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It appears you have stumbled upon my humble blog. What do we do here? Well, it is a bit of a mash-up between the serious and the less-as-such. There are several things which I am passionate about and interested–all of which are posted about here ony my blog. Let’s take a quick peek behind the digital curtain!

Greetings, internet traveler!

It appears you have stumbled upon my humble blog. What do we do here? Well, it is a bit of a mash-up between the serious and the less-as-such. This is where I dump my brain and review and discuss things related to my favorite hobbies:

  • Audio | I love all things music and audio. From a young age, music was a fascination. In years 8-18 I took piano lessons, participated in multiple choirs, quartets, barbershop groups, et cetera. Additionally, listening to music has always been a favorite pasttime. With the purchase of my first set of in-ear monitors years ago, I fell in love with music all over again. In my audio posts, you’ll find what I’m currently listening to, reviews on gear/hardware, and more.
  • Games | Did someone say games?! Yep, sure did! But what kind? Any kind. Video games, board games, card games, dice games, nearly anything else is of interest to me. I am an avid gamer on PC, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch. Beyond the digital, my friends and I play things such as Zombicide, Dungeons & Dragons, Pandemic, Eldritch Horror, Catan, Magic the Gathering, and more. In my game posts, you can read about what we are playing, reviews of games, and more.
  • Business & Management | Uh…management? Yeah, you read it right! Those of you who know me know that I love all things organizational, leadership, and management; last year I wrapped up a second degree focusing in management and I like to continue my research and discussion! The theory and science behind business, management, organizational behavior/development, et cetera fascinates me, and you can find my musings, learnings, and more here.
  • Information Technology | I work as an IT professional for a living, but it’s not just a career–it’s also an interest and passion of mine! Here you’ll find some stuff from me about different technologies, administration, scripting, and more importantly, what I’m doing in my Home Lab and reviews on that hardware.
  • Photography | One of my longest-time hobbies is photography. For some time, I ran a portrait photography service over at Griffeth Barker | Elko, NV Photographer on Facebook, but I’ve since dismantled the service and now focus more on enjoying my craft, rather than making it profitable.
  • Mechanical Keyboards | Yep, that’s right. This is really a thing, and the community of enthusiasts out there building and collecting mechanical keyboards is growing! Here I’ll share photos and information about builds I’m working on, boards I’ve collected, and the typing experience on that hardware.

Well look at that…you’ve made it through my pinned post! It can’t have been all bad, right? Hey, listen. Comment down below with things you’d like to see on this blog or your interests! You stick with me and I’ll stick with you. Everything is better with friends. With that, we’ll see each other back next time! Cheers,

~ Griff

Calling Home for the Holidays

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many families will not be able to gather in person as they normally would whether due to financial situation, health concerns, travel restrictions, etc. It is important to take time to connect with family and friends, even if you do it from afar. Here are some options available to help you and your loved ones connect digitally via audio/video this holiday season
while distant.

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays

‘Cause no matter how far away you roam

If you want to be a happy in a million ways

For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home

There really is no place like home for the holidays. Unfortunately, home sweet home might not be a physical, in-person reality this season. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc for many families medically, financially, and otherwise, many are opting to postpone or avoid family gatherings due to concers with the health of relatives, or due to quarantine. But family is the most important thing, and being able to be with one another especially during the holiday season is important, so in this brief blog post, let’s take a look at some of the options available for remotely and virtually gathering your family together this holiday season.

If you can’t be face-to-face in person, still being able to see each other is the next best thing! Here are some options for video calling services that are free.

Jitsi Meet

Jitsi Meet is a free online video meeting solution that offers video calling and screen sharing. Not only is it free, but you don’t even have to make an account or download any software to use it! Just create a meeting name, start your call, and have others join. Jitsi Meet offers HD audio and video, unlimited free access for up to 50 participants at a time, end-to-end encryption, multi-screen sharing, remote control, and other neat integrations as well. Not only is it available in your web browser on your computer, but Jitsi Meet also has Android and iOS apps as well. I personally use Jitsi a lot, and highly recommend it.

Download for Android | Download for iOS

Google Duo

Google Duo is another free online video calling solution. Duo is available in a web browser on your computer, and also has apps for Android and iOS as well. If you don’t already have a Google account, you’ll need to make a free account which only takes a few minutes. It features one-on-one calling, group calling, and end-to-end encryption as well as a variety of fun features. Duo also integrates with Google smart products and is built-in to many Android devices already. I’ve used Duo on several occasions, and do not have any major complaints.

Download for Android | Download for iOS

Facebook’s Messenger

Facebook’s Messenger platform recently launched a new feature called “Messenger Rooms,” a video calling solution different than their existing group video call functionality. While you can still create a group message in the Messenger app and begin a video call, now you can create a video call “room” with a shareable link. Friends and family can join your call via the link–even if they don’t have a facebook account. With a wide variety of other fun and functional features, Messenger is definitely a viable option for gathering your loved ones virtually. Messenger is available on Android, iOS, and Windows 10 from the Microsoft Store.

