Balancing a team-based online shooter, in case there was any doubt, is a tricky bit of business. In fact, as Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan explained in this Battle.net forum post on the topic, it’s effectively impossible. Attitudes change, playstyles evolve, and players slowly but surely figure out strategies for maximizing character strengths and overcoming their weaknesses. But “we will absolutely do our best to make sure all of our heroes are viable,” he wrote, and that none of them end up left behind as “troll picks.”
“A lot of us like pro sports and tend to think of those games (soccer, football, hockey, basketball) as ‘timeless’. But if you follow those games closely, the leagues have had to make minor tweaks to the games to keep them fun and balanced over time,” Kaplan wrote. “It’s a weird analogy, but it is very similar to hero balance in a game like Overwatch. In those pro sports, players and coaches evolved their ways of thinking about the game that required the game itself to change at times.”
“Both Torb and Symmetra are being looked at right now. We want to try to improve them in ways that makes them more fun to play, more enjoyable to have on your team and try to make sure they are not infuriating to play against,” he continued, addressing a complaint that those two heroes in particular are “flagged as ‘useless'” by the community. “We wrestle with the issue that players get very upset at us when they perceive ‘the meta is stale’ and certain heroes are not viable. Yet it’s also very disruptive to the playerbase for us to make changes. It’s a bit of a Catch-22 but we do our best to responsibly look at all heroes all the time and make sure nothing is terribly unbalanced or worse, un-fun.”
Kaplan said some complaints about “troll picks” are valid, and others are a matter of perception, and naturally not everyone in the thread perceives his position as valid. But our breakdown of Widowmaker’s transformation “from lethal killing machine to a husk of her former self” after a blast from the Blizzard nerf gun really illustrates just how convoluted the process can be, especially when fraction-of-a-second tweaks can have a big impact on a character’s effectiveness.
Blizzard recently began playing with “significant hero changes” on the Overwatch PTR, which designer Geoff Goldman said “is likely to be around a bit longer” than previous PTR cycles. Torbjörn is among those being played with; Symmetra, however, is not.