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 126.96.36.199 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.
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.