Download for Android | Download for iOS | Download for Windows 10

Apple’s FaceTime

FaceTime is perhaps one of the most well-known video calling applications in existence and is a functional solution for up to 32 participants, though everyone has to have an iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer. If your family isn’t entirely in the Apple ecosystem, this might not necessarily be the solution for you. Despite that, friendly features such as Animoji, stickers, and integration with iMessage–all without a subscription–make this another great option for some people.

Download for iOS

For the technologically agnostic…

And don’t forget: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with simply picking up the telephone to have a phone conversation with loved ones, or even writing a letter. Because home isn’t necessarily a house, a dining room table, or living room with a Christmas tree. Home is where your heart is, and connecting with your friends and family from afar whether by video, phone, or in writing, can help you be home for the holidays.

What is the holiday season looking like for your and your loved ones this year? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Wishing you each the merriest of holiday seasons and a safe and happy new year.

Review: Logitech MX Master 3

To many people, a mouse is a mouse. You move it and press the buttons, and it clicks things on your computer screen, and that’s it. But for full-time office workers, PC gamers, and other folks, there’s more to a mouse. Functionality, convenience, features, weight, responsiveness, etc. In this article I look at the Logitech MX Master 3. I’ve had the last two MX Master series mice (the MX Master and the MX Master 2S) and have really liked them. Let’s see how their latest addition to their tried-and-true line of pointing peripherals stand up.

Use Case

For reference, I should explain that I purchased the MX Master 3 for use in my office at work. My current role is as an information technology coordinator, so I manage day-to-day IT operations for a local casino. I also assist on our Service Desk for other locations in our western division. While a fair amount of my time is spent around the property, I do spend a lot of time at my desk doing computer work. I often have two devices at my desk, and I also take my keyboard and mouse with me from home to work. The primary use is simply productivity at my desk.

Features

Charging | The MX Master 3 features a USB-C port that can be used to charge the internal, non-removable battery. It’s nice to see USB-C connectivity on the mouse, as the vast majority of my other devices and peripherals have moved to include the port, and I would really hate having to throw a solitary micro-USB cable into the mix. USB-C is fairly universal these days unless you’re in the iPhone world in the United States, so this was a nice convenience for me. If you’re not a fan of USB-C for some reason, fret not. The MX Master 3’s 500 mAh Li-Po battery will last you about 70 days. I personally turn mine off at night when I leave the office, so I’ve only charged the device maybe 3 times since purchasing it in early 2020.

Buttons | Obviously the mouse has the standard left-click and right-click buttons. These are not at all mushy and provide an immediate and solid “click” noise when depressed. Between those is Logitech’s infinity scroll wheel, which looks and feels to be made of metal, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t. Along with the infinity scroll wheel, there is a button just below it to enable or disable the infinite scroll feature–in case moving at hundreds of lines of text in a few seconds isn’t your cup of tea. At the side of the device there is a horizontal scroll wheel made of the same material, though not featuring infinity scroll, as well as forward/back buttons and multi-tasking button that is the equivalent of the Windows keyboard shortcut Win+Tab.

Logitech Software | The MX Master 3 is also compatible with Logitech’s softwares such as Flow and Options, allowing you to custom map buttons to different shortcuts, as well as copy from one device and paste on another. While a little bit gimmicky for my taste, it definitely works and is a feature worth noting on a mouse that is marketed for productivity.

Ergonomics | Like previous MX Master series mice, the MX Master 3 features a contoured shape intended to make gripping the mouse more comfortable for extended periods of time and at an angle that is less harmful to your wrist and arm.

Connectivity | With the MX Master 3, the user gets two options for connecting to a device. Logitech includes a nano-transceiver similar to the Unifying tranceivers we are all so familiar with–though it is important to note that the MX Master 3 is not Unifying-compatible. Additionally, users can choose to connect the device via onboard bluetooth. Not only is bluetooth available, but three bluetooth connections can be made and stored. There is a button on the bottom face of the device allowing users to click to switch between bluetooth connections. This is the route for which I opted.

Gripes

Wear & Tear | Much to my dismay, the Logitech MX Master 3 does not take daily use too well in terms of aesthetics. I’ve had the device for about 8 months now, and the left-click plastic button/panel is already worn and shiny. I wash my hands often and keep a clean work area, yet somehow the is a disproportionate amount of wear and shine on the left-click button. It’s a shame, because the MX Master 3 is a beautiful device, and the fast wear on the plastics kind of makes it feel cheap–which is an issue at it’s price point. Logitech isn’t a stranger to this issue, as both the MX Master and MX Master 2S also had issues with plastic wearing and discoloring. I’d think they would have resolved that issue in the design for their new flagship mouse, but I guess not.

Ergonomics | Overall, the ergonomics of this mouse feel quite good and it is comfortable to hold in hand. My only gripe here is that the raised palm area is angled just barely too far back, putting my fingertips not quite as far forward as I prefer. But, do note that this is entirely personal preference, and your mileage my vary.

Inconvenient Switcher | Why do companies continually insist on putting things like buttons and charging ports on the bottom of their devices? (Looking at you and your Magic Mouse, Apple). Logitech got the charge port right by including it at the front of the device, but still decided to put the bluetooth connection button on the bottom of the device. If the mouse featured a singular bluetooth connection, I would think this would be fine. But given that the device is centered around productivity and highlights the triple-bluetooth connection feature, it would be nice to have the switcher button readily accessible, rather than having to pick up the mouse, turn it over, and press the little button before setting the mouse back down and resuming work on your other device. While not hugely inconvenient, I find this design option odd where the marketing for the mouse is largely focused on productivity.

