It’s been a while since I talked about Overwatch here, which is largely down to not having a PC for 6 months to play it on.
Having a large gap like that in a game like Overwatch is quite challenging, as it’s the type of game where your reflex, reaction, and map awareness skills can drop off quite quickly. And it’s especially hard to come back and adjust to the new heroes, changed loadouts, nerfs, buffs, and the ever present meta.
While I was gone Mercy, one of my favourites to play, was further nerfed so that her rez and ultimates were far less effective. Having to stand stock still while you rez someone is no fun in a shooter that’s for certain – anything that makes you stop changes the flow and feel considerably.
And Symmetra, another fave, was completely reworked so that she’s barely recognisable. Her ult has been replaced by a massive zone blocking wall, which may be tactically useful but isn’t as strategic and fun as the old choice between a defensive shield generator and a teleporter. Plus, no carwash! I can kind of fumble my around with her, but it really is like learning a brand new hero.
Then there’s the new heroes like Brigitte – a kind of tank/heal hybrid by the looks – who I’m very interested in, and Wrecking Ball who seems a bit too chaotic for my style of play. With both it’s hard to start playing them once everyone else has already got to grips with how they are most effective – though in Quick Play it’s not that important if you struggle a little for a while.
If all that sounds a bit negative, the good news is there’s still D.va to have a riot with. She’s still great, fully mobile, fully over-the-top, and fully fun. And as of about 30 minutes ago, she’s also the star of her very own animated short.
It’s a funny game because you can go on horrendous losing and triumphant winning streaks, often based very much on how in the zone you get – and how lucky you get with random teammates. It can also leave you feeling furious when you’re not playing well – my trusted tactic with that is to always quit playing after a win. Game on!
It’s been nice reading the various Developer Appreciation Week posts on the Blaugust blogs, the surge of positivity is very welcome.
The obvious candidate for me is Blizzard. Warcraft has provided endless hours of entertainment, fun, laughter, obsession, joy, sorrow, and accomplishment, and continues to do so even now. Most recently I’ve discovered the cleverness of level scaling in dungeons, which has meant our lowbie guild can all be completely different levels but still play together – something that must have been very hard to implement into the creaking framework of old WoW code, and yet appears seamless to the player.
Overwatch is also a brilliant game, the perfect antidote to the long termedness of an MMO. Jeff Kaplan in particular is a great front man, communicating extremely well and obviously loving what he’s doing, but the entire team have achieved incredible things. The game is constantly evolving and updating, which is all due to the dedication of the dev team no doubt.
On a slightly different note, I’d also shout out to the team that have put out 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Our tabletop group have loved the current version, which managed to simplify the rules somewhat and also introduce a bunch of great new mechanics like Inspiration – basically a free re-roll granted by te DM to a player for particularly clever role playing. It’s a simple idea that escalates the enjoyment instantly without bogging things down. They have also managed to make all the classes feel exceptionally heroic, with every class feeling powerful and different, and the official modules have been entertaining for DM and players both.
Finally I’d call out gaming bloggers again. So many great, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, curious writers who are passing on their love of a game, or many games, to all the readers out there. And through that enthusiasm they in turn highlight what a great job so many of the developers are doing. It’s a virtuous circle, and may it ever grow stronger.
And just like traditional sports, there are city based teams with trainers and managers and owners. At first I was wondering how a game that sells for ~$50 could afford to support all this, but when you see the amount of OW merch available it all starts to make sense. Today they announced a new in game currency would be available to purchase OWL skins for your favourite teams. There’s plenty of cash in them thar hills.
It’s quite incredible the amount of money that is being poured into this endeavour, and shows just how important esports are becoming. The 12 members of each team are provided with “USD $50,000 minimum base salary, healthcare and retirement savings plans, and housing provided during the season”, there’s a Commissioner, and superhighqualityprofiles of top players.
What they don’t have, however, is women.
