I have a theory as to why such a friendly, inclusive game like Overwatch is also home to some seriously angry gamers.
It's just a hunch, but I think there is a group of relatively new gamers that have only recently been introduced to a lifestyle many of us have lived our entire lives. They aren’t seasoned gamers or PC veterans. They have never obsessed over a game as much as they do Overwatch and they only recently been introduced to the concept of taking a competitive game seriously. They are a sizeable chunk of the 35 million people that have fallen in love with Overwatch and, with each day spent playing, their personal commitment and connection towards Overwatch grows.
And I'm afraid many of them have normalized a degree of suffering while playing Overwatch.
- An example
Take a look at this outpour of frustration I found online from a suffering Overwatch player. I'm sure many of you have read many, many rants like this one:
"Losing games in competitive matches- getting metals but losing RP. I do well and cant leave BRONZE because I'm only 1/6 of a team. I can't escape the void which is Bronze. I am stuck with noobs who try Hanso for the first time in a competitive match, Widowmakers who have never seen a point, Lucio running on walls and jumping off a cliff repeatedly, a team player leaving in the middle of a comp match (x2 today). I hated this game then, still loathe it now. I'm 336 lvl and my experience with Overwatch has left a bitter taste in my mouth."
For a long time now, I've been trying to understand this level of frustration I encounter almost every day when I play Overwatch or visit its online communities. Anyone who has spent even a moderate amount of time on the official Overwatch forums, the dozens of Overwatch themed Facebook groups or, of course, the Overwatch subReddit, has probably noticed the same trend in player desperation.
What else to call it but a massive cry for help? Loads of regular people expressing anger and resentment towards their fellow gamer and no real explanation why. I don't think it's normal that a game people love should cause them so much anxiety and stress and I believe this happens because of players inability to properly assess what role Overwatch actually plays in their life. That, and they have no idea how to lose.
These players are trapped in a limbo of sorts. Overwatch is simultaneously a fun way for them to enjoy FPS gameplay, but also a tool for gaming affirmation and personal esteem. In this way, Overwatch becomes, not just a game, but an irresistible temptation that promises a good time, but routinely sours moods and ruins peoples day.
- How to spot the suffering Overwatch player:
You’d think the all of this negativity would cause people to stop playing the game, but Overwatch is too fun, too massive, and too ingrained in the current gaming ecosystem to put it down forever. Instead, many of these players send their frustrations outwards, looking for some answers as to why their favorite game tilts them so intensely and so often.
"In other words, Overwatch isn’t causing its players to suffer. They are doing it to themselves."
Symptoms of a suffer Overwatch play may include...
- Screenshotting their gold medals and posting them alongside paragraphs explaining how bad their teammates are and how they unjustly stuck at their current rank.
- Wielding meta-knowledge like a club, bashing other players hero choices and scoffing at any possible deviation.
- Emotionally distancing themselves from losses by blaming “literally” every possible factor other than their personal positioning, aim, and game sense.
- The view that winning is the result of “people doing their damn job” and losing is the result of “selfish idiots who won’t touch the payload”.
- The personal characterization of the various roles in Overwatch. DPS players are greedy and immature, Supports players need to be carried, Tank players are suicidal and anyone picking an off-meta hero is a selfish idiot. To them, each game of Overwatch is either an opportunity to lose all faith in humanity or witness a miracle of human cooperation.
The suffering Overwatch player loathes quick match because “no one takes it seriously” while also despising competitive play because “no one takes it seriously.” There is a palpable me-against-the-world mentality that convinces them winning is less about mastery of Overwatch gameplay and more adhering to a list of rules that supposedly result in social cohesion.
Does this sound like you? Does it sound like someone you know? Symptoms may be different from case to case, but the result is usually the same: the game they love is making them miserable.
- Some good news and some bad news.
The good news for these suffering gamers is that Overwatch is a great game and they can, once again, enjoy playing it without getting tilted out of their mind. The bad news is, it is going to take some potentially difficult self-reflection.
In other words, Overwatch isn’t causing its players to suffer. They are doing it to themselves. For a moment, I want to talk directly to those players reading this who find themselves suffering while playing Overwatch.
First, a question: Is your love of Overwatch stronger than your dislike of losing?
I think at one point, the overwhelming majority of us would have answered yes to this question. The feeling of exploration and infinite potential for fun made every game of Overwatch a worthwhile experience, even if we lost at the end of it. We all fell in love with the heroes of Overwatch and, as we curiously explored each of them, each gravitated towards certain things we individually thought was super fun.
Was it the first time you flew into the air as Pharah? Maybe it was the moment you realized you could create a room of death as Symmetra. For me, it was the moment I melted an unsuspecting enemy tank because I found a sneaky place to set up as Bastion. From there, I realized how much I enjoy flanking, so I started playing as heroes like Reaper and Tracer.
Try and go back to that moment and use it as a starting off point -- what made you fall in love with this game? I have a feeling, for most players, it was more than just winning.
- Winning is nice, but it shouldn't be everything
Unless you are currently playing in the Overwatch League or competing in tournaments preparing for your future as a competitive player, winning in Overwatch isn't really that important. Sure, it feels good to climb the ranks and get loot boxes but ask your self: why is that so important?
