On Thursday, the Overwatch team and Jeff Kaplan released a Developer Update that outlined their new balance philosophy and a number of new features being added to the game in the coming months. For more on the announcement and it impacts on Overwatch as a whole, check out The Game Haus’s coverage here.
Among the biggest changes on the way are faster balance cycles and selective hero pools, both designed to break up stagnant metas and encourage variety in the heroes and strategies deployed. The Overwatch League quickly followed with an announcement that it will be incorporating those efforts into its 2020 season.
The most direct change for the Overwatch League will come in the form of Hero Pools. Starting March 7, the league will select one tank, one support and two damage heroes to remove from that weekend of play. Teams will not be able to use the four heroes removed from the pool for that weekend’s matches. No hero will be unavailable for two consecutive weeks.
Hero pools will be determined based on play-rate data from the two prior weeks of Overwatch League play. Essentially, this means that only heroes that see regular play will be eligible for removal from the pool. Teams will receive information about the next Hero Pool approximately one week in advance of their matches.
Finally, Hero Pools will not be used for the midseason tournament, the play-in tournament, the season playoffs or the Grand Finals. They will also not be implemented for the first month of the season, making their debut on March 7.
Balance Updates and the OWL
Alongside the Hero Pool announcement came an update to how the league will determine which patch is used during the season. New balance patches will now be pushed to the Overwatch League two weekends after the patch is released. Any mid-patch changes, such as the recent Patch 126.96.36.199 that went live on Tuesday, will be implemented in OWL the following weekend.
These changes mark an effort to bring the league more in line with live patches and to accommodate the Overwatch team’s aggressive new philosophy. In the past, the OWL has at times used patches that differ wildly from the version fans see in their client. For example, last season the OWL was using role lock nearly three weeks before it hit live servers.
What Does It Mean?
For starters, it means volatility. The days of a single meta composition dominating an entire OWL season are done. More frequent and aggressive balance changes might have accomplished that on their own, but Hero Pools introduce an entirely new dynamic.
In past seasons, most teams attempted to refine the meta and improve their play within the framework of the established meta. There were outliers like the Chengdu Hunters, but most teams settled on a handful of compositions that worked during any given patch. Now, they will be trying to do that while also preparing for the eventuality that the strongest heroes in the game will be removed with relatively little notice.
The result will inevitably be a system where perfecting the meta is nearly impossible. Instead, adaptability and improvisation are going to be vital. Teams will need to adjust strategies not only between patches but also week to week as Hero Pools throw a wrench into their preparation. What is a viable strategy one week could be unplayable the next when one of its lynchpins is removed entirely.
These changes will have an undeniably massive impact on the coming OWL season. Practice time was already going to be at a premium as teams traverse the globe. Now, teams will have to cover more ground than ever before to keep up with frequent patches and prepare for the coming hero pool. Players who can intuitively flex around the hero roster without much scrim time are going to be necessary. Coaches who can change course quickly and steer their team in the right direction will become invaluable.
Of course, all of this comes with something fans have long requested from the league and Overwatch as a whole: variety. By necessity, teams will have to learn to play a number of different compositions and variations on those comps. The question now is whether that is a good thing, or whether the league is moving too far, too fast in pushing back against meta stagnation. The answer will have huge implications during a critical season in the league’s history.
Featured image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.
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