Can 5v5 Save Overwatch 2?
Activision Blizzard has been more and more communicative with the development of Overwatch’s long-awaited sequel within the last few months. However, their most recent announcement has shaken the foundation of the game itself - Overwatch 2’s player versus player (PVP) mode will feature only five players per team and only one tank slot up for grabs.
This not so subtle change will undoubtedly usher in long-lasting impacts; but are things as gloomy as people might have you think, or can this change begin to build a bridge of hope for the game?
From the more casual fan base all the way up to professionals who play Overwatch for a living, opinions have been churned out left and right, with many leaning on the negative effects of another core gameplay change. One of the most outspoken has been those in the competitive Overwatch community as they seem hyper fixated on the flex tank position being cut at the Overwatch League level, but this is so much more far-reaching than just one positioning being cut.
Understandably, this is the assumption, however, competitive Overwatch teams at the highest levels contain players that specialise in certain aspects. Will certain teams limit themselves? Without a doubt, but to decry the death of all D.Va and Zarya players—without knowing what their plan is or if those heroes will see any changes—is at best, shortsighted. There is a very real world where most of the top teams rebuild their tank rotation and maintain multiple tanks on their team—the only catch is they can now only start one of them.
Flexibility is the core of Overwatch, and this has only compounded on that idea, but the magnitude of this change is unknowable, especially at this point. What we can glean is that the move to fielding a five-person team leverages and puts a large premium on how flexible tank players can be—which has not been the norm since Overwatch’s inception.
The new format calls into question most players possibly losing opportunities because of the change in how the multiplayer mode will play. This isn’t a patch or some balance change, this is a new game with drastically different rules—players are not safe.
If players, in general, are not safe when it comes to Overwatch 2, then its history and longstanding narratives when it comes to the many competitive facets of the game could see a drastic downturn.
Albeit with minor exceptions, most competitive Overwatch metagames have included a clear delineation between what the community deems are ‘main tanks’ like Winston, Reinhardt, and Orisa, and ‘flex tank’, which include heroes like Zarya and D.Va. The game hasn’t asked tank players to really invest time into dabbling outside of those parameters throughout the last four or so years—and that is a frightening change. One that might be needed but it doesn’t lessen the sting or take the feeling of bitterness away.
Once again, we have another identity shift directly causing what is arguably the most fundamental change in the game’s history.
In ways, this could result in positive growth if Activision Blizzard finds what Overwatch is supposed to be with its sequel, but the cynics in the room have to wonder if another fundamental rehaul waits around another dark corner we haven’t seen or conceived of just yet? In ways, the game is fragile enough to warrant breaking it to hopefully find its place and find a healthy identity. However, it has been roughly five years since base Overwatch released, and the game has completely changed.
It wasn’t that long ago that hero stacking was deemed a core concept of the game and now look how far we’ve come.
Overwatch consistently reviews what it is testing for and changes it on the fly. To play with the metaphor for a moment, we often see other competitive titles change what area of a school subject is tested for. Will this patch be about algebra or geometry? Maybe even throw in a few questions on calculus for style—but at the end of the day, it’s different forms of math skills. We know what game we’re playing, we just have to shift slightly.
What Overwatch does is send you a study guide for geography and test you for chemistry.
While there are a litany of problems we can already foresee with the move to the new five versus five format, there are some undeniable positives that could come as a result.
When we think of tanks, we think of heroes that control space extremely well. The removal of one of those heroes, could open up the map and allow more FPS gameplay to shine through. This also comes with the advent of Overwatch 2’s new core game mode of Push. With what looks to be an Escort-like, symmetrical, map design philosophy that features open spaces and room to flank, more individual play could come as a consequence of having fewer large bodies and barriers flying plugging the gaps. This could do wonders and allow for more strategic options to become viable. This also cleans up the viewing experience ten-fold.
Overwatch has had one major complaint when it comes to its esports landscape - how difficult it is to tell not only what’s happening, but who is winning without seeing any kills on the board. With fewer people in the lobby, this means less clutter on the screen and hopefully a more understandable title from both a player and viewer perspective.
This would be a massive victory for Overwatch esports as well as the casual experience. The last thing a game that is set to see its hero roster increase needs is more visual clutter and abilities to explain. This retains the positives of having new and interesting heroes while lessening the barrier to entry for viewers and players alike. And in that same way, the reduction and added rarity of the tank role could see more agency given to a role that has been effectively a bar-room bouncer for years.
Let’s face it; playing tank in Overwatch isn’t the most active experience in modern gaming. Subjectivity aside, holding up a massive barrier while your team runs in or quickly leaping in and trying to act as a distraction doesn’t leave you feeling directly in control of your team’s success. And while this is speculative, having more dynamic tanks or more active tank changes is seemingly possible now.
The possible fear in the past was how these heroes might work together; with the limitation of only having one tank hero put in place, that issue should be a thing of the past. Look no further than Wrecking Ball and Sigma for a strong case in point. Modern tanks are come fully loaded with a litany of active skills and tons of agency so that players feel rewarded and feel directly responsible for doing something. Be it an environmental kill, a rock to the skull; you name it—players enjoy playing these heroes.
Adding or revamping older heroes to match that new norm causes more balance troubles than it’s worth. It is possible we are seeing this currently with the changes coming in Overwatch 2 regarding both Winston and Reinhardt. Speculation aside, like many things in life, it’s a balance of pros and cons.
However, as boring and as safe as this is—anyone telling you with the utmost certainty this is the tragic death of or the glorious return of Overwatch as intellectual property or as an esport title is being disingenuous. This begs the very question that brought you here; will Overwatch 2 and its changes be enough to bring the game back from the brink? While there are terrifying consequences that will be brought from it, Overwatch 2 is clearly going to be a different game—a legitimate sequel.
In that way, anything is on the table.
If Bastion, among other heroes, are seeing changes “from the ground up” then we have to give Activision Blizzard time to show more of their hand. If anything, this opens the game up to answer many of the burning questions and complaints we’ve held for years. It is awful that the competitive side of things will see casualties, but for the future of the game, for the health of the property, and the eventual growth of the Overwatch League—these changes might be for the best.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment