Overwatch’s Jeff Kaplan: “The perception of balance is often more powerful than balance itself”

Overwatch's game director discusses hero balance.

Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Meta changes in Overwatch are inevitable. As Blizzard makes adjustments to Overwatch heroes, the game shifts in how it’s played. Likewise, new strategies uncovered by players impact the balance of the game.

Responding to a forum post discussing Tracer’s balance, Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan explains his theory on hero adjustments. “The perception of balance is often more powerful than balance itself,” Kaplan wrote. He uses Reinhardt as an example: A few months ago, Reinhardt was considered a must-pick hero in competitive play. Winston was almost never seen in tournaments.

Now, the standard competitive hero lineup could not look more different. Winston is seen in nearly every game, while Reinhardt’s usage significantly dropped. Winston got some adjustments, but Reinhardt really didn’t—instead, he got a bug fix of sorts that changed his Earthshatter.

The changes to other heroes and changes to the meta had more of an impact on Reinhardt’s use, Kaplan said. Kaplan pointed to Zenyatta, too. “Zenyatta’s new prevalence is due to adjustments to other heroes—not Zenyatta himself—as well as a shifting meta,” Kaplan added.

That’s how Blizzard sees Tracer right now. Her strength is a product of the current meta. “Tracer’s balance—beyond the obvious tuning knobs that we have—is greatly affected by the balance of other heroes as well as the ‘perception’ of how good she is at any one time,” Kaplan said.

“It’s always fun to study how people innovate to ‘break’ a meta,” Kaplan added. “In the NHL in the ’90s teams developed an overly defensive strategy (think three tank meta) called ‘The Trap’… Teams like New Jersey and Detroit won champions using these methods. Eventually, the NHL had to make rule changes to ‘change the meta.'”

Tracer is really good right now because the dive composition is really good. Her kit is designed for mobility, and that’s what’s in. Tracer’s speed and flanking ability make other heroes look weak in the current meta, but that’s likely to change once new tweaks—whether made by developers or players—come into play.