Overwatch director discusses toxicity & balance changes

There are certain games that breed toxicity like a cowpat breeds flies. That’s not to say Overwatch isn’t a fantastic shooter, it’s just that placing strangers in a competitive environment where one person’s (often very visible) mistake can result in a loss for the whole team is a recipe for unpleasant behaviour. That said, the blame still lies with the offending individuals: the game brings out the worst IN people, but it’s the worst OF people that are the real problem.

Fortunately, it’s a problem that the Overwatch devs have become keenly aware of, and game director Jeff Kaplan’s latest update video highlights some of the ways they’re improving the situation. My main takeaway is that they’ve managed to reduce instances of toxic communication by 17% in competitive games, but you might also be interested in Kaplan’s discussion of upcoming balance changes. I’ve got bad news, Mercy mains.

It genuinely sounds like the devs are taking a pro-active, multi-faceted approach to dealing with the toxicity problem. One part of that is encouraging players to engage with the report system by informing them when action has been taken against someone they’ve reported, which has seen a 20 percent increase in reported players. Another key change has been to warn reported players that action will be taken against them if they continue behaving inappropriately.

I know Dota 2 has been doing both of those things for years, and so Overwatch really should have had those systems in place from the get-go – but I’m inclined to be lenient towards the devs. This is an example of a studio not get something right, listening to their community and then actively trying to fix it.

I wouldn’t be saying that if not for the other example Kaplan gives of a measure they’re taking, which involves searching YouTube for toxic behaviour in Overwatch games and taking action even if the offending player hadn’t been reported. Kaplan says he’s reluctant to give other examples because the more he reveals the easier it’ll be for players to get away with being shitty to each other, which is fair enough.

On the balance changes front, the devs have got Mercy in their sights. As Kaplan explains, “we tried to move Resurrection to a secondary ability, and the ability right now…it’s playing like another ultimate in combination with Valkryie, which is extremely powerful, so Mercy needs to be toned down.” He goes on to state that they’re not going to remove the Resurrection ability entirely, and that they’ll be paying a close eye on the character to make sure she doesn’t end up under-powered.

He also mentions planned changes for Junkrat, Hanzo, Mei, and Symmetra.

Towards the end of the video, Kaplan highlights how their intention isn’t to balance every hero to the point where they’re viable in every situation. On the contrary, a major part of Overwatch figuring out which hero will work best when considering the composition of both teams as well as the relevant objective. His advice that every player should have at least a small roster of heroes they can play effectively is spot on, and something I really should think about more before plumping for Genji 90% of the time. I know, I’m one of those people, sorry.


  1. mitrovarr says:

    I just came back after 5 months away and I was extremely disappointed to see that Mercy was still hands down the best hero in the game. Glad to hear she’s getting nerfed. She desperately needs it.

    Hanzo, Mei, and Symmetra all need changes as well. Mei is just straight up underpowered. Hanzo is both underpowered and has one of the cheapest, most annoying abilities in the game. Symmetra has been completely ruined through changes to other heroes and the addition of Doomfist, as there are too many others who just completely outclass her at short range now, which is the only range she can fight at.

    • wackazoa says:

      Guess it matters who is playing Mercy. I played her once, usually play Lucio if I play healer, and was so bad that someone actually DM’d me just to tell me how bad I was playing. (On Xbox you have to opt into chat, which I never do so as to avoid any toxicity.) This was on casual!

      I’ll admit I don’t play Overwatch very often, it is one of many multiplayer FPS I have on rotation, so Im not good at all. However I found Mercy to be difficult to play well. With everyone running different directions her healing seems tough to play.

      • mitrovarr says:

        You’d probably pick her up quickly. Back before when she was at her most overpowered, I kind of gave in to it and was playing Mercy every round one of my teammates didn’t jump on the role, or Junkrat if they did. It took very little time to be up to the average skill of the other Mercy players around my level. In fact, I might have been a little better, because unlike them I could aim. Mercy’s little pistol looks pathetic, but does entirely respectable damage, and it’s often not expected (particularly by the enemy Mercy, who I would frequently take down).

        Mercy just has an incredibly forgiving kit that requires little specialized skill.

    • Babypaladin says:

      Mei and Hanzo are fine imo. Hanzo’s scatter probably needs to go, but that’s about it. When played by someone who understands these two heroes, they are pretty good in certain comps. It’s just that none of those comps is dive, so they’re not too popular these days…

  2. ChiefOfBeef says:

    Any online community, whether it be a news site, messageboard, a game as a whole or just a server for a game: they get the type of participation which they choose to cultivate. Almost every effort to combat toxicity that I see is in some form just for those responsible for policing that community to not accept this.

