I purchased Overwatch during the summer of 2017, and I fell in love with the game instantly. At the time, Reinhardt was the strongest tank and the game played in a "close range brawl meta." Fast forward a few years and we get Sigma, the strongest hybrid damage-dealing shield tank Blizzard has given us yet. With tanks on the horizon in Overwatch 2 like Mauga and the mystery talon tank, is Overwatch trying to redefine the role of tanking?
Before we continue any further, let me first clarify that I am a plat ranked role queue player & a diamond ranked support-main open queue player, so I cannot speak specifically to the highest tier of play (as well as the lower tiers of play such as Bronze). What I can tell you is plat is the "melting pot" of Overwatch, filled with smurfs, new players, and professionals practicing on alternate accounts named "llllllllllll."
However, I have watched a crap-ton of professional Overwatch League play, so I have a decent idea of what is going on in the upper tiers of ranked. During this concise blog post, I'm going to outline the two eras of Overwatch and eventually come down to a conclusion of which era feels better.
The double shield meta
Earlier in Overwatch history, it was common practice to have a "main tank" and an "off tank" to balance defensive play and aggressive "space-taking" play. Common combinations included Reinhardt + Zarya or Reinhardt + D.VA. Over time, Blizzard added in the halting huge-head-hitbox Orisa and the psychotic astrophysicist Sigma, and players began to shift to double-shield-tank play.
Shields serve as a sort of "extension" to the map. On maps such as Rialto which have huge openings with massive sightlines, tanks can deny some of the insane freedom a Widowmaker or Ashe player may feel. Shields give extra cover and can make a huge difference in the game. Heck, when Wrecking Ball was added to the game, players expressed their agitation he was a "throw-pick" due to his lack of main-tank potential (while begging the player to swap back to Rein/Sigma)!
But the basic principle of shields was this: shields can protect players from positioning mistakes. If you wander into a Widowmaker's sightline on Junkertown, you would normally consider your head "clicked." But, for contrast, if you wander out into a sightlight blocked by a Reinhardt or Sigma shield, you find your mistake forgiven. A lot of lower-ranked players don't completely grasp the idea that "staring down a ranged hitscan sightline is a bad idea" and continue to make these mistakes, blaming support players for not keeping them alive. On top of that, double-shield (when played perfectly, referencing Overwatch League teams using Sigma/Orisa) basically denies all incoming hitscan damage. The game just turns into a massive war of shield shooting, which chased away a lot of players. So Blizzard came up with a solution.
In the recent patches that went live, Overwatch developers decided it was time for double shield to die a hard cold death. They took double shield, threw it into a bonfire, then started lobbing bottles of vodka on top.
Reinhardt (over the years) had his shield dropped from 2000 to 1600 health. Orisa got hit hard, with a nerf to her Halt! ability and a shield health reduction from 900 to 600. Sigma's shield fell from 1600 at launch to only 700! Winston's bubble has now been set at 700 health as well (and is best used to create a temporary block of enemy sightlines like denying hitscan or Ana bullets from hitting ranged teammates).
They've also lowered the potential healing output of the support cast, and (as of today) started knocking away at the hitscan heroes like Ashe (who still needs more nerfs but I didn't say that) and McCree who have been a bit too good in the recent metas. Genji might actually feel weaker with less projectiles being shot his way!
It seems Blizzard is trying a more "team-deathmatch" oriented style of Overwatch, where fights last twenty seconds instead of running several minutes into overtime. Heroes like Hog have been given increased lethality, creating this "playmaker" environment where the better players shine and countering feels more difficult.
I can say with reasonable confidence that these changes feel like a test. Some bright minds have been guessing that the announcement of Overwatch 2 is on the horizon, and Blizzard is currently trying to decide which style of Overwatch fans like better: strong and tanky with lasting fights or short and sweet "deathmatch" encounters. I almost wonder if part of the "tank reimagining" has something to do with this idea that future tanks will all be "off-tank" and not even have shields (or have damage-shielding as a job), let alone personal armor?! Mauga seems to have some kind of laser-like machine gun in his arms, making me suspicious that he could perhaps be "like the heavy assault units in the Archives events." For all we know, he might himself be a tank with even more shield-break potential than Roadhog at the moment!
Shields or no shields?
So where will Blizzard go with these changes? Personally, I think the shield nerfs are permanent, mainly since they've been rounding the support potential and hitscan dps down to adjust. It feels like they are trying to make teamfights in Overwatch 2 more lethal and deadly.
Part of me wants these changes, but a part is going to miss the old times where stuff never died. Where you could be playing terrible and still get 22,000 healing on Moira. But nonetheless, I am open to change and I look forward to what Overwatch 2 has in store. Let's let these final balance adjustments for Overwatch 1 play out and see what is in store.
Conspiracy theory time: Mauga is a heavy assault unit
I figured I should also inject some of my own theory into this somewhat factual reflective insight into the changes of Overwatch. Firstly, I expect Mauga is going to be added in Overwatch 2 as a new tank, alongside Sojourn and the omnic talon tank seen speaking with Doomfist at the end of the recent Archives mission which followed Overwatch capturing Maximillian. The short story "What You Left Behind" by Alyssa Wong (canon according to the Overwatch devs) actually gives us a remarkable amount of insight into what Mauga's kit will be like.
First, the short story confirms that Mauga has some kind of personal energy shield, possibly something like Bastion had in his original kit. It also talks about him having dual machine-guns as his weapon and the ability to resist large amounts of bullet fire, possibly hinting at him having both armor & health and perhaps 500 hp like Reinhardt. We also get an image in the short story that actually winds up being my strongest proof (the first picture in this blog).
Now Mauga is not the heavy assault unit you see in the Archives event. It is highly unlikely (and definitely not canon) that you killed Mauga in Havanna or Rialto. Heavy assault units were a class of the Talon military, used in a manner that seems to reflect how Reinhardt served as a shield for his german unit. I almost wonder if Talon created their own "Reinhardt armor and shield" to use for their own militia, with a stronger emphasis on offense (the machine gun weapon in place of a hammer). Perhaps the reason Reinhardt hasn't had his shield nerfed further is to keep him balanced against the incoming new heroes in Overwatch 2...
Heavy assault units also have rocket thrusters as well, (further adding proof to my claim that Reinhardt was the inspiration for the Talon heavy assault) allowing them to boost across the map like a charging Reinhardt. Remember how terrifying these units are in the Archive events and how much damage potential they have. Mauga may be nerfed on the first day they release him!
I wouldn't even be surprised if the gun sound-effects the heavy assault uses in the Archive events wind up being his actual gun sound-effects... Has Blizzard been hinting to us about Mauga this whole time by literally implementing him into Archives with a helmet covering his head? Only time will tell, for now...
So what do you think was the best meta of Overwatch? Did you enjoy the stability of shields and tanks, or do you find the new deathmatch-feel more inviting? And do you think I'm spot-on or off my rocker here about Mauga? Let me know what you think via Twitter or Discord!
I'll see you guys next time!