NFL pro Jamaal Williams started 2023 right: By beating the hell out of the Chicago Bears and coming out in a post-game interview as a huge weeb gamer. He wasn’t just willing to admit that he played Pokémon like the rest of us, he was ready to defend its honor in front of a clueless reporter.
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Williams is a running back on the Detroit Lions, which means two things: He has mainstream legitimacy, and he can probably beat you in a 100m dash without breaking a sweat. Neither of which I can really identify with. But nerds like me can finally find common ground with him in two aspects: He likes the Naruto anime, and he’ll judge anyone who lacks basic Pokémon literacy.
After beating the Bears 41 to 10 on New Year’s Day, Williams was being interviewed by a sports reporter and looking incredibly fly in a Naruto sweatshirt and headband. Everything was going well until he said that he “just [wanted] to go home and play Pokémon” after admitting he didn’t watch TV, and therefore missed Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers talking smack about the team (the Lions beat the Packers this past Sunday, by the way). Williams made the mistake of assuming that the average American would know about one of the biggest gaming franchises on earth. We’ve all been there.
Unfortunately, the reporter was clearly not a Kotaku reader. “Pokéman?” he asked.
“Pokémon,” Williams hastily corrected. “Don’t do that. You can’t disrespect Pokémon like that. Pokeman?”
“‘Mon,” the reporter corrected, but it was too late. He forever solidified his image as a normie. Desperate to redeem himself, he added: “I got my nephew some Pokémon cards. They’re kind of a big deal.”
“I don’t know what cards you’ve got,” Williams replied. “They must’ve sucked. Because you’re calling them Pokéman.” Go off, king. Kotaku reached out to Williams to ask how long he’s been a Pokémon fan, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
His nerd antics didn’t stop at that interview. On January 8, the self-proclaimed “Swagg Kazekage” introduced himself as “the leader of the Hidden Village of the Den.” ‘Kazekage’ is a reference to the leaders of the ninja villages in Naruto, and the “Lion’s Den” is a nickname for Detroit Lions’ players and fan community. A clip of his introduction was posted to the NFL Twitter, which feels slightly unreal to me. Did you know that the NFL has 32 million followers? Well, now you do.
Naruto and Pokémon are mainstream now, and there’s nothing that you can do about it. So don’t go around calling it Pokéman.
Bruce Straley hasn’t been at Naughty Dog for six years, but the game director behind the original PlayStation 3 version of The Last of Us isn’t happy about his lack of credit in the HBO adaptation that began airing this week.
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In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Straley’s relationship with Naughty Dog and Sony is described as “strained.” He told the outlet that his not being credited in the show, despite his directorial role in making the source material, has him thinking about unionization efforts within the games industry as a means to ensure proper compensation and credits for creative works.
“It’s an argument for unionization that someone who was part of the co-creation of that world and those characters isn’t getting a credit or a nickel for the work they put into it,” Straley said. “Maybe we need unions in the video game industry to be able to protect creators.”
Straley isn’t listed in the credits for the HBO show, though his contribution to the original game was noted in the The Last of Us Part I remake, which launched on PlayStation 5, via a dedicated screen. That was similar to when Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’s credits noted former series director Amy Hennig’s contributions to the franchise, despite her leaving the studio during that game’s development.
In the years since his departure from Naughty Dog, Straley has gone on to form a new studio called Wildflower Interactive, which is working on its first game.
Crediting in video games has become a hot-button issue of late, as companies are finding more ways to circumvent putting people’s names in the credits of projects they worked on. Earlier this month, it came to light that several developers who worked on The Callisto Protocol were left out of the game’s credits despite their contributions.
Talks of unionization are becoming more widespread around the video game industry as workers are going more public with the heinous working conditions of AAA companies like Activision Blizzard. Naughty Dog has also been the subject of crunch accusations over the years. Studio Co-President Neil Druckmann said recently that the studio is looking into ways to alleviate these problems, such as not announcing games as early as it did The Last of Us Part II and Uncharted 4 in order to create more reasonable development timetables.
While The Last Of Us TV show has remained very faithful to the PlayStation, it’s occasionally deviated in significant ways. Episode three, which aired last night, showcased the biggest change from the source material yet, and co-creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin have tried their best to explain why in a new interview with IGN.
