Widowmaker’s high skill ceiling, ludicrous DPS and overall impact on a game of Overwatch meant she was simply unparalleled in her heyday. Back in season one, every team had a Widowmaker and the better player heavily influenced who won. The cold-blooded assassin reigned supreme over her foes and there appeared to be no limit to her power and popularity. However, Overwatch’s archetypal sniper would later become the target herself, as Blizzard put her in their sights.
The mid-June nerfs crippled Widowmaker’s performance and transformed her from lethal killing machine to a husk of her former self. Blizzard’s nerf gun had successfully landed a direct hit onto the assassin, and 24 hours after the patch went live Widowmaker was shelved. The season one nerfs have continued to plague Widowmaker’s performance and Blizzard has started to address this, but is the recent buff enough?
Old vs. new
Firstly, it’s important to understand how good Widowmaker was at launch. Her high body shot damage meant that she didn’t have to go for headshots to deliver a killing blow. This essentially meant she could successfully win most engages without having to maintain high levels of accuracy. However, after the patch Widowmaker can only deal 120 damage when her sniper is fully charged (excluding the damage multiplier for headshots), making body shots extremely inefficient. This is a welcome change and is more fitting for her character and overall role. Being able to simply body shot heroes for kills was both unrewarding as it was unfair and really took away from her complexity.
The current changes to her body shot damage make Widowmaker a high-risk hero that is rewarded for her accuracy. Widow should never be the main DPS, but she should have bursts of damage that give her opportunities to shine.
Blizzard recently made vital changes to her scoping-in animation, as the previous nerfs forced players to wait for the unscoping animation to completely finish before acquiring new targets. This nerf made her slow and stationary (compared to before) and made for a very clunky scoping animation that left Widowmaker vulnerable, especially to high mobility dive comps and tanks. The assassin no longer had the mobility to survive or the damage output to deter her enemies. This resulted in most teams dropping her and flaming the few players who remained loyal to the cold-blooded killer cause.
The scoping-in animation time has now thankfully been reduced from 0.5 to 0.33 seconds and this helps Widowmaker acquire new targets quickly and speeds up her reaction times in fast-paced situations. This gives a significant boost to her overall damage output as she can now lay down pressure and fire off more lethal shots. However, once Widowmaker is locked into an engagement and firing at a target there is little she can do. She either has to land those killing blows or she dies. If Widowmaker chooses to reposition she has to retreat and hope she doesn’t get caught before she can scope-in and charge up her shot once again.
Heroes like Ana, on the other hand, can seamlessly transition from scoping, hip firing, dodging and healing when engaging an enemy. This increases Ana’s overall survivability in fights and allows her to lay down a barrage of attacks and utility, while adding an element of unpredictability. Widowmaker used to be more mobile with the use of the animation cancelling glitch, but this is no longer the case. Instead, the past nerfs have only hampered her performance and the current buff to her scoping-in animation has done little to solve the predictably and rigidity of her playstyle.
Balancing Widowmaker is certainly a tricky task for Blizzard as any significant patches to her kit could mean a complete shift in casual, competitive and professional levels of play. We certainly wouldn’t want to go back to the way things were at launch when Widowmaker controlled the momentum of most games. So what changes could be implemented to help boost Widowmaker’s performance and overall balance?
Most ranged heroes in the game have the ability to strafe incoming attacks when in combat, but Widowmaker doesn’t have this option. Instead she is tied to a spot and can only pivot out the way of damage when she is scoped-in. Providing a further buff to her scope-in animation wouldn’t grant her crazy amounts of mobility, but it would give her more opportunities to reposition and pick potential targets without forcing her to stay glued to one place. Currently Widowmaker is more of a target than deadly killer. The overall body shot damage seems fair and would be justified by the increased scope speed as she will still be looking to secure headshots as the main source of her damage. Upping her body shot damage would only mirror her performance at launch and would make her too strong.
Infra-Sight is still an extremely useful ultimate, but it can be rather difficult to capitalise on it at high levels of play. Now that everyone knows when the ability is running its effectiveness is greatly diminished, but the information it provides is still extremely valuable. Even with the current change Widowmaker can still set up ambushes, avoid flankers, and counter other heroes. Buffing Infra-Sight would be an unnecessary move that would do little in terms of improving her overall performance and balance.
Adding a slowing effect to her Venom Mine would be a great way of buffing the ability's usefulness. At present the damage is pretty lacklustre and they are just a minor inconvenience for her opponents rather than a deterrent. They’re great at keeping tabs on flanking heroes, but they don’t compliment or help her overall performance in-game.
Reducing her cooldown on her grappling hook from 12 seconds to 10 seconds would give her more opportunities to escape and flee potential threats. The current cooldown just makes Widowmaker a sitting duck the majority of the time and a slight reduction would give her more options when dealing with trickier foes. Lowering the cooldown any further would give her too much mobility and would allow Widowmaker to zap around the map like Spider-Man.
Blizzard seems to be open to further experimentation with Widowmaker, and hopefully the buff to her scope-in animation will spark further changes to her overall performance. Currently Widowmaker remains a divisive and widely disputed pick amongst the Overwatch community and it’s certainly not hard to see why, but with a little TLC she can be brought back into the spotlight once again.