Overwatch breathed new life into the gaming industry with its technicolor optimism and vibrant personality. Reviews gushed about the game’s layered gameplay and surprising accessibility. On top of all of that, the community was surprisingly supportive, building newer players up rather than turning them away with harsh words and negativity.
It’s now been over a month since Overwatch was released, and the game is still recognized as a shining beacon of positivity in an industry that often struggles with the simple concept of just being nice. However, this might be changing as competitive mode gains traction.
Toxicity in online competitive multiplayer games is nothing new. Games like League of Legends and Call of Duty have reputations for breeding negativity. Vitriolic remarks and harsh treatment of newer players isn’t uncommon. It’s this very tendency for nastiness that turns away potential fresh players, who would rather play something non-competitive than deal with the possible harassment.
We want to believe that Blizzard might have changed that. As players gained access to the beta before the game transitioned into full launch, they were surprised to find that Overwatch was, in general, a pretty welcoming game. For starters, matches are often so fast-paced, players don’t even have time to waste complaining about newer players who might not be up to their oh-so-selective standards.
The game is also geared more towards teamwork and building up player confidence than pitting individuals against each other. There are no individual leader boards within a match. Instead, players are evaluated on their own personal performance.
Overwatch’s principal designer, Scott Mercer, explained the system to IGN:
“…if you have a really great game, you did amazing, the system is going to say, ‘Hey, you had a really great game, so you’re probably more skilled.’ If you had a really bad game, maybe you shouldn’t get as much skill rating for the win because you didn’t impact the game as much. That’s sort of the personal performance part of that, but it’s not as important as whether or not you won or lost. In the end, we definitely want to make sure that players are not overly encouraged to act in a way that would be detrimental to the team.”
It’s a subtle but clever way to evaluate a player’s performance without embarrassing them or stacking them up against more experienced players, which is something that might put off a lot of newcomers.
On top of that, Blizzard made sure that the game’s design would be intuitive to players regardless of experience. The game is frantic, and with a host of heroes, all with different abilities to master, it can take some time to truly become familiar with all of the game’s nooks and crannies. At the same time, it’s easy to jump in and start learning. Overwatch’s design is incredibly intuitive, using sound cues, distinct visuals, and other handy UI features to ensure that all players know what they’re supposed to be doing at any given time.
The community, too, is generally pretty welcoming. The hyper-active Overatch subreddit is full of occasional silliness, but also people genuinely willing to help each other or engage in discussion on a video game they’re passionate about.
All of these factors have melded together to give Overwatch its distinctly positive, fun-for-fun’s sake vibe. It’s such a fresh idea that a competitive multiplayer shooter can be welcoming and accessible, and it’s one reason that Overwatch has garnered such a huge press following outside of the game’s initial success.
The competitive mode, however, has cast doubt on whether or not Overwatch can maintain its cheerful community. There are concerns of a growing divide between “casuals” in quick-play mode versus the “real” players in competitive mode.
But Blizzard seems pretty serious about weeding out the bad seeds. Just this week, the company announced that they would begin silencing abusive players in World of Warcraft. Players who engage in inappropriate behavior will have a number of chat privileges disabled. It’s easy to see Blizzard enacting similar measures if behavior becomes a larger issue in Overwatch.
The player base itself is so far equally devoted to maintaining Overwatch’s spirit of good-hearted teamwork. Players are vocal in their concerns over the rising levels of toxicity in competitive matches, and have begun discussing ways to self-police through positivity. At the same time, the Battle.net message boards, while not quite as idyllic as the subreddit, have been a useful platform for discussing this issue with the developers.
It’s still early days for Overwatch’s competitive scene, and Blizzard has an extensive, running list of changes they’ll be making over the upcoming seasons. Already, the developers have announced a patch that will balance some heroes, and-the biggest change of all-allow only one hero of each type in a competitive team to keep gameplay fun for all involved.
As it stands now, the future of Overwatch is unclear. Both Blizzard and the game’s fanbase have laid the groundwork for something that we sorely need in video games—a competitive game that embraces new players; one that can potentially draw people into eSports who might otherwise hesitate to explore the genre further. Overwatch could very well be that game, but Blizzard will have to be very conscious of how it shapes the competitive mode moving forward.
Signs are positive. The development team is open to community feedback, and Overwatch’s accessible design is no accident. Here’s to hoping for a new future for competitive multiplayer and eSports communities.