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Spoiler Warning: the following post details major plot points from both the game and the show. If you haven’t played or seen either one yet, now’s your chance to hit the brakes and turn back.
Titled “Long, Long Time,” episode three of The Last Of Us TV show finally introduces Bill, a bellicose but no-bullshit survivalist played by Nick Offerman (Parks And Recreation, Devs). The game alludes to Bill having a romantic relationship with a man named Frank, but never goes into detail. Last night’s episode not only delved into the relationship in detail via flashbacks, it also changed how it ended.
“When we got to this part in the season, Craig brought up a really interesting point which is… there’s a lot of examples of things not turning out well for people, and often those are reflections and cautionary tales for Joel of ‘here’s what you stand to lose’,” Druckmann told IGN. “It was, what if we show them what you could stand to win?”
In the game, Bill helps Joel and Ellie find a truck they can use to head west. Bitter and foul-mouthed, he’s the lone person left in a town called Lincoln, surrounded by infected and his home-made booby traps. He lectures the pair on how caring about others is a sure-fire way to get yourself killed, mentioning a close partner he tried to take care of in the past. Later on that partner is revealed to have hanged himself after becoming infected, writing in a note that it was ultimately still better than remaining with Bill.
In the show, Bill is already gone by the time Joel and Ellie arrive in Lincoln. And viewers get to see how Frank, played by Murray Bartlett (Looking, The White Lotus), first meets Bill, as well as bits and pieces of the 20-year relationship that followed. Frank eventually becomes debilitated by a terminal illness and Bill helps them both take their own lives together. When Joel and Ellie arrive, they find a letter from Bill talking about how protecting Frank after the outbreak was precisely what had made his life worth living, a complete reversal from what happens in the game. The change was apparently Mazin’s idea, though Druckmann warmed up to it when they did the math on how it would help support the rest of the story.
“I think it is a happy ending,” Mazin told IGN. “I think we tend to view death as failure, particularly when you’re talking about playing a video game. It is literally failure. And for our show so far, there’s been some brutal moments where Joel has failed or at least perceives that he’s failed: he failed his daughter, he’s failed Tess, and he’s certainly feeling that weight at both the beginning and end of this episode.”
It’s this sort of compassion and hope that The Last Of Us was arguably missing, and Druckmann said the changed plot point also served as a warning sign for Joel; that, without someone to take care of, surviving just to survive is pointless. It’s also the sort of deviation Druckmann would have said “fuck no” to in the past, he told IGN. “Are we better in this version of the story, in this other medium, or are we worse?” he said. “If we’re better, we should embrace it fully. And this was such a beautiful story. It was very easy for me to say, ‘Let’s do it. Sounds amazing.’”
The Last of Usinspired no shortage of takes when it first released back in 2013. The HBO TV adaptation has been no different. Like a massive EpiPen of stimulus for the take economy in the middle of winter, it has elicited both over-the-top praise, scornful dismissals, and everything in-between. But what is potentially the worst take of all wasn’t born until today.
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“Hi FTC — did you catch last night’s episode of The Last of Us?” tweeted Activision Blizzard’s Executive Vice President of Corporates Affairs and Chief Communications Officer, Lulu Cheng Meservey. “It was incredible.” What followed from the Call of Duty publisher’s recently hired serial poster was a cringey thread about how The Last of Us TV show proves Microsoft should be allowed to acquire the company for $69 billion.
For those who might be living under a rock and don’t know: The Last of Us is a harrowing tale about love, loss, and redemption in a world brought to its knees by a pandemic. This week’s especially intimate and emotional episode moved many to tears. It moved Meservey to post about how the largest acquisition in the history of tech raises no red flags.
Microsoft and Activision Blizzard have been on the offensive ever since the Federal Trade Commission launched an anti-trust lawsuit against them, seemingly with the intent to wriggle loose a few more concessions before eventually letting the deal go through. It is a multi-faceted, omni-directional campaign that has Microsoft repeatedly talking about how much it sucks compared to Sony, both in terms of making games and now in terms of making TV shows. That was certainly the sentiment Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer conveyed last week when asked to compareThe Last of Us TV show to the Halo TV show.
