An Overwatch  Player’s Lament

Let’s be honest, 2021 was a strange year to start playing Overwatch again. After spending about one hundred hours with Blizzard’s multiplayer team-based FPS at launch (on Playstation 4, no less), I swiftly moved back to less stressful, less demanding games. Overwatch could only keep its hooks in me and my duo queue partner for so long and the entire experience often skewed towards frustration rather than fun. Quite suddenly, last year, Blizzard announced that full cross-play support would be implemented, allowing gamers on all major platforms to play unranked modes with each other. PC, Xbox, Playstation and even the ever-rare Switch player were thrust into lobbies together — in retrospect, a clear attempt by the company to bolster the rapidly declining player count. Clearly it worked, and I returned to the game along with three other PC playing friends, the ennui infused memories of solo-queue insta-pick Widowmaker players resurfacing in my brain with a renewed vigour. To my great shock, Overwatch was instantaneously addictive and consistently enjoyable in a way that made it feel like an entirely new game. So much was this the case that I am still, for my sins, regularly playing now, my initial hundred-hour playtime tripled over the last six months. Maybe this is the result of finally playing the game as it was meant to be played, as part of a larger group in which proper communication and team set-up can make a true impact to the flow of the match. Or perhaps my last remaining brain cells have finally left the building, allowing the bold, bright colours of Overwatch to entertain my failing grey matter beyond the realm of reason.

This isn’t to say, however, that my return to the game has been a completely positive experience. It is impossible to ignore the tumultuous events that wracked Blizzard both before and after I returned to Overwatch. July 2021 saw the infamous and ongoing California Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. Activision Blizzard lawsuit, which was filed against the company in response to their encouragement of sexual harassment and general discriminatory behaviour towards women. This report certainly (and rightly) poisoned a lot of Blizzard’s core player-base, who decided to both boycott the companies upcoming games and stop funding any of their current line-up. There is a difficult moral conundrum regarding whether anyone should be enjoying Blizzard made games at the moment. On one hand, a lot of talented, decent people poured blood, sweat and tears into these projects and they deserve to have their creative, artistic achievements experienced and appreciated. On the other, abusers should never be rewarded for their abuse, and Blizzard, as a conglomerate, have proven themselves greedy, unethical and openly apathetic towards their own misdeeds. While I fully believe in avoiding supporting any further output from the company (at least until we see full, positive restructuring via the Microsoft acquisition), I am less inclined to stop playing the games (or in this case, game) that I have already paid for. It is hard, however, to not feel that the act of enjoying Overwatch is amoral, especially with a character like Jesse McCree (now Cole Cassidy), who was directly named after a high-ranking (recently former) Blizzard developer. This is the same Jesse McCree who was photographed in the grotesquely named ‘Cosby Suite’. An uncomfortable level of virtual intimacy is at play here, one that is only somewhat assuaged by Blizzard rushing to change the name of the popular in-game cowboy.

It is funny, in a dark way, that a lot of the remaining Overwatch player base reflect the conflicting moral standards I now associate with the title. The kind of people who still play Overwatch are frustrated, maybe with the current state of the game and its lack of support, or maybe just with life in general. Depending on when you play, you should fully prepare for near-constant text chat abuse, from your own team, from the other team, and all regardless of whether you are doing well or not during the round. At least, in this case, you cannot accuse Overwatch of not being a multicultural experience and I am now (thanks to the assistance of Google translate) fully aware of several Russian language slurs. Also, as we soon discovered, my friend’s tag ‘Melo’ is particularly humorous to the Spanish speaking population, who often combine it with ‘mama’, resulting in a slang term for some form of fellatio. Like most dank corners of the internet, the game’s player base is aggressively juvenile, fortified by the anonymity of a throwaway username. The initial entertainment of messing with these kinds of people wears thin when you begin to realise that they appear in every single game, and muting text communication becomes a necessity. On the flip side, you are also greeted regularly by the ‘XD’ spouting faux-positive contingent that, while making for a far more pleasant experience, can be equally annoying. Overwatch’s most vocal players paint a poor picture of the overall community and are childish, quick to anger and unapologetically selfish. If I were to take this line of thought beyond the bounds of rationality, I would almost compare the general attitude to that of Blizzard’s corporate environment, which cultivated and bred toxicity.

Indeed, one of the game’s most addictive features is a double-edged sword, which simultaneously allows for personal glory and provides a metric by which to blame other members of your team. As most probably know, Overwatch provides gold, silver and bronze medals for stats like damage done and amount of healing given. The player is free to check these at any time during gameplay and, while they cannot directly compare their medals to others, they can gauge how they are performing in any given round. Without the medal system, it might be difficult for newer players to understand if they are doing the right thing, but with it, it is very, very easy to blame others. I am desperately guilty of this myself, privately venting my frustration with the two DPS players outside of our four-man stack when I realise that we, collectively, have all three damage medals (despite playing tanks and healers). In retrospect, we could equally be at fault for not providing our damage dealers with the support they need to reach their full potential, but this is difficult to recognise in the heat of the moment, especially when your stats screen is adorned with big shiny circles. The thrill of short-term, personal gratification can easily outweigh common sense play. This bleeds into the mindset of the quickplay solo queue players, who almost always instantly lock a damage class, eschewing tactics in favour of something more akin to the arcade-like Call of Duty — a series that rewards vainglorious, aggressive independent play. I cannot necessarily offer a different system that Blizzard could have implemented instead of this one, but it certainly seems to act as a parallel of Overwatch’s overall trajectory — an instantly loved classic that has slowly lost momentum over the years and is now under dire threat of being deserted by the very fan-base that put it on top.

I suppose the question that I ask myself at this point is how long my current love affair with the game will last. Currently, there is still a lot of fun to be had with Overwatch’s team-based, friendship enhancing gameplay loop and the state of the community provides a level of in-game comedy that currently outweighs the level of cyber abuse. Without a doubt, a day will come when I am sick of the whole thing, but my gut tells me that there’s at least another two hundred hours or so to enjoy in the meantime. Obviously, my experience has been heightened by my own, self-imposed absence. I have not had the displeasure of watching Blizzard slowly give up on the game over the past few years and bring the drip-feed of new content to a seemingly permanent standstill (the last character released for the game was Echo in April 2020). Maybe, just maybe, the game will last me until the long-promised Overwatch 2, but I’ll chalk that one up to wishful thinking.

One response to “An Overwatch  Player’s Lament”

  1. […] in February I wrote a piece on my multiplayer addiction of choice, Overwatch. Make no mistake, although titled a ‘lament’, […]

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