“No Skill” Heroes: Ableism With a Side of Misogyny in Overwatch

 Overwatch is full of heroes with a variety of abilities, including those who don’t require traditional first person shooter skills like aiming and twitch reflexes in order to be played well. Heroes like Winston and Symmetra have beam attacks that will lock onto nearby enemies; Torbjörn can set up an auto-aiming turret; and Mercy doesn’t even have a primary attack, usually focusing on healing. In fact, every hero in the game requires a different playstyle. Sniping with Widowmaker is different from getting in close to use Reaper’s shotguns is different from zipping around with Tracer. But increasingly, players are beginning to complain about certain kits. Specifically, they hate “no skill heroes.”

These complaints tend to centre on Symmetra and her beam gun, but ripple out to just about any character. It’s a large part of a wider storm around Mercy, but can sometimes be seen when Bastion gets a play of the game, and even occasionally extends to things like Hanzo’s scatter arrow.

It’s true that Symmetra, Mercy, and others don’t require the same skill as aim-based heroes like Genji and Soldier: 76, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t require skill at all.

Git gud (at respecting your fellow players)

Teams love to tell Mercy when to rez or to nag Symmetra that she should be using a teleporter rather than a shield generator. They’re less likely to understand the second-to-second decision making that goes into playing these heroes. To quote Apple Cider’s excellent and broader piece Why Does Everyone Hate Mercy?, “anyone who has actually played the role for a significant amount of time knows how demanding it is. Playing support requires a high amount of game sense (knowing where enemies are), a continual tally of team and enemy ult usage, risk assessment in split seconds, as well as crisis prioritization.” In short, it’s very much not about holding down one button, despite what a thousand forum posts would tell you.

But the valuing of certain skills above others is nothing new. Ableist derision is found just about everywhere in games, from the warblings of git gud to the suggestion that games without “challenge” aren’t “real games.”

Intersectionality time!

These accusations often overlap with misogyny and other forms of oppression – it’s not a coincidence that Gone Home, Depression Quest, and other famously “not real” games focus on the stories of marginalised women.

In her essay, Apple Cider ties part of players’ dislike of Mercy to two common misogynistic assumptions: 1) that people who play her are overwhelmingly women, and 2) that women can’t play games as well as men. She’s undoubtedly correct; but I think the fact that Mercy herself is a female (and feminine) character is also a factor.

Mercy and Symmetra have long been taken to task over the fact that players don’t need to aim to play well. Yet the very similar Winston and Torbjörn receive far less attention. No one calls out Reinhardt’s huge, arcing hammer. Instead, it’s Pharah that’s often brought up in these conversations, since her rockets do splash damage even if they don’t score a direct hit.

Certainly Winston has complex movement tactics and Torbjörn has a point-and-click gun, but Mercy has both these things too. It seems an unlikely coincidence that she and Symmetra, who have little in common except their particularly feminine designs, would be the two most commonly derided “no skill” heroes; simultaneously considered unfairly easy and having their contributions to the team overlooked. (Not to mention the disgusting ways in which Symmetra’s canonical autism is often brought up in these discussions.)

What’s fun for whom?

Misogyny and other biases aside, though, we shouldn’t need to have this conversation at all. Having 24 (soon 25, with the addition of Doomfist) playable characters, each with a distinct playstyle, is vital to Overwatch. Aside from providing the variety that is part of what sets the game apart from other first person shooters, it allows people of many different abilities to be able to enjoy the game.

Compare this forum post that claims “Symmetra is stupid hero with stupid mechanics that brings no fun to a game” with this accessibility review by Latif, a disabled gamer: “[Symmetra’s gun] just locks on to anybody who is near you – that’s amazing, I love that! I love that element of the game. When the game is so fun and you have characters who don’t even have to aim, that’s amazing…I love that. This game is so good.”

These so called “no skill” heroes add so much to this game for Latif, and for many other disabled players. Not to mention people who just aren’t great at quick paced point and shoot gameplay, or who want something a little different from what most first person shooters have on offer.

Yet their existence feels threatening those whose sense of superiority relies on how good their twitch reflexes and aim are, and it’s not very surprising that these people often overlap with the players who dislike women and female characters. When these things come together, it’s a recipe for yet another facet of Overwatch’s hostility.

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Jay Castello

Jay is a freelance games writer specialising in intersectional feminist critique, how to improve games and use them to improve the world, and cute dogs. She loves inhabiting digital spaces in all their forms, and being constantly surprised by just how weird and wonderful games can be.


8 responses to ““No Skill” Heroes: Ableism With a Side of Misogyny in Overwatch”

  1. 44KPanda Avatar

    Hi, I’m not exactly sure where you got this information. Mercy is freaking GREAT! People love her — men and women. Teams usually BEG someone to play Mercy, if they aren’t already doing it themselves. Symmetra is one of my mains. She’s a high strategy based hero. If anyone is using her gun as a primary attack, they aren’t using her as effectively as they could be. The only thing I know to be true here is about Bastion. I agree that I and others really hate people that use Bastion. I make it a point to kill as many Bastions as possible.

    1. Jay Castello Avatar
      Jay Castello

      I agree that Sym takes skill – but that’s not the perception people have: https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/search?q=symmetra+no+skill&forum=

      Same for Mercy: https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/search?q=mercy+no+skill

      1. 44KPanda Avatar

        Just because some people are whining, does that really make it a problem? If you look at the amount of down votes those posts have, it’s clear that most people do not agree with that concept at all. If anything I’d say that those links you posted show that people are very supportive of those characters and the people that use them.

        1. Jay Castello Avatar
          Jay Castello

          A belief can be widespread and harmful without being in the majority.

          1. 44KPanda Avatar

            I don’t think this thing with OW is either.

          2. Jay Castello Avatar
            Jay Castello


  2. This is the dumbest shit I’ve never read.

    1. spark スパーク Avatar
      spark スパーク

      care to elaborate?

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