Overwatch

Jeff Kaplan testing new variations of Overwatch role queue system

by Brad Norton

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Blizzard has been experimenting with a number of unique variations to the current 2-2-2 role queue system in Overwatch and Jeff Kaplan has outlined the pros and cons of such drastic adjustments to the core experience. 

Released in August, 2019, the role lock update introduced a highly-requested feature to Overwatch. Rather than players being able to pick and choose from any hero in the game, there would now be a restriction in place limiting two of each role.

Initially praised for the enormous structural change, role queue soon came under fire by casual and pro players alike due to extremely long search-times. Aware of the issue currently impacting the competitive playlist, Blizzard has been experimenting behind the scenes on a number of system variations, and lead designer Jeff Kaplan has teased new changes could resolve a number of core issues.

Blizzard - Overwatch
Blizzard - Overwatch
Role Queue has dramatically increased the time to find a match for Damage heroes.

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Responding to a January 14 post on Blizzard’s forums that demanded a different role lock system be introduced for Overwatch 2, Kaplan took the time to shed light on recent tests that have been taking place over the past few weeks. 

“In early December, we were brainstorming ways to shorten DPS queue times and the idea was proposed to try changing the role queue team composition to be 1 Tank, 3 Damage, and 2 Support," the lead designer revealed.

While “all indications pointed to an overall positive improvement to queue times,” Kaplan explained how such a drastic change impacted internal playtests and completely altered the flow of the game.

Blizzard - Overwatch
Blizzard - Overwatch
With only one Tank hero in a match, players have far more responsibility than ever before.

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Early tests toyed with the idea of a “1 Tank, 1 Support and 4 damage,” role lock, he addressed the experiment made the game “terrible. The problem was the solo support. As a solo support, you felt unable to keep the rest of the team alive.” 

Even with a number of powerful damage-based heroes capable of self-heal, one support clearly proved too insignificant when attempting to keep multiple flankers and even aerial characters in the fight. 

Despite initial failures that varied from the standard 2-2-2 format, Kaplan was eager to test additional compositions and the team eventually settled on a 3-2-1 structure for a decent stretch. A singular tank - either off-tank or main-tank - three damage-based heroes, and two support characters to keep everyone alive.

Blizzard - Overwatch
Blizzard - Overwatch
Which Support heroes would rise to the top of the pack if only one was allowed in any given match?

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Addressing the issues that accompany such a drastic adjustment to the core Overwatch experience, he detailed a number of problems that arose throughout internal playtests over the past few months.

“Obviously, if we were to change the distribution of roles from 2-2-2 to 3-2-1 it would require some balance changes.” Highlighting Roadhog as a specific example, Kaplan proposed the question of balance updates. Should the beefy hero be pushed into a “more ‘main tanky’ position, or is the correct thing to do, simply move him to the Damage role and balance him as a damage character?”

Additionally, another major issue that Kaplan emphasized was “the importance it places on the Tank player.” With only one enormous health pool present within a team, and just one character able to distribute a shield to control the pace of a fight, players began to “feel a lot of pressure to choose the ‘correct’ tank.”

“Being the lone tank put a lot of pressure on them and if they died, it was a really big deal,” he explained. “Some of our tank/support players who would occasionally play tank stopped playing tank during 3-2-1 and only gravitated toward support because they felt intimidated to be the main tank.”

Blizzard - Overwatch
Blizzard - Overwatch
Perhaps an altered version of the role queue system will be introduced upon the release of Overwatch 2

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While the internal experiment certainly appeared to resolve a number of issues currently impacting the “damage experience,” he stated that the development team isn’t “really confident that it’s the correct thing for the game. It solves a lot of problems but it also introduces a lot of problems.”

It might be too early to indicate whether such a drastic alteration will ever see the light of day on the Live Overwatch servers. Despite “brainstorming a way to bring this experiment to the community,” Kaplan concluded by noting that it is currently “much more of an early experiment than anything else.”