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Devs weigh in on the competitive state of Overwatch

We talked to some developers to get their take on what Blizzard is prioritizing in their Overwatch updates, the tweaks they've made to the multiplayer experience, and the competitive mode.

After a successful rollout in May, when it amassed over 7 million players in just a week, Overwatch received its first major update last month.

Gamasutra staff weighed in on the game after launch, and we're continuing to monitor how Blizzard is refining and improving the game. Many developers are doing the same. We reached out to some of them to get their take on the new competitive mode.

THE TRICKY BUSINESS OF REFINING MULTIPLAYER MODES

One of the first things Gamasutra staffers noticed about the update is that Overwatch’s competitive mode crushed us when we tried to use our standard playstyles. This mode is not like the normal gameplay. For instance, point control maps go to best of 5 instead of best of 3, and payload maps become a competition of how far each team can push the payload, not a drive to make it to the last point at every match. 

"I noticed quite a positive difference between the public servers and the competitive play," says Arvid Gerstmann, CTO of Voony Games. . "The change of victory conditions is great, and takes the frustration out of getting blocked on the last choke point before finish."

Gerstmann feels that this makes things a little more balanced and fair, "and possibly also more interesting to watch, since the matches can be quite close and ties are resolved through a sudden death. I haven't played the closed beta, but I've heard that quite a lot of matches went into sudden deaths, to the dismay of the players. The new victory conditions might be one of those changes to counter it."

The change of team compositions caught him off guard, though. "I got totally humiliated the first match, since I played with the same attitude as I did in the pubs."

Gerstmann is still not sure if he likes the changes. "I think Blizzard did an extremely good job on designing the map, encouraging players to pick heroes which excel at this particular objective," he says. "However, it seems that it also encourages players to pick a lot of tanky heroes--they seem to be quite strong."

A BETTER PAYOFF FOR PAYLOAD MODE?

Gerstmann also has opinions on how Blizzard has tweaked the Escort or Payload mode. (Basically, they have bifurcated how players are supposed to play, and matches in competitive play are less likely to end with the payload reaching the final point.)

Especially in Payloads, it's a gameplay scenario that feels something akin to the strategies of Ender's Game. If players play by the normal rules of Overwatch---just picking off and distracting members of the attacking team without a constant grind against the payload---the other team can blow past them to victory just by clearing a hole for the cart to move forward. 

"I don't think it's particularly bad that Blizzard has made us play payload maps differently--it's competitive after all," he says.

Still, he feels that many games try these kinds of changes, but few succeed.


GIF via BestAlero

"To begin with, I think the payload system is bad for competitive play," he says. "I feel like there's always a slight advantage for the defending team, a constant time pressure.  (You rarely see time-based mechanics in competitive games, other than just capping the match length so players aren't there for 12 hours.) And a single mistake can cost you the whole game. And while most games have some mechanism for recovering, payload matches are punishing you with a 6 second death and 10 to 20 seconds to race back to the cart."

"Thinking about it, I believe they stop on the checkpoints for an extended period of time to only give out a single point as a punishment for a team wipe, instead of letting the enemy go through the whole map. That seems also to be the reason why they changed the scoring system."

"Summed up, I still think payload is a bad system for competitive play, but Blizzard managed it to make it a little fairer, hence the changes," Gerstmann concludes.

The indie designer MartineTV is more sanguine. "I did a few tournaments with a 'pro' team before this patch, and I was pleasantly surprised by the ruleset changes," he says. "To my point of view, it was a good way to create a competitive experience for competitive players, forcing them to push the payload as far as possible with teamplay instead of simply being skilled with their characters"

"Ending the match as soon as the enemy team reaches a further checkpoint than you did avoids any frustration with an enemy team farming you in front of the spawn until the end of the countdown," he adds.

This mode is less now less about securing kills to clear the cart path, and more about moving the cart forward at all costs. Martine likes it that way. '"This game mode is way better," he says. "It requires more things to do because you have to kill, but if you're focused on the deathmatch and not on the payload, it's a strategic mistake and you may lose the match."

What do you think about Overwatch update now that you've had some time with it? Let us know in the comments!

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