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You enter a round of competitive Overwatch. BigDick69, a gold-tier player who has insta-locked Hanzo, has informed you that your Roadhog pick doesn’t work. “Bad team comp,” he writes. A higher-leveled player has opted for Zarya, so you need to pick Reinhardt, he insists. You’re not a particularly proficient Reinhardt player, you tell him, and you literally haven’t moved out of your spawn yet. You could try out this composition and if it doesn’t work, then you can switch out.
“Reinhardt’s easy,” BigDick informs you. “u put up your shield and hit them when they get close.” BigDick has also told your Zenyatta to switch to Mercy. “Mercy’s easy,” BigDick tells your teammate when they explain that they aren’t an experienced Mercy player. “u use ur healing beam and fly away when they get close.”
BigDick69 lands 16% of his arrows for the entire game. He fires off two ults into the middle of nowhere and finishes the game with bronze hero damage. He has spent 2 minutes and 47 seconds of the game spamming “I need healing.” He didn’t switch away from Hanzo because, as any Overwatch expert knows, Hanzo is, like, so meta right now.
It’s All the Overwatch League’s Fault
The high regard in which Overwatch‘s metagame is held has only increased since the Overwatch League, where certain heroes are picked almost every match while others are firmly left by the wayside. For the unaware, the Overwatch meta is essentially the game within the game. Not all heroes are on a level playing field in terms of their usefulness, and certain team compositions will typically reap higher rewards than others. As such, the Overwatch meta is mainly decided upon by high-skill players who figure out which heroes work best when played as part of certain compositions, which heroes are useful in almost any situation, and which heroes should be disregarded and never picked under any circumstances.
When the Overwatch League rolled around, Mercy was a staple of every match. As average players sought to emulate pro teams, during this time you could not play a competitive game of Overwatch without at least two people on your team repeatedly informing everyone else that they should pick Mercy. If you’re a Support main like me, this ensured that whenever you opted to pick Moira or Zenyatta, you were told by an underperforming DPS hero that you were causing your team to fail. The other team had a Mercy, and as that was a win condition, your reluctance to switch to Mercy and left-click for the entire game dragged your team to defeat.
Fortunately, several patches have ensured that Overwatch is no longer as reliant on Mercy as it used to be, though the meta still hangs over the game like a black cloud. Players watch as professional keyboard superhumans hit their opponents with perfect precision as Hanzo, witness the character rocket up to the very top of the Overwatch hero rank, before each round becomes a catwalk of piss-poor Hanzo players.
The Overwatch Meta Doesn’t Account for Player Skill
The issue with the Overwatch meta is that so many players do not acknowledge that skill factors into a heroes’ projected usefulness. Sure, Reinhardt might be a safe pick now, but not every player knows how to effectively use him. Even a tank main could prove to be less of an asset when playing as Reinhardt as opposed to Winston. However, you’re almost guaranteed to play with a Rein in competitive matches these days. Though perceived as a selfless pick thanks to his position in the meta, if you’re teaming up with a Rein who will not stop charging into enemies before getting his arse handed to him, you’re inevitably going to have a bad time.
The fact of the matter is that unless you’re playing Overwatch at an incredibly high level, hero picks that fall in line with the current meta aren’t crucial to your success. Sure, you’re probably going to need a healer and you won’t want to run with an attacking Torbjorn, but everything else is inconsequential if your team is communicative and picks heroes they’re each capable of handling. If you’re not an OWL-tier player squaring off against OWL-tier teams, trying to carefully orchestrate a dive or a three tank comp probably isn’t going to work as well as everyone just picking heroes they’re comfortable with.
An Overwatch For Everybody
Unfortunately, this is where a lot of Overwatch‘s toxicity creeps in. While Blizzard’s Endorsement system helped ensure that everyone was fake nice to one another for a while, the game has once again devolved into endless finger-pointing, with hero choice being more of a determining factor in this than player skill. Those who opt for the heroes who are “in the meta” believe they have the moral high ground. A Mercy who floats into the center of the enemy team will hold everyone else accountable for their death. A good Mei player will be told to switch 14 times before the onus of blame is placed on a Reinhardt.
As with most competitive multiplayer games, there isn’t a lot that can be done here aside from Blizzard more strictly enforcing player reports. The Endorsement system could perhaps lead to more frequent rewards, with your Endorsement level currently resulting in you being occasionally gifted a Loot Box. Failing that, Blizzard could just shut down the OWL and let us average players get on with our lives. If it means I won’t have to deal with another Reinhardt steam-rolling into the abyss then questioning why they didn’t receive any healing, I’d be okay with that.
Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment