Why ‘one-trick-player’ Specialists Ruin the Competitive Experience

No subtitle necessary.


This is a point that I talk about a lot on my stream and with other highly rated players. It’s such an accepted reality for top players that there is not much to discuss; we all recognize that one-tricking ruins games because it so often ruins our games. I would imagine that the behavior is similarly frustrating to flexible and competitively minded players at any rating. Nonetheless, for many it is a point of contention and this post will regard it as such. I felt that it might be helpful to the discussion to clarify the argument from my perspective. I encourage you to read through and comment below with your thoughts.

‘One-tricks’ is a term that picks out those players in Overwatch who only play one hero. This is an importantly distinct concept from ‘Mains’, which is a term that picks out players who (perhaps significantly) specialize in one hero, but are willing to swap if the game demands it. This article will contend only that the former (one-tricks) are significantly corrosive to the competitive experience in ranked matchmaking.

One-tricking is always a problem because every hero is, to some extent, situational. The Skill Rating system that has been engineered to create competitive matchups is, however, unilateral. By ‘unilateral’, I mean that each and every player has a numerical value that distills their expected game impact and contribution to victory. This number is reflective of both historical W/L and individual statistical performance, but this is of course a topic for another article.

Since the matchmaker seeks to create teams with similar average SR, it crucially relies on the accuracy of its judgement of ‘expected contribution’ to create fair games. If a given player were to consistently under- or over- perform relative to their expected contribution, it will adjust in pursuit of equilibrium. This is of course the way the Skill Rating system is supposed to work.

What about in the inconsistent case?

Every player is to some extent inconsistent; we are not machines and our success rate will of course vary from game to game. However, for the vast majority of players this inconsistency will entail a fluctuation above and below an average. This fluctuation is unavoidable, but I would argue that it is not significant enough to pose a tremendous problem for the matchmaker. For some players, though, the inconsistency of their real contribution is much more significant.

For one-tricks, the impact of map selection on their real contribution is massive. Since every hero is at least better on some maps than on others, one-tricks will see radical differences in their performance on favorable vs. unfavorable map draws. For extremely specialist one-tricks (namely the builders), this RNG can spell victory or defeat before the assemble screen is over. Even the coin-flip to start on Attack or Defend can be significant; Torb/Sym players can do especially well in the first defense and, in many cases, sap at the enemy team’s will to live. Momentum is actually a very important part of the game. An extremely successful first round is much more likely to produce a victory than a calamitous failure followed by a miracle comeback.

The matchmaker, in its current state, is thus unable to accurately predict the contribution to victory from these players. This significantly reduces the likelihood that matches which include one-tricks will be competitive. If you are placed on a team with a one-trick on a map which favors their hero, their impact will likely be much larger than the expectation of the system and vice versa for an unfavorable map. Perhaps one-trick players accept this randomness and can enjoy the game whilst reducing a significant portion of their games to a coin flip, but for the rest of the players who are matched with them it is a deeply joyless experience.

The natural further consequence of this is that players in a match affected by one-tricking have their Skill Rating distorted as ‘underdog’ teams with favorable map selection are unduly rewarded and ‘expected victors’ are unduly punished. These players then take their distorted Skill Rating into the next game, wherein they are slightly less likely to perform at the expectation of the match-maker. Game quality declines marginally, even for games devoid of one trick players.

The more specialist the character, the more significant the distortion. The more significant the distortion, the worse competitive matchmaking gets. Some would contend that players who main ‘off-meta’ characters are unfairly loathed compared to those who are extremely specialized in a character like Tracer, Zenyatta, or Winston. This is where the distinction between specialists and generalists becomes very important. Although even these characters are to some extent map dependent, describing them as ‘generalists’ is accurate because they are only marginally affected by map and side RNG. There is still a distortion effect, but the impact of matchmaking/map RNG on a generalist is far less significant.

Succinctly, this is why I think that one-tricking specialists ruins the competitive experience: when the true randomness of map selection becomes a crucial determinant of victory or defeat, I lose interest. I don’t play Overwatch because I want to watch particle effects while I flip a coin. I thought we figured this out in season 1.


Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below or on twitter (@jake_overwatch).



The Path to Pro

Sustaining the Overwatch League

By: Izzy “Noukky” Müller

Note from Jake: I’ve been planning for some time to bring contributing authors to this blog, and Noukky is the perfect one to start that trend. I hope you’ll enjoy this very important piece on the sustainability of the Overwatch competitive scene, I think she has done great work.

“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves”

– Anthony J. D’Angelo

Let’s talk about the term ‘grassroots’. If we think of roots we think of a foundation that gathers resources to let something grow. In esports this foundation is often called the developmental tier, including not only tier 2 but also the amateur scene. One thing you might ask yourself is, ‘what makes the developmental tier so important? Though this article is focused on Overwatch, we will look generally at  why the developmental tournament landscape looks so grim right now and explore ideas of what will render it fertile once again.

How did we get to this grim state? Blizzard can’t be reasonably held responsible for specific tournaments cancelled, leagues delayed, or players dropped. Nonetheless, the announcement of the Overwatch League absolutely had a critical impact on the entire Overwatch esports industry.

