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).



12 thoughts on “Why ‘one-trick-player’ Specialists Ruin the Competitive Experience”

  1. One thing this article doesn’t really touch on is why Mercy OTPs can similarly ruin the ranked game experience even during times when she is extremely strong. The problem lies in the fact that certain off meta heroes (or meta heroes like mercy) require very little mechanical skill, so when they are put into a situation where there is another Mercy one trick pony they are forced onto a hero they have little to no experience with. In this situation they don’t have the mechanics to fall back on to flex effectively and often consistently underperform on their second choice hero. This inflexibility further deteriorates the “competitive” aspect of ranked. Though not a guaranteed loss, having more than one OTP on your team greatly decreases your chances of winning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. one small and easy tweak i would say would be that the performance based sr gain should be removed and have a set/constant amount lost and gained so that sr gains and losses are only impacted that by the means the TEAM took to win. This would make it so that people would have to actually win their games and have a positive win % to even come close of climbing the ladder.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Before commenting, I want to add that my viewpoint on this matter might be flawed and that I’m not a high level player; however, I think that this subject has a different side to it that needs to be put forward.

    I agree that onetricking is not good for the game. Overwatch is meant to be played with flexibility in mind, both in strategies and hero picks – this is something I firmly believe. However, with that in mind, I feel that the problem of onetricking is closely related to the discussion of meta, and that is why I highly disagree with the definition of “generalist” and “specialist”, because it doesn’t take into account flexibility (and creativity) in terms of strategy, only flexibility in terms of function.

    I think that noone can disagree that certain heroes are more flexible than others in terms of function. Heroes like Soldier, Tracer or Genji can play on many different maps without being affected a lot by it. However, they don’t necessarily make for new strategies the way that the “specialist” heroes do; in fact, you could argue that there are more unique strategies possible with “specialists” than there are with “generalists”. With Bastion, for instance, you could theoretically use him 1) for coverfire 2) for shieldbreak/breaking a choke 3) as an anti-monkey tool 4) as a distraction/second threat together with dive, etc etc. Therefore, in order to have the most flexibility in terms of strategy, “specialist” heroes are essentially required, simply due to the fact that their specific playstyle doesn’t make a generalist playstyle entirely safe (at least theoretically) – this should create the revolving conflict of picking and counterpicking that Overwatch should be about.

    But when you define these heroes as “specialist” or “nieche”, you are unintentionally (or intentionally, for some people) giving them a subtext that says “this hero is not worth using/practicing because there are few situations where they can work”, instead of viewing them as a general tool that can be used when you are having trouble with a specific task. Therefore, an environment is created where “specialists” aren’t used even in situations, maps or strategies where they would be ideal, simply because of bad perception and unfamiliarity.

    Here is a scenario that I have encountered: my favorite hero is Mei. I spawn in on Hanamura, and as such, I pick Mei since it’s arguably her best map. We play through the first point, things don’t go so well and something needs to change. The team tells me to switch. Why do I have to switch? Because Mei is the off-meta hero. It doesn’t matter that her skillset is especially strong on Hanamura – she is still the “odd” pick, and therefore will be the hero that people urge to switch out first.

    This, in my opinion, is why onetricks are created. Essentially, if you like a “specialist” hero but still want to flex and be of help to the team, you will be lucky if you get 5 minutes of playtime on that specific hero in an 8 hour play session. At the same time, the Tracer onetrick gets to play their hero for almost the entire 8 hour session with few complaints. That is where the unfairness lies. The only answers players favouring “specialists” have to this is to either ignore their team and get yelled at, or try to get good enough on the hero that noone can complain about the pick; both paths lead to onetricking.

    I would simply put forward that the discussion is a bit broader than just “onetricks are bad, especially specialists”. It would be prudent, in my opinion, to discuss the tendency of mirroring/meta-picking in the pro scene, why it is there as well as why strategies based on specialists are so rare (and what possibilities there actually are for those strategies). That is the discussion that I think would lead to a deeper game in terms of strategy, give clearer direction in terms of balancing the game and also lessen the tendency of onetricking in the long run (hopefully).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think calling a hero a ‘specialist’ implies in any sense that a hero is not worth playing. It only implies that those heroes are not useful all of the time. I have no problem with someone even maining a character like symmetra or torb, but total inflexibility is absurd and anti-competitive. Near the top of my OP I specify that this article is only attacking true one-tricking.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. While I agree with hypothesis, I think the argument on skill rating = expected game impact and the variance between one tricks is more pronounced is an area that needs to be explored further.

    When considering this argument against ‘mains’, although people are choosing a more appropriate hero as the situation dictates, I think more research needs to be considered on whether they can play that hero to their SR level or even at a sufficient enough level to value add or contribute to team effectiveness. For example in a game with 2 Mercy mains and another support main, is the Mercy main going to be able to fulfill a tank or DPS role effectively even though they will play something else more context specific (even if forced by someone picking Mercy)?

    I think there are some more passive heroes that can be flexed for a main to contribute, however other heroes with higher skill caps will mean that the main is not going to contribute near their SR. The RNG aspect, ‘momentum’ or ‘coin flip’ is something that is definitely an issue with One Tricks and something that I think has a bigger impact than the SR variance as it:
    (a) requires the appropriate map;
    (b) requires the appropriate 5 team mates to balance their character; and
    (c) has the ability to have a psychological impact on team members directly affecting motivation and focus.

