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Why balance changes have the Overwatch community in an uproar

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Mercy is, once again, at the center of a controversy about Overwatch and balance.

Blizzard Entertainment

Poor Mercy can’t get a break. First, she’s derided as a no-skill hero that hides in the back lines and presses Q to cancel out the results of an entire fight by bringing her entire team back to life. Secondly, she gets reworked to resurrect single targets on a 30 second cooldown as a basic ability, and she gets a sweet new ult. Turns out, everyone thinks that this version of Mercy is too strong as well, and everyone starts getting mad that every game has two Mercies flying around and chain rezzing.

So, new (and tentative) changes to her ult hit the PTR, where Mercy loses the Resurrect reset in favor of extended range, and once again, people lost their minds.

The debate has abated somewhat in the face of the upcoming Halloween Terror event, but its worth looking into what, exactly, had fans so mad in the first place.

Her new kit has proven to be a buff.
Mercy’s a total witch to deal with in pro play.
Blizzard Entertainment

First, it’s worth noting that D.Va’s rework has been generally quite well received. D.Va did get her Defense Matrix reworked to be half as strong, but she also received Micro Missiles. Blizzard took, but Blizzard also gave D.Va a pretty generous gift. Symmetra’s rework, which was a buff across the board, has also been well received.

There isn’t the same perception of Mercy’s rework. Blizzard took away her less challenging play style and her multi-man rez. Even though it’s for game health, it felt punitive. Part of this perception is that Blizzard had to hit Mercy for the health of high level and competitive gameplay. Casual players, who don’t play at that level or experience the same balance issues, were frustrated, because it felt like they had lost an amazing toy to benefit a community that they don’t belong to.

Then, the second change on PTR (which is highly tentative, but hit social media very quickly with little context), seemed like a further insult. Not only did they rework their favorite character, but just as players felt like they were finding their footing, Blizzard pulled out the rug again.

It set up a scenario where the casual Mercy main felt as though they were seeing their main ground into the dirt for no other reason than to satisfy pro players. It didn’t matter that the stats showed a much stronger Mercy—Mercy was harder to play, Mercy lost her iconic big rez, and Mercy was suddenly being taken away from them in lobbies by people who had previous maligned the hero as a no skill rez bot.

Are there valid issues to discuss with Overwatch’s balance as a whole? Of course. That doesn’t change the fact that the biggest problem with balance is that Blizzard is courting two populations. The casual player who drops in for new events or to play with six people can get frustrated at what seems like an endless cycle of weird buffs and nerfs, changing their favorite character’s fire rate or damage, for unknown reasons.

Witch Mercy IS pretty fetching, though.
If you play for events and skins, constant patches can be concerning.
Blizzard Entertainment

Meanwhile, the pro player would want more aggressive balance changes and a closer look at competitive. The two populations want entirely different things from Overwatch, and its easy to blame the other when a patch doesn’t go tho their way. There’s only one scapegoat more intriguing, and that’s Blizzard itself.

Is there an appropriate developer reaction for this sort of event? A few days ago, a fan posted the following, er, suggestion:

Anyone else getting fed up with the balancing going on?

The balancing team needs replacement imho. This is outrageous.

This earned a reply from Jeff Kaplan himself, stating:

Make a productive post either clearly stating an issue that you're having or make a productive suggestion.

We won't tolerate demands of "people being replaced" on these forums.

See you in 30 days.

This reaction, of course, hit social media, and the new conversation became whether or not this was a fair reaction from a beleaguered dev or the iron fist of an insecure tyrant.

Young or old, Mercy’s kit has proven tricky to manage.
Blizzard Entertainment

Ultimately, the schism between pro and casual players is likely too wide to be addressed any time soon, but there are a few things Blizzard could have done to avoided this kind of response from the community.

  1. Better PTR patch notes. The Mercy changes hit the PTR with very minimal notes, and players immediately reacted like they were set in stone. When screenshots of your patch notes are going to immediately hit social media and rack up retweets and conversation, you might as well give the context you want those players to have.
  2. Accept a certain level of salt from the community. Is it fair that Blizzard devs have to sit there and grind their teeth as armchair developers suggest they are fired? No, of course not. Hitting the guy with a 30 day ban didn’t help matters, though. It subjected his complaint to the Streisand Effect. It’s also unfortunate timing, considering the Developer Update where Kaplan explained anti-toxicity measures can slow down game-related updates.
  3. Consider more conversation around reworks. When Riot Games reworks a champion in League of Legends, fans usually get several road map updates from developers. There’s a very real effort to map out what they find fun and iconic about a character, and understand what they can preserve. Mercy’s rework was announced in a Developer Update video, hit the PTR, and then went live. While fans have been giving feedback on the forum, it feels less like a conversation and more like an inevitability. Of course, it’s also worth noting that Overwatch’s substantially smaller dev team makes this difficult, if not impossible.

So, why are people howling mad about Mercy? Part of it is that they feel a keen sense of loss, something they love about a character being taken away. Part of it is that players feel powerless as they watch these balance changes go through, knowing that the patch is there to appease a different population. Part of it seems to be a lack of communication, or understanding on what those communications need to look like.

Ultimately, Blizzard need to make some decisions on how to handle reworks going forward. There’s one small blessing for them in this whole mess—the upcoming Halloween Terror event will make a fantastic conversation changer.