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Overwatch

The Death of the Original Flex

From the inception of Overwatch, the game has always been described as a rock/paper/scissors game. What made the game unique was how players could mid-match switch their heroes to counter the opposing team’s comp. Team composition has run through the gambit from Beyblade to Dive and of course the infamous GOATs meta. Teams have played traditionally fielding two DPS, two tanks, and two supports. Of each role, one of the two would be the main role and the other the flex role. Slowly the flex position has been pushed and nudged farther and farther from the original purpose to be a flex.  Recently the Overwatch League announced the implementation of hero pools in the game, which is the last nail in the coffin for the flex players.

Original Flex
Credit: Blizzard

On social media, there are talks about how the hero pools will improve the flex player position on teams. Many spout how with hero bans, players will need to be proficient on multiple heroes so that they can be essential no matter the bans. All games grow and evolve as players and the devs learn from previous seasons and feedback to make the experience better for the community. The Overwatch League brought another component into the equation as it needs to entertain as well as be playable. This is just an illusion of flex that Blizzard and the Overwatch League are feeding the community, while in reality, the original flex position is no longer around. 

History

It all goes back to the rock/paper/scissors game mentality. If there is a Pharah on the opposing team then that means one DPS player goes onto hitscan to shoot her down; that is what many see as flex. A player going onto another hero to counter the enemy team’s composition that isn’t their main hero. 

The Overwatch League community is used to seeing in roster moves and announcements the terms ‘main support’ or ‘flex support’ or ‘flex tank’ and ‘main tank’. What do these terms mean now with the stricter format? Are these terms used just for the traditional and sake of the league’s differentiation between the two tanks, DPS, and supports? 

Before 2/2/2

Before Stage 4 of Season 2 of the Overwatch League there are many times when a flex like Jjonak or Ryujehong would pop onto a stall hero such as Mei or Doomfist to save a 2cp map. After the danger of being capped was gone they would then switch back to their flex support hero. This was an effective use of the hero swap functionality in the game that relied on strong shot calling for these changes as any ult percentage would be lost in the switching process. Players would switch to different roles to stall or get back to the point faster, but there were times when pre-planned strategies like three DPS would be played out on stage.

The number of different combinations of team comps were numerous. Though the meta was mostly played, teams needed to take into consideration that a flex player would be on a role that wasn’t their traditional role. When 2/2/2 lock came into the league then the flex players were no longer allowed to in match flex onto a different role. This essentially killed the flex role. The term morphed from the true role flex to flexing on multiple heroes on the same role. 

2/2/2 Lock in Combination with Hero Bans

The 2/2/2 lock was implemented so that there would not be a meta that stuck around as long as GOATs did in the Overwatch League. It was a way to confine the meta to what Blizzard did not want, which was GOATs. In direct opposition of the 2/2/2 is Hero bans. They are to make a more fluid meta. Yes, both of these changes want to not have one certain meta in place, but in two different ways. Hero bans seem to be intended to open the meta to more variety and heroes. That essentially is good news for the flex players who have been waiting to showcase their other role heroes. The snag occurs when it is combined with the 2/2/2 lock that then stifles the creativity of the variety as it needs to fit in the box of two DPS, two tanks, two supports.

To have the 2/2/2 stacked upon the hero bans boxes in the flex player. In the past if flex players would have to go to DSP or Offtank they would feel comfortable to flex over. Saebyeolbe would flex onto Roadhog, but now with the need of players to be proficient in all of the heroes in their role, a flex player who would specialize in only a couple off-role heroes is not an effective use of talent. In this current era it is better to have players who specialize in their role only rather than a player who can play proficient across roles. 

The Importance of the Flex

In the past Reddit, Twitter, Twitch chat would explode when a player would flex onto a non-signature hero. Examples of this are Gesture on Widow, Bumper of Hanzo, and Tobi on Torbjorn. Yes, one might say that is because those three were ‘main’ roles that it was so out of character that it has a shock value to it. Think about Nyxl’s JJonak flexing onto Mei, Ryujehong on Widow, or Rascal on Baptiste. All of these instances not only created a stir in the Overwatch community but also praise for the players’ flexibility. A true and original definition of a flex is a player who can flex mid map to a different category of hero. 

These are just a few examples of how a flex player was able to create hype around a map or match just by their counter picks. It allows for teams to flex (in the slang term) on other teams by being able to pull out unconventional picks like Bumper did against Seoul. A criticism that many have of Overwatch is that there is not enough sass or trash talk. This was a way that players could in-game trash talk and add a little spice to the match. The flex player is so important to add more DPS, more healing, or more tanking depending on the situation. It gave Overwatch variations of comps that allowed for skilled players on multiple roles to be highlighted and valued.

The End of the Flex? 

Before it was easy to understand what a flex was. It was a player who would ‘flex’ onto other heroes and was not the main source of tanking or healing. With the 2/2/2 lock the death of the original flex player started. 

The term flex is evolving. Flex players cannot flex how they were able to. This is the death of the original definition of a flex player in Overwatch. Players must now give an illusion of flexing by mastering most heroes in their defined role. Therefore if their hero is banned they can still be useful to the team. This new flexibility is more mastering of one role.

Will the hero bans eliminate the original meaning of the flex player? Season 3 is starting in less than a week, and only then will the community see how this implementation will impact the flex players. Or has the Overwatch League community already internalized this change? That the narrative will just be that the hero bans improved the flex player position as the original term flex has long ago been replaced and the last hold outs will be forced to conform.

 

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