The Overwatch Problem: Translating Design
How object archetypes are the key to understanding the Support Role.
Bastard of “Belief” and “Experience”, the opinion is a fraught little device that exists within most societies, helping to formulate everything that represents it: Laws, Infrastructure, Education and Progress. Without opinion, all we have left are facts and everyone knows, in this day and age of the <mis>[dis](un)informed, those have lost a lot of weight.
So what follows is an opinion, within the halls of an industry that doesn’t take itself too seriously-
When considering the Support Role, there’s a bunch of different values I tend to fall back on. Many of those, probably won’t translate very well to the Industry™, but there’s some comfort in knowing, at the very least, where my brain is at when it comes to past, present or future writings (read: Rants, Opinions and Terms).
I don’t pretend at or know the inner workings or terminology of the Industry™ and with that, comes a certain level of freedom. Freedom to examine connections, ideas and possible angles that have either been abandoned or left over as ‘incompatible’ with the current profit margins.
Like defining Supports by archetype, using Objects and Locations exclusively within the Medical Field. These aren’t hard and fast facts, but loose guide lines for what sort of design goes into a specific Support:
Med-kits (Ana, Mercy)
Med-kits contain a little bit of everything you need to take care of someone in the moment. Adaptable, functional and easy to approach.
Med-kits are all around solid Supports in just about every important aspect (Heals, Utility, Survivability etc.). Med-kits tend toward balanced mechanics, often given strengths and weaknesses that are comparable to their kits. (Mercy’s high survivability is contrasted by her low damage output, focusing her in on Enabling her teammates rather than herself).
Player Viability: Skill Ceiling and Floor can be adjusted to a significant degree, depending on the player behind these sorts of Supports as their priorities can shift on a dime. Multi-tasking is a Med-kit Supports best friend.
Design Viability: High. Med-kits should be the foundation for all Supports, taking and adding things to vary use, niches and specialties. They are a fast building baseline for achieving high concept Support Design.
Current Issues: Despite their balanced archetype, both Mercy and Ana have an ability that serves to, high-key, warp the design structure. Rez and Bio-nade are both “Mini-game” abilities and need to be removed <Rez> or re-worked <Bio-nade> to alleviate the crushing design choices of future and existing Supports.
This archetype is all about living in the margins of a match. Ferrying people from one location to another, they carry around all the necessary aspects of a Support, but wield them with critical timing, arriving and departing in very narrow windows to min/max their Team’s chances of success.
Ambulances can access different resources but in limited amounts, pushing Ambulance Supports to make critical choices, spiking their resources for maximum value. This could be well timed bursts of healing, applied Peel or, as Blizzard seems fond of, Movement Based abilities that ferry teammates in and out of situations faster than they would be able.
Lucio is the king of the Ambulance archetype achieving a perfect balance of the above, but there’s room for further additions and different takes.
Player Viability: Moderate to High. Ambulances can be very difficult to pilot. Often unfriendly to lower ranks, the thin margins they operate at forcing errors more often than not but their Skill Ceiling is nigh unknown. Players who can operate them with dedicated hours, tend to find independence from their teams without their performance suffering.
Design Viability: Moderate. There’s no guarantee Ambulances are going to be or even should be, plentiful, especially when movement abilities of any sort (Team Movement especially) can get out of control very quickly.
(Side note: Symmetra’s Teleporter has the potential to be used in an Ambulance archetype, skipping whole sections of a rotation and gaining a Team access to locations they might not have easy access to. As a Support, her kit could be re-jigged using the slow of her turrets and the instant delivery of her Teleporter to widen windows of engagement, while offering moderate healing with Teleporter use and Right clicks to sustain her Team.)
Adrenaline Shots (Zenyatta and ONLY Zenyatta)
An Adrenaline Shot Support isn’t going to heal you. Not like you want them to. They aren’t going to give you a lot of peel either, at least not the way others would. Adrenaline Shots tend to have little in the way of resources but, deliver impact in one or two very specific ways that can spike into the heavens.
When the Adrenaline Shot hits, you ignore pain, weakness, emotions and fear and you Int in with the power of a berzerker or can survive the most grievous of wounds. That’s what Adrenaline Shot Supports do for their team. They give them access to the sort of utility that leaves the enemy team Vulnerable, either by weakening them or strengthening their teammates to god-like levels (for a brief period).
This can be reflected in other Archetypes, but is the sole specialty of Adrenaline Shots. It’s all they are really good for, but they do it exceptionally. Whether there’s even room for more in the game is highly doubtful and would need to be handled with surgical care.
Player Viability: Low to High. The strength of an Adrenaline Shot Support can often be found in how different players from other roles can pick them up, given how simplified their kits often are, making them very friendly to mechanically gifted players. They also swing in and out of favour, based on how useful their singular utility options are. Player’s can find success and failure in broad strokes at all levels with them.
Design Viability: Low. Nope. Just, nope. These guys are volatile for the game, often used as an ‘Upgrade’ for other heroes (Eg. Discord Orb). Without much room for balance or re-design tweaks, this archetype can be very easily pushed back and forth over the ‘worthless’ to ‘must-pick’ line in many scenarios. Tread very carefully.
