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Overwatch and the Metagame Dilemma


dive comp header

You don’t have to look very far to find somebody getting a little tired of the current metagame in Overwatch Season 5. The dive comp, as it’s called, has been dominating the top-tier of competitive play since the beginning of June, and its prevalence has only grown. While it started fresh and exciting, players are thirsty for the next meta to shake things up again. But there’s a bigger problem going on here, and it’s going to take more than clever players to fix it.

What makes the current meta so much more frustrating than previous iterations is that the dive comp perpetuates its own use, even if nobody wants it to. It’s begun to overstay its welcome, positioning itself as the only way to win for the top teams. Often, dive comps are answered with another dive comp. Both teams have to follow the composition if they hold any hope of winning, while also hoping to counter their opponent’s dive in the process. It’s like nuclear proliferation, except the stakes are way lower and I regret making the comparison. Moving on.


Dive has also had a lot to do with forcing several heroes out of the top-tier competitive scene entirely. Bastion, Junkrat, Mei, Orisa, Reinhardt, Symmetra, and Torbjorn all fell entirely out of the top 100 PC players’ hero pools last week, and only fared marginally better amongst console players. At the same time, dive heroes accounted for 60% of all picks among the same players. To say that this composition has saturated the hero picks would be an understatement.

This lack of diversity has brought on calls from some players to address the balancing of these heroes. Blizzard is aware of this, and last week Jeff Kaplan directly addressed it in an informative and thoughtful 2,000-word response on the official message board:

“The game team should be constantly evaluating balance and making changes that are actually needed because a hero is unbalanced. But making changes to a hero because their pick rate is too high or too low is not my idea of responsible game balance.” — Jeff Kaplan

Kaplan goes on to defend the balancing as it is, and affirms his belief that the meta should evolve from player strategy, rather than from Blizzard. It’s a great post that everyone should check out. It’s clear that this issue is one that Jeff and his team is passionate about. And he’s right, too; lack of top-tier representation and low pick rate do not inherently imply issues with the balance or value of any particular hero. He provides some interesting stats, too, pertaining to the pick-rate among the greater Overwatch community, in an effort to dispel the somewhat inflated impact that dive comp has appeared to have on the game, showing that some of the lesser-seen heroes in the highest levels of play are among the most-played overall.

It’s a deep and honest perspective on the state of the game, and it’s encouraging to see the Overwatch team let the players dictate the course of the metagame, even at the expense of some of their heroes. But what the response doesn’t address is the core problem that this growing malaise over the dive meta is symptomatic of.

“3 months from now there will be a new meta. If you’re the type of person who feels like the meta should shift every 2 weeks, then you’ll probably be sick of that meta and wishing it was back in the good ol’ dive comp days…” — Jeff Kaplan

At the highest levels of play, Overwatch is consistently dominated by one strategy at a time. Before Dive, it was the Tank comp, and before that, 2/2/2. These comps last months at a time, have a tendency to wear out their welcome, and allow for little permutation. On top of that, teams playing competitively are actively discouraged from experimenting with new strategies. Mastering proven strategies will always yield better results than developing new ones, while new strategies developed by lower-tier players don’t generally translate at higher levels.

A well-balanced game should be capable of supporting more than one viable composition at a time, and that’s the challenge Overwatch needs to overcome in its competitive scene. While it’s true, as Kaplan says in his post, that games like Team Fortress 2 have relied heavily on the same meta for years at a time, that shouldn’t be an excuse to be complacent with the state of the game. Blizzard has leapt into the competitive shooter arena in remarkable fashion, but they have an opportunity to push Overwatch into deeper and more strategically dynamic places than its peers. They’re uniquely capable of making that happen — they just need to give it a push.

Kaplan has a lot of faith in the game’s balance, and wants to give players the freedom to dictate the metagame of Overwatch. But if the outcome of that approach leads to a stagnation of competitive play, consisting of a small pocket of heroes, executing one strategy again and again, until somebody finally discovers a killer new meta to dominate the next three months, the approach needs to be revisited.

Whether the above description of the metagame is true or not is irrelevant, because it is becoming the perception. If players and spectators feel that strategic paralysis setting in, it won’t matter what pick-rate or player stats say otherwise. Kaplan and his team’s conviction in keeping Overwatch as pure and community-driven as possible is commendable, but if the audience is saying they aren’t having as much fun anymore, it’s worth listening.

Image credits Blizzard Entertainment.

The Top 100 Hero Pool stats referenced were collected via Guilded.gg, which is operated by a personal friend. I was not compensated for any endorsement.

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About JaredLeeone of us since 7:02 PM on 06.19.2017