Author: Joey Fanfarelli, PhD
Overwatch is a competitive objective-based first person shooter by World of Warcraft creator, Blizzard. It marks Blizzard’s entry into the genre and has been warmly received by players, with over 10 million users in its first few weeks.
Ten million Overwatch agents activated and counting! Thank you for daring to see the world for what it could be. 💛 pic.twitter.com/5nCe4e32XT
— Overwatch (@PlayOverwatch) June 14, 2016
Overwatch splits players into two teams of 6 on any one of a randomized set of maps and game modes. Game modes may either be in an attack/defense format, where each team is assigned one of those two roles, or in a king of the hill format, where each team competes to take and hold a particular point on the map.
Players can then choose any of 22 different characters (called heroes) who each have their own strengths and weaknesses and fit different roles (e.g., tank, support, sniper). A player may swap heroes as many times as they like during the game, so long as they are standing in the spawn room. This provides an important gameplay mechanic which allows teams to formulate and modify strategies around the specific combination of 6 heroes chosen. Moreover, it allows for counter-based gameplay, where a team can attempt to counter an enemy’s team composition by choosing heroes that are strong against them. For instance, Tracer is a fast moving character that is unpredictable and generally difficult to eliminate. To counter her, the player may choose Winston, a peanut-butter loving sentient ape who is equipped with an auto-aiming “tesla cannon” and a jetpack ability which provides him with the high mobility necessary to keep up with Tracer.
Blizzard has taken care to cater to players of a wide range of skill levels. Heroes better suited to the novice are marked with a single star in the game’s interface, while heroes that require practice are marked with two or three stars, respective to difficulty. This information makes for smoother first experiences for players who are new to first person shooter games, and are not yet feeling confident – they may choose to start with an easier hero before moving up in difficulty. Difficulty is determined by a wide variety of factors, but may include such factors as precision in aim, how quickly actions must be performed in order to be effective (i.e., actions per minute), and a particular hero’s health pool and survivability. For instance, Ana is a three star hero – the most difficult rating. She has low health and low mobility, limiting her escape options. However, she can both heal and deal damage, making her a versatile hero. She cannot move very fast, but she has a precision aim sleep dart, which incapacitates an enemy for 5 seconds, allowing her to easily escape if she can connect it with the enemy. Moreover, she has an ultimate ability that boosts the abilities of an ally of her choice, requiring split-second decision-making appropriate to the situation. In unskilled hands, she will almost certainly hold her team back. When controlled by a practiced player, she is a versatile asset who serves as a strong support.
Blizzard’s matchmaking system does its best to ensure fairness by balancing teams according to skill level and party size – it would hardly be fair if one team was a fully coordinated stack of 6 friends, while another was 6 individual players who had never met each other and had no means of generating strategies. While matchmaking is not always perfect, and one-sided matches do happen from time to time, the games are generally interesting and feature solid matchups.
Overwatch’s success across its general player base has been mirrored by its success in professional eSports. The Overwatch Open tournament is offering a $300,000 prize pool, just two months after the game’s release. Major sponsors in other eSports have already formed teams for Overwatch, including household names like Team Liquid, fnatic, Team Solo Mid, and others. The game has also spawned a serious online following, evident by its active forums and reddit communities, namely:
1. /r/overwatch (525,000 subscribers) – A general subreddit to discuss all things Overwatch.
2. /r/competitiveoverwatch (39,000 subscribers) – A subreddit dedicated to competitive Overwatch, including discussion of the competitive scene and competitive viability of characters and strategies.
3. /r/overwatchuniversity (32,000 subscribers) – A subreddit dedicated to learning how to become better at Overwatch, featuring tips, tricks, and video tutorials on beginner and advanced mechanics and concepts.
The bottom line: Overwatch is a fun game that is well worth its price tag. While it will likely promote frustration in beginner players, as all games of this genre tend to do, that frustration will soon subside as Overwatch’s beginner-friendly mechanisms engage. At a beginner level, the game provides a fun space to explore the different types of characters, and find the heroes that suit each user’s play preferences. At higher levels, Overwatch is a fierce competitive game with depth and complexity that will likely keep even the most dedicated players busy for hundreds of hours.