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Thinking about Overwatch balance

Chiu on This
A short and regular opinion blast from Stephen Chiu

‘Chiu on This’ is a short and regular opinion blast

Jeff Kaplan recently did an interview with GamesSpot talking about a lot of different topics. This will only focus on the one question about balance.

This is the quote I will be talking about:

“I don’t think it’s terrible for there sometimes to be situationally picked heroes in certain settings. One of the reasons that we’ve been very vocal, I almost want to say aggressive about … I don’t want to say “forcing” but “highly encouraging” the map pool to always stay large — we haven’t reduced the map pool in competitive play — is because the map variety directly influences the hero variety. There are areas like the streets of King’s Row where Reaper is suddenly really viable for certain reasons. Or you get to the backlot in Hollywood and now Widowmaker and Pharah are coming into play in ways that they weren’t before.

“I think that’s okay in the balance; if we have enough variance in the maps the heroes will sort of ebb and flow. It’s funny because, and I won’t mention which hero because it would anger people, but there was a hero that we nerfed recently and fans of that hero are very vocal. They point to the pick percentages in the pro scene, which is a very unrealistic way to look at the entire game because it only represents a very small percentage, and their hero used to be picked 60 percent of the time and now it’s down to 40 percent. They were up in arms saying, “Look at that, we’re down to 40 percent.”

“I never said this, but I kind of wanted to hint at, really if everything was equally balanced your hero would be picked less than five percent of the time so, let’s not make up these weird rules for ourselves about how balance should work.”

First, I need to point out that Blizzard and Kaplan have zero obligation to listen to anyone in the community. It doesn’t matter who it is. They might find it helpful (I’ve heard IceFrog take pro opinions to balance the game), but the designer has the final say when it comes to changes. That’s why I found it strange that he wanted to say he was highly encouraging the map pool to stay large. Who is he encouraging? Himself? This is a dictatorship, so at least take responsibility for it.

There are some benefits to having a large map pool as well as detriments (especially in the pro scene). I’ll ignore that for now as the topic is to large for this blog.

The second point I want to come to is that I don’t think it’s unrealistic to look at pro balance when it comes to designing/balancing the game. In the entire world, who knows how to best win the game? It isn’t the designers; it’s the pro players. They are the closest to reaching the theoretical skill ceiling of what is currently possible. This is doubly important in a game that is investing millions into trying to make it an esport. I don’t think it’s viable or possible to balance a game at all levels and have it play well and be spectator friendly. Even if you don’t buy into any of those arguments, I find it also equally unrealistic to balance for the vast majority of players while ignoring the pro scene.

There was this Blizzard game called StarCraft 2. During its prime as an esport, there was an update where they wrote that BL/infestor wasn’t a problem because win rates were around 50 percent all across the ladder except for the pro scene. BL/infestor is now one of the most infamous examples in balance history that is retroactively looked back on as one of the worst decisions in esports history, with many citing it as a prime reason for the decline of SC2.

Finally, I agree on the last point that trying to balance all heroes so that they are picked an equal amount is dumb. The point of design should be to make a game engaging and to allow players to exhibit as much of their skill and personal identity through the game.


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