The Overwatch community has shown a great deal of patience while waiting for Overwatch 2 news. The few glimpses they’ve gotten have been entirely focused on the new co-op and story-focused content, and with an absence of news on the PvP-side until very recently, there’s been a vague sense of apprehension around the hardcore community.
And while the recent PvP-focused livestream finally lifted the veil on Blizzard’s plans for competitive play in the sequel, it brought with it a pretty big bombshell: Overwatch 2 would be going 5v5. Overwatch is no stranger to change but this is undoubtedly the biggest shake-up to play it has ever seen. An enormous conversation has taken over the community with some worried about the careers of pro-players, while off-tank players are scared their hundreds of hours of practice might evaporate overnight.
Before getting to the discussion among the community, let’s rewind a little bit. The first Overwatch hasn’t seen a new hero added to its roster since Echo in April of last year. At the time, it was made clear that she was going to be the last character added to the game which would be to the sequel’s benefit, allowing Blizzard to add more content there. However, as that wait for Overwatch 2 has dragged on further than many expected, it began to weigh on the community. This was compounded last month when Blizzard announced that the face of the Overwatch development team, creative director Jeff Kaplan, was leaving Blizzard after 19 years. While the development team is undoubtedly larger than Kaplan himself, it didn’t help alleviate the sense of uneasiness.
So players were understandably excited for the livestream held by the Overwatch team, headed by new game director Aaron Keller, to get a detailed glimpse at multiplayer. But with that gameplay deep dive came the news of the switch to 5v5 matches for Overwatch 2, and the response has been…conflicted.
Unlike the current game’s six player team makeup of two damage, two support, and two tanks, Overwatch 2 would instead be opting for two damage, two support, and one tank. Keller explained in the livestream that the decision was made because stacked tanks have been typically problematic on the battlefield. “A DPS hero is simple,” he said. “They are shooting, but a tank has abilities that can be noisy or when stacked with other tanks can cause problems for other teams to try to overcome and counter.
Overwatch 2: PvP Changes Screenshots
“A great example of that is two main tanks on the field. Sometimes that can be very oppressive to another team.”
The move to cut a tank from a team clearly has logic behind it. Tanks, like in many games where they are present, can be an unappealing prospect for some players. It can be hard to entice people to play the role that is both the most integral to a team but also has the least amount of flash. Their job for the most part is to take space and absorb punishment. It can be thankless, especially compared to the prospect of getting a six-kill with a Genji Dragonblade.
However, the new direction could make the role of Tank much more exciting to play. In the footage we saw in the livestream, it was clear the Overwatch team was making changes to tank characters to allow them to be the only force on the front-line. The loss of a partner seems to be manifesting in a massive buff for many of the characters. Reinhardt now has two fire strikes, more manoeuvrability and can even cancel his charge. Zarya is seen to have not one but two Bubbles, which allows her highly damaging beam to be charged at almost all times.
With these points in mind it’s no wonder the news has been met with a range of emotions from the broader competitive Overwatch scene. One of the most popular Overwatch content creators, Tom “Stylosa” Stewart, ran a poll on Twitter that accrued over 12,000 votes asking if the change to 5v5 was good or not. 51.3% voted it as a good change, while 48.7% called it terrible. A consensus, the community does not have.
For those still clicked into the grind that can be playing Overwatch, this is a seismic shift. In a thread asking for reaction, a Reddit user explained their position saying: ‘They have stated intentions to embrace the FPS side of their hybrid game, and all of their balance changes are directed to this: Fewer shields, faster DPS, fewer tanks, less CC, improve DPS queue times, reduce defensive play, increase availability of high ground and flank routes.”
“It’s a different game. But I loved the game the way it was, I just wanted more of it. More content. Maps, heroes, map modes, continued balance changes. The game they are describing isn’t the game I purchased or spent thousands of hours playing and enjoying.’
