Over the past couple of months, Blizzard has targeted a few key characters in the game that get little playtime at higher ranks and made very careful changes or additions to them in order to give them a chance at the higher levels. They’ve either introduced a new character, completely reworked a character’s kit, or shifted their roles in the meta.
What’s come out of this careful few months of patches is one of the most diverse and stable metas the game of Overwatch has ever seen. Every character in Overwatch now has at least a few situations or maps for which they are viable, and with a few more tweaks (which are incoming), we could soon get to what could be considered a completely balanced meta.
It all started back in July, when Blizzard released Wrecking Ball to the world, and introduced a new infinite-invisibility version of Sombra. Wrecking Ball has shifted what it means to be a main tank, and Sombra has essentially taken Tracer’s job of back line espionage and sabotage. But this was just the start.
Blizzard then released patch 1.26 in August, which made a few key changes to the support roster and shifted the meta. Mercy got a nerf, while every other support hero got a buff in order to combat her pervasiveness. This worked, seeing as her pick rate is down considerably, according to the popular Overwatch statistics website, OmnicMeta. Specifically, Mercy has seen anywhere from 8 to 21% down, and Zenyatta is being used anywhere from 5 to 14% less often depending on your rank. She’s still a good pick in certain situations, but this just means support mains don’t have to get yelled at just because we want to play Ana.
Patch 1.27 in September made a few more adjustments to Brigitte’s Shield Bash and Ana’s Nano Boost to nerf and buff them, respectively. This knocked Brigitte down another peg, making her less devastating against backline offense, and yet again increased Ana’s effectiveness. These last two changes leave the Support meta in a way where Lucio, Ana, Moira, and Brigitte get the most value, and subsequently the most picks, especially in higher ranks.
Then came Torbjörn, who’s massive rework was close in scale to that of Symmetra or Mercy. He’s now a direct counter to the tank-heavy, aggressive assault comp known as GOATS comp, with his new Molten Core ultimate that deals extra damage to armored characters like Reinhardt and Brigitte. These death ball comps now have an answer, and that’s big.
In that same patch, we also got small but significant changes to Pharah. Her Rocket Launcher now does 15 more impact damage, 55 up from 40, and 15 less splash damage, down to 65 from 80. This, combined with a significantly faster fire rate has completely changed how Pharah is played. Instead of slow and methodical, Pharah players need to be aggressive and accurate if they want to get value out of her.
These are the most important changes that have affected the meta recently, and there are more to come, as just recently our pal Jeff Kaplan released a developer update discussing changes that are in the pipeline, like a buff for Mercy’s Valkyrie and some changes to Roadhog’s hook to make it feel more consistent. What’s interesting, though, is what comes out of all of these changes.
The ability meta
What these changes have culminated in is an ability-focused meta, where active abilities and ultimates trump a character’s standard weapon fire. The wide roster of characters allow players to swap and run counter compositions based around those counters... but there’s a caveat. If everyone’s switching characters all the time, no one builds ult charge. This adds the strategic pressure of deciding whether you want to swap or charge ultimates. In this way, it becomes more of a chess game, thinking ahead to the next objective, the next portion of the map, and how each character is suited to those situations.
We may see this meta change further with the release of Ashe, one of the first characters in recent memory who’s design is focused around her Viper rifle instead of her abilities.
This new and diverse meta is also incredibly exciting when you think about the next season of the Overwatch League, which will see the pros utilize these new options and hopefully create some ridiculously fun-to-watch Overwatch.
If you watch any professional players stream on Twitch, you’ll know that the pros have been working to figure out this diverse meta and what strategies and counters are going to best serve their team. Seagull, who played for the Dallas Fuel in season one of the Overwatch League, has been playing around with all of the new and improved heroes like Symmetra, Torb, Wrecking Ball, and Pharah. Clips like this one show off just how much the reworked Torbjörn can dominate by using his abilities carefully and consistently. Others like Danteh from the Houston Outlaws, however, have expressed their disappointment with the changes made to characters like Sombra and Pharah, so it’s yet to be seen how the DPS picks will suss out in the Overwatch League.
In general, though, this meta gives teams more room to be creative without throwing the fight. And with six new teams joining the fray in season two, it will be exciting to see if the top teams continue to reign, or if the combination of new teams and a new meta environment are able to shake things up.
Blizzard’s new approach to the patch schedule has paid off. They haven’t made everyone happy (sorry Zenyatta mains), but I think they have hit a stride in terms of figuring out what changes need to be made in order to make the game better for the majority. And with the recent announcement of new changes to Roadhog, Doomfist, and Mercy, alongside a brand new character in Ashe, it looks like they’re keeping the momentum going.