Author’s note: This editorial was written prior to Blizzard’s update to the PTR on January 5, 2017. Blizzard addressed Ana, D.Va, and Roadhog in their PTR, though the changes are not final.
For quite some time now, it has been clear to at least the competitive community that Ana has become a sort of enabler. She heals her team incredibly quickly, can stop the opponent from healing, can CC an opponent for a very long time, can output a ton of damage—and all of this is without even considering her ultimate. Any hero can sound overpowered when listing only their strengths, but there are only two things Ana doesn’t have: mobility and tankiness. The lack of mobility is an issue because it leaves Ana vulnerable to dive, but Ana can remedy this through her Sleep Dart should she be in a sticky situation. Additionally, if she’s getting chased, she can throw a grenade at the ground so that she hits both herself and the opponent—doing so does significant damage to the enemy and gives her an effective 300 HP, nullifying the lack of tankiness. If she gets to a health pack (which will provide double the healing), you’re just not killing her.
Of course, the problem here is that I’m talking about a healing, buff-centric character in isolation. In a team setting, she does even more. Her grenade can heal grouped up teammates for 100 health and grant them a 100% increase to healing over 5 seconds. Of course, it can also be used to debuff enemy teams and break choke points. Her sleep dart can grant man advantages during skirmishes. Her sniping can keep opponents at bay behind shields or walls. Her ultimate can enable a Genji or Soldier: 76 to clean up while taking pitiful damage in return. Quite frankly, Ana does too much. In fact, the community has called her kit “overloaded” time and time again, though she still has remained in this state for an incredibly long period of time.
With the rather oppressive nature of Ana’s kit in mind, we can now discuss her effect on the metagame. The obvious point to make here is that the end goal is to explain how Ana enables the current tank meta, but there are more notes to make than just this. The quadruple tank standard that now exists is a recent innovation, but the concept of a tank meta has existed for quite a while. In fact, shortly after Ana received her first buff (August 2), a different tank meta arose, culminating in the famous triple tank, triple support composition that NRG pioneered, which Ninjas in Pyjamas perfected in early September. To be clear, this was supposed to be the overpowered composition that would dominate the game, but as most people know, a new standard stood out as the Overwatch Open approached—“Beyblade.” Beyblade was built around Reaper, who would attempt to gain ultimate charge as fast as possible. Using Mei in compositions, teams would split enemies up in order to gain a man advantage—then Reaper would ideally swoop in and build ultimate charge by cleaning up the rest of the team.
Given how easily Ana built ultimate charge, she would usually Nano Boost Reinhardt on an early push when Reaper’s ultimate was not up, just to break through the defense (on attack). Then she would give Reaper every subsequent Nano Boost, and with a Zarya shield, he could melt through teams even if they were enveloped in a Zenyatta ultimate. With so few counters, many grew to hate games that were essentially team-wipe after team-wipe. Yet, despite the apparent problem, Blizzard chose not to directly nerf Ana—instead, they increased her ultimate cost by 20%, but also massively buffed her Biotic Grenade to a 4-meter radius from its previous 3. A 20% increase to her ultimate cost meant almost nothing; teams went out of their way to allow their tanks to soak damage, just so Ana could top them off. Players would purposefully allow themselves to take Reinhardt’s Fire Strikes, as doing so would provide an advantage in the long run.
To be clear, the Overwatch Open finished on September 30. The problem with Ana was apparent then. On October 10, Blizzard’s patch notes included what is now a meme to the competitive community:
“Developer Comments: So far, we haven’t seen any indication that Ana is too strong overall [. . .]”
Yet, Ana continued to rise in usage to the point where in CaptainPlanet’s November 14 metagame analysis, she was seen in a staggering 95% of game time. At this point in time, Earth Shatter was no longer used for team-wipes—instead, tank players saved the ability in order to exclusively shut down Nano Boosted targets. Roadhog had to save his hook, even if a high priority target was in sight; Reaper and Genji were too threatening to have your hook on cooldown when paired with a Nano Boost. It could not possibly have been more obvious that Ana was problematic in her current state, and the day after the metagame report’s release, Blizzard announced a new patch, this time containing a direct nerf: Ana’s Nano Boost would no longer buff the target’s speed.
“Well good, they nerfed Ana,” you might say. Of course, as we now can see, the change only brought us back to an older, darker time. Reaper no longer benefits as he used to from Nano Boost, but other heroes are still reaping the benefits of Ana’s amazing kit. See, Reaper only found himself centric to the metagame because he served as a counter to what the old “OP” strategy was—triple tank, triple support. Now, with Reaper’s relevance tuned down (due to Ana’s nerf and D.Va’s buff), and Ana’s healing still insane, tanks are free to rule Overwatch. The most common team compositions these days are either quadruple tank, double support styles featuring Ana, D.Va, Lucio, Reinhardt, Roadhog, and Zarya, or 1–3–2 compositions that substitute a Zarya for a Soldier: 76. Almost every other style of play takes a backseat, while these two dominate in both tournaments and the high ELO ladder.
