The Current State of Overwatch

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(Neo)

"The Current State of Overwatch (From a Plat Player)

By NeoMc - February 10th, 2020


Overwatch was an international phenomenon. It brought about incredible characters with a rich lore in a universe of conflict. It introduced us to everyday heroes who took up the call to defend what is right. But let us not forget how similar some of the concepts are to TF2.

Don’t believe me? Right, here is a 1 to 1 list of the TF2 heroes and their Overwatch counterparts:

Scout -> Tracer
Soldier -> Pharah
Pyro -> Mei
Demoman -> Junkrat
Heavy -> Bastion
Engineer -> Torbjorn
Medic -> Mercy
Sniper -> Widowmaker
Spy -> Sombra

It is true that there are plenty of other unique heroes such as Doomfist and Reaper who have helped to spice up the game, but in the end it does serve as a glorified remake of TF2. TF2 even has gamemodes in common with Overwatch, such as Capture the Point and Payload.

Now back to the topic at hand. Overwatch has proven to be an entertaining game, with a larger cast of characters to play than TF2 could offer. However, the game has not been able to hold up well against the test of time. Why is that exactly? What made the game begin to lose its SEO? What became of the game everyone was waiting for in 2016?

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The graphic shown above is a Google Trends report of the term “Overwatch” from the time period of January 2016 through February 2020. It shows a peak back in May as the game was launched. Since then, the trend had fallen to a low SEO floating between 10 and 20% of its initial popularity. The two peaks on the right side of the graph are (I believe to be) the release of Sigma and the deployment of Role Queue.

In this post, I am going to talk about five main topics: the casual gameplay, the competitive gameplay, the balancing for pro vs balancing for casual, the social exposure, and the development side. Some of the information presented in this post is factual; coming directly from credible sources. Other bunches of information are presented either by myself or by the average player, and must be taken with a grain of salt as nothing more than an opinion. With all that out of the way, let's dive right into it!


The casual experience

Before we begin talking about the casual experience, let me provide four distinctions of experience/skill. Let’s call new players “beginners.” Next, players logging on here and there just to have a good time will be referred to as “casuals.” Players practicing their skills in between casual and pro will be referred to as “regulars/veterans.” And lastly, players training to enter professional tournaments will be referred to as “pros.”

I will go ahead and mark myself as a “veteran.” I am closing in on a Gold career border (approaching level 1200) and have been playing the game across several years, joining roughly sometime around June of 2017. I have very good aim, and my current best heroes are as follows:

Tank: Sigma, Reinhardt, Zarya
DPS: Junkrat, Hanzo, Ashe, Mei (very good on Pharah and McCree as well)
Support: Moira, Mercy, Baptiste (fairly good on Ana and Lucio)

Overwatch stresses the ability to be able to flex across multiple roles in each category, something I have practiced for a long time to be able to do. Notice that I listed several heroes that require a thing called “mechanical skill.” Let me quickly define a few terms before I go on so I don’t wind up losing anyone (should you not be familiar with these terms).

Mechanical skill – How accurate your aim is. This usually refers to hitscan precision, but can also be loosely used to refer to projectiles as well.
Positioning skill – Knowing where to be and when to strike. This is a skill that grows as you explore Overwatch’s various maps.
Rotations – Loosely refers to the pathing you and your team takes when approaching the enemy team, retreating, or even performing maneuvers like Dive.

Let’s also define an average ranking of these three skills across the tiers I mentioned. Let’s use a 5-star rank system for this example. Pay close attention to the beginner and casual ranges for reference in this section:

Beginning Player
Mechanical: 0-1 Stars
Positioning: 0-1 Stars
Rotations: 0-1 Stars
Odds of Mistakes: High

Casual Player
Mechanical: 1-3 Stars
Positioning: 1-3 Stars
Rotations: 1-3 Stars
Odds of Mistakes: Medium

Veteran Player
Mechanical: 3-5 Stars
Positioning: 3-5 Stars
Rotations: 3-5 Stars
Odds of Mistakes: Low

Pro Player
Mechanical: 5 Stars
Positioning: 5 Stars
Rotations: 5 Stars
Odds of Mistakes: Very Low

Mistakes can refer to any one number of things such as being caught out of position, not capitalizing on an enemy being out of position, or even making mistakes with ults (chucking a Zarya Grav into a D.Va’s Defense Matrix). The idea is that with playtime, you learn and improve your skills to the point where mistakes are minimized.

The casual player is expected to be proficient with aim. They aren’t going to lock Widowmaker and go for jumping and spinning headshots, they are more likely to pick heroes that suit their current desire. Maybe one day they are craving to play Junkrat, but on a different day the want to take Hanzo out for a spin. You expect them to hit some shots and make some plays, but you don’t always expect them to be present in team chat coordinating their plays. A lot of casual players are in Discord or TeamSpeak calls with other friends and don’t want to talk to random people on the Internet. This is the base image of a casual player.

