Lucio charges at Zarya

Screenshot via Blizzard (Public Domain)

Two of the game's most powerful abilities received significant nerfs.

Plenty of big changes are coming to Overwatch, and we’re not talking about the upcoming second season of Competitive Play or the new map, Eichenwalde. A big patch hit Overwatch’s public test realm (PTR) today, introducing a slew of balance changes and other updates.

The PTR patch notes included more detail on the upcoming changes to the Competitive Play ladder for Season 2 that game director Jeff Kaplan outlined in a developer update video on Monday, but the more interesting parts of the notes were sweeping balance changes that promise to shake up a metagame that’s become centered around Lúcio and Zenyatta.

Those two supports were picked in nearly 100 percent of competitive matches since the last patch buffed Zenyatta’s health, which, combined with some other changes, had widespread effects on the metagame. No longer were matches dominated by the combination of Pharah and Mercy, as running them was a liability.

The PTR patch might have the changes needed to keep Lúcio and Zenyatta viable while making Mercy another solid or even preferred selection.

General changes

- Ultimates that consume the ultimate meter when activated will now drain the meter more quickly (.25 second instead of 1 second)
- Reverted a recent change to reduce size of heroes' projectiles

It’s a bit unclear whether that first point means ultimates will be consumed more quickly or just in more discrete increments, but that change is accompanied by a hero balance change to McCree, whose ultimate will now use that system. That means that McCree can no longer stall an enemy team for 10 seconds at the cost of only 50 percent of his ultimate charge by hitting Q and sitting in Deadeye before canceling it. Now, McCree players will lose charge for every 0.25 seconds he stalls. That’s certainly a much needed change.

It comes alongside a reversion to projectile sizes, which is a massive buff to heroes that use projectiles as their primary attacks, like Hanzo and Mei, who also received more specific buffs later in the patch notes. The change was made in part to improve the feel of the game; everyone knows how it feels when that Hanzo tosses an arrow out and randomly grabs a headshot when it feels like you were nowhere near his stupid tree trunk of an arrow. But making those projectiles smaller had huge effects on the viability of heroes like Hanzo, so Blizzard was forced to revert the change. For now.

Support changes

Mercy

- Caduceus Staff
    - Healing Beam
    - Healing-per-second has been increased by 20%
- Resurrect
    - Resurrected allies will be able to maneuver after 2.25 seconds (reduced from 3 seconds)

Lúcio

- Amp It Up
    - The boosting of movement speed has been decreased by 30 percent (from a 100 percent increase to a 70 percent increase)

Zenyatta

- Orb of Discord
    - The amount of damage amplified by a target with Orb of Discord has been decreased from 50 percent to 30 percent
- Orb of Destruction
    - Damage has been increased from 40 to 46

The biggest balance changes hit what might be the two most powerful non-ultimate abilities in the entirety of Overwatch. 

Zenyatta and Lúcio dictate the entire metagame right now because Lúcio’s speed boost and Zenyatta’s Discord Orb are so powerful. Teams can engage with speed boost with Discord on a key target and gib them instantly unless the other team disengage. But with the version of speed boost on live, the only way to keep your team safe is to kite with a speed boost of your own.

Even without Zenyatta, Lúcio has controlled the entire Overwatch meta since the game first went live outside of Blizzard in Nov. 2015. Literally every other part of Lúcio’s kit has seen nerfs since then, but Speed Boost remained untouched until now.

The PTR changes nerf the speed boost 30 percent, from 100 percent to 70 percent bonus speed—a very significant amount, according to pros who have tested the feel on the PTR—which should enable other counter-engage options, like Ana’s Biotic Grenade and Sleep Dart, to become more viable.

The Discord Orb nerf will still keep Zenyatta as an extremely powerful and dangerous weapon, but puts his damage boost more in line with similar tools like Mercy’s damage boost beam, which was nerfed early in the beta from 50 percent to 30 percent. The accompanying buff to his damage (and projectile hitbox) will still make Zenyatta a monster at dealing damage, but he won’t bring as many targets into insta-gib range for his teammates, which in turn should mean the meta won't revolve around the Omnic monk like his orbs.

Those changes should open the door for more Mercy and even Ana play. Mercy received a buff to her healing throughput, which will now make her healing target seem like an invincible tank. Plus her Resurrection received a little buff. That, combined with the change to Discord Orb, could open the door for Mercy and Pharah to hit center stage once again. While Ana received no changes, her throughput is still extremely high and her counter-engage tools could be enough to save teams now that the Zenyatta and Lúcio combo is no longer as strong.

