Are frequent Overwatch patches healthy for the game?

How does Blizzard deal with the chaos?

Speedier Overwatch patches have been a welcome change to me, and to many people in the community. But is there a possible downside to updating so often? When you change any aspect of the game, those changes may have a snowballing, chaotic effect. Is that chaos worth it for Overwatch players?

The snowball of change

Games that are provided as a service will get stale over time and require updates. Every large title has received many balance patches over time, often based on community response. Overwatch has come under scrutiny lately for it’s slow balancing process. Updates in the past have spent up to a month on the PTR before coming to live. Players would then wait another month for a new PTR update.

To keep people interested in a game, there needs to be new general content and balance to reflect that. Whenever new content is added, players return to view the work and create new strategies.

Overwatch Patch Busan

One problem with balancing a game like Overwatch are the amount of variables to consider. For example, developers may increase Ana’s healing amount as a response to Moira being commonly played. Ana may see more playtime because of this, but heroes that Ana synergizes with may see more play as well. More healing means Nano-Boost will build faster, so Genji or Reinhardt may be played more. There is a cascading effect that one small change can have on the meta. It’s practically impossible for a team to envision every single effect a single change can have.

Players’ perception

There’s another issue with perception of the meta. Sometimes, heroes are just overpowered. Most often, a hero simply gives a small 5-10% advantage to the team composition. In the professional scene, players are so skilled at the game that they can fully utilize that extra percentage.

On ladder and in the lower ranks, even Overwatch Contenders, that extra power may not be taken advantage of. We saw this in the GOATS meta a lot. Rarely anyone played GOATs on the ladder, and those that did would seldom play it correctly. It’s an issue when a hero like Orisa is played almost every match, but claiming that she is the only option is just false.

Overwatch Patch Stats
Statistics from Overbuff, all ranks, past 6 months.

Chaos in Overwatch League

One of my favorite moments from Season 2 of the Overwatch League was watching the Chengdu Hunters “roll out” on their Wrecking Ball compositions. Their dedication to this playstyle eventually led the Shanghai Dragons to an exciting victory in stage 3, running a similar composition. That kind of chaos provides a reason to watch and be excited about the matches.

If hero bans were added to Overwatch – whenever that happens – the most adaptable players would rise to the top. Every match would at first be exciting and different. But this change would also make matches more chaotic and unpredictable. This can make it difficult for new viewers to understand.

On top of that, if every team in Overwatch League played like Chengdu, wouldn’t it get boring after a while? We need time for teams to find their own identities.

Overwatch Patches Chengdu
Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Now imagine a situation where every Overwatch team was playing a different hero composition every week due to frequent balance changes. Yes, we would see more creativity, but nobody would really dig into the meta and perfect it. As much as I’ve hated GOATs, it was incredible to watch teams like Vancouver perfect the composition. The synergies and ultimate combinations used were always entertaining. It gave us incredible memories.

The future of balance

Waiting months for a dominant meta to change is not fun. Casual players don’t like it, professionals quit because of it, and the game loses an audience.

However, we should recognize that there is a downside to updating more frequently as well. Professionals deserve time to scrim on Overwatch patches and perfect metas. Developers need time to look at statistics. Balancing should never be done simply for the sake of shaking up a meta. Where there are broken heroes, fix them quickly. Then let the meta evolve naturally.

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