    I am completely with Andre’s that if this is a team game, win as a team or lose as a team. In an Esport context Envyus did not just win contenders because of their teams SR, they had to win the maps against Faze. This includes hero pool, team works etc. Blizzard should make SR based on win or lose for competitive to enforce people to play as a team, which as a byproduct should reduce the amount of one tricks reaching the higher SRs.

    The ‘one trick’ or as I think of it “selfish mindset” has put me off playing as losing in spawn room is just a waste of time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As a response to Gabriel,

    The situation outlined, creating an environment for one tricks definitely has merit and most likely why it happens. I play tank (Rein + Zarya maybe Winston) / support (Ana + Zen + Lucio). When asked / directed to Mercy, if I am already negatively minded (had some losses or team comp is atrocious or both) I have just left voice chat disabled text and played tilted as I hate playing Mercy and would rather not play than play her, especially if there are other issues in the team. In a positive mindset I play her because I want to help the team.

    The key rebuttal I offer is predicated on the “unfairness” argument that your desired hero being less accepted therefore you will get a lot less playing time than a meta approved hero. As Tony Soprano said “Fair, what are you talking about fair, they don’t give a sh*t about fair”. There are other avenues to play your favorite hero and competitive is in theory supposed to be a competitive environment to play as a team and rank up. Something I need to practice what I preach as much as others as I admitted I am guilty of, usually borne out of frustration that if others are not working as a team why should I be altruistic on a character I hate?

    I think a change to the competitive environment needs to occur to allow for a change in behaviour.


  6. I feel like one-tricking is less of a problem at lower ranks – with everybody doing many mistakes, it’s hard to blame someone specifically – especially since for us it is a hobby rather than an actual job.
    I feel like Blizzard could try to solve this and other issues locally at higher ranks – since I can understand (not share) their unwillingness to bring changes to all player base, when the issues have a significant impact only on a low % of it. It could be a different ruleset or it could be a new feature – something that becomes an incentive to be a better player and reach that rank to unlock it (eg: GM-only 144 tick server).

    Also, do pros have a labor union – albeit unofficial – to give Blizzard a stronger feedback about competitive issues?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. In any hero based game there are OTP’s, it’s unpreventable. Players associate themselves with a certain hero the most and play him 24/7 and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.

    But in a competitive landscape, where heroes fulfill certain roles and have certain strengths/weaknesses on how they fulfill their roles while also having more or less synergy with other heroes, being a OTP is not the decision an actually competitive driven player would make, because without a minimal amount of flexibility and adaptability they will encounter scenarios they are very unlikely to win.

    IMHO the real issue lies in the MM rewarding mechanical skills over decision making.
    That sad reality this creates is that players who are able to outsmart their opponents won’t get a very high skill rating unless they also bring a very comparable set of mechanical skills.

    An example would be a tracer that is able to disrupt the enemy team by distracting 2 or 3 opponents, not getting a pick but creating an opening for her/his team to push resulting in a won teamfight compared to a tracer that gets 1-2 picks, but as a result leads to a lost teamfight. With enough games played and the players strictly executing mentioned tactic and both players having a win/loss ratio of 50%, the tracer that gets in and gets a pick will be higher in the ladder.

    My personal opinion is that this makes the game dull when being played on the ladder, as a certain playstyle is incentivized. This swaps over to the pro scene, where a certain meta is relevant, with a very few exceptions where some teams do something unusual to catch their opponents off-guard.

    From a viewers perspective, we get so see some nice big-plays as team-wiping nano blades, but we rarely get to see one team really outsmarting the other. It’s more or less just brute force and imho why Overwatch is less good to watch than Starcraft.


  8. Great post! I am a big fan of your points from the perspective of matchmaking as well as general competitive experience. Many commenters and forum-goers believe that this is something that Blizzard has to address, but I think that the burden for change is on us as a community.

    Specifically, maybe we can try to help change the reaction to one-tricks and encourage them to try new heroes. I understand that there are always going to be people that insist that they are only good at the one thing (you get this in real sports as well), but I think that there are a lot of people who are just nervous about trying a new hero or role at the risk of being crapped on by their teammates (who they do not know).

    As a point to the general argument that people should be allowed to play their favourite heroes: my favourite heroes are not the tanks and I am a tank main in competitive. My favourite heroes by design and function are Torbjorn and Junkrat, by far. Do I play them? Hardly. Even in Quick Play I’ll only play them every once in a while, since I also kind of want to win. Honestly, some people just value having “fun” over winning; and the problem with arguing over this point is that “fun” is subjective, unfortunately.



  9. Ill stop One-Tricking when they put in a forced Solo queue for GM+… how you feel about one-tricks is how i feel about Duo abusers..


  10. What bothers me is that most of the hostility is directed at the one-trick players rather than Blizzard, who are the ones who implemented such a system in the first place. They are the ones who made certain heroes by design less viable on given maps. If we want more fair matches, then we should be asking for map redesigns that create a fair playing field for the entire cast rather than flaming our fellow players.


  11. That’s an interesting point about when let’s say a symmetra plays a map that’s incredibly bad for a symmetra, it causes her teammates to lose the match, therefore losing SR, and now her teammates bring a slightly inaccurate SR into the next match which can effect the next match and so on, luckily there aren’t enough 1 tricks where this would become a huge problem as the wave of inaccurate SR falls off quickly with the current ratio of 1 tricks to non-1 tricks. Anyways not a bad point, it’s a very difficult thing to enforce correctly and probably won’t ever be enforced perfectly but there are definitely a few strides that can be made towards a positive solution.


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