Overwatch

Jeff Kaplan explains how Blizzard will balance Overwatch hero pools

by Andrew Amos
YouTube: PlayOverwatch

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The hero pools system is set to shake up how Overwatch is played, and with questions about how they will be balanced for all tiers of play, Jeff Kaplan has explained how they are going to keep the system fair for all players.

Overwatch’s new hero pools feature was introduced to players during the January 30 Developer Update as an answer to freshening the meta up. Every week, Blizzard will rotate heroes in and out of competitive play, based on pick rate and other feedback, to keep players on their toes.

The hero pools system comes after community demands for hero bans, although the Overwatch team were dismissive about limiting players in such a way. Instead, they’ll find a new way to balance the game around heroes in and out of the pool, with Jeff Kaplan going to the forums to explain the deeper workings of the system.

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The initial concept for hero pools came from community criticism around the stale metas of years gone by in Overwatch. After every patch, the meta has always been solved quickly, leading to the same six heroes often facing off against each other in mirror matchups.

This inspired Blizzard to think of a system that would work for Overwatch, and while hero bans were on the table, the new hero pools system allowed for the team to dictate how quickly the meta moved after major creative changes in the game.

“Design is all about tradeoffs,” he said. “If the thing that the community decides is ‘the most egregious’ is a ‘static meta’ and they ‘want the dev team to do something about it,’ we’re going to take steps towards change.

“We can’t force the meta to move and not make the game work differently. Last year was great proof that player creativity and balance changes alone weren’t enough to move people off of [GOATS] fast enough for the community to feel satisfied.”

Brigitte and Reinhardt in Overwatch
Blizzard Entertainment
GOATS dominated the Overwatch meta for over a year until role lock was introduced.

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While the system is all new, it’s going to involve trial, error, and a lot of experimentation. From the amount of heroes rotated out, for how long, and how often some heroes are rotated out for, hero pools are going to be a learning experience for players and developers alike.

“For the first five weeks, we will be trying a range to see what feels right,” Kaplan stated, mentioning that there’s no fixed number set for the number of heroes being rotated. “We’ve architected this system so that we can update the hero pools without the need to patch.

As for how long players will have to wait to see their favorite heroes return, Kaplan soothed the community’s concern about possibly taking weeks to change it.

“We talked about a season rotation but taking a hero out of play for two months makes us a bit nervous,” he conceded. “We’ve talked about rotating every day. We’ve also talked about rotating every match. We don’t like going longer than a week because we want more heroes played.”

Overwatch hero roster
Blizzard Entertainment
Heroes will be rotated weekly to keep the game fresh without disrupting the player experience too much.

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Additionally, every role will be hit equally every week. It won’t be solely support or tank heroes being rotated out, forcing players across all roles to switch it up.

“We would never limit the pool to just one tank,” he said, replying to one player’s concerns about targeted pools. “You’ll never be forced to play a single tank.”

The hero pools system will only affect the competitive experience of the game, both in the Overwatch League and in online ranked play.

While OWL officials have clarified how they are operating bans, in online competitive play, they are still playing around with what pools apply to who.

Fury playing for London Spitfire in Overwatch League
Blizzard Entertainment
The Overwatch League will rotate one tank, one support, and two DPS heroes out of the pool every week.

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“We’ve considered having the system only apply to players above a certain rank — [maybe diamond, maybe masters,]” he stated. “It’s definitely on our minds.”

The Overwatch team are also entertaining the idea of hero pools for different ranks, choosing not to ship it now and waiting to see how each division plays around the new concept.

Hero pools will be introduced in Season 21 of competitive play, and will be showcased in the Overwatch League when it starts on February 8.