Overwatch became a phenomenon upon its release in May, overshadowing its main competition of Battleborn (which may never recover). Blizzard’s team FPS continues to rank highly among gaming sites, has reached 15 million players as of August, and maintains a rabid fan base. With such an acclaimed game, it’s shocking to see the negative reaction to one of the most anticipated aspects of the game: Competitive Play.
With the amount of fanfare and large player base, Overwatch was poised to be a great addition to eSports. Unfortunately, Season 1 and the Skill Ranking system faced many complaints; concern was large enough that Jeff Kaplan, gaming director, addressed the complaints directly in his developer update. The Ranking system was misinterpreted by most, causing players to perceive their score as horrible and become disenchanted from competitive. The win-loss effect on scores was unequal, with losses causing 2-3 times the change a win did and created downward spirals as people were ranked (and matched) lower down the ladder. These problems were in addition to a “Skill” Ranking that had little to do with actual skill, as the individual was judged by the competence of their team rather than their own merits.
Players waited patiently to see what Season 2 promised, understanding that the game was still growing and changing with each iteration. When Kaplan released his update, many praised the changes. From removal of the “Sudden Death” tie-breakers to the Tier system for Skill Ranking, fans were optimistic. Within weeks, however, the complaints returned; it appeared that most of the changes were minor or window-dressing, and the core problems remained. Blizzard’s Competitive Play forums are littered with posts by disappointed players who demand changes or are simply quitting.
The problem is that Blizzard has created a system wherein the individual is ranked by their team. To translate this into real sports, that would be like ranking a single baseball player solely on how well their team does that season. Little concern would be given to innings pitched, batting average, runs scored, etc.; where they were placed in the league (including whether they were in the minors, fired from the league, etc.) would primarily depend on the win-loss record of whatever team they were put on. “Sorry, Ryan Zimmerman, but the Nationals sucked with a 59-103 record. We don’t care about your multiple streaks, batting average, awards, All-Star, etc. We’re putting you in the minors, and if they lose you’re going back to independent leagues.”
Now, in real sports (and eSports), most professional players have steady teams. Yet, Overwatch is sold and billed as a game for individuals to pick up and join in, just like most Blizzard products. Sure, if you want to compete in professional competitive matches you’ll need a regular team but for the average customer, they’re going to log in and join as a free agent. What does that mean for the teams players join? Those teams are random and change every single game.
Imagine heading down to your local baseball court and playing with whoever is down there at the time. Except, suddenly there’s someone with a pad watching you and giving you scores depending on whether you won or lost the pick-up game. Worse, those scores will tell you who you’re allowed to be matched with on future pick-up games. Get a bad team and lose? Well, next time you’re only allowed to play with the awful players.
This situation is where Competitive Play has apparently failed: the lack of consideration for solo or “pick-up” players, which constitute the majority of Overwatch‘s player base. Looking through Blizzard’s forums, there is a rising demand for a system that caters to your average player. Whether it’s changing the ranking system (so it’s based more on actual skill rather than your luck in finding a good team), reducing the disparity between win and loss changes (so you don’t need a 75% W-L record to not fall in rank), or changing the matchmaking system (so pick-up groups don’t face pre-made teams), something needs to be fixed. Unfortunately, Blizzard has remained relatively silent as this Season continues and players are growing worried.
Will Blizzard take to heart the demand for Competitive Play considers the majority of their player base? Or will they (like some forum posters) claim that Competitive Play is intended for pre-made teams only? Are solo players relegated to Quick Play, which has its own complaints because of its lack of stipulations and poor matchmaking?
Blizzard’s Overwatch fans are a dedicated group, but the question remains on how loyal they’ll remain if the game design doesn’t change. If the game loses interest, then Overwatch‘s place on the eSports roster could be at risk. Blizzard needs to heed the call of their players lest they lose their momentum and their FPS ends up in the same bin as their questionable MOBA.