From Overwatch's closed beta release in October 2015 to now, the player base as well and competitive meta have transformed wildly. First came the double Zenyatta (Double Orb) compositions or double Winston/Reinhardt meta before the One Hero Limit rule was implemented. Then, players suffered through the horrors of the quad-tank meta.
Blizzard Entertainment released Patch 1.8.0 on Feb. 28. The update changed the game once again by making one of the least-played characters in the competitive sphere a mainstay. More changes are on the way, too, with the addition of a new tank, Orisa, to the game on March 21. Understanding and learning how to navigate patch changes and meta shifts should be the bread and butter of any team or player approaching the competitive scene, but these closely-packed updates might make for some interesting changes in the weeks to come.
Patch 1.8.0 reworked Bastion, a character rarely used in competitive play because it's easily countered, but one that also does the highest damage-per-second in the game. The changes allowed Bastion to self-heal while moving and gave it a defense boost while in its deadly turret form. The development team overadjusted, though: Bastion was able to survive almost all enemy ultimates while in sentry form or healing, and that sustain combined with its DPS abilities turned the robot became a monster.
Blizzard made the decision to hotfix in a nerf for Bastion on March 3, just three days after the original buff. Regardless, pro players had to react, particularly in the Overwatch Carbon Series; 1.8.0 hit in the middle of the second week of play.
"We played Luminosity Gaming, who ran Bastion the entire time just like we did, basically, but we have scrimmed other teams who have given us trouble by not running him," Detroit Renegades tank player Preston "Juv3nile" Dornon said. "I think there is a lot of room for teams to get even better playing with a Bastion, though."
Juv3nile said even Renegades' Bastion player had trouble adjusting to the bot's new perks. Up until now, Bastion was seen as a one-dimensional pick. Choose a spot, enter turret form, spray bullets, heal up when needed. Now, it's a more dynamic character that can heal on the move, and its damage resistance increases by 20 percent in turret mode. That's a tough skillset to counter.
Although there's a possibility that Bastion play in competitive could spike now, it's very likely that in the process of learning how to optimize the new Bastion, players, and Blizzard's developers themselves, will figure out how to adjust both strategies and numbers accordingly and balance his powers with those of the rest of the character roster.
"Over the past few nights I've played with, as and against Bastion. My perception is that he is a little too powerful right now," Blizzard vice president and game director Jeff Kaplan said on the official Battle.net forums. For example, he went up against a Tracer that had an edge on him while playing as Bastion. "The Tracer player was clearly a better player than I am ... but I was able to kill Tracer in recon mode almost through attrition. This part felt wrong to me."
The March 3 fix, Patch 18.104.22.168, brought Bastion's sentry damage resistance from 35 percent to 20 percent. That kept in line with increasing its survivability but also made the mech a little easier to deal with.
"It was a much-needed nerf; he was near-immortal with a Mercy pocket and Ana [grenade] on him no matter what you threw into him. I'm not sure if this nerf is big enough to change that," Juv3nile said. "There are ways to counter him. Most tend to be dealing with his team first, though."
Other pros had similar views to dealing with Bastion.
"I do not think Bastion will be played any more, outside of niche last defense scenarios, with the nerf to the ironclad passive value and the hard cap on possible damage resist," Luminosity Gaming Evil's DPS player Jake "JAKE" Lyon said. "Ultimately I think this is a healthy place for the hero to be, though."
Fixes might wait until the release of Orisa, the newest hero added to Overwatch's roster, on live servers. The 24th Overwatch character is a mobile tank that has abilities including crowd-control attacks, barrier generation and an area-of-effect ultimate that buffs damage for teammates.
Utilizing a kit that's somewhat of a fusion of existing skills, Orisa could prove a vital counter to teams that are opting in for a Bastion defense.
"[Her] damage is good, shields will be useful especially once you start finding set shield nades to maximize uptime, [and] the ultimate seems really good for brawl fights," said Juv3nile, who has played as Orisa on Overwatch's Public Test Realm server.
Orisa's miniature Zarya Graviton Surge is of particular interest to Juv3nile. Once the grenade Orisa fires detonates, it pulls together nearby targets, but only for a brief second. It doesn't keep them in place like Graviton Surge but it is a serious displacement skill.
"I think you will see cool combos with that, [McCree's] Deadeye and pull people from out behind the shields, or pulse bomb combo if you have good timing. Reinhardt stun will even work," Juv3nile said. "Say you break his shield, then pull them close and your own Rein stuns, guarantee 4 or 5 man shatters, stuff like that will be really cool to see and the teams who coordinate that best will see real value."
Despite the potential that Orisa can have when it comes to team combos and coordination, it doesn't mean she's definitely the answer.
"That being said, Orisa seems like a powerful character in the right context. Her damage output and shield trading capabilities will be a significant asset in shield trading situations," JAKE said. "I expect, however, that the buff to Zen and nerf to Ana will increase the viability of dive compositions.
"Her entire kit fades quickly into irrelevancy when the opposing team features significant mobility (Tracer, Genji, Pharah, etc). We will certainly be doing further testing once she comes to the live patch, but these are my expectations."
The changes to Bastion and the future addition of Orisa will definitely change the meta, but it's unlikely that predictions will hit the mark entirely. JAKE and Juv3nile's calls with the data given and are logical conclusions and are likely to play out, but following the examples of esports that have come before Overwatch, all it takes is for one unusual interaction or unorthodox use of a hero's skillset to change the meta of a competitive scene on its head.
"Unfortunately, significant patches go live during tournaments all the time," JAKE said. "Exploitation of changes that aren't fully understood is a good way to pick up an advantage early in a series, but of course either team can fall victim to this; to the better tactician go the spoils."