“Sony’s talent and IP across gaming, TV, movies, and music are formidable and truly impressive,” Meservey tweeted today. “It’s no wonder they also continue to dominate as the market leader for consoles. In gaming, Sony is ‘the first of us’ – and they will be just fine without the FTC’s protection.”
Spanish streamer TheGrefg is one of the biggest stars on Twitch, so much so that he recently held his own awards show that drew almost two million viewers. And everyone watching was, for a moment, treated to a big ol’ ASCII penis.
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First, some background. TheGrefg has almost 20 million YouTube subscribers. Over 11 million Twitch followers. Even if you don’t know who he is because he doesn’t’ speak your language, the dude is one of the most popular streamers on the planet; we wrote about him in 2021 when he “obliterated the all-time Twitch viewership record” in a clip…revealing his own Fortnite skin:
For years now, Twitch’s record for most concurrent viewers on a single streamer’s channel has been hotly contested, with streamers topping each other in slow-building increments. Today, however, Spanish streamer TheGrefg made everybody else look like they’d been wrestling for discarded peanut shells. As of writing, he topped out at nearly 2.5 million—a new all-time record that beats not just individual channels, but entire games.
The event we’re talking about today—called Premios ESLAND—is actually the second year running that he’s been able to host his own awards show specifically for Spanish-speaking streamers, streaming and related events/stunts. And it’s quickly become a huge event; this year’s show drew 1.75 million viewers, and that’s not counting the folks in attendance watching it live.
Look at this crowd! That’s Mexico City’s famous Auditorio Nacional, and TheGrefg packed it out for the show:
Anyway, being the second time he’s run one of these shows—and that he lives on the internet—you might think he or his producers would know not to cut to the live chat on the big screen up on stage. Yet this year he did just that, and as you can see in the video below, he regretted it about as quickly as a human can register the sensation:
In the interests of accuracy and truth in reporting, here is the NSFW image:
Update 2/6/2023 10:05 a.m. ET: Netflix, Studio Lambert, and The Garden issued a comment to Kotaku about Squid Game: The Challenge contestants claiming the show was rigged and subjected them to unsafe working conditions.
We care deeply about the health of our cast and crew, and the quality of this show. Any suggestion that the competition is rigged or claims of serious harm to players are simply untrue. We’ve taken all the appropriate safety precautions, including after care for contestants – and an independent adjudicator is overseeing each game to ensure it’s fair to everyone.
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The original article continues below.
Remember when we all thought the idea of turning Netflix’s Squid Game into a real-world reality show was a bad idea? Turns out we were right because a bunch of contestants are seeking legal action against the Netflix-produced reality show for unsafe working conditions, trauma, and participating in what they claim was a rigged competition. The Squid Game reality show just wrapped up filming last Monday.
Originally reported by Rolling Stone, four former contestants of Netflix’s Squid Game: The Challenge allege that the streamer and its co-production studios, Studio Lambert and The Garden, subjected them to inhumane working conditions. Squid Game: The Challenge was originally announced in June last year following the success of the mega-popular Korean drama which got 1.65 billion hours viewed within its first 28 days on the streamer. In it, 456 players competed in recreations of the show’s popular games like “Red Light, Green Light” for the chance to win $4.56 million.
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“All the torment and trauma we experienced wasn’t due to the game or the rigor of the game,” a former contestant told Rolling Stone. “It was the incompetencies of scale — they bit off more than they could chew.”
According to previous reporting from IndieWire, 10 contestants required medical attention for injuries they suffered while filming the reality show, chief among them being pneumonia, a herniated disc, a torn knee tendon, and an ear infection. According to IndieWire, contestants were asked to stand still while playing “Red Light, Green Light” at 26° Fahrenheit (-3° Celsius) weather in 30-minute increments during a nine-hour filming session.
At the time, a representative from Netflix told IndieWire that it “invested in all the appropriate safety procedures” to ensure the health and safety of its cast and crew members were maintained.
“While it was very cold on set—and participants were prepared for that—any claims of serious injury are untrue,” the Netflix representative told IndieWire.
Another complaint alleges that Squid Game: The Challenge was rigged. According to Rolling Stone, numerous contestants in the reality show, some of which were Instagram and TikTok influencers, were scripted to advance to the next round of the competition regardless of whether or not they completed a game so as to artificially increase the intrigue for on-screen storylines.
