There’s one neat thing that Blizzard’s new shooter Overwatch did astonishingly well: the balance of the 21 heroes. The trick here is that they made all the heroes to be situationally powerful, sometimes to the point of people yelling OP and nerf, yet there are situations that these seemingly OP characters can get trumped, hard.
Interestingly, the balance of Overwatch comes from its imbalance. Something you won’t see in normal FPS games, where you would expect all the variations of playstyles to be viable on its own. But Overwatch focuses a lot on team play, team composition, and counter picking heroes that the imbalance is on purpose. Your individual heroes have its weaknesses and strengths where it shines most. A good team can complement each other by helping a certain hero shines more and mitigate the weaknesses it has.
But how do you balance a game about hero imbalance like Overwatch? Recently, Blizzard spoke about considering some nerfs for McCree. Although balancing issues were done a lot in the closed beta, now that the game is out some people just like it the way it is, while others still clamouring for Bastion nerfs, or even its outright removal.
But first, let’s talk about the beauty of the balancing.
Rock Paper Scissors Match-Ups
As a class-based shooter, Overwatch is nothing too far from Valve’s excellent and still thriving Team Fortress 2. TF2 has 9 distinct classes each with its own playstyles, and inherently strong and weak against specific classes. There’s a rock-paper-scissors sort of balancing that is prevalent in the game. Spy is wrecking your back line? Get a Pyro and spy-check your teammates. Pyro wrecking havoc on the front lines? Get a Soldier if that’s an inexperienced Pyro (who cannot deflect Soldier’s rockets) or maybe a Demoman.
Now when it comes to Overwatch, instead of 9 you now have 21 different heroes, each is strong and weak against a few others. Find the Torbjorn and Bastion turrets to be annoying? Have a Pharah rain justice from above while the rest distract them or get a Genji sneak near them, deflecting all those bullets back at them. Genji is annoying the team with deflects? Heroes with plasma-based weapons like Winston and Zarya can get close and shut him down.
But interestingly, these are not definitive, hard counters. A smart Bastion will recognise when Genji is deflecting- either by audio cues or visual ones where you can see red flames coming in front of the cyborg ninja- and decides not to shoot, and reposition. If Pharah has no support down below keeping the rest distracted from her, a smart Bastion can pick her off quickly.
It’s less of a Rock beats Scissors affair where this hero beats this one. To me, it has a similar feeling to character match-ups, a concept usually talked about in fighting games.
In fighting games like Street Fighter V, there’s a term called match-ups. It’s a metric to see how well a character is against another character. A mirror match (say, Ryu VS Ryu) is always a fair match-up that is entirely determined by player skill, while certain match-ups are in favour of certain characters.
In the current game, Zangeif is not as menacing as he used to, and so is new character F.A.N.G. What that means is that these characters will have an innate difficulty they have to face, a handicap of sorts, so that coming up victorious in an unfavourable match-up is a show of strength and a source of hype for the crowds.
Overwatch has a similar feel to that. But of course, the game is not just about one-on one duels, certain skirmishes become from a 3v3 to a full-on 6v6 battle, where it feels more like a MOBA: a group of heroes can emerge stronger than the other, but player skill can determine who wins the engagement.
How To Balance An Imbalance Game?
The idea of a perfect balance where there is not one neat trick that can be viable to dominate the game, is always an ongoing one. Paying attention to the data of win-rates of heroes and the way how people are playing the game, and their response and feedback can influence a decision to tweak the game balance.
But how do you balance that, in a game where it is meant that a good player (and a terrible opposing team) can make some heroes be god-tier? Blizzard may have an idea in place if we look back from the closed beta days.
Not many knew that Overwatch has a closed beta running from October of last year, and another session starting last February and ended just as soon as the Open Beta arrives. That’s almost 8 months worth of testing. In those 8 months, they were actually many changes of hero balancing that occurred.
If you think Bastion is OP, then in the closed beta Bastion used to have a mini shield, like the one Reinhardt has. That was just troublesome and not fun to deal with, so the shield was removed, but to buff it a bit the DPS (damage per second) was increased, and can now turn 360 degrees. Bastion is now a glass cannon that can be annoying, but before that? An even more annoying camper with solid defence.