Now, you’d expect most casual players to stay in Quick Play, Arcade, and the Workshop game modes correct? Unfortunately, you would be mistaken. A handful of lower-skilled casual players tend to queue for competitive matches. There is nothing inherently wrong with this image… Except for one issue: competitive matchmaking allows players who have NEVER played ranked before to join into Plat-level matches. The matchmaking tool ranks new players at an MMR (individual ranking) close to the average Plat player’s and moves it up and down towards Gold or Diamond based on their performance. You may see where I am going with this…

I will speak more about matchmaking concerns in the ranked section below, but let me wrap up the casual gameplay section by speaking about “appeal.” Overwatch can be a stressful game to veteran players, so I’d expect any casual player NOT in a party with friends might be intimidated by the level of skill the enemy team can put out against them. If you aren’t caught up with the most recent metas, you could be dooming your team by locking a “bad pick” against the enemy team comp. If you want to play Torbjorn against a very aggressive Genji and don’t swap, you can be labled as a “thrower” for not wanting to adapt. Adapting. This is the biggest issue to a casual player’s experience.

The casual player just wants to have a good time. They might find Wrecking Ball fun (despite not knowing his kit at all) despite protests from their team to swap to something useful like a Reinhardt. Being told off for having fun is not what the casual player wants. The Arcade game modes are usually chaotic enough to allow “fun picks” versus going after the favorable team comp. A lot of people have just hung up the towel and gone off to play other large games such as Fortnite, WoW, LoL, Destiny 2, Warframe, or even Super Smash Bros! The current issue against the developers is how they can make the game more enjoyable for a casual player. "Why should I give YOUR game my time when I can go play a different game with my friends?"


The competitive experience

Oh man, where do I even begin with the competitive experience? Overall the current system is a mess. Allow me to list out my current issues against the competitive system:

* Your rank is a representation of how good the TEAM is, not how good you actually are
* The golden gun system drives loads of casual players into Gold-Diamond tier matches, sabotaging their teams with their low-level play
* The game handles MMR (your individual rough ranking) based on team performance, when it should really be keeping tabs on your stats to determine how heavy your wins and losses should affect you
* Don't get me started on queue times
* Role Lock is overall a good thing, but if you have two casual players in a role... There doesn't exist any way to "swap" out of a role to a different role
* Way too many leavers and throwers in the game
* Top-level metas govern the majority of ranked play's picks
* Blizzard needs to decide once and for all if smurf accounts should be allowed
* Cheating and hacking the game is way too easy in its current state
* There is a lot of BM and toxic players in the game, sometimes you wish Blizzard was as aggressive about good sportsmanship as WoW is

Quite the list isn't it? I know not everyone agrees with my points above, and I am open to debate on these topics. These are the main reasons I find ranked difficult to endure, especially in high-Gold and mid-Plat.

I don't want to spend the entire next hour writing out a massive attack document against Overwatch's systems, but some things really need to be fixed (mainly since I genuinely want these things fixed for the better :) ). In the next few sections, I will try to outline some of the points above in an attempt to suggest possible changes or improvements to enhance the ranked experience.


Rank and MMR concerns

First, let's talk about Overwatch's ranking system. The game has two ranked values: your SR and your MMR. Your SR is your actual placement ranking number that goes up and down based on your performance. Your MMR is your "rough current skill" which is used to help match you against closely-ranked enemy teams. I'm not entirely sure how this number works since it isn't a value you have access to; my understanding of this is based off of word from other players and pros.

The game currently looks at wins as wins and losses as losses. It adds somewhere between 15-30 SR per win and removes a similar amount for a loss. I've heard the system can do drastic amounts such as 50 or 100 based on one game, but I have never seen it happen to my own account. Perhaps this is a testimony to my consistency. Your SR is how good Overwatch thinks you currently are, but it isn't even a fair measurement. Do you know how often I wind up playing games with casual low-skill players, leavers, throwers, and hackers? It's a miracle my account isn't in Silver by now!

One of the recent developer interviews mentioned they are working on a better anti-cheat, so I will skip over my rant on that issue. My advice about BM players? Have a chat moderation system that auto-mutes based on the severity of your message. Too many throwers? Raise the penalty to -100 SR and kick the player out of that season (with confiscated rewards at the end of the season) if they do it three times! BM/toxic players running rampant? Ban or mute them, could also reuse the same chat moderation system suggestion as before.

My final suggestion is to allow your performance INDIVIDUALLY per game to influence your won or lost SR. Let's say you were playing Moira and you had Gold elims (not uncommon as you need to suck heals) and Gold healing (25,000), yet your team was not able to win due to a weak tank-line and a pair of DPS ranked wrong. The game could perhaps look at some of your stats (such as amount of healing in a teamfight, number of deaths prevented, healing proficiency, etc.) and compare them to players around your rank in other games. If my Moira play appears to be higher than the average Moira player at my rank, perhaps HALVING lost SR would be a way to let the player know their efforts were appreciated. Likewise, maybe 10 bonus SR if you outperform Moiras close to your rank as well. Just a simple mechanic to give a little nudge to players that are having difficulty advancing their rank due to unlucky matchmaking.


Golden Guns and casuals

This issue is a very complicated one, but it can tie into the MMR. The issue is simply this: golden guns are awesome. A lot of players would LOVE to play casual game modes and never touch ranked, but the lust for a golden weapon on their favorite hero drives them to play ranked. As mentioned earlier, this in itself is NOT the problem. The problem lies in the people they affect if they aren't ranked accurately.

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Overwatch needs to work on their MMR system a bit to help determine who the "casual" players are who just want golden guns, and who the "veteran" players are who want to actually rank up into higher tiers (not for the bonus comp points which can be used towards golden guns). I myself cannot recommend any easy solution, but perhaps starting your players around the border of Silver and Gold could be better. That way, players who are getting a fresh ranking have to secure a couple wins before the matchmaking algorithm gives them a crack at Plat.

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