Jeff Kaplan explains how Blizzard will balance Overwatch hero pools - Dexerto

Jeff Kaplan explains how Blizzard will balance Overwatch hero pools

Published: 31/Jan/2020 0:49

by Andrew Amos


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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.


Jeff Kaplan reveals his ideal competitive Overwatch meta

Published: 8/Oct/2020 3:13

by Theo Salaun


Blizzard Entertainment’s Vice President and Overwatch’s beloved Game Director Jeff Kaplan has revealed what he thinks is the ideal competitive meta for the expansive title.

Overwatch exists in many forms, from its highest ranks to its lowest, but the game’s competitive meta at the professional level has also varied greatly since the original release back in May 2016. 


In the olden days, teams prioritized dive compositions led by Winston’s jumps and Tracer’s blinks. Then, in 2019, fans around the world either groaned or cheered as the divisive GOATS meta took center-stage, featuring a hefty squad built entirely with tanks and supports. 

Now, Kaplan is explaining his perspective on the game’s ideal state, following criticisms he levied back in July against the game’s double-shield reliance. Examining the game’s departure from a static, Orisa and Sigma-dependent environment, he dissects his compository ideology. 

Brigitte stuns Junkrat on Volskaya
Blizzard Entertainment
Barriers have held an uncomfortably powerful role in Overwatch for a long time.

As discussed in an interview with the Loadout, Kaplan is both aware of the professional scene’s interests and the casual base’s tendencies. Coupling those factors, he believes the game is at its best when there is some blend of high skill caps and diverse team compositions.

“The most ideal, healthiest state of the game is when the meta is somewhat fluid, when the meta is more map dependent or team match up dependent than it is static. We’ve all seen those moments when the meta has been completely static and all six players will just play the same six heroes every time. I think that’s fun from a mastery standpoint, but I think it’s a lot more exciting for viewers when creativity and curiosity come into play,” he said.

When Kaplan refers to a “static” meta, the simplest example is 2019’s GOATS, where three healers (Brigitte, Lucio, and Moira) were coupled with three tanks (D.Va, Reinhardt, and Zarya) and would barrel into opponents.


It took tremendous teamwork to be pulled off successfully against other professional teams, but many fans considered it more tedious than entertaining after months of gameplay.

In its current state, Overwatch is not completely balanced, but there is a degree of variety to it. That diversity seen in the Overwatch League spans downward into the casual ranks. Kaplan indicates that this is in line with his department’s hopes.

“I think most of our players would say in the ideal meta, all our heroes would be viable in some way competitively. I think as a competitive goal from a game designing and game balancing perspective that is extremely challenging, but it’s obviously what we strive to achieve.”


While he assures that Overwatch would be completely balanced in an ideal world, in the meantime, his team would at least like to push toward a game that varies to some extent based on coaching, player preference, and map.

It remains to be seen if current and upcoming patches can accomplish that, but Kaplan’s emphasis on “fluidity” is a welcome driving force.