No one wants to be left on the sidelines.
“Despite the meta fluctuating since launch, the core lineup has seldom shifted. Although the introduction of Ana has displaced Mercy into the realms of obscurity, there are still 8 Heroes who are rarely chosen competitively.”
Last week I wrote about the delivery of new Heroes to Overwatch. It generated a great deal of discussion, with a relatively even split between those who wanted more, and those who were happy with the current delivery rate. What was evident however was the general consensus that many of the existing Overwatch Heroes not only needed improvements to their kit, but some who have remained “must have” for so long, they may need rebalancing.
Having played Overwatch since it opened its doors, parting with my cash like many millions of others, it has been apparent from day one that certain Heroes were vastly superior to their counterparts. While there have been ups and downs as Blizzard find their feet for balancing, Heroes such as Reindhart, Lucio, Winston, Zarya, Roadhog and Tracer have remained constant. In total, 12 of the existing roster have always done exceptionally well and whether played competitively or casually, they’ve rarely strayed far from player pick lists.
Despite the meta fluctuating since launch, with team compositions often changing (double Winston, Fan the Hammer McCree as a few examples) the core lineup has seldom shifted. Although the introduction of Ana has displaced Mercy into the realms of obscurity, there are still 8 Heroes who are rarely chosen competitively and 5 who have a usage rate above 5 percent, but below 20 percent.
Knuckling down on the statistics, courtesy of Overbuff, the likes of D.Va, McCree and Pharah are chosen only 16 percent and 15 percent of the time, while Mercy and Reaper are 5 percent and 6 percent respectively. Heroes such as Sombra, Bastion and Junkrat have pick-rates of less than 1 percent.
The fact 13 of 23 Heroes rarely see competitive play is worrying, especially when you consider 8 of those 13 have always been considered poor. Not only that, but relatively new arrivals to the “5 Percent Usage Club” are D.Va and McCree, two Heroes who were hit with the dreaded nerf bat.
While it’s fair to say the meta of Overwatch is in flux right now, especially after the changes to Ana’s Biotic Grenade and the rebalancing of D.Va, it remains highly unlikely to think that those Heroes who were already picked less than 5 percent of the time will suddenly find their fortunes revised. I suspect it will simply see Heroes once considered strong (McCree, Pharah and Reaper) rising ever so slightly instead.
My question then: what can Blizzard do to help those at the bottom?
I would argue that there is only so much any developer can do to aid a Hero within the constraints of its kit. If a kit is poorly designed or considered lacklustre in relation to its proposed role or the pace of the game itself, tinkering with its numerical values will do little. It may stem short term complaints, but it will eventually stumble in the long term. On that basis, reworking a Hero’s kit might seem an obvious solution to the problem but it’s evident, certainly where Symmetra is concerned, that this isn’t always the case.
Having received a variety of changes to her kit in December, not only has it had little impact on her competitive selection, but she still remains poor. Her static nature of play, the superiority of Ana and Lucio, combined with the shielding of Reinhardt, render her largely redundant.
“A major part of the difficulty Overwatch faces is that when designing and releasing Heroes, Blizzard has attempted to find so many unique roles across its existing roster that kits are diluted as a result.”
She remains redundant not just because of her kit or that of her peers, but because of the role Blizzard have attempted to have her fill. While she is considered Support, her kit could easily be interpreted as defensive, certainly when you factor in her stationary Sentry Turrets, Teleporter and her Photon Barrier. On that basis, it’s also interesting to find that every Hero also suffering a selection crisis are categorized as Defence, with Bastion, Hanzo, Junkrat, Mei, Torbjorn and Widowmaker falling into this area.
I must stress at this point that I’m fully aware that many players do in fact play these Heroes; I’m certainly guilty. I rarely play anything other than Mei and Junkrat, simply because I enjoy their kits so much. I’m acutely aware however that for general play it’s largely acceptable, but for ranked? Not so much. I feel I’d be doing my team a great disservice and doing more harm than good selecting, say, Hanzo, or Mei, when I could simply choose Soldier 76 or Reinhart.
Unfortunately for Blizzard, adjusting numbers or reworking kits isn’t a guaranteed solution: there’s every potential for it to do more harm than good. Were Torbjorn to have his kit revised within its existing framework we’d be back to square one of players complaining about an AI lead Hero being carried by a turret that happens to do all the lifting. To digress and for what it’s worth, I’ve always felt Torbjorn should have followed the Team Fortress 2 Gunslinger approach.
Is there a solution, besides nerfing the most popular Heroes? I think so.
A major part of the difficulty Overwatch faces is that when designing and releasing Heroes, Blizzard has attempted to find so many unique roles across its existing roster that kits are diluted as a result. For all intents and purposes, Widowmaker and Hanzo could have comfortably had their kits merged while the same could be said for Torbjorn, Symmetra and Bastion. I appreciate this would have resulted in the loss of some wonderful characters, but they could have – arguably – been stronger for it. Those character designs could have then been retooled at a later date.
Were Torbjorn able to erect a barricade (similar to what Symmetra projects), while offering six small turrets and an “armor” generator, he’d likely be in a much better position. Especially if these abilities were further bolstered by his Molten Core. The exact same could be said for Widowmaker, who could easily absorb Hanzo’s Wall Climbing, Sonic Arrow and Scatter Arrow (the latter two as alternative fire modes on her Widow’s Kiss).
You’re probably thinking at this point: “What you’re suggesting goes completely against your article where you wanted more Heroes, more often!” and while I do believe Overwatch would benefit from more Heroes, not less, Heroes need an identity that suits all areas of the game. Many Heroes have been placed into such niche roles, in a game where the best defence is offence, that they’ve been relegated to the sidelines.
When a Hero is at the design stage, the first question Blizzard should be asking themselves is whether or not that Hero is not only unique, but brings enough to the table to compete against those already in the roster. I’ve no doubt that they do (they’re a brilliant studio) but even on paper, Ana was always going to oust Mercy, whereas Sombra would clearly struggle to wrestle a place from Tracer.
“The arrival of Doomfist will likely see another tank enter the roster. If it is a tank, he needs to squeeze between the mobility and AOE shielding of Winston, the pure sponge of Reinhardt and the aggression of Roadhog.”
If Overwatch is to rescue its Heroes, a culmination of buffs and reworks is the only answer but one that still, potentially, leaves them undesirable. Barring total reworks (which no Hero has yet received) the easiest solution is to simply ensure a Hero “fits” into the game right from the get-go, across all game modes.
The arrival of Doomfist within the next few weeks (months?) will likely see another tank enter the roster. If it is a tank, he needs to squeeze between the mobility and AOE shielding of Winston, the pure sponge of Reinhardt and the aggression of Roadhog. There’s undoubtedly design space for it and I’m hoping for a kit something not too dissimilar to Gigantic’s Margrave. I’m just hoping he arrives in a better position than Sombra, so we won’t have yet another Hero in need of intervention.
What are your thoughts on the Hero balance of Overwatch? Does it bother you that some aren’t seen as competitively viable? Do you think some defence Heroes are too niche? Do you find balance largely irrelevant as long as a Hero is fun? Let us know.