Price | Okay. So I’m the guy whose friends know as the one who spends more than most on things like mice, keyboards, and tech in general. So higher price points for quality products are no foreign concept to me. With a current purchase price of $99, the MX Master 3 falls in the upper-range of mice in terms of price–especially for Logitech. I would be okay with the price if the plastics stood up against time better and the connection toggle switch was more conveniently located. But given these two things, I recommend picking one up used for $70-80 instead.

Conclusion

Overall, I love my Logitech MX Master 3. While the bluetooth toggle switch is inconveniently located, the triple bluetooth connection feature is definitely great and I use it daily. The mouse is comfortable enough for daily use (8-10 hours). With great battery life and the abiltiy to easily change which device you’re connected to, this mouse is certainly a staple for my work kit. Despite my gripes, I would be comfortable recommending this mouse to anyone who used multiple devices on an all-day/every-day kind of basis.

Have you tried Logitech’s MX Master 3? What about another mouse you like? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Review: Wing Alpha (MVNO)

Introduction

Let’s face it. Cell phone carriers have gotten pretty bad over the years. Many familes today spend huge portions of their monthly income to have mobile telecommunications devices and service–and I’m not even talking about getting the latest iPhone or whatever. I’m just talking about an average phone with your average plan (including some amount of data, of course). But beyond that, there have always been folks looking to save a buck or two.

These types of people have spawned a demand for a slew of Mobile Virtual Network Operators who lease space from the primary wireless carriers (such as Verizon, AT&T, etc.) and resell it under a different name for a lower price. Some of the oldest and most popular MVNOs include Tracfone and metroPCS. But with an uptick in the demand for more affordable cell service, many other options have come into existence. You may have heard of MVNOs such as Ting, Tello, Mint, PureTalk, Twigby, h2o Wireless, Reach Mobile, Cricket, US Mobile, Red Pocket Mobile, Xfinity Mobile, and so many more.

Like many other people, I went looking for a MVNO due to the cost savings. I decided to give Wing Mobile (also known as Wing Alpha or Wing Tel) a try. I had seen their advertisements online quite a bit, and the comments on their posts were always highly positive with very few negative comments. I figured it was worth a shot. Let’s have a look at my experience! If you’re just looking for a quick thumbs up or thumbs down for Wing, scroll to the end of the article.

Signing Up

Signing up with Wing was incredibly easy. I headed over to their website and started a chat session with one of their representatives after looking around for a bit. I explained that I wanted to see about signing up to try their service, that I was currently with Verizon, and that I would want to keep my existing phone number and bring my device. I also explained that I would need a Verizon-based plan as they’re the only infrastructure in our area of rural Nevada that has good coverage. While AT&T is also in the area, they do not have adequate coverage for where I live and where I travel.

The representative was friendly and helpful. After providing the IMEI of my device so they could check for compatibility, the representative confirmed that my device would be compatible with their Verizon-based network and that they would be able to port my existing phone number in. They even said if I had remaining device payments I could submit the final bill for the device to them and they’d take over the payments, and the amount would simply be added to my monthly amount due for their service. It sounded pretty good. Maybe too good, but I’d have to wait and see.

The next thing I know, I get a notification from Verizon that another carrier was porting my phone number in. The representative said that I would receive my free SIM card in the mail within a week and when it arrived to contact them via chat or phone again and they would help me get activated. All in all, signing up took less than 10 minutes, even with me asking questions along the way.

Week 1

Alright. The SIM card arrived with a nice little welcome card. Not bad. I chatted back into their website and provided my information and said I had a SIM card I needed to activate. The representative walked me through providing them the ICCID (or SIM card number), powering off the device, putting the new SIM card in, and powering on the device.

I was able to make a phone call, and receive text messages. All seemed well. Activation only took 5 minutes! Our chat session disconnected and I went about my day. It wasn’t long before I realized I did not have 4G data–or data at all, for that matter. A new chat session was opened and I was directed to call a phone number for customer support. When I called, I got the technical support for Clearway–an entirely different MVNO. Okay…that’s odd. Is Wing a reseller of a reseller or something? I never got an answer on that. Anyway, the Clearway representative got my data working by adding an APN (Access Point Name) in my mobile network settings. Things seemed alright for a bit.

I’m a member of several group texts (a friends one, a family one, etc.). On the evening of the first day, it became apparent that I was missing some messages, receiving others, and could not send or receive picture messages (MMS messages) at all. I called the Clearway number back and was told that they could not support me because I was not a Clearway customer; I’d need to contact Wing. Huh. That’s weird. So after some digging I find the customer support phone number for Wing and give them a call. Cue me spending the next couple of hours on the phone being transferred between multiple representatives, getting disconnected a few times, etc. After a long and frustrating support session, I finally am able to call, text, use data, and send/receive picture messages. Whew. I chalked the issues up to being with an “off brand” carrier, rather than paying for the convenience of a “name brand” carrier, and went about my business.

