- "The State of Overwatch"
- Solo Queue, Role Queue, and Scoreboards, Oh My!
- Examining Two Years of Slow-to-React Hero Balancing
- Assault, the Proverbial Thorn in Overwatch's Side
- Where Do We Go From Here?
The name Rod “Slasher” Breslau is ubiquitous within esports. The journalist, broadcaster, and all-around pundit is one of those guys who can recite the history of every other esport at the drop of a hat and who has a hand in just as many games. Overwatch is, of course, one such title, but his involvement with Blizzard’s hero-based first-person shooter is especially personal.
In the two years since the game launched, Slasher has garnered a reputation for his outspoken, unabashedly critical commentary on the title, and although said reputation is well-deserved, the pundit wanted to make one thing clear before we dived into our interview about what ails Overwatch:
“My opinions of the game and my thoughts overall, my concerns and my critiques, usually come from not just an overall larger esports perspective of my expertise in the industry, but as a player, as someone who plays the game a lot and understands it at a high level.”
"Game balance doesn’t have to be drama, right?
It’s not a scandal..."
But, as has been made clear, his personal affinity for the title does not spare it his judgment or criticism. In fact, the ongoing wave of discussion, debate, and open dissatisfaction prompted by Brandon “Seagull” Larned’s “The State of Overwatch” video is right up his alley.
In fact, the 21-minute long video detailing the former pro player’s frustration with and disappointment in Overwatch is exactly the sort of thing Slasher wants to see more of. It is the sort of public, constructive, high-profile feedback he expects to -- and has since seen -- prompt community acknowledgment from developers and corresponding in-game change in a way that private conversations and wait-and-see attitudes cannot.
“Blizzard would rather you talk to them in private, but for me, as someone who has grown up in this industry...and seen kinda how things get done, from everything from esports to video games to the national, political, or cultural stage-- if you have a strong, public social media movement, you get shit done,” said Slasher.
The State of Overwatch
“I don’t think there’s any coincidence that after Seagull’s videos and my tweets and Jayne’s stream, [and] a bunch of different discussions between community members, did Blizzard make an update and specifically say ‘we are looking to tone down crowd control and stuns in the game,’” he said.
“Not to mention, nerf Brig and Doomfist on the PTR. It was like three days later. I’m sure it was in the works before, of course, right? They’ve been working on it for a while and it was probably good timing, but I don’t think it’s so coincidental that it just happened to be there now."
It’s not a far-fetched conclusion: Seagull’s video sparked a wildfire in the community that has yet to be extinguished. In the aftermath, the Overwatch subreddits have frog-leaped from a number of different issues, focusing first on the game’s oppressive crowd control mechanics and then on its lack of a scoreboard and now, most recently, on Mercy’s deficiencies and a possible hero ban system.
But while those issues (and others) may be both admirable and legitimate,Slasher argues that the Overwatch community is better off rallying around only a select few problems at a time.
“This is what I tell pro players: if everyone wants to be able to get something done, everyone cannot be yelling about everything. The community has to pick a very few list of things that we should all rally behind, that we all generally agree would be beneficial for the betterment of competitive Overwatch and the game, and those are the things that we should hammer home,” he said. “If you don’t do that and you start just talking and rambling about a bunch of different stuff, then it’s just a lot of noise for Blizzard to sift through and to consider.”
The esports pundit proposes two initial avenues for improvement: (a) what the overall community most wants and (b) what he thinks will have the most profound effect on the game. The former, it may come as little surprise, is the implementation of separate solo and/or duo queues for ranked play.
Solo Queue, Role Queue, and ScoreboardsOh My!
Players have asked for a separate solo and/or duo queue feature since Overwatch’s launch, but developers have remained resistant to the idea, with lead game designer Jeff Kaplan opposing solo queue on the grounds that it undermines the game’s social-play foundation.
“The way that Jeff looks at online play for Overwatch hasn’t really changed through the entire history of the game. Him always wanting you to be able to play with your friends, which means there is no solo queue, has existed from the start and still [does] today. He’s made that answer in, like, BlizzCon panels in terms of that’s how he wants to view [ranked],” said Slasher.
“And I am calling out Jeff Kaplan specifically because he’s the one running the ship. It is his game. Overwatch just won esport of the year again…and they reallyhave done a fantastic job with Overwatch overall as a game and with their esports projects and aspirations. I do feel like they deserve credit, but at the same time, his vision and the senior leadership -- but really him -- [and] some of the philosophy that he has in the game is why we are here today,” he continued.
“It comes down to Jeff and things like [his] not wanting to implement solo queue, being so resistant to role queue, being so resistant to dealing with things like one-tricking (which was created due to the way they’ve dealt with reporting players and how they view the game in terms of you being helpful or not). All the ways they have tried to treat the online system of Overwatch…has really been quite poor."
"If they’re running a competitive game and they’re trying to make a successful esport, solo queue has been proven in several other games -- including some Blizzard games, like Heroes of the Storm -- to be one of the best ways to incentivize players to play the ranked system. Because [then] you know that you’re not getting screwed by a 6-stack or two or three people that are trolling on your team, and everyone is in a solo atmosphere,” said Slasher.
