I’ve been a die-hard Overwatch fan for the past three years now (at least) with hours and hours of game time – the exact total of which I am a little ashamed to admit. The Competitive mode is where the multiplayer, team-based, hero shooter truly excels. Yet, I cannot be alone thinking that Overwatch in its most concentrated form leaves a bitter after taste.
Who Am I to Talk?
I am hard-stuck in the platinum mid-tier rank, so take anything that I am about to say with a tiny pinch of salt because I am frighteningly average at the game. For years, it’s been my ambition to rank up and see that glistening diamond icon below my username, but it seems that I cannot climb through the ranks, no matter how hard I try. Levelling up in Overwatch has become a ludicrous obsession. But why?
Diamond doesn’t mean anything. The game doesn’t become more exciting after reaching that milestone. There are no secret heroes to unlock, no bonus abilities. There is no actual content to be gained. So why does it matter? The hard truth is, I don’t think it does.
The SR System
In Overwatch Competitive, you are striving for SR. What’s that, exactly? If you’ve played Overwatch you’ll know that SR is the game’s system for figuring out how good you are. You gain SR for victories and lose it for defeats, but there is another complex layer to it.
The game compares your skill to other players to figure out where you sit within the ranks, which span from Bronze to Grandmaster. It calculates how much damage you output, how many eliminations, deaths etc., and places you in a rank with players that have similar statistics. So all things considered, it’s a fairly robust and logical method for calculating your Overwatch worth.
But (and this is a big but) SR points are the defining limit of what can be achieved in Overwatch Competitive. Sure, reaching Diamond or even Grandmaster must feel pretty good and the bragging rights are unreal. But other online shooters gift good players with greater rewards.
Call of Duty offers unique gun skins, player banners, cosmetic options that scream ‘Im better than you!’ to other players. This is more satisfying than just a number and a badge. This is something tangible your character can hold and that the player can view constantly as a reminder of their success.
It would be fantastic to see Overwatch offering customisation options that reflect on a player’s brilliance. For example, imagine there’s a terrifying Roadhog skin unique to Diamond players. You might be playing the Deathmatch mode and see this Roadhog wearing this specific skin and you’d be instantly aware and wary of that player’s skill. In addition, this would create an incentive. That unique skin is so awesome, so wonderfully badass that you have to own it.
Suddenly, you have a whole new reason to play and plunge back into the Competitive. You fight extra hard to rank up because there is more to achieve than just a number.
SR points are always fluctuating. Players that were god-like in Season 1 might have fallen to the lower Gold or Silver ranks by the current season. Ultimately, SR points are worthless.
With the game in its current state, there’s nothing to be achieved from countless hours of gameplay. And Overwatch feels bad because of it. I mentioned before that I desperately want that Diamond rank. But is that the reason why I keep playing? Of course not. Trying to rank up in Overwatch is as frustrating as playing a crane game at the arcade.
So, if we’re not playing Overwatch for the accolades, then it must be for fun, right? But in my humble little Platinum ranked opinion, the Overwatch community is awful.
Highly competitive online games will always be a breeding ground for toxicity. Higher adrenaline levels and emotional states lead to clashes over voice chat. But with Overwatch, we’re not talking about an argument once in a blue moon. This happens almost every game.
Someone is on voice chat screaming over a lost fight or another teammate’s decision. On a few occasions, players have pulled me into arguments over the internet. I’ve seen my friends (who are considerate, intelligent people… most of the time) devolve into screaming babies over a Torbjorn on attack. Overwatch feels bad because, when I interact with the player base, I can literally feel my IQ reducing with every sentence. Is anyone actually having fun?
The game of Overwatch is brutal. You can play brilliantly all match, but one tiny mistake may just cost you the victory. That error can be as small as missing a crucial headshot, or not healing a teammate in time to survive Sigma’s flux. But this unforgiving nature entrenched within the game’s DNA can fuel this desperation and rage within players until they explode on voice comms. For a game that relies on team synergy to be played at its highest level, these kinds of outbursts over microphones feel incredibly bad and can lead to players refusing to join the voice chat, therefore limiting their ability to play the game.
This problem is inherently more difficult to fix than the rewards system. You can’t alter human nature with the latest patch. But the game could do more to encourage frequent breaks and offer helpful tips for when players are stressed.
As I mentioned, Overwatch is a merciless game, more so I think than any other online multiplayer. But players would have a much more fulfilling experience by reminding themselves that although it’s life or death for the characters, it’s still just a game to them.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
The sad reality is this game is deeply frustrating because it relies on other players to achieve success. In a competitive game with a competitive mode, your purpose is to win. It feels good if you win, feels bad if you don’t. But in almost every other online competitive shooter your fate lies mostly in your own hands. If you die, it’s your fault. There is nobody to blame but yourself, and there is some peace in that.
However, in Overwatch, you are just one part of a six-piece jigsaw. Sometimes, it feels that there is absolutely nothing you can do to win. Your teammate might be chilling in spawn, they might decide that this is the game to try Doomfist for the very first time and feed their brains out, they may think it’s funny to block your graviton with an ice wall – whatever it is, it’s out of your hands. You are playing a game where fractional mistakes can cost you the win, while five-sixths of your match is up to chance. At least, that’s how it feels.
This video is amazing at explaining why a team-based hero shooter like Overwatch is so complex:
Can’t Stop Playing
But despite all of this, I always find myself coming back to play Overwatch, like so many others. I mingle with the other online shooters of course, but Blizzard is always there, calling me back.
Overwatch feels bad, like that toxic relationship you know you should stay away from. You had fun with them a long time ago, but then they hurt you and you vowed never to see them again. But after a few months, they call you up and promise you that they’ve changed.
They have a role queue now which means that players won’t be so toxic anymore. There are new skins – golden guns! They’re different, they’ve matured, so you go crawling back. But low and behold, underneath all of the new stuff, they’re still the same sadistic soul. They chew you up and spit you back out again and the cycle continues.
Overwatch is Still Good
So why do players keep coming back? I think that is testament to the gameplay which, let’s face it, is addictive as class-A drugs. With the impeccable character design, the movement, the shooting mechanics, even the satisfying ‘dink’ of landing a critical headshot, it’s impossible to stay away when a game looks and feels so good.
So that means Overwatch feels bad because of its lacklustre rewards system and its toxic online community. But systems can be fixed. Overwatch has been starved of new content for a while now and we can only assume the reason for this is an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach at Blizzard towards Overwatch 2.
Game developers much savvier and more intelligent than me must be putting features in place to combat this. I’m optimistic that this will change, but the second issue still leaves a looming shadow.
How do you fix the online community? Well, your guess is as good as mine.