“The funny thing is, equality and fairness was the main theme of the original Squid Game,” one former competitor told Rolling Stone.
In an incident three former contestants call the “38-second massacre,” a bunch of contestants had their blood squib packs go off and were simultaneously eliminated from the reality show. According to the contestants, the show’s producers eliminated them despite their having successfully completed a game with time to spare while they were reviewing the round’s drone-shot footage.
“Instead of Squid Game, [they] are calling it ‘Rigged Game.’ Instead of Netflix, they’re calling it ‘Net Fix,’ because it was clearly obvious,” another former player told Rolling Stone.
Kotaku reached out to Netflix for comment but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.
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While fans scratched their head at how creating a real-life Squid Game ignored the show’s core theme about how desperate people suffering under a capitalistic society for the amusement of the more fortunate is…bad, series director Hwang Dong-hyuk came out in support of the show during a backstage interview at the 2022 Emmys.
“I think that even though our show does carry quite a heavy message—and I know that there are some concerns of taking that message and creating it into a reality show with a cash prize. However, I feel like when you take things too seriously, that’s really not the best way to go for the entertainment industry,” Dong-hyuk said. “It doesn’t really set a great precedent.”.
The Netflix show’s release spawned a bunch of copycats, most notably a knock-off video game and YouTuber MrBeast’s real-life version of the show’s death games (minus the gruesome deaths) where 456 people compete against each other to win $456,000.
A second season of Squid Game has been confirmed by Netflix but doesn’t have an official release date.
Dragon Age fans have been waiting for updates on Dreadwolf, the latest action-RPG in the series, for years, only to receive the barest breadcrumbs. Last October, BioWare announced that the game was fully playable from beginning to end, but it hasn’t shown off any video or screenshots. But finally, thanks to an anonymous leaker who received 20 minutes of gameplay video, a small portion has been shared online. Now they’re all over the internet.
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The original links have since been removed from the original Reddit post, though the leak was re-linked by VGC. The original leaker claims to have received the footage from a former Dreadwolf playtester who managed to capture early Alpha footage (meaning the gameplay came from last October or earlier). According to the leaker, the gameplay shown takes place at the in-game headquarters of the Grey Wardens, an extrajudicial force that has featured prominently in the series since Origins. The protagonist is an “elvish knight” who is fighting to protect the fortress from waves of Darkspawn (fantasy zombies who share an eldritch hivemind). The chapter ends with a fight against a dragon that creates environmental hazards. Since the leaker didn’t upload the full footage, their word is all that we have to go on.
The game features fully real-time combat and was allegedly designed as BioWare’s take on God of War. Sword-and-shield players can expect to do a lot of manual parrying. Players can perform combo attacks and a special attack once a bar fills up. Oh, and party controls seem to have been removed—meaning you might not be able to switch between party members like you could in every other BioWare RPG. That last design choice feels very odd for a series whose core appeal was always “adventuring with your witty queer friends.”
I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this. First off, this is Alpha footage. Which means that much of these assets are likely to be placeholders rather than the final product. The combat UI looks cartoonish, and the menu interface looks like every other AAA game. I’m hoping that changes when the game actually releases, but it’s not helping the impression that Electronic Arts is telling BioWare to make a standard blockbuster, rather than a sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed RPG series in the west. EA has garnered a reputation for being one of the more risk-averse publishers out there, and it certainly didn’t help that it had once tried to turn the latest Dragon Age title into a live-service game.
I’m glad that BioWare isn’t making a fantasy Anthem. But I’m not sure if trying to become GoW is necessarily it, either. Fans wanted Dragon Age 4, not Dragon Age: Ragnarok.
Another fan pointed out that Origins took creative risks, which doesn’t seem to hold true in the Dreadwolf footage.
I’m all for a Dragon Age game that actually plays well. Inquisition’s janky pathfinding didn’t age well, and I didn’t think BioWare could design great real-time combat until I played Mass Effect: Andromeda. Dreadwolf looks like a step up from its predecessor. But what concerns me is that BioWare is following in the footsteps of a much more commercially successful series rather than trying to come up with something unique to its role-playing roots. It’s true that Dragon Age’s most dedicated fans aren’t here for the gameplay—but they still deserve a gaming experience that doesn’t feel like it was grafted from a completely different genre.