Week 2

Week 2 was worse than Week 1. At the beginning of the week, I suddenly couldn’t do anything. No calls. No texts. No data. Of course, this also happened to be the week that I had some very important calls coming in. Over the course of the next five (5) days, I would spend nearly 20 hours on the phone or in chat sessions with Wing representatives, trying to get my phone service situation sorted out.

I should make it clear that I have never felt more/true rage than when dealing with Wing during my second week of “having their service” (which I didn’t really have, because I couldn’t use it).

After spending the equivalent of a part-time employee’s work week on the phone with more than 10 Wing representatives–who each told me an entirely different story/excuse for the situation–I finally got a representative who checked a couple of different things and then told me that my phone was not compatible with their Verizon network. What? I explained that when I signed up they checked my IMEI and make/model and verified that it was compatible with their Verizon-based network. The representative said “I’m not sure why they would tell you that. We don’t offer CDMA-based Verizon service in your area. You’d need to be on our AT&T service if you want to keep the phone you have.” To which my response was frustrated and direct. I re-explained that I could only have Verizon service where I lived due to the coverage and the representative then tried to sell me a phone that I already said I didn’t want to buy.

After another hour it was clear that I wasn’t going to be getting anywhere, so I told them I would need to be put in contact with whomever could cancel my service, port my number back out to Verizon, and who I could talk to about refunding my first month’s payment since I was unable to use their service due to their dishonesty.

Luckily, they were immediately able to port my number so I could go back to Verizon. Unfortunately, they refused to refund my payment as “it’s a prepaid service, so we don’t do refunds.” While I understand the concept of prepaid accounts, I prepaid for service. Service I couldn’t use due to their dishonesty. So to me, it felt like they not only lied to me, but stole from me as well.

Oh well. Whatever. I was done. With my number ported out, I opened a Verizon account again and got phone service back, putting my attempt to work with Wing to bed and leaving the bad experience in the dust.

Or so I thought.

1 Month Later

Much to my surprise, a month after I had cancelled my service with Wing and gotten back on Verizon, Wing bills my debit card $55 for monthly service. Monthly service I no longer had (not like I ever had it anyway).

I spent an hour on the phone between two different representatives to get to the bottom of why they were still stealing money from me.

The representative explained, “Well, it looks like we billed you because you had AutoPay enabled on your account.” To which I explained that I shouldn’t have an account and that I cancelled my service a month ago. She had me log into my online account and lo and behold, there’s my debit card number with “AutoPay” next to it. Interestingly enough, there was no way to remove my debit card number from my account/profile.

I eventually got the representative to remove the method of payment from my account on their end–but they only did that once I asked for a contact in their legal department. I logged into the online account to verify the method of payment was gone (and it was). With that, I told them to be sure they closed my account this time, and laid the issue to rest.

Pros

Quick and easy sign-up

Quick and easy activation

Cost savings–theoretically

Cons

Poor communication

Dishonest representatives

Snake-oil sales tactics

No way to remove your payment information from your account

Conclusion

Was it worth it trying to save a few bucks by switching from Verizon to Wing? Absolutely not. I regret it tremendously and could not recommend Wing/Wing Alpha/Wing Tel/Wing Mobile to anybody in good conscience. That is, unless you want to be exceedingly frustrated, lied to, stolen from, and not have mobile phone service. Despite no longer having their service, I keep receiving sponsered ads and posts from them on Facebook. I often left a short, honest feedback about my story (a couple sentences), until they blocked me from commenting on their content. Apparently that’s how they keep up their appearance of being “highly recommended.” Yikes.

Have you tried a MVNO? How was your experience? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Review: Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

I highly recommend Mistborn to any young/adult who is looking for an enjoyable, detailed, but serious fantasy with an incredibly unique and exciting hard magic system. You won’t want to put it down and wish you were an Allomancer so you could keep your body awake to read all 672 pages of it. Seriously…read it.

Front cover of Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

Introduction

Allow me to start off by disclaiming that I am by no means an author, or knowledgeable about writing, written works, or anything of the sort. I’m just some guy. And I enjoy reading.

Long have I enjoyed not only reading, but reading fantasy. There’s just something to diving into the pages of an author’s mind and becoming completely absorbed by the world they’ve created that is difficult to resist.

Sadly, the past six or so years have held a cacophony of events which have limited my time and drive to read. The group of people with which I choose to spend/invest my limited leisure time all love to read. For some time, our casual musings included not the most recent reading adventures; as of late, however, a frequent topic amongst friends became the works of Brandon Sanderson. The name kept popping up in casual conversation as my friends and associates continued to read his works with a fierce passion–nearly an addiction.

Beyond the fact that I’ve always had a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and felt I was missing out on the conversations surrounding Sanderson’s creations, the incessant conversation about his many works eventually brought me to ask a close friend, Preston, about the author’s works and where I might dip my toes in–so to speak–and make my return to reading fantasy.

Mistborn,” came his recommendation. He said it is a great place to try out Sanderson’s writings. If you like it, you can read the rest of the trilogy, and if not, Mistborn stands up on its own as a great book.