It’s impossible to predict whether the metagame will settle on a dominant composition or if we’ll finally see more variety in support lineups, but the feeling right now is that the support roster has never been more balanced.

Damage heroes

Hanzo

  • Hanzo will now experience a 30 percent decrease in speed while aiming (formerly 40 percent)

  • Maximum projectile speed has been increased by 30 percent

Genji

- Double jump no longer resets when wall climbing
- Dash
    - No longer deals damage to traps like Widowmaker's Venom Mine or Junkrat's Steel Trap
    - No longer bypasses Junkrat's Steel Trap
Swift Strike
    - No longer interrupts quick melee attacks

Dragonblade
    - Duration of Genji's ultimate has been reduced from 8 seconds to 6 seconds

Mei

- Blizzard
    - The Blizzard projectile now pierces barriers
    - Radius has been increased from 8 meters to 10 meters

The dragon brothers received sweeping changes that could see their place in the lineup swapped.

Hanzo should now be a much more reliable weapon as his movement speed is now faster while he has an arrow knocked and the speed of his arrow was increased by a whopping 30 percent. Combined with the buff to projectile sizes, Hanzo could be a monster in the right hands, especially if he’s the recipient of a Mercy damage buff, as skilled players should be able to land a much higher percentage of their shots. Whether that makes Hanzo a staple pick remains to be seen, but it seems likely he’ll see some play on maps where his Sonic and Scatter arrows can be abused.

His brother, Genji, received nerfs that may take him out of the competitive metagame. The nerf to his burst damage—no longer allowing him to combo a melee with his dash—was much needed, allowing him to instagib too wide a variety of heroes in the right circumstances. The nerf to his Dragon Blade ultimate, reducing its duration by 2 seconds, was understandable considering how easily he dominated ladder games at middling skill levels where hitscan players don’t land shots on the ninja reliably. 

But for many pro players, the double jump reset on wall climbing will take the fun and efficacy out of playing Genji. He’s already often a tough hero to play in competitive games, often playing defensively to build his ultimate.  And his ability to use a wall climb to get another jump to escape at least gave him a window to be more active, especially after his dash was already used. The change may seem subtle, but combined with the other nerfs, it looks doubtful we’ll see much Genji in top level esports games if they hit the live server.

As for Mei, the changes to Blizzard seem like a good quality of life upgrade, also making her a better anti-engage tool against the Lucio’s slower speed boost. That, combined with the projectile hitbox reversion, will at least make her a bit more likely to find a small sliver of viability.

Tank heroes

D.Va

- Defense Matrix
    - After being activated, Defense Matrix will begin regenerating following a 1-second delay (formerly .5 seconds)

Roadhog

Chain Hook
    - If the hooked target isn't in Roadhog's line of sight when retracting the hook, they will be moved back to the position where they were originally hooked

The two tank changes had more to do with minimizing salt levels than changing the metagame. Nothing was as frustrating as playing against a D.Va spamming her Defense Matrix button, making it a guessing game as to when to even shoot. Now there will be more of a window to reactively counter the powerful shield, making D,Va a bit less annoying but still powerful in the hands of a skilled player.

The change to Roadhog’s hook sounds like it should minimize those moments where Roadhog pulls you through a wall, a bridge, and all of space and time before smashing you in the face. Roadhog will be more happy about the nerf to Zenyatta, which opens the door for him to go whole hog once again. If Pharah and Mercy return, it’ll once again be time for a one-man apocalypse.


The changes should be live on the PTR, so get in there and test them! Any and all of them are subject to change, but it’s clear that many of them are needed to increase the viability of a variety of hero picks after the last patch led to a metagame dominated by Zenyatta, Lúcio, and Zarya. The two supports saw significant nerfs to the abilities that gave them their stranglehold on the metagame, and that should open the door to a much wider range of options, as well as reduce the need for Zarya, who was often the only answer to saving someone from Zenyatta’s oppressive debuff.

With that said, the biggest Overwatch tournament yet hits Gamescom this weekend.The changes will obviously not be live by that time, so we’ll get to see the Zenyatta and Lúcio meta in full force. And while we may not ever see a Mercy, that doesn’t mean it won’t be glorious.

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