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Overwatch’s Compositional Hullabaloo: Can Blizzard Change Metas without Overhauling the Game?

It has been over three years since the initial release of Overwatch and the game is in a very interesting stage of its life cycle. Recently a 2-2-2 (2 Tank, 2 DPS, 2 Support) role lock was introduced into the competitive modes of the game and articles have begun to sprout up suggesting that there may be an Overwatch sequel in the works (for the original article that spawned these rumours, read here). Whatever the future looks like for Overwatch, there are still many adaptations that need to be made, if Blizzard is interested in creating a world in which both the casual and serious players continue to adore this game.

The Issue

Overwatch is caught in the midst of a cyclic compositional hullabaloo. The essence of the game is its mechanic that allows players to swap between heroes mid-game and to be able to exactly mirror the opponent’s composition. Since each team can choose any hero and can change their composition during the game, the two teams often end up mirroring each other as the only way to match their opponent.

Season 1 Summary in Metas
Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Other games have mechanics that prevent this, such as the pick and ban system in League of Legends. This system prevents the two teams from playing the same character in a match, as well as giving them the option to choose certain champions that neither team can play. They also take turns picking their characters, and must stick with them for the entire game, which means any attempt to counter the enemy composition must be done before the match starts. Because Overwatch has no such gameplay mechanic, Blizzard has had to forcibly extinguish Metas in the past. Between each one of these Blizzard interventions, long-lasting Metas have formed and quickly made the game feel repetitive and stale.

The History

In Overwatch history, there have been a handful of long-lasting dominant compositions. These compositions are played by nearly every team, on every map and are even mirrored in most ranked matches. Some of these compositions include (not definitively):

  • A double Winston and Lucio composition (back when there was no hero limit)
  • The ‘Beyblade’ composition (a Nano’d Death Blossom would feature next to a Reinhardt and Zarya)
  • Quadruple Tank with an Ana
  • Dive (Winston, D.va, Tracer, Genji, Lucio and Zenyatta)
  • Double Sniper (Widowmaker and Hanzo behind a Reinhardt shield)
  • ‘GOATS’ (A 3 tank, 3 support composition)

All of these compositions had moving parts. Meaning that they were malleable in a sense, generally depending on the maps being played. However, for the most part, these compositions were run by every team.

What Now?

With the introduction of the 2-2-2 role lock, there are fewer viable compositions than there already were. There were those out there who believed that this role lock would free up the Meta. However, there have been many more frustrated tweets from Overwatch pros recently than there were during the devastatingly long GOATS Meta. Take this tweet for example from Caleb “McGravy” McGarvey of the Los Angeles Valiant. The sentiment behind this tweet is one shared by most pros.

With a small roster of characters (just 9 new heroes in the 3 and a half years since launch) and a core mechanic that promotes less creativity and more uniformity (allowing hero swapping and mirrored compositions), Overwatch is in dire need of a solution to this cyclic compositional conundrum.

Finding a Possible Solution

Unfortunately, the pick and ban system in League of Legends would not work in Overwatch because there are not enough heroes in the game. Additionally, the item system that is used in games like League of Legends and DOTA 2 might provide more variety, but would be too drastic of a change to a game that is already well established without them. If Metas are so deeply ingrained into the competitive Overwatch identity, because Blizzard cannot force compositional diversity without removing the essence of Overwatch, then Metas need to be changed more regularly. And that can be done by further bolstering the Overwatch hero roster.

dlc
Image: PlayOverwatch

When Ana was first introduced into the game teams such as Ninjas in Pyjamas revolutionized the way the game was played. They were the first team to realise how overpowered Ana’s kit was and abused it until she was nerfed. Despite this, NiP still found further success with the character in the early days of European competition. The introduction of Overwatch’s first new hero changed the Meta. Subsequently, heroes such as Sombra and Brigitte have also shaped many months worth of competitive Overwatch matches. The introduction of Brigitte helped create the infamous GOATS meta and the power of Sombra’s Ultimate Ability helped to finally conquer GOATS. This is the kind of influence that an expanded roster of characters can have on a meta. Ideally, Blizzard could increase the rate in which heroes are introduced to the game to ensure that Metas do not become stagnant and boring for too long. This is much more natural than having to nerf characters after months of complaints that a Meta has become stale and unbeatable.

Of course there are reasonable reasons as to why Overwatch cannot release new playable characters as often as say, a game like League of Legends. A game that despite its age, has released more new characters to their game this year than a newer game like Overwatch. Overwatch is run on a much more complex game engine than League of Legends is, so it may be a more complex process to implement new content. Especially when that content has to be added to three seperate platforms (Xbox, PS4 and PC). And perhaps the hero creation process shouldn’t be rushed, lest a new hero joins the game in the same overpowered state that Ana did. It’s up to Blizzard to decide whether the pros outweigh the cons.But the community that love this game need it to feel fun, and for that to always be the case a change needs to be made.

When it’s All Said and Done

Overwatch was built on two fundamental gameplay mechanics. The ability to swap heroes mid-game and the ability to play the same characters as the opponent at the same time. These mechanics are integral to what makes Overwatch unique, but they are unintentionally prohibiting the natural ebbs and flows of normal gaming metas. There has to be a solution or else professional players will become disillusioned by the fact that Blizzard cannot seem to solve this issue. It’s not a good sign for Overwatch that the game allows for boring, repetitive and stale metas to last for far too long. Overwatch does not need more maps, it needs more heroes. An additional hero or two a year will be of great benefit to the longevity of this game, in whatever form it may take in the future.

 

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