Some days shortly thereafter, while on a vacation visting my family in Idaho, I stopped at a Barnes & Noble with my wife, Alexis; the short visit to the store resulted in my purchase of the Mistborn trilogy and the beginnings of my expedition into Sanderson’s works of epic fantasy. And epic, it was.

Setting

The Final Empire…it’s dark. It’s bleak. It’d almost be apocalyptic if it weren’t for the structured society dragging its feet through existence. Ash constantly falls from the sky. Buildings, roads, and people blacked by soot. Skaa slave in the fields, in the mills, and in the forges. It’s not happy, yet it draws you in and makes a reader want to know more about why that world is the way that it is.

Map of The Final Empire (1021) from Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn takes place in the Central Dominance, between the cities of Luthadel and Fellise. The map of the Final Empire is quite more expansive than that, though I presume we read of much more of the map in the succeeding two books in the trilogy.

Character Development

The core group of characters is likable and generally introduced. The two foremost characters–Vin and Kelsier–have the most development, rivaled only by a man named Sazed. Vin is a 16 year old female thief with a difficult past that can make readers a tad emotional. Kelsier is a mysterious male some years older with both a hero complex and a knack for causing trouble. They’re a great pair. Sazed is also some years older, and arguably more mysterious than Kelsier, though we do get some decent looks into his past. To avoid giving too much of the tale away, I’ll just say this: the rest of the core group receives some shallow explanation, but we get only small hints into their characters, with no extensive backstory. It works quite well though; at no point did I feel the character development was detrimentally lacking.

Pacing

The pacing of the book was nice, in my opinion. There’s always the sense that there is a direction that the story is heading, and that there is a purpose for what you’re reading. While the whole book isn’t action-packed, or lots of huge events, there is value and enjoyment in the small details and thorough explanations of settings, events, and preparations of the characters. At no point did I feel like I was reading filler, that things were moving too slowly, or that things were moving too quickly. The combat scenes are described in high detail, but maintain a sense of rapid pace during the scene. Some friends who have read the book said they felt it was a slow start, but as someone who enjoys the mundane, I felt the pacing to be perfect.

Style

For Mistborn, Sanderson seems to adopt a descriptive/narrative writing style. It works quite well. An epic fantasy is sure to be a narrative, else it would not be entertaining to a reader. But beyond telling a story, the depth and amount of detail that Sanderson provides in his writing is thorough, vivid, and allows the reader to easily paint the scene and happenings in their head as they read. Not only is the narrative entertaining, but the detail is enjoyable. Despite having not read a book for some years, I was easily able to picture the setting, scenes, characters and their personalities, and the events of the story. In short, I’d liken the style to that of Tolkien, though with a less “stiff,” feel to the writing, if that makes sense. It’s ever so slightly less wordy and with far fewer commas in each sentence.

Point-of-View

The reader reads Mistborn primarily from the point of view of Vin and Kelsier, who both have distinctive voices and styles of speaking and thinking. One chapter may be from Vin’s viewpoint, while the next one may be from Kell’s (Kelsier’s). Or you may get both at the same time from 3rd person. The mix of viewpoints is nice and keeps things interesting–unlike some books where Chapter 1 is from Character A’s point of view and Chapter 2 is from Character B’s point of view and that pattern just repeats for 500 pages.

Theme

Overall there is a theme of the possibility of evil succeeding. In fact, the amount of hope there is for the main characters’ success and salvation is small and weak. It’s desperate. But the hope that exists carries over to the reader. You become invested in what the characters are doing and want so badly for them to succeed.

I want to make special note that Sanderson really developed various aspects of The Final Empire. There are religious, political, social, economic, moral, and a variety of other issues and facets to the story that really make it feel comprehensive and almost real.

Bringing it all Together

I started Mistborn on the first day of my six day vacation. I’d read for an hour or two a day, and by the end of the vacation, I had made it to Part 5 of the book. Generally, I read rather quickly, so take that statement with a grain of salt–or an entire saltshaker, should you prefer to do so. In those six days, I hated having to put the book down. I could have sat and read that book all day if I hadn’t had other things I needed and wanted to do during my limited days away from normal life. When I finished the book, all I wanted was more. I needed more. Luckily, there are the two succeeding books in the trilogy; it is my understanding that they take place in the same setting–The Final Empire–so it is my hope that I’ll “get my fix” there.

Overall, I highly recommend Mistborn to any young/adult who is looking for an enjoyable, detailed, but serious fantasy with an incredibly unique and exciting hard magic system. You won’t want to put it down and wish you were an Allomancer so you could keep your body awake to read all 672 pages of it. Seriously…read it.

Have you read Mistborn or any of Sanderson’s other works? What are your thoughts? You know I’d love to read them below in the comments. Until next time!


Additional Reading & Resources

Buy Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson (non-affiliate, non-sponsored link)

Buy Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson (non-affiliate, non-sponsored link)

Map of The Final Empire from 17thShard

Blizzard’s Overwatch — Four Years In

I love Overwatch. Many of my free hours over the past three years have been poured into the game both casually and competitively. Not only that, but I desperately want the game to improve and succeed. In this blog article, I want to take a look at some comments from members of a local Overwatch team on which my wife and myself play, as well as some of the ups and downs over the past three years and talk about the future of the game.

