Overwatch plans to reward you for being nice, plus new Symmetra is on the PTR

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Competitive multiplayer games have two major problems. One is that they often struggle to survive, their servers becoming ghost towns just a few weeks or months after they release. The other is that when games do survive, those towns are often bustling with arseholes.

Overwatch is no exception, so I’m pleased to see that Blizzard have plans to roll out an endorsement system that encourages players to get along with each other. They’re also introducing a ‘looking for group’ feature that lets you specify what roles and attitudes you want from your teammates, and they’ve introduced everyone playing on the PTR servers to Symmetra’s fancy new abilities.

All of the news comes from the latest dev video with creative director Jeff Kaplan, so do feel free to listen to his wonderfully earnest voice explain everything in detail rather than just read my summary.

Kaplan covers the new endorsement system first, which will let you praise fellow players for showing good sportsmanship, or being good teammates or shot callers. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before in other games – I’m most familiar with Dota 2‘s take on the same idea – but it’s still a very welcome addition. Your endorsements are displayed on your profile and you’ll be ‘rewarded periodically’ for maintaining a high-endorsement level, but they all get wiped if you get silenced or suspended after being reported. These sort of systems don’t magically turn every cussing loudmouth into an upstanding citizen, but they can nudge them in the right direction.

The ‘looking for group’ system could also help on that front, by letting you find players with a similar mindset to your own in the first place. The system lets you set up a group and advertise it in a list, where you can name it however you like and establish parameters like ‘everyone must be on voice’ or ‘we must have a balanced team composition’. Kaplan talks about using it to find other people that are serious about ranking up, but it should work for finding more casual players too.

I used to use my mic far more when playing with strangers in multiplayer games, both to chat and strategize – but I’ve been worn down by how often that leads to engaging with people who just aren’t worth engaging. I really like the idea of setting up a group that’s specifically looking for friendly talkative people, both when I’m playing by myself and when I want to round out a gaggle of friends I’ve already made.

They’re also collapsing the Offence and Defence hero categories into the same ‘Damage’ role. It’s another change I can get behind – as Kaplan says, those labels were always fairly arbitrary. What he doesn’t mention is that those labels were colouring a lot of players’ perceptions about when it was appropriate to pick certain heroes. Genji can do wonders on defence against the right enemy team composition, and hopefully now I’ll get a little less abuse when I try to insist that’s the case.

All of those changes will land with the next update, along with the Symmetra rework and a couple of tweaks to the Horizon New Colony map.

You can check out Symmetra’s new abilities on the PTR servers right now if you like though, which I’m tempted to do despite never normally bothering with test-client shenanigans. The rework has slapped rockets onto her turrets, transformed her teleporter ultimate into a regular ability and made Photon Barrier an ult that project a barrier which is ‘infinite in size’. That’s just scratching the surface of everything that’s new with her, so it’d be fair to treat her like an entirely new hero.

28 Comments

  1. Zorgulon says:

    Wow, this is shaping up to be one of the most significant updates to the game. There’s a lot here.

    The social changes seem like a good idea in principle ā€“ I hope they work in practice. Endorsements with rewards seem like a way to encourage more sportsmanlike behaviour from the silent majority. There will always be a vocal minority of nasty, trollish players, or just people who are having a bad day and mouth off in chat. What we ideally need is for the rest of the players to speak up, become involved in the team and not be put off by voice chat (as Matt says, and I agree, because of the perceived overwhelming presence of negative interactions). This is a wildly optimistic desire, but even a small step towards it will be good for the game and community in general.

    The Looking for Group feature will hopefully do this too. I almost solely play Quick Play, because the more strained atmosphere of Competitive, while it can lead to some memorably tense moments of gameplay and more focussed team play just seems too likely to turn sour because people don’t like to lose. A way to group up with people who want to take QP more seriously, or who won’t be arseholes in Competitive sounds good.

    As for the merging of the Offense and Defence “Roles”, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying this has been my understanding of how the various classes work since pretty much the beginning. I’m surprised that Matt has had teammates tell him off for picking Genji on Defense, especially considering that many players seem very willing to pick his brother in a offensive capacity almost without thinking.

