The rocket queen is getting significant changes in the upcoming Overwatch patch and nobody knows what to make of them. Let’s break down exactly what Blizzard is doing to Pharah, and try to determine what this means for those who play her and against her.
First of all, her non-damaging Concussive Blast is receiving a 3 second reduction in cooldown: from 12 seconds to 9 seconds. That’s an important shift for Pharahs who primarily use this to blast themselves out of harm’s way or into their enemies, so keep that in mind for later.
Blizzard is also changing how her rockets deal damage. Each rocket’s damage is still split into two forms: explosion damage and direct damage. With this new Pharah, her explosion damage — or the damage that doesn’t hit an enemy directly — is being reduced significantly. Her impact damage — or the damage that occurs when a target is directly hit — has been increased. Overall, her total damage is still the same 120 damage per rocket, but you’re rewarded for hitting more direct shots.
On top of that, Pharah’s rate of fire is being increased, which means she’ll eat through her six rocket clip much faster than before.
If you’ve watched any game of Overwatch League, you’ll know that most high-level Pharah players deal far away damage with rockets and then Concussive Blast their way deeper into a fight to increase their direct-hit accuracy on a specific target. This is one of two ways popular ways to play the hero. Other players like streamers Fareeha and Valkia tend to play Pharah as an assassin. They live and die by using Concussive Blast to engage and disengage from enemies, which means the changes — especially the Concussive Blast cooldown change — should be a slight buff to their style. Most people don’t play that way though, and that means it’s going to be a lot harder to be effective on Pharah by spamming rockets from afar.
When you combine that with the recent nerf to Mercy, a common partner to Pharah in team compositions, and the incoming buffs to hitscan heroes like McCree and Soldier: 76, Pharahwill be at greater risk of being shot out of the air in her playstyle.
The changes to Pharah aren’t a clear buff or nerf: it’s better to look at them instead as Blizzard incentivizing a certain way to play her and forcing players to aim their rockets better. It’s a change that clearly was made to help console players with the threat of Pharahs dealing immense amounts of damage on a platform where aiming for her in the air is very difficult and less responsive than with a mouse. This has sparked some to wonder why Blizzard doesn’t make this an exclusive change to consoles like they’ve done with Symmetra and Torbjorn in the past.
We’ll really get to see what the changes mean when they go live next week, but for now it doesn’t seem like they’ll drastically shift her in one direction or the other. This is one of those rare changes that adds more specific demand from those that play her, while still leaving the option to play her as you did before — especially since playstyles change across all levels of skill. On console, she’ll be less dangerous, and on PC, she’ll have to play very close-range to get eliminations. Either way, she’s still the queen of the skies, but she has to earn it with way more careful, considered play, and for anyone that has played against a good Pharah, that’s probably a good direction to take the hero.