Overwatch’s Current Social Functions Will Not Build a Better Community

Today I ruined a competitive match of Overwatch for my entire team.

The capture map “Oasis” loaded in and everyone picked their characters except for my friend, Orpo, who had queued into a group with me.

“I’m not really good at DPS, so if anyone else could deeps (DPS) that would be great”, Orpo said to our team. Silence filled the team’s voice comm until he replied to himself. “Okay, well if anyone changes let me know and I’ll trade off.” About halfway through the round one of our healers, R10, switched onto the defense hero Torbjorn without saying anything. Taking notice, I said into voice chat “Hey Orpo, you can switch to a healer now, R10 went DPS.”

The Torbjorn pick and some lacking communication closed the first round with a loss. The next round started and the team stayed mostly the same, Torbjorn included which provoked the following conversation

Me: R10, if you want to stay as Torbjorn what can we do to make it work?

R10: I’m Torb because of you

Me: Because of us the team or me specifically?

R10: Because of you specifically

Me: Why?

The only reply I would get from R10 after that was silence and a Torbjorn turret sitting in our spawn idle. Due to R10’s action my friend said, “Report R10”, at the end of the match in chat to everyone. But I didn’t feel like I wanted to report R10 for what he had done. It was immature to leave the turret at the spawn, effectively halving his ability to help the team. However, I was still focusing on what he had said to me earlier about his reasoning for switching.

Reporting may help that player understand that throwing is a very poor way to play the game. Reporting will not teach the player how to become better at communication. This is a major flaw in Overwatch’s since it is a game that depends on team work, and communication is a part of that. In some other competitive online games like League of Legends, and Fortnite, a team can sometimes ride on a single great player’s back to victory. In these games communication can be helpful through pinging the map and other small symbols, but full vocal communication throughout is not really necessary. In Overwatch, this isn’t the case. Overwatch is a game that heavily relies on each person bringing value to their team in order to face off against the other team.

I’ll make a comparison with cups of water. Imagine that two people were having a competition to see whose glass held the most liquid after pouring 6 cups with varying amounts. Each of them finish pouring and glass A ends up having more and winning. It is similar with Overwatch teams to a basic extent. If two teams of six are going to fight against each other and two people on team B are giving half of their effort then it makes sense that team A would win.

Players enter competitive mode in Overwatch because they want to enter a game where everyone tries to be glass containing the most liquid. Because they want a competitive number valuing their full ability to play the game. However, it is important to note here what the developers of Overwatch have deemed to show that ability. In competitive, SR (skill rating) determines how good of a player someone is in comparison to others playing the game. With this number, matchmaking will pit a player with others to see if they will go up or down. What determines this number’s value is the wins and losses that the player racks up over a three month season. Along with these decreases and increases that comes at the end of a match, the number can fluctuate depending on how well the player used their character throughout the match. All of the information about how these comparisons work are not public so it is hard to go further than that.

This system that Overwatch currently uses shouldn’t be all that determines what moves a player up and down though. As it was said earlier, Overwatch is a team game and that means it relies heavily on communication. Yet there is very little in this system that matches well communicating players with other well communicating players, and there is also nothing being provided by the game to teach players how to communicate. Tutorials at the beginning teach how to utilize all of the skills, and at the beginning of the match the “join team chat” button will glow but there is never anything more than this. It feels like the developers are holding back on giving tips to the community on how to be better communicators.

It could be argued that the higher up a person goes in the ranking, the more communicative players they will be grouped with. Maybe that one can only get up to those higher ranks if they are communicating. However, that is not the case, at least in my experience and the people I play with. There are players at Masters level who won’t even enter comms and still receive a better ranking because they know their character skills and how they should be placed.

So a person could play their characters and communicate well, and they could be put in a group with another player who is great. But if that other player does not listen or talk the entire match it could ruin all of it. It could be a simple thing like the Hanzo who won’t enter voice chat, and doesn’t realize we need a different DPS. It could be after doing great on the attack rounds, the Zarya doesn’t know how to peel because she can’t hear the support calls. Communication is a skill just as learning how to hook as Roadhog and flank with Doomfist is a skill. So why isn’t it treated like one?

Along with this, it just isn’t a good expectation for new players to have to wade through poor experiences in order to reach a group that will give them better experiences. It’s divisive and makes the community out as socially hierarchical. If a new player to the game places in the lowest rank (bronze) and doesn’t enjoy being in games with other players who are rude and uncooperative they shouldn’t have to just deal with it. That’s hardly a welcoming entering point at all.

I know many players who will not go into solo queue for these reasons. These players are part of communities and teams that work to become better players. They work hard to grow out of bad habits and work on areas that their coaches and peers give them critique on. Then they will go into solo queue only to find that their teams won’t work together or no one will get on comms at all. Three seasons later and they are still in the same rank, or lower, despite spending a lot of recreational time with resources to improve. I’ve seen a lot of friends quit because of this.

Options available when inspecting a player in game

This is what Overwatch should be trying to fix. New players should be given better experiences and resources that teach them how to properly communicate. It shouldn’t get to a point where the players are quitting because they feel that the game has become stagnant and uncaring for their hard work. There should be resources and systems in place that help players understand what they should and shouldn’t do. Instead, at least for communication, it feels like all we have been given is the option to point a finger at someone for being toxic. I should clarify that reporting is something that should exist for people who are being harmful to the community and abusive towards others in game. I am not arguing that the report option should be taken away, but that it doesn’t solve all of the miscommunication in the game. For one, people get reported at times and don’t realize why they were reported teaching them nothing. Secondly, it also encourages players to focus on binaries that put players into groups. You either are a good player that I want to play with, or you are a player who is avoided/reported for being toxic. There is no in-between in the system. No place for someone who didn’t know how to tell me why they switched to Torbjorn. No place for someone who doesn’t realize how important it is to join voice chat during a competitive match. These people shouldn’t be punished for not having a better system to teach them how to communicate.

To the Overwatch developers, its time to overhaul the system. The longer you develop the esports brand, cosmetic items, and narrative features, the less it feels like care is given about how players interact with each other. Stop throwing small bones like “avoid player” and changing reporting, and think about how to make a larger change.