It’s a hard life as a support class in Blizzard’s Overwatch. Healers are familiar with the concept of being blamed for every loss and never praised in any win, but even beyond this competitive mindset mainstay, recent reports have emerged that suggest the skill rating system in Overwatch actively punishes healers. Yesterday, however, Blizzard responded to that controversy by stating that they have yet to find a “broad systemic issue”, and that the drama that has been brewing could be as a result of a few misconceptions about how the game calibrates skill rating and “On Fire” statuses.
For those unfamiliar, the “On Fire” status is given to players who are performing particularly well in a given match of Overwatch. Players began reporting that they believed DPS characters were being given “On Fire” statuses too frequently when compared to support roles, while others reported seeing lower skill rating gains when playing a healer as opposed to a damage-dealer. However, Overwatch principal designer Scott Mercer posted on Battle.net to clear up a few potential misconceptions within the game community:
“The calculation of your [Skill Rating] adjustment after a match doesn’t look at your teammates, but instead compares you to the performance of other similarly skilled players with that hero across an enormous pool of competitive matches. So, we compare your Genji play to the play of other Genjis, Ana vs. Anas, etc. Since we’re comparing ‘apples to apples’, we shouldn’t see any kind of support specific bias in SR adjustments due to player performance.”
Essentially, Blizzard’s current SR system is designed to ensure players are gauged on their performance within the context of the role they have chosen rather than relying on generic metrics like damage dealt or objectives met. That doesn’t necessarily mean that players complaining of SR degradation while playing healing roles are wrong, however. Mercer also suggested that there might be a “more localized issue” that could affect a specific hero or game situation, and that the Overwatch team is looking into it.
While the SR situation isn’t the biggest deal right now – the competitive Overwatch League is team-based, and players aren’t usually gauged by SR when being scouted – it’s something that needs to be transparent and fixed in the near future. Now that eSports are becoming an Olympic sport, things like accurate skill assessment and fair player treatment will become much more important in establishing a given game as “worthy” of a place in these global competitions.
In the meantime, though, Mercer’s response isn’t likely to quell the fire raging in the competitive Overwatch community. Leaving the possibility for anti-healer bias within the game’s rating system open will surely increase the number of angry Mercy players in the coming days, and Blizzard will need to take a stronger stance sooner rather than later to ensure its playerbase continues to choose support roles in Overwatch.