At long last, Jeff Kaplan from the Overwatch team delivered our first developer update of 2020. The video comes on the heels of a rumor that the team would be implementing a hero ban feature that some fans believe would help to keep the game’s meta fresh and empower players to adjust the game’s competitive balance in between major patches.
Kaplan himself took to the official Battle.net forum last week to debunk the rumor with a long, and uniquely (and refreshingly) transparent explanation of how he and the team approach game balance. He also teased last week’s developer update video.
Overwatch’s two biggest challenges
At the top of the update, Jeff summarized the two most common questions he feels like he sees directed at the team, noting that this is just his anecdotal experience rather than a “scientific” assessment.
First, he says, players want to know the team’s philosophy on balancing the game and whether the game could be corrected more frequently or better.
Second, they receive a ton of feedback regarding the game’s meta, what heroes seem viable, and which of them seem useless at any given moment. “What could the Overwatch team do to make sure the meta was moving along more fluidly and more frequently?” he says.
Since the game launched in 2016, the competitive scene has been dominated by a handful of different metagames that heavily favor certain heroes and discourage experimentation with others.
For a game whose central draws include its diverse cast of playable characters, stale metas are detrimental to its fun and competitive appeal, but Blizzard has historically moved at a very conservative pace when addressing the concern.
To ban or not to ban
Fans have proposed innumerous changes they believe would make for a more dynamic metagame for Overwatch, including the role-locking system that was introduced to the game last fall, which limits teams to a composition of two DPS, two support, and two tank characters in Quickplay and Competitive game modes.
One of the most frequently discussed–and most polarizing–suggestion has been a hero ban system that would allow players to lock out certain heroes from playable rosters on a game-to-game basis.
Proponents of the suggestion argue this system would allow players to shake up stale metas by removing dominant or overpowered heroes from their matches in between official Blizzard updates.
Hero pools and going off the deep end
In lieu of a hero ban system, Kaplan explained the team’s plans for weekly hero “pools” that’ll be introduced exclusively to the game’s Competitive game mode.
Instead of allowing players to choose their own heroes to ban, Blizzard will take charge by selectively removing heroes from the roster for one week at a time, giving each new week its own unique meta and forcing players to adjust their tactics regularly. In theory.
Its a system that’s making “one-trick” players who mainline single heroes nervous as it’ll necessitate their either branching out into new characters or skipping entire weeks of competitive play each season.
Even the more open-minded gamer who are excited about the system are worrying that, because the change is a bizarre compromise between developer and player control, the end result will be frustrating at best.
The system will also impact the Overwatch League, who provided additional details about how hero pools will work in a blog post, when it kicks off this weekend.
While league players seem to be cautiously optimistic, time will tell if hero pools will make a splash with viewers and players.
Experimenting and Overwatch’s future
The developer update also details an upcoming experimental game mode that’ll be accessible to all players on the live release of the game.
This game mode will allow PC and console players alike to try out new patches, heroes, and/or maps prior to their introduction to standard Quickplay and Competitive modes. Its akin to the public test realm, but without the drawbacks of PC-exclusivity and maintaining a completely separate game install for experimental players.
Jeff also teased that players in the near future will be able to sort and filter their in-game player icons, which we all know is the really exciting nugget of news in this update.
Buried the lede there, didn’t ya, Jeff?
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