Symmetra might not be a popular pick, why play a support who doesn’t heal and can only give a 25 shield? In truth, she is a hidden gem, one of the heroes with the highest win-rate. It could be argued that only advanced players would gravitate towards her, and thus her win rate is actually due to more advanced players dare to pick her, but she has a lot of utility. That shield can be regenerated and only gone once you are eliminated. It used to be a huge boost of 50, making her really strong. Too strong.
Ranting on past patch notes aside, the changes here is not too drastic that it makes the heroes feel weak, but they still have their core competencies i. A small tweak here and there is what they have done in the past, and I certainly hope that is how Blizzard will handle balancing, because at the moment, Overwatch is still brand new for most players. Let the meta settle in first.
The Meta Hasn’t Settled In, But Will Always Change
A metagame (or, meta for short) is something outside the game itself but has significant influence to the game. Most trading card games like Magic The Gathering has a metagame in deck-building, the knowledge of building a good deck of cards is as important as using it whilst in a game.
Character picks and match-ups are considered as the metagame for Overwatch. An inside knowledge of when to use which heroes is a significant advantage.
At the time of writing, Overwatch is only two weeks old since launch, and the meta hasn’t settled in yet. People in the community are always sharing tips on how to handle certain situations, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each hero.
Of course, when Blizzard is considering some few tweaks to the balance, targeting a specific hero even, some parts of the community is at rage. “No hero is imbalanced or too OP, you just need to get good” is mostly the message here.
Interestingly, even Blizzard themselves offer some advice over the constant requests on nerfing Bastion. But this time, they are looking to make adjustments, specifically to McCree. What sort of adjustments, that is unclear at the moment.
If Blizzard is smart as they have been proving to us before, such tweaks won’t come in that quickly. It should be a while until we see the changes. Of course, us players should not quickly react to a balance patch. The meta will always change, either by a balance patch or the community for figuring out different ways to play. We as players should adapt to the game, whether we like it or not, as people will keep on getting better with the game.
Hopefully, some tweaks to McCree not only affects the casual players’ enjoyment to the game, but brings in different strategies employed by pro players.
Overwatch Must Retain Casual Interest While Keeping The Pro Scene Lively
The current success of the hype Overwatch is garnering is not just due to it being a good game for competitive play, but it’s also just fun for casual players to pick up and play. The imbalance balance talked about earlier is the factor here.
Who wouldn’t want to spend more time in a game where you suddenly can be really good, sometimes seemingly OP, despite not having not spent much time and experience yet? The reward for pulling off a Play Of The Game which can sometimes be the result of just pressing Q (for the ultimate ability) at the right time is really rewarding, which makes people coming back to the game for more matches, despite just having only 12 maps on launch.
Keeping the casual interest in the game is important for sales, where the money is mostly coming. Street Fighter V favoured the competitive crowd rather than the casuals, which resulted in a fairly incomplete package on launch, missing sales targets, and bad word of mouth despite the pros and the competitive scene enjoying it. As such, keeping the casual players to stick around and rebalanced certain heroes can help this.
But there is a pro scene in Overwatch.
Ever since the closed beta tournament rounds have been running about, and many feedback has been collected. Competitive mode, ranked matches for those that play to win, had some faults in the closed beta, prompting Blizzard to rework on it and only be available later in June.
If you watched a few of the matches of pro Overwatch play, there will always be a McCree on either team. He seems to be really good for pro players, and as such, most teams will run one or two of them each time, instead of using othe offensive heroes like Reaper or Soldier 76.
A tweak to make McCree less viable for almost all situations could lead to more interesting team compositions and in turn, some variety in the pro matches. This variety can hook more people into spectating it, and helps keep the competitive scene alive. Plus, having more heroes viable for pro play will keep the meta of the scene changing constantly, which still leads to a more varied showing of pro matches.
Balancing the imbalance of Overwatch is something delicate. Some are loving for what it is while some are crying nerfs all around, striking the balance to keep its unique flair of imbalance is not an easy task for Blizzard.
As long as they listen to the community, and make small tweaks to the balance without disrupting much of the current meta, then the game can keep on living. So keep those pitchforks in the shed for now, but it’s okay to keep it in shape in case they somehow screw up the balancing.
We will never know. But for now, GLHF.