Solo queue, Slasher says, is the change he hears most frequently requested by pro players; the most universally agreed upon improvement competitive Overwatch needed yesterday. After separate solo (and perhaps duo) queue, he says ranked needs a soft or hard role queue -- a change Slasher himself is not enamored with but thinks is necessary anyway.
“Honestly, myself, I don’tlove it because I do think it limits the types of comps you can run, but I think its been shown that the games are just so difficult with...a bad mix of people [who play the same or similar heroes],” said Slasher. “The matchmaking algorithm is [creating teams based on] a bunch of other factors that have, as far as I’m aware, zero to do with your hero pool and who you would be best teamed up with in your game. [Soft or hard role queue] would be a net positive.”
"I think Jeff is totally not even wrong, it’s the opposite -- [not having a scoreboard]
has made the game more toxic."
Solo queue and role queue are the two big issues that the Overwatch community should focus its energy on, says Slasher, but if he had to pick a third “just to tie it in with how Jeff’s philosophy on the game is hurting it,” then he would pick Overwatch’s lacking scoreboards and statistics.
“I have to say I just completely, as someone who has played more ranked games than some Overwatch League pros throughout my life-- I just categorically disagree with [Kaplan’s] assessment and Blizzard’s viewpoint on the matter. I do not believe that [excluding a scoreboard] is making the game less toxic,” he said.
“I actually think that at this point, not only are we missing critical information that would make the games better, it is also making the games more toxic. ...The whole medal system and the individual scoreboard makes people have an inflated viewpoint on the way that they’ve impacted the game,” he explained. "Because you don’t have stats for all the players in the game, people become more arrogant."
"So you can’t make correct assessments; the game itself actually becomes worse because you don’t have data points to help you make more informed decisions; and,” he reiterated, “I think Jeff is totally not even wrong, it’s the opposite -- it has made the gamemore toxic.”
Solo (and duo) queue, role queue, and scoreboards, then, would go a long way to fix Overwatch’s lambasted ranked system, but there is more to be done before Overwatch is in a good place.
“I actually don’t think the impact on fixing ranked will be as high as the other solution, but I do think it sends a strong message that they’re taking competitive seriously,” he said. And there is certainly good reason for Blizzard to take competitive seriously, argued Slasher: the Overwatch League. The massive, multi-million dollar esports league built around Overwatch incentivizes Blizzard to keep its pro players happy with the game, and that means not only fixing ranked’s structural problems, but also balancing the game around higher level play.
“If you’re balancing [the game] for the top players, it will be good for everyone. If you are balancing for the top end more often, then things will settle out in the middle and lower anyway, … and then you’re not having to deal with the constant complaints from the pro end,” said Slasher.
“And I think all of this is exacerbated by developers building these hundred, billion dollar esports league, like Overwatch, where you have an entire thing based around pro players and professional play on display to hundreds of thousands of viewers. So now there is pressure to balance for pro play.”
As for that “other solution” he mentioned? Well, first and foremost, Slasher argues that Blizzard needs to ramp up its hero releases and make its characteristic slow-to-react balance patches a thing of the past. Then, the game developer needs to re-assess assault as a game mode.
Slow-to-React Hero Balancing
“The main issues with the game for me? … Overall, there are not enough heroes and they are releasing heroes at not the fastest pace, to be completely honest. And not only have they not been releasing heroes at the fastest pace, as I’ve mentioned before, one of the things causing a lot of these issues that we’ve had is this slow-to-react balancing in the hero design,” said Slasher. “It feels like we’re always behind.”
“Brigitte was overpowered on release, but there were so many other things that were broken in the game [at the time] that even when people tested Brig on the PTR and said it was powerful, because we had been watching dive dominate for, like, a year and a half or something...everyone wasn’t so super concerned with Brig and what she would do to the meta."
"And it’s now even more broken! And then there are other issues and other heroes who have issues, but everyone is focused on Brig right now, so you can’t even deal with other issues,” he said.
This is a common trend in Overwatch, Slasher pointed out. Ana was similarly overpowered for a period of time, but with the community fixated on the havoc she was wreaking on the meta, other major issues, such as Zenyatta’s 50% damage amplifier Discord Orb, flew under the radar.
“So Zenyatta was nuts, but Ana was so good that it didn’t matter, but then once Ana was finally switched after what felt like more than half a year, you had another hero with the same problem,” Slasher explained.
Right now, he figures Zenyatta, D.Va, and Tracer are the heroes the Overwatch community will (or should) rediscover have major issues once Brigitte has been dealt with. While Slasher himself is a Zenyatta main and considers the hero relatively high-skilled, he says the omnic’s kit is in need of tuning.
"The one character that we haven’t been talking about [is] the
whole reason we’re in the mess to begin with..."
“He can right-click one-shot kill you from across the map; he does a ton of damage; [and], he can get Transcendance before all of the offensive ults like Graviton Surge and always be a counter to everything,” said Slasher. “Now you couple him with something like Brig and that’s part of the reason GOATS comp is so good because Zen has 275 health half the time and he just kills everything!”