Front cover of Overwatch from Blizzard

“I need healing!”

“I need healing!”

“I need healing!”

Okay, enough of the Genji/DPS jokes. Let’s face it: at this point, four years in, most gamers–and many non-gamers–have heard of Blizzard’s FPS/MOBA hybrid game, Overwatch. Bringing what was supposed to be the best of the battle arena and shooter genres together in a fun, fast-paced, and accessible game for all to enjoy. At least that was the idea. Before I dive too far into this post, let me at least be clear about this. I love Overwatch. Many of my free hours over the past three years have been poured into the game both casually and competitively. Not only that, but I desperately want the game to improve and succeed. In this blog article, I want to take a look at some comments from members of a local Overwatch team on which my wife and myself play, as well as some of the ups and downs over the past three years and talk about the future of the game.

Strong Start

Activision Blizzard blew industry developers and consumers away by clearing $1bn in revenue by Q1 of 2017–a mere 7-9 months after its release on 2020/05/24, leading to the studio-publisher duo to begin tying in Overwatch content into some of its other hit games, including Heroes of the Storm (Grubb, 2017).

Overwatch’s 40+ million players were greeted with a diverse cast of playable characters spanning four categories–Damage, Defense, Tank, and Support–and twelve maps spanning Assult, Escort, Hybrid, and Control game modes (GamePedia, 2020). In the coming years, 9+ additional maps and 11+ heroes have been added to the game, as well as Arcade game modes, seasonal/special events, and the both popular and infamous Competitive Play mode.

I spent a long time playing just a few heroes–Junkrat, Mei, and Mercy–but loved the variety among the characters and challenged myself to try to learn how to play many of them. Nearly every day, my friend Jess and myself would play multiple games and have a blast working with different team compositions, messing around, and learning the game. Before long, I felt I was getting a grip on the game and really started performing consistently when we would play. During that next year, we began to play the competitive mode. Season 1 was exhilarating! I knew this game had a lot going for it.

In conversation, I asked several of our friends and teammates their feelings and thoughts on the strengths of the game and what it was that kept us all coming back to it day after day and week after week. “…the character differences/abilities are a huge strength,” said Caleb, a flex-player on our team and our primary shot-caller, “I love the intriguing world they developed.” His sentiment is echoed by myself as well as Jess: “I enjoy the game play and how no two heroes feel the same.”

Overwatch also started off with a small amount of lore and backstory, and added to that story over the years. “I love the lore…I just wish there was more of it,” said Lexi, one of our team’s unrelenting support players. In the first year or so, Blizzard did a good job and keeping players dialed in on what was going on in Overwatch by releasing comics, animated shorts for many characters which introduced interesting backstory, and other content which furthered the depth of the universe in which the game is set.

“I love the team aspect,” said Albert, one of our team’s most solid tanks, “it doesn’t matter how good a one-trick DPS player is. If there is bad teamwork/communication, the team will typically get a loss.” The team aspect is easily one of the most alluring things about the game, in my opinion. I love strategy and working with others to overcome obstacles and problems.

For the first year or two, Blizzard also made QoL–Quality of Life–adjustments and also major changes to certain parts of the game to improve the experience for players. The Defense heroes category was merged into the Damage category–which makes sense. Those are your three roles: Damage, Tank, and Support. Down the line they also introduced Role-Queue, which requires players to queue for a particular role so you couldn’t have a team of all-supports, all-tanks, etc. This also improved game queue times as well by taking some weight off the matchmaking system. At least through the first year or so of the game, I applaud Blizzard for their introduction of Overwatch to the genres.

Game Gone Wrong

The honeymoon phase of the game didn’t last, though. Issues eventually became more prevalent, noticeable, and players began to become more and more frustrated. I have a lot of opinions on what’s wrong with the game and how the game could be improved, just as many players of many games do with any game. But I didn’t want this post to just be me ranting and raving about issues in the game, so I sought out the opinions of some of my teammates. Below are some of the issues that I most often hear mentioned over the past three years.

Competitive Ranking & Balancing

“Competitive” play, as it is called by Blizzard, has long been my preferred mode of play. The tweaked rules to encourage a more competitive playstyle by each team and restriction on role selection in the game mode make it closer to what I want from the game.

In Competitive Play, Overwatch uses a Skill Rating scoring system to match players with players of similar skill level–supposedly. “It’s not communicated to the players effectively,” said Caleb. This is evident, as many players have no idea how exactly the system works, since it seems to have more to it than simply you-win-you-go-up-you-lose-you-go-down. The lack of a clear and functional skill rating system results in lots of mismatched games where one team is horrifically higher skilled than the other, or where both teams will get a mix of players from a huge range of ranks putting inexperienced players into a more complex game, making the matches much more difficult to play and neigh impossible to enjoy.

When asked what he dislike most about the game, Jess responded: “how hard it is to climb in competitive. It feels like you lose too much [SR] when you lose and don’t gain enough when you win.” Caleb agreed, revisiting his earlier opinion: “…competitive feels like constant punishment. I understand SR balancing, but I don’t believe it was established correctly.”

