Are they that bad? It's time to experiment.

18:00, 22 Feb 2020

With March 7th right around the corner, it’s time to revisit the discussion around Hero Pools. If you haven’t heard, Overwatch will be receiving an update that disables a select few heroes every week, limiting the “hero pools” available. From the ladder heroes grinding their way to top 500 to the Overwatch League players set to play in Seoul and Washington D.C, this effects every level of play. So, let’s draw up some mock Hero Pools to mull over and begin to discuss if they are that bad.

What were my criteria in this experiment? I’m glad you asked.

I’ve taken the 3 most picked heroes for Tank and Support and the top 6 for DPS as the size of eligible heroes up for removal. Due to Tanks and Supports only receiving 1 ban per week, the quantity needs to include a fair amount of characters, but not too many. Picking 3 Tanks and Supports feels like a happy medium and we double that number for DPS due to the total number of heroes in the category. 

Next, I’ve ordered the heroes by play rate as of February 19th and used a random number generator to determine who is banned. However, each pool does not represent sequential weeks, rather we are just looking at each of them in a vacuum, I address this bias in the conclusion. And as a cherry on top citing the Overwatch League’s announcement of Hero Pools, we will be judging each pool on how successful they are at solving these three criteria.

  • Does the Hero Pool improve the quality of play? 
  • Does the Hero Pool increase hero diversity?
  • Does the Hero Pool increase strategy in the matches?

Pool 1: Orisa, Widowmaker, Reaper, Baptiste 

Sadly we start with a dud as with Pool 1’s hero bans, nothing significant changes. Maps like Horizon Lunar Colony and Junkertown lose some flair, and for teams that have a skilled Ashe player, they could see play as a replacement. The heavy brawl compositions that feature Orisa and Baptiste take a hit. With Reaper out, McCree becomes a standard for most games which, by proxy, also limits the number of highly mobile heroes like Tracer and Doomfist. Mei, Reinhardt, Lucio, and D.Va still fill out the majority of the compositions played barring the maps that already allowed for Dive to see some stage time.

With the one week turn around period for Hero Pools along with how much travel and stress the players are under, Hero Pools, across the board, will always reduce the quality of play. Pool 1 does not increase hero diversity at all nor does it remove enough of the meta staples to either eliminate or dissuade the strategies that have been run, to suddenly stop being run. Teams are still able to pilot the same meta compositions and most teams will do so seeing how familiar they are and how practiced they are on said compositions. As for an increase in strategy, I have a hard time believing that with how little practice teams are going to receive on top of a rotating pool of heroes, that they’ll be able to develop more strategies than we have already seen within these first few weeks. 

All together, Pool 1 is a bust. Not enough changes to impact the game in its current state.

Pool 2: Reinhardt, Tracer, Doomfist, Ana

Pool 2 is where things get weird, weird enough for two meta bubbles to occur at the same time. 

Removing Reinhardt moves the needle quite a lot and should affect the frequency of Mei and the deathball and brawl compositions we’ve seen thus far. As a replacement, you could see higher mobility compositions return to the fold. With Mei on the downturn, heroes like Wrecking Ball and Winston look much more manageable. They also pair well with how strong D.Va is at the moment and Lucio will continue to have a high pick rate. Consequently, Sombra becomes very viable as a mainstay DPS pick. Paired alongside Sombra is either Pharah, Genji, or Widowmaker, depending on the players in the match and the map. Not being able to play Ana does make this slightly more difficult, but she is replaceable with Zenyatta and Moira.

On the other hand, the meta could easily return last year’s playoffs and we return to Orisa and Sigma or D.Va as your tank line. Mei and Reaper return as a dominant DPS duo with some teams still running McCree either as a stylistic choice or to counter teams that attempt to run Pharah.

As mentioned previously, Hero Pools are counterproductive to improving the quality of play, so we cannot give it credit there. However, this change will flip the script and allow for different heroes, from what we’ve seen thus far, to be played. So Pool 2 does increase hero diversity and has the potential to increase the strategy in the league. 

Pool 2 is what you should aim for, large scale changes that encourage experimentation.

Pool 3: D.Va, Tracer, Reaper, Lucio 

This is a great example of a pool that will increase hero diversity but won’t change how the game feels. Consider the following, if this current metagame was played with Zarya instead of D.Va, would it excite you anymore or any less? If the GOATS metagame was played with Ana over Lucio, would you have noticed the difference? Would it have impacted your opinion on it?

As for Pool 3, D.Va more than likely is just replaced by Orisa and Zarya on maps that have longer sightlines and make direct brawl compositions more difficult. Mei is still used every match and Lucio is replaced with either Moira or Baptiste depending on the map and whether you’re on attack or defense. The Dive maps I’ve mentioned previously take a hit in strategic depth with the removal of Lucio, but depending on the map, you could either just see more brawl compositions or an introduction of more snipers.  

As I mentioned before, Pool 3 does increase hero diversity by removing 2 metagame staples, but the core concepts of the meta still stand. I worry that this will be the majority of the Hero Pools put in the game, ones that target heroes that are used a lot but don’t move the needle to something that feels refreshing and new. The meta, in this case, really doesn’t shift so much as it just changes different shades of grey. The strategy doesn’t increase and if anything is limited. And we’ve already talked about Hero Pools and quality of play enough.

On the surface, Pool 3 looks interesting but feels the same.

Conclusion

Shocking no one, the success of Hero Pools heavily depends on the details. If the ban net (how many heroes are eligible for removal per week) is too wide, then it easily can miss the metagame staples and nothing changes. Inversely the ban net is too small, then you have a chaotic mess and hamstrings how good a team can be.

Tanks dictate the meta. From just brainstorming about how three hypothetical Hero Pools will play out, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that if hero diversity is something Blizzard wants to shake up then targeting Reinhardt moves the needle the most. With how weak Sigma and Orisa are currently they can’t act as plug-and-play replacements. In the example of D.Va being removed, other flex tanks like Zarya or even Orisa can fit around Reinhardt within the same archetype (the core idea or strategy of a composition) and nothing changes. 

Week by week this random system has a chance to correctly disable heroes at the foundation of the meta, which meets Blizzard’s goals. However, the actual system, per Jeff Kaplan, won’t be random. I’ve had to rely on the random element due to the little information we have on Hero Pools in general. With direct developer influence, they should be able to target heroes that are viewed as problematic or foundational, but it will take time.

To solve the problem with how Hero Pools negatively impacting the overall performance of the league, the league could easily increase the Hero Pool turn over rate from 1-week to a month. This not only allows teams more time to adapt and refine their play, but it also gives them time to experiment with fringe compositions, something I believe the development team genuinely wants. It still hinders the quality of play, but it’s a nice middle ground where the game can constantly feel fresh while not being a huge barrier to entry for the professional players.

 

Images via Blizzard Entertainment

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