Is Overwatch getting hero bans?

Rumors that the shooter could be getting a new ban system overtook the community.

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Overwatch’s meta has been perceived as fairly stagnant over the past year and that impression has grown into a general feeling shared by parts of the community. To some people, introducing a hero ban system could be a way to force a meta shift.

Some players argue that the Overwatch meta isn’t in its most exciting state. The predominance of the monotone GOATS compositions earlier in 2019 left little room for flashy plays and daring moves, and the double shield meta that followed it gave players the (warranted) sensation that they were shooting shields more often than actual enemies. It pushed Blizzard to introduce a global nerf to barriers to make the game more dynamic, reducing shields’ effectiveness but highlighting other aspects of heroes’ kits.

The stagnation is compounded by a meta marked by crowd control-heavy heroes. Mei and Doomfist, for instance, can freeze and stun their enemies, and the latter is a brawler hero who thrives on unleashing combos into enemies. Hanzo’s anti-tank capacities also gave him some of the spotlight. His Storm Arrows allow him to unleash a quick volley on unsuspecting tanks and his projectile shots let him easily peek from corners. Players felt that squaring off against them could be frustrating.

Tanks remained a concern even after Patch 1.43 nerfed barriers across the board. Orisa’s Fortify gives her severe damage reduction at a decreased cooldown and her Halt! can push enemies into incoming danger and reposition them. It allows players to chain crowd control skills with Mei, for instance, and can build on the dissatisfaction of damage heroes.

The perceived problem wasn’t just tanks and damage dealers. Baptiste, the latest support character to join the roster, was also seen as problematic. His Immortality Field gave him the ability to deny death at the touch of a button and placing it strategically meant that teams could effectively be unkillable for eight seconds. It compounded with the rest of the issues permeating the game and left some players with a bitter taste in their mouths.

A fan-made survey listed Mei, Baptiste, Hanzo, Orisa, and Sigma as the characters in most need of balancing tweaks. Sectors of the community thought their kits could be too oppressive or overwhelming in their respective territories. Mei’s primary fire, for instance, was mentioned by the survey as the top point of contention, followed closely by Baptiste’s Immortality Field. The perception that some characters were unbalanced blended with their prominent spot in a stagnant meta to build on the community’s negative feelings.

Blizzard understood. The latest patch made some long-requested balancing changes to the most contentious heroes. Mei, Baptiste, and Orisa received important nerfs, and Hanzo and Doomfist received minor, but significant, tweaks.

Even after the balancing patch, the hypothetical introduction of hero bans was seen by parts of the fan base as a possible remedy to those issues. Alleged leaks and ethereal rumors regarding the introduction of a ban system quickly swarmed the community and grew in intensity after streamer Jeff “Emongg” Anderson teased a big reveal for Overwatch in the near future. Sectors of the fan base believed it could be a solution, while others just took them for rumors.

The supporters of the ban system felt it could theoretically allow players to “ban out” meta compositions or at least water them down by removing key elements. Banning an Orisa, for instance, could push the enemy team toward picking a shield tank and an off-tank, or at least force them to pick a more mobile Reinhardt instead. Likewise, it would give players the peace of mind of not having to play against heroes perceived as too strong or too frustrating to fight against.

The Overwatch team has long maintained that hero bans wouldn’t be a solution to the problems. Jeff Kaplan broke the silence and shared the team’s plans for the future.

“We disagree that hero bans are a good solution to balance problems”

Players who were looking forward to banning every Mei they come across shouldn’t hold their breaths. Introducing hero bans isn’t in Blizzard’s immediate plans for Overwatch, according to game director Jeff Kaplan. He dismissed the rumors in a lengthy post on the Blizzard forums.

“As I’ve said before, we (the Overwatch team) aren’t of the mindset that we’re opposed to the idea entirely and will never add them,” he said. “But overall, there are a number of issues that make us want to proceed carefully.” A majority of the team (including himself) is “reluctant” about adding hero bans in the game and there aren’t many members of the team “vehemently arguing” in favor of it, according to Kaplan.

Kaplan listed the perception of a stagnant meta, frustration with the balance of certain heroes, and the dislike of playing against certain characters as three of the main motivators in support of a hero ban system.

The Overwatch team understands that “the perception of a stale meta is not good for the game” and the game director said they “absolutely have plans” to shift the meta more. The implementation of the hero ban system doesn’t necessarily translate into a shift in compositions, according to Kaplan, and could instead have the opposite effect by creating a “ban meta.”

“Hero bans are not a silver bullet solution to making the meta move,” Kaplan said. “If the problem we are trying to solve is that the meta needs to change more, hero bans might actually make the problem worse, not better.”

Kaplan acknowledged that balance issues loom over Overwatch, but he doesn’t think that banning heroes is a positive solution to the issue. The developer team intends to resolve the issue with more frequent balancing updates instead of a more drastic measure.

“So we agree that there are balance issues”, Kaplan said. “We agree balancing needs to happen more frequently. We disagree that hero bans are a good solution to balance problems. To us, removing a hero from play because of balance reasons feels like a sledgehammer.”

Regarding players who don’t want to battle certain heroes, Kaplan gave an answer that he admitted would be unpopular.

“Basically, it’s a PvP game. You don’t get to pick what the enemy team does,” he said. “So if your reason is that you don’t want to play against certain heroes, I think we’ll agree to disagree on this point. We’ve changed our minds in the past. But that’s where we’re at for now.”

There are other internal reasons why the Overwatch team is reluctant to add hero bans. The plans for the game include future match times and the team is already actively moving toward it. Introducing a “ban phase” at the start of each match would collide with that vision. Kaplan also cited a “huge development cost” to implementing the feature, but he assured fans that it’s not a factor. “If we thought it was right for the game (like with Role Queue) we would absolutely make the investment,” he said.

Overwatch isn’t getting a hero ban system in the immediate future. It could be implemented in the distant future if the development team believes it’s a solution, but right now, the developers think it would do more harm than good.