Or an alternative title: how to crucify yourself on the internet as quickly and cleanly as possible. Much like the “The Problem with: Breath of the Wild” article I put out on here a month or so ago (go read it, it’s great I swear), me taking on Overwatch is a herculean task. It’d be like David and Goliath, if David was wearing lead shoes and Goliath had an infinity +1 sword and the finest team of lawyers in the land. How dare I, some poxy twenty-something with no game design experience, dare to even contemplate criticizing this 40-million player behemoth that every renowned video game review outlet has praised more than northerners praise pies?
Well, here’s the kicker; just like Breath of the Wild, I like Overwatch a whoooole lot. I’ve been a fan of the class / arena shooter since probably the dawn of time, if not before: whether it’s the super old-school Quake Arenas, or the original Class-based shooter Team Fortress 2, in which I’ve invested over 2,500 hours (or roughly 3.5 continuous months for anyone keeping count) and to which I consider Overwatch a spiritual successor. TF2 offers boundless personality and variety (for instance, an Australian man who lives in a campervan dousing you in a jar of his own urine being a viable and genuinely intimidating threat) and compared to say Call of Duty, where the only variety is whether your opponents are 11 or 12 years of age, this is a core part of the appeal.
Overwatch has this in spades. If you are a CoD squeaker, then Soldier:76 is for you, your typical runny-shooty man whose Ultimate is unironically an aimbot and fairly ironically is an emo grandad who would hate CoD squeakers. If you’re like me, a TF2 Soldier veteran, then Pharah is a god-send, taking all the complexity and irritation of complex rocket jumps and flicks and saying “oooor you could just press this button for the same effect.” If you have ramen instead of blood and / or are taking an obscene amount of adderall, then Genji the robot husbando and his preference for jumping around like a gibbon on LSD is going to charm your anime-branded socks off. There’s something for everyone.
But. And just like your Hanzo body-pillow it’s a big but. While all these heroes may hold appeal to a player, to a viewer there’s a definite bias towards the jumpy-shooty men. Reinhardt, and the other tanks more generally, are pivotal to a successful team composition, and feel very rewarding to play, but to watch generally involve a lot of standing about with a shield up. This creates a negative feedback loop; offence heroes get more stream-time and more focus during competitive matches, offence heroes get more popular, more people want to play offence heroes, repeat. Lots of those people are new players also, which drops the average skill level of those characters, and creates a divide between the players who play a lot of different heroes and respect team composition, and the players who want to play the silly roly-poly space cowboy and nothing else.
Interestingly this divide doesn’t really exist in other shooters – partly because their fanbases aren’t enormous, amorphous masses like Overwatch’s but still. For example, one of TF2’s most popular content creators, “Uncle Dane,” is an Engineer main – to do the equivalent in Overwatch and main the mechanical midget Torbjorn would be unthinkable, it’d be like trying to join Mensa with an O-level in P.E. Overwatch content creators – the ones that don’t spend their time theorising whether Genji’s downstairs is a functional Vape pen anyway – quite often feel forced to defend their hero picks, and that’s not a good environment for a “hero shooter” to create. A lot is said of Overwatch’s toxicity – personally I think people are seeing what they want to see and it’s no worse than any other popular multiplayer game, or any MOBA, where even if there were only two players left in the world they’d still be commenting on each other’s mother’s sexual activity – but this particular aspect seems to be a real mounting problem.
The developers at Blizzard, surprisingly, appear to agree with me on this as well. Recent proposed changes to the queueing system would involve a “role queue” – that is, queueing based on which class of hero you want to play. Everyone seems to have VERY strong opinions on this, to the degree I’m getting pre-Brexit vote flashbacks – I personally think it’d maybe solve some issues of team composition but worsen others. For instance, the “meta” of overwatch doesn’t neatly fit into any archetype build – we’ve seen for triple or even quad tank, or dive, to whatever we’re looking at now – and this proposed system would stifle that. Moreover, such a system would only deepen the aforementioned divide; offence players feel persecuted by infinity wait times, tank players get all smarmy and smug for having essentially no wait time at all. It’s a short-term fix that’ll eventually make the underlying problem worse, like getting mauled by a bear and treating it with exclusively stick-on plasters. Ultimately this is a problem only the community can solve – give tank and support mains more focus at the highest level of play; their players more of a voice, and generally emulate the TF2 community in every possible way because it’s perfect.
So there you have it – the problem with Overwatch isn’t Overwatch. Primarily because the developers are hyper-twitchy and immediately patch anything anyone sneezes in the direction of (I for one welcome our new post-patch Symmetra overlords). So remember to check back in on this article, because in a couple weeks I’ll probably patch in some PHD-level analysis and diagrams. And buff D.Va’s DPS again. (Hint: no I won’t.)