Do you play competitive Overwatch because you enjoy the experience of high-level gameplay, or has winning become attached to femotional actors outside of the game?
Has winning become...
The means in which you find your competitive validity or place in the gaming community?
The only way your investment and time spent in Overwatch ever seem “worth it?"
The only evidence of your personal growth as a player?
A source of pride or bragging rights in your social network or friend group?
A way to separating yourself from the “bronze baddies” you really don't want to be associated with?
If you the answer to any of these questions is yes, I urge you to reassess whether the pursuit of victory is actually something that is making you enjoy your time playing Overwatch. You might be using Overwatch as a tool to prop up real aspects of your personality and life that cause you stress or uncertainty.
- The happiest pros
As an esports journalist, something I've always loved about professional players is how much fun they have when they aren't playing for money or in a serious tournament setting. These players, perhaps more so than the average gamer, are keenly aware of when winning "actually" matters and when it really doesn't.
In my experience across all different esports, the happiest pro-gamers are the ones who are able to find value in losing and maintain their enjoyment of obtaining mastery over their game. In this way, winning becomes merely the result of an already pleasurable process and the happy pro is able to maintain their love of the game and urge to compete.
This isn't to say that winning shouldn't be desired above all else, but more of a reminder that losing is an inevitable and crucial process of becoming a player that wins more often. It's a lot easier said than done, but losing shouldn't be something that brings a surge of anxiety and anger. A play session of Overwatch filled with losses isn't a waste of time -- it's literally part of the game.
You shouldn't fear a loss because you think it represents a failure. In fact, losing with grace after giving it your all is the only real way to improve as a player. I recently interviewed CWoosH, a player from one of the most losings teams in the Overwatch League, Florida Mayhem, and his take on losing was profound.
This is someone who has actual, real-world reasons to hate losing and yet, he still acknowledges its importance:
"I think losing in general sucks, right? Everyone can agree on that. But it all depends on how you lose -- there is the good way of losing and then there is the horrible way of losing. The good way of losing is, you walk up on stage, you go into game, and you give it all. You follow the plan, you execute, you play at the highest level and you try your best.
You leave the stage with no regrets, even if you lose. In week 4 when we played our absolute lowest -- nothing was clicking, nothing was working -- we had some really rough losses there. We didn't feel like we tried our best, we didn't feel like we clicked, we didn't feel like we followed the game plan. People didn't feel like they gave it their all: those losses are the worst and you feel really bad about it."
Can you imagine if every suffering Overwatch player had this mentality? Why should you feel bad about losing if you truly gave it you're all? What else could you have done?
You see these sentiments in truly non-toxic players. After a loss, they say "GG" or something along the lines of "nice try". They seem keenly aware that losing isn't the worst thing in the world as long as they sincerely gave it their all.
But suffering Overwatch players fear the loss so badly, they often give up halfway through in an attempt to distance themselves from the personal hell losing represents. The moment they sense the loss happening, they immediately lash out in anger and frustration and the game isn't even over yet. In the most extreme examples, even the Hero selection screen can cause these suffering players to feel all the anxiety of a loss at the mere sight of a hero they worry might hinder their chances of winning.
"Suffering Overwatch players need to focus on what it feels like to actually play the game and less about the victory or defeat screen."
When you break it down, you start to realize that whatever love of Overwatch these players still have is being completely smothered by their inability to cope with losing. To them, losing is a direct blow to their ego and nothing is worse than trying your hardest and still losing. It is the exact opposite mentality the professionals have and, as a result, Overwatch becomes a mostly negative experience in their lives.
After all, if the game is designed to set all players at a 50% win rate, and it's understood that the majority of humans are affected by negative emotions more intensely than positive ones, you can safely deduce the real reason why some players are so tilted all the time is that they simply don't know how to cope with losing.
- How to stop hating Overwatch
Winning is not the point of any video game. The point is trying your very hardest in an attempt to win the video game. That is where the personal satisfaction of winning comes from and, conveniently, it's also the best way to shield yourself from the sting of defeat.
Suffering Overwatch players need to focus on what it feels like to actually play the game their very hardest and less about the victory or defeat screen. It's vital for these players to reflect on their own time playing Overwatch. They should ask themselves: "am I truly trying my hardest to win or am I just chasing the good feeling of winning?"
Depending on that answer, losses become less agonizing. After all, competitive gaming exists to give players an opportunity to push themselves to their limits, not so everyone can achieve grandmaster or rage trying. If you are trying your best to improve and play hard you can relax: you've done everything in your power.
It is easy to forget, but there are still hundreds, if not thousands of things players can learn, explore, and discover about Overwatch, the game we all love. If you can't find enjoyment in that process you should take a step back from competitive gaming for your own sake. Love of the game is, quite literally, the only thing that makes any of the grind worth it.
In other words, what is the point of reaching a high rank if you didn't enjoy the journey getting there? Only some have a job that demands we win at Overwatch. They get paid a lot and enjoy a certain lifestyle because of this stress.
For the rest of us, Overwatch really is still a game and there is no reason it should cause us to suffer.
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.