A reduction in team size could single-handedly fix several notoriously troublesome issues

21:00, 07 Jul 2020

Overwatch as a game and as an esport has had unique challenges which Blizzard has been trying to solve. Some of those roads and signals converge in one number: Four. Could Overwatch 2 be moving to a four-player per team format?

I should start with the disclaimer that this piece isn’t based on any inside information whatsoever other than the mild ones I will disclose in this piece. Much more so, this is the work of yours truly, a coo-coo crazy tea leaf reader who has observed a peculiar pattern in the way Blizzard has moved on certain topics, and let his mind wander. 

This article should serve as a thought experiment answering the question “could Overwatch feasibly move to four players per team and what would that look like?” and encourage discussion around the topic. Now play the X-files theme song, bring the tin-foil and follow me. Watch out, don’t hit your head on the wind chime. (Yeah, I used it as a token of esoteric rubbish to paint this metaphor. You’re not cute having that on your front porch, you’re corny.) 

Let me ask you:

How many heroes were in a team in the showcased PvE content at Blizzcon 2019? Four.

Eight tanks, Seven supports, 17 DPS heroes. Rounded, this is a ratio of 2:1:1 that Blizzard has also been maintaining. What does that ratio add up to? Four.

How many fingers does Roadhog have? Well… Five, but I bet I made you look it up!

But it doesn’t stop there. Blizzard has already shown a willingness to reconsider role ratios on the Experimental Card, fundamentally changing tanks and trying out to a three damage, two support, one tank role lock. There are several other aspects to think about. Let’s seriously consider this for a moment.

Ranked queue times

The most plaguing issue for the average player remains ranked queue times, going up to more than ten minutes regularly for DPS at practically every rank. A ratio of two DPS, one tank and one support would provide an immediate fix. Though it proves challenging how that change would alter player behaviour and if it would somehow further incentivize players to play DPS because tank and support would become even less fun to play for instance.

As stated above, it is at least peculiar that Blizzard opted to maintain the ratio of 2:1:1 with the introduction of Echo, though there are plenty of reasons why that might have been unavoidable, such as mapping out hero development cycles far in advance of even the conception of role lock.

Needless to say that it’s a lot easier to get a group of four friends together than a group of six.



Cutting down on complexity

Overwatch is ridiculously complex as a game and as an esport, and a lot of very important details that might secretly be the actual win conditions for a team fight stay locked away from the vast majority of players and viewers behind a thick veil of complexity and clutter.

It’s not a coincidence that discussions about player performances especially on roles like offtank and support heroes are always messy. The amount of factors these players have to take into account is so hard to compute that it’s practically like flying two F-22s simultaneously using ropes while standing on one wing with each foot. Naked. 

Evaluating their performance is incredibly challenging and usually requires a lot of attention to their actions, which DPS players tend to steal. The situation for supports such as Brigitte is in no way better. Well, maybe you’re flying those jets in full-body plate. 

I’ve noticed that Overwatch is much more mentally taxing to both play and observe when done with the intention to understand what’s going on than CS:GO and VALORANT. League of Legends is comparable in the mental load, but only if you don’t simply concentrate on your own lane but incorporate the entire map into your decision’s making, something likely only high skilled players do.

What would this mean for Overwatch esports?

Naturally, a lot of tank and support players would have their dreams shattered and their livelihood threatened unless a large number of expansion teams were to come in for season 4 of the Overwatch League. In the case of a downsizing, I would expect main tanks and main supports to suffer the most. Entire social structures would have to radically change for some teams, though the average post-season entails a similar amount of heartbreak.

Crucially, the nature of the game would fundamentally change and players who excelled at making the best decision based on the truckload of information thrown at them would now see less returns from their ability to order the chaos. Tanks and Support heroes would also have to see considerable changes in their kit, further moving away from what it means to currently be a great front or backline player in Overwatch. 

The majority of lessons from past years would be void and everything we’ve learned about ultimate economy, meta archetypes and map control would have to be reevaluated almost from scratch. There’s no saying who would remain at the top and who would drop considerably. It would be a change of an entirely different magnitude, incomparable to hero limit, role lock or hero pools.

Let’s not commit to a sunk-cost fallacy and consider the upsides though. On top of the decreased complexity and increased watchability, the logistics of the game would become much more manageable. Through the grapevine, many teams are talking about downsizing their rosters for the next season to manage costs and at least a mild player exodus already seems to be in the cards. Transfer cost and salary have become a sizeable cost in season 3, in which the median and average salary has very likely increased over season 2. Sustainability is moving into focus in year four and the continued question marks around the global pandemic and the general scepticism around the full localization strategy persist.

While it would cause an earthquake in the Overwatch scene, I’m warming up to the idea and perhaps naively think that the game would turn out for the better in two years' time. Admittedly, a change of that severity is impossible to feel out and think through in its entirety. An Experimental Card using the four-man line up would be incredibly interesting.

Images via Blizzard Entertainment

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