Despite striving for order and balance in all things, Symmetra has always been the odd woman out on Overwatch's hero roster. On the verge of yet another rework, Symmetra mains - often the butt of verbal abuse - say that despite everything, they don't want her to change all that much.
Symmetra is a character who just can't seem to neatly slot into Overwatch's ever-expanding pantheon. The Indian architect-turned-corporate-superspy has been around since Overwatch first came out, but unlike other supports, she doesn't heal, nor is she a DPS, tank, or even a defence hero, either. Her kit centres around tiny turrets that she can stick to walls and other surfaces, as well as a beam cannon that saps enemies' health.
Blizzard already reworked her once back in 2016, replacing an ability that let her give armour to individual teammates with temporary holo-shields. In hopes of making her more than just a first-point defence hero, Blizzard also let her pick from two ults: her old teleporter, and a generator that gives her whole team additional HP in the form of shields.
She is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a straightforward hero to play. In Overwatch's current meta, where sustained healing and tide-turning ultimates from Mercy, Zenyatta, Lucio, and Moira win the day, popular opinion says you should never pick Symmetra over a support who can heal.
As a result, she's openly maligned by much of the game's player base and is, so far, the only hero that has never been selected in any Overwatch League match. Her pick rate in regular matches is also among the lowest, and in ranked play, she's commonly associated with "one-tricking" - the practice of only being good with a specific hero and refusing to switch.
So Symmetra's reputation is swirling the bottom of Jeff Kaplan's golden toilet. Sounds like the perfect time for an overhaul, right? Not according to the people who love her.
Some people adore Symmetra. They have put hundreds of hours into her. They have reached the game's highest echelons with her. They have built communities around her. They think the abilities that make her seem fiddly and situational to the untrained eye make her deadly in expert, perfectly manicured hands.
"Loaded up the beta. Saw an Indian woman and thought 'Hey, that is pretty rare in a game' so tried her out," player (and Ubisoft brand manager) Raj Patel said via DM. "Instantly hooked." He added that nothing about Symmetra is particularly strong, but her webs of beam turrets - which you build out as you please, as though you're playing an RTS or tower-defence game - catch disorganized teams like hapless flies. In the chaos of battle, she brings order. Deadly order.
Symmetra, however, is not a high-skill hero in the traditional, reflex-oriented sense. Her turrets do their own thing once they're set up, her beam cannon locks onto nearby enemies, and her ults take the form of stationary structures. For players who aren't great at traditional FPS games, she makes for an attractive pick.
"This is going to validate some of the worst things people say about Symmetra mains, but when I started Overwatch I was terrified of my aim," a player named Lily Propes told me in an email. "I don't think that's a bad thing though," she said. "One of the great things about Overwatch is how accessible it is to people who don't have a background in things like Call of Duty and TF2."
Skilled Symmetras recognise that the mental side of combat is just as important as, say, a Genji who can slice through enemies with such precision that the person playing him might be an actual, flesh-and-oil-instead-of-blood cyborg. "She requires critical thinking," said the best-named Symmetra player on earth, Symmetramaindontban, via DM. "I would much rather think about how to solve an issue and then execute it in a special way than fix a problem by shooting at it."
Most of the 30 Symmetra mains I talked to for this story insisted that, given space to strategize and position their structures, they can handle just about anything whether on defence (where Symmetra is generally strongest) or offence. The problem, they say, is often that other players don't know how to handle having a Symmetra on their team, and they lash out.
"I get crap about picking her regardless of if the mic is on or off," a player named Alyse Stanley told me in an email. "If it's off, players spam 'thank you' in front of me or 'I need healing,' even when we have two healers! And are on defence!"
Stanley's experiences echo those of many others, who estimate that they face scrutiny or outright abuse between 50 to 90 per cent of the time they pick Symmetra, especially in the game's competitive mode. It certainly doesn't help that Symmetra has become a joke to some players, who'll pick her and try to lose ranked games on purpose if they're feeling angry or just want to be an arsehole. As a result, some people look at Symmetra and see everything they despise about Overwatch, and then they project that onto their teammates.
