When the FPS for “Everyone” Goes Pro

Back in 2016 Overwatch was marketed as the FPS for everyone. The game featured racial and ethnic diversity far beyond most other first-person shooters. Beyond that, it was a game casual and hardcore gamers could enjoy. This marketing scheme has been an enormous success with Overwatch selling over 35 million copies as of October. But Blizzard can’t leave the champions geared towards casual players alone. First, it was Roadhog, then Mercy and D.Va were reworked, and some more Mercy nerfs are on the way. While core and hardcore gamers, largely, rejoice at these changes, Overwatch becomes steadily, a less accessible game. Suddenly, the FPS for everyone, ain’t for everyone. So, how did we get here and why did Blizzard’s priorities change?

Spoiler alert: it’s money.

Chasing the OWL Dream

Here’s a not so secret, secret, it’s been Blizzard’s intention, since day one, to turn Overwatch into a viable esport. It’s no wonder considering the phenomenal growth the esports industry has enjoyed over the last few years. Last year, the industry’s revenue was nearly $700,000,000 and the projected numbers have it reaching a billion by the end of 2018. Blizzard wants in. Blizzard wants in really badly and they’ve been doing everything they can to give the OWL a fantastic launch. And it’s doing very well but there was a price for this.

In order to have a monetized competitive sports league, it has to present players with an even playing field. It’s why there are weight classes in boxing. It wouldn’t be fun or fair to see a heavyweight square up with a featherweight. Similarly, it wouldn’t be fun to watch Esports if there was a character that was massively overpowered. So it makes sense that developers tweak heroes when they get a little overly prominent in the meta. Mercy, Roadhog, and D.Va were powerful so Blizzard hit them. This came from a mixture of their analysis and input from the pros. That’s great and all but where does that leave the noobies?

Pour One Out for Low Skill Caps

A reliable thing to tell someone new to Overwatch is that they can play D.Va, Mercy, or Roadhog. These heroes can contribute to the team with relative ease, no matter the skill level of the player. They are good entry points that teach the basics of the game mechanics while not making the rest of your team flame you for filth. These champions excelled at this because of the reliability of their kits. 

The changes to these kits from Valkyrie to the trajectory of Roadhog’s hook were centered on requiring more skill to use. Seems to make sense for the pro scene. I mean, a resurrection? In this economy? But the Overwatch community isn’t only the pros. There are other people who contribute in their own ways. The memes, artwork, and heart of the community lie with the people who aren’t hardcore. The game won’t keep them by making it harder for them to have fun.

Is Mercy Fair?

Recently, IGN posted a video where a number of players OWL say what hero they’d remove from the game. Guess which one they said. If you guessed Mercy, congrats, you know something about the Overwatch community. Their reasoning, Mercy isn’t fun to play against or with more specifically, her resurrect isn’t fun to play against. Even though, having a losing game turned around by a Mercy feels amazing but whatever.

The thing that sticks out to me in this is the perception that Mercy is unfair or that there is a lack of counterplay when it comes to her. Meanwhile, every Mercy player has had countless games where they can’t do anything because they are being pinned down with oppressive force by a Genji, Doomfist, Sombra, or Tracer. This is the curse of playing a support but particularly for Mercy who is useless alone.

To counteract the fact that Mercy can’t be alone, it makes sense to give her an ability which resurrects another player otherwise, if you could kill the Mercy first, that would be it. When Mercy came back to life, she would have to wait for another team member to be around. But it does feel bad when you’ve worked hard to kill the enemy team’s tank and Mercy brings them back to life. I will agree but something which feels bad is not the same as something which is unfair. 

Your Perceptions Deceive You

It is easier to remember one bad thing that happened to you than a thousand good things. No one remembers the games where they locked the Mercy down but they remember the one when Mercy turned the tide of the battle. They don’t remember the Roadhog hooks that missed, but they remember getting hit by the one they feel they should have avoided, and they don’t take into account the huge hitbox on on D.Va when she blows up your entire team or sneaks back into her mech after you finally got her out of it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s unfair or anti-fun. What is, is taking a game which was once a great way to ease people into online shooters, into just another inaccessible FPS.

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Nicole is a video game and pop-culture critic with a lifelong relationship with video games and the strange tenderness that can be found within them. She is an avid collector of DS games and a reluctant collector of Amiibos. She has a strong belief that the gaming community, with some work, can become an inclusive and nurturing environment to all who seek to belong to it.

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