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Why the Overwatch League Needs a Pick Ban System

The Overwatch League, now going into its fourth season, has had a multitude of different systems in place when it comes to how heroes are chosen in a match. Thus far in the Overwatch League, there has been a free-for-all in the form of GOATs and an ultra-restrained hero pool system.

The pick ban system that was tested during the match between Lunatic-Hai and Runaway is the way of the future as it not only allows for player versatility but also for control that the League seems to want over the meta. There are many positives to changing the League format to a pick ban system.

Pick Ban: What is it?


Courtesy of OGN

During the test match, OGN came up with a a pick ban system. In the past, the Overwatch League has trended away from OGN content so as not to be compared with them. Though, many of the OGN content concepts of APEX has slowly been integrated into the League over the seasons. The ban system that OGN came up with was a banning of four heroes. It was two DPS, one support, and one tank that was banned at the beginning of the match.

Courtesy of OGN

This was done in a draft phase, not dissimilar to what we see in professional MOBAs competitions. It was a snake pick until all four heroes were picked on each side. The healers were the first pick, then the tanks, and lastly the DPSs. The teams are banning for the opponent and not themselves. That means if Team A picked to ban Mercy, they themselves could play Mercy unless Team B also decided to ban Mercy.

From the third game onwards, the teams could unban a hero. For Game 3, the teams would pick one hero to unban. That could be DPS, support, or tank. In Game 4, another hero would be picked to be allowed back into the hero pool. If the match made it to a Game 5, there would only one hero would be still banned.

In practice (due to short games throughout the match), the teams unbanned in Game 2, which would also be viable if the Overwatch League wanted to make adjustments to fit their format better.

The Positives

Player Versatility

The 2/2/2 lock not only set the meta, but it also locked the potential of many players. The flex position of both DPS and support were essential when teams needed that extra boost of DPS or more health to break through a point. The 2/2/2 stopped that from happening.

The 2/2/2 lock took it one step farther when the integration of the hero pools were announced. This not only locked teams into 2 DPS, 2 supports, and 2 tanks, but also what heroes within those categories were able to be picked. The usefulness of flex players diminished even more.

With the pick ban system, this would still allow for Blizzard and the OWL to control the meta, but also give the teams and players a say in how they want to play the match. It would require more planning in the banning process as well as which heroes to release in what match. The players would need to be flexible to play and the flex positions would be able to be utilized as actual flexes. It would essentially bring more value to those players who can play multiple heroes rather than one-trick specialists.

Creative Plays

What are the plays that stick out in the mind of the community? Sangbeom ‘Bumper’ Park hopping onto Hanzo, or maybe Jehong ‘Ryujehong’ Ryu on Winston? Nevertheless, it’s always the unconventional picks that stand out to players and viewers alike.

A pick ban system would allow more opportunities for coaches to be creative in their strategies. This opens up more opportunities for compositions as will as out of game strategies and analysis.

What pick ban can bring is the best of both worlds. It would be a gradual release of power. If a team is able to get to a Map 5, it would be open to any heroes but one. But if a team with the restricted hero pools didn’t have the skills or knowledge to play around the bans, they wouldn’t reach that freedom. Teams would still be challenged. As maps were played, it would open it up more and more with a release of one of the bans until almost all the heroes were free.

A pick ban system will force teams to have multiple strategies ready and prepared for the matches. This will be more fun for both the viewer and the players. Seeing variety beyond the traditional 2/2/2 setup and/or seeing a couple heroes throughout the season will create a more entertaining, dynamic, and consistently engaging experience to watch unfold.

Smooth Transitions

This could help with patch shifts. If the teams thought a hero was overpowered in a given mode or map, they could ban her. Brig could then be last released hero, allowing for the majority of the match to be played without that specific hero. That means that  the league won’t be as dependent on patches. A main complaint that has been voiced is how previous playoffs have played off of patches that significantly change the strategic nuances of characters, inherently changing the way players interact with each other. This pick ban system could help regulation and smooth the transitions between the patches.

Players would still need to be proficient on many different heroes, but they would always be able to play comfort picks if the team was able to muscle their way through until a hero was unbanned. The flexible players such as Dongjun ‘Rascal’ Kim would shine again. This pick ban system would not only be good to help regulate the matches, but would give ownership to the players so that they feel like they also have some control in the direction that the game is going.

The Pick Ban System

Want to watch how this could look? The pick ban system was tried out during the show match of the OWL Futures’ Match and the exhibition match between the two APEX teams. A pick ban system could be the right middle ground that the Overwatch League needs. It is not a free-for-all like GOATs, but it isn’t the super restrained 2/2/2 plus hero bans that was rolled out in Season 3. With the horizon being homestands which will add travel time on top of the practice/scrims/gameplay analysis the 2/2/2 plus role lock is a sure way to burn out players. Hopefully, more will be announced about the format of the upcoming season as we approach the new year. A pick ban system being picked up by the Overwatch League could very well be among those format announcements. We’ll have to stay tuned in the meantime.

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