I have been using some sort of physical representation since late 1st/early 2nd edition, when one of my DMs went off the deep end. Good friend, and he had been a pretty good DM, until one season where he went all over the place. All of a sudden, during fights he was rolling randomly for which PC each monster would attack (without regarding to any sense of engagement), he was narrating enemies going from far distance to hand to hand without allowing PCs any intermediate actions.
Rather than call him out, I apologized and ask him to start setting up either hand drawn maps or using props because I was having a hard time following what was happening. As soon as we did, the combats went back to a logical flow and I have never went back to pure TOTM.