One of the biggest problems with new titles and their ambitions for competitive play is the sheer lack of features they have upon launch. Basic functions, like a rudimentary spectator mode or even the ability to watch replays, are left off the table completely or ignored until it's too late.
Overwatch, which went into a second beta phase yesterday morning, has gotten a some substantial improvements over the holidays. But it's the reworking of the custom matches and lobbies that might be the most important, since it directly affects the end experience for people playing and organising tournaments.
Instead of just giving you the option to invite people from your friends list into a private match, Blizzard has given people the ability to complete overhaul the standard experience by turning on, off, or entirely reworking the way Overwatch traditionally plays out.
"So one of the rules is that every time you die, it chooses a random hero for you automatically and you can only be the random hero," Jeff Kaplan, Blizzard vice president and game director on Overwatch, explained to me in an interview.
"Other game rules include things like, "You know what, I don’t think it’s fair to have more than two unique heroes per team or we only want one unique hero per game so there can only be one Tracer in the match.'"
Some of the available settings in the beta
And those aren't options being implemented for launch: most of it's available now. Players can freely adjust the health, damage, rate of healing, team balancing, health bars, custom skins, cooldowns on abilities, respawn times, even how fast an ultimate can charge. Individual heroes can be banned altogