Overwatch is a game that’s constantly going through all manner of changes. Sometimes new heroes. Sometimes new maps. And sometimes new modes or cosmetics. But one thing that’s always going on behind the scenes is balance changes. Tweaks to characters in the interest of making them more usable. There have been some pretty significant tweaks already.
Last year saw some huge tweaks to Roadhog and Junkrat, as well as Widowmaker and several others. But the biggest thing to hit the game was the complete overhaul of Mercy’s kit. This is a move that majorly impacted the metagame to the point where there were hardly any maps in the entire Overwatch League in which neither team had a Mercy. And now more changes are on the way.
On a developer update, several smaller, quality-of-life changes were announced to be coming to Overwatch, as well as some very significant changes. Sombra’s change stands out significantly. No longer will she gain ult charge from hacked health pack usages. But her gun spread is a bit more reliable, letting her play a more active DPS role, rather than the quasi-support role she’d previously occupied. She’ll also have a longer time on translocator, among other things. This will certainly make sure Sombra gets EMP less frequently, but also increase her damage output, which could drastically change how she’s used.
But the biggest changes were arguably to her primary ability, Hack. Aside from slightly shortening the amount of time it takes to hack things, they’re experimenting with Hack being able to affect more abilities. The specifically mentioned abilities were all mobility-based. Things like taking away Pharah’s hovering and Mercy’s Angelic Descent, preventing Genji from double-jumping, etc. And this is actually a pretty interesting idea that could cause players to be a bit more careful when dealing with her. All of this will likely also affect where she’s chosen. The lower frequency of EMP might slightly harm her TCP pick rate. But not drastically, as she’d still have about the same level of utility.
In comparison, the Mei changes are smaller. She’ll now have an extra two shots of her secondary fire, which could be the difference between living and dying against certain characters. However, her primary ability, freezing targets, has also be tweaked. Now the duration of freeze is extended. Blizzard believes Mei just needs a small change like this, as she’s fairly close to being balanced as is, and she’s already fairly situational. And I’m inclined to agree. However, there are some questions raised by this particular tweak. Mei can be a nightmare at low tiers of play because of the lack of organization. But she has a very low pick rate at higher tiers of play. Even in her situational role, she’s not seen as reliable enough to warrant the pick. And most of the things that prevent her from doing her job have high pick rates.
This Mei tweak is cause for concern because it doesn’t seem to address the actual issue. When a target is frozen, they’re generally a fairly easy follow-up kill. The duration of the time they remain frozen was never honestly the issue. Mei has three main jobs. Her walls can split up teams and block enemy sightlines. Her offensive abilities catch enemies who are out of position. The vast majority of targets she’ll find “out of position,” however, are flankers. And unfortunately, most flankers have mobility options that let them get away from her extremely easily. A good Tracer, for example, has almost nothing to fear of even an especially good Mei. Because she can always blink away right before being frozen and undo the freezing process entirely. The problem is that she doesn’t freeze threats fast enough, not long enough.
Mei is the ultimate Overwatch stall character. Her primary fire should be designed in a way that it makes flankers have to be careful. In the current state of things, if a Tracer gets into the backline, you really just have to let her have that space and maybe get around to killing her once the rest of the enemy team is dealt with. That or mirror her with a Tracer on your own team. If Mei could freeze things faster, it’d force Tracers, Genjis, Doomfists to be more cautious without really making her too much more powerful as she’d still have issues with her main counters (essentially anything that goes boom. Like this guy).
Blizzard also announced PTR changes that won’t be live in this latest patch, but in future ones. They mentioned changes to Torbjorn, for example, though didn’t specify what this would entail. They also talked about Hanzo getting a potential rework or replacement of the Scatter Arrow ability, which has been a point of irritation in the community for quite some time. The update made mention of plans for abilities they wouldn’t be giving him, such as a shield-piercing arrow and an ability bound to the reload key/button. There was also mention of giving Hanzo an evasive mobility move.
Some of these changes are live on the Overwatch PTR now, among others, such as minor tweaks to Doomfist’s gun. Others will hit the PTR later. Will Mei and Sombra’s pick rates go up? Could we see more of them in the Overwatch League? Where will Mercy wind up as a result of all of this, now that she’s been nerfed? Whatever happens, it’ll be interesting to see how all of these changes impact the meta.