"Community relations between me as a Symmetra main and the community as a whole... has taken a toll on my mental health in a way that ultimately drove me away from playing her as often as I once did," a player named Dan Oceans told me in an email. Overwatch's anti-toxicity reporting functions, while useful, still require him to endure toxicity before reporting it, he said. The damage, at that point, is already done. "The enemy team would constantly tell me to kill myself," he continued. "At one point I was told that someone hoped my mother died and to tell them when."
Reactions like these lead to a refrain most Overwatch players will probably recognise: To switch or not to switch? Many Symmetra mains I spoke to said they're perfectly happy to move over to another support or defence hero if it seems like the situation calls for it - and also because if they don't, their team will tilt and fall apart. "I absolutely will switch so as not to tilt the team into oblivion," said a player named Mysticsphere in a DM. "However, if I didn't have to, I probably wouldn't. I know for a fact that Sym works really well on Attack on some maps, but of course it's an uphill battle trying to convince your team of that without them flaming you."
Player Anthony Westbrook told me the backlash got so bad that he's taken to preempting it. "Usually I start off by saying 'Hey, y'all. I'm best with Sym, but I can also play Lucio, Reinhardt, Orisa, Junkrat, and Soldier. Any requests?' And then I usually end up playing a tank, but sometimes someone will say 'Play whoever you're best with.' And then I pick Sym, and no one gets upset, and we usually do great," he said.
Even then, though, Symmetra's reputation often precedes her. "I have already gotten the warning saying I have been put under the 'avoid player' option by a lot of people, so my queue times are very long," said Symmetramaindontban, who's managed to make it up to Overwatch's second-highest ranking tier, Grandmaster. Of all individual heroes, they have the most time with Symmetra, but their combined time spent on healers edges out their total time on Symmetra. Despite that, they have become something of a pariah. "No one checks your profile if they see you pick Sym," they said. "There is a 90 per cent chance they assume you're a one-trick, and then you're reported. That's how bad people hate Sym."
The Symmetra mains I spoke to, then, view Blizzard's upcoming rework of the character with trepidation, but also as an opportunity for a fresh start. "I hope the rework helps the community perception of her," said Ocean. "I don't think this will completely change it, but I hope that more people are willing to accept that she can be useful if people help her out sometimes. Genji needs the enemy team to be distracted so he can flank. Why can't Sym have that be the case while she sets up turrets or flanks herself?"
Other players suggested that while Symmetra could use some tweaks here and there, the biggest problem is that her effectiveness in battle isn't well-communicated to other players by the game.
"It's really hard to see everything she does to help the team," said Johan Westring, who has 400 hours on Symmetra. "For example, I have 5000+ damage blocked this season, and that's damage that would have had to been healed otherwise," he said. Symmetra also doesn't get many final blows, he noted, but sets up tons of kills with her turrets' slow effect, and her shield ult can turn brittle DPSes into unstoppable killing machines.
Unfortunately, Overwatch's post-match stat cards and "Play of the Game" feature don't communicate any of this consistently. Heck, your teammates can't even see your turrets through walls like you can, so they're not necessarily aware of the strategy underlying your positioning. Unless you also play Symmetra a lot yourself, it's hard to understand just how many little things she does in the heat of battle.
All that Blizzard has said for certain about the revamp is that it will re-classify Symmetra from a support hero to a defence hero. This puts her alongside everyone from fellow turret-builder Torbjorn to sniper queen Widowmaker. For the most part, it's in line with what people want from Symmetra's next iteration: a continuation of the brains-over-brawn philosophy that underlies her current kit. But it does have people slightly worried that Blizzard has lost sight of support as one of the character's main mentalities. Some are worried that, no matter what happens, Symmetra will be transformed into somebody she's not.
"I'm not looking forward to the rework at all," said Raj Patel. "With how much Sym has been neglected for over a year now, I don't think there is much understanding of how she works and her value, outside the club of Sym mains. I suspect her playstyle will completely change to appease all the meta-mains who don't understand her."
"Symmetra needs this rework to fix some of her core problems, and maybe even make her viable," said another Symmetra main, Anon-miscat, via DM. "Hopefully then teammates will be a little kinder, but the mentality that Sym is such a bad character is so ingrained in the general community's mind that I think no amount of reworking will make Sym an accepted pick."
Symmetra mains, though, are about as dedicated as Overwatch players come. If you think a little thing like seismic upheaval can scare them off, well, I'd turn around if I were you, because you're probably about to eat a laser beam to the face.