I like Overwatch. I think this game is very enjoyable to play, I think the characters are well designed and unique, and it gets a lot of things very, VERY right - from the sound design, to the art style, to the ways different characters’ abilities work with each other, to moment-to-moment gameplay. It’s very enjoyable, and honestly I commend Kaplan and the Overwatch team for the effort clearly put forth in creating such a fun-to-play game. I really, really want to have this be the shooter game I keep coming back to.
But there is one, single, fundamental thing that keeps me from playing this game more than I do.
Overwatch does not have a casual mode.
Part 1: Am I playing Comp, or QP? I Can’t Tell.
It is very obvious that Blizzard focuses entirely on creating and catering to a highly competitive gameplay environment. This is probably most exemplified with the fact that (at least now) you are forced to choose and stick with specific roles during a match, in order to force cooperation and teamwork.
But when you get down to it, it’s hard not to notice that - fundamentally - Quickplay and Competitive are pretty much identical. The only “differences” are:
– You do not earn Competitive Points at the end of matches.
– You cannot see your “ranking”. It is tracked as a hidden Matchmaking Rank (commonly called your MMR)
– You are not noticably penalized for leaving mid-match, or for losing (although the aforementioned hidden MMR tracks your win/losses/quits anyways, making this a moot point).
These “differences” do not matter during gameplay. Points 2 and 3 completely cancel each other out, making the only actual difference that your MMR is visible in Competitive, and that you don’t earn Golden Guns for playing Quick Play. “Casual” QP games and “Serious” Competitive Matches do not differ from one another in terms of gameplay, because from an overhead, fundamental perspective, they are totally and completely identical.
There’s a common “comeback” to pointing this out, which is “Yeah, but people try harder in competitive than they do in quickplay.”
I’d argue that the use of the word “harder” in and of itself shows the issue. People are still encouraged to put forth effort in Quick Play Matches. Both by the game itself (forcing you to assign yourself a role), and by the community (who notice and will get upset at you if you are not putting forth “enough” effort.)
The only reason that seems to happen is because players tend to not use their mics in Quickplay (largely because it’s not supposed to be the “serious” mode, so why make calls in the first place?), and that players aren’t penalized for leaving, so if your team starts doing poorly and a player cares about winning, they’ll just leave and find another server. People still put forth effort in Quick Play - it’s just not as visible.
Part 2: A Player’s Influence
alternatively; “Toxicity encouraged through gameplay”
In a single player game, how much influence does a player have over the events that will occur within the game?
Arguably – taking the actual gameplay mechanics that wrench player’s control away from them (which may vary from game-to-game) – in a single-player game, the lone player has 100% complete control over the events that will occur during their time playing. A good example of this would be Open World RPGs. In these games, the sole, lone player retains all control of events over the course of gameplay.
Now, what happens when another player is added into the equation? For example, in Coop or 1v1 games?
When games feature players engaging with each other, the more players that are added, the less influence each individual has on the outcome of the match. Battle Royales in particular pull a neat trick by grouping players up, so they have a large amount of control over the actions of their group, despite the fact that their group still only has a fraction of control over the outcome of game events. More skilled players have more control over their group or team or squad, but still retain a minute amount of control over the outcome of the match as a whole.
This, ultimately, is part of the nature of competitive games. In a 6v6 environment like Overwatch, each player has roughly 1/6th control over the performance of their team, and 1/12th control over the outcome of the entire match. Since both teams have roughly 50/50 control over encounters and fights, that means that each player’s 1/6th influence over their team becomes important - a single pick takes away a massive 16% of the opponent’s influence over the events of the battle.
Why do I bring this up? This is basic game theory in technicality. Something discussed regularly in competitive theory.
Because Team Fortress 2 pubs are not 6v6. They’re not even 8v8 or 10v10. TF2 Pubs are a whopping 12v12. In a team fight, a single pick takes away only 8% of the opponent’s ability to fight back. That smaller percentage is something individual skill differences can overcome. That smaller percentage is even so small that it isn’t even noticeable to your fellow teammates.
Just that single change, I believe, creates a far more laid back environment. Especially compared to Competitive Lobbies. Just making it so that each player does not need to contribute to the overall performance of the match makes it so that if someone gets a pick, or gets picked off, or is not even really helping in a match, then it’s not a big deal. Nobody notices or cares about “Sandvich Heavies” or “That Sniper That Hasn’t Hit A Single Shot”, because they do not contribute much to the overall outcome of the match. They don’t contribute to what is “important” to serious players.
And even if the serious players do take notice of them… they’re not penalized for leaving to find another server.
