The world's best Overwatch players are preparing, in their own individual ways, for the Hero Pool.
The Hero Pool is throwing a big wrench in the way people play Overwatch, even in high-profile tournaments with millions of dollars on the line. The coming update loomed large last Sunday at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, where pro players competed in the Overwatch League's opening weekend for the 2020 season.
Currently in beta in the public test realm (PTR) and officially launching on March 7, Hero Pools represents one of the biggest changes to Overwatch in the game's nearly four-year history. The new system bans a handful of characters from competitive gameplay for a week, affecting both the professional Overwatch League and the Competitive Play mode accessible to all players.
Speaking to Inverse, some of the world's top players expressed everything from elation to dread over the arrival of Hero Pools. The only thing they all agreed on? Training and preparation will be the key to success.
“I love it... This will change the game.”
For some, Hero Pools represents a much-needed change to the unwritten rules that guide Overwatch play at the highest levels.
"I love it," Paris Eternal's Damien "HyP" Souville tells Inverse after his team's victory over the London Spitfire. "There will be much [to] show for the public coming to watch the games. For teams, it will be hard to adapt every week, but I love it personally. It'll change every time. This will change the game."
Souville's excitement for Hero Pools is based on how it will change the meta every week, referring to the objectively most-powerful combination of characters — a ranking that changes as Blizzard deploys updates and players figure out new strategies.
Adds Souville, "I would like to have Ana come back to the meta."
Yong-Cheoul "imt" Jeong, head coach for the New York Excelsior, says "A strong team is equal to all the metas. We have such good players coming in with a lot of experience, and those players each have individual 'Hero Pools.'"
Others aren't so excited. Souville's own teammate on Eternal, Nicholas "NiCOgdh" Moret, expects to encounter difficulty in training.
"For me, it will be kind of hard to practice," Moret says. "Because we will travel a lot, the coach will have a hard time having a good composition. We didn't try [it] yet but it will be up to us to practice."
How Hero Pools work
In a January 31 blog post by the Overwatch League, Blizzard laid down the rules for the Hero Pool. On any given week beginning March 7, one tank, one support, and two damage/DPS heroes will be unavailable to play for matches.
The post further elaborated on the following features:
- The heroes will be randomly selected from a group of eligible heroes based on play-rate data from the previous two weeks of Overwatch League matches—only heroes that are being played regularly can be pulled from the next hero pool.
- No hero will be unavailable two weeks in a row.
- Hero Pools will not be used for the midseason tournament, the play-in tournament, playoffs, or Grand Finals. All heroes will be available for those matches.
- Teams will be informed of each week’s Hero Pool approximately one week in advance of matches.
Added Blizzard, "Our expectation is that a rotating Hero Pool for Overwatch League matches will foster a wider range of team strategies and showcase more heroes in competition as players adapt and teams experiment with new compositions when some of the most-played heroes are no longer options."
"It's all up to the individuals"
As Moret reveals, the league's newly adopted travel schedule for the 2020 season will also play an unknown factor in the season.
Unlike previous Overwatch League seasons where the vast majority of games took place at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles, the League will spend 2020 in a variety of cities spanning continents like North America, Asia, and Europe.
Week One saw games take place in Manhattan in New York (home of the Excelsior) and Dallas, Texas, home of the Dallas Fuel. Week Two will take place on February 15-16 with games in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, home of the Fusion. (The Shanghai Dragons were also scheduled to host games in China for Week Two, but due to the coronavirus outbreak the Shanghai games are canceled while the team indefinitely relocates to South Korea.)
Between travel and the Hero Pools, a team's ability to adapt to potentially unfavorable circumstances will determine just how far into the 2020 season a team can go.
"There's some good things about the Hero Pool but we think it's going to be pretty hard," says Byeon "Munchkin" Sang-beom of the Boston Uprising, who came out on the losing end Sunday against their matches with the New York Excelsior. "Probably going to be hard, but it's all up to the individuals."
Munchkin's Boston teammates echo him, with Cameron "Fusions" Bosworth saying: "We can't prepare just yet [for the Hero Pool] because we have a lot of games before that [happens]. But in the long term, we are thinking about it. Our coaches are preparing for that, making sure we're flexible as possible. But overall, the fundamentals of the game are still the same. We're not going to be changing much."
"Last year it was not cool to play the meta," says Souville. "[Now] we won’t have the meta for a few weeks. I like to adapt and change."