    Lastly, the Symmetra changes teased a while ago seem to have made it to the PTR intact. It’s a huge overhaul. The teleporter change in particular seems to suggest some interesting strategies for getting your allies in or out of fights in unpredictable and clever ways. I’m struggling to picture the impact of her new ultimate in-game ā€“ is it truly an impenetrable barrier that spans the whole map?

    • Excors says:

      > Iā€™m struggling to picture the impact of her new ultimate in-game ā€“ is it truly an impenetrable barrier that spans the whole map?

      Yes. It’s like a stationary Reinhardt shield with infinite size, and 5000 health and 15s duration. You place it like a Mei wall. I guess it’ll be useful for things like blocking snipers while you deal with the rest of their team, protecting your own snipers and healers while your tanks push forward past the barrier, protecting your whole team as you run through a chokepoint, providing some protection on the control point while you’re still running back from spawn in overtime, etc. It also looks pretty cool.

  2. Excors says:

    I imagine Symmetra’s new teleporter will be used to do some crazy stuff in well-coordinated teams (though not so much for normal players). It’s very different to the old teleporter – it now links your current location to a medium-range target point (like Reaper’s teleport ability), it lasts for 10 seconds with a 12 second cooldown, and you can travel both ways through it. Teleport immobile characters to high ground; teleport your entire team past a chokepoint or along a flanking route; teleport turrets and exploding mechs and riptires and charging Reins into the enemy backline.

    Also she does more damage and will melt Genji even faster than before. And if she’s popular, maybe people will play more Winston to destroy her turrets, and Winston likes to zap Genji. And of course there’s Brigitte now to punish flankers. Life is tough for Genji mains.

  3. aircool says:

    I think the time is right to introduce systems that encourage people to behave with respect. Online gaming has existed for over 20 years, and it’s still a bit of a ‘Wild West’ out there.

    It’s easy to get frustrated by certain players’ attitudes, such as vehicle campers in BF1 or half the team camping instead of fighting over objectives, but no amount of abuse or trolling will change their play style. However, that stems from a flaw in the game mechanics, and people still prioritising K/D ratio over anything else. Whilst K/D ratio is important for Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch games, people still use it as a yardstick for performance in objective based matches, which is wrong. This could be solved by removing the K/D ratio from the score screens and reducing or scrapping any score gained from kills.

    Grouping with similar minded players is also a step forward, but like any system, there will be people who find a way to abuse it. I’ve no doubt a mix of sarcasm and false compliments will go over many people’s heads.

    After all, when everyone on a losing side compliments a vehicle camper with ‘GG’, you know that it’s not out of appreciation and is just code for ‘thanks for fucking it up you selfish prick!’.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      This is the main problem with OW, but it’s so integral to the game design and playing culture that every step forward is an extremely small step in a huge pyramid. From the play of the game mechanic rewarding only kills (and revives, but nu-Mercy’s slow revive rate no longer checks in with the system), all the way to your competitive rank being skewed towards kills, OW has a paradoxical message at its heart: this is a team game, but whoever has the most kills is also whoever’s “contributing” the most. The metrics of the entire game are articulated by kills, so yeah, it might get better but it’s a steep way up.

  4. eeguest says:

    Can’t wait to see now all those Hanzo on support roles

  5. sosolidshoe says:

    I’m sure this is a good thing for folk playing the game so should be welcomed, but as with a lot of tech-industry stuff they’re just scrabbling around to solve a problem they caused themselves in the first place.

    They come up with all these bandaids like endorsement systems and “LFG” features that only need to exist in the first place because they took away dedicated servers.

    There were always “toxic” players in online multiplayer games. They were there in Unreal Tournament, Quake 3, AvP2, in BF1942, BF:Vietnam, UT2004, up through TF2 and into modernity. The difference was it was easy to escape them because you could find a few good servers with active, reasonable admins and an approach to the game that matched your own and just stick to them. No muss, no fuss, no arseholes, and no waiting staring at a screen while an already overtaxed matchmaking system tries desperately to figure in endorsements and “preferred attitude of teammates” to its calculation, before giving up and dumping you into a game with whoever happened to be on-hand when you queued up regardless.

