Welcome back! This is part 2 of an article I posted a few weeks ago, and won’t make sense if you haven’t read part 1, which you can read by clicking here.
Let’s have a think about what kind of person plays Overwatch religiously. What kind of gamer does it attract? Well, you’ve got a lot of CS:GO players, who came for a new challenge in precision shooting. Some have 10,000 hours of Quake playtime and thought Pharah looked cool. A lot of them are TF2 veterans, familiar with varied playstyles and following a meta. Soldier: 76 is even designed to appeal directly to the Call of Duty audience. People come to Overwatch with prior shooting experience: this isn’t their first rodeo. With many of these environments, there is massive focus on eSports-level play. People aspire to be like the pros, and want to compete and have their skills validated as they improve. Think back to when Overwatch launched without a competitive mode- competitive was never considered in the initial design of Overwatch, and only exists today due to massive fan demand in the early days. Blizzard have embraced this wholeheartedly- unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that the Overwatch League (London Spitfire represent!) is currently in it’s first season, and brought over 100 skins with it; in the form of Team Uniforms for every team, for every playable character. Blizzard have, since competitive launched in 2016, done everything they can to sell Overwatch as a seriously competitive game, for serious competitive players.
People want to rank up and play better- but you can’t have all of Overwatch’s millions of players inhabiting the top ranks. Everyone who strives to improve at competitive thinks they’ll slowly improve over time and rise through the ranks until they’re a pro. But the likelihood is, they’re improving at no greater rate than anyone else and they’ll inevitably end up frustrated by their lack of ranking up, and quit. Usually leaving a few disgruntled forum posts in their wake.
But gamers, especially in the heat of the moment, are egotistical. They rarely want to blame themselves; except when it’s blatantly obvious that they messed up, the average gamer is going to grab at some excuse- usually without even realising it- and blame either a game mechanic or a teammate. Remember when I mentioned that teammates cycle in and out of play, jumping away from damage every now and then and relying on their teammates? Well, most of the time this is a self- reinforcing system. Every player leans unfairly on each of their teammates and makes someone else bear the burden of their mistakes. But when everyone is leaning equally on everyone else, the structure still seems stable. Especially when both teams are doing it. But when one player leans too hard- needs healing faster than the healer can provide it, hide behind the shield for too long and get hit as it shatters, or expect a DPS to kill a pursuing enemy faster than their skills and character allow them too- the whole system collapses. That’s when Team Kills happen. One player falls, and now one team is a player down. Unless the underdogs play extremely well compared to their opponents, it’s likely that the rest are going to fall like dominoes; either they all die, or the survivors turn heel and run like hell in the opposite direction with an almighty “aw, hell no!” That’s when the flames start- people angry that the Lucio didn’t res, that sort of thing. And you’ve got to remember- this is online, anonymous discourse. People have no reason not to say exactly what they’re thinking. When egotists argue, a lot of the time none of them actually know the problem; they just know it wasn’t them; after all, they were too busy sleeping with my mother to make mistakes. Their pick was the correct one, and had the team organised around it they would have won, no doubt.
All they know is this: they aren’t going to rank up this match, and that’s someone’s fault. Ranking up is what this game is for, if you aren’t ranking up you’re doing it wrong. And they’re doing it wrong because some anonymous teammate- they don’t know which for sure- is an idiot.
Of course, the most likely scenario is that all of these people are playing the DPS roles that make up between 12 and 18 of the 26-strong roster, depending on who you ask. The ones doing the most damage will be flaming the less effective ones, who in turn will not want to switch to the smaller pool of support or tank heroes (which just don’t give the same dopamine rush, let’s be honest), citing that they’ll start being their usually super effective selves when the enemy Hanzo stops one-tapping them. Then, of course, it’s ultimately Winston’s fault.
So that’s it, then? Dying too fast, an imbalanced roster, and a bunch of egomaniacs blaming each other for the loss? Well, kinda. But that’s not the whole story. Far from it. There’s many tiny factors at play- the way almost every hero has some unique quirk that makes them a nightmare to fight in one on another, but that’s just a necessity to make the hero unique to play as. It may be irritating that tracer can dodge your attacks so quickly, or that a Moira’s orbs can sometimes leave you trapped in situations where there’s nothing to do but accept your death. But, without these quirks every hero turns into Soldier 76, at which point you might as well just play your preferred flavour of Call of Duty (I’m a Black Ops man, myself). Sometimes, you’re going to come across something which makes the fight a bit of a pain- and for that reason Overwatch, like every game, will never be frustration-free.
Occasional frustration is necessary; what we really have to think about is if the moment-to-moment gameplay feels fair. Sure, losing a straight firefight to a Soldier 76 may be irritating, but at least a calm player will be able to say “Well, fair enough” and come back to fight again. But being headshot on full health from across the objective? That never feels fair. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that there are two types of Widowmaker players: Those that make their opponents salty, and those that make their own team salty. Characters that rely on such plays serve only to boost the ego of the person playing them, and don’t make the game fun for anyone else. The presence of a skilled Hanzo never does anything to the enemy team but make them frustrated, whereas a skilled Winston ideally ups the pressure, as the enemy team shouts callouts, put down their Reinhardt barriers and start swinging, healers pull back from the tesla cannon, and the Reaper teleports back to the objective from his flank position. A good opponent is a fun challenge to be overcome through teamwork and skilled play; a bad one is simply an annoyance (big or small) to be dealt with, or else suffer. A chore, in other words. Overwatch needs less chores, and more challenges.
I’ve been writing and re-writing the two sections of this article in between matches for three days, so let’s put a ribbon on it, shall we? It’s clear that there are two sides to this coin; the design of the game, and the attitudes of the people playing it. The gameplay, whilst largely massive fun and varied enough to cater to a variety of different players, is still a bit rough around the edges. It falls into the pitfall of many other shooters by making unfair tactics too big a part of the experience. Flashbang combos, Snipers, and Surprise Death Blossoms alike require a deep breath at the very least to deal with. The game pushes frustrating and unfair surprises a little too often, and that can really grind the average player down over time- especially when the only way they can deal with it is by switching off of
The community, on the other hand, are incredibly hardcore about their play: they want to be better with each passing game, and every perceived unfairness or uncontrollable factor makes them incredibly frustrated. Even the more casual players get similarly frustrated when their arcade games don’t go well, because of Overwatch’s loot system. But ultimately, this isn’t blind rage or hatred. No, it’s simply misdirected passion. You don’t get salty about something you don’t care about, and you don’t get this damn salty over something you don’t damn care about. That’s the core, I think: that passion for the game acts like a multiplier for all the frustrations one feels during your average match, and sometimes that comes out as abuse. That’s not an excuse, of course- we should all as players aspire to make Overwatch and its surrounding forums, discord servers, and Facebook shitposting groups as welcoming and light-hearted a place as possible. The world could always use more heroes, after all. Like many others, I still love the game. I picked it up to kill the summer between school and University, and will likely still playing it when I accept my masters. It’s a masterclass in charming characters, art design, level architecture, and a thousand other things. I’m going to stick with it for a long time, because things can only get better.
In the meantime, I’ve got skins to Unlock. And a follow-up article about how to make Overwatch less salty to write. Expect that in 2 weeks.