. Every other covenant is recommended at least once, with Kyrian being the most recommended and probably explains why 49.66% of Demon Hunters are choosing it. There's still a lot of balancing needed for the Demon Hunters and their options.
Priest appears to be the most evenly distributed, with Venthyr at 39.71%, Necrolords at 31.08%, Kyrian 24.05%, and Night Fae at 5.16%. Night Fae being so low isn't surprising, considering they aren't recommended at all for Priests. Obviously, Necrolords and Kyrian are recommended a lot for all three specs, explaining the balance between those two covenants. There's also the fact Priests have the most significant variance in their class fantasy based on spec. Obviously, Shadow is way out there doing Shadow/Void things, but even Discipline and Holy are very different not only in how they play but in the concept, which powers them. These differences may help to even out Priest dispersal amongst all the covenants. Even so, some balance for Night Fae is probably called for.
There's a lot more information to be gleaned from these numbers, but these are the cases that stood out the most to me. Of course, Blizzard will keep tweaking things and messing with numbers throughout the expansion. Given that we can change what covenant we are apart of, it'll be interesting to see how the covenants' balance develops throughout Shadowlands. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what everyone else has chosen and what the deciding factor was for you.