Overwatch dev update discusses toxicity, Mercy nerfs, and which characters are due for changes

In a developer update Thursday afternoon, Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan addressed a number of popular topics in the community. 

First up, Kaplan talked about the ongoing toxicity issues that plague the game, saying that minimizing toxicity is a major initiative for Blizzard and the Overwatch team. He said that the recent updates to the reporting process, such as informing players when an account they report has been sanctioned, has increased player reporting by 20 percent and decreased incidents of abusive chat in competitive play by 17 percent. 

"We know those numbers are not as great as they could be, we know that the problem is not solved, and things aren't perfect, but it's getting a lot better," Kaplan said. "A lot of the initiatives that we're doing here at Blizzard are starting to make a difference."

He also mentioned that Blizzard is starting to seek out social media sites like YouTube, look for incidents of toxic behavior, and then sanction the appropriate account—sometimes before anyone has even submitted a report in-game. 

Next, Kaplan addressed the ongoing task of hero balancing, mentioning that the Overwatch community is some 35 million players strong, and "there's not always one central community voice."

Even so, he stressed that community feedback is a very important part of the three-pronged approach Blizzard takes to hero balance—the other two being in-game statistics and the team's intuition as game developers. 

"We're always sympathetic and aware of all three points of the triangle."

To get into specifics, Kaplan brought up the Mercy and Junkrat changes currently being tested on the Overwatch PTR. 

"As a lot of you know, we're experimenting with changes to Mercy. Our efforts are to tone down the effects of Resurrect, and to make Mercy more manageable while in Valkyrie."

Currently, Resurrect is playing out as a second ultimate in terms of power level, and the changes on the PTR aim to correct that. Having said that, Kaplan stressed that Mercy is an important core hero to the Overwatch roster, and they don't want her to be nerfed into oblivion.

"If we tone her down too much, we will bring her back," Kaplan said. "We want her to be viable, we just need to tone down the impact of Resurrect. We do believe it's a balanceable ability."

Kaplan also mentioned that Hanzo, Mei, and Symmetra are heroes the team is looking at for potential changes down the road. Hanzo's Scatter Arrow is the main issue, as it can often feel unfair to be one-shot when it lands just right. Kaplan said they're looking at possibly changing Scatter Arrow to feel more fair, or possibly replacing it with a new ability altogether. 

As for Mei and Symmetra, Kaplan discussed how the heroes aren't quite where the team wants them to be in terms of pickrate, but that they also have to be very careful with buffs. 

"Mei is a hero we need to be very careful with," he said. "She can feel very oppressive to play against if she's too powerful."

As for Symmetra, he said the team doesn't believe she needs major buffs, but that they would like to improve her viability.

"Symmetra is a situational character," Kaplan said. "Right now she doesn't have enough usefulness across the board, but that doesn't mean she'll ever be at a place with a way higher pickrate than currently. She's meant to be a defensive character that can own space, but that design means she isn't going to be useful in 100 percent of situations."

All in all, Kaplan said he feels pretty good about Overwatch's balance at the moment. "There's a lot of variety and strategy. There's a lot of heroes being played," he said.