I Played Hundreds Of Hours Of Overwatch. I Wish I Cared About Overwatch 2.
The PVP beta for Overwatch 2 launches one week from today, on April 26. Looking back to a couple years ago, I would have been shocked that the beta release date of Overwatch would be something I would have to confirm, much less look up entirely. I would have more likely thought I would be furiously refreshing my email account like I was trying to execute a single, very ineffective DDOS attempt, looking for a beta invite. Sure, I put in my email for closed beta consideration, but I had to reset my Battle.net password to even do that, my last voluntary log-in to the service being months if not years ago. And this is all unrelated to the very reasonable bouts of moral nausea most mentions of Blizzard inspire nowadays.
That’s a far cry from the significant amount of time where I likely didn’t go 24 hours without logging a couple games of competitive Overwatch. I’m not a casual fan who eventually picked up a different game. I loved Overwatch. After getting back into gaming in general after a long break, I was reticent to even try Overwatch at first. Competitive first person shooters are far from a gentle reintroduction into the gaming world, no matter how much Halo 2 or CS 1.6 14-year-old you logged. I was in my late 20s, decrepit by gamer standards. But during a sale, I decided to try the game, and I was immediately hooked.
I at first stuck with the more familiar, traditional FPS characters. The idea of healing other characters seemed boring, and the tank role was entirely foreign to me. I didn’t understand how I could have that much HP and yet die so fast (little did I know it could have been even worse.) But I played more and more, and started to learn other characters and roles. I sought out strategy tips and YouTube tutorials to understand the game more deeply, and one night finally decided to navigate my PS4 (I switched to PC later, before the tryhards stop reading) to the purple rectangle that indicated Competitive (or Ranked) Mode and see how I actually stacked up against the quick, unscarred tendons of the nation’s angriest teenagers.
The answer was: not well. I played my 10 placement matches and was found wanting. The game placed me in the Silver tier, the second worst tier, which according to rank distribution info put me safely in the bottom third of all players. But right away, I wanted to get back online and absolutely stink it up as soon as possible. And I did. When I would get home from work, on lazy Sundays, inadvisably late on weeknights, I was online, feeding my stupid little brains out. Oh lord, did I feed. But whatever little gamer gland that had lied dormant in my brain for so long while I learned about health insurance was reactivated.
I learned and asked questions and absorbed reddit advice threads that were 50% absolutely making me slightly worse. And I fed a little less. I started playing with some friends, and started to get into team strategy and principles beyond “try not to be so obviously terrible that you get called out on voice chat.” This in part, let me finally learn the tank class, and to my surprise, the role that had originally seemed like some sort of prank, inserted into the game to be played by little brothers who don’t get to pick their own characters, actually became my favorite role.
Each layer of depth drew me further in. WIth the friends, I slowly played more and more, and climbed from silver, to gold, to finally breaking into platinum. I was overjoyed to realize that I was no longer, statistically, worse than most of the people playing. I was now only statistically worse than all the people who were actually any good. I created an alternate account and climbed to platinum again playing solo as a tank, which is about as much fun as chopping down a tree with a soup spoon.
I even purchased a PC heavily because I wanted to play Overwatch at a higher level. After some extremely rough readjustments to mouse and keyboard movement, I was hooked harder than ever. I played constantly, got back to the rank that I was on Playstation and then surpassed it. I joined a for-fun league of Overwatch players I found on Discord, spending some of my weeknights scrimmaging with the other members of my team and playing “league matches” against the other teams. I moved up methodically until reaching Diamond rank, certainly not the heights of skill, but enough to place me in the top 15% of players. I watched the newly launched Overwatch league voraciously, making a visit to watch one of the matches live a priority during an unrelated LA trip. I said stuff like “Oh #&$%, that’s Bdosin!” I watched Contenders, the de facto farm league for Overwatch, and had opinions on the best Winston in the league.
