There are changes afoot in Overwatch. Blizzard, well aware of long-standing grievances against the state of high-level competitive play, and have come up with two bangers to help breathe some life into their multi-million-dollar team shooter. Overwatch will soon host a new Experimental Card, letting the devs get wet n' wild with whatever balances changes they fancy. Meanwhile, March will arrive with a new Hero Pool for Competitive Play, booting a different handful of the game's colourful characters from the roster each and every week.
Jeff "from the Overwatch team" Kaplan's latest developer update dives into Blizzard's latest attempts to fix their competitive woes.
Let's start with Kaplan's first point: Overwatch will soon feature an "Experimental Card" to the game's play menu. Sitting alongside Casual, Competitive and Arcade, Experimental will sit as a sort of middle ground between Overwatch and its Public Test Realm. Kaplan hopes that putting Experimental balances changes in the main client "should drive a lot more players towards helping [Blizzard] test out changes," stressing that the PTR will still be a place for stability and bug-testing.
Kaplan also notes that the team will be balancing "more frequently, and more aggressively," with the help of the Experimental Card. Blizzard want to slam the meta off the board with massive changes to heroes and game-modes, stability be damned.
And if proposed changes don't work out? Hey - it's only Experimental.
Blizzard's second proposed change to Overwatch is far more sure to provoke. While Kaplan wrote off the idea of giving Overwatch a Dota-style pick and ban system a few weeks back, the team hasn't entirely dismissed giving the hero roster a trim. Starting with Season 21's debut on March 7th, Competitive Play will feature a weekly Hero Pool.
A post on the Overwatch League blog went into a little more depth (thanks to Overwatch buff Jay Castello). Each week, the team will pick one tank, one support, and two damage heroes to be delisted. Certain events like OWL's grand finals will still allow all heroes in play, and no hero will be banned two weeks in a row, but the idea is to "keep the meta fluid" by encouraging hero diversity. Hopefully, shaking up the roster will stop players from stagnating by falling back to predictably dull strategies.
None of this is by any means permanent - Kaplan explains that these pools could be shortened, lengthened, or culled altogether if they're not quite working out. Hero Pools will also only affect Competitive play. Don't worry, Casual and Arcade will still let you muck about on whoever you like.
Will this help spice up competitive play? Ultimately, Blizzard's solutions to fixing a supposedly stagnant have often rubbed against one of Overwatch's core design pillars - the idea of being able to swap out any character at any time. Role Lock promised to shake things up by limiting team composition to 2 tanks, 2 healers and 2 damage-dealers. Now, on top of that, each role will have one or two fewer options to pick from each week.
But I'm the wrong person to ask. I fell off competitive Overwatch years back, left behind as Blizzard abandoned more accessible mechanics in the pursuit of the perfect esport. Ah, well. Back to Team Fortress 2 I go.