Overwatch Competitive Mode: Jeff Kaplan Talks Changes, Rewards And MMR

Overwatch [official site] launched in May but Competitive Play mode has been notable in its absence. The team will be relaunching Competitive Play at the end of June but until now details of how it was being reworked were scant to say the least!

Now game director Jeff Kaplan has offered a far more in-depth insight into what’s changed and how the mode will work when it returns, from exclusive cosmetics for the best of the best to a cycle of seasonal progression and resetting. Here’s what you need to know right now:


“Competitive play is an area where players who want to take the game a little bit more seriously can focus their efforts,” says Kaplan. “With that in mind, we had tried some versions of competitive play in the beta and we got a lot of feedback that was super helpful to us. A lot of what we were hearing was that our competitive play format was actually not competitive enough for people. They wanted more of a sense of skill and they wanted to know exactly how they ranked against other players.”

That’s a pretty basic summary of the situation, but Kaplan goes on to offer more detail. I’ve picked out the key points here in case you’re somewhere you can’t listen to the video.

Season Length

In the beta Blizzard were experimenting with a really short cycle where progression would be reset after a month. As you might have guessed that was a bit too rapid and folk didn’t feel like they had enough time to settle in and feel like they were making meaningful progress. When Competitive Play comes back you can expect longer seasons which broadly chime with the annual seasons of the Northern hemisphere.

More specifically, you’ll get a competitive season lasting about two and a half months, then a break, then another season. There might be some further tweaking as feedback on the new approach comes in so it might lengthen or shorten based on how the multitude of players respond but you’ll definitely start off with a Summer season.

Sudden Death

Sudden Death is what happens when each team has won one game as part of a match on an assault, escort or hybrid map (you play the attack and defense side of those maps as part of a match). Sudden Death is basically the decider round and was played on a control point map so there was no attacker/defender.

As per info from the beta, the team found that Sudden Death was happening too often:

“Statistically what we were seeing is that they were going into sudden death 35% of the time,” says Kaplan. Instead of being something that kicked in during more than a third of games the team wanted Sudden Death to be a far rarer occurance so they’ve been seeking to minimise its frequency so it’s more a marker of an incredibly tight match between two well-matched teams. There’s no detail on how exactly that’s going to happen but I suspect we’ll be able to gleam a bit more insight from patch notes and blogs and so on nearer the time.

Kaplan added that instead of shifting to a control map for Sudden Death, the third round wopuld be resolved on the map you were already playing. I’m interested to know how that would work in terms of assigning teams to attack/defence.

Oh, and Kaplan also noted that assault maps (Hanamura, Temple of Anubis and Volskaya Industries – where one team defends a point while the opposition tries to capture it) are too dependent on a handful of teamfights. They flip too fast and are over too soon – I can attest to several steamrolly defeats and victories when it comes to assault – so the team are also twiddling with those maps right now to get a different balance and better chance of a meaty back and forth.


Competitive play in the beta was geared around progression with ranking up across tiers. “We had challenger, advanced, expert… and once you were within a tier you couldn’t drop out of that tier,” says Kaplan. But players wanted to know their relative skill level rather than grind up across rankings.

As a result, Blizzard are ditching tiers and going for a number rating from 1-100 for players to describe their skill. This skill rating has a direct correlation with your matchmaking ranking so you’ll be able to see how you measure up against other players as you boot into a game. You’ll also get info like average team skill rating and whether people in the game are part of a pre-made stack.

It’s interesting that they’re going for transparency with this skill stuff and I wonder how it will affect players’ mindsets. I mean, if you can see that a match is skewed in the other side’s favour in terms of their skill what does that mean in terms of the effort people will put in or the psychology of play? I’d be interested to know whether it would affect drop-out rates or morale.

There is the flip side which might help with balancing any potential negative effects, which is that (as you often find with systems of this ilk) a win against a team with a higher skill level than you will be worth more and a loss will affect you less. Gosh, I wish I had access to their internal stats on things like player behaviour and psychology of MMR!


Last but not least are the rewards. Players who do well in the Competitive mode will gain faster access to some kings of cosmetics (golden weaponry was mentioned, specifically a golden hammer for Reinhardt). The very highest skill level players will also be able to earn other cosmetics to signify their achievements. Nothing that will affect play, though. This one is about bragging rights, basically.


  1. Cooper says:

    What is up, everyone?

  2. Meat Circus says:

    Not sure that competitive play will ever be accepted by the l33t players with the game’s rather paltry tick rate.

    At 20 Hz you’re constantly being sniped through walls by Hanzos.

    For comparison, ranked CS:GO has a 120Hz server tick rate.

    • Jinoru says:

      There is a high-bandwidth option available in the custom matches. Depending on how much its used they may make it available in competitive.

    • Bweahns says:

      I enjoy playing Chubbs and constantly have bizarre hook interactions; people end up behind me after being hooked, people get stuck behind things etc.

    • arccos says:

      Is that what’s going on? It’s annoying as hell. Have they explained why they made is so low?

