In case you didn’t hear, Blizzard recently livestreamed an extensive look at Overwatch 2 and it’s revamped PvP mode. While there’s a lot to talk about, the change that’s drawing the most attention and controversy at the moment is the news that Overwatch 2 will alter the previous games 6v6 PvP format and embrace a standard 5v5 format.
According to Blizzard, these changes will help reduce the amount of on-screen chaos (thus making it easier to follow the action) and streamline the style of the average match. They also hope the change will result in players better utilizing the unique strategies presented by each map rather than relying on the same basic playstyle. Furthermore, many characters will be altered in response to this new format, and classes will now include unique benefits that apply to every hero in that class. Some players also suspect that this move could help reduce Overwatch‘s queue times, which is certainly a benefit for players who currently have to endure longer waits.
Yet, Overwatch fans on Twitter, Reddit, the Blizzard forums, and comment sections everywhere are already…less than optimistic about the potential impact of this format change. While every player has their own hopes and concerns, these are some of the most notable ways that players fear Overwatch 2’s new format could be bad for the game.
Overwatch 2’s 5v5 Multiplayer Will Almost Certainly Impact Character Diversity
While it’s tempting to say that Overwatch 2 will obviously negatively impact character diversity due to the fact that you’re forced to play with fewer characters in each match, there are various other factors (balancing, meta, multiple strategic possibilities) that could help ensure that you still see a diverse array of characters in the average Overwatch 2 match.
That being said, there’s obviously some truth to the idea that having less players in a match means seeing fewer heroes in a match. At the very least, that impacts Overwatch 2 from a flavor perspective, but as many are quick to point out, the bigger concern here is balance. Many higher level Overatch matches (and even an unfortunate amount of lower level matches) see players demand that their teammates play certain heroes they believe to be “optimal” based on the game’s meta. One less player and character per team could mean less of a chance to play your favorite character without having to endure harassments.
Of course, for some players, they may simply no longer have the chance to play their favorite character at all due to the potential larger impact of these changes. That brings us to the biggest talking point of the new 5v5 standard: the role of tanks.
Overwatch 2 Could Put a Lot of Pressure on Tank Players (and May Lead to More Toxicity)
It’s worth spending a little more time talking about tanks as that’s the class most directly impacted by what we currently know about Overwatch 2.
To be blunt, playing a tank in Overwatch can really suck. Not only is the enemy team typically swarming you (which is obviously the nature of the role), but it’s fairly common for tank players to endure quite a bit of verbal abuse from their teammates over what they consider to be bad play. An Overwatch team typically relies on their tanks to not screw up, but tanks rarely get to enjoy as many moments of “glory.” It’s kind of like being an offensive lineman in the NFL.
That toxicity, and the fact that many recent Overwatch metas already favor DPS and Support characters, means that it’s sometimes hard to find a tank that’s willing to put up with it all. When you do, they’re often encouraged to play certain characters designed to best protect the rest of the team.
Now, Blizzard has said that they’re rethinking how tanks will work in Overwatch 2 by making them more aggressive brawlers who take “reduced knockback” and provide “less ultimate charge to opponents who damage them,” but at the end of the day, a tank will still not be a DPS or Support character; they’ll be a tank that is expected to serve a particular role. That role is already a big ask for the average Overwatch players, and it could be less appealing than ever now that the “off-tank” position (and the support and playstyle they offered) is no longer an option.
Is it possible that Blizzard could balance characters in a way that encourages tank diversity and puts less pressure on them by promoting a variety of team strategies? It certainly is, but that brings us to our next point…
Overwatch 2’s 5v5 Will Force Blizzard to Rebalance Many Characters and Comps
It’s not exactly uncommon for people who play competitive games to complain about balance. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a competitive mutliplayer game (especially in the live service era) that has achieved “perfect balance” in the minds of most of its players.
Still, balancing Overwatch has been a particularly tough task for Blizzard. There are so many moving pieces in the game that it sometimes feels like the best Blizzard can do is wait for the new meta to settle and then target the strongest and weakest characters to help mix things up. In a way, reducing Overwatch‘s team size could also reduce the possible ways that players can “break” the game and therefore make it easier to balance the overall experience.
However, the biggest problem with that lovely sentiment is that changing Overwatch‘s PvP format means that the majority of existing characters will likely need to be reworked and rebalanced. That’s an incredibly tall task for any company, much less one that has historically scrambled to make minor adjustments in response to ongoing balance issues.
Think about it. In the current format, characters like Roadhog, Winston, Wrecking Ball, and even Zarya are in no way capable of effectively serving as a team’s one and only tank. Removing that second tank spot also impacts DPS and Support players who would sometimes base their character selections and strategies on the tanks. While the new format may not mean every Overwatch character needs to be reworked and rebalanced, a substantial number of them will likely have to be changed in some way.
That doesn’t mean that Blizzard can’t make this whole thing work but rather that some players are already wondering why they wouldn’t help balance the existing format instead of upending it and seemingly creating more potential balance problems for themselves.
Overwatch 2 Could be Seen as an Example of “Forced Composition” Design
In the early days of Overwatch, there were no character limits and players could build teams pretty much however they wanted. That was almost universally agreed to be a terrible idea and was quickly replaced with a system where each team could only include one of each hero.
However, after some comps (particularly tank heavy comps) revealed the inherent balance issues with this idea, Blizzard eventually decided to implement a role queue that forced teams to adopt a 2-2-2 composition. When that led to issues (and “stale” metas), Blizzard implemented a hero pool that limited the number of characters you could choose from at different times. Of course, all of these changes have now led to Overwatch 2’s 5v5 matches.
Through it all, Blizzard strategy for dealing with team composition balance issues has often boiled down to reducing team composition options. While there were times when that approach was obviously the right strategy, there were other times when players wondered if these moves were just a way to make it easier to balance the game by eliminating strategic possibilities.
The 5v5 announcement has certainly put that argument back into the spotlight. One argument against the 5v5 format (so far as this idea goes) is that if you’re going to have to regularly balance the game anyway (which the OW2 team probably will), why seemingly sacrifice composition choices in the name of eliminating balancing headaches?
Now, it is possible that Blizzard new approach will change the inherent value of certain roles and characters and result in a wider array of strategies due to the fact that players won’t be “forced” into a particular team playstyle as often. That could be a big ask based on some of the issues we noted above, but there is certainly a world where smaller teams do result in more diverse comps.
Overwatch 2 Could Be Bad News for OWL Pro Players
This obviously won’t impact the majority of Overwatch players, but it’s interesting to think about how this new format will impact the Overwatch League.
Not only does this change naturally mean that there will be one less OWL player in each match (which could lead to reduced roster sizes), but there are some OWL players who were specifically recruited to play off-tank characters and roles that may no longer exist in the upcoming game.
Even regular players may feel some of that pain. If you’re someone who played with larger groups of friends under the old comp format or even regularly queued into matches as characters or roles that may no longer exist in the way you knew them, you’re probably suddenly wondering what comes next.
While there are reasons to hope that the answers to your questions will make you feel bad for every worrying, this could be seen as another example of how Overwatch needed to be improved by its sequel more than it needed to be fundamentally redesigned in a way that makes some existing fans worry the most.