A brief appearance of a girl curiously watching Ellie eat during this week’s episode of The Last of Us had fans of the games excited. And fans of just the show were likely left a little confused as to what all the fuss is about. If you’re here wondering who the hell this “Dina” the internet is yelling about is and whether the excitement is anything more than speculation at this point, we’ve got you covered. Let’s talk about a character who will likely be a big deal in The Last of Us’ second season.
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Was that girl (maybe) Dina?
After Joel and Ellie arrive in Jackson, they’re treated to a proper meal by Joel’s brother Tommy and his wife Maria. While they eat, we see a brief glimpse of a young girl watching from afar. Ellie, who is rightfully off-put by the stranger’s snooping, yells at her from the dinner table. The girl quickly leaves, but Maria says she’s “just curious.” This is all we see of her, but the character’s dark hair and ponytail were enough to get fans speculating that this could have been Dina, a main character in The Last of Us Part II.
The girl in question is credited as “staring girl” and is played by Paolina van Kleef. According to her IMDb profile, van Kleef has appeared in two episodes of The Night Agent, as well as the 2018 short Yasmina.
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Dina is Ellie’s girlfriend in The Last of Us Part II and is portrayed by Westworld actor Shannon Woodward and modeled by Cascina Caradonna. Because of the game’s flashback-centric structure, we get a pretty interesting view of their relationship, which is first established through Ellie’s journal entries before we see them in the various flashbacks throughout the game.
In The Last of Us Part II, Dina serves as both a companion to Ellie’s revenge quest in Seattle and as animportant foil to her partner as a person who prioritizes her family over Ellie’s insatiable need for revenge. So she’s pretty central to things beyond just being in a relationship with the protagonist.
But is it actually Dina in episode 6?
It’s not 100 percent clear if this was Dina yet, but there’s some basis that it could be her based on the scene in question. In Part II, Dina and Ellie have a conversation about when the latter first arrived at the Jackson settlement. Dina mentions seeing Ellie eating and stealing food, to which our hero remarks that she wasn’t used to seeing that much food after growing up in a Boston quarantine zone and traveling across the country with Joel. The scene we get in the show and Dina’s description aren’t identical, but they’re close enough that it’s reasonable to believe this is Dina.
Outside of the episode itself, showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann spoke about the scene on the show’s official podcast and seemed to imply this could be Dina, or at the very least they want us to believe it could be. They stop short of outright confirming it, however.
If this is Dina, it’s interesting to watch the show lay foundation for the second season in a way The Last of Us didn’t/couldn’t do for its sequel. The games feel pretty well woven together thematically in the way the first neatly leads to the events of the second, but it’s lacking anything like a possible cameo for new characters that would show up in the second game.
It ain’t easy traveling across the country with folks who don’t have it all together. With the burden of succumbing to brutal violence himself, witnessing harm against folks who don’t deserve it, and remembering the echoes of normal life, the TV version of Joel is revealing something we all knew about Video Game Joel. Those of us who played The Last of Us rarely saw it, but it was always there: The dude might have a bad case of PTSD.
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The Last of Us, in the HBO adaptation and the original game, follows the story of two survivors, Joel and Ellie, in a pandemic-sparked post apocalypse. As is fitting of zombie-adjacent drama, the story explores the inner emotional burden of survival and violence. HBO’s adaptation expands on this theme, showing us more of the psychic damage Joel has suffered and the toll on his mind and body. Suffering with symptoms similar to what we might describe as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Pedro Pascal’s Joel doesn’t seem to be able to keep it all bottled up as much as Troy Baker’s more stoic and grumbly version of the internet’s favorite apocalypse daddy. While early episodes hinted at the mental burden of Joel being forced into violent situations, the most recent one portrays Joel suffering through overwhelming panic attacks and, as one would expect, memes that break own his panic attack into three stages have followed.
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Fans of the show are also finding the portrayal of Joel’s struggles with mental health work both to humanize Joel even further, and to provide something relatable for those who do suffer regularly with anxiety.
