Overwatch 2 proves Blizzard doesn't know what fans want
Blizzard’s indecisiveness is killing the game.
When Overwatch came out in 2016, the MOBA meets first-person shooter was a hit. Many publishers tried to capture the same lightning that Blizzard had, and most of them failed. The long-gestating sequel, Overwatch 2, is set to be released on October 4, 2022. Blizzard hopes the sequel will inject a much-needed boost of adrenaline into the series. But a string of missteps has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Overwatch fans.
What happened? — The Overwatch 2 team recently held a Reddit AMA where one user asked if the original game will shut down when the sequel launches. The team responded by saying, “When OW2 launches on Oct. 4th it will be a replacement for the current Live Service.”
This was a bit of a shock!
The initial announcement of the sequel felt a bit confusing. Why would a live-service game need a sequel, and what would this mean for people playing the original Overwatch? Jeff Kaplan, the series creator, made promises to fans during the game’s reveal at Blizzcon 2019 that the team wasn’t going to make the game obsolete.
“For all original players of Overwatch, players of the current Overwatch game, you will get to play on all of the same maps as Overwatch 2 players, including all of the brand new maps that are coming to Overwatch 2. And you will get to play with all of the same heroes as Overwatch 2 players. It will be a shared multiplayer environment where no one gets left behind.”
What is the point of a full sequel then? Why not just continue to update the base game with new content? Kaplan (who left Blizzard in 2021) answered this by saying those who did get Overwatch 2 would mostly benefit from the graphical improvement that a new title offered as well as exclusive access to a plethora of PvE modes that would be added in the sequel.
Later in the same month, as the Blizzcon reveal, Kaplan revealed to Kotaku that “there will be a point where the clients merge.” Of course, nobody expected that this would mean the original Overwatch would have the plug pulled as soon as its prettier replacement arrived.
Who is Overwatch 2 for? — In the same Kotaku interview, Kaplan explained the team’s reason for merging the services in the future: “We think this is important, especially as a competitive experience.” Kaplan was referring to the Overwatch League, the official competitive scene for the hero shooter.
The professional side of the game has a long history of ups and downs. After the creation of the Overwatch League, the development team started patching the game with competitive play in mind. Characters were given buffs or nerfs based on the competitive meta the team saw in professional play, seemingly putting more focus on the opinions of pro players when it came to balancing Overwatch. What began as a cute character-based shooter with a wide appeal to casual players, became a faster and more lethal game designed for competition above all else.
When it came to a sequel it is reasonable to assume that the team focused on competitive play from the beginning of development, having learned from the original. PvP would be balanced for professional play and the new PvE modes would give room for casual players to enjoy the game. So, when it was announced Overwatch 2 was shattering the entire meta of competitive play, it was very confusing.
Most Overwatch game modes involve 6v6 matches, but competitive play places two characters in each traditional role (tank, DPS, and support). Overwatch 2 is reducing this to 5v5, a decision that was made without consulting professional teams. Fans have been furious.
Blizzard can’t decide who this game is for, and while it scrambles to figure it out, players both professional and casual are jumping ship to other games like Valorant. What does the future look like for one of 2016’s biggest games? Right now, it feels uncertain.
Overwatch 2 may be dead on arrival unless Blizzard can solve this identity crisis and commit to a coherent vision.