From a sniper with ammo that heals and power-ups allies to a roller skating DJ with songs that heal and help teammates move faster, Blizzard’s Overwatch introduced a new way to play as a healer in video games. Once stereotyped as squishy and defenseless, healers are now more versatile than ever. But they are also a class of characters under constant scrutiny, leading to reworks from the development team and online harassment that ends with some players giving up on the game entirely.
Sure, many characters in Overwatch evolve and continue to do so over time. Players are more than used to seeing their heroes undergo changes to their stats and abilities in the name of keeping the meta of the game balanced.
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But some heroes are forced into intense reworks that completely change the way a character plays, Mercy being one of the first that comes to mind. Her Resurrect ultimate that allowed her to revive multiple fallen heroes at once proved to be controversial, and was replaced with Valkyrie, an ultimate that boosts her stats and gives her the ability to fly.
While some may argue that Mercy’s Resurrect ability was a fair exchange for her low defense, it didn’t take long for people to start taking advantage of it. Mercy players began camping outside of battle zones, waiting for the perfect moment to use Resurrect and bring back their entire team. Not only would this turn the tide of a match but it would also earn the team a play of the game. Blizzard addressed this issue in her rework, turning Mercy into a hero more suited for dealing damage than healing.
Still, this rework didn’t change the amount of toxicity the community hurled at Mercy players, or towards anyone who played a healing hero, for that matter. From spamming the “I need healing” button to becoming aggressive during losing matches, healers in Overwatch are always the first to blame.
We spoke with a number of support players to find out how Mercy’s rework affected them and how serious the problem of toxicity is against healers in Overwatch.
Elijah Beahm stopped playing several months ago as he grew tired of the constant changes to his characters, Symmetra and Mercy. “Mercy was honestly relaxing to play, as all I needed to do was burst around the battlefield and heal or buff people. All these claims of everyone just letting people die so they could get a big rez? Not all of us were doing that! Some of us were playing precisely as intended, whereas now, resurrecting as a counter is gone and there’s frankly a lot less enthusiasm to play as her,” Elijah says.
“… It’s nearly impossible to see the real problems your teams are having.”
Melissa King doesn’t agree with how Blizzard handled Mercy’s changes and believes that they’ve gone too far in the direction of nerfing her. “I understand that she’s difficult to balance. But, much of this issue could have been solved by paying more attention to balancing Valkyrie before making it live. Mercy ended up dominating the meta like Brigitte has, and everyone was miserable. Blizzard then went on to nerf her several times with nothing to make up for it.”
King adds that she’s heard some great suggestions regarding future reworks based on earning a chance to resurrect instead of waiting for the 30-second cooldown to lapse. “I would love to see something in that vein. While I think Mercy has more nuance than people give her credit for, she could definitely become an even more complex character.”
Jedders, who has been playing as a healer in Overwatch since launch, says that the support class is rough and leads to a lot of stress. “It’s a class that requires a lot of game sense and good positioning, but you’re also the first one to be blamed as a healer regardless of the root problem.” she adds, “Flying in her ultimate ability is fun, but her actual chain healing feels so weak. The double rez actually made an impact on the fight, but I would have happily tried higher heals in exchange for that.”
With or without a rework involved, people who pick these heroes are often put in vulnerable positions, getting sworn at, receiving threats, and harassment over voice chat.
“I can’t count the number of times I’ve played Mercy and been blamed for a person dying, despite the fact that my healing beam was locked onto them …”
Josh Bishop argues that the problem of toxicity toward healers in Overwatch is unique from other games since it’s hard to determine the value each player adds to your team. “This is a very fast paced first person shooter. So, unless you’re in the back as Ana, for example, watching your whole team, it’s nearly impossible to see the real problems your teams are having.”
He adds that no longer choosing to solo queue and searching for groups to team up with before playing in ranked matches has helped him with avoiding some of the toxicity. The report and commendation system, and the introduction of private profiles has helped significantly as well.
Zenyatta and Lucio are Cian Maher’s favorite heroes, and after playing hundreds of hours using them, he affirms that toxicity remains ever present. “People always blame the healer because they associate their death with a lack of healing. I can’t count the number of times I’ve played Mercy and been blamed for a person dying, despite the fact that my healing beam was locked onto them and the other team’s damage output was simply greater than Mercy’s max healing. When I lock Zen, people scream at me, ‘play Mercy, play Mercy!’” Maher explains.
Editor’s note: Warning, the video below contains very graphic language.
The choice of picking a hero from the support class is because he believes they allow players to have a greater impact in the game, especially considering how important some abilities like Ana’s Nano-Boost or Mercy’s resurrection can be in the battlefield. But there’s always a toxic counterpart.
In over 90 hours playing as Moira, Mark McCarthy has had his fair share of how cruel the community can be. He often sees messages like “our healers are trash” in the team chat, even if he tries to organize the team composition before each match. He’ll even go as far as asking players to use healing callouts so the notification can alert him of the hero that needs assistance.
“Go back to the kitchen where all the support mains belong.”
“The homophobia for being a gay man and the toxicity can be very draining sometimes. I’d like to see a little more done by Blizzard but it’s a really hard problem to solve in general.” He says.
For Buru, toxicity went beyond a couple matches in Overwatch. During a ranked session, a man on the opposing team started directing insults at her, saying things like, “Mercy mains always win” and “Go back to the kitchen where all the support mains belong.” Sometime later, matchmaking led the same man to cross paths with Buru, only that this time they were on the same team.
“I was a little sad that day, so I just finished the match and stopped playing. I started finding this guy more often after that. He had different accounts and harassed me in all of them. The Argentina server is pretty small, so I encountered him a lot of times,” she says.
For Overwatch’s players, being a healer is a big act of compassion. Even with Mercy’s rework and the growing selection of healers, the amount of negativity directed at this class continues to be a major deterrent for players. While Overwatch has supplied the tools to lessen these confrontations, it’s hard to imagine how many people will continue to endure it in its current state.
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