Opinion: Overwatch’s Meta is the Worst in the Game’s History

Posted by Foukwan October 6, 2019 in Esports

In my last Overwatch article, I spoke about the introduction of Role Queue into the game’s ecosystem whilst trying to partially predict its effects on general gameplay. For the most part, that article served to be accurate in its foresight. However, as time has passed since Role Queue’s introduction and the noise has settled around the 2-2-2 changes alongside the almost simultaneous release of hybrid-tank Sigma, the rise of an undefeatable double-shield meta has become apparent. Before delving into the fundamental issues I hold with it, it’s probably worth discussing the actual details of this forced composition.

During the era when GOATS reigned undefeated and supreme, and before its viability as a choice of composition was removed, Blizzard introduced a varying range of simultaneous buffs and nerfs to the particular pivotal GOATs heroes on which the composition’s strength was reliant. Generally, the rule of thumb found itself reducing the team capabilities of heroes and subsequently increasing the individual abilities of heroes, creating an effective net-zero effect. This was probably best exemplified by the Zenyatta and Lucio changes earlier this year. Where Zenyatta’s Orb of Discord effect was reduced from 30% down to 25%, the damage of his Orbs of Destruction was upped from 46 to 48; individually, Zenyatta did an identical amount of damage, but the effect on overall team damage was decreased. Similarly, where Lucio’s Speedsong and Amp It Up, quintessential elements of GOATS engagement ability, was lowered from 30% to 20% and 70% down to 50%, his individual passive wallriding speed was upped from 20% to 40%; where his team was slower overall, Lucio could himself travel at an identical speed. Generally, these changes were pretty well thought out and generally a good way of reducing the impact of GOATS before Role Queue was introduced. 

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However, one particular set of buffs which came as part of the anti-GOATS roundup was one which has arguably been the most formative in the current meta came earlier this year in the reduction of Orisa’s movement penalty whilst firing from 50% down to 30%. At the time, this was a seemingly good balance change as Orisa previous somewhat immobile state made her simply unpickable. However, as GOATS was still mostly unbeatable, this change went mostly unnoticed until Role Queue’s introduction. Since then, all subsequent compositions have arguably been Orisa-centric. Following Role Queue, Bunker was immediately chosen as the new meta. Orisa’s newfound ability to close down space between their own teams and traditional Reinhardt/Zarya compositions effectively ejected all other viable main-tank options. Where Sigma’s release was sought to counter the strength of Bunker, it did partially complete that task; by producing a greater synergy between the two tanks than Orisa possessed with Roadhog, it displaced Bunker by simply being stronger. 

So that’s how we arrived where we are today; the most restrictive and unrewarding meta the game has ever seen. With the strength and connection of both tanks currently dominating with little-to-no competition, the game has reached previously unexperienced levels of forced picks. In terms of specifics, the impregnable fortress of Orisa/Sigma double barriers has forced a DPS choice that can ignore shields; cue Doomfist. Similarly, because of the nature of double barrier Consequently, because Doomfist is now a required pick, both Supports are required to have either large movement capabilities or high escapability; cue Moira and Lucio. Moreover, following the nerfs to Brigitte during the neutering process of GOATS, she’s simply too weak to accomplish her original purpose of slowing down dive-heavy backline disruption heroes. If you don’t really enjoy playing any of those, tough luck. 

“That’s all well and good, but are you seriously suggesting this meta is worse than GOATS for composition restriction? Didn’t GOATS exclude an entire class of heroes, not just a few?” 

Granted, in simple statistics, GOATS was far more restrictive. However, I’d argue that GOATS was actually far more beneficial for the state of the game than anything else that’s ever been introduced. In terms of the functionality and inner-workings of the composition, it acted more as a philosophy of playstyle, rather than the previous reliance on player-based mechanical skill; GOATS was the first real team composition. Shotcalling, grouping, positioning, target-focus, ult-synergies; nowadays are mostly a given, especially at the highest level of Overwatch. However, it was GOATS that introduced and combined all of these elements together to make it an unstoppable composition. In terms of real-life analogous situations, the composition beares a striking resemblance to the effect of Pep Guardiola on modern football. Where Pep has sought all of his players to be ball-playing confident passers with traditional midfielders skill set despite their position, he simply shifted focus from traditional playstyles to a new more team-focused mindset; the end goal of winning remains the same, all that’s changed is move away from individualistic focus. Where mystery of Guardiola’s style has started to become unravelled by other teams, many of the core elements from his style have either been copied or leached into use in other systems. After all, if you can’t beat them, you join them. 

However, the silver lining comes in Blizzard identification of the problem, albeit if just a tad too late. The latest patch to hit the PTR has seen changes that should once again throw the meta up into the air and reduce the impenetrability of double barrier. With significant nerfs to both tanks alongside large buggs to current unviable heroes such as Tracer, Sombra, Winston and D.Va, it’s looking like the development team have taken their time to shake things up. Furthermore, despite earlier messages from the team, they have effectively undone the aforementioned GOATS era nerfs to Lucio, allowing for a greater overall team effect of his Amp it Up and Speed Song. This is a particularly promising move, as it shows a reversion to the encouragement of team-wide movements and rotations, something that should always be rewarded in Overwatch. Nonetheless, while the PTR patch shall be significant, it may not bring the long-awaited, and highly anticipated, return of Dive composition, something players have been crying out for a long time. The changes to Dive friendly heroes are indeed strong, but unfortunately, they might not have enough weight to fully bring it back from the dead. 

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All in all, I stand by my previous statement that Role Queue was the best change the game has ever seen. No longer are games frequented by quadruple DPS, one tank and one healer compositions; I will never be thankful enough for that change. It’s been easy for players to trace the beginning of double shield and Role Queue together as a simple cause and effect when really, it isn’t that simple. In reality, the current meta has been the result of individual hero ability creeps that simply needed a new hero in the dynamic, Sigma, to make it an unstoppable force. What has made this meta so punishing has been a shift of focus away from team-encouraged work towards heroes with individual self-sustain and solo abilities; rather than being a unified team composition, e.g. GOATS, it’s merely an unconnected group of 6 powerful heroes whose picks are necessary only for survival. Nevertheless, as this meta comes to a close and the new PTR patch looks like a promising change, things do look to be on the up. Where the state of each competitive game has never been better, Blizzard have finally realised that the meta doesn’t really reflect that. 

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