All of the support players in Overwatch League will have a tough time during the first competitive season, slated to start next Wednesday night, and it's all because of the character Mercy. The angelic healer has undergone multiple makeovers in the past few months, all with the intent to balance her most controversial ability: the resurrection.
This week, Overwatch's play test region has introduced a whopping barrage of nerfs to the character that make her resurrection even harder to use.
This new slew of Mercy changes has not been implemented in the actual game yet — just on the test region — and Blizzard's patch notes about the new design say that developers "will likely be iterating on these changes in the coming weeks." Mercy mains can only hope, because in her current test form, the healer has become a shadow of her former self.
Mercy's ultimate ability, the Valkyrie, used to give her an instant resurrection, bonus charging on that resurrection ability, plus a speed boost to ensure she could heal her teammates and get out of danger fast. Now, she doesn't get an automatic resurrection anymore. She also moves much slower while in Valkyrie mode. And, once activated, Valkyrie only lasts 15 seconds instead of 20. That's cold, Blizzard! Real cold.
Mercy pros told Compete earlier this year that their number one idea for balancing Mercy would be to reduce the length of time of the Valkyrie ultimate. Except that the nerf doesn't stop there. It also removes everything that makes the Valkyrie ultimate useful.
Before, Mercy's Valkyrie ability let her fly around super-fast, healing and raising the dead in an untouchable burst of power. Now, the Valkyrie reduces her resurrection opportunities and the speed boost that kept Mercy out of the fray.
After the initial Valkyrie buffs, Mercy dominated as a healer pick, even after the introduction of the new and second-most popular healer character Moira. When Blizzard introduced Mercy's super-powered Valkyrie mode, they also limited her resurrection abilities, perhaps hoping to de-emphasise that controversial skill of hers.
Mercy can't revive an entire team at once anymore; she has to go from person to person, and do the revivals within specific time and distance windows. To make up for those limitations, Blizzard gave her the Valkyrie mode, making Mercy into a more well-rounded battler.
Mercy can still resurrect other players, although it's much more difficult now than it used to be, and she also has the speed and power that comes with her Valkyrie mode. So she still seems unfair, even though her resurrection has been nerfed. Blizzard's solution, apparently, is to keep the resurrection in its current limited form and also nerf the Valkyrie mode. As a result, Mercy's gone from being an unusual character with a small but persistent fan base... to a character that has a hard-to-use resurrection ability and no other upsides.
The constant changes to Mercy have unfolded alongside the ramp-up to Overwatch League. As I noted in my write-up of the Overwatch League preseason, Mercy's resurrection skill is part of what makes Overwatch so different from other team shooters.
It's an ability that commentators rarely explain to audiences during matches, instead opting to highlight killstreaks by sniper characters. But Mercy's abilities allow her to undo those impressive killstreaks, thereby undercutting the usual emphasis that other esports have on assassin snipers.
Commentators' inability to keep up with Mercy's resurrections could be due to the fact that she's only recently become competitively viable, thanks to that Valkyrie buff. Overwatch pros who previously played as other healers have had to switch to Mercy in the wake of her super-powered makeover, which meant that we saw a lot of Mercy newcomers trying their best during Overwatch League pre-season.
This means we've seen a lot less of healers like Lucio and Ana, with many more teams declaring Mercy mandatory.
By introducing these massive nerfs to Mercy in the final week before Overwatch League's inaugural season, Blizzard seems to be sending a message that the hammer will be coming down soon, and that Overwatch League matches will not be dominated by the use of this controversial resurrection mechanic. The nerfs, as they currently appear, still do not take away Mercy's resurrection skill but do make it even more difficult to perform.
Perhaps these decisions make sense for anyone who wants Overwatch to look and feel more like Counter-Strike. But for non-pro players who just happen to enjoy playing Mercy? Sucks to be you! It also sucks for the pro players who main supports, because they have had to spend the past three months learning the Valkyrie version of Mercy — only to learn that she's about to change yet again.
Perhaps Mercy's play test region updates will result in some valuable feedback that leads to a build for the character that preserves what makes her unique, while still allowing her to feel fair compared to her fellow healers. Also, these changes aren't live yet, so Mercy's old Valkyrie build will still dominate competitive play during Overwatch League's launch week. There's still a chance for a miracle to happen: a version of Mercy that makes sense.
No matter what, though, people will still hate her. Mercy's resurrection skill can't be removed; it's too central to who she is as a character, yet it's also why people feel so frustrated by her. Blizzard has a choice here: either lean into it and design the rest of the game around this unconventional ability, or nerf Mercy into the ground so that people stop picking her. That second thing is easier.
But the first thing would result in an esport that's more unusual and, perhaps, more compelling… but it would require a complete reversal of every expectation and convention of how team shooters operate, so it won't happen.
Rest in peace, Mercy. They did you so wrong.