Unlike other publishers that let the roots of their esports scenes grow naturally over a long amount of time, Blizzard rushed forward announcing the Overwatch League’s development, not even one year after launch. Blizzard was always vocal about Overwatch becoming a successful esport, but what does the OWL mean for other tournaments and their organizers?

Instead of being able to grow naturally, build up brand recognition, and plan for long term goals these organizers have to worry about the possibility of upcoming restrictions and monitoring in a post-OWL world. Blizzard tried to set guidelines for presentation of their product, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, those circumstances made investing into the scene rather unattractive for tournament  brands as well as for many esports orgs. This all snowballed into a big pile of uncertainty about the sustainability and stability that a naturally grown circuit would bring. The grassroots scene has  been left wondering: “How do I get return on investment?” and “Will my work get taken away? Will there be even a place for me once OWL rolls around?”. Riot did a similar thing after they launched their League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), leaving the organizers that built up their scene for the first 3 years and establishing their own system. The big difference here is the time factor. Whereas the League of Legends circuit had time to grow naturally, Overwatch was in a much less mature state as its definitive league was announced

In a more optimal setting, third party organizers would be able to develop a sustainable tournament circuit by themselves. Bigger events like Gamescom, Dreamhack, and IEM act as anchor points that give smaller organizers the opportunity to fill in the gaps with weekly, monthly and seasonal events. One of the most important things to point out here is: there needs to be a path for aspiring players.

The path for an aspiring player looks something like this: you get into a team, you scrim 2-6 hours a day, and you try to compete. The first thing you need to look for is regular competition. As a newcomer it’s really important to have weeklies so you can get tournament experience under your belt. It’s not even about skill improvement if you get matched against stronger teams, but to learn how to play under pressure and not lose your cool on stream, even if it’s only in front of a few hundred people. These events don’t need to be numerous, but it’s crucial that they are consistent. National events and leagues are a part of this early development spectrum too. As time progresses, these smaller competitions suffer diminishing returns because you increase your level of play in a steady environment. For every player that improves beyond this level of competition, though, another will be quick to take his/her place.

Towards the top, your progress will demand bigger gaps between competitions because scrim time gets more valuable to work on strategy and mechanics. At this point you have graduated to “Mid-Tier” competition. These competitions are still not able to provide a sustainable income for you, but are equally as important as they are the top of the developmental tier. Teams and players start to gain recognition at this point, and it is a big stepping stone on the path to tier 2 competition (I define ‘tier 2’ as the point of self-sustainability). A mix of monthly events, seasonal tournaments, and online qualifiers for bigger events should comprise this tier. They give teams the chance to prove themselves against even harder competition to get on the radar of esport organizations. From this stage onwards, if the team progresses steadily, they count as a good investment for esports orgs. Successful teams, even at this level, aid brand recognition via tournament performance, social media, and on streams as well. There are hardly any tournaments not streamed in this stage. A smooth transition into the tier 2 and pro scenes should be within reach from this stage onwards.

With Overwatch League coming around, a big shuffle will happen and 12 teams with 6-12 players will rise to the highest level of competition. This will leave a large number of lost players that are looking to continue their careers. I am fairly confident that things will fall into place once this shuffle is over. The first thing I would really love to see is Contenders expanding as a regular competition for the semi-professional scene. This alone will not be sufficient; we need the third-party organizers to fill in the gaps between seasons with events too. Due to the uncertainty of the future of the tier 2 scene resultant from the OWL announcement, Blizzard needs to work proactively with these third party organizers to create a self-sustainable circuit so players will have a clear career path once again. Blizzard could either plan seasons around Dreamhack or similar organizers or preemptively line up tournament organizers for the offseason of Contenders to increase the chance for the scene to thrive. Another big factor is promotion and exposure. Using social media and the game client to promote this tier of events is essential to player and tournament sustainability. If Blizzard intends to run the tier 2 scene alone the Seasons need to be close together with a bigger prize pool than they have right now. In addition to that, an offseason tournament like they do with HGC in Heroes of the Storm will be needed.

With the upcoming team shuffle and the start of Overwatch League, one way to help the scene to gain long term viewership is to create incentives for career fans. The way Blizzard introduced this to Heroes of the Storm on Twitch should be, in some form, replicated into Overwatch. Allowing people to cheer with bits for their favorite teams would be a nice incentive to engage the viewer base that also aids with sustainability.

Starting with the idea of Open Division, what I would like to see is a relegation tournament between the best teams of Open Division and the lowest-ranked of Contenders. This not only creates competition, but also ensures that the players’ work will not be lost in the long run. At this point, we are still not sure about the real path to pro that was advertised because communication in general about Blizzard’s plan for sub-OWL tournaments is rather slim towards the public. If Blizzard has a cohesive plan to solve for sustainability in the tier 2 scene, failing to communicate it ahead of time might do just as much damage as having no plan at all. Tournament organizers will need time to adapt to Blizzard’s vision no matter what it looks like.

Being on a Blizzard broadcast channel or qualifying for a desired tournament are dreams that players should be able to reach with daily hard work. With support from Blizzard, organizations will also realize that this path of competition can be a sustainable part of their business. Fresh talents that work their way up from the amateur scene to the top of Contenders and get the chance to tryout for the big Overwatch League teams are potential good investments. Without certainty that the path exists, organizations will have a hard time making the original investment in these potential pros. Without the grassroots, there can be no springtime bloom.