There are 96 official players (8 teams of 12 players), and they are all men. Given the seriously good push for diversity and representation in the game itself, this is incredibly disappointing. This is a brand new sport, invented from scratch, with no rules and no historical precedent, and yet the inequalities of rusted on sporting tradition seem to have been applied.
There can be no argument about physical differentiation in esports, so not mandating some kind of gender balance or ratio seems like a huge missed opportunity. Imagine the positive change that could be made by Blizzard enforcing a 50/50 or 60/40 ratio of men to women. The competition for those spots would be intense and reveal a whole new tier of skilled players. But without the seeing the chance to play at the highest level, professional female players will surely struggle to be motivated.
The arguments would be made that viewers only want to watch the top 100 players, and if they all happen to be men then so be it. But that is of course a self perpetuating problem, and Blizzard could have made a huge and positive difference to how women view, play, and are encouraged to become professional sportspeople, in a way that is uniquely available to esports. Not to mention the incredibly positive press you would imagine this would generate for Blizzard – and they are one of the few companies powerful enough to shut down the inevitable haters.
It will still be fun to watch, but in the back of my mind will be the feeling that it could have been so much better.
EDIT 6 Dec: As if on cue (the marketing people are doing their work) there is a long profile of OWL in Wired. It addresses the gender issue, and predictably the answer from Blizzard is ‘it’s complicated’. Disappointing to read that “When asked what the Overwatch League was doing to attract more female players, nobody at Blizzard could point to any specific outreach or recruiting efforts.”. Perhaps most damning is this quote from Nate Nanzer (Blizzard’s global director of research and consumer insights):
“There was never a question that I was going to sit and play games with my son,” he said. “But then the other day my daughter asked me, ‘Can I play Overwatch too?’ and I was like, oh shit, I gotta be better about this. I gotta treat it equal.”
If the ‘director if insights’ has only just had this…insight…then it’s no wonder the league is a testosterone festival.
It will be interesting to follow how this pans out. There is very little detail, and obviously a lot of questions to be answered, but it is exciting to consider officially starting afresh. I hope they follow Everquest’s lead and take the approach of polling the community for decisions for some things (like expansions timetables or unlocks of features). It sounds like this won’t exist for some time yet – I’d guess late 2018 at best – but the fact Blizzard announced it on their biggest stage makes it seem pretty likely to actually happen:
“One of the things we do know is that by announcing this, we’re in the WoW Classic business forever. Once that starts, there’s a commitment on our end that we’re going to continue maintaining those servers for as long as there is a World of Warcraft.”
Meanwhile in the current Warcraft timeline the new Battle for Azeroth expansion was announced. This was more predictable, though the pitting of Alliance vs Horde perhaps took some by surprise. Legion has seen the factions work together, and the opening ceremony boasted of the togetherness of the Blizzard community, so renting them asunder in Warcraft was perhaps unexpected. Someclearlyhate the idea, while others seem tentativelysupportive of a reset to the basic ‘red v blue’ idea of Warcraft.
I have a strong Horde bias, and don’t mind the idea of there being an ongoing struggle for superiority. Hints of a raid vs the other faction (“shouldn’t we be raiding a member of the opposite faction? he said this slyly!”) sounds very interesting – if they can pull off something like the Broken Shoreclimax where the two factions are fighting in a single raid toward an ultimate boss, that could be very nice. Overall though the excitement of a new expansion announce seemed quite subdued, so there is work to be done by Blizzard to convince the fans this is the right direction for Warcraft to take.
The main thing I liked about the announcement was the ability to play Highmountain Tauren as a new race.
Also, and maybe it was just me, but was it super weird seeing Anduin dressed as Mordred from John Boorman’s brilliant Excalibur?
Meanwhile over in Overwatch land, the announcement of a new hero, new map, and new cinematic came as no surprise. Moira looks like a great addition, and it sounds like she plays well too. A channeled heal powered by channeled damage draining is a great mechanic, and her ultimate sounds lethal – or opaf as Jeff Kaplan (who was the best by far of the Blizzard presenters) put it.
