Why is there such a negative stigma attached to Mercy mains in Overwatch?
Dr. Angela Ziegler, better known as Mercy, is Overwatch's resident combat medic. She is described on the Overwatch website as a "guardian angel to those who come under her care" and "a peerless healer, a brilliant scientist, and a staunch advocate for peace."
So why does everyone seem to be hating the hero and those that play her?
In the beginning of May, a video of an in-game argument between two players who "main" Mercy (mainly play as her) went viral, with over 8,000 retweets. The two players, both female, both mained Mercy, but obviously only one of them could play her in that specific game. And a fight ensued.
And so the discussion and loudest hate towards Mercy mains truly began.
Much of the recent vitriol surrounding Mercy is in the notion that the skill it takes to play her well at most levels does not translate well to other heroes. The fact is, a Mercy player can do extremely well at their job without having the best of aim or reaction time. That skillset is much needed on other heroes in the same class, such as Ana or Zenyatta.
The issue becomes prevalent when a Mercy is not working out, but they refuse to switch to another support, whether it be out of stubbornness or the fact that they can't play another hero at the same level.
A "one-trick" problem
Someone who sticks with Mercy can sometimes be a detriment to their team, such as if they're not using Resurrect correctly, if they're dying too often, or if they're damage boosting instead of healing. A good Mercy can turn the tide, but a bad Mercy can be exploited just as easily.
The same argument can be made for any "one-trick" player, however. If someone is only good at one type of hero, and that hero gets countered by the enemy team or doesn't fit well in a certain team composition, they can become a problem.
So is the issue with "one-tricks" and "mains" in general? Or is Mercy actually at the heart of it?
Jenna, or "Jennasis" on Twitch, is a Grand Master Mercy main that has over 600 hours on the hero. She has reached as high as 4,325 SR, good enough for a Top 500 ranking. She says that she's received a lot of unwarranted hatred for maining Mercy, like in the clip below.
"I think [a reason for the Mercy main hate is] because at first glance and at low SR, Mercy is one of the easiest heroes to pick up and learn," said Jenna. "She is easy to play, but mastering her is another story. There's a lot of things that Mercy players have to keep in mind and be constantly thinking about in the back of their heads that DPS and Tank mains don't see."
Jennasis thinks there's a few reasons why Mercy mains receive such hate, and she can understand where some of it comes from, but doesn't think that the toxicity is deserved.
"Another reason people hate her, one that I understand more, is simply how many Mercy one-tricks there are," said Jennasis. "People see someone excelling at a team-based game by only playing one character, while they might be struggling to win games and are flexing for their team. I see why they are frustrated, but that is no excuse to say the things I have heard about me and other Mercy mains."
Another facet of the Mercy main story that can't be ignored are those that will group up with a player of a higher skill and get "boosted" or "carried" by simply healing them, usually a tank or DPS player. This is often frowned upon by the community, and is one of the many reasons that Mercy mains like Jennasis are subjected to verbal abuse.
"It's so discouraging to be talked down to in 90 percent of my matches just because I enjoy playing Mercy the most," Jennasis said. "I've had people say such horrible things to me just because I play the game that I bought for myself in a way that they don't like. I've even had people straight up tell me that if they get me on their team they throw the match just so I lose SR.
"I've had to take time off of the game because of all the constant toxicity I get, and it only seems to be getting worse and worse. The Mercy hate is only compounded by the fact that I'm a girl, there is so much needless hate thrown at me on a daily basis I even question why I still play Overwatch."
Is Mercy's Skill Rating bugged again?
Professional player Timo "Taimou" Kettunen of Team EnVyUs recently spoke out against Mercy mains. He posted a reaction video to a clip from fellow pro player Lucas "Mendokusaii" Håkansson's stream, showing the statistics of a Masters player who had exclusively played Mercy in Competitive season five. They had a 21 percent win rate and were less than 100 points below their season high.
The argument being made here is that a Mercy main can sit back and press Q occasionally, lose a bunch of games, and not be penalized in the way of SR that much. Skill Rating itself has never been perfect, and is something that has always been fluid since the beginning of its inception last June. Blizzard has tried time and time again to get it right, but it's a formula that has yet to be perfected.
Jennasis has seen first hand that something is not quite right with Mercy's loss and gain of Skill Rating recently.
"Currently Mercy's SR is broken," said Jennasis. "You gain more than you lose, so Mercys with a 45 percent winrate are still climbing to Top 500. It wasn't like this a few months ago. Mercy SR was actually broken in the opposite direction, [when you're] losing 30 SR and only gaining 15. So I know Mercy for sure needs a hot fix, SR-wise, in season five."
Grand Master is just the tip of the iceberg for Mercy mains, however. According to OmnicMeta, in lower skill rating brackets, Mercy is everywhere. In season four of competitive play, she was the most-mained hero in Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum ranks. She was the third-most mained in Diamond and Master, and sixth-most in Grand Master.
As the ranks ascend, the amount of Mercy mains gets smaller. A few things can be deduced from this. Support mains and Reinhardt in general were most prevalent in season four, mostly because every team needs a healer and a main tank. Both Reinhardt and Mercy fit well into a variety of team comps, so there's usually a fit for them on most teams. But the fact that the higher the ranks go, the less Mercy mains there are, also cannot be ignored.
Things are quite different at the professional level, where Mercy is the second-least picked support hero outside of Symmetra, who could easily be classified as a defense hero instead. Mercy's pick rate is fourth for all traditional healers, by a large margin.
Since the season five update on May 23, she has a pick rate of 10.55 percent in all recorded professional competitive play, according to Overwatch stats site Winston's Lab. In third place is Zenyatta with a pick rate of 38.89 percent. Mercy is played mostly in concert with a Pharah at the pro level, as she is best paired with the flying rocketeer as a healer and damage booster, and the combination of the two of them can tend to be one of the hardest duos to counter in the game. Outside of that, she is often left out in lieu of either Lucio, Ana, or Zenyatta.
As someone who has competed at the top tier of Overwatch for along time, Taimou doesn't think that the issue is with Mercy herself, but with people who are using the current SR system to "abuse" Mercy to reach high ranks.
All the way back in April, Blizzard fixed an issue where Mercy players were gaining too little SR for wins and losing too much for losses, with a bug that was tied to her "on fire" meter. Now it appears that the issue has gone in the opposite direction, as the scales have been tipped the other way. If there is indeed something wrong with Mercy's SR again, it's on Blizzard to come out and confirm there is, and then fix it.
The bottom line is that one of the most important things about playing Overwatch is the ability to be proficient on multiple heroes. While Mercy's SR and ease of use at a base level may be causing her to be mained more than others, "one-trick" players in general are an overall problem.
Having a favorite hero and a main is okay, but success in Overwatch can be directly tied to a player's ability to flex and help fill out a composition with whatever the team needs, and be able to switch if their main isn't working out.
Whether you're a Genji main, a Junkrat main, or a Mercy main, it's important to be willing and able to switch up your strategy if the situation calls for it. Team work makes the dream work. And sometimes, so, too, does being nice and avoiding the urge to be toxic in game chat.