Overwatch Impressions: Let’s Get Competitive

Overwatch Impressions: Let’s Get Competitive

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After an entire month of Quick Play shenanigans, Overwatch finally received Competitive Play a week ago. The game didn’t require a downtime or anything. Blizzard must’ve simply flipped a big switch, because one moment it was just there. All you had to do was restart the game and go. Back in my day, World of Warcraft patches would require, at the very least, twenty-four hour maintenance, and the Overwatch servers didn’t even bat an eye. The future is weird. Well, except for the part where they did in fact bat an eye thanks to a DDOS attack, but that interrupting was fleeting.

So the patch was out; the golden guns were in the hero gallery; nobody was able to stay connected because the servers were being bombarded by a bunch of script kiddies. Still, I found my way online, and against my better judgement, I queued for my first of ten placement matches. Of course that didn’t go well. Our Reinhardt disconnected a few seconds into the game and didn’t return until the opposing team had practically wiped the floor with up like the good mops we were. Despite this, we held our own, and almost pulled off a clutch victory, but in the end we lost – due in part to the advantage they had from us being a man down at the start.

After that, I wised up, waited for the DDOS attack to settle, and grabbed a friend for my remaining placement matches. You don’t have to do them solo if you don’t want. Feel free to grab a full group of six if you feel so inclined. If you’re solo you’re basically at the whim of matchmaking, but if you have an actual team of six, then that’s probably best. Just don’t expect to whip together any old group of six and win. If you’re not used to playing with one another, chances are you’ll only be slightly more coordinated than a random group of six. Hell – sometimes you can get lucky and find a pug willing to coordinate and adapt like a real team. That’s not the norm, though.

Personally, at least for placement matches, I feel as though two to three players is a nice sweet spot. You won’t need to be as coordinated as a full six stack. In fact, a couple skilled players who are accustomed to playing together and are coordinated can practically carry the rest of the group.

With my friend in tow, we won the next seven games, and lost the last two. For the non-mathematically inclined, that means we went 7-3 overall and both ended up with a 54 skill rating out of 100. Not too shabby, if I do say. A few other friends I know who went roughly 5-5 wound up with a skill rating somewhere in the mid-40s, and if you’re lucky enough to win all ten placement matches, then you’ll probably land somewhere around 70.

That means virtually everyone I know who plays the game fell somewhere between 40 and 60, which brings us to my first criticism about competitive. The game seems pretty willing to lump the vast majority of players within that range. I would imagine you’d have to do fairly poorly to be set with a skill rating any lower than that. This isn’t too much of an issue when you’re grouped with a few friends and having a grand ole time, but if you’re solo queueing it’s almost a total crapshoot. There’s a great variance in the skill of players I’ve seen, and there’s a great difference between players in the 40s bracket and the 50s. I imagine as this first season progresses, players will spread out appropriately, but hopefully  next season Blizzard will spread people out a bit more based on their placement matches.

Blizzard hasn’t fully explained how your skill rating is calculated, but if you win, you gain skill rating, and if you don’t, you lose it. That much is obvious. Everything else seems obtuse and complicated. I’ve had friends I’ve grouped with gain or lose vastly different amounts of skill rating. Personal performance must factor into it but to what degree, I have no idea. There’ve been some people who’ve said that supports get shafted, but in some of the games I’ve played our supports get just as much Skill Rating as the other players, if not more. Blizzard could definitely stand to explain the system to players, and with as well as they’ve communicated thus far, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens. Just hope that nobody leaves during your game, because you’ll get a fraction of the Skill Rating you would’ve otherwise had.

Yeah – the leaver penalty could definitely use some adjustment, but not for the leaver themselves. They get punished adequately, although there could be a bigger window to allow players who disconnect to come back before they’re penalized, and in fact, in the middle of putting the final touches on this article, Blizzard patched it so that as long as you come back from a disconnect, you don’t get a loss unless you actually lose. That doesn’t help when someone really does leave, though, which seems pervasive at the lower ranks, and in fact, those who stick around are shafted the most. Overwatch basically neuters a game that has a leaver. Everyone loses out on basically all rank points, even if someone leaves within the last few minutes. It’s almost not worth finishing a game when someone leaves it. I’ve only been in a couple of those matches, but once it happens, practically all motivation to play goes straight out the window.

Then there’s the format itself. Competitive play must obviously differ from Quick Play since both teams must attack and defend to really know who’s better. As such, each of the game modes has some new rules that you’re going to have to become acquainted with. They range from perfectly fine to downright silly. Most of all, the Assault maps could use some adjustment. Each team is given a total of ten minutes with which to capture both points as many times as possible. However long it takes to capture the point is then deducted from the ten minute pool, which Blizzard refers to as the time bank. If both teams are evenly matched, those matches can easily go on for more than twenty minutes.

That’s not counting the really peculiar match-ups. I had one really interesting one where both teams must’ve really blown at defense, because we were capping each other over and over in what could best be described as the Overwatch version of Groundhog Day. That was a strange outlier, but many of the Assault match ups do go on for a little too long. Before the patch released, Blizzard had stated that the Assault maps would have their times reduced from five minutes to four, but that didn’t make it into live it appears, but it should. Anything to shorten those matches.  At least sudden seems less likely on these maps, so that’s definitely a plus.

