So we’re deep in the middle of Overwatch League and I have some mixed feelings about it.
I’m excited to see a game I love so much grow and succeed in the way it has, especially given the skepticism I had regarding its big e-sports push. That said, OWL has some problems. There are the well-documented issues with representation (given there are zero female players) and the ways we still encourage a problematic segment of the fanbase. As for the games themselves, well, it’s meta Overwatch, which is, for the most part, really goddamn boring. It’s the same handful of heroes using the same reliable tactics over and over – a clinical efficiency that lends itself well to putting points on the board but less so to making for a captivating spectator sport.
So it’s not for me, which is fine, but upon further research, I found a distressing stat about Overwatch League that reinforces some fears I’ve had about the game for a while. You see, throughout the entirety of the OWL, there is only one Hero in the game that no one has ever picked – Symmetra.
I’m rapidly approaching my 300th hour of playtime with Overwatch, and while I like to consider myself a “flex” player (one that will fill any role needed within a team), my most used Hero, by far, is Symmetra. A unique support with a more passive playstyle that relies on trickery, she is seen as a highly situational pick, used mostly on defense. Since the launch of the game, Symmetra has been considered bottom tier due to her limitations. She is the only support that can’t heal. She needs to be incredibly close to do any non-turret damage. Half of the roster can wipe her out without much effort.
And people hate her.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my time with Overwatch, it’s that players really don’t like to be killed by Symmetra. “Nice aim” is a common barb thrown over chat, since her beam weapon has a lock-on ability and the defeated player needs to let everyone know their demise involved no skill on my part. This is partially true. At lower levels, Symmetra can often dominate games because players don’t know how to deal with her. At mid and higher levels, she may as well not exist, since that caliber of player knows exactly what to do when they see her. It means that she exists in this odd place where lower skilled players think she’s too strong and pro players think she’s useless, meaning both loathe her for entirely different reasons, but often with the same level of vitriol.
Often, your own team will rage at you for even selecting Sym, since the perception has always been that other Heroes are more viable in just about any situation. This is something I’ve long since become used to, remembering my heyday with the fighting genre and getting non-solicited advice to play a different character, even if I were already winning. The problem with this increasing reliance on community approved metas and tiers means that once a character has been defined as bad, there’s really no way to escape that distinction baring a major overhaul. Symmetra had one of these back in November 2016. At launch, her only ultimate was a teleporter and she could apply very small shields to teammates that would constantly need to be reactivated. The buff added a throwable barrier, along with a second ultimate ability, replacing the mini shields with an AOE shield generator. While much welcome improvements, they still didn’t seem to encourage more people to use her, as she remains one of the least picked Heroes in the game. Despite this, she has the highest winrate of the entire roster.
If she’s so bad, why is her winrate so high? The explanation is actually more damning – players are very quick to abandon Sym if she’s not working, so the only ones still using her later in the match are either stubborn like me or were never in danger of losing to begin with. Even players that regularly use Symmetra have come to recognize situations where she can’t do anything to help the team and will switch off at the first sign of trouble. How much of this is perception at work and how much is an objective assessment of her effectiveness is hard to say.
Since fewer players choose Symmetra, there is no incentive to really learn her, which results in a self-fufilling prophecy that even Blizzard themselves don’t seem in a hurry to change. She is entirely absent from their marketing material and her character simply lacks the “cool” factor of other Heroes, acting as the aloof librarian in a crowd of eccentric badasses. I suppose its for this reason, ultimately, that I’ve become so drawn to her. In a world full of “misfits and freaks”, she is, ironically, the outcast. She has no strong connection to the rest of the Overwatch roster. She simply… exists, lost between the sides of good and evil and seemingly accepted by neither.
So I do what I can, choosing Symmetra in my random Quick Play matches during non-optimal situations to see what I can do with her. I’ve had a lot of success, throwing off enemy players that aren’t used to seeing attack Syms chasing them around the map, seemingly not caring for their own safety. High-risk play is crucial given her limited tools, but it’s also more rewarding, given how predictable the game can often be this late in its life-cycle. Contrary to popular belief, she has to work for most of her kills, choosing battles wisely and still barely able to walk away from most situations.
I have faith that, at some point, Symmetra will get another rework of sorts, but I doubt it will be enough to shoot her up the tier list or even encourage an upward trend to her pick rate. She’ll never be Mercy and I’ve come to accept that. In some weird hipster way, I even prefer it, happy to continue rooting for the underdog as she continues to be one of Overwatch’s best kept secrets. She’s that odd wallflower sitting alone that no one pays attention to, not knowing how dangerous she can actually be. And she doesn’t feel the need to brag, either, because the real secret is that she’s cooler than all of them.
The perception of Symmetra will probably never change. In my own head canon, she would likely prefer it that way, happy to prey on unwitting opponents that underestimate her.
“Nice aim”, they will inevitably say, after she’s killed them for the 12th time. By that point, she will have already added her own commentary to the situation.
“You are unworthy of the true reality.”