“Should I check out Overwatch?” or “Should I keep playing Overwatch?”

Now that 1.5 years have passed since its release, many have tried it and decided whether they like it or not. Some haven’t yet and some have, but the jury’s still out on whether they like it or not.

I feel like there’s a certain dynamic to team games like OW which is, for some reason, not really emphasized in discussions about them.

So to answer that question:

Overwatch is a 6v6 first person team shooter where team cooperation is paramount to everything.

We’re not talking merely the outcome of the games. This isn’t like Team Fortress 2 where you can play the game, have fun, do whatever, and then at the very end be like “oh well, a loss” or “nice, a win!” and be on your way.

No, the team cooperation is required in almost every single engagement in order for your side to achieve any kind of coherent result. The alternative is for everyone to be sent back to your respawn and have the enemy team at your spawn gates within short order.

This is not a level of cooperation the average person can likely achieve even with their best friends, let alone complete strangers. So unless you are approaching this with an idea of how to address the fundamental team aspect of the game (i.e, “me and my 5 best friends” or “I would like to speak on comms/voice and get on well with the other players and strategize with them, maybe even finding regular partners or a team”), then there’s literally nothing in it for you except frustration.

And make no mistake, if either of those two scenarios is not your case, your experience in team games like Overwatch will be characterized by lots of frustration and the video game equivalent of road rage.

You are not an independent organism. You are a cog in the machine, the machine being a 6 man team that has to operate as one unit. It’s like, imagine if there were a Voltron game. You can only control one limb or body part. If the other teammates aren’t controlling theirs properly you can’t even walk, let alone do anything in the game. That is how to consider Overwatch when deciding whether the game is right for you.

It is not cooperative. Cooperation implies a lesser degree of teamwork than that actually required in Overwatch. I wouldn’t call it FPS, but like FPTS (First Person Team Shooter), and I’d call something like CS:GO and other such games (including Quake Champions) a Cooperative First Person Shooter or just a ‘Team FPS’. Just to emphasize how fundamentally different the Overwatch experience is, going down to its very DNA as a game.

Much of this can be applied to MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games as well (like Riot’s League of Legends or Valve’s DotA 2), though the issue with OW is also that FPS mechanical skills have to be applied in tandem which is a degree more difficult than simply just being a cohesive team in a game with simpler RTS (Real-Time Strategy… like WarCraft or StarCraft) micro mechanics (and the MOBA genre got its start as a mod for the WarCraft RTS game). And the MOBAs were already a leap in difficulty beyond Blizzard’s mainstay, the “PvE” (a team of players versus AI opponents) experience of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) like WoW (World of WarCraft). WoW’s PvE “raids”, whose experience basically built WoW into the money-making monster it is, required an intense degree of teamwork as well, but those were all achievable by most players as the opponents were AI. WoW’s PvP (Player vs. Player) scene was short-lived due to fundamental issues in the game’s design which prevented a balanced and serious PvP mode from ever getting off the ground.

And for those who haven’t been able to quite put into words why Overwatch wasn’t right for them, “too much teamwork is required” is absolutely a thing and a valid irreconcilable difference to have with it. If that sounds like you’re admitting a shortcoming on your own part, rephrase it to “an unprecedented, unsustainably high, nearly unachievable level of teamwork is required and ain’t nobody got time for that”.

Should I keep playing Overwatch?

Since the game was advertised like a typical CounterStrike or Team Fortress-style shooter, many people shelled out the money and jumped aboard without knowing any of the above.

A philosophy has developed, perpetuated by the player community and encouraged by Blizzard themselves, as to how to approach this fundamentally team shooter from an individual perspective.

Discussions of how to get better at the game or rank up the Competitive Play ladder mode center around things like “positioning” and “game sense”, which seem almost like meaningless terms since few can accurately put into words, or even videos, what they actually mean by that.

That is because what is meant by these terms is knowing how to judge and predict, and react to, the other players in the game. Both your teammates and the opponents. Therefore, like any endeavor dependent on judging and predicting human behavior, it remains shrouded in an aura of “mystery” which makes players who “get it” seem almost magically transcendent in their play. Until they get onto a team in an actual competition where both sides are on the same page and have been practicing regularly. Then they seem utterly human again.

Just as how farcical aquatic ceremonies are no basis for a system of government, this is no basis for a competitive test of skills and will, even in a video game. The most reliable such contest in games to date has been 1v1 in games like StarCraft or Quake, with the latter being a bit simpler and more reliable. The player interaction there revolved around the two duelers, and everyone understood and respected that. Any unmeasurable factor between the two players influencing the outcome could be assumed to represent just the difference in quality between the two on that day and in that place. That is not the case in a game like Overwatch, where it usually comes down to chance.

In a Quake duel, your enemy is trying to kill you. To that end, they will try to get the desirable items on the map, keep them from you, and generally make use of everything available.

