Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch May 2016 launch was met with much fanfare and celebration by both Blizzard and shooter fans alike. Overwatch is not terribly original in terms of gameplay but does provide players with a tight and polished experience. Many have compared it to games such as Team Fortress 2, and while there are minor similarities in game modes, Overwatch is able to very decisively set itself apart from existing team shooters which are out on the market.
Blizzard has shown a strong commitment to the franchise with a series of well-received Animated Shorts to flesh out the characters and the universe. As a side note, I find it odd that Blizzard devotes a lot of effort to the story lines of these characters as the game itself amounts to a team arena shooter with objectives. Story really has no bearing on the gameplay in Overwatch…but I’m not going to complain, each of the shorts and stories released so far have been very high quality and definitely appealing for me. In terms of content, the development has been pushing out a steady stream of skins as well as new Hero and Map for players to battle on.
I’m not going to really dive into a review of the game itself as I’m sure many of you followed our beta coverage as well as watched many other gameplay videos by now. In this follow up, I wanted to really dive into one of the more interesting aspects of Overwatch development which hasn’t really been seen in many games, and that’s Competitive. Most games vying for an eSports audience or competitive play have actually shipped with their Ranked/Ladder systems in place and have only made incremental changes every few months. Games like League of Legends and Counter Strike Global Offensive have changed their rankings and competitive modes over the course of a few years but the core system still looks similar to how they did at launch. This is not true for Overwatch, and it’s pretty refreshing.
Jeff Kaplan and the Overwatch Team have been steadily following community feedback and ended up actually REMOVING competitive play from Overwatch at launch. A month or so after launch they released a new competitive mode with a 1-100 Skill Rating. To be honest, saying it went OK, would be an overstatement. The season played out well enough but ended up lacking transparency and not being very well received by the community. There was a laundry list of complaints ranging from a Coin-Toss Sudden Death, extremely long Over Time games, as well as a lack of transparency in gain and loss of rank between matches. Additionally, Support and Tank roles had difficulty maintaining higher ranks when compared to the DPS heroes. Arguably the biggest change was the mid-season addition of Hero Limits per team. This locked each hero to only 1 per team which prevented some of the more gimmicky strategies from being implemented.
As an avid player, I lost interest relatively quickly and reverted back to Quick Play mode until Blizzard made some more changes. I was extremely surprised with the announcement of sweeping changes for season 2. Usually to see this level of change you’d have to wait a year or 2 with many incremental changes. Instead within 3 weeks of Season 1 ending, we were greeted with the Season 2 launch with a long series of fixes to the problems which plagued competitive. First off, Sudden Death was removed with a much more “fair” Time Bank system where your performance in the prior rounds impacts the remaining rounds if both teams completed the objectives. Over Time was retooled to become harder to extend the match the longer the teams were in this state. These 2 changes alone dramatically improved the quality of games in competitive mode.
We received larger changes to the ranking system, instead of a 1-100 Skill Rating, we were moved into a tiered system which ranged from 1-5000. Each player completes 10 placement matches to be ranked Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master or Grand Master. Each match moves your Skill Rating a discrete and easily trackable amount, while your Tier ranks you in an easier to digest format. There were additional balance changes as well as adjustments to how Support players are ranked which should really help more accurately rank players throughout the season. For those wondering, I went 7W-3L and placed Gold. 1 game away from Platinum. And honestly, it’s nice to know that I can track my movement that easily.
From the looks of how Blizzard is tackling Overwatch and it’s competitive scene, I think we have a lot to look forward to. I’m excited to see how the competitive / Esports scene in this game pans out as Blizzard seems committed to supporting the development efforts and isn’t afraid to make sweeping changes based on community feedback.
If you like competitive shooters, I’d highly recommend giving Overwatch a try.