There were complicated reactions by notable names in the scene too. One of Overwatch’s biggest stars, two-time Overwatch League champion, tank Matthew ‘Super’ DeLisi had a part to play in the unveiling. Super appeared on the Overwatch 2 livestream to watch a match and ask the development team questions. However, after the stream, he took to Twitter to highlight one aspect of the game he was going to miss: “As for whether or not 5v5 is good for the game, I won’t pretend to know the answer. But coordinating with a tank, building synergy and dominating is probably one of the most fun things I’ve done in a game”
This loss of tank synergy and the potential of the destruction of the off-tank has weighed heavily on a lot of players. While not denoted in Overwatch, the Off-Tank role is a sub-role meant to be supportive to the Main Tank. Barrier and space-making tanks like Reinhardt, Winston and Orisa are usually supported by a hybrid support tank like Zarya, D.VA or Roadhog. The Off-Tank role can be used for defending supports from flanks and relieving the pressure for the Main Tank, but they can also push the attack, generally with a little more lethality. Think of it like a Tight-End in football. It is a position that can be defensive or offensive moment to moment, depending on the need of the team. If you imagine the NFL erasing that position suddenly, you might begin to understand the worries of players who have spent so long specialising in it.
This is a sentiment shared by a Reddit user, who while excited about the change is also sad to see their long built synergies disappear. User Conflux shared: “As a tank main, I’m super excited to try out 5v5. That being said I am incredibly disheartened by losing my off-tank partner. He and I met around this time last year and I have never had as much synergy with another player as I do with him. That’s the part that guts me the most.”
This concern is especially real for those at the very highest level of play. The Overwatch League is, obviously, closely tied to the success of Overwatch, and what happens to the game affects the competition. This move sees one less player needed on each team and has left several players worried about the prospects of their continued employment.
Speaking openly about concerns to changes at his position, Atlanta Reign tank player Blake ‘Gator’ Scott tweeted: “Imagine spending 5 years to perfect your role…..Just for it to be deleted while knowing your role does not translate to another you’re expected to give all you got till the end of season.”
This change will undoubtedly cut some jobs from the Overwatch League for some really talented players. The reality is that in esports, much like other sports, job security is volatile. Especially with a lack of player unions and these titles being dictated by executive and/or developer decisions, these kinds of changes are always on the table. However, it need not be the end of the careers for half the tank players in the league.
As professional Overwatch team Houston Outlaws support William “Crimzo” Hernandez tweeted, this change will not change the need for Tank diversity on teams. He said: “My take is that OT [Off-Tank] players will be fine in OW2. There’ll still be a need to play those heroes and the tank role itself is going to completely change. With all of the new stuff for tanks coming into OW2, I think it’s crazy to say that there won’t be a need for the OT heroes. You can’t expect 1 tank player to be able to cover all the tanks in the game, you’re going to still need 2-3 tank players IMO (prob 2 but it’s case by case)”
This philosophy should theoretically trickle down to all players of Overwatch. Just because you like playing an Off-Tank, there should still be plenty of reasons for these characters to be played. While their relevance will rise and fall with meta shifts, that is true of the current crop of heroes. As long as Blizzard designs compelling reasons to play them, they will likely rise and fall in viability like every other character.
In reality, no one but the development team knows what Overwatch 2 feels like to play. Everything being discussed by the community now is speculation based on a few showcase matches. This is a change the development team is excited about, and not one it took lightly.
In a Reddit response to a thread asking for community reactions, user whtge8 explained their excitement on the changes and how they viewed others’ concerns for the new direction: “People are mistakenly looking at this through OW1 glasses, expecting OW2 to play out similarly to OW1, when that isn’t the case. The game will be completely different, for better or for worse.”
“I think people need to at least give it a chance before doomsaying on every form of social media. The beefed-up tanks look much more fun to play as IMO. I think people are honestly just scared because this is such a drastic change.”
It’s clear that Overwatch 2, whenever it lands will mark a massive change to the formula. Outside of the tank changes, 2-checkpoint matches will not be played in competitive, a new mode called Push is being added, while a ton of new maps and heroes are also expected to land. This is to say nothing to the PvE side of the game, which is expected to be dense.
The players and content creators still playing Overwatch are the lifeblood of the franchise, though. While Overwatch 2 will certainly be about getting new and lapsed players excited to visit what Blizzard is cooking up, the current community is somewhat split on how to feel about these changes.
Perhaps that is the point though. While Blizzard could have kept the same formula and added a few new maps and characters alongside the co-op content, it didn’t. This change is a huge one, and points to a team that is willing to take a big risk. They aren’t playing this one safe, but are instead trying to evolve what Overwatch is and can be. That is pretty exciting in its own right.