Blizzard’s Blindness

Unfortunately as the last three years have passed, it seem’s Blizzard’s drive to develop the game further has declined. Despite new maps and heroes being released, the gameplay and in-game experience have come crashing down in quality. In competitive play, roughly 45-60% of games our team plays are cancelled within the first 60 seconds of the game due to someone leaving the match. In many other games, a random player your team picked up as a 5/6th player will throw the game just because the team won’t pocket them and cater to their every desire or someone else plays the hero they want to play.

“The players are inherently toxic,” explained Caleb, “and I get that is present in every game, but it feels like there is less of an effort coming from Blizzard to combat that.” In June of 2018–two years into the game–Blizzard added a mechanic called Endorsements as a feeble attempt to combat toxicity by encouraging good sportsmanship.

At the end of a match, players can endorse teammates as Shot Caller, Good Teammate, or Sportsmanship. Shot Caller can be awarded if you feel a player was a leader in the game and/or provided strategies that led the team to victory. Good Teammates are pretty self-explanatory. You can endorse your teammate as a Good Teammate if you felt they were helpful throughout the match via communication and gameplay. Finally, a player can endorse any teammate or opponent with Sportsmanship if they felt that player showed a positive attitude throughout the match. Players are incentivized to endorse each other by a small amount of XP they can gain by doing so (Fandom, n.d.).

It sounds like a nice concept, but in reality it isn’t viable. Every player ends up with a high Sportsmanship rating no matter what as people will endorse just about anybody with Sportsmanship just to get the XP. The Endorsement Level doesn’t reflect anything useful either, as there is decay on the rating over time. So if you have a perfect Endorsement Level of 5, but don’t play for a month, you’ll come back and have a low Endorsement Level, even though you may still be the fantastic team player that you were when you took a break or before you got busy with another game. This has both positive and negative consequences. But even apart from that, the Endorsement system doesn’t provide anything functional. All it does is show you an Endorsement Level. There’s no penalty for being low-rated in Endorsements. You can’t avoid low-endorsed players. You can’t choose to play with highly-endorsed players. And Blizzard doesn’t do anything with the system other than let it exist. Other games and their developers within the genres have multiple vehicles by which they combat toxicity in the community, but Blizzard again chooses to not implement a basic and necessary component of FPS and MOBA games in Overwatch. But managing toxicity isn’t the only place Blizzard has grown complacent or cold-shouldered.

“In year one, we were always talking about who the new characters are that are coming out…the maps were being introduced…they had comics and animations dropping left and right. Then they put all of their effort into OWL (Overwatch League) and now it feels like the non-competitive players have been left behind.” Caleb explained his frustrations with the apparent lack of drive Blizzard has to maintain their game. “I was a constant player since the game’s release and really stopped playing like only a month ago. When you guys [our team] ask me if I want to play Overwatch, I usually am more down to chill in chat with you to hang out rather than to actually play the game.”

Lexi shares the same view as Caleb, she explains: “The biggest problem with Overwatch is that it is getting left behind by its creators while they work on other things. They don’t hype [the game] up as much as they once did or create the new content within the game that was keeping it fresh for the die-hard fans.” Additionally, she mentioned how the issue with Blizzard ignoring Overwatch post-OWL was exacerbated by the announcement and development of Overwatch 2–the campaign/PvE sister-game to Overwatch.

The lack of attention Blizzard has paid to the actual issues in the game is echoed by many, many players in the player base. Jess, my original Overwatch buddy, said “I wish we got a more consistent hero release schedule.” I myself have felt the same way. Initially, the game had a lot of content getting released–both in game and in other canon materials as well such as comic books and animated shorts that really sucked the player into the universe of Overwatch. But that died out quickly. With the introduction of the E-sports format of the game–Overwatch League–the non-professional format of the game fell by the wayside as changes became catered to the professional players and Blizzard focused more on monetizing OWL, rather than keeping their largest player base happy. Hero releases seem intermittent and just whenever Blizzard can squeeze one in or when the pros complain about having not had another hero added. Map releases, the same. Community morale? At this point, it’s questionable whether Blizzard understand what that is.

Constant Crippling Changes

Like just about any other multiplayer game, character balancing is important and Blizzard attempts to maintain the balance of the game, though most would agree that they fail spectacularly to do so.

“I’m really not a fan of the drastic changes they make when doing patches,” Albert said. “Ultimately, [it] seems to favor the DPS side of things. DPS have a difficult time with double shield and bunker (two popular team compositions), so they nerf the tanks and shields and utility to better compensate for the DPS’ ability.”

I have to agree with this as well, since the changes Blizzard makes to the game’s heroes are constant, and rarely benefit the game. Seriously, I wonder if anybody at Blizzard ever actually plays the game they develop.

There was a period of time when every game you played, each team would have a Reaper, and they’d go the whole game without dying, and would likely have play of the game as well. Following a string of buffs to Reaper, he just couldn’t die. He was too strong. The same thing has happened with many characters, and to some but in reverse. Just within the past year, a newer hero on the roster, Brigitte (I linked the pronunciation, since most players say it completely different), got absolutely nerfed into the ground to the point where she was nearly unplayable. This is a common theme in the game and the end doesn’t appear to be in sight.

