If the newest kid on the block of the most popular multiplayer games, Overwatch, is to stay relevant as more than a passing fad, if it’s to become an actual eSport as it’s expected to by fans all over the word and big eSports organisations like Cloud9, Team Liquid, Fnatic, or Envy, just to name a few, it needs to have a great Competitive mode that actually makes sense. Fortunately, that looks to be more and more likely with each passing day and each scrap of information released.
Following the breath of fresh air that was Jeff Kaplan’s blue post about what’s coming in Overwatch, covered on DrakeMoon.com, the Game Director made a 12 minute video about Competitive Play in Overwatch, discussing the developers’ thoughts, plans and the model of play in broad strokes that should let us figure out what Competitive Play is going to look like and whether we like it or not.
Following the beta, Jeff Kaplan pointed out, Blizzard received feedback that the Competitive Play mode featured at that time was not “competitive enough”. Players wanted to have a harder experience, with a longer season to both test their skill and play against similarly ranked opponents for a longer period of time. They also wanted to clearly now how skilled they were compared to other players. Based on this feedback, developers went back to the drawing board with the goal of delivering precisely what the players (customers) want. This is completely contrary to the strategy of Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends, which is the game that’s losing the most of it’s playerbase to Overwatch.
The first issue beta players had with Overwatch’s Competitive Play mode was the season length, which used to be 1 month, due to its progression-based focus. It made sense with that mindset, however, players expressed their wish for longer seasons to have time to climb as much as you can, playing good games with opponents of your skill level, instead of having to grind against worse players at the beginning of each month.
Seasons in Competitive Play will last approximately three months, revolving around real seasons in the northern hemisphere (spring, summer, etc.). Players will have around 2,5 months to enjoy the competition with short breaks between seasons, to rest and recharge their batteries.
Another matter the devs paid attention to was the prevalence of sudden death in Competitive Play. While mathematically, it was likely to happen 50% of the time, statistically, it happened in 35% of games, which was still too often in Jeff Kaplan’s opinion. While they like sudden death, the devs believe that it should happen rarely, when the match is extremely close, with both teams being very evenly matched. The Game Director had one more thing to say about this subject – when sudden death does happen, it will be played out on the same map instead of moving to one of the control point maps.
As was said before, the Competitive Play mode was previously based heavily on progression, with ranks, such as Challenger, Advanced, and so on, being the only way to know how good you were. The problem was that once a certain rank was reached, you wouldn’t be able to drop down to a lower rank, so reaching the highest rank was a matter of grinding out games with a winrate of at least 50%. Players didn’t like that system and Overwatch devs listened, changing it accordingly. Now, following your placement matches, you will get told your Skill Rating, which is directly related to your Match Making Rating or MMR. By winning matches, you will gain Skill Rating and lose it by losing. If that wasn’t enough, you will be able to see your enemies’ and teammates’ Skill Rating too. The developers also decided to show which players are grouped together, so that you know if you’re the only solo queue player on your team vs. a team of five with a lone straggler just like yourself. If the matchup isn’t exactly fair, at least you will know about it, which is a very welcome thing. We love the transparency. Let’s just hope it continues.
The final concern addressed in the Developer Update was the matter of Competitive rewards. Jeff Kaplan clearly stated that any boosts available to ranked players will be purely cosmetic, including sprays and player icons, as well as a “very-cool customised golden gun system.” Highest skilled players should be able to unlock everything sooner than everybody else to reward them for their skill. There will also be skill-exclusive cosmetics which will require you to be among the most skilled players to get. All in all, I think it’s the right way to go. People love their cosmetics, proven by the skins in League of Legends, and tying some of them to Skill in Competitive is a great way to encourage Competitive Play while keeping an even playing field.
Once again, the communication between developers is superb, with them actually listening to the feedback of their players and making appropriate changes to deliver what the customer wants. Compared to the recent poopstorm happening in League of Legends, Overwatch is moving in a very good direction. We wouldn’t be surprised if the game kept growing, getting more and more popular as time passes, providing some serious competition for the current kings of eSports – League of Legends, CS:GO, and DotA 2.