I’m not sure where it leaves Mercy though – the constant nerfing of her signature rez may mean she’s relegated to a very secondary role with Moira on the scene. Mind you, watching the Overwatch World Cup finals, it does seem like Mercy changes the small one on one victories and pace of the matches a little too much even with the nerfs, so perhaps the rez rethink really is required. The finals were good to watch, Blizzard has improved the spectator experience a lot with team colours and permanent x-ray, though there is still work to be done to direct the camera work to the right place at the right time.
The new map, Blizzard World, looks like fun in a super meta way, and I guess they’ll sneak it into the lore as it actually appears: a theme park in a fantasy world where Blizzard and their games is a thing. Kind of like the X-Men comics that appeared in Logan. The Reinhardt cinematic was gorgeous and interesting, as it painted him as a bit of a jerk, which took some of the oomph out of the live crowd’s reaction to the unveil. Having the voice actor on the spot was a win though – very discombobulating hearing Reinhardt’s voice coming out of a dapper fellow in a suit.
Overall it was a fun series of reveals and teasers, with the Classic server being the most intriguing, and unfortunately the one we’ll have to wait longest for. Major props to the Wowhead, Blizzard Watch, and Massively OP teams for the coverage – no need for a virtual ticket with those teams on the case.
Thanks to a handy infographic published by Blizzard, we know that the two week PvE Uprising brawl in Overwatch racked up 145 million games during its stay. That’s a big number. Let’s break down the numbers.
First of all we learn that the bad guys won more often than the goodies. That came as a surprise I think, but the reason is revealed a bit further down. Meanwhile:
That’s an even bigger number. I almost feel sorry for the robots. But not for the confounded Bastion tanks in the last room – reason one for the Omnic’s racking up 11 million more victories. Next:
And there’s reason two. Legendary mode had a staggeringly low win-rate of 0.6%. This is the most interesting graphic of the whole thing, revealing that Blizzard aren’t afraid to completely stomp even their best players. The 50% drop off from Normal to Hard is also worth noting – it was a much more difficult ramp up than say the Normal/Heroic switch in Warcraft. After one success in Hard mode my random group of strangers stuck together to try Expert and we were completely annihilated, so I now understand why players screamed with triumph when they beat Legendary. Like winning ye olde Stranglethorn Fishing comp, but harder. And finally:
If my shaky maths is right, that’s over two billion minutes played. 2,415,405,127 to be precise1. 40 million hours. 1.5 million days. My brain is hurting.
Fair to say Uprising was a success then. Time to go look at some nature. After just one more game.
In a not-quite-surprising but also quite-suprising move, the Overwatch team has introduced a PVE mode called ‘Uprising’ for the latest limited time patch. It’s not-surprising because they’ve done it before (with ‘Junkenstein’s Revenge’), but what is surprising is how they’ve suddenly made an Overwatch PVE game – dare we say an Overwatch MMO1 – seem possible.
Uprising is basically an MMO dungeon, rendered in the high-pace high-colour Overwatch universe. If you’ve ever played an MMO you’ll instantly be at home: there’s mini-bosses, routes, timers, tactics, and hard-modes. It even introduces and demands the (accursed?) trinity – tank/healer/DPS – to the game. It’s a nice change of pace to the more chaotic PVP play and has been extremely well received.
Funnily enough it also introduces some of the same problems MMO dungeons have. The first time I played it was several days after launch, and by then it seemed like most players already knew exactly what routes to take, what shortcuts, where the trash would spawn, and when to burn cooldowns. So coming in cold was instantly difficult as the expectation was go-go-go, the bane of MMO dungeon running if you prefer a more measured approach.
