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Sunday, October 1, 2023

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Shout out to all the Overwatch supports – where would we be without you?

Overwatch hero Mercy, wings out, reaches down to the camera to pull someone up.

Why do people play healers in games? Where does that drive come from for someone to log in and want to help someone else instead of seeking glory of their own?

Ive wondered about it ever since I started healing in Dark Age of Camelot 20 years ago. I dont know why I did it or stuck with it, but in every game I play now, I gravitate towards that role.

And having played healers for so long, Ive seen the good and the bad of it. Ive been moaned at, and Ive been killed as a matter of priority by enemy teams more times than I can count. And lets face it, its not always fun – not just for those reasons, but because healing isnt the flashy stuff games are sold on.

Fundamentally, you are there to enable other peoples heroics. Its a bit like being a goalkeeper in football: its an essential role but one nobody really wants. They want to score goals.

To paint a quick picture for you: in World of Warcraft, healing in a raid meant standing in a corner and taking it in turns, in teams, to heal a tank character fighting a huge monster. Whos more heroic in that scenario: the pack of heal-bots in one corner or the character fighting the massive dragon?

Sometimes a games design can even mean that if youre fully healing focused, you cant actually do anything without another character to fight for you. Youre useless on your own without someone to heal. Imagine that in a single-player game.

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Kiriko is the new Support in Overwatch 2. Shes got a wonderful teleport ability, and she can climb walls like Hanzo and Genji. Shes also pretty deadly in her own right, with throwing knives. But shes squishy too.

This all came flooding back playing Overwatch 2 – when I could log in. Those queues eh? Overwatch is a game with tanks and healers and damage dealers. Its actually built from MMO parts, salvaged from Blizzards cancelled Titan game. And guess which roles fill up first? I even played some games where no one played Support at all – talk about selfish defiance.

However, Overwatch has the best healing characters in any game Ive played. Having to make them viable in a fast-paced team shooter, and able to contribute and not die too quickly, led to some really interesting designs. And theyve only improved with time, with tweaks, and with new characters. Some are pretty proficient damage dealers in their own right, and move wonderfully.

An Overwatch 2 scoreboard, listing the red and blue players according to who is contributing most.
Its a boring scoreboard, and Im not top of it, but see how granular the stat-tracking is, and how healing – or even damage boosting – is recorded.

Overwatch really encourages healing, too – or Support, as it calls it. Score tables value healing contributions, or mitigating damage for someone, and theres an Endorsement system made as if to thank people especially for doing so. You can Endorse a team-mate after a match, and its almost always the healers being thanked first. Theres even a separate Support queue for games, which I presume will have the lowest wait time when things settle, and youre incentivised to queue for Support with extra Battle Pass XP.

Thats all great. But these incentives are proof that the game still needs to encourage people to play Support. Evidently, theres still more appeal in dealing a load of damage and getting Play of the Game, and then posting a replay on Reddit. And I can understand that. So it still falls on the nature of a certain type of person to fill the Support void.

Without them, where would we be? You know, even when I pick another character – Im very fond of Mei, and I try to play as everyone at some point – Im still hyper-aware of where the healers are, both mine and the enemy teams. Im still looking over my shoulder for them, even when Im not playing them – their presence is enormous. If you ask me, theyre the most important characters on the field.

So shout out to all of you playing Support – or playing a healer in whatever other game you play. I see you doing the work other people dont want to do, and I see your sense of responsibility. You are the people making games like these work at all. Without you, theres no fun. So thank you. Thank you for being you. You are the real heroes.

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