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As evidenced by its woefully disappointing Summer Games event, Overwatch has sadly been flailing a bit as of late. After years of samey events, painfully slow lore trickles, and lack of exciting new features, it went from the industry-leading online shooter to a game that disappointingly retreated to the shadows like a skilled Sombra. But Blizzard appears to be stepping into the Support role and using its healing powers to give the game a new lease on life with the new Overwatch Role Queue system. It might not seem like much but it’s a drastic change that may end up being one of the best decisions Blizzard has made in years.
Role Queue is just what it sounds like. Players pick their class before every match and are forced to stick to that class when the game begins. And, knowing that many people want to hog Damage roles, Blizzard is even intelligently offering rewards to those who fill the emptier roles like the oft-neglected Support class.
The Overwatch Role Queue will make Quick Play better…
This feature makes the game a more team-based affair, which is something Overwatch has always struggled with. No matter how many Deathmatch modes Blizzard was “forced” to include, players still want to play it like a typical Call of Duty shooter: run in, die, repeat like Tom Cruise in an exosuit. And since roles are intertwined with overall team performance, one stubborn tryhard Hanzo/Widowmaker/Ashe/McCree/Genji can sink an entire team. Teamwork is difficult to find within a group of five other randos and letting anyone pick what they want and not what the team needs is the quickest and most effective way to ensure a poor performance. It’s player choice at the cost of team viability.
While Blizzard can’t magically make the lone wolf mentality disappear, the Role Queue can at least ensure that teams are balanced enough to more frequently avoid bad team composition and selfish players. After all, many Quick Play matches would mostly suffer from having too many Damage heroes and this change automatically negates that. Blizzard is essentially making it hard to ignore the fundamentals of a balanced team and not letting matches devolve into one healer and five damage dealers. A game with such a heavy focus on team play should have had this feature from the start and it seems silly to think that it didn’t have it until now.
…As well as competitive matches
Lone wolves and bad team makeup may be issues more common in Quick Play or casual matches, but role locking will also have a positive impact on competitive matches too. The overbearing cloud of the “meta” eventually infects most competitive sports as everything is coldly broken down into heartless numbers in an effort to pragmatically find the most efficient winning machine. It’s why the early Mortal Kombat 11 tournaments have been filled with Geras, Sonya, Erron Black, and Jacqui. They are the top-tier fighters that haven’t been properly nerfed yet so they’re overly prevalent despite how boring they are to repeatedly watch.
Overwatch and the Overwatch League in particular also fell victim to this especially considering the overbearing GOATS meta. The GOATS meta was three Tanks (Reinhardt, D.Va, and Zarya) and three Supports (usually Lúcio, Moira/Zenyatta, and Brigitte) and was known for being braindead but incredibly effective. Teams could quickly and effectively single out targets and murder them while also being hard to kill since the three Supports could constantly pump the resilient Tanks with plenty of healing.
That type of play can lead to some interesting counters but seeing it dominate pushes the game in a space that makes it repetitive to actually watch. New metas will undoubtedly rise in the absence of GOATS but now it’ll be a little more of a balanced experience as we will hopefully see more heroes in the limelight. It’s been a divisive topic in the professional scene but it’ll help push the competitive scene out of a rut and force these teams to adapt and find strategies that aren’t as boring or easy to do.
Heroes never die (when they’re properly updated)
But the Overwatch Role Queue system will also shake up the game in a way that includes both casual and competitive players as heroes are changed to meet the needs of this new system. A relatively steady stream of patches helps keep a game exciting as players will log in to see how characters have been tweaked with the latest update. It’s why patch notes can feel like opening a birthday present. Overwatch hasn’t had many balance changes as of late and that has contributed to the game’s stagnation.
It was in a relatively good spot so it’s hard to fault Blizzard too much but it gives the appearance of the studio moving away from the game — to the rumored Overwatch 2 or otherwise — even if that’s not completely accurate. And the lack of balance updates didn’t seem to be freeing the team up in other ways given the underwhelming seasonal events and absence of new, base-level cosmetics.
Considering the Role Queue’s nature, Blizzard has to rebalance much of the cast to account for how it’ll be impossible for teams (in most modes) to stack certain heroes. It’s why Brigitte has been the victim of so many nerfs since her release. She was too good at synergizing with other Supports and letting the team snowball into an unkillable death cluster. Instead of balancing heroes based on individual strengths, they had to be balanced within the context of how they could be work alongside a bunch of other heroes from the same class.
And while that’ll still be a factor, it won’t nearly as big of one. Blizzard knows this as has dramatically changed the hero with the Role Queue system in mind. Brigitte has the biggest list of changes in the patch notes as she’s meeting a new role she’s probably better suited for. It’s more exciting to see heroes evolve like this and gives the impression that the game is still alive and well. Hopefully, more will have to changes on the way, as Jeff Kaplan has already stated in Role Queue announcement developer update video. The Swedish Support has become a poster child for how rampant metas can diminish a game’s appeal so it makes sense that she’s also become the symbol of the possibilities of balance within the context of Role Queue.
The Overwatch Role Queue system lets the title better realize what it originally pitched as: a team game with multiple, unique heroes working together to achieve their goal. That vision must have naively ignored the reality that most matches would devolve into six individual one-person teams per side or, in the professional scene, dominant unconventional metas. Although technically a limitation, locking players to roles is better geared to focus the game into a balanced spot where it is more fun for more people. Overwatch still needs to add fresh events, creative heroes, and requested features to bring people back but this is a thoughtful first step. This Role Queue could put Blizzard on the roll it needs to make people remember that it is still one of the greatest online shooters of all time.