Overwatch‘s competitive mode has been the subject of heated debate among Overwatch fanatics since it was introduced last week. Some in the gaming press have argued that it ruins the spirit of the game, making it “less fun” and “too competitive”, but those are frivolous arguments. The reality is that the core “I still win even if I lose” Overwatch experience persists in Quick Play, and that Competitive Play is designed to replicate the cutthroat culture of League of Legends and StarCraft: if you’re not prepared to engage with that community, step aside and let the big players have fun.
The problem, however, is even the big boys are struggling to find much incentive in Competitive Play. It’s broken, and Blizzard has admitted as much. As far as “competitiveness” actually goes, the mode is ruthless: it punishes players for losing and rewards for winning, which is at odds with Quick Play’s fast levelling and rewarding metrics, even after a loss. Competitive Play makes a good individual performance feel less relevant if your team loses, which, by definition, makes it a competitive team game: six champion players won’t beat a champion team.
Does losing in Competitive Play sting? It does. Far more than it does in Quick Play. I lost many times in my first month playing Overwatch, but those loses did little to sour individual accolades, medals and XP boosts. That’s what Quick Play is: it’s for people that don’t need to care about the team philosophy to be able to enjoy themselves. One thing I’ve noticed in Competitive Play is that my individual performances are well down on what I was doing in Quick Play, because I was far too focused on playing by team fundamentals and rules. I just simply don’t want to lose, because the punishment is too severe. I’m a competitive guy that grew up in a competitive household, and I like beating down on lesser teams in video games. I like to win. I admit it, and I’m not sorry for it. Sure, it’s great to end up with a bunch of Gold medals and 30 kills, but that’s all that really matters in Quick Play: I can get my participation award, boost up my level rank, and pretend like those I’m playing with and against give a shit about my level rank, when I know that they really don’t.
The “spirit” of Overwatch has always been in its team makeup and competitiveness. Overwatch has always been a competitive game, it’s just that now there are different metrics to determine the value of your own and your team’s competitiveness and skill. I don’t see that as a bad thing. I get just as angry in Quick Play as I do in Competitive when a teammate doesn’t abide by the team tips and instead selects the team’s second Torbjorn or Genji, when we clearly need a Support or Tank. That’s because I know that with a good team tends to come a better individual performance, even if I am less driven to propel my team to victory. I see Competitive Play to be more in the spirit of Overwatch than Quick Play, because it so ruthlessly dictates the right team dynamic.
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I admit, however, that it is far from perfect. It’s so far from perfect that I’d even recommend waiting until Season 2 for someone that is yet to jump in. Blizzard said they wouldn’t make many changes to Season 1 of Competitive Play, but they’ve somewhat caved in an attempt to fix the Leave punishment system. The issue still persists, however. Blizzard is working on addressing a fix whereby if you left a match and then rejoined, you would still get the Leave penalty (a loss, which leads to a drop in ranking). But that doesn’t fix the major issue plaguing Competitive Play: if a player leaves from the opposing team, your team will receive less XP if you win and you’ll barely make a dent in your level progress, but if you lose, you’ll most definitely drop in rank. Sudden Death is also getting a major tweak and currently stands as one of the worst features of Competitive Play: a tiebreak goes to a coin toss, which determines which team Attacks and which team Defends, which, as any Overwatch player would know, most certainly skews in favour of one team over the other, even if one team was particularly more balanced over the course of the match.
There are many things I do like about Competitive Play, though, and it works well when played as intended (as in, no tiebreaks, and no one leaves). For one, the team ranking ahead of a match ultimately plays into the amount of points you’ll earn at the end of a match. If your team has an 80% chance of winning, for example, you stand to earn less points for a win than if your team had only a 20% chance of winning. If you lose with that 80% chance, you’re bound to lose a lot of points and probably drop a level or two. It ultimately rewards underdogs and places an element of expectation upon more skilled teams, and rewards them more when victorious against similarly placed teams. The skill of player is considered in what you earn after a win, although I’m not sure how this is calculated and it appears to favour the more rounded characters like Roadhog and Solider: 76. My experience with Mercy hasn’t been good: I just don’t seem to earn as much with her than I would with another character, despite being an integral part to any team structure in Competitive Play. That’s another tweak that needs to happen, although I do like that your individual performance is factored in — albeit slightly — to your post-match reward.
I’m appreciating Competitive Play for what it brings to the community, and how it adapts the style and competitiveness of play to better suit that spirit of Overwatch. It’s far from perfect, and even with a high winrate I appear to be punished far too often because players are leaving matches. I suspect Season 2 will take the experience to new heights, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the mode can improve.