Director's Take: Talking tanks and upcoming hero balance changes

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Director's Take: Talking tanks and upcoming hero balance changes

Hey everyone! It's been a bit since our last Director's Take. We’ve missed a few of these in recent months. Sorry for the gap, speaking to all of you will continue to be a priority for the team.

Let's talk about tanks. Let me rephrase that… a lot of you are talking about tanks, I'd like to contribute from a developer point of view.

We've heard from players that the tank role is in a tough spot right now and has been since Season 8 ended. We agree. That's not to say that tanks were in a perfect spot before Season 9, but the problem now is that most of them just don't feel as 'tanky' as they should. Many times, both Support heroes need to focus solely on the tank just to keep them alive. In this scenario both the Tank and Supports can feel like they have limited options in their gameplay, as they are essentially tied to each other.

Our internal stats show this as well. We've come up with a new metric since Season 9 that we simply call "tankiness." It's roughly the number of deaths a hero experiences compared to how many deaths they ought to experience. There are a lot of stats that go into determining what an expected death is, and I’m not able to go into that level of detail here. The point is that your experience and our data are aligned.

Since Season 9 almost all heroes in the game have become less tanky. This isn't all unintended. One of the issues we were addressing at the time was the sheer amount of burst damage and healing available. However, most tanks (excluding Ball, who is roughly the same) moved a lot further than heroes in other roles. Recent changes, like the headshot damage reduction on tanks, had some effect on this, but it’s still under where we'd like it to be.

We still like many of the game wide changes that were implemented over the last few seasons - the projectile size increase, the headshot damage and knockback reduction on tanks, and the passive health regeneration on all heroes. However, what we’re currently discussing is whether the path forward from here should be centered around broad, systemic changes, or per hero changes. We’re discussing limited versions of the former, for instance we’re looking at reduced versions of the Damage role passive. However, we’d like to do more of the latter. Individual buffs or nerfs to heroes can have a dramatic impact on their effectiveness compared to a broad change that targets all heroes or a role. Additionally, it further reinforces the differences between heroes. For example, one of the reasons Reinhardt ought to feel tanky is through his shield.

How does this relate to tanks? We’re putting together a patch that is targeted at increasing the tankiness of many of these heroes, but we’re doing it through individual changes to each of them. Ideally these changes would build on a hero’s fantasy. Increasing the health of Reinhardt’s shield is a good example of accomplishing both of those goals. This is a priority for our balance team, and right now we’re targeting either mid-Season 11 or Season 12. We’ll have more details on some of the changes to expect and more concrete timing soon.

This touches on some discussions we’ve been having about balance philosophy in general. Balance in the game is very nuanced and doesn’t just depend on the total power level or win rate of a hero. We look at pick rate, skill tier, region and platform, not to mention a myriad of other individual stats like the amount of damage, deaths, and kills heroes have. On top of stats, design goals and community perception also guide our decisions. Some of the recent metas have brought into question the different ways we look at balancing heroes that could be considered niche. There are heroes that the community is ok with having both a high win rate and a high pick rate. When Reinhardt hits a 60% win rate, which is considered very high for us, and is played often there are few complaints. When a hero like Roadhog does this (he recently topped out at around 54%), the community reacts… differently. There are heroes that the community deems more ‘fair,’ or at least less frustrating, than others. The mechanics of some heroes, especially at really high levels of play, require us to pay more attention to them. We still want every hero to be competitively viable, and we love that some of our heroes can be the right situational pick, but we think it’s healthier for the game for us to proactively, and in a more timely manner, manage certain heroes and prevent them from dominating.

In that vein, where is balance in the first few days of Season 11?

  • On the tank side there is no standout winner with D.Va, Sigma, Winston, Junker Queen, Reinhardt and Zarya in the upper half. Their win rates are between 50-55%.
  • With Damage, Pharah continues to excel at around 58%. Reaper (at 55%) and Mei (at 50%) have risen and Sojourn has dramatically fallen (around 44%).
  • And Supports are relatively stable with Illari being the biggest mover, rising a few percentage points to 55%.

That’s it for this week. We should have another Director’s Take out in a few weeks' time. Until then, have an amazing Season 11 and let’s make a great game!

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