My fellow Overwatchers, it’s hard to believe that we’ve been playing this game for an entire year. Feels like just a few months ago we were logging in for the first time, becoming lost in the maps, and immediately being sniped by someone who’d been playing since Closed Beta. Now, here we are, just moments from the 1st Anniversary of Blizzard’s award-winning first-person shooter.
Overwatch has had its ups and downs (although mostly up) and it’s been a wild ride. Nerfs and buffs, changes to Competitive Mode, new characters and maps, plus all the comics, shorts, and lore that continue to entice us. I think now is the time to reflect on all that has come before and what has been accomplished.
Competitive Mode – What are you doing?
Blizzard’s foray into stricter, competitive play has probably been the most controversial. Previously, playing with others was all done for fun, but now we had ways to compare ourselves to each other and strive for higher ranks. Sadly, the first problems showed soon enough when it came to determining “skill ratings” and how hard it was to climb.
Season 1 was a mess, with a ranking system that seemed to have nothing to do with “skill” and everything to do with how coordinated your team was. Leavers only exacerbated the situation, as their actions would warrant a loss for all their teammates, despite none of that being their fault. Worse, Blizzard seemed to require a 75%-win rate to remain at your current rank; given that many competitive players group up randomly, even a “lucky” 50% win-loss rate would be “awarded” with a downward spiral into ELO Hell.
Later seasons claimed to fix these problems, yet the “fixes” never addressed any of the problems above. Season 2 just changed the ranking scale and added tiers, while doing nothing for the win-loss problem, use of that ratio to determine “skill rating,” or leaver penalties. Season 3 simply dumbed everyone’s rankings down while Season 4 only addressed people at the extremes. Not once did Blizzard address the complaints of the players, particularly those who join random groups.
I guess we’ll see how (or whether) they fix things over the next year. For now, Competitive seems to serve only pre-made teams or the truly masochistic best. Given recent questions about their business practices, even the former group might not stick around.
Social Controls – Can we get some help with this toxic environment?
When Overwatch came out, Blizzard included all the usual controls necessary for modern online environments. Profanity filters, blocking/muting players, etc. allowed us to play without dealing with the vitriol we usually see or hear. Best of all was the “Avoid Player” system which granted the piece of mind you wouldn’t have to deal with that troll (or just plain crappy player) in the future.
And then Blizzard got rid of that function.
According to them, the “Avoid Player” system was interfering with matchmaking. People would block talented players simply because they were good (rather than toxic), and Blizzard thought that was unfair. Now, it doesn’t matter how many times some auto-lock Hanzo, who couldn’t hit a Bastion in Sentry mode, trolls your team into endless losses and shouts slurs about your mother, your race, or your sexuality; you could still end up being grouped with them in any future game.
I would love to see a return, or at least version, of the “Avoid Player” figure. I’d rather play with people I know can play (and not troll) than re-queue only to end up with the same hateful, malevolent gamer.
New Characters – How diverse can we be?
Now, before readers think this annual review of Overwatch is nothing but negative, let’s reassure everyone: Overwatch is amazing. The lore, setting, characters, graphics, gameplay, etc. have sent out a siren call to even the most casual player. Even this author, who hates most FPSs (partly because he sucks at them), has the time of his life when he logs in. Part of that is the amazing cast we can choose from, and Blizzard has brought us new, and diverse, characters this past year.
Ana was released only a couple of months after the game opened to the public. She filled in several blanks about Overwatch, Egypt, and Pharah, and ended up being one of the most popular healers. Sombra came out toward the end of the year, after a massive alternate reality game campaign full of teasers. Although a fun character, she hasn’t seen the popularity of the others due to her difficulty and limited use. Finally, we were led astray by rumors of Doomfist and instead greeted by a brand new character, never hinted at before: Orisa. Despite the dismay (where’s our Terry Crews?!), Orisa has proven to be an effective tank with her own amazing moves.
What made this year of characters stand apart was Blizzard’s devotion to representation. Three characters, all female (or at least with women voice actors), from three non-European countries: Egypt, Mexico, and the fictional African city of Numbani. Even better, Orisa was designed by an 11-year-old child! Blizzard proves that people will accept diversity in games and fiction if you just give them a chance.
New Maps – Bringing the world to us
Overwatch’s maps were already beautiful and global to start. From China to Greece, Numbani to Mexico, we visited many continents and countries. Blizzard wasn’t done there, as they brought us to unfamiliar places steeped in the art and culture they represented.
Eichenwalde was the first, allowing us to march through a historic German village tied to Reinhardt and the Omnic wars. A favorite full of side passages and ambush points, this is probably my favorite. The end of the year took us to Antarctica, which was a bit disappointing as it was only an “Arena Map”. I would have loved to battle other teams across the frozen wastes and blizzards, rather than a small outpost. Luckily, the new year, Blizzard outdid themselves with Oasis, a fantastic blend of high tech and Middle Eastern design. Three different stages, as most Control maps are, I still enjoy stopping and checking out the scenery (even if I’m ganked while I do so).
New Modes – Never a dull day
Overwatch could have slipped by only having its primary maps and modes: assault, control, and escort. Luckily for us, the designers knew that would be boring and decided to provide us with plenty to keep us going. From special events to arcade variants, there’s something new to try whenever you log in.
Celebratory seasons brought us more than new modes, but also skins, emotes, and voice lines. Ironically, the first “seasonal event” wasn’t about a holiday but instead a global competition: the 2016 Olympic Games. We had a ball (no pun intended) with Lúcioball and threw on our best athletic gear. Halloween followed with the fantastic Junkenstein’s Revenge, the first cooperative map, and some of the best skins ever. The world celebrated many holidays with the Winter Wonderland and Mei’s Snowball Offensive followed less than a month afterward by the Year of the Rooster and Capture the Flag. We only just ended the historical Uprising event, so who knows what’s next?
In addition to the seasonal events, let’s not forget the start of games with special rules and restrictions, known as Brawls. Rotated on a weekly basis, they were eventually turned into a game for Arcade Mode. Now you could play any of the Brawls (on a random basis) or choose numerous other modes. My favorite? Mystery Heroes, which allows you to try out characters you’ve never had without being yelled at by your team.
Overwatch’s Anniversary is a significant milestone, as the game has retained its place as one of the top games out there. In addition to the players, this team-based FPS has drawn a strong following and fandom, from artwork to cosplay. Given the addition of several characters and maps, plenty of new modes, and changes to game mechanics I can only imagine what the next year will hold.
Now if only they’d do something about competitive. Oh, and give us subtitles!
We love you, Overwatch, even with your flaws. Happy Anniversary and keep up the good work!
Remember: Heroes never die!