Skip to main content
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

It’s not about what’s new to ‘Overwatch 2.’ It’s what’s been removed.

(The Washington Post illustration; Blizzard Entertainment)
5 min

Activision Blizzard intends for “Overwatch 2” to build on the success of the original team-based shooter. That’s not just some line from Blizzard’s marketing department. The beta for the upcoming sequel runs as a patch on top of the six-year-old game.

If you start counting what’s actually new to Overwatch so far — one hero, a few maps, a new game mode called Push — you might find yourself disappointed. And plenty of people are. The YouTuber Jason Gastrow, known as Videogamedunkey, called the beta “a minor patch to an abandoned game” in a review that has more than 3 million views. But there’s reason to be optimistic. Players, coaches and commentators in the Overwatch League have been testing the early version of the sequel for weeks now, preparing for the fifth season of the Overwatch League, which kicked off on Thursday. They say that the fundamental changes to the Overwatch format sets the groundwork for a promising future. That is, as long as Blizzard delivers all the new content that’s been promised.

“This is a great direction to take and build upon,” said Jonathan “Reinforce” Larsson, a commentator for the league. “If [Blizzard] can keep their promises and release more content, make it a live-service game, I think we’re in a real good spot as a franchise.”

There’s this line of thinking around the Overwatch League that progressively, after a number of updates to the original game, professional teams relied more on their shields and abilities and less on mechanical ability — i.e. the precision and reaction speed required to eliminate an opponent. Certain team compositions, like “double-shield” and “Goats,” allow squads to start fights with layers of protection or a flood of healing. This makes matchups very squishy, meaning teams are trading a lot of damage but nothing is really happening. The first act of any team fight would often look like two bumper cars ramming into each other at the state fair. Larsson said “Overwatch” became a game of trading abilities and shields, not eliminations.

“Abilities got out of hand, healing amounts got out of hand,” Larsson said. “We slowly but surely moved away from mechanical skill.”

The ‘Overwatch 2’ beta hit it big on Twitch. That may not be enough.

Massive and chock full of health, the tanks in “Overwatch” act as a team’s front line, often creating barriers for teammates to hide behind. “Overwatch 2” removes one of the two tanks in the roster with its shift to a 5v5 format. This changes the game in a couple of ways: Fights are inherently shorter with one less opponent to eliminate. A damage hero like Cassidy can flank the enemy team without worry about the second tank chasing him down. And there are fewer shields and abilities to contend with. So, if you’re a talented Widowmaker, for example, you can score an elimination in the first few seconds of a fight. That rarely happened in professional “Overwatch” matches last season.

“I think if we look back at the 2022 season, we’re going to be a lot more individually impressed with specific players and specific moments,” Larsson said. “Rather than thinking 'Oh, this was the best roster across all the matches.”

Jake Lyon, a former professional player and current coach for the Houston Outlaws, said he understands why some “Overwatch” fans say the beta hasn’t added much to the game. Plenty of characters haven’t changed. But the characters that have been reworked, like Mei and Cassidy, have lost the ability to stun, freeze or otherwise immobilize their opponents. Because of this, Lyon said “Overwatch 2” is a simpler game and he can focus more on securing eliminations.

“I can get on the back line by myself without, necessarily, having my whole team support that play,” Lyon said. “Maybe at different ranks it’ll be felt differently … but I do feel at the top end the game is very, very different.”

Aaron “PRE” Heckman, the general manager for the Washington Justice, said Soldier 76, a run-and-gun, damage-dealing hero who hasn’t changed at all, no longer has to blindly fire at an opposing shield. With one less tank, players can focus on tracking down opponents with Soldier’s pulse rifle.

In “Overwatch,” teams would ram into each other in tight units, moving forward incrementally with the placement of their shields. But Heckman said “Overwatch 2” relies much more on seeking and holding advantageous positions around the map. Lucio, a disc-jockey support hero zooming around on a pair of inline skates, is now one of the most popular picks by professionals because of his speed, Heckman said.

“The game isn’t about holding the line anymore. It’s about maneuvering,” Heckman said. “The nature of the game changed.”

In a blog post Tuesday, Blizzard said they intended for this public beta to work out the basics, the new maps, the new game mode and the 5v5 format. The new content is coming, Blizzard said — more heroes, maps and other features — but this was always intended to be a test, not the full game. With that, Lyon said Blizzard has created a sound foundation for the franchise.

“The key question is: What do they actually do with that?” Lyon said. “We’ll be able to see what their vision is and what they’ll add to the game.”