Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch has come a long way since launching in May 2016. It’s seen numerous animated shorts, competitive tournaments, the Overwatch League which will debut soon and dozens of balance changes, patches and free updates. However, Competitive Play hasn’t been doing so hot. It’s not a sudden occurrence or development which has seen things go down. It’s the result of a long series of events, trends and annoyances that have built up to make Competitive Play an enormous drain. Let’s look at five reasons why.
Odd Balance Changes
Remember how powerful Ana was and how her burst healing enforced the triple tank meta? How about the number of changes that D.Va and Roadhog have undergone over a few months? Symmetra’s rework may have been pretty well executed but Bastion’s changes pretty much broke Competitive for a good week on PC (don’t even get us started on consoles). Similarly, the changes to Junkrat have ensured that a meta that relies more on spamming projectiles and less on actual gun skill can do great. Then again, there were complaints about the dive meta as well and that required fairly good coordination to pull off properly.
The point is that some balance changes in Overwatch translate very oddly to Competitive Play. Sure they may make a certain hero more fun or even hilariously powerful in Quick Play or Total Mayhem but they can lead to non-stop frustration when more than 95 percent of games have to include Mercy as a healer. Hope you like resurrects happening again and again and again!
That’s not even accounting for negative balance changes like the so-called movement “bug” to Lucio that was recently “fixed” (and is now being adjusted because it effectively renders his wall-riding speed moot). No PvP game, especially one with this many different gameplay styles and heroes, can ever be perfectly balanced but that still doesn’t excuse some of Blizzard’s more baffling changes over the past 18 months or so.
For those who hate the matchmaking in Call of Duty, Destiny 2 or even Titanfall 2 before pointing to Overwatch as a sterling example, be assured that this game has its own problems. No, we’re not talking about pairing a full team of six players against two triple-stacks, thus ensuring the team with much better communication usually wins out. Or the fact that six-stack players in Quick Play for a country like Australia can regularly go up against higher ranked six-stack teams because “balance”. There are enough problems with solo queuing in Competitive as it is so we won’t go into that.
But what in the world is up with the matchmaking based on rank in Competitive? It’s not odd to see Top 500 players paired with Masters and Diamonds to face a team of Grand Masters because the cumulative Skill Rating of both sides adds up. You’d think the rank would mean something in that sense, especially when the game makes such a showing of its placement matches and properly calibrating you each season. As the joke goes though, you can’t party with a player who’s 500 SR below you as a Grand Master or Master but it’s possible to be matched with someone who’s 1000 SR below you.
While unfair matchmaking was a big problem for Diamond players and higher, it’s not odd to see Gold players matched against a three-stack of Diamond players on some occasions. If balance can’t be achieved for heroes, then at the very least it should be done for rankings.
Throwers and Toxicity
Remember when Overwatch first launched and there was a general vibe that toxicity could be avoided? Yeah, me neither. Unfortunately, toxcitiy will always be a factor in online games, moreso in competitive multiplayer because everyone is trying their best to win. Overwatch‘s problem with toxicity and especially with players who throw aka purposefully lose matches is much deeper though (aside from one single thrower directly impacting an entire match). It became an epidemic in Season 5 of Competitive Play and Blizzard seemingly lacked the proper reporting tools and follow-up to combat it. Heck, console players didn’t get any kind of reporting system until a few months ago.
While stricter punishments have been introduced, Blizzard – or at least Jeff Kaplan’s team – don’t quite have the resources to deal with each and every report that crops up as quickly as possible (not including false reports). Kaplan himself famously noted that dealing with toxicity is actually taking away valuable resources from the development team and thus slowing down potential new features. You could argue that Blizzard should have planned for this in advance but could anyone have predicted Overwatch becoming this big? It’s hard to say (and no, it’s not a matter of just hiring new support staff).
The Nature of Competitive
Look, Overwatch is a team game. Everyone knows that. It’s because of the nature of its gameplay that certain things – like individual skill – can’t count for a lot when it’s 1 versus 6. Yes, you’ve no doubt seen clips of a Genji unleashing his Ultimate and wiping an entire team but how common are they? How many times have you watched games where pro gamers, those playing at the highest possible competitive tier, choose to simply “reset” and respawn with their team as opposed to fighting alone? The answer is “Too many times to count”.
Even without taking hero balance and matchmaking into account, there are some matches whose outcomes you can just predict. Losing Point A on Anubis in the first minute isn’t as big a deal if you have enough time to group up on Point B and mount a better defense. But if you’re rolled on Point A, split up on Point B and can’t rally together? The match is as good as finished and you know the opposing team will win because their coordination allows for a full hold, or at least a much stronger defense on Point B. It’s also just the little things, like that one teammate dying because they’re out of position or because their hero isn’t suited for the situation at hand.
You could argue about smurfing or one-tricks being major issues to the game as a whole and they definitely contribute to ruining a number of experiences. The very nature of the game will never change though, regardless of how flexible someone is (unless their skill greatly outmatches their opponents).
Performance-Based Skill Rating
Perhaps one of the most irritating systems in the game, Overwatch‘s Competitive Play rewards you based on your overall performance in a match. What does that mean? If you play Mercy and happen to heal a bunch, resurrect enough fallen allies – whether it’s actually contributing to winning or not but it’s easy now so why not – or even assist a number of kills by pocketing a strong DPS, then you’ll gain more Skill Rating than, say, the D.Va who’s been eating bullets trying to protect you. Furthermore, lesser used heroes seemingly benefit from higher SR gains and less punishing SR losses when winning and losing respectively.
You could argue that this system is in place instead of a flat SR increase or decrease like Dota 2 so that players don’t get “carried” through games. But this is a very team-oriented game where synergizing abilities, quick reflexes, game sense/awareness and gun skill can be the difference between moving up the ranks and ELO hell. Why not go for a system like Dota 2 and reward each player for playing their role however boring it may be?
Would it contribute to ensuring one-tricks try more appropriate heroes for situations? Maybe not but it would ensure that everyone’s contribution, even if it doesn’t lead to a gold medal, is rewarded on a consistent, fair basis. Because again, you only notice how important a tank blocking damage or a sniper pulling aggro is when they’re not there. If the game can’t keep track of the number of ways a teammate helps, even when they’re not getting kills, then a flat SR increase or decrease is even more necessary.
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