Where do you start when discussing the storied past of Mercy and game balance within Overwatch?
There really is no contention when it comes to which Overwatch hero has caused the most balance issues and overall design headaches. Mercy is, by in large, the most significantly changed, reworked, and hotly contested hero in the game's history. It seems as if there is always some sort of issue causing Mercy supporters (or detractors) to take to the forums and make the case for or against the Swiss field medic.
A brief history of Mercy changes since 2016:
1. An increase to her Ultimate charge rate.
2. The removal of the ability for two Mercys to damage boost one target.
3. Increase in primary healing by 20% and reduced delay on Resurrect by .75 seconds.
4. Changed passive healing ability to trigger after 1 second instead of 3 seconds.
5. Added invulnerability to self and all allies during Resurrect ability.
6. Resurrected heroes now show up in the kill feed
At this time, people were keenly aware of the oppressive power of 5-man resurrects and instances of inflated Mercy SR. Then, the massive (7) Valkeryie rework happened. A soon time later, there was a (8) nerf to her overpowered pistol.
A month later, Mercy fatigue was at an all-time high and the common consensus was that she was totally broken. During this period, pro OWL player Fissure was once asked on his stream whether he thought Mercy was broken -- his response is everything you need to know:
"Mercy. Mercy is holy s*** f***, yes I think. F*** F*** F*** F***."
The changes continued:
9. Big nerf to non-Valkeryie empowered Resurrects.
10. Resurrect can now be interrupted by CC abilities.
11. Nerf to Guardian Angel (no longer resets CD when Resurrect is used) and Valkyrie Resurrect changed to provide less Resurrects in general.
Now, the most recent changes to Mercy are a nerf to her primary healing. Down from 60 HP/s her primary healing beam now heals only 50 HP/s. It seems like a small change on paper, but to dedicated Mercy players, it is apparently the last straw:
The outcry from vocal Mercy mains is hard to avoid if you follow Overwatch fans on social media or frequent popular online Overwatch gatherings. In addition to just some of the tweets shared above, there are...
"For the first time in my 300+ hours on Mercy, Blizzard has successfully made me hate playing her. I have tried to be understanding and adaptable to all these changes she’s been seeing for the last few weeks. But this nerf has pushed me over the edge."
Multiple posts on the official Overwatch forums:
"Mercy is NOT viable in higher ranks in her current state. Picking Mercy in higher ranks will get you shouted at to switch to something else. Teams with Mercy are in a disadvantage as her healing output is just bad and resurrect doesnt really make up for it. My teammates always wanted another main healer when I played Mercy, this almost makes me feel like Mercy’s become an offhealer as she’s not able to keep tanks alive during teamfights, so my teams had Mercy and Moira or Ana most of the time.
I don’t care what you’ll change, just make her viable again.
This is not the game I bought two years ago… #notmymercy"
"I’m sure many other Mercy mains just like me have just had it at this point. Mercy’s pickrates and winrates are the all time lowest. She is officially the worst right now compared to every other Support.
Can we PLEASE do something about fixing her now? How many times do we all need to scream the same thing over and over on these forums before Blizzard hears us?"
I didn't think I'd see #notmymercy again, but here we are.
Perception over reality
It's clear that a large group of people aren't happy with where Mercy is, but does that mean she is imbalanced? After all, there are also threads highlighting Mercy's steadily increasing win rate and the general consensus of the more competitively minded folk over at /r/CompetitiveOverwatch is that nerfed Mercy is fine. In fact, a lot of those players praise the Mercy nerfs for allowing other support heroes like Lucio and Ana to become viable support picks.
But, it turns out the perception of balance is, sometimes more powerful than actual balance. At least that's what Jeff Kaplan, Game Director of Overwatch once said when responding to similar balance concerns in an open letter to the Overwatch community. Back then it was about the communities vocal dissent against the "dive meta" but Kaplan's message is just as appropriate today regarding the current level of distraught Mercy players.
The excerpt below is a good insight on why Overwatch developers take widespread concern over individual heroes with a grain of salt:
"I think we also need to be careful about demanding drastic change. A few months ago we nerfed D.Va and we faced the ire of many very upset players who thought we “ruined” the hero and she would never be played again. There was mega thread after mega thread demanding she be buffed. We held our ground because we believed she was fine. We did not touch her. And now she is one of the dominant heroes in the dive meta – clearly not in need of a buff."
Regardless of what happens to Mercy in the future, it's hard to imagine a world where Mercy stops being one of the most polarizing characters in Overwatch. Her unique combination of low-intensity gameplay while still having access to the most powerful abilities in the game have created a perception of balance puzzle that, from the looks of it, isn't quite solved.
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