Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Healers in competitive gaming get no respect

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There are many thankless jobs in the world; work that, while short on glamour, is uncompromisingly crucial. Copy editors, IRS agents, and Guy Fieri’s hairdresser all come to mind.

Competitive gaming has its own thankless jobs: healers and support. Men and women who stand behind the front lines and keep everyone alive … in theory. Whether the game is Team Fortress 2, World of Warcraft, or Overwatch, you’ll not find a winning team without someone willing to do the dirty work.

That guy shouting about how many kills he got in a match may get the glory, but replay-worthy moments don’t happen without a healer gritting his teeth and dealing with Chet’s massive ego and inability to stay behind cover.

A famous quote from the beloved late ’90s animated comedy Futurama comes to mind. In an episode where crass-yet-beloved robot Bender “Bending” Rodríguez created — then destroyed — sentient life, he’s given sage advice from a cosmic entity: “When you do things right, people won’t be sure that you have done anything at all.”

If there’s a saying that more perfectly sums up what it’s like to play support in Blizzard’s hit hero brawler Heroes of the Storm, then I haven’t heard it yet. At best, a great healer manages to keep its team alive through the fiercest of team fights and battles over map objectives and is the unsung hero.

At worst it’s the babysitting job from Hades, as you attempt to keep everyone in the group alive while yelling that they’re going the wrong direction. Five minutes as a healer is enough to help me understand my mom threatening to count to three if I didn’t stop throwing Play-Doh at the wall when I was a kid.

A confession: I love playing support characters. My first World of Warcraft denizen was a priest, where I cut my teeth in 10-man dungeons that required hours of commitment and coordination. A decade of dungeon-crawling as a healer bestowed upon me the ability to deal with the most annoying of teammate shenanigans.

I’ve continued that tradition of playing support, now in Heroes of the Storm, though Blizzard has made this more difficult thanks to an overwhelming set of patch notes. The most recent slew of changes saw support characters across the board receive reductions in health and effectiveness, in an attempt by the developer to decrease the viability of double support team compositions in competitive play.

Blizzard’s first-person shooter Overwatch has suffered similar support-based changes over the last year that has affected the metagame — the strategies and trends that form over the course of a game’s life. Fan-favorite support Mercy has seen multiple changes to her Resurrect ability, which was so game-breakingly effective that all other supports in the game paled in comparison.

Fine-tuning the power of support characters in any competitive game is a balancing act that will always leave someone mad or left out. Too far in one direction and it’s a Mercy situation where there’s only one viable choice. Too far the other way and no support feels impactful or fun.

When that happens, players don’t choose support out of love for the game, they pick it because nobody else on the team will. After all, someone has to bite the bullet and be the designated driver.

Of course, all changes in competitiveness games ebb and flow, so it’s entirely possible that a month from now the pendulum will swing back yet again, restoring the order of things and making everyone mad again in the process. When that day comes, I’ll be ready to bite my tongue and heal again, all in the name of victory.

So, remember to be kind to your healers. We’re people too, and we’re not always right or perfect. Take a deep breath and be willing to say “It’s OK. We will get them next time.”

And to every player like Chet out there: I swear to everything holy that If you don’t stop screaming about how you’re not getting enough healing then I’m just going to let you die. OK?

Contact William Harrison at or on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.

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