While Ana received a nerf in this specific patch, D.Va received a rather large buff. For one, her movement speed while shooting was increased dramatically, while she also received an additional 100 HP on her mech. D.Va was not used fairly often before these changes, but she was certainly on the brink of being viable. However, time and time again while this build was on the PTR, members complained that she felt a bit too oppressive. Nobody was worried before the patch because Blizzard announced that they would test an unusually large selection of changes over an extended period of time, but rather than make tweaks that they promised, they pushed the patch out to live servers.
Now D.Va serves as a complete anti-carry, with Ana providing a constant stream of healing to keep her topped off even in the middle of an enemy team. McCree sees less than 10% usage in tournament play because D.Va can shut him down so effectively. Reaper can’t even use his ultimate because D.Va can simply block the whole thing. Most DPS heroes simply cannot function.
Of course, with a lot of offensive options neutered by the presence of tanks, the metagame has naturally shifted towards tanks themselves. Roadhog is effectively the “damage” of the composition, as his low-cooldown hook is incredibly effective in gaining advantages. There is almost no wrong answer when it comes to hooking an enemy—landing a hook on a support is a huge healing advantage, while hooking a D.Va or Reinhardt can severely weaken the opponents’ ability to defend themselves. Roadhog does huge damage from both short range and mid range, and while he cannot provide damage from long range, his hook can extend his presence. Roadhog’s 225 damage per shot is huge in this metagame because he can take down Reinhardt shields faster than almost every DPS hero, from a relatively safe distance.
These days, DPS players find themselves crammed onto Roadhog, D.Va, and Zarya, though they might play Soldier: 76 if they’re lucky. Instead of displaying their skill and reaping the rewards, players like Surefour and Taimou are relegated to throwing hooks and fishing for one-shots. ShaDowBurn, one of the most feared Genji players in the world, sits pretty on D.Va, with his damage output limited to left-clicking. As the game becomes less and less mechanically demanding, the gap between player skill starts to mean less and less—and then we sit around and wonder why high level teams are constantly upset, or why top level players are starting to stream different games, labeling themselves as “variety streamers” semi-jokingly. The problems were always right in front of us, but we never seemed to actually address them.
“But if it’s so easy, why don’t you suggest a change?”
Okay, I will!
Ana is too helpful for her own team and too oppressive for the opposing team, so the first target would be fixing her grenade. It allows her to do an effective 187.5 healing per second which is downright insane—she can top off tanks that are getting focused by enemies. Nullifying the opposing healing is just as ridiculous, as it effectively makes the other supports useless. By changing the grenade to a 50% healing buff, 50% healing debuff (down from 100% and 0% respectively), Ana’s grenade would not be nearly as oppressive. This would be a reasonable starting point, and if Ana still proves to be too strong, the balance team could tune down the amount of ammo in Ana’s clip and work down the rate of fire. These are all easy fixes that would go a long way in making Ana a far more balanced hero rather than the driving force that defines the metagame.
D.Va should have seen multiple builds tested on the PTR before she even came to live servers. Instead of buffing multiple aspects of the hero, the developers could have tried out +100 HP and movement speed buffs in isolation, and then if she was still too weak, they could have implemented the double whammy. I would personally remove the extra 100 HP for now, though it has to be said that Ana might have been the catalyst that pushed D.Va over the top. Still, D.Va’s ability to deny almost every major ultimate, combined with her ability to dive almost any 200 HP class, makes her a bit too strong overall at the moment.
There are countless changes to Roadhog that people have suggested, though most boil down to nerfing his ability to one-shot people in one way or another. Most suggest increasing the cooldown to his hook, though making the hook’s hitbox smaller altogether would also be within reason. The bottom line is that he’s existed in this state for an incredibly long time and has been relevant in almost every metagame.
In general, I think that the developers could be more efficient when it comes to balancing. PTR exists for a reason, yet it seems only to be a preview for new patches rather than an actual testing realm. Developers could actively monitor feedback via forums and subreddits, rather than pushing out patches with known issues. Additionally, the developers seem keen to address “lower-priority issues” as far as the metagame is concerned, as Ana has been in her current state for nearly five months now. She has been the major focus of competitive and professional Overwatch for an exceedingly long period of time, yet she has seen only one major nerf, which didn’t affect her in the slightest in terms of usage.
I’ve focused a lot on what the developers can do better, but the honest truth is that given how they have control of the game’s direction, there’s little else others can change. This piece isn’t meant to be negative in tone, but rather it’s meant to share insight on why the state of the game is currently not as good as it could be. I believe in the future of Overwatch, and ultimately think that the balance team will be able to quickly diagnose the current issues with the metagame—however, I also believe that similar issues could potentially arise again in the future. My hope in writing this is that the balance process will involve more feedback from high level players in the future, and that problems will be diagnosed more quickly and efficiently.
Patch note data comes from Blizzard forums, metagame data comes from CaptainPlanet.