The “perception of balance is more powerful than balance itself” in Overwatch

5 min read

A year after release, and Blizzard’s latest IP is stronger than ever. It has its fans, it has a community and its thriving online thanks to regular events and an even playing field. That last point might be hotly debated however, because plenty of players still reckon that Blizzard has a way to go in giving all players a fighting chance.

Blizzard disagrees with that sentiment though, as the “perception of balance is more powerful than balance itself”. That’s according to Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan, who addressed recent complaints over how Overwatch is painfully slow to react in terms of updating the meta side of the game with new tweaks and balances. “The most controversial thing I’ll say here (hopefully) is that I believe the game is currently balanced,” Kaplan wrote in a lengthy post on the Overwatch forums.

What I mean is that I don’t feel like there are any heroes who are way too strong to the point of breaking balance. That doesn’t mean that I personally don’t think there are some problems with heroes.

Kaplan reckons that players are wanting the meta-game to change more frequently to better suit their tastes in playing Overwatch, a solution that doesn’t exactly benefit everyone but rather a select few players instead. “There are a lot of ways the meta can change but if I had to boil it down to three main ways (that we see in video games at least) I would point to 1) something changes with the balance 2) players innovate new strategies 3) the game forces meta change through mechanics,” Kaplan wrote.

I like when the meta changes on balance only when the game is not balanced and something was adjusted to make the game more balanced. Another way of putting this is, I do not agree with the philosophy that we should just make balance changes solely to shift people off the meta. The game team should be constantly evaluating balance and making changes that are actually needed because a hero is unbalanced.

But making changes to a hero because their pick rate is too high or too low is not my idea of responsible game balance. Symmetra’s pick rate is very low right now. We could make changes to make her a “must pick” in the meta (and thus shifting the meta) but I feel like, if anything, I am concerned about Symmetra’s balance and worried that when she does eventually make her way back into the meta she is not balanced properly. So to summarize: balancing heroes who are unbalanced is good, balancing heroes just to make them picked more or picked less is not good (in my humble opinion).

Regarding the meta changing because players have innovated a new strategy – well – this is the best-case scenario. We’ve seen this happen time and time again. This usually happens in a pro tournament where a team pulls out a new strategy and performs well. This was how triple tank rose into fashion. Innovating out of a meta is extremely hard. All players are very different. Some are highly creative and some are excellent at executing. Some at both. Having the time and freedom to innovate on strategy is difficult no matter what level of play you’re at.

Pros have busy schedules and it’s not always easy for them to practice new, out of the box things – especially if their tournament schedule is hectic. But when all is said and done, to me personally, the meta shifting because players innovate is the best possible outcome.

Lastly, a game can force a meta shift through mechanics. The MOBA genre has huge hero pools yet without pick and ban systems teams would inevitably play the same comps over and over. The game – through the mechanics of picking and banning – is forcing variety. We could do this in Overwatch. We could prevent certain heroes from being played some or all of the time or we could let your opponent prevent you from playing your desired hero. We could also force you or allow your opponent to force you to play a hero you don’t want to play.

Personally, I am not a believer in these systems for OW (while I understand and respect why they use them in MOBA). I prefer to think that OW allows you to be creative which is different than forces you to be creative. I don’t want to watch the best Genji player in the world play Zarya – I want to see him/her play Genji.

And also, seeing how many of you “main” heroes because you love them, I don’t want the game – or your opponent – telling you you’re not allowed to play that hero.

I kind of agree with Kaplan. While the ideal strategy in Overwatch is one where you never stick with a single hero for the entirety of a match, there’s something special about having that one character who you keep coming back to. Heroes never die, not on the field or in your heart. And for the player who wants to just have a good time, that feeling is amplified even further.

It takes time to subtly balance Overwatch’s cast to keep as many people as possible satisfied. After all, this isn’t something that you want to see rushed and Blizzard has no intention of releasing half-baked updates to their latest game.

Last Updated: July 11, 2017

Darryn Bonthuys

Something wrong gentlemen? You come here prepared to read the words of a madman, and instead found a lunatic obsessed with comics, Batman and Raul Julia's M Bison performance in the 1994 Street Fighter movie? Fine! Keep your bio! In fact, now might be a good time to pray to it!

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