Escort and Hybrid don’t feel quite as repetitive, but they’re the maps you’re more likely to see sudden death on. It’s seems pretty common for the higher skilled teams to make it to the end on a regular basis. Fortunately, though, they also have the potential to be the fastest. If you have a really awesome defense, and the attacking team only makes it a few feet out of their spawn, then when you attack, you only need to make it as far as the enemy team did in order to win, but those cases aren’t common. More often, the better team will finish the objective and then have a really excellent defense. But as I said, sometimes both teams will able to push it in, and in those cases, sudden death happens.

The Control maps (King of the Hill) are in a great spot. Instead of best of three, they’re best of five, which makes the games feel a lot more cutthroat. I’ve always liked the Control maps in quick play, and that remains to be the case in competitive. Having to play up to five matches also gives you a much larger chance to come back. Best of all, though, the Control maps aren’t capable of having sudden death.

It’s not exceedingly common, but it does happen, and a lot of the time who wins is determined by a coin flip, but we already know that Blizzard plans to remove sudden death for the next competitive season in early September, but until then, we have to deal with it. Sudden death occurs on the same map you just played, and the coin flip decides who attacks and who defends. The attacking team is allotted just over two minutes to get the payload to the first (and in some cases second) objective, and then they win. It’s a pretty silly system, and virtually everyone (even Blizzard) agrees that it should go, and it will… soon enough.

Part of me – an infinitesimal part – might actually miss it once it’s gone. On one hand, it sucks to have the outcome of the entire match determined by something so trivial, but at the same time, it’s extremely satisfying to snatch victory from the claws of defeat, but it’s also extremely frustrating to have a victory stolen from you.

Blizzard hasn’t specified anything about how they’re going to tweak the format once sudden death is gone. Almost everyone suggests a stopwatch game mode, where the first team that attacks sets the times for the second team to beat. That seems like it would be a possible alternative the only issue comes from the overtime system. Having the game end in a draw because one of the teams was able to stay in the game by activating a series of overtimes doesn’t really seem fair. I suppose in those cases the victor of the match can be determined by overall round time.

If Blizzard – for whatever reason – wants to steer away from stopwatch as a competitive game mode, then I suppose the best alternative would be tweaking the score system. Right now, a team gets one point for capturing an objective regardless of how long it takes them. Perhaps by switching the system from a point based one to a score based one, it would negate the need for stopwatch and sudden death, and draws would only happen if both teams take the game to a complete overtime and in those cases, again, the winner could be determined by overall round completion time.

But what do I mean by score? Instead of capturing the point being worth simply 1 point, it can be worth a much larger amount (say 500) that depletes the longer it takes you to cap it. When the round first starts, for example, point A can be worth 500 points, and that score will deplete all the way down to 1, which is when overtime would begin. Since both teams would have to bring all objectives into overtime, a true draw would be exceedingly rare. A system like that probably has some advantages, but whatever Blizzard does to the format, draws will need to be far rarer than sudden deaths are now.

As expected, a meta is certainly evolving around competitive. You’ll see a lot of the same comps, again and again. Almost every team will have a Mercy, and many will have both her and a Lucio. Zarya has also become a top pick just because she’s so flexible and her ultimate is such a playmaker. Strangely enough, both snipers have fallen by the wayside. I rarely see Widowmakers or Hanzos in any of the games I play. Zenyatta, as expected, continues to rarely see play. Most of the other heroes at least see some level of inclusion. D.Va’s definitely on the lower end, though.

Of course, the big draw of competitive – other than playing the game more seriously – are the rewards. At the moment, a win will grant you one competitive point, and in order to buy yourself a swanky golden gun, you’ll need three-hundred. Indeed, to buy just one weapon will require three hundred wins. Evidently you’ll get a lump of competitive points at the end of the season based upon your highest career skill rating, but I would imagine the highest skilled players will, at best, be able to buy just one golden gun. It’s fortunate, then, that I think they’re rather tacky, and I hope Blizzard expands the reward system in future seasons. If competitive points persist between seasons (I don’t see why they wouldn’t, especially if you find yourself falling short of three-hundred) then it might be worth banking them for other rewards introduced later.

After my time with Competitive Play, I still think it’s the place to be for people looking to play the game – you guessed it – more competitively. There are definitely some rough edges, and some aspects that even Blizzard aren’t too keen on, namely sudden death, but that’s without a doubt being removed. The skill rating seems less indicative of skill and more about how lucky your placement matches are and how well you can grind. Skill definitely comes into play, especially when playing with an organized team of six, and then it becomes an upwards grind. Be it for levels, or skill rating, Overwatch is and will ever be all about the grind.

Fortunately the game doesn’t suck.


Josh Price is a writer who probably spends too many hours of the day playing video games. At some point he decided to put the two together to (hopefully) great effect.He also wrote some fiction. You should check that out if you're into such things, which you should be. Reading is FUNdamental.

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