    • Excors says:

      I think the benefits you describe are separate from the technical issue of supporting dedicated servers. You could get exactly the same effect by creating e.g. some kind of guild system, where players can freely join a guild and there are admins who can arbitrarily kick them out again. If you don’t like one guild’s standards of conduct, or think their admins are unfair, join another guild. Then you can play matches with like-minded members of your guild, instead of random strangers.

      That seems like what you said, just with “server” replaced by “guild” – it doesn’t need to be tied to dedicated servers, it should work the same with centrally-hosted ones. It would maybe even work better, since a very large guild could automatically be assigned multiple servers and the game could still use matchmaking to group players of similar skill within the guild. (Plus the usual benefits of centrally-hosted servers, like better performance (since the developers can profile and tune the software and OS on their chosen hardware platform), security for players (don’t need to worry about malicious servers exploiting bugs in the client software), ability to write complex server software with messy dependencies that are a pain for server admins (which is fine when you just employ an experienced admin and don’t have thousands of random users trying to set up servers, and cheaper than providing documentation and support), lower financial cost to the community, protection against piracy (since the servers can verify you’ve paid for your account), etc. And the usual drawbacks like the lack of end-of-life support and the protection against piracy.)

      • April March says:

        Sure, those alternative approaches are probably viable, but why reinvent the wheel?

        • Darloth says:

          Because sometimes we need new wheels.

          Aeroplanes of the size we have now would not be able to land properly on solid tires – they NEED the new technology of inflatable pressurized rubber wheels, and wooden or probably even steel wheels with spokes, like they used to make, would just collapse.

          Don’t knock advances in wheel engineering.

    • mitrovarr says:

      You really couldn’t have dedicated player-ran servers as the main place to play Overwatch. Can you imagine the game without skill-based matchmaking? It’d be a nightmare for all but the most elite players.

      • SaintAn says:

        Was never a problem before Overwatch. Pretty much all shooters up until not that long ago had player run servers and skill wasn’t a problem. Even TF2 doesn’t have this problem.

        • mitrovarr says:

          I remember it being a problem for TF2. Most servers had a couple of completely dominant players and there would be rampant teamstacking and abandoning to line up with the big names as you had essentially no chance if they ended up together or only one was on.

          • TeePee says:

            ^this – it was a *huge* problem with TF2, and was a big part of the reason I stopped playing (1000+ hours) when my favourite server finally drifted apart – I simply couldn’t find a game at my (probably only marginally above average) level that wasn’t either ultra-competitive with people screaming at anyone who didn’t pick meta-weapons, or just a complete shitshow of three snipers, three spies and a W+M1 pyro who rage-switched because he kept getting backstabbed (or a saigns.de server. Man, screw those servers).

            Once you allow people to split from the main pack at will and throw those creations in as the ostensible ‘core experience’, you’re running the risk of diluting the existing playerbase, and making it harder for new players to experience the game the way you (as the developer) intended it to be experienced. I know if the first time I loaded into TF2 and I landed in a Saigns.de server, I’d have probably uninstalled it, refunded it and then microwaved my HDD for good measure.

            Whilst Matchmaking isn’t perfect, and creates it’s own problems such as smurfing, it definitely makes it easier for someone like myself that doesn’t want to or can’t commit to a regular group or schedule to just dip in and have an above 50% chance of finding a game around about my level. The new changes only increase those odds.

  6. Cederic says:

    There’s nothing wrong with ‘cussing’. If people stopped giving words some weird power to upset them then they’d stop getting so upset.

    I swear all the time, at home, at work, in front of my parents.. why not when I’m gaming?

    (I don’t however tend to swear while insulting someone. I prefer to be much more subtle and inventive, then taunt them three minutes later when they finally work it out)

    Overwatch’s biggest problem is the default enablement of voice chat. I just don’t want to play with 14 year olds and with no voice chat I can at least pretend the person playing far better than me is an adult.

    • SaintAn says:

      Overwatch’s biggest problem is the developers.

    • TeePee says:

      I see where you’re coming from, but it’s difficult to justify any kind of behaviour being fine just because you don’t have a problem with it. I don’t have an issue with 90% of ‘bad words’ (there are some that are offensive simply because of the history behind them, and like most folks, I abhor them), but I accept that a significant proportion of people are uncomfortable with them for whatever reason, so I don’t use them indiscriminately around folks I don’t know, it just seems like politeness.