It would be great if Blizzard could figure out their hero roster and balance it to the point where you could play mostly any combination of characters (within the constraints of role queue, of course) and have a valid chance at winning. But right now, that’s not the case. It too much pushes the unintended development of a meta in the game.

Maddening Metas

“But the meta right now is…”

“Oh, but they’re not part of the meta right now…”

“Well since our supports don’t want to play the meta I guess we’ll lose…”

Do these sound like stupid statements? Congratulations, you’re an intelligent human being. The situation with metas in Overwatch is just as maddeningly stupid and it sounds. Because Blizzard cannot balance their hero roster and continually cripple various characters while making other characters god-like, unintentional team combinations become the most powerful–and sometimes, the only way to win.

Here is just a sampling of metas from the past couple of years:

  • Classic Death Ball
  • Classic Dive
  • The President
  • Pick Comp
  • 2-3-1
  • Classic Anti-Dive
  • Beyblade
  • G.O.A.T.S
  • Triple-DPS Dive
  • Quad-Tank
  • Nanovisor
  • Nanoblade
  • SaaS (Somba-as-a-Support)
  • Phar-Mercy Dive
  • New Anti-Dive
  • Pulled Pork (Orisa-Hog)
  • Pirate Ship
  • Disruption Dive

And the list goes on (Milella, n.d.). There is a mind-numbing amount to learn about metas in Overwatch, and unfortunately, its something that players are inadvertently required to learn in order to win matches. This can be quite daunting for new players, and monotonous for all players.

Overwatch Ongoing

So what is in store for the future of Overwatch? Many say that it is already a dead game, and we are inclined to agree, though it still maintains more than 700k players online at any given time (PlayerCounter, 2020). “They say it’s a dead game,” Caleb says, “which super sucks because I love this game.” If Blizzard wants to stop bleeding players and maintain the playerbase’s interest in the game, some changes are going to be necessary. I have a few recommendations that I feel would help the game improve, but they are simply my opinions so take them with a grain of salt–or an entire salt shaker, if you prefer.

Suggestion: Rename “Competitive Play” to “Ranked Play”

Come on, guys. Nearly every other game out there with a competitive mode calls it ranked. Competitive isn’t a game mode. It is an attitude with which a player plays the game. What is the game doing when the players play that mode? Right now, it feels like it’s competing with them–hence the earlier discussed painful grind to climb in rank. What does Blizzard say the game is doing in that mode? Ranking players via Skill Rating. Let’s get with the program, guys.

Suggestion: Add “Unranked Play”

After changing the name of Competitive Play to Ranked Play, Blizzard should also introduce Unranked Play. This mode would have the same rules, mechanics, and environment as Ranked, but without the actual Skill Rating mechanic. This would allow players to play and practice the Ranked game mode without penalty to their Skill Rating, offering a great training solution for Ranked players and casual players alike. Of course, Quick Play could still be kept, either retaining its Quick Play moniker or changing to Casual Play. These concepts aren’t outlandish by any means, as this is a fairly standard format for many online multiplayer games.

Bringing it All Together

Alright. It’s time to step off the soapbox. As I said in the introduction to this article, I love Overwatch. Despite it’s many, many flaws and the frustration that it causes myself and the rest of our team, it has the potential to be an amazing game. It has brought many hundreds of hours of enjoyment, entertainment, and bonding for myself, my wife, and our friends. Overwatch still has a fairly dedicated playerbase, even if it is smaller than previously, and there are plenty of things Blizzard could still do to really polish the game into an enjoyable FPS/MOBA hybrid. While we may not be playing it heavily right now due to being a bit down-in-the-dumps about the state of the game, we continue to hope for a bright and shiny fifth year of the game.

Have you played Overwatch? What are your favorite things about it? What your frustrations? Suggestions? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!


Additional Reading

Fandom (n.d.). Endorsements. Overwatch Wiki. https://overwatch.fandom.com/wiki/Endorsements

Grubb, J. (2017). With $1 billion in revenue, Overwatch is Blizzard’s fastest-growing franchise. VentureBeat. https://venturebeat.com/2017/05/04/with-1-billion-in-revenue-overwatch-is-blizzards-fastest-growing-franchise/

GamePedia (2020). List of maps by release date. Overwatch Wiki. https://overwatch.gamepedia.com/List_of_maps_by_release_date#:~:text=There%20were%20originally%2012%20maps%20at%20the%20launch,Since%20then%2C%209%20additional%20maps%20have%20been%20added.

Milella, V. (n.d.). All Overwatch Pro Team Compositions in Each Meta. EsportsTales. https://www.esportstales.com/overwatch/all-pro-team-compositions-in-each-meta#:~:text=%20All%20Overwatch%20Pro%20Team%20Compositions%20in%20each,Doomfist%E2%80%99s%20high%20burst%20damage%2C%20this%20composition…%20More%20

PlayerCounter (2020). Overwatch Live Player Count. https://playercounter.com/overwatch/


Griffeth Barker is a casual gamer who has been playing Overwatch since release both independently, casually with friends, and semi-competitively with a local team. Direct quotations from team members in this article were used with express permission from those respective team members. Statements made in this blog article are the personal opinions of various individuals regarding the game Overwatch and do not reflect the opinions or positions of any company or other organization with which the team members are affilated.