Or: Rewards for dedication are severely lacking in Overwatch
Rancor is in the air. Many are calling Season 5 of Ranked Matchmaking in Overwatch the worst since S1’s disastrous coin flips. Due to the total lack of transparency from Blizzard, it is unclear if the Matchmaking algorithm has in fact changed (and led to genuinely worse matchmaking) or if tensions are simply reaching a boiling point. Either way, the potential for disruption in the market for competitive Overwatch matchmaking has never been greater.
The reasons are obvious: one-tricking remains a behavior officially accepted by Blizzard, the punishment system feels toothless, and the Skill Rating algorithm is embarrassingly manipulable. 1/10 Ranked games feel competitive and interesting on a good day.
Even if these glaring failures are rectified, the prioritization of queue time minimization has left striving for the top of the ladder feeling deeply unrewarding. Overwatch, from a fundamental game-design perspective, is the eSport with the greatest demand for constant coordination. Games like CS:GO, Dota 2, and League of Legends reward coordinated executions and smart team play, but Overwatch demands it constantly. True 1v1s are incredibly rare and virtually every fight is decided with crucial contributions from many players. As individual SR presses past 4300, however, wins and losses are decided by carry play and team coordination goes out the window. When a 46-4700 rated player solo-queues into a game, it is virtually impossible that his/her teammates will be able and willing to keep up. Although queue times stay relatively fast with this system, it feels as if the matchmaker asks only the question of which team will more effectively stymie the efforts of their one or two carry-players. There’s no value in a brief queue time if the majority of matches are poor quality.
As a player at this skill range, these sort of games are incredibly frustrating. Although Ranked Matchmaking will never perfectly simulate an organized competitive environment, its power to shine the spotlight on new talent (as in other eSports titles) is directly correlated to the degree of similarity it can achieve. One of the most compelling parts of eSports is its accessibility. There is a sort of egalitarian charm to the idea that anyone can make a name online and earn a chance to be rewarded for their dedication and skill. Overwatch is failing terribly in this respect.
A competitor to Ranked Matchmaking (similar to the offerings of Faceit or ESEA in other games) may be the best path forward. There is tremendous demand for a more meaningful proxy to true competitive Overwatch, both from established professional players and from those who wish for a legitimate arena in which to display their potential. Something as simple as a captain’s draft system or a classical Elo measurement would yield a product far superior to what Blizzard has produced.
Beyond prizes and external motivations, I know that I would personally pay for a subscription just to guarantee a consistently serious and competitive mindset among my teammates. Ranked in its present state is a remarkably poor environment in which to practice the most important skill of Overwatch: team play. I had hoped Blizzard would act faster, but the deterioration of the past few seasons makes one thing strikingly clear: Blizzard’s game development priorities seem to put Quickplay on par with Top 500. For the organic growth of the eSport in the long term, the need for something to strive for is greater than ever.
P.S. My apologies for the delay between articles. I’m taking college courses online now in order to finish my degree (on top of World Cup practice), so my time is a bit more constrained than usual. As always, let me know what you think in the comments and on twitter at @jake_overwatch