      • Horg says:

        It’s a part of why the netcode is so bad. There are other factors in play such as the ”favor the attacker” routine, which (in most cases) will assume that the attackers game state is the real game state if two players have conflicting states. Hence, lots of arrows following you around corners.

        The reason for 20 tick rate it is obvious; to reduce bandwidth cost. Because of this they are extremely unlikely to want to change it. It’s a financial decision that they knew would negatively impact the experience, but went along with anyway.

        • Meat Circus says:

          I heard rumours it’s because the console toys require maximum bandwidth per connection as part of their certification process.

          Don’t see why the master race should suffer though.

        • arccos says:

          What’s frustrating about that decision is that the person being shot notices how terrible it is for them, but the person shooting doesn’t notice how good it is for them. Seems like they could fix half of the issues if they favored the player shot instead of the shooters.

          • Kitsunin says:

            That’s a pretty bad idea, it’d ruin the game-feel, and make shooting impossible. Aside from edge cases like going around corners, it’s very rare that you will get shot because of lag when you wouldn’t have been shot in a LAN. You move, you duck, you weave, and for the most part you do it to just generally make yourself harder to hit, not to avoid specific bullets.

            On the other hand when you shoot, you always have to aim at a specific target. If that target is not located exactly where it looks like it is, it becomes hugely more difficult to do so.

            Neither is preferable, but favoring the shooter is vastly superior when you’re stuck with any lag.

          • arccos says:

            I see what you’re saying. It would be interesting to try both in the same game. :-)

          • socrate says:

            the problem isnt lag..lag just add on to the problem that will never be fixed apparently…the netcode is just horrible in that game and if not for the name blizzard this game would probably be hated beyond imagination…the fact that the player base is now dropping like a rock tell you alots about how short term the fun factor was for so many gamer and it is really starting to show in-game…this is what blizzard now does where in the past they would have thrown that into the sewer the today blizzard now patch it up with half chewed gum and make it as a “new product” and sell it for high price to cash in toward their moronic community of fanboy that will endure apparently anything at this point.

    • Aitrus says:

      You can snipe through walls with Hanzo regardless, if your victim is just around the corner. link to youtube.com

    • gunny1993 says:

      … Are you saying that’s a bad thing? Less l33t players seems like a great idea.

      • Meat Circus says:

        Aren’t they the people you want to attract to ranked play? Blizzard have talked about making Overwatch a viable e-sport. Not at 20 Hz tick rate you won’t fam.

        • Jac says:

          It’s mainly a ping ting not a tick rate ting Cuz.

          For proper arranged competitive matches / tourneys they already have the high bandwidth option.

          For matchmaking games it’s fine unless everyone in the world has lan like pings.

    • Person of Interest says:

      Client send rate is 60Hz, and server simulation is also 60Hz–only client receive rate is 20Hz. So Hanzo really did shoot you in the open, but you didn’t find out until you were behind the wall. Latency compensation probably more of a factor than receive rate, and I think they correctly chose the lesser evil by “favoring the attacker” when resolving conflicting reports.

      • Koozer says:

        Facts, facts for everyone!

        <q cite="link to eurogamer.net;?Whilst we’re on that topic, something that has cropped up within the Overwatch community a few times now, especially when we’re talking about things like competitive play, is the server tick rate. Players would like it to be higher. Will that happen?

        Jeff Kaplan: I’m really glad you asked about that, because there’s so much confusion. First of all, most people don’t even really understand the way that the network code works. For example, the server does tick at 60Hz, it’s the client update rate that is lower. That just shows a general misunderstanding.

        I think players have latched onto server tick rate as being the reason that certain things happen. One of the things that players are upset about is that if they get shot, where they perceive they were behind a wall, that this is a problem with server tick rate. Certainly there are contributions that could happen with both the server and the client update rates that could cause something like that to happen, but usually, in most cases, you’re talking about latency.

        • Koozer says:

          You lied to me allowed XHTML text.

        • socrate says:

          kaplan should go test is game quite frankly youtube is now flodded with these netcode test and some are actually a million time more competent then him apparently,not that it surprise me

    • Phasma Felis says:

      The tick rate (still) has nothing to do with being shot through walls. That’s all latency/lag. The 20Hz tick rate can add a maximum delay of 33 milliseconds to message travel time, far less than an eyeblink. It may conceivably make the game feel less smooth, but any difference large enough to be visible in a freezeframe (e.g. being struck by a projectile 6 feet away from you) is caused by something other than tick rate.

  3. aircool says:

    So what mode do I want to play? I want to have fun, but I like playing with team oriented players, yet I don’t want the pressure that ranking games put on you.

    I love this game as much as I despise it. I have more fun when I group with a friend and use the group voip… I have far less fun playing solo.

    The whole game is just strange; I can have fun, but also want to murder people.

    It’s one of those ‘it’s life’ things; everything is great, but it just takes one person being a dick to fuck everyone’s day. Yeah, it’s the internetz etc… but for once, it would be nice to play this sort of game without trolls, idiots and oxygen thieves.

  4. Deathshadow says:

    IDK but in the past week or every quick match I play our team loses 90% of the time. After 3 matches lost in a row I quit out. Next day same thing. Its getting worse than Dota2!