Blizzard are changing up Overwatch's hero pool system again, except this time around they're just straight up removing it from regular competitive play. The system, which involves banning several characters each week, was originally implemented to stop the meta from turning stale, and it's seen a few changes already in its short life. Just last month I reported that they'd ditched hero pools for lower rank players, and now they've gone as far as to get rid of them for everyone. Except the Overwatch League, that is, which, let's be honest, is pretty much the only reason hero pools were invented in the first place.
Hero pools were introduced back in March as a way of stopping the 2-2-2 meta from stagnating in competitive matches. It was Overwatch's answer to hero bans really, except players didn't get to choose the bans - the devs and Overwatch League analysts did based on the popularity of each hero every week (occasionally the bans were chosen by cats, Overwatch is a very serious esport). The system was never designed to be permanent though, and it's going away now for regular players because it seems to have done its job.
"We've found that the introduction of Experimental Card and increased hero balance updates has helped us work towards a healthy, changing meta in competitive play without needing to disable heroes," Blizzard say.
For those that don't know, the Experimental Card is a kind of test server that sits amongst the game's arcade modes. It's a way for the devs to test out certain changes to heroes that they themselves aren't too sure about, and it's more accessible to players who aren't able to use the test servers.
Despite these balance updates, hero pools are still sticking around for the Overwatch League, however, albeit with a few changes. From June 13th, hero pools will last for two weeks before rotating, then the two weeks after that will take a break from the pools, allowing League players to pick whoever they want during tournament brackets.
While I don't truly believe the hero pools and experimental stuff have actually fixed the meta, doing away with the pools for regular players (even in the highest ranks) still seems like the best idea. There's a fair bit of disparity between the heroes played in competitive vs the heroes used in the League, it doesn't make sense to force all players to abide by a system put in place specifically from OWL stats.
It'll also be nice to see some OWL matches with the hero pool restrictions completely lifted - perhaps the teams will just fall back into the typical meta, but it also opens it up for a bit more experimentation, and that's always fun to watch.
If you're into the Overwatch League, the next tournament, the Summer Showdown, kicks off this Saturday. All 20 OWL teams will take part in qualifiers over the last three weeks of June, with two final regional tournaments taking place at the beginning of July (the North American bracket and the Asian bracket). Check out the schedule on their website.