the state of overwatch
Blizzard Entertainment is a tier-1 software developer, known for hits like Diablo, World of Warcraft, and Starcraft. They've come to fame in fantasy MMORPGs (Mass Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) and continued success by developing a First Person Shooter (FPS) named Overwatch. Beyond a team-based shooter Blizzard delivered an entire world through characters, comics, animated shorts and graphic novels. It doesn't even have a campaign mode!
What made the game special for me came down to what I like to call 'forced cooperation.' In your standard competitive mode where players build their own personal SR ranking on a bronze to grandmaster/top 500 scale through 6v6 player matches. In a catalog of 29 characters each has their own unique skillset and play-type designation. Heavy characters, 'Tanks', operate as meat shields and the foundation of the frontline. Attack characters, commonly called 'DPS (Damage-per-second)', provide the main source of slaughter for any team composition. Backing up the entire crew is your support system. Every character in the support designation offers healing and/or shield protection to maintain your squad's composure.
Collaboration and cooperation between teammates isn't suggested, it's required. Six slots are available to construct a composition capable of sustaining long enough to expunge damage onto the other team, carefully building characters' ultimate abilities to unleash momentous, game-swaying moves. Though, it takes more than just doing it to do it, you know? Some players rely on technical skill, others play in tandem with their compadres to stay efficient. It's a flawed system at best.
Taking a look at some recent Game Developer's Choice Awards winners, Overwatch stands alone. In fact, Overwatch is the only PVP (player vs. player) centric title elected GOTY in the history of the ceremony itself. Every year since the awards birth in 2000, where Sims was crowned top dog, Game-of-the-Years were story-driven, campaign-focused titles. In 2016, Overwatch breaks trend and turns humans into heroes.
But I'm not here to talk about the story of Overwatch. I'm here to talk about how the state of the 'meta' continues to evolve. The 'meta' is usually defined by team make-ups used by professional players in OWL (Overwatch League.) Team compositions echoes through Youtube gaming communities via channels that digest and analyze professional gameplay and relay to their audience, quite often gamers themselves.
After two years living in the community, you begin to notice more and more flaws in the game and the intention of the developers. Particularly how hero reworks and new characters subsequently influence the meta composition and define the 'realm of possibility' within competitive Overwatch. Every 4 months since the game's release, Blizzard Development team releases a new character into the catalog of heroes already available to players. Currently at 29, most recent additions include a hamster in a wrecking ball (tank) and a rifling, dynamite-wielding Bonnie & Clyde-eqsue DPS character named Ashe. Motifs to each character lie within the core of Blizzard's development team. Most likely determined by internal frameworks of community-based problem solving systems.
Blizzard works hard to progress their property based on what their audience is vocal about. Ana and Moira were introduced to increase support variety and Orisa came in to solve an absence of rival to Reinhardt. But until recently, life in Overwatch was monotonous. Until Brigitte was introduced.
The youngest daughter of other Overwatch hero Torbjorn, Brigitte was supposed to be the cure-all for dive compositions. OWL had been littered with teams running highly-mobile, highly aggressive compositions that left no room for mistake. They dominated the professional sphere and cursed casual competitive for months. A support character who could stun players out of abilities and ultimates, squash squishy DPS in an instant, deliver fairly consistent healing AND add armor on top of it all - a tank in a support's body. She was nicknamed the dive-killer and that rang true well into the seasons following her introduction.
But as new formations arose to counter this hero, another hero was introduced, Ashe. While I was eagerly waiting to play her I stopped and thought about how the meta might be changing, where professional play might go and all the other possibilities of what a piece of content can influence.
It brought me to a thought that really shook me - Does it even matter?
Overwatch was built around teamwork. A network of heroes fighting evil for the cause of good. Working together in synergy and passion to achieve a common goal. This mission lives in both sides of the Overwatch world, virtual and reality.
Look at how Blizzard interacts with its community. Developer updates that key in on the WHATs, WHYs, and WHENs related to new and exciting content. Software updates to the game on a regular basis to improve bugs and glitches, found by community members, made vocal by community members. On top of it all, HVC. That stands for High-Value-Content.
From what I can tell, the Development team doesn't keep an arsenal of characters at ready to push out whenever their player-base dips. Releases are on a consistent schedule, yes, but when you take a closer look at what's being added, there is clear thought and detail in every nook and cranny. Characters are added to balance the meta and encourage composition experimentation. Blizzard wouldn't want to maintain a game where those who play feel inclined or pressured to play a specific character. Instead, at every instant possible, they make an effort to solve problems brought to light by the community and fix them immediately.
Blizzard clearly knows what they're doing. They didn't create an entity that would inevitably die out in a few years, they created a foundational product they could build and develop on for years to come. With Overwatch League exploding into the public sector and e-sports revolutionizing cultural entertainment, I have a feeling we are just seeing the mushroom cloud for what's to come.
By Jake George