Current Issues: Zenyatta's Discord is an increased Damage Amp on a single target, with no cooldown for switching, incredible attachment range and persistence after LoS is broken. Add in the fact it counts as a 'soft wall hack' and there's no doubt it is currently one of the most over-tuned abilities in the game.
Pharmacies/Drug Stores (Brigitte, Moira)
Drug Stores are where you go to get access to everything. They have a wide variety of resources available to them, the most, really of any viable Archetype. Shelves and rows of medications for your every ailment, problem or concern waiting for you to walk-in and ask...
...provided you have a prescription. Drug Store Archetypes, require focus. A direct, obvious choice to be made that can push their varied kits in the best possible direction of the moment. Unlike Med-kits though, Drug Stores can be overwhelming, abundantly capable of curing/immunizing against all harm. All of that goes out the window though, if they do not know what to focus on or where.
Drug Store Archetypes need the battle to play out in specific ways, responding and reacting more often than they are originating plans of their own. Not exclusive, by any means, but a Drug Store Archetype will develop contingencies on the fly or in the spawn room well before it happens. Even, historically, to the point of completely shutting down a problem before it even hits the battlefield (Brigitte says Hi, Tracer).
(Side Note: There is a very real world where Sombra and her kit are applied to a new Support position. Hack is one of the most versatile applications of an ability in the game, able to affect both heroes and environments on a Lore and a Mechanics level. Given the sheer volume of choices Sombra as a Support could have and the Support heavy aspects of her kit, which I’ll explore further another time, she could be a dynamo in this archetype the likes of which we have yet to see.)
Player Viability: Moderate to High. Drug Store Archetypes tend to value Timing, Positioning and Zoning over most other Support aspects but their Survivability is (oddly) a given, and that makes them gifted at approaching every situation with the most optimistic perspective. Players who can pilot a Drug Store support will make decisions at both the micro and macro level, elevating the entire team at High levels to impressive operations while stumbling on selfishness at lower levels.
Design Viability: Low to Moderate. The main issue with this Archetype isn’t it’s viability but the lack of understanding on how to create it’s kit. Focused Targeting should always be the priority when designing a Drug Store Support, giving them concrete and obvious avenues in which to apply their resources.
Current Issues: Brig suffers from too many targets, forcing her entire kit to be responsive to all of them at once. There’s a reason she’s been nerfed more than any other hero in the game. Moira, on the other hand, tends to have a ‘One Size Fits all’ approach, putting a bottle of Extra Strength Healing on the counter for a Broken Leg, High Cholesterol and Depression and saving all her other resources exclusively for herself. Both need a stronger Focus pass on their design to help them provide a stronger Design and not continue to impact Support changes with their problems.
Hospitals (Baptiste or "The Boogie Man")
This isn’t so much an Archetype as it is a cautionary tale. If you combine every other archetype into a single one, gave it an ICU on the ground floor, a Neurosurgical bay on the sixth, a Morgue, Six specialist offices and a Heli-pad on the roof?
You’ve gone too far. Reel it back.
Hospital Archetypes operate in almost every category and the ones they don’t operate in, they make optional/irrelevant with their kits. Hospitals have an answer for it all, even the aspects not normally defined as Support. They hit like Adrenaline Shots, have resources to put Drug Stores to shame, a large enough area of influence they don’t need Ambulances and just outpace and outclass Med-kits at every level.
Hospitals should, I repeat, should not be in the game. They are a nightmare for any and all levels, pushing players and devs to go searching for vast skill ceilings and technical playstyles just to offer some sort of counterplay. It isn’t impossible to play vs. a Hospital but they drag the nerves and intensity up to a degree where all but the most dedicated of Players will begin to feel burnt out faster.
Player Viability: High. With so many resources at their disposal and nullified strategies whenever they are played, a Hospital’s value on the field can turn moments, fights, rounds and matches on their own. The Higher the skill, the more value there is to be had and the worse it feels to play against. I can’t stress enough how much this archetype should be used as a ‘Do Not Do’ caution rather than an option.
Design Viability: Fuck no. These things warp the Design of the current game, obliterate any historical knowledge from previous versions/patches of the game and, above all else, make it exponentially harder to design further Supports with interesting kits as the constant question of ‘Why not just play x?’ comes up (The answer to which is almost always going to be “I’m not very good with them” rather than “They aren’t good in this scenario”).
The Problem: Baptiste could have easily been two separate heroes, a Pharmacy and a Med-kit, with just a few extra things added to each. Lamp is a Mini-game ability, pushing the enemy to play “Kill the Lamp” every time it comes out, just to get back to the main game. It’s badly designed and should never have been included.
These are just the stand out archetypes as their baseline. There’s room for hybrid mechanics and abilities, naturally, there’s also room for more archetypes to be found in the design phase but the more important element of all this is to recognize that the Archetypes point out problems in the way these characters are designed.
Certain abilities can warp the game, creating unhealthy issues that demand unhealthy solutions in order to fix. With stronger design principles that translate easily to the playerbase, there is room for a more collaborative process that recognizes when Design has gotten out of hand and produces a more balanced take.
Most importantly, archetypes give the player’s a method to communicate that digs into the Design structure of Overwatch’s heroes.
When ‘cannot be killed for a brief period of time’ becomes the new standard counterplay for Supports the last 3 Hero iterations in a row? You probably need to look at your process.