There’s a feeling of stagnation dominating many discussion threads about Overwatch. Players have been voicing the opinion that the game isn’t fun when a meta stays dominant for too long. This feeling certainly isn’t novel, as discussions about changing the meta have been ongoing since release. Lately, this talk has turned to a suggestion: adding hero bans in Overwatch.
A stagnating game
Overwatch draws in many players because of it’s diverse cast of heroes. Everybody loves to talk about their “main,” or which hero they enjoy playing the most. Since metas try and provide the best and most powerful hero combinations, no meta will include all heroes. Those who enjoy playing Tracer were able to display dominant mechanics and fast reaction times during the Dive meta. On the other hand, many Tracer players were unhappy with Brigitte when she was released, and the GOATs meta that followed. What players seem to desire the most, is diversity.
The predominant meta in Overwatch is currently Double Shield. Players who follow Overwatch esports or participate in competitive play will see tanks with shields in most of their matches. The recent 2-2-2 role lock placed on competitive play is one of the reasons Double Shield is prominent. Heroes that are played the most include Orisa, Sigma, and Reinhardt. Which heroes are played doesn’t matter; you will often see 2 shields on each team. Metas in Overwatch’s history have always had an optimal set of heroes to play as a team. This is done out of a desire to win in the most efficient way possible. There are many reasons for a meta’s existence, but regardless of the cause behind it, people tend to tire and want something new.
When the Overwatch team releases balance patches, they often do so to address the current meta. Recently, a patch filled with nerfs to shields was released in an attempt to address Double Shield and make things fresh to worn-out players. This patch was initially received positively, hoping that the meta would change. People quickly discovered that although the meta shifted slightly, Double Shield was still the optimal composition.
One of the issues with balance changes are the frequency that developers can balance. The Overwatch team seems to allow time for a patch to settle before making new changes. Players often take a long time to adjust to patches, discover new ways to play heroes, and evolve the meta. Overwatch also seems to push new updates with events, like Lunar New Year or Archives. These events are months apart on the calendar, and can lead to delays. We can expect to see the current PTR patch in a couple weeks, most likely coinciding with the Lunar New Year event.
This slow balance process tends to frustrate players. Some of them quit the game in hopes of new patches that change the meta. One major issue with patches is that they don’t always change enough. No matter how many buffs damage heroes received during the GOATs meta, they still were not played.
Some people speculate that Overwatch developers don’t understand the game anymore. Personally, I believe there are too many variables at play to know how to balance Overwatch. History also shows us that some party will always be dissatisfied with the current meta. If the process of balancing can’t provide a fun experience, what can?
This brings us to the ongoing discussion and rising support of hero bans in Overwatch. Players are tired of a single meta dominating professional and competitive play. They want diversity, for every match to feel like a different experience. Caster for the Overwatch League and former professional player Jake Lyon explains it well (language warning!)
On the surface, hero bans may seem limiting to diversity. Can’t you already play any hero you want in competitive? Why would someone play what they dislike? This is an underestimation of a player’s desire to win. Many of my friends have left the game because they have competitive personalities, but can only find victory playing Orisa. For them and many others, banning Orisa for a match would allow them to play another tank such as Winston without sacrificing the win. Limitations like these enforce diversity, and the difference between matches makes a game memorable and fun.
Another benefit of hero bans is rewarding players who can play more than one hero. Many people will be familiar with a teammate who can play one hero phenomenally. However, it’s common to hear that teammate say, “I can’t play that hero,” when countered or asked to swap. Professional players will find it extremely difficult to stay relevant with only the mastery of a single hero. It’s reasonable to expect that a player who can play multiple heroes should win more matches than those that one-trick.
I’ll be upfront and state that I have few answers to the implementation of a hero ban system. People certainly deserve the right to point out areas that bother them and leave the solution to the developers. There have been some proof-of-concept modes on the Overwatch Workshop that are incredibly entertaining. To me, it would be better to try something and fail than continue down the current path.
There is an increased feeling of boredom, stagnation, and weariness prominent in the Overwatch community. I believe this problem stems from a lack of diversity, repetitive matches, and players shunned by the meta. Fixing this issue should be a top concern for Blizzard. There are rumors that viewership during Season 2 of the Overwatch League was hurt heavily by the GOATs meta. Being a major source of income for many people worldwide, I hope the developers are listening closely to the rising call for hero bans.