While Joel’s emotional struggles and the toll of trauma aren’t necessarily a secret in the original game, these scenes are a side of the character we haven’t really seen before. There’s something notably vulnerable and honest about these HBO portrayals. That said, many have noticed an interesting addition to the recent remake of the first game that’s more or less canonizing Joel’s specific mental health struggles.
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While the opening of HBO’s adaptation and the original video game are similar in broad strokes, there are a number of key differences. The game’s opening is a bit shorter than the TV show, though players are given some time to play as Sarah and explore portions of her and Joel’s pre-pandemic home. It’s here that players are discovering what seems to be a sneaky addition from the remake: Joel’s anti-anxiety medication is now sitting on his nightstand. The show didn’t just add anxiety attacks for Joel out of nowhere, it turns out.
Some had even taken notice of this addition long before the show aired:
Unlike the game, HBO’s adaptation meditates a bit more on pre-pandemic life and the depths of what was lost in the carnage of the outbreak. But given the addition of the medication in the remake, it’s clear that the show isn’t the only thing evolving. It’s certainly got me thinking: What else did Naughty Dog update in that PS5 remake?
Hero shooters like Overwatch 2 are always in flux when it comes to character pick rates. Balance changes, reworks, and new additions throw a wrench into the machine, so a period of high usage for a character can mean a lot of things. But while Overwatch 2 only launched four months ago, we can still learn a bit from the heroes currently living their best lives as the top picks.
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In a post on the official Overwatch website, game director Aaron Keller broke down some stats around character pick rates in Overwatch 2’s third season. While the season is ongoing, the team is apparently pretty satisfied with the state of the game’s balance, as it won’t be making any big changes between now and the midseason patch. So it stands to reason the following pick rate stats are going to be pretty much the same until then.
One of the bigger takeaways I have looking at the stats is that the Overwatch meta doesn’t always determine what characters are well liked.
Case in point, Keller first lays out the support picks, which he says feel well-balanced across different skill tiers, with “most” characters being viable regardless of what level you’re playing at. Brigitte is my secondary support character behind Baptiste, so it does my heart good to see she apparently has the highest win rate across most skill tiers, with Zenyatta coming in the lead among the top 500 players. Both enjoy a nearly 55 percent win rate. That pair is followed by Kiriko and Moira, whose win rate hovers around 45 percent. Despite all this, Keller says Ana, Kiriko, and Mercy are actually the most used support heroes right now.
As for tanks, Reinhardt is king with a 58 percent win rate in Bronze through Platinum ranks, with Sigma winning out with a 55 percent win rate in Masters and up. Keller points to Roadhog as a particular pain point for tank players, and recent reworks have made him more situational. It sounds like Wrecking Ball, who received a notable buff with the addition of a regenerating shield, is a bit of a wild card. His win rate apparently bounces between 51 to 55 percent, with a low pick rate in lower ranks, but he is apparently the most-picked tank among the top 500. Wrecking Ball has always been a weird outlier for the tank role, and the numbers really make it clear just how unpredictable he can be.
Last up is damage characters, and after Sojourn got a few numbers moved around, more characters are entering the spotlight again. According to Keller’s analysis, Cassidy has ascended to the top of most-picked damage characters for all ranks except top 500, where he’s neck-and-neck with poster girl Tracer. At lower ranks, Symettra and Torbjörn have the highest win rates, with Symettra having the highest win rate in the game for all ranks lower than Masters.
It’s interesting looking at win rates and pick rates juxtaposed against one another, because while the sickest of competitive sickos have their opinions on the meta and that’s its own conversation, for a lot of players, they just pick who they like.
Win rate not always equating to higher pick rates is a common thread among all three roles. Cassidy is edging out the other damage players in terms of pick rate, but in most ranks, the raw numbers say Symmetra and Torb are arguably the top of the role in terms of winning matches. Kiriko is one of the most picked supports, but in most ranks support characters like Brig and Zenyatta ostensibly have higher success rates.
These stats are cool to see, but most of us are just picking the characters we vibe with regardless of where they sit in the meta. Soldier: 76, Orisa, and Baptiste aren’t showing up anywhere in this blog post, but they’re still my favorites and I’ll stick with them to the bitter end.
Unless they make Cassidy’s homing grenade find Mei anywhere on the map. Then we’ll reassess.