The Overwatch Viewing Experience: World of Tanks Edition

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Image credit: /u/Horthic

Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Overwatch and following a lot of pro tournaments. While this blog will mostly be about anime, I’ll probably write the odd post about esports as well. This time, I want to share some thoughts about the viewing experience of Overwatch esports and the current meta.

Competitive Overwatch has always struggled with providing a good viewing experience. To a new viewer, seeing so many projectiles and abilities being spammed everywhere is incredibly confusing and hard to follow. I wanted to write about the current viewing experience a few days after patch 1.5.0.2 hit, but I convinced myself this was just a transition period and it would improve once teams adjusted. Now, one month on, I think we can now agree that it’s the worst it’s been since hero limits were introduced.

Pre-ultimate charge nerf era

Previously, all heroes built ultimates so fast that almost every fight revolved around a combination of ultimates designed to wipe the enemy team. This was more often than not centred around Ana and her Nanoboost or Zarya and her Graviton Surge. As teams were gearing up for a fight, casters would often say things like “Team A has a “big bang” combo available, so they’ll be looking to use that in this fight”, signalling to the viewer what to look out for.

This situation was good for casters, observers, and viewers alike. The predictability of what would be the next “big play”, allowed everyone to focus on a couple of players, making the game much easier to follow. Fights would be decided in a matter of seconds, yet they were dynamic and exciting to watch.

Of course, players weren’t happy with these “ult wars” as it made games very frustrating. Everyone wanted a state that rewarded the mechanical skill of players getting picks without using their ultimates, which often ensured an easy team wipe. That led to the change in ultimate charge time, and the situation we have now.

Be careful what you wish for

The impact of the ultimate charge change was immediate. Fights suddenly became much more drawn out, and it was no longer rare to see teamfights where neither team had a single ultimate available.

However, the viewing experience suffered. Fights were no longer centred around one or two “big plays”, and instead became chaotic messes where casters and observers struggled to follow the action. This was made exponentially worse by the rise of triple and quadruple tank compositions on almost every map, made possible by Ana’s incredible healing output and nerfs to the Nanoboost-based team wipe ultimate combos from the previous patch. This resulted in matches devolving into teams full of unkillable tanks poking at each other around objectives until one team’s Roadhog got a crucial pick needed to push the fight.

At day 1 of MLG Vegas yesterday, triple and quadruple tank compositions made up 96.3% of all compositions played. At IEM Gyeonggi, this number was over 85%. This is what Overwatch has become at the top level.

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MLG Vegas Day 1 Top 10 Team Compositions. Source: Winston’s Lab

It’s time for change

For Overwatch to continue its success as an esport, changes are needed to improve the viewing experience. Montecristo has already provided his thoughts about some sorely needed changes to the observer interface, such as having team-coloured projectiles and so on. There is also an almost catch-22 situation with the different camera modes used to observe. The free camera mode predictably allows for the best view of all the action, but it fails to highlight the mechanical skill of the players. The first-person view is the exact opposite – while we are able to appreciate a player’s skill and accuracy, it’s much harder to get an idea of what’s going on in the rest of the fight. While observers are getting better at managing this, some changes to the interface will help greatly.

But most of all, there has to be changes to the game’s balance. While I agree the ultimate charge nerf was needed from a gameplay perspective, the subsequent rise of unkillable “World of Tanks” compositions is not what anyone wanted. The survivability of tank heroes has to be addressed, beginning with changes to Ana and her healing output. Lucio needs to be revisited and possibly reworked. Some maps should be rebalanced to take into account the nerf to ultimate charge rates, which greatly disadvantages the attacking team (especially 2CP maps). Buffs to some offensive heroes may also have to be considered. A well-executed ultimate combo should be able to wipe the enemy team, and offensive heroes should be able to consistently get picks and not be denied every time by burst healing. This will bring some order back into pro games, and observers and casters can default to focusing on the DPS players that should be the stars of the show at the top level. The flow of the game will improve, and the viewing experience will benefit greatly.

Blizzard is pushing Overwatch esports extremely hard. It’s clear they have big plans for the game. However, these plans will all be for naught if there aren’t changes to improve the flow of the game, and the viewing experience as a whole. I’d hate to see the Overwatch League fail because these issues aren’t addressed before it starts.

Some thoughts about Shinkai’s Your Name

A lot has been said about Your Name recently. Most of it has been praise for Shinkai Makoto, with frequent and perhaps misguided comparisons to Miyazaki that he himself tried to downplay. Despite all the hype and acclaim, I was relatively sceptical of Your Name before I went and saw it. While it’s been hugely successful, it has drawn some criticism from big name industry insiders for being unoriginal and not true to Shinkai’s style. So, were they right? Well, yes and no.

Your Name starts off slow. There is some clumsy exposition, an OP sequence that seems almost like it was an afterthought, and some pacing issues. At this point I was beginning to understand where Egawa Tatsuya was coming from when he said the film “lacks [Makoto Shinkai]’s voice, and it’s just composed of elements that sell.” It seemed uninspired and almost boring, with none of the raw emotion I’ve come to expect from Shinkai’s films. But then, slowly but surely, there is a change. The film begins to find its feet after the first twenty minutes, and Shinkai’s direction really begins to shine.

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Shinkai’s not a newcomer to the scene. His first major project was a solo-produced original short. He then proceeded to write and direct two further short films that were very well received. His first attempt at a full-length mainstream feature was a bit of a disappointment. The Garden of Words, while a solid short film, did not quite mark a return to Shinkai’s best either. Shinkai’s strength has always been films about love and separation. He excels in conveying a crushing sense of loneliness and yearning, a skill honed in Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and perfected in 5 Centimeters Per Second.

In Your Name, Shinkai falls back on what he’s good at. Every one of his signatures is present in this film: gratuitous shots of cloud-filled skies and starry night skies alike, vivid light effects, sweeping 360-degree rotational cuts, and stunning, detailed backgrounds. There’s also the continual shots of trains and train crossings, a common device he uses to convey the physical and emotional distance between characters, and the relentless, never-ending rat race of society around them. The difference is that in this film, these are presented to us in flashes and bursts; he uses them in a much subtler manner to suit the longer running time and the much wider intended audience. The result is quite interesting. This doesn’t feel like a typical Shinkai film through and through, but there’s enough there to convey that sense of separation and longing that he’s known for.

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Part of the reason for this subtler approach is that there’s also a much larger focus on supporting characters and world-building in this film, a departure from Shinkai’s usually very inwardly-focused storytelling. In my opinion, this was one of the great strengths of this film. The supporting characters are very relatable, and bounce off the main pair extremely well. While Taki and Mitsuha are a little one-dimensional to start, their interactions with the supporting cast gives them much needed depth.

The soundtrack, by RADWIMPS, has some great vocal tracks that are used as insert songs in the film. The background instrumentals, however, were mostly lacklustre barring a few tracks. Given the similarity of this film to some of Shinkai’s earlier works, I couldn’t help but wonder what Your Name would’ve been like had it been coupled with a Tenmon score.

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So, is it worthy of the hype? The short answer is yes. The story and script may be somewhat cliché, but where Your Name really shines is in the execution. Unlike Children Who Chase Lost Voices, this film plays to Shinkai’s strengths, and once it starts to ramp up, it just gets better and better. The climax is emotional and inspiring, and the ending bittersweet yet satisfying. And while this is not a typical Shinkai film, his voice undeniably finds its way through.