Being Blizzard they were obviously expecting this, and have countered it a little by making four difficulty modes similar to the Normal/Heroic/Mythic steps in Warcraft et al, including a final ‘Legendary’ mode that has even hardcore players struggling. Even the first step up from Easy to Hard mode makes it clear that the go-go-go approach won’t work for long, and that a little caution and communication is required.
Which is all very smart stuff if you’re preparing/training/testing your player base to see how a PVE game might work. Jeff Kaplan has hinted at more games in recent interviews, including this quote buried in an article about Overwatch character diversity on Polygon:
We think of Overwatch as being beyond the 6v6 shooter. We think of it as a universe we hope to build many games in some day.
Of course he would say that, and it’s also fairly flimsy ‘evidence’2, but there is obviously the possibility that Titan will raise phoenix-like from the incredible success of Overwatch. Which would make for an amazing story in itself given that title’s fraught history. In Reinhardt’s words, bring it on.
In between tackling bigger games I’m still dabbling in Overwatch, and have recently stumbled upon some good resources for learning more about playing better.
First, and maybe surprisingly given it’s rep, there’s a pretty good Reddit group called Overwatch University. The name says it all, but one of the nice things seems to be the encouragement of positive feedback to even simple questions.
The second, and best, is a YouTube channel run by Skyline. This is a great resource full of educational stuff about heroes, maps, strategies, etc. Skyline is an extremely good communicator and teacher, but most of all he’s also pushing the positivity barrow. When he’s analysing VODs submitted by players, he takes a good humoured and encouraging line on everything he talks about, no matter how un-optimal some of the submissions are. It’s super refreshing – his ‘highlighted’ video is basically a recommendation that ‘having fun’ is the best way to get better. Wise words for any game.
Finally there was a good spontaneous Reddit AMA from Overwatch boss Jeff Kaplan, who has emerged as the Ghostcrawler of the OW team. He’s very open, communicates often, and the AMA is a good example of why the game maintains popularity despite nerfs, buffs, and loot box controversy. Plus, you learn excellent facts like:
The first hero we implemented was Tracer. We did not have any animations or gun models. So she shot laser beams from her eyes.
Sombra. Not sure I’m a fan of the new class – it really changes the dynamic of the game. Total invisibility is hard to prepare for, meaning you can be dead before you realise she’s even reappeared behind you (and it’s always behind you). This is kind of different to other heroes, even one-shotters like Widowmaker, where you at least have some defensive counter measure available if you see them fast enough. I’m also finding her ability to hack health packs super annoying – it basically removes them from the game which isn’t particularly interesting or fun. To counter those issues, maybe there should be a timer on the health hack (similar to Sombra’s own teleport timer), and maybe a (very) faint motion blur when she’s invisible.
Arcade Mode. Love the new 3v3 and mystery 1v1 modes. Short and sharp, and the new Antarctic map is perfect for them. The 1v1 is interesting because you basically become friends with the other player, complimenting them on their play and vice versa. Similarly 3v3 has much more communication than a full 6v6, as you have to adapt quickly to the other team’s strengths and weaknesses as each round passes. It’s probably similar to how Heroic/Mythic WoW raid teams have to be far more co-ordinated than Normal/LFR, as you can’t afford to carry anyone. Though in OW one super-fast twitch player can dominate the opposition more consistently.
Quick Play. Taking out the ability to hero stack is a bit of a bummer. I can see why they did it, but now it’s a bit of a land rush to get a hero you want, and those with the lowest ping times inevitably get their choice. It was always fun, if often devastating, coming up against a full team of Junkrat’s or Pharah’s, and now that’s hidden away in Arcade Mode which is a bit of a shame. Quick Play suddenly become more serious and less flexible, instead of the default & funnest way to play. People quit now if they can’t get their choice. Then again, I did come up against 6 Sombra’s in Arcade and that was terribad! So maybe it’s for the best.
Talking of Junkrat, I HATE JUNKRAT. Flinging random bombs through windows and hoping for the best, then sending in the wheel of death. Ugh. Refuse to play.