Earlier in this, I stated that “People are still encouraged to put forth effort in Quick Play Matches. Both by the game itself (forcing you to assign yourself a role), and by the community (who notice and will get upset at you if you are not putting forth “enough” effort.)”
The reason people notice when others aren’t putting effort in, is by in large due to the fact that each member on a team does contribute a significant percentage to the performance of the team as a whole. So when you have “That Widowmaker Main Who Hasn’t Hit A Shot In 6 Minutes” on your team, you tend to notice their lack of skill. This pushes players to say something… but it’s not often players will be happy that they’re “missing” that feeling of everyone on their team trying.
That is to say, that each player mattering quite a bit actually pushes players to act in toxic and unhealthy ways when someone is underperforming.
Part 3: "We Ended Up Losing, And It’s All Your Fault."
I would like to take a moment to talk about a personal adventure I went through. Something that I experienced firsthand, and what has pushed me to writing this essay of a forum post on my thoughts.
I took a several-year break from this game, and only recently came back to it. When I left, Doomfist or Orisa had just come out of Beta… so I had only played a little bit of them, and only vaguely understood what they brought to the game. So, imagine how out-of-the loop I was when I was suddenly met with all these new heroes that had come out while I was gone – Sigma and Hammond dramatically changing how you can hold the Objective, Echo being a flying hero like Pharah that could copy other’s Ultimates in an instant, Baptist and Brigitte who were more offensively focused healers with unique Ultimates. And so many heroes had core parts of their identity changed! Symetra’s Ultimate was no longer the Teleporter and her beam no longer locked on, Torbjorn no longer dropped Armor for people, Reaper’s Soul Globes were completely gone, Hanzo no longer had a Scatter Arrow, Sombra could stay invisible forever and her Translocator had no timer on it…
The name of the game was the same, but I had to learn about these changes one at a time, while catching up quickly on what the new meta was, try and understand how these changes interacted with the rest of the game, and unlearn things I had known (like how to play Torb so he could never die… which I assume is why he was changed).
So I hopped in Quick Play.
I played for a while, learning these changes while chatting with some friends who had also taken a break. Slowly relearning characters took time, but I found myself oddly fascinated with Ashe. From a design perspective, she’s really interesting - a midpoint between McCree and Widowmaker. Not quite as mobile as the latter, but relying more on precision than the former. I wanted to play her more in order to understand her moveset… but I’ve never been good with precision based characters. I mean, I typically play folks with automatic fire or explosives as I find it easier to track and think about Splash Damage than to be precise. And since I had taken a several year break from the game… Yeah, I wasn’t good.
But Quick Play is supposed to be casual, right? It’s supposed to be the place you can go to learn, right? I’m allowed to be bad, right?
Over the course of 4 play sessions, I got told to uninstall the game no less than 10 times. I got told to kill myself at least 3 times. People hated that I was “wasting” a DPS slot to play a Sharpshooter. Suddenly, I was That Ashe Main That Didn’t Hit Their Shots. Suddenly, I was holding the team back, the reason we lost the game, and even though I was just trying to improve with a character I liked, I was being battered and attacked, socially and mentally. For playing a character I wanted to in the “casual” quickplay environment.
I realized I had no real casual environment I could go to in order to improve. Sure, I was told to go to “The Old QP” in the Arcade, which is where a lot of players like that go… but the only reason that’s where they accrue is because it’s out of sight and out of mind for the “serious” players who want to play “the real game”. It’s social ostracizing at best. I wasn’t good enough to play “the real video game”.
I stopped playing Ashe. Unless we’re already winning and I think the team can afford it, I don’t play her anymore. Despite wanting to, I don’t even pick her in Quick Play out of the gate because I’ll just be a burden on my team, and I just stopped playing her entirely in competitive.
Part 4: Quickplay needs to change.
Looking it up, there are other threads about this. About how Quickplay and Competitive are fundamentally the same game. About how larger, 8v8 casual lobbies might be better for QP since they let each team have one of Those Widow Mains without them being a burden, or about how it might be possible to help eliminate some of the elitism and toxicity this game breeds, especially towards players who only want to improve or who only want to play in a more laid back environment.
All of them come to the same conclusion; Fundamental changes need to be made to Quick Play to make it different from Competitive. Fundamental changes need to be made so that no player is a burden to their team. Fundamental changes need to be made so this game does not breed elitism and toxicity, and to be more accessible to new players.
I know Blizz and the Overwatch Team will never take these into account, because it is clear they want to create a game that’s entire focus is on being a competitively driven title. And Competitive titles have no right to have casual environments and a casual core experience. But if this game doesn’t want to appeal to and create a casual experience… then It’ll push people like me away. I like Overwatch. But it does not have a casual mode, and that is a problem.
Quick Play needs to change. Hopefully, to address that problem.