US: 24 May 2016
I am not an angry man. In fact, I consider myself to be quite level-headed. Even so, I think Overwatch is giving me anger issues.
I’ve been getting very hostile while playing Overwatch, Blizzard’s latest action-shooter game, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. So I verbally assault my teammates? No. Do I swear like a drunk sailor in chat and curse the gods who put four Hanzos on my team when playing against two Tracers, two Genjis, and two Winstons? Absolutely. What were they thinking? Seriously.
I know the feeling of losing, intimately, and it’s something that I’m comfortable with. I’ve still been playing Dark Souls III lately, happily invading and dying against my fellow players. I’ve also been completing a pacifist run of the game, so I know what it’s like to try and fail. I get angry in Overwatch not because I hate to lose, but because most of the time when I do lose, I can see so clearly how the loss could have been avoided.
Overwatch is a remarkably simple game. Most of the modes require capturing and holding a point for a set amount of time, and occasionally you’ll have to push a vehicle to some point farther into one of a handful of maps. Each team has only six players per side and games last, on average, ten minutes or so. Even the aesthetics are charming, like they were designed to reduce stress.
It’s this very simplicity that makes lopsided defeats so frustrating. See, I’ve been playing League of Legends for years. I’ve lost hundreds and hundreds of games, predominantly as support. Just this week, I lost three in a row. As a support, while it’s easy to feel like the rest of my team is to blame, I also know my own actions and the way that I communicate with my team are just as often the reason that we lose. League is complicated. I learn from my mistakes and move on.
Learning and improving is much harder in a game like Overwatch, in which losses come again and again from problems with simple solutions. Take a game that I recently lost against five Tracers. It was a silly enemy composition, really a coordination check more than a serious strategy. Tracer is an incredibly agile character, able to blink around the battlefield and to rewind herself to an earlier position. She’s a lot of fun to play and can be an absolute pain against snipers.
Unfortunately, I had three snipers on my team. Now thankfully Overwatch lets you swap characters on the fly. To counter a group of Tracers, those snipers should have switched to someone like McCree, who can stun Tracer in place and kill her in a short volley of bullets.
Alternatively, to mix things up, they could have played Roadhog or Winston, two tanky counters to the speedy Tracer. But no. In the face of a Tracer onslaught, no one on my team switched. No one was even on mic, communicating. Instead, players started dropping out of the match entirely.
In a genre that rewards playing a particular class again and again until you’ve mastered it and then sticking with that class because, after all, you’re pretty good at this point, it is woefully difficult to convince obstinate people to change characters. Swapping heroes mid-match isn’t just some optional element, it’s imperative. Overwatch is all about bringing the right composition at the right time, having an answer to your opponent’s every maneuver.
When you play on a team with people who refuse to change characters or coordinate, you’re not really playing Overwatch at all. There can be no lessons learned when the scale is so heavily lopsided. Or rather, the lesson is already obvious: counter the Tracers! When you play Rock/Paper/Scissors on a team that only throws Rock, the game isn’t fun. It’s infuriating.
Overwatch’s fast pace and charming aesthetics undermine attempts at strategic gameplay. It’s just too easy for players to grow accustomed to the swings of victory and defeat, opting to hop into another match rather than improve communication or grow comfortable swapping characters according to the team’s need.
There is hope in the recently released competitive mode. Most of the explicitly competitive matches that I’ve played thus far have been positive with more players talking and adapting than usual. Now if I get into a decent tier of competitive players, I might just avoid breaking my keyboard in half with rage.