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As most people may know, game balancing can be a fickle thing. Of course, it always sounds like the easiest thing in the world, but adding an extra point of damage or taking away a couple of points of health is occasionally enough to shift things around drastically—maybe your favorite gun becomes useless or that character no one uses turns into death incarnate. It certainly doesn’t help that, depending on what kind of forums you visit, very vocal people tend to love saying something is super overpowered or not fun to play against without really giving much context into why or how they would make reasonable changes to it, and in Overwatch, that is no different.

Lately, if you have been keeping up with whatever character balancing drama pops up, people have been complaining a lot about Mercy, Overwatch’s most one dimensional healer. Now you may ask, why is that? After all, Mercy has been largely untouched by balancing updates for months by now, and practically speaking, she still plays more or less like she did at release. Alleged Competitive ranking gain wonkiness aside, Mercy isn’t a statistically better pick than any other Hero, despite her high popularity; in fact, according to MasterOverwatch.com, you are marginally more likely to win with a Torbjorn (53.6% winrate) or Symmetra (58.2% winrate) on your team than a Mercy (50.1% winrate). You may not want a Torbjorn on the team, but the point still stands that even though Mercy may be the most popular Hero in the game by a large margin, she isn’t as overbearingly powerful as some may claim when Lucio and Zenyatta have significantly higher winrates.

Naturally, you can also say that Mercy is simply not fun to play against, which, given the highly subjective nature of such a statement, may or may not be true. Sure, it’s soul-crushingly demoralizing to wipe out the entire enemy team only to have them all get revived two seconds later, but that’s literally the only super-high impact thing that Mercy can do in the entire game. Every other healer can easily contribute some damage (yes, even Lucio) without sacrificing healing, and their ultimate abilities can prove to be just as impactful, if not more so given their proactive nature. Given that this current season of Overwatch is apparently defined by Winston and the dive meta, which is a direct counter to Mercy—and pretty much all healers for that matter—it really is puzzling as to why complaints are suddenly sprouting up all over the place.

But let’s take a step back and look at another Overwatch Hero who was more or less fine—well, for the past couple of months anyways—until Blizzard decided to change him: Roadhog. Once again, another fairly one dimensional character who exists for essentially one purpose, which in this case is to occasionally displace an enemy and kill them instantly. Was it terribly overpowered? Not particularly, given how if Roadhog missed his hook he was effectively dead in the water during a push, and the hook wasn’t a guaranteed connect to begin with. If Roadhog could connect with the hook, it was a high-impact play of course, but it was by no means consistent, and if your team somehow missed or otherwise lost track of the 500 pound fat man, chances are that you weren’t going to win anyways. Statistically, according to MasterOverwatch.com, Roadhog is another not-that-effective Hero with a Competitive winrate of 48.7%, which is lower than the winrate for any other Tank. That being said, getting hooked and dying instantly was far from fun, which presumably contributed to Blizzard’s decision to nerf Roadhog’s damage.

The result of Roadhog’s nerf unquestionably gave rise to the new competitive meta that Overwatch is in right now, whereby Winston and D.Va are leading dive teams with relative impunity against more traditional defensive team comps. Whether or not dive comps are going to be unbearably ubiquitous remains to be seen, but it goes to show how, even though Roadhog himself wasn’t statistically all that great, the alleged perception of him being overpowered presumably led to him being nerfed, thus an entire shift in the meta. Now, Roadhog is much more rarely picked, which is rather unfortunate considering how he filled a role that no other Tank could fill. Still effective in the right high-ranking hands to be sure, but for the average person, probably not so much.

Overwatch Roadhog Sitting Horizon Lunar Colony

Well, at least Roadhog can still one-shot Tracer. Maybe.

Now let’s say that, theoretically, Mercy is nerfed or “reworked” in a similar manner due to how unfun she is to play against. Maybe she does less healing, or has less health, or her revive radius is reduced in exchange for a new ability that is intended to make her less one dimensional while making it easier for higher skilled players to distinguish themselves from their lesser skilled peers. And let’s say that such a change accomplishes its goal in making Mercy a Hero that requires and rewards “skilled” gameplay. Fine, but would it really make her less unfun to play against? Even if you take away the revive ability completely, her core healing mechanic encourages you to hide behind walls in the off chance that a stray projectile hits you in the face. She would still be a high priority target, she would still be able to fly away to a teammate, and for all intents and purposes, she would still be just as hard to track down, if not harder as less skilled Overwatch players transition away from her, which would really only make her even less fun to play against.

On top of that, where will all those lesser skilled players go if the extreme option is taken and Mercy is just outright removed from the game? Lucio would be the next logical answer, seeing as how he heals by existing, which would then undoubtedly degrade the entire Overwatch experience for everyone since even the least skilled Mercy player can get some meaningful healing done in the two seconds that they are alive. How wonderful that will be won’t it? Then everyone can complain about how useless Lucio is ad infinitum until he gets some massive buff and on and on the cycle goes. Some may even argue that an easily predictable Hero who takes relatively little skill to use but provides a moderately high impact is necessary until the days when no one is “forced” to be a solo healer in a team where people are too stubborn to provide auxiliary healing.

Point being, maybe there’s something wrong with Overwatch’s competitive SR system and it’s ranking certain people way too high. Maybe that’s the case, maybe it’s not, but Roadhog’s nerf should’ve served as a warning that knee-jerk complaints should really be scrutinized more. Looking at balancing based purely on a “fun factor” or the abnormally high rankings of certain individuals who would, if the ranking system worked logically, drop down in rank anyways is similarly not a good idea, since there are side effects to literally every single thing that happens in a balancing update. Perhaps in this case, maybe Mercy does need a new ability that would help widen the skill gap between players, perhaps not. But either way, it just goes to show that no matter the game or issue at hand, it would be for the best to think about the long term effects of a nerf/buff rather than whether or not you were having fun at that exact moment.

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Anson Chan

Staff Writer

You ever wonder why we're here? It's one of life's greatest mysteries, isn't it? Good thing games exist so that we don't have to think about it. Or at least I don't have to think about it. Instead, I'll just play Halo or something.