And Roadhog. Why are all the Australian’s freaky? Mad Max was handsome, but Blizzard chose Toecutter and Immorten Joe as a role models instead. Alas.
Symmetra. One great thing about OW is witnessing some genius play a character which makes you understand how it’s meant to be played. I came up against a brilliant Symmetra who constructed matrixes of death lasers in perfect spots, teleported her team to the front, and beamed everyone to death who came near her. Lesson learnt, and now playing her I have a much better idea what to do. That’s not something that can happen in an MMO for obvious reasons, and it’s a real strength.
Spontaneous team co-ordination is another. Seeing a random group coalesce into an unstoppable Bastion/Reinhardt/Mercy/Symmetra whole is a thing of beauty.
Playing with a console controller is hard. PC master race.
An interesting phenomenon in Overwatch is the 99% comeback. I’ve played many a match where one team is up 99% to 0% on a control map, and somehow the other time makes a stunning overtime comeback for the win. Same on an escort – a last gasp push or save 1m before the objective.
One team often seems to (luckily) spawn pretty much together together, then (luckily) arrive at the point together, and then (luckily) have most of the Ultimates ready to blow. It’s like a 6 person Overwatch zerg – pretty fun, but pretty unlikely to happen as often as it does.
After experiencing it a few times – and it being joked about plenty at the PAX Overwatch tournament – I realised it reminded me of Mario Kart’s catch-up mechanic, which subtly grants advantageous boosts to players lagging behind in the race.
Maybe Overwatch is doing the same thing – giving the team about to lose some kind of hidden bonus in the form of sped up Ultimates or co-ordinated spawns. There are plenty of discussion threads and conspiracy theories out there, though nothing provable.
Many put it down to pure psychology: the fact you have one last chance makes the team suddenly focus and enter some kind of heightened-gameplay frenzy. And as it turns out they’re probably right. Asked if such a mechanic were in place, Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan (a fairly reliable source!) responded with a pretty definitive response: “Nothing at all“.
It’s nice to know it’s our skills giving those last gasp victories, and it sure is an interesting psychological phenomena. I guess sports teams and the military – and Jeff Kaplan and co. – already knew all about it.
One of the oddities of Overwatch is that if you play with a pre-made team, the game gets harder. I go from a ~60% win ratio in random groups to pretty much 0 in a pre-made with friends.
This is somewhat counterintuitive.
We figured that playing as a co-ordinated group would make you almost unstoppable. Team comps could be spot on, choke points verbally controlled, ambushes and ultra’s given plenty of warning.
All of which is true, but the thing I hadn’t realised is that once you rock up with a 5/6 player group, the game will try to find a matching team of similar numbers to fight against. So while you’re a little more organised than a Quick Play pug, so are they. And unfortunately ‘they’ always seem to be a whole lot better.
Given the rookie status of most of the people I’m playing with, this means we have been getting hammered. We’ve gone 0/10 most nights – we were thrilled (or should that be relieved) when we won one round of a best of three! While our skill level and experience is pretty low, we should be winning at least a few.
Even though we’re theoretically being matched with similar skill levels, it’s pretty clear that most grouped players know how to play, and are probably a lot more organised. Team composition becomes much more important to counter opposition strategies – coming up against a well oiled Bastion/Mercy/Reinhardt team is very difficult to overcome without some thought and on-the-fly planning.
Luckily it’s still fun, and it also means you quickly realise that it won’t be enough to just have 5 people you know playing together: you need to communicate and co-ordinate and play as a team, not a bunch of individuals. That may work in random groups, but it falls apart against an organised attack.
It’s similar to coming up against a well oiled PVP group in WoW. You quickly realise when the other team is used to playing together, and grudgingly prepare for a short sharp lesson in defeat.
The biggest improvement would come from someone taking the leader role and co-ordinating things . Either that or an entire team of D.va’s!