Game director Jeff Kaplan has argued that the perception of hero balance is often more powerful than in-game balance itself.
The insight came during an official forum post in response to a query regarding Tracer’s current strength in the meta.
"All heroes are affected by changes to other heroes," he begins. "Even if nothing changed, players would adapt new strategies and tactics that would cause the balance of the game to shift.
"If you look back to a few months ago, a lot of people were demanding Reinhardt nerfs because he was a "must pick" hero in the meta. At that time, Winston was literally the least played hero. Fast forward to today, and we're seeing Winston as the dominant tank choice in the tournament scene (along with D.Va) and Reinhardt's play time has dropped significantly.
"Short of the adjustment to Earthshatter (not intended as a huge balance nerf but rather more of a "that doesn't seem right" fix), we did not touch Reinhardt's balance. But changes to other heroes and changes to the "accepted" strategy of how the game should be played at a meta level has changed which tanks are perceived to be "right" or "wrong" to play.
"You can make a similar argument about Zenyatta's increased play time. Zen's new prevalence is due to adjustments to other heroes -- not Zen himself -- as well as a shifting meta.
"So Tracer's balance -- beyond the obvious tuning knobs that we have -- is greatly affected by the balance of other heroes as well as the "perception" of how good she is at any one time."
It's an interesting discussion on direct versus indirect balancing. Let us know what you make of it all in the comments below!