On April 24, Blizzard announced the Overwatch Workshop, a “game scripting system” that allows players to create highly customizable game modes using a simplified version of some of the tools that Overwatch developers have at their disposal. Since its live release on May 21, the Workshop has spawned nearly 300,000 game codes from over 150,000 creators. The most popular modes range from a recreation of the card game UNO to a parkour mode where players must traverse a map while avoiding the deadly touch of the ground below.
The proliferation of game modes is hardly surprising. Elements of that creativity had been present in Overwatch since the introduction of the Game Browser back in 2017. Until recently, however, creative players didn’t have the opportunity to go big. The introduction of the Workshop has given players the chance to enjoy Overwatch their way – however far from the original game that is.
If You Build It…
Most players will only see the impact of the Workshop in the end results. They will find a mode they love, and they will play it endlessly. Those who decide to dive headfirst into the Workshop will find a rabid community of creators waiting to greet them. Elo Hell Workshops, an offshoot of Dallas Fuel coach Justin “Jayne” Conroy’s Elo Hell Esports, is the centerpiece of the Workshop creative community. With thousands of members, it’s ideal for anyone looking to ask questions, find new codes or learn about the Workshop.
“The ultimate goal is to help the community collaborate, to have creators highlight the things they’ve made, so the community can find those things and identify those things as valuable,” said mierst, Head of Technology at Elo Hell, in an interview with The Game Haus. The Discord serves as a meeting ground where creators can seek help on specific issues, find players to test their codes or simply rant about their issues within the Workshop. To help ease those frustrations, they’ve also created a Wiki to act as a repository of vital information for newcomers.
So many new game modes have come from the Workshop that it’s difficult for any one to stand out. To that end, Elo Hell has built a website where users can post their creations, browse new game modes and vote their favorites to the top. One name that dominates that page is Darwin. Overwatch’s foremost Workshop creator and Twitch streamer, Darwin has built a reputation as the Workshop’s most prolific power user.
Finding a Niche
On the day the Workshop released, Darwin fired up his stream and despite having virtually no prior audience, quickly amassed 300 viewers in under an hour. Since then, he has created hundreds of game modes, many of them on stream, where he races to build as many of the ideas his chat can come up with in an hour. Speaking with The Game Haus, Darwin described his process: “Most of the time, it’s just exploration. I launch the game and just walk around the map and try all kinds of different values in the workshop. If I get some interesting effect, there’s a new game mode born out of that.”
A game designer by trade, Darwin was especially suited to capitalize on the Workshop’s release. “I was really excited [when the Workshop was released] because I always loved game editors and this was a game editor for my most played and favorite game,” he said. Darwin’s laid back demeanor and Workshop prowess have allowed him to build a community around his streams, eventually becoming a featured streamer during the recent Baptiste’s Reunion Challenge alongside Overwatch luminaries like Brandon “Seagull” Larned and Lee “Flowervin” Hyun Ah.
After peaking at over 8,000 viewers during the event, Darwin was taken aback: “I definitely never imagined that many people would enjoy watching workshop.” Darwin’s streams give viewers the unique experience of seeing their ideas for game modes come to life without having to be experts in the Workshop themselves. “Some of these smallest ideas from chat can sometimes get pretty big.” One of Darwin’s modes was even played by some of the top streamers in the game during the recent Twitch Rivals event.
Empowering the Community
The Workshop brings exciting possibilities to Overwatch’s competitive scene as well. Darwin himself has created a number of tools meant to help players practice specific skills. The most popular by far has been the Ana Nade Tool that visualizes the trajectory and landing point of Ana’s Biotic Grenade along with a variety of other projectiles. Other aids include aim trainers and a Reinhardt practice mode to work on blocking Earthshatters and other abilities.
The Workshop also gives the community the chance to add features that have been on their wishlist since Overwatch’s launch. Two coaches from the Tier 3 scene, MrPig100 and MrMoustachioo, teamed up to create easyScrims, a tool designed to simplify how scrims work. easyScrims automates the process of progressing through maps during a scrim, allowing teams to ready up and have time to discuss strategies. It can also save ultimate charge when a player disconnects from the game, something that can have a massive impact on the course of a match. Perhaps most impressively, easyScrims comes with a scoreboard that tracks statistics like first deaths, final blows and how long a player holds their ultimate.
That might not seem like a big deal, but for coaches in the T3 scene it can be a godsend. Before easyScrims, collecting stats was time-consuming and limited to what could be tracked manually or was provided by Blizzard. Now coaches can focus on their teams knowing stats are recording automatically. The community has been clamoring for a scoreboard, but MrPig100 is happy these features are coming from the community. In an interview with The Game Haus, he said, “I think it’s actually better that the community got their hands on it because now we can do more than Blizzard would have given us. The creative freedom of making our own lobby and tracking our own statistics is so important.”
The Other Side of the Coin
Even as the competitive community finds applications for the Workshop, its bread and butter will always be the casual modes that fulfill its true potential. From Darwin’s Torbjornball, where players control Pharah trying to shoot Torb through a hoop, to the chaos of High Blood Pressure Marathon, with its removed cooldowns and infinite ultimates, the wild and wacky reign supreme when it comes to the Workshop.
That doesn’t mean that the Workshop hasn’t produced some polished gems. Reddit user u/ajfis3 put together Super Smashwatch, a recreation of the Nintendo classic Super Smash Bros. In the 2D fighting mode, players are knocked back more as they take more damage and fight to knock opponents off the edge of the map. “For me, it was just about looking at other examples of work and what other people have done and reverse engineering it taking it apart,” u/ajfis3 told The Game Haus.
There might be some competition for the Super Smashwatch in the form of Darwin’s Overfighter, inspired by other fighting games like Tekken and Mortal Kombat. Darwin is one of the few Workshop Creators actively working on both competitive tools and fun game modes. He explains why he splits his attention: “With casual modes you reach a wide audience. Literally, hundreds and thousands of people play your mods. With competitive mods like Ana Nade Tool, I get sent videos of Overwatch League players practicing with my tools. Both are satisfying in very different ways.”
…They Will Come
The Workshop has already had an undeniable impact on the game in the two months since it was announced. In creating the Workshop, Blizzard has given players the power to shape their Overwatch experience. Players who had left the game have returned just for the novelty and excitement that the Workshop has brought back. “It incentivizes you to have a bit more fun with the game like it was in the beginning,” said MrPig100, “Right now, I think Overwatch is having a little renaissance.”
That rejuvenation could reach another level if Blizzard adds a map editor to the Workshop. “I think the moment that the tools are given to the community, the community is gonna do something incredible with it,” said mierst, “The moment [a map editor] is in the workshop, Overwatch is a whole new world.”
If Blizzard expands the capabilities of the Workshop, creators will be able to transcend what we think of as Overwatch. Blizzard should know better than most what can happen when the community gets creative. After all, it was a mod of their game, Warcraft 3, that led to the creation of DOTA and the entire MOBA genre.
While the Workshop may never reach that level of customization, it will be a vital tool for keeping the player base happy for years to come. With so many talented creators out there and tools like Elo Hell to encourage new blood, Blizzard has already taken a huge step to extend Overwatch’s life. Darwin’s advice for anyone looking to take the plunge? “Just go for it.”
Featured image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.
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