    Clear rules, impartial enforcement and people knowing there is a clear line and where it is drawn; this means that regardless of whether the rules are tight or permissive, people know they are there. No moderator is going to make up new ones or re-interpret an existing rule for convenience. Almost nowhere actually does this, but they all believe they do.

    If they did, it would work. But because in Blizzard’s case it doesn’t, here comes a bit of overreach to police players and the mere fact they don’t pre-empt concerns shows they are unsuited to being the arbiters of this self-granted power.

    • SaintAn says:

      The forum mods often abuse their power to delete LGBT conversation posts to protect homophobes and ban LGBT and ally commenters when they didn’t break any rules. The mods also deny people’s repeals when they were wrongly banned on forums and from people abusing the broken report system in game.

      Blizzard is a corrupt bigoted mess.

      • ChiefOfBeef says:

        I think over ten years ago, an LGBT guild was banned in WoW because some bright spark thought ‘sexuality/gender = sexual therefore this guild is about sex’. There was outrage and Blizz back-pedalled, but in the kind of way that suggested they learned nothing. The continuing toxic communities that get attracted to Blizzard’s games kind of prove it.

  3. wackazoa says:

    I guess Im lucky on the toxicity issue. Overwatch is one of the few FPS games Ill play on console. Xbox makes you have to opt into voice chat. And since I always que up in casual solo, I never opt into chat. It sucks to hear about how toxic the community is though. This game is very cutesy fun to see and play, I’ll never understand why people get so worked up playing it. Hope they fix it for those who are having to deal with the toxicity.

    • FunkyB says:

      It’s really not that bad. I played competitive for ~3 hours last night and I promise I didn’t see any instance of toxicity at all.

      Either it is a bit exaggerated, or it might just be that the US servers are worse, I dunno.

  4. Zombiwan Kenobi says:

    They made a competitive game, got more money thanks to microtransactions and now they struggle with toxicity ?
    What a joke, make coop games only without microtransactions and i’m pretty sure you won’t have such issues. This kind of games (along with most MMOrpgs) are the best places around to find toxic people – who are quite often frustrated players.

    Nowadays children can’t stand frustration anymore (blame society and parents) but most of this kind of games also makes more money through frustration. p2w, p2p, microtransactions or lootboxes along with highly competitive games only make things worse.

    • mitrovarr says:

      I don’t think the lootboxes are the source of the toxicity. It’s all cosmetic, no pay to win.

      I think team based competitive multiplayer just kind of brings out the worst in people. It’s really, really easy to blame your teammates. Particularly when the balance is bad and certain heros are just a losing bet. I can completely understand wanting to play them – I play some underpowered and bad heroes, like Ana – but I also can’t say there aren’t some heroes I hate to see on my team.

      • SaintAn says:

        “I don’t think the lootboxes are the source of the toxicity. It’s all cosmetic, no pay to win.”

        Umm, what? Don’t repeat PR crap corporations use to brainwash weak minded people. All kinds of microtransactions are bad and a source of anger and toxicity. Cosmetics are extremely important to games and not magically okay to be microtransactions. That’s idiotic.

        • dangerjeff says:

          Please tell me you’re being sarcastic.

          • ChiefOfBeef says:

            I hope they aren’t, because I agree: “it’s just cosmetic” suggests that as long as lootboxes do not effect the experience of other people, they’re fine. The issue of what effect they have on the person forking out real money for what works as gambling is paramount.

        • Dances to Podcasts says:

          Please explain the mechanism through which loot boxes turn people into knobheads. I’m quite curious!

          • Ghostwise says:

            There are hats in loot boxes. If you put on a knob-themed hat, you look like a knobhead. It’s simple science here.

          • ggggggggggg says:

            they give (a certain type of) people a strong incentive to keep playing when they aren’t necessarily having fun. definitely not the only cause though

        • mitrovarr says:

          Well, to be honest, I’m a little conflicted on the microtransactions. I don’t like how lootboxes exploit people with gambling susceptibility, or completionists. And, yeah, there’s some toxicity. It’s not player on player, but you see it on the forums.
          On the other hand, I honestly think the lootboxes would legitimately make the game better IF you could not buy them. They’re nice little meaningless rewards to hand out for playing, and you get them faster if you play well or complete special challenges. I don’t spend any money on them and I think they actually enhance the game a bit if you can resist buying them (which, to me, would completely defeat the purpose and ruin them).
          So, I don’t know. But I very much doubt the microtransactions are a major cause of player on player toxicity.