In any given Overwatch 6v6 game, people are running around in virtual arenas doing what people will tend to do in virtual arenas. Usually trying to “farm” kills (set themselves up to get a bunch of easy kills on others). How good you are in that environment usually directly correlates to how much experience you’ve had in such games (going back to games like Team Fortress, CounterStrike, Battlefield, Call of Duty, etc). This is a similar extension as 10 or 12 player “Free For Alls” in Deathmatch are on the 1v1 game mode, but with a bit more setup involved in how players are planning their moves. Indeed, the typical 6v6 Overwatch game is an extension of 10 or 12 player “FFA” in the same way FFA was an extension of 1v1. And keep in mind 1v1 branches out in two sub-trees, the other being TDM or “Team Deathmatch” whose dynamics are different from FFA or Free-For-All. Competitive organized Overwatch, like in tournaments, is on the TDM branch. But not Overwatch as it is played in Quick Play or anything short of a complete “6 stack” (all 6 players since it is a 6v6 game mode). If you have a knack for predicting what casual players will want to do in such environments, you can do pretty well.

The main difference between the casual environment and the competitive environment is that in the competitive environment, it’s like having a bunch of skilled duelers coming together to take on another similar team. It’s like a teamfight, like when a superhero team in comic books works together to fight a bad guy. There’s a bunch of engagements which are extensions of the 1v1 duel going on. In casual play, dueling is not the priority. It is “farming” or “grinding”, usually kills, that players are looking to do. And how farmers/grinders play is different than duelers who “farm” timed items/mechanics in pursuit of their goal which is to win the eventual duels that break out (and even that may happen in the context of farming kills, which is less of an issue in the new Quake Champions which has a limited number of respawns). When the casual farmers/grinders wind up dueling or fighting in-game eventually, they’re usually so terrible at it that even all their farming didn’t help the result.

Those players who grew up playing games like these develop an instinct for who will go where to do what. They know that the enemy sniper, at this level of play, coming from a certain time and place, will likely go to this time and place in their intent to “farm” kills and rack up a high score.

The main difference is that from the “FFA” sub-tree, casual non-professional Overwatch adds a team dynamic to the mix. On top of the FFA underlying environment. The games which best prepared users for that were like CounterStrike. Team FPS games with large public servers full of random players. Casual/Non-Pro Overwatch is not like a casual branch extended from the TDM branch of the FPS Deathmatch tree, which is more like semi-private/invite-only servers in “Vanilla” TDM in Quake or Unreal Tournament run by the Pro/Semi-Pro IRC communities (which is why the most skilled players did not come from the casual “Instagib” or other custom server modes, which operated like the massive CounterStrike or Team Fortress public servers). Players who were good at those casual servers were “pub stompers” (“pub” is short for “public server”). Pub stompers didn’t always, and didn’t usually, fare better in organized play. Especially on LAN (in-person at tournaments). They themselves were often just better at “farming kills” than everyone else on the server at the time. Not the same as being a true dueler with all that such experience adds to one’s mind game.

So what it comes down to is that Overwatch’s “Competitive” mode is really just an extension of Quick Play with stricter penalties for leaving, and which puts a rating on your performance in order to get people to “try harder”. The result is, as we can all see now, just rampant toxicity and virtual road rage. At least in the pubs of CS, Quake, and Unreal, nobody was judging your performance by the performance of the n00bs you were stomping on. When we put it that way, it almost sounds like a sadistic choice by Blizzard. The players who do well in the ladder are just the same old “pub stompers”, and Blizzard is setting things up so that the best of the best “pub stompers” are going to be the pool from which candidates for professional play are drawn (for try-outs and the like). They’ve literally not added anything new in a place where everyone admitted something better was required. And unlike the game-playing community who have no ability to change things, Blizzard, as a game developer/designers, has no justifiable reason for doing nothing.

They’ve actually made it worse by putting virtual barriers around artificial tiers of players so they don’t interact with each other. Most people don’t take Quick Play seriously, but if they had, they’d have found that there’s a hidden MMR system, just like the SR system, to QP and that with dedicated, good performances in QP, they can quickly reach a level where they are getting queued up with players who far exceed their rank in Competitive (since these players are warming up or practicing off-heroes in QP). Just playing in the presence of mostly better players is a valuable learning experience integral to quickly improving. One that is denied to everyone who plays the game “as intended” by Blizzard and the modern day craze with Matchmaking (though born with Xbox Live, at least Microsoft took it seriously and published the theory behind their methods for all to see and judge… it was to fulfill a clear need… no such excuses exist for implementing it in PC FPS to replace an older but superior system of dedicated servers and chatrooms for pickup games).

So, whether you’re a casual FPS player or a competitive one, hopefully this made you a little more informed as to how you should judge Overwatch, the game that makes money off of judging you (because there are even “SR farmers”, who buy multiple accounts and enact repetitive, calculated strategies to rank up using Blizzard’s incompetently designed SR gain/loss system…. such as “one-tricking” underutilized heroes who can keep ranking up even with negative winrates).