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.

Grubb, J. (2017). With $1 billion in revenue, Overwatch is Blizzard’s fastest-growing franchise. VentureBeat.

GamePedia (2020). List of maps by release date. Overwatch Wiki.,Since%20then%2C%209%20additional%20maps%20have%20been%20added.

Milella, V. (n.d.). All Overwatch Pro Team Compositions in Each Meta. EsportsTales.,Doomfist%E2%80%99s%20high%20burst%20damage%2C%20this%20composition…%20More%20

PlayerCounter (2020). Overwatch Live Player Count.

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.