    • Excors says:

      Humans have spent millennia developing and perfecting ways to upset each other with words. You can’t really expect people to simply make themselves immune to that, as if they were robots who could unplug their “become upset” wire.

      • Cederic says:

        You’ve just given the argument why it’s unreasonable to try and stop people from upsetting others with words.

        Humans have had millions of years of learning how to deal with this, perhaps we should trust them to be able to handle a little unsavoury language.

  7. SaintAn says:

    Seems the Overweatch devs can’t go a month without screwing up the game somehow. Sym was my favorite character to play up until Moira came out. Really look forward to private servers so I can play the game when it was still fun before Blizzards idiotic changes for the esports cancer.

    • TeePee says:

      I genuinely like a lot of the changes they’ve been making lately – whilst OW has its issues, just like every competitive online game out there, they’ve got a huge cast of characters, the majority of which are viable, and they’re always really open about the changes they make and why they’re making them – they seem to genuinely hate ‘meta’, which I think is hugely healthy for the long-term life of the game.
      I’m trying to think, and I can’t think of too many changes they’ve made that have been out-and-out bad for the game. I didn’t like Mercy 2.0 much, but I don’t feel it ruined the game, just my playstyle!

      • mitrovarr says:

        The problem is, their changes are so bumbling and cause far more problems than they solve. Like Brigitte – she was brought into the game to stop dive, a meta strategy that only mattered at very high elo. She was so completely, stupidly overpowered that she made the dive heroes (some of the hardest and most interesting to play in the game) completely unplayable overnight and ushered in a new meta that was dominant at all levels, not just very high up where most people never actually saw it. And unlike Tracer/Genji she replaced, Brigitte has extremely low skill requirements. Anyone can pick her up and be playing her to full efficiency in a day. It’s pathetic.

        I’ve been playing the game since about season 4 and the overall trend has been downhill. Doomfist was a bad idea. Moira was a bad idea. Mercy 2.0 was a bad idea. Brig was a spectacularly bad idea. And they seem to have this idea that supports should be incredibly powerful but also not take any skill whatsoever. It’s pretty demeaning to someone who likes to play support but doesn’t to be forced into zero-skill heroes because they’re overpowered and better than the ones that actually take skill.

        • TeePee says:

          I think a lot of the issues around Brigitte is that people just don’t adjust their playstyles/comps around her. She’s vulnerable as hell to anyone that’s sensible enough to not sit on her lap while fighting her (Have you tried playing her against a halfway-competent Pharah/Soldier? Not fun!) – the number of people who will keep their distance and pick away at Reinhardt, but think nothing of fighting Brigitte at point-blank range is distressing.

          However, I definitely won’t argue that she was OP when she was first released, but they quickly patched the worst out of it, and I imagine they’ll continue to tweak her as needed, much like Sombra has been.

          I do dislike when people get mad about characters having ‘low skill ceilings’ though – to use Mercy as an example, mechanically she’s easy to have a basic level of effectiveness with – left click, press shift when Tracer appears, press E on the dead tank every 35s.

          The reality is though, that has an upper limit of effectiveness – once you reach a certain level, (say the upper reaches of Diamond, it’s been a while since I played comp) you’ll be actively hunted by flankers almost to exclusivity, so you need to constantly know not only where they are, but what your ever-changing escape routes are.
          Oh, and you need to know whether the tank you’re healing has a tendency to overcommit and when to cut them off to keep yourself alive.
          You’ve got to make a decision between a risky revive that might keep your push going long enough to get to the checkpoint, or might get you killed and leave your team missing their healer for the next 30s. And you have to do all of this in the middle of a 12-way firefight where pretty much everyone needs your attention in one way or another, and you’re mostly reliant on your team to be savvy enough to keep you alive.

          Yes, in terms of ‘tangibles’ such as reaction time, accuracy and the ability to win one-on-one duels, she’s not even in the same conversation as Genji, McCree et al, but that doesn’t mean she’s any ‘easier’ to play. The attributes required are totally different. To use a different example, in soccer/football, it’d be like me as a defender getting angry at a striker saying ‘well, all you have to do is put the ball in the net – that’s literally your only job’, completely ignoring all the positioning, anticipation and work s/he has to do to get into position to even have the chance to do that.

