“Overwatch is dead”
It’s something we hear often about many multiplayer games that are seen as jaded or past their prime, and often it’s untrue. While it may be currently untrue in the case of Overwatch, I think the game is on its way to becoming worthy of that statement. The game has a wealth of known balance problems that are frustrating for players and causing even professional players to quit en masse. And the worst part? I don’t think Blizzard can fix it.
Let me start by explaining some of the issues plaguing the game right now (though not all of them, I don’t want this article to be 10 pages long!). Overwatch is a game based on counterplay, and what that means is that every character is stronger against certain characters, and as such is also weaker against certain others. For example: if I’m playing Reinhardt, I can counter an enemy Bastion by using my charge ability to slam him into a wall since he has low to no mobility and can’t easily dodge my charge, but my Reinhardt can also be countered by a Roadhog who could hook me out of my charge and kill me with his scattershot.
If you were skilled enough, you could play any hero in the game and do well
Here’s where the problem comes in: at launch, this counterplay was prevalent, but none of the characters had hard counters, meaning that the Bastion could melt me with his turret form while I’m charging and don’t have my shield up, so he can defend himself. If you were skilled enough, you could play any hero in the game and do well; none of the characters cancelled out the others. Until Blizzard began adding new heroes.
Characters like Brigitte and Doomfist are problematic because they are effective hard counters. If I’m playing a Brigitte then I can use her stun ability to easily kill an enemy Tracer, and make myself invulnerable to her attacks with my shield, making it so that if the enemy team picks Tracer, they’re at a huge disadvantage no matter how good that Tracer is.
A whole host of issues spawn from this; if the enemy team is playing Brigitte in a competitive game, I can’t play Tracer or I’m seen as a thrower because Tracer has become useless in that situation, leading to my team throwing abuse at me and furthering the game’s known toxicity problems, and that’s just one example. Problems like this have led to a single composition meta, where you have to play the same six heroes every single time or you’ll likely lose the game. And this means that losing games is more frustrating than disappointing, and winning only feels like a relief, not a rush.
Overwatch was once a fantastic game, so much so that I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into it since its release in 2016, and it could reach those heights again if Blizzard decided to stop focusing on new content and instead focus on balancing the content already in the game, and that is exactly where I am sympathetic to their situation.
Live service games like Overwatch live and die by their content updates.
I imagine that Blizzard could easily put a pause on all new heroes, maps, skins and events, and instead focus on reworking the broken heroes and eliminating hard counters, and that would surely make many hardcore fans ecstatic, leading to more enjoyable high-level gameplay and more exhilarating Overwatch League matches. But making one group happy means losing another.
Live service games like Overwatch live and die by their content updates. If Blizzard stops adding content to the game, casual players will stop having a reason to come back every month, and their player numbers will start to dwindle. So what are their other options? They could keep on going as they are, dedicating more resources to appease casual players who enjoy new content, while continuing to lose their most dedicated fanbase; or they could reset the clock and remove the content that broke the game in the first place, returning Overwatch to the glory days, long-time fans rejoice!
Except they can’t. Players have invested time and money to unlock new skins and emotes for heroes like Ashe and Baptiste, and if Blizzard decided to remove all that content, even if they recouped those monetary investments to players, the uproar would be monumental. I mean, I would be mad as well if I had spent countless hours grinding out loot boxes for that awesome legendary skin, only to have my favourite new character who that skin belongs to removed from the game. I would probably stop playing altogether.
So here we are, Blizzard have dug themselves in a hole with no way out, and they refuse to let go of the shovel. Overwatch might one day return to how it used to be, but I doubt it. I look back to how the game was when I picked it up back in 2016 and I miss the fun I had. I remember how winning was a joy and how I could take losses on the chin and move on, but now those losses make me feel like I’ve been cheated. The only way I could see that enjoyment coming back is with a fresh start, and a fresh title: Overwatch 2.