Overwatch's Mercy: A Conceptual Primer
Fri 30th Sep 2016 - 9:53am
Greetings! Konduit here, and today I'm bringing you the first piece in a multi-article series on Mercy, Overwatch's premier healer. We'll be going over general principles for Mercy in Overwatch, mechanical skills, gameplay patterns, covering specific skirmish situations, and maybe even a little game design theory along the way. This series will be split up into multiple connected articles, but each article can be read as a stand-alone piece with its own topic/subject matter to think about. Without further ado, let's get into it - today's article breaks down the concept, specializations, and unique play patterns of Overwatch's dedicated healer. You might be surprised at how complex playing Mercy really is.
In order to really understand Mercy, first you have to understand how the other characters in the game operate - and how Mercy is unique relative to the rest of the cast. All of the other heroes in Overwatch have damage-dealing capacity (or in general, "getting in there") as a primary concern. Even Lucio, the aura-based support, relies heavily on landing shots from his gun in order to build his ultimate (relying on passive healing to build ultimate charge is a very slow process). Mercy, however, does not have damage dealing as one of her primary tasks. Rather, she is unique in that almost all of her effectiveness lies in enabling and making her teammates unstoppable through her heals and buffs.
From here, the next step is comparing the rest of the cast's play patterns to Mercy's play patterns. Every other hero in the game values line of sight on the enemy team (hereafter referred to as LOS). LOS on the enemy is almost universally required in order to deal damage. Because Mercy is typically not looking to deal damage (occasional pistol usage aside), her ideal in-fight positioning is different from every other character's (reddit user _pdc_ enlightened me to this concept, and _pdc_ gives an introduction to this idea in a fantastic Mercy Guide posted on r/CompetitiveOverwatch - which you should check out as well!). Mercy wants LOS on her teammates, but it is not necessary for her to constantly see the enemy team in order to do her job effectively (or even to watch your teammates output damage as you're damage amp'ing them!). Putting yourself in the enemy team's LOS paints a big target on your back!
Now before we continue on the topic of positioning, let's backtrack a bit and discuss what Mercy brings to a team. Mercy brings extremely effective and reliable healing (quite literally point-and-click) to her allies. It's quite difficult to take down a hero that's being heal-beamed by Mercy as 60 hps (health per second) is a steep barrier to overcome. In fact, during some small skirmishes it can be simply almost impossible to kill the player that a Mercy is healing in a reasonable timeframe (in this case, the right play would be to focus the Mercy first - but we'll get into this later). Her damage amplification has strong synergy with allied ultimates, and her own ultimate... whoo baby, let's talk about Resurrect. Resurrect is an ability that completely alters the texture of the game - both team's playstyles significantly change when there is a Mercy present. With other defensive support ultimates, teams can execute relatively the same gameplan but Resurrect is so dynamically powerful (restoring full health to all revived teammates) and can be used reactively after the enemy team has expended important cooldowns to get a team wipe, that playing with/around Resurrect is often the correct move to make. For teammates, this often means dying on the objective and in close proximity to each other (making for an easier group Rez on Mercy's end). For enemies, this means placing a high premium and priority on taking down Mercy as soon as they can, and then looking to clean up.
All supports fundamentally are focus priorities, as taking down the enemy's healer is a proven method of success in an extended battle (if one team is cut off from sustained healing, the other team's chip damage will stick and they'll carry a distinct health advantage as the duration of the fight extends), but the impact of Mercy's ultimate is so massive (undoing all of the efforts of taking down other members of the enemy team) that focusing, pressuring, and preventing her from getting off a clean Resurrect is actively a major objective. Add to this the fact that simply taking down members of the other team is difficult while a Mercy is point-healing, and Mercy becomes an important priority to disrupt.
Returning to Mercy's positioning goals - now that we've established that Mercy is a priority focus target a bit above the norm, positioning correctly to avoid incoming fire starts to take on greater importance. As Mercy, keeping yourself alive - in and of itself - is a big win for your team (and your team may actively try to protect you from divers and such). Mercy's mechanical demands are not very steep - healing, using Guardian Angel, damage boosting, etc. can all be done with 'loose' precision when compared to the aiming requirements of other characters in the game. So what makes playing Mercy so complex and interesting? The decision-making required in choosing who heal, when to damage boost, and when to use Resurrect is a nuanced skill that takes some time to master, but perhaps most challenging of all is perfecting your own positioning. In my estimation, proper positioning is about 70% of the skill in playing Mercy (and the vast majority of the remaining 30% is deciding how and when to use Resurrect). If are keeping yourself safe from harm while still outputting heals and getting off impactful Rez's, you are dominating as Mercy and are probably making the rest of your team into unkillable monsters.
As we wrap things up, I want to emphasize the dynamism of Mercy's positioning and get you thinking about these concepts for next time. Guardian Angel allows for striking mobility, but your options are restricted to moving towards teammates. How do you position yourself such that you have an escape route if a Genji or Reaper jumps on you? Are you able to be in a position to heal all your teammates at any given time? What does your positioning look like in the midst of a chaotic skirmish? The answer to all of these questions is "it's situational"/"it depends". Try thinking back to your games on Mercy, and imagine how you would react in these different situations. In the next article, we'll cover these questions, go deep on positioning, and more - talk to you then.
That's all for today, I hope you enjoyed the article. If you'd like to discuss anything Mercy, have comments/feedback on this article, or just want to say hi, feel free to tweet me @k0nduit (with a zero instead of an 'o') and I'll get back to you.
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