          I kind of went off on a Mercy-tangent there, but it’s the same thing with Brigitte – yeah, you can be successful with her in QP (and probably low-level ranked, haven’t tried her yet, but I know what the standard is like down there) by holding W+M1, but if that’s your only trick, you’re going to hit a brick wall real fast when you come up against a McCree who knows to just keep 10m away from you, or a Tracer that’s smart enough to wait for your shield bash before engaging.

          • mitrovarr says:

            IMO the problem with Mercy/Moira/Brig isn’t that they don’t have to aim, it’s that they have excessively forgiving bailout mechanisms. People say they need positioning skills and such, but really they don’t need as much of them as other heroes do. Ana and Zenyatta need aim, better cooldown management, and far better positioning just to survive. Mercy and Moira have a one-button get out of trouble free ability (Mercy has a ludicrously low cooldown on hers and Moira’s is the best escape in the game), and they’re also
            kind of tanky for squishies too (small hitboxes and self healing).

            And the sad thing is that even a well played Ana will never put up the same healing numbers as even a marginally competent Moira. Who will probably also take elim and damage medals on the side.

          • TeePee says:

            I think the issue there is less that there’s a low skill-ceiling for most of the supports, and more that Ana kind of needs a rework.

            I’m bad with Ana, there’s no two ways about it, but it’s not hard to see that she’s the easy target of the supports – these days I play a lot of Winston, and I know with pretty good certainty that if I jump on an Ana, unless I’ve screwed up and missed someone covering her or I mis-time her sleep dart’s cooldown, I’m going to get a kill.
            She’s got no escape mechanism like Lucio, Mercy or Moira (I presume the sleep dart is supposed to provide that, but the cooldown is so long it’s not reliable enough), she doesn’t self-heal enough that I have to worry about losing a battle of attrition (Brigitte), even if she does nail me with the flask, and she doesn’t do enough damage to scare me into thinking twice about attacking her head-on (Zen).

            The problem is, if you lower the cooldown on her sleep dart, which would appear to be the easy option, she’s going to become an offensive nightmare, as she can ensure there’s almost always someone on the opposition asleep, making it a constant 5v6, and with little penalty for missing a shot or keeping her powder dry in case she gets jumped.

            Personally, I’d like to see her get something like a very short-range AOE ability that disables an attacker somehow -something that’s going to be difficult to turn into an attacking weapon, but gives her a fighting chance of at least escaping an attacker, if not combating them directly.

            Also, I do happen to agree with Moira – if any support is currently in need of a bit of a nerf, it’s Moira – she’s insane, and I say that as someone who plays her quite a bit.

        • Excors says:

          Brigitte didn’t replace Tracer/Genji – outside of the top levels it seems she usually takes the place of a healer or maybe a tank, so she’s replacing heroes who similarly didn’t depend heavily on mechanical skill. (Nobody played Ana anyway). She forced Tracer/Genji to be replaced by other DPS heroes – currently mainly Hanzo because his rework is too strong (he’s much rarer in OWL which has Brigitte with the old Hanzo), or perhaps Widowmaker (who certainly needs skill), or if you want more tanks then Zarya (somewhat like Tracer in terms of aim and cooldown management).

          (Also it is still possible to run dive successfully against Brigitte, if you’re as good as NYXL – Brigitte isn’t an automatic win against more-skilled opponents.)

  8. Aetylus says:

    “Competitive multiplayer games have two major problems. One is that they often struggle to survive, their servers becoming ghost towns just a few weeks or months after they release. The other is that when games do survive, those towns are often bustling with arseholes.”

    Nice summary. I do wish that any one of the unsuccessful online shooters watching the population dribble out of town would decide to revive their town by making it nice-ville. There is a game differentiator just waiting to be seized by one of these games. Dispense with the ‘being nice’ trinkets and take proper steps to remove toxicity.

    Basically: Ban the arseholes from town. If your town is losing its population, don’t just try to copy what the other towns are doing. Rebrand as nice-ville, get a really good band of sheriffs in to keep the bad guys away, invite all those nice, pleasant people to your town, where they can avoid all the nasty toxic people running rampant through the other towns.

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