It’s been a long time coming, but Overwatch players and fans are finally getting their first deep look at what high-level Overwatch 2 play might look like. It’s an important moment for Overwatch 2, and the future of Blizzard in general. Reactions and expectations for the sequel (some would say update) have been mixed, among a player base that has some scars from Blizzard’s past attempts to change and balance the original game. Blizzard also desperately needs a win, with most press attention received by the company as of late being centered around the horrific company culture of sexual harassment that was recently exposed.

In the midst of all this, the return of the Overwatch League has a lot of weight to bear. The first matches of the new season, played on the beta of Overwatch 2, premiered yesterday, May 5. Here are some of my takeaways:

FAN-FAVORITE, SKILL-BASED HEROES ARE BACK

Those with fond memories of Overwatch’s golden age remember jaw-dropping shots from nutty aimers like Pine or Carpe, blink-and-you’ll-miss it teamwipes from top Genjis, and fight-clutching sleep darts from Ana. These heroes, especially Genji, made their presence known immediately. Fans of actual FPS games and not FPMOBAs, rejoice. Silver players, get ready for… well, just as many Genji mains as before, but maybe they’ll have a chance at more impact.

Activision Blizzard

New Genji allows you be disappointed by a teammate's performance, not the pick itself.

SINGLE TANK SEEMS TO BE WORKING

Main tank being my principal role when I’m playing, I was highly concerned that the move to 5v5, and the removal of the off-tank role that came with it, would result in tanks being basically bullied back to spawn on any attempt to engage. So far, this doesn’t seem to be true. Whether it’s from the balance changes made with the adjustment of the role, or the additional focus received from healers having one less target screaming over VC for healing while behind two walls, tanks don’t feel like the water balloons I was afraid they would. It also seems like the loss of one tank has, instead of skyrocketing the reliance on the single tank, ended up making the rest of the team more understanding that they have to be somewhat self-reliant. As a result, especially compared to the static compositions that were the bane of the game for so long, tanks are looking and feeling like they have far more agency, which is great to see.

NATURAL COVER IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER

That leads us into the next takeaway: using natural cover is more important than ever, which is terrible news for low ELOs, where players are usually furious and confused when a tank doesn’t afk shielding next to them so they can miss shots downfield while standing completely still. There was a worry that a move to a single tank would place an overwhelming amount of responsibility on that player, but it seems (at least among intelligent players) to have instead made them more understanding of the limitations of what a tank can do. The use of cover and positioning by the DPS in the league lends more of a Valorant feel to the damage play, which, given that’s the game most of the star DPS quit for, isn’t a bad thing at all.

Activision Blizzard

Your aim is not better than ANS. If he needs cover, you need cover.

THE GAME IS FASTER AND MORE MOBILE

Overwatch 2 is CHAOTIC. In a good way it feels, but it was one of the most shocking differences I noticed on watching the first few matches. Where most of last season started to feel like two groups of kids in treehouses chucking water balloons at each other hoping to score a hit, teams, and heroes, are in constant motion, and taking advantage of pretty much any angle presented to them. Flankers like Tracer and Genji are obviously in constant motion, but even the viewpoints we’re getting of hitscan like Soldier 76 or Ashe are still frequently repositioning. This not only injects a massive amount of energy into the game, but starts to give it a wild feel. Not to be overly optimistic, but the combination of actual FPS skill value combined with impactful, frequent abilities started to hearken back to early Overwatch.

OBSERVERS HAVE THEIR HANDS FULL

Overwatch has never been an easy game to, well, watch. Without a reasonable amount of game knowledge, a lot of the matches and strategies seemed impenetrable. This certainly isn’t a problem unique to Overwatch, though, as it’s not like throwing on Starcraft or DOTA is crystal clear. However, with the game in the past, especially in the later seasons of Overwatch league, the observers, the people in charge of controlling and switching between the in-game cameras during broadcast, pretty much just needed to hang a camera around Orisa’s neck and wait for ultimates to charge. With this new, flank-heavy, spread out Overwatch 2… you could smell the stress sweat leaking into the control board. I’m sure as time goes on, more of a consistent balance will develop, but even for someone who knows generally what’s happening, frequent changes that often jump between disparate areas of the fight make it hard to follow. On the other hand, seeing replays and highlights that include self-created DPS plays instead of ult combos is hugely refreshing.

THE UI NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

I’ll put the caveat that, this being a beta, the UI is likely far from finalized. After all, the UI was one of the most glaring differences between beta and retail OW1. That said, though the clean aesthetics are nice, the team seems to have shrunk and de-emphasized graphical elements like the killfeed, which is far harder to understand in a quick glance than the old, larger killfeed. My biggest gripe is the move of elimination alerts to small pop-ups at the bottom of the screen that not only feel more like achievement pop-ups than kills, but take away a huge amount of the satisfaction of an elimination or chain of kills.

Activision Blizzard

This is the underwhelming screen of someone who just pulled off a fight-turning double pulse bomb kill.

IT SOUNDS GREAT

One thing Overwatch has always been excellent at is sound design. They’ve reworked the sound, which teetered dangerously close to “not broke don’t fix it” territory, but the new sound is terrific. Especially guns like Widowmaker’s sniper rifle and Soldier 76’s assault rifle feel chunkier and more impactful, almost as if the guns themselves are shouting in joy at their return to relevance. Especially as someone who’s more recently been deeply immersed in the realistic, a.k.a. LOUD, gunfire of Escape From Tarkov, the new sound design gives these heroes a less tinny presence on the map. Widow’s new sounds especially feel less sci-fi pew pew and more like an SV-98 pealing from a nearby rooftop, and Soldier 76 feels more Rambo and less Stormtrooper.

YOUTUBE STILL ISN’T A GOOD GAMING PLATFORM

Sorry. I’m sure it was a massive contract but every detail of watching competitive gaming on YouTube feels like a jerry-rigged compromise. The lack of twitch emotes and overall terrible chat experience hurts the community feel you’d want from a large event, and also makes it somehow feel like a different game than what streamers and pros play on Twitch, in a bad way. Not to mention that the broadcast was plagued with stutters and occasional video drops, a problem that I don’t see being fixed now if it hasn’t been in the past few years.

Overall, I had a good time watching the matches, something I can’t say has been true in quite a while. There’s a ton of room to improve in the in-game portions of the broadcast, but that’s something that gives me hope rather than pause, as we’re starting from a fairly watchable floor. I’ll be watching more today and the rest of the weekend, and not just in hopes of a beta drop.

Did you watch the opening matches? Have your own thoughts? Share in the comments.

Top Image: Activision Blizzard

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