I waited for this for almost a year: Two weeks ago, I finally had the chance to play Overwatch in the open beta. And I played a lot. And I enjoyed it! A lot. This game just made my jaw drop: Lovable characters, stunning gameplay, elaborate level design, Blizzard just shows off their skill in every area of game development. While I spent a lot of time studying the level design (about which I would like to talk in another post), one other particular thing caught my eye: While I don’t really like playing support, I ended up doing it way too often. Why? Because nobody else in my team would.
Now I just rambled about how awesome this game is, but how can it be, if playing support is so boring that nobody wants to do it? Well it’s not. As Stylosa points out in his video, playing support in Overwatch is plenty of fun. But still, there were so many situations where I ended up in a team with at least three damage dealers and maybe one or two defenders or tanks. To people who played other games with healers this might be not really surprising. But let me tell you why support is really fun in Overwatch.
At first: They feel good. Especially Mercy and Lucio have have excellent movement and a skill set, which lets you get into a flow very quickly. I just love to play as Lucio, skating around the payload, shooting in the opponents general direction, occasionally amping up the healing if things get critical, but generally just staying in motion, keeping up the flow. You feel how your team does better due to your steady healing stream, and getting a kill once in a while is so rewarding, since Lucio’s weapon is really hard to aim. Likewise with Mercy. It’s just great to jump from ally to ally, buffing their damage and healing them up, letting them be a real bullet sponge while they score kill after kill. Although she is the most dedicated healer, her weapon is still very capable, at least to defend herself. I mean not really like Zenyatta, who can be a complete monster when it comes to damage, while simultaneously supporting the team. Anyway, the characters are great.
And Blizzard has done a lot on top of that, to reward support players: All the kills your allies do while you are healing them count for you as well and you easily get into the top four players of the game for your healing. Plus your character can get into a state where they are “on fire”, which means that you currently are doing very good. You can get on fire by getting a killing streak, by pushing the objective or by any other positive action. And it is so much easier to get on fire with a support than with any other type of hero. With Lucio I’m usually on fire for around 70% of the match. Try to do that with Tracer or Reaper. Seriously, good luck with that. Also they decided to not show stats that let you see how bad you or others did or generally stats that let you compare with others, which is a great move in my opinion, since the strength of the different characters also lay in different areas.
So why is there a shortage of players willing to play support? I think there is one thing in Overwatch’s design that is kind of frustrating for supports. You almost have no chance to get the Play of the Game. Play of the Game is a short replay after the match ends, which shows you the highlight of the past round. Most likely this will be somebody’s multi kill, very often scored with an ultimate. While I think it is possible to get the Play of the Game as support (by doing something else than killing), I never have seen it myself. And well, of course, since a lot of ultimate skills are laid out to get multi kills. It is not hard to score a tripple or quadruple kill with the ultimate of Reaper, D.Va, Junkrat, McCree, Genji, Tracer, Pharah … well, you get the point. Lots of capable ultimates. And well, of course it is very rewarding to see yourself tear the whole enemy team apart, and everybody has to watch you doing so.
Another point is something I mentioned right at the beginning: People most likely have played other games. Other games, where there are support classes. Other games, where playing healer or support is boring. MMOs, MOBAs, RPGs: The protagonists, the stars, the MVPs always are the damage dealers. Sure, as healer you most likely will have no problem to find a group for raids, but you also will be the first one to be shouted at as soon as things go south. Plus is often just is repetitive, tedious and boring.
Well, there we go. Two reasons. But in my opinion two reasons which should not lead to a lack of supports. First, do players really just wanna get the Play of the Game? I mean only one of twelve players will get it per match. This can’t be it. And second, even if you have prejudice towards support heroes, you will play it sometime, and eventually you will realize that it is plenty of fun, and that you can win the game for your team with it. I think the real reasons lay much deeper, beyond design decisions, and beyond experiences from other games.
In a way, playing damage dealer is like drinking coke: You score a kill, you feel good – you open the bottle, you drink it, you feel good.
It starts with the player, their autonomy and their capability to reward themselves. As a support, you are enabling people. You are helping them, and you work as a team. But as a team, it’s obviously not just you. You can be the best healer in the world, if your damage dealer is shitty, you won’t get anywhere. As a support, you can win the game for your team, but only if your team is able to get the objective. Without decent teammates you will not likely be able to say “I did well”. And by that I don’t mean “I did well, but my team was shit, so we lost”. Because that won’t feel rewarding. On the other hand, it is so much easier to feel good if you scored 20 kills but still lost. You have 20 reasons to feel good. Every kill is an explicit indicator that you did well. There was you. There was your opponent. And you were faster, better, more skilled, or whatever: You killed them, and they didn’t kill you, so you did well. It’s as simple as that. As a support you never will have such a clear indicator. If you score a kill together with your teammate, was it because you supported them well? Was it because they were skilled? Was it both? How much of the credit is yours? As you learn a game you will also learn to judge your participation and your performance. In a way, playing damage dealer is like drinking coke: You score a kill, you feel good – you open the bottle, you drink it, you feel good. Playing support is much more like preparing tea. You have to know how to do it, what sort of tea, how much of it, how hot the water has to be, how long you have to brew it, only if you know all this things, you know if you made good tea, and only then you can enjoy it to it’s fullest. As a support, you have to know the game to know how good you did.
It is no surprise that a lot of players are spiraling towards the most “independent” heroes, heroes like Tracer, Genji, Widowmaker or Reaper, heroes which easily can score kills without any help. You sometimes see two of the same in one team, and you’re just there like: Why, why guys? Because they are so much simpler to reward yourself with. So in conclusion there is nothing Blizzard could have done better. Or at least not much. They made awesome and lovable support heroes, they made a very positive reward system and a terrific game overall. All you can do if you have no support in your team is to play one yourself: They are nice, trust me!
I’ve only ever seen one ‘Play of the Game’ when I played as Mercy: Resurrecting 4 players at once. But if there’s a well executed Ultimate of a DD, it usually gets prioritised. With high healing you end up in the list of players to commend at the end of the game quite often, but support is seldom rewarded. Not by the game, and subsequently not by the players.