Another Overwatch update, another nerf to one of my favorite healers. The game’s Lunar New Year 2018 event recently dropped, and with it came some balancing adjustments for a small handful of heroes, one of which was for Brigitte, putting a cap on the amount of time her teammates retain the Armor provided by her ultimate ability. Brigitte has been out less than a year and has already suffered an onslaught of nerfs, mainly grouped within the last couple months. This sucks for Brigitte players, sure, but it also serves as evidence of a larger problem in Blizzard’s balancing strategy for Overwatch.
The real problem started back in early summer when Brigitte was hit with with a minor but impactful nerf to her Shield Bash—indisputably the most critical tool in her kit—increasing its cooldown from six to seven seconds, which would later be increased again to eight. This was a blow to the character’s efficacy, but fine, we handled it. September came around, and Brigitte was altered to get knocked to the ground when Shield Bashing other charging targets like Reinhardt. Annoying, but again, not the worst thing in the world.
By the time Halloween rolled around, her shield health was reduced from 600 to 500. Here is where you started to lose us, Blizzard. Just a few short weeks later, her Shield Bash no longer traveled through barriers and did significantly less damage. This was the point it was finally taken too far, but as a cherry on top, the most recent update also dealt a heavy blow to her ultimate. Blizzard, if you don’t want us playing the character anymore, just say so.
The frustrating reality of Blizzard ham-handedly hacking away at Brigitte is that it’s ultimately unnecessary. Her state of having little-to-no attack range with limited maneuverability makes her one of the game’s easiest heroes to counter. Up close she was (emphasis on “was”) incredibly dangerous, but for players that actually put some thought into it, she was easily nullified by simply putting some distance between you and her. Instead, large portions of the playerbase chose to complain rather than learn how to deal with her, and despite Blizzard’s habit of ignoring many of the community’s balancing concerns, the developer proceeded to cut her off at the knees.
The tragic irony of these nerfs is that they actually failed to temper the character in the team comps in which she is the most dangerous. Deathball comps, most commonly in the form of GOATS, are the teams in which Brigitte excels, not due so much to her general kit, but because of her area-of-effect healing. The manner in which the game allows healing to stack makes consistent, non-focused healing optimal for teams with large health pools, and since that is one of Brigitte’s few functions that hasn’t been nerfed, she is still flourishing in these comps. It’s only in the more general community that she’s been crippled, and if that was the developers’ intent, then good for them, but it’s not how the game should be balanced.
I acknowledge that balancing a hero shooter such as Overwatch is very tricky, as adjusting a character to benefit low-tier players can have problematic effects for high-tier players, or viceversa. In Brigitte’s case, she may have needed a small tweak or two to keep her from dominating the game’s lower brackets, but heroes should never be balanced exclusively for the lower tier. Not to say every adjustment should cater to the professional meta, but if a choice has to be made, the scales should generally tilt toward upper-level players more often.
Making changes like the ones Brigitte was hit with incentivizes low-tier players to complain about a hero rather than try to learn their way around them. If Blizzard were to—occasionally—buckle down on a hero that’s considered slightly overpowered in the lower brackets, those more committed to the game would have the chance to learn and improve because of it, moving the game in a positive direction for all involved.
As it is now, hero adjustments in Overwatch have recently begun to feel strangely impulsive. Doomfist is another example of a hero that takes some knowhow to work around, but instead of adjusting him in a way that’s healthy for the full player spectrum, Blizzard recently nerfed the character in oblivion. The paradigm of reckless hero tweaking continues with Bastion, who is essentially a joke at higher levels of play but is actually a serious threat to lower-level teams that don’t coordinate. In what was seemingly an attempt to make the hero more valid at high-level play, Blizzard made it so his turret fires more accurately the longer it fired. This had little effect on teams that know how to work around him, while making him even more of a problem for those that don’t.
Calling for a reversal of this change to Bastion could appear to contradict my desire for Blizzard to let low-tier players learn to deal with certain heroes, but it’s about finding the healthiest point for each hero. Brigitte was at a solid middleground that all players could manage given the appropriate attention, while Bastion teeters at either end of the meta depending on where he’s being played.
It’s easy to say, “Oi! Blizzard doesn’t know how to balance games!” but I feel it’s just as easy to say, “Well, this balancing change must just be making everyone frustrated because we’re all ignorant of Blizzard’s grand plan.” Blizzard is a genuinely good developer and knows how to balance heroes for all skill levels when it puts some thought into it—just look at last year’s Torbjorn rework. That said, the team is not infallible, as evidenced by these Brigitte changes, or the recent Reaper buff that now has him rolling over lower-brackett lobbies.
Blizzard loves to fall back on its “data,” but that data has lead to some very poorly received updates, so it can sometimes be just as imperfect as the vocal community’s anecdotal observations. The developer needs to start taking more time to consider what makes a character over- or underpowered, and how that can be adjusted on a fundamental level to benefit the community at large. And if that’s too much to ask, please at least give Brigitte some shield health back.