I bought mugs. I bought an OWL hoodie. I bought tiny vinyl versions of my mains, Reinhardt and Winston. When the Overwatch League launched “home” and “away” games, I went to see the Washington Justice play at the Anthem. I was an absolute sucker for the #^$&. I was the hypothetical customer they feature in sales decks. Now, I’m sitting here having to google the name of the new character they’re releasing with OW2. It’s apparently Sojourn.
How did they manage to squander such a dedicated fanbase? They’re now sitting on a quote-unquote sequel that I have a strong hunch that the numbers people at Activision-Blizzard would have probably canceled by now if they had a single other even vaguely anticipated title. This wasn’t like a Pokemon Go, or a Wordle, or something else that fills a short vacancy in public consciousness, hitting historic highs and then disappearing. This was a consistent, massively popular game spanning multiple years. It was a game that was only growing in momentum 2 years after release, when it launched its own esports league. A healthy plant doesn’t die from one missed watering.
They did it through a pattern of support that somehow managed to be infuriatingly slow while at the same time lacking any sort of careful thinking. Balance changes and gameplay tweaks would take weeks or months to arrive, and would often only exacerbate pre-existing issues and create new ones when they did finally launch. Not without warning, either. A patch or proposed changes would be hinted at or announced. Almost invariably, the best players, those most knowledgeable about the game, including the pro players to whom Blizzard had constant, unfettered access, should they want to actually USE it, would voice concerns about how they would affect the game. A few weeks later, the changes would hit the live servers and these players’ predictions would become fulfilled prophecies. To watch Blizzard balance Overwatch felt like watching someone spend 2 months slowly walking towards a rake, only to be shocked when they finally stepped on it and got a faceful of pine.
I don’t think that this all came from the development or balance team. In fact I'm pretty sure that had the team been allowed to work in a more protected bubble, we would have seen much more careful maintenance that didn't smack so heavily of financial motivation. It became clear to me, and many others, that updates prioritized, above all, new users. Current and long-time players seemed to be treated not as a faithful base to be rewarded and encouraged, but as conquered resources. Updates that could be turned into splashy previews like new characters or maps took clear precedence over needed maintenance and upkeep.
Never mind the fact that the release of any new character was almost unfailingly a time of horrific balance that would take months to correct. One could convincingly argue as the result of a practice of releasing characters designed to be overkitted and overpowered. To read about new Overwatch updates started to feel like watching someone applying repeated coats of lipstick to a terminally ill pig.
All this is to say, I really wish I was excited for Overwatch 2. Part of the reason for that is that I never really wanted to stop playing Overwatch. Overwatch just became too hard to play. It became a friend that refused to get help, that you had to cut out of your life for your own mental well-being. Nobody wants their favorite game to die, even more so when it fades away slowly without even a clear competitor. There was never an “Overwatch killer.” Valorant was given that title, but anyone who’s played both can attest that they’re deeply different games that I wouldn’t even consider in the same genre.
Articles get written that seem to be confused why Overwatch 2 announcements are met with such widespread apathy, but anyone who stopped playing Overwatch knows exactly why, and it’s because numbers and unrequested PvE missions aside, the features they’re touting ring so depressingly familiar.
They’re adding a new character, which will either be massively overpowered and take over the game, or be weak enough as to be completely inconsequential.
They’re adding new maps and a new game mode, which by definition cannot change the way the game is played for the other 70% of the time.
Finally, they’re adding one massive balance change guaranteed to change the meta: they’re eliminating one of the two tank slots on each team, making the game 5v5 instead of 6v6. This sounds like a brave and future-defining moment, but it’s a transparent facade. I’ve yet to find almost any knowledgeable player who thinks that the moment-to-moment gameplay will be positively affected by the removal of a second tank. But when you know that the tank role is the least popular by far, and is responsible for long queues for Damage or DPS players, your more traditional click-on-heads-get-kills characters, it smells a lot more like Blizzard giving up on making tank rewarding to play and instead hoping to neatly double available tanks so that their semi-shiny new game doesn’t launch with 10+ minute queues.
If the announcement of Overwatch 2 was the “It’ll be different this time, I’ve changed” text, the release of details was the message 10 minutes later asking to borrow money. Most of us stopped responding a long time ago.
Top Image: Blizzard