Jeff Kaplan on the current state of Overwatch: "Naively, I didn't expect one-tricking to be so dominant"

Today, Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan responded to a post on the official game's forums regarding the popular community sentiment that nobody enjoys playing with 3-4 DPS heroes on the same team.

The posted started by forum user "Fritz" explains why solo healing and tanking "feels HORRIBLE" to play and ends with a declarative prediction of concerning the un-fun state of solo-healing:

"If triple or quad DPS ever becomes the standard meta, you’ll find that no one wants to play Tank or Healer anymore because constantly being focused and flanked without any help isn’t any fun to play."

As the thread began trending, Jeff Kaplan eventually responded, agreeing that 4 DPS teams are a bad idea.  It turns out, Overwatch developers once thought of an enforced hero composition mode called "411" that revealed what players already know by now.

The 411 mode

411 mode limited teams to "1 tank, 1 healer, and the rest DPS." The following is the full post by Jeff Kaplan, detailing why the mode didn't work and was "not fun":

"We actually tried a mode we called “411” because it limited comps to 1 tank, 1 healer and the rest DPS.

It was not fun and we didn’t enjoy it. The way the game is tuned, the importance it placed on the lone tank or lone support was too significant. Also, we’ve all evolved as players since 2016 and we’re much better these days at melting the tank or melting the healer than we used to be. Once your lone tank or healer died, it felt like you were forced to completely regroup with no chance of pulling out a win.

It was a good experiment for us to try and led to a lot of good discussion. But yeah, wasn’t fun…"

With the opinion of Game Director himself agreeing that 4-1-1 comps are anti-fun, the discussion turned to whether or not hero limits is ever a good idea and the viability of enforced 2-2-2 comps.

Speaking for himself


What follows was a surprising confession of naivety from Jeff Kaplan. He continued adding to the discussion, this time admitting that he never expected one-tricking to be so popular within Overwatch.

One-tricking is the habit for players to master one hero and play that hero every match, regardless of team composition or enemy composition. It is well known that Overwatch is balanced around the ability to switch heroes, but a lot of that balance goes out the window when players refuse to swap heroes.

Kaplan freely admits that the current state of the game is at odds with what he and the Overwatch team originally imagined:

"Well, just speaking for myself here, but I expected 1 to 2 tanks and 1 to 2 supports with more variance. I also expected more hero switching. Naively, I didn’t expect “maining” and “one-tricking” to be so dominant.

We imagined a world where players would be ok with Torbjorn on defense but not playing him on attack. The maining/one-trick mindset led to us having to rework those characters to fit with how the game eventually evolved to be played. I guess what I am saying is we hoped to be able to create more highly situational characters with the thought that players would switch in situations where those characters weren’t as viable.

We like the direction things evolved and in hindsight, it seems obvious that they would evolve that way. It’s not that one direction is good or bad… they’re just different directions and we adapted to what the playerbase was doing, rather than fighting against their instincts."

The current state of Overwatch has been in question for months now, with several esports pundits and pro players openly lamenting fundamental issues that make Overwatch a bad gaming experience. Esports consultant, Rod “Slasher” Breslau has been infamously critical of Overwatch balance and, last month, released a definitive guide on how to fix Overwatch in partnership with Inven Global.

While not a definitive admission of current balance problems, these statements offer a unique insight into Kaplan's original vision for Overwatch and how the current state of the game isn't a perfect reflection of that.

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