As for D.Va, she counters the game’s fundamental mechanic of shootingand her mobility is inherently powerful in an FPS game. The hero has been a mainstay of Overwatch since early release, despite her having a “whole ability that’s an unfun thing to play against.”
And then there’s Tracer.
“The one character that we haven’t been talking about [is] the whole reason we’re in the mess to begin with, because it kind of felt like they made Brig specifically for Tracer,” said Slasher. “Like, they have never nerfed Tracer one time in the entirety of the game, and instead of just tuning her down a little bit, which they coulda did, they added a whole character to counter her, another hard-counter sort of thing, and look what it did to the meta.”
“And I do think Tracer is a very skill-based hero, of course. Please add that so I don’t get yelled at,” he said with complete seriousness. “But that’s not my point.”
Slasher’s goal, at the end of the day, was not simply to rant about heroes he dislikes or to pin the game’s problems on any one character, but to make obvious Blizzard’s pattern of slow-to-react balancing that leaves players always feeling one step behind. The developer's poor reaction time has resulted time and time again in stagnant metas and dull mirror matches, which Slasher says "is one of the major issues for Overwatch."
“There are so many of these things that haven’t been addressed because we keep focusing on singular heroes and then as soon as that is kind of addressed, we then remember all of the other problems we’ve had.”
Assault, the Proverbial Thorn in Overwatch’s Side
Meanwhile, assault -- commonly referred to as 2CP -- is one of those problems Overwatch had right out of the box. The gamemode has been complained about for well over two years now, what with its unbreakable chokes, lengthy match times, and frequent tie endings, but little has been done to placate players. In the meantime, it has become a staple of the Overwatch League.
“Most of the community has been pretty outspoken about their general dislike for the gamemode. Maybe it’s very entertaining in Overwatch League, but overall it’s been, y’know, a weak link in Overwatch,” Slasher said, “but you can’t just tell [Blizzard] to delete the gamemode. And this is coming from someone who, in the early days, tried to make sure that all the map pools and all the games were not played on assault maps.”
"I know [in the past] Blizzard has told players to not say certain negative things
if they would like to be involved in official Blizzard events."
“They need to consider assault as a gamemode and what they want to do with gamemodes moving forward. I’m not saying make a battle royale -- I don’t think Overwatch battle royale would be good, please don’t make that. I don’t think they think it would be good either. But I think a new gamemode has to be something that is strongly considered.”
That being said, a new game mode is not easily pried from Blizzard’s hands; if they were to make one, it would be released at their own pace regardless of the community's insistence. For that reason, Slasher thinks the Overwatch community should focus its lobbying efforts, at least as far as gameplay is concerned, on faster hero balancing.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Regardless of which cause the community chooses rally around, the way Slasher sees it, nothing changes without pointed public discourse and a passionate social media movement -- which can’t take off if pro players, those with the most power and influence, don’t feel comfortable voicing their concerns.
“Game balance doesn’t have to be drama, right? It’s not a scandal, it’s just something that the community is at odds with the god developer [about],” Slasher said. “That type of issue I’ve always felt strongly should be out in the public, and developers do put pressure on players to not [speak publicly].
"There are other games in esports-- a game like Quake Champions, which I’ve had players tell me that at previous events they’ve been told not to speak negatively about the game or there would be consequences, such as not being allowed to enter tournaments."
"...really listening to the pro players on the competitive systems in the game
is imperative for [Overwatch] to be successful long-term.”
"And from before in Overwatch, I know [in the past] Blizzard has told players to not say certain negative things if they would like to be involved in official Blizzard events. At certain times in the past. Maybe not recently, but definitely in the past, so there is some pressure not to, actually, and they don’t really want it, I’ve felt it’s always been the way to go. Which is why I talk so much sh*t,” he laughed.
Pro players aren’t completely in the clear though; Slasher says pro players across esports should ruminate on how they give feedback. “They can be much more helpful than they are now, if they are able to provide feedback in a constructive, consistent, timely manner,” he said. “Write things out more detailed or do long videos like Seagull’s where you are considering a lot of perspectives on issues.”
“For the most part, [developers] don’t really want solutions. You can always offer your solutions and your ideas, [but] most of the time they won’t use them. They’ll do what they want, and sometimes it just happens to lineup with what pros want or what the community at large wants.”
Ultimately though, if nothing changes -- if ranked remains a nightmare and if balance patches remain two steps behind and so on -- Slasher says Overwatch would be okay.
“We have never gotten the concurrent player base numbers from Activision-Blizzard, but I would assume that they have gone down, that they’ve just been going down because of how many other games are out there. I’m still unsure, I’m sure it’s still a significant number of people [playing], but they have to deal with all these other games,” he said.
“So yeah, I think things would be okay if they continue on the way that they do now. But they’re trying to make a league around esports and there’s only going to be more pro players as more teams get added to the league, and I do think that serving the larger casual base of Overwatch and really listening to the pro players on the competitive systems in the game is imperative for the game to be successful long-term.”
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