Blizzard blows the four-tank metagame to pieces and brings DPS back to the fore!
In a complex and delicately-balanced team game like Overwatch, even the slightest changes can have sweeping effects. A small adjustment to one character brings another to the fore, which creates an opening for that hero to be countered, and so on. After a long period of competitive stagnation, on January 24th, Blizzard pushed an update to live servers that has upended the whole metagame!
The Story So Far…
A little backstory: ever since the patch on November 15th of last year, both pubs and pros saw many more tank heroes being played, as the community realized that tanks were more viable than their DPS counterparts with respect to both damage and survivability. This started in the pro scene, I believe from Team NIP, who was notoriously known for running three to four tanks even before the November patch. After the update, almost every competitive team was forced into running a four tank composition because of how impactful D.Va was. You could see from the results of events like Dreamhack Winter 2016, the IEM Gyeonggi Invitational, MLG Vegas and OGN Apex S1 that the four-tank composition was very successful. Almost every team was composed of the same six heroes: Ana, Lucio, D.Va, Roadhog, Reinhardt, and Zarya. Occasionally a Soldier:76 was included due to the damage per shot buff he received, which gave him an edge over McCree although a competent D.Va could completely shut him down.
Why was this the case? How is it that more offensive characters weren’t viable against the four-tank lineup? There are a number of factors at play: first was the monstrous D.Va buff which gave her Mech an additional 100 armor, as well as faster movement speed while firing. Suddenly, absolutely no hero could kill her alone in a 1 vs. 1 scenario. Not even the usual counters to tanks, Reaper and Roadhog, could fight her as she had too much armor and health. Accordingly, Reaper was totally unviable as Ana’s ultimate, Nano Boost, also lost the move speed increase that had made him so fearsome in the past.
So with Reaper fallen off, why was Roadhog still so popular? Simply put, his hook was too powerful to get rid of. With his enormous health pool, “forgiving” hook hitbox (unforgiving to enemy players), and ability to displace and isolate his targets, he was too great an asset to be replaced. Whoever he hooked could be easily finished off unless said target was being shielded. One misstep could lead to losing the teamfight, as a well-played Roadhog is unbelievably strong at punishing heroes for playing predictably or being out of position. With Reaper out of the way, there was essentially no way to combat a tank-heavy metagame as no other hero dealt comparable burst damage.
The final component in creating the four-tank metagame was the overall strength of Ana as a support. Her Sleep Dart is an amazing single-target crowd control, her Grenade does everything from damage to healing to heal negation, and finally her healing output was leagues above other supports. The reason the four-tank lineup was even viable was because of how quickly Ana could heal them and build her Ultimate charge. Most offensive characters couldn’t outpace the healing on these bulky targets, leading to the switch to a more brawl-heavy and tanky meta.
From a spectator’s perspective this is not very enjoyable to watch and doesn’t utilize anything close to Overwatch’s entire hero roster. Generally nobody died until Ultimates were achieved, so games devolved into a standstill until teams could combo. In short, the metagame was stale and the viable heroes quite limited. Then, Blizzard came to the community’s rescue!
Moving on to cover the actual patch, let’s start with the changes to Ana!
Biotic Grenade’s buff and debuff duration was reduced from five seconds to four, and it now gives only +50% healing boost on allies. This is a step in the right direction, as tanks won’t be automatically full-healed with the Grenade plus Lucio’s Amplified Healing aura. Also the duration was indeed too long, as when you saw a grenade get a good detonation on the enemy team they were probably all dead. These are all reasonable changes to tone Ana down without nerfing her into the ground.
Next is the biggest change of this patch, D.Va. Her armor pool was reduced from 400 to 200, while her health increased to make up the difference. Although this seems inconsequential, armor actually reduces damage taken, making her more vulnerable to burst from heroes like Sombra, Roadhog, Reaper, and Tracer. Since the patch, D.Va is much easier to unsuit from her Mech, meaning she should be far less centralizing to the metagame.
Another major change affected Roadhog’s hook, causing it to break when targets leave line of sight before being reeled in. Many people initially concluded that this would pretty much kill the ‘Hog, but after a few weeks of the new patch he’s actually looking even stronger overall. Hooks now kill most of the target’s momentum when connecting and pull the unfortunate victim closer, so heroes that couldn’t be one shot before now can be. Targets are even pulled directly in front of Roadhog when he turns, which can help him to get environmental kills near cliffs!
Finally, a subtle yet strong buff for the new hero, Sombra. In this patch, Sombra’s Hack cooldown was reduced from 12 seconds to 8 and the time to Hack a target decreased from 1 second to 0.8 seconds. The changes seem minor by the numbers, but this could lead to Sombra being played a lot more. Hack is on a substantially lower cooldown which mean more healthpacks / heroes can be disabled in a given fight or before game start. And while a 0.2 second reduction in Hack time doesn’t seem like much, in game it makes a huge difference! My speculation is that we’ll see a lot more Sombra being tested in the future, but her damage is still somewhat inconsistent which makes most teams reluctant to run her.
A Whole New World
So what have been the results of all this tinkering? From what we’ve been seeing so far in the latest tournaments, NGE Winter Premiere and OGN APEX S2, it seems we’re due for a resurgence of offensive characters! In the grand finals of NGE Winter Premiere, Team Immortals showed their prowess with the DPS flanker combo of Genji and Tracer causing havoc against Team Ghost (formerly Team Kungarna) on maps such as Lijiang and Watchpoint Gibraltar. We also saw McCree come out time to time from Immortals when facing an enemy flanker. Tracer, Genji, McCree, Pharah, and even a bit of Sombra and Reaper are making a big return back into competitive play! Complexity was even running Sombra in the semifinals against Ghost on Kings Row, though it unfortunately didn’t bear fruit for them as they lost that map. Still, it’s exciting to see these unusual picks in a very competitive tournament!
This indicates a state of balance close to the ideal: a diverse pool of viable heroes, where each character feels good enough without being over- or underwhelming. The balanced 2-2-2 team composition, consisting of two DPS, two tanks and two supports, is now making a return after the patch. Even three or more tanks in a team is still viable, but the biggest offenders were nerfed to the point that counterplay could actually happen. D.Va was too strong before the patch but is in a good position now, not too strong and not too weak. Similarly with Ana: with her grenade nerfed she is still very strong, but she can be substituted. I’ve been seeing some unusual supports being brought back to competitive play, such as Mercy and Zen. The support slots are no longer completely dedicated to Ana and Lucio and that’s great for the game!
Overall this was a step in the right direction by Blizzard from both a player and a spectator’s perspective. The game is obviously far better for the audience when you see the whole Overwatch cast at work! I can’t wait for what other things Blizzard has in store for us, as the team has hinted that they will be reworking Bastion next. The Overwatch team has honestly done a great job in testing things out and learning from their mistakes to create a better game for everybody. Hopefully we’ll soon see a focus on improving the spectating system, including a better HUD, smoother camera, and a stat scoreboard. That would really make the viewing experience better and lead to bigger tournaments in the future!
And that’s everything for my January patch analysis! Now we can enjoy a more diverse Overwatch experience, utilizing the whole cast instead of just tanks. I hope you guys enjoyed the article: if you like this content, try out a lesson with me!