Overwatch’s Scott Mercer Goes In Depth On Competitive Play’s Hero Pools

Overwatch’s Scott Mercer Goes In Depth On Competitive Play’s Hero Pools
Credit: Overwatch

Overwatch’s Principal Game Designer Scott Mercer has gone in-depth on his views for the future of Overwatch, including the upcoming Competitive Season 21. In his interview, Mercer (not to be confused with Critical Role’s Matthew Mercer) discussed the concept of Hero Pools and the seemingly-stagnant meta of Overwatch.

Hero Pools are a competitive mechanic that introduced a rotation curated by the developers of Overwatch. These heroes are available in Competitive Play and make up one tank, one support, and two damage heroes to be unavailable from competitive play. The philosophy here is that doing so keeps heroes from becoming dominant and allows other heroes to shine in their absence.

Not everyone is a fan of this, of course. It’s a strange method of balance, making heroes completely unavailable instead of just properly balancing things or making lesser-played characters more viable. Many players find themselves unable to play their main hero that they’ve put hundreds of hours of practice into, immediately handicapping them for competition.

“We get feedback from our players about how the meta doesn’t change often enough,” Mercer stated. “Even after our decision to switch team compositions to 2-2-2 (two tanks/support/damage), creating change in the meta is a hard thing to do.”

Still, heroes don’t remain out of rotation for long. You shouldn’t see a hero unavailable for more than two weeks in a row, which the team hopes will give the champion time to shine on their return. Still, this is a sizeable inconvenience for players that might be a bit of a one-trick as we see in other games.

“In the Overwatch League, analysts will look at the previous two weeks of hero play data, and if a hero is played more than 10% of the time, they’re eligible to be taken out of the rotation.”

Speaking on why they go with this sort of a style instead of a champ-ban system as many other games do, Mercer stated that it just didn’t feel like “the right fit” for players to have a ban system. He speaks on wanting to avoid the phase where players stare at the screen for five minutes pre-game as they ban champions and argue with each other. Instead, they take the duty on themselves.

It’s far from a perfect system, and plenty of players have a strong distaste for it. Many feel that it’s their excuse for not properly balancing the game, taking out the problematic champions or the popular ones that dominate the meta instead of having a roster of balanced and fully playable heroes. Still, it seems to have worked so far, so the best that players can do is be aware of the coming hero pool and have a good variety of heroes they’ll play.