  5. SaintAn says:

    A lot of toxicity is from players feeling like they’re not being listened to and Blizz removing content they love like CTF without any warning, reason, or even a conversation with the dev team. CTF was my favorite mode and it was all I played for the 6ish months it was in the game, and I played it daily, but one day they suddenly removed it and ruined the game for me. They refuse to communicate so I’m fucking angry. I bought the game, I earned a bunch of skins, but now I don’t get to play the game I want because they take content away randomly. I’m very fucking pissed off and playing to earn skins during events without CTF which I always enjoyed is like torture because the main game type is boring and too repetitive. I miss CTF so very much.

    • Excors says:

      The problem with having lots of arcade modes is that it spreads the players around too thinly, so the matchmaker starts taking an unreasonably long time to join a match in any of the modes (at least on some platforms / regions / times of day), and players get fed up with waiting and quit the game (incidentally making it even harder for the remaining players to find a match). Limiting it to ~5 modes means players can be pretty sure they’ll always get to play quickly. It’s unfortunate if your favourite mode gets pushed out, but they can’t please everyone.

      At least you can still play CTF in custom games, and it seems quite likely they’ll bring it back into the main arcade rotation for the Lunar New Year event in a couple of weeks.

    • Rindan says:

      …why are you playing a game you don’t like? Do you not realize that the skins you are “earning” only, uh, show up in that game you don’t like to play? You can just go look at pictures online if that is all you are interested in.

    • wackazoa says:

      But your not a dick to people, or worse horrible to women that play the game, just because they removed CTF are you? I would hope not, because that would be extremely childish.

      I think the overarching theme with the toxicity is that it is player v. player, not players v. Blizzard. Ive read alot of these comments that are blaming this or that, and maybe there is validity to a lot of them. However at the end of the day it is players being dickish and horrible to other players that needs to stop. And Blizzard need to help stop it.

      *Also I understand your frustration with a company removing something you like. Ive played other games where they would remove something in a patch or even in a sequel that just makes the game less fun for me. Im not trying to call you a bad person for being frustrated.

  6. April March says:

    I wonder if Mercy’s trademark ressurrection isn’t a strange kind of mechanic that has no midpoin; no matter how you try to balance it, it’s either so game-breakingly awesome that every team needs a Mercy, or so ho-hum that Mercy is unplayable.

  7. SF Legend says:

    Easy fix. Proper user hosted dedicated servers with a server browser.

    • FunkyB says:

      But that’d ruin matchmaking. Either user servers would be unpopulated, or the playerbase gravitates towards user servers and matchmaking tanks.

      I loved the community around user servers back in the day (remember Barrysworld?) but it doesn’t help matchmaking.

      • mitrovarr says:

        Yeah, and a game like this absolutely needs good matchmaking to be playable at all. With only 6 per team there are not enough players to balance out skill variations. With no matchmaking every single round would be a complete stomp.

  8. FeloniousMonk says:

    I don’t play comp and have always found the level of toxicity in OW to be tolerable in quickplay. The bigger problem is that people just don’t work together at all and it’s a crapshoot until you get a group together, but qp with even a group of 3 or 4 is a pretty consistently good time.

    That said, I only play on PC. I played on XBOX a few weeks ago to try to coax a friend into OW more generally and WHOA THOSE CONSOLE PEOPLE ARE JERKS. I don’t want to overstereotype but the amount of abuse, spawncamping, killchasing nonsense just went through the roof. It wasn’t even the same game.

  9. alert says:

    The idiosyncratic way certain segments of the gaming community use the term “toxic” is really bizarre. An ill-fitting hand-me-down from academically inclined left-liberals a few years ago, when this stuff seemed to have relevance.

    • FeloniousMonk says:

      I think “I love what you do but I know that you’re toxic” remains the referred nomenclature.

  10. Furiant says:

    I always chuckle hearing about Blizz “dealing with” the toxicity issues they design into their games at a fundamental level. They seem to have this inviolable delusion that people will generally choose to be nice when there’s an option to be otherwise.

    In WoW, everything from the pointless Need/Greed dungeon loot system, to their party matching system, to their auction house was designed around *hoping* that folks would be nice, but *rewarding* them for being selfish, trollish, and vindictive.

    It’d be funny if it wasn’t so unfunny and stupid.