Jeff Kaplan weighs in on Overwatch’s balance and the dive meta

Get jumped on, son

Forum threads complaining about game balance are a dime a dozen for any popular game, but it’s always interesting when a developer or designer joins in. Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan did just that in the wake of Doomfist’s release, sharing his perspective on the current meta, balance, and his ideas about the perception of balance on the forums.

Kaplan’s post was mostly a response to complaints about the current “dive meta” of the game. This is a playstyle that focuses on teams of highly-mobile heroes such as Tracer, Winston, and D.Va who are used to blow through the front-line of the enemy team, pick off support heroes, and overwhelm the competition. While there is nothing exactly wrong or unfair about this playstyle, some Overwatch players have grown bored with what is considered a mandatory team composition for winning.

Well, bad news for those players, Kaplan and the Overwatch team don’t plan on doing anything to artificially shake up the meta any time soon. 

“I don’t mean to discount your fatigue with the “dive” meta but I also want us looking at from a realistic standpoint. Dive itself is an interesting comp. It’s fun to play and watch. It features super high skill heroes doing very OW things” Kaplan wrote. “I like when the meta changes on balance only when the game is not balanced and something was adjusted to make the game more balanced. Another way of putting this is, I do not agree with the philosophy that we should just make balance changes solely to shift people off the meta.”

This may be disappointing to players who are tired of dealing with D.Va trampling over their entire team to bully their supports, but I can see the logic in it. I know I’d personally rather see the meta evolve out of the playerbase than force fed from above.

Commenting on different ways to spur a meta shift, Kaplan said “A game can force a meta shift through mechanics. The MOBA genre has huge hero pools yet without pick and ban systems teams would inevitably play the same comps over and over. The game – through the mechanics of picking and banning – is forcing variety.” Restricting hero selection might solve the issue of teams abusing the same old formula again and again, but would also stifle player expression and personal style. “I am not a believer in these systems for OW (while I understand and respect why they use them in MOBA). I prefer to think that OW allows you to be creative which is different than forces you to be creative. I don’t want to watch the best Genji player in the world play Zarya – I want to see him/her play Genji.”

Particularly interesting are his comments that “the perception of balance is more powerful than balance itself.” As with any game, a large portion of the playerbase takes its cues from what is going on in the competitive scene, requesting balance changes based on what the pros are doing. However, those observations don’t always translate to the broader experience of most public quick match games (the mode the majority of players play). According to after-match statistics, some heroes that are commonly considered overpowered or unbalanced are perfectly fine, while real powerhouses are slipping under the radar of most forum warriors.

“Statistically, the things that are most unbalanced aren’t what you think they are. Symmetra and Torbjorn win rates are not balanced. They are too good. But this is why we don’t balance on statistics alone. I don’t sense a great community uproar over the fact that Torb and Symmetra are “overpowered” right now (at least, statistically).”

I’ve thought about this before. Back when I was playing Reaper during the dreaded “tank meta” I’d get the occasional sideways comment about picking a “gimped” character. But, in a public match environment, a pair of hellfire shotguns were just the thing for breaking down teams trying to imitate the Reinhardt/Roadhog/D.Va dream team of the pros. It wouldn’t fly at a competitive level obviously, but in a regular old public game, stepping out of the box of “approved heroes” worked just fine.

I’d be interested to hear what other Overwatch fans thought. What are you seeing in your matches? Is the dive meta too stale to be fun anymore? Do you think any other comp might displace the current meta anytime soon?

OW update/balancing cycle is excruciatingly slow: Part 2 [Overwatch Forums]

About The Author
Nic Rowen
More Stories by Nic Rowen