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.
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 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.