An unstable league and toxic community spell trouble for Overwatch

Blizzard had tremendous plans for Overwatch and the Overwatch League coming into 2020. After a series of incidents – including a global pandemic – questions about the future of their latest title are stirring.  Numerous players and talent have left the Overwatch League and the current state of competitive play is toxic.

Between gameplay concerns and community toxicity, the question is, will Overwatch survive to 2021?

Before diving into the issues of Overwatch, its necessary to discuss what will be coming with the sequel. Overwatch 2 was set to release this year and promises game-changing features. During the anniversary events, the Overwatch Archives were a welcome glance into the backstory of the world. Overwatch 2 will feature expanded story missions similar to the 15 minute PvE archive missions. Blizzard is adding items, ability variations, and specialized skill trees to Overwatch 2‘s PvE mode. Additional heroes will be added, but no indication has been given as to how many will arrive at launch. As much as I would love a drop of six to ten heroes at launch, this could possibly disrupt the competitive balance.

The (lack of) competitive edge

Overwatch’s competitive side is plagued with issues that would put most games in hospice. The long-term viability of hero pools is something that is becoming a hot topic of discussion in recent weeks. Blizzard’s random meta generator has increased the viewability and variation in professional play, but has overall lowered the skill ceiling of the Overwatch League.

What was intended to promote diversity in competitive play has since increased “making it work” metas. Only a monster could complain about Carpe padding his Torbjorn hammer kills, but competitive play feels random. Blizzard has had an arduous process of attempting to balance competitive Overwatch,with the issue peaking during the eight-month GOATS meta. The complex nature of Overwatch’s FPS/MOBA game style has led to issues balancing gunplay over gameplay.

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Prior to hero pools, the community discussed how hero bans could work in Overwatch. An idea proposed by many professionals in the scene was to set up a system where teams alternate bans before a match. Some argued that Overwatch doesn’t have enough heroes for this system to work out, and they were right. Hero pools, despite their random nature, produce three fairly consistent meta variations.

If Overwatch 2 brings a significant amount of heroes into the ability-based shooter, having bans similar to League of Legends would be ideal. It’s safe to say that if players had their choice, we’d see a lot less Mei. As the system remains, Diamond and up damage players usually face 10-30 minute queue times depending on the time of day. The systems in place in Overwatch currently are dragging the game down, and slowly killing its popularity.

Toxic community concerns

Even if Blizzard optimizes competitive Overwatch, the toxicity festering within the community needs to be addressed. From personal experience, competitive can be a toxic environment regardless of your sex, ethnicity, or background. I’m no stranger to dealing with toxicity in competitive games, but recently, the verbal abuse has been excessive. The day after leaving a game with a toxic Widowmaker main who wouldn’t stop shouting the n-word, professional player Steven “Kodak” Rosenberger tweeted about his experience with racism in Overwatch.

It was only 24 hours before the community reared its ugly head again during Flash Ops: Echo Showdown. Test Team 1 outclassed the competition and walked away with $10,000. The star-studded team was a favorite coming into the tournament, yet one player received excessive hate from the community. During the broadcast, sexist comments flooded the chat, aimed at support player Francine “Fran” Vo. She performed significantly better than any support in the tournament, but also had a hand in the construction of the roster. Many players have condemned the community’s behavior towards Fran, but Blizzard has yet to make a statement.

The Flash Ops tournament limited how many Overwatch League players could be on a single team, promoting diverse teams. This is the most support that the Tier 2 and Tier 3 scene has had all year from Blizzard. Rarely ever does the Overwatch League promote the Contenders matches taking place each week where the next superstars of the League are performing.

Ever since the Overwatch League, semi-professional Overwatch has had a hard time surviving with players leaving left and right. Passion can only take players so far when streams become plagued by long queue times and toxic players.

A chance to start over

Overwatch 2 is a chance for Blizzard to do a complete overhaul of the game as it stands. The likelihood of this happening is slim, considering that they wish to maintain competitive integrity across Overwatch and Overwatch 2.

Unfortunately, the attitude of the community is something that can’t be changed overnight. Blizzard addressing the issue would be a step in the right direction, though. Blizzard’s passive and impartial stance on a few glaring issues surrounding the game is worrisome.

Overwatch was Blizzard’s leap into the competitive shooter world, blending tactical shooters and MOBA elements. However, unlike Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch’s funding and production are far from the issue. At its core, the game and its community have things holding it back that will require direct care from Blizzard if they want to survive.

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Malik Shelp

I am a digital media specialist focusing on the entertainment industry and producing visual and written content. I began in the music industry covering music festivals and interviewing artists before transitioning to sports. I primarily cover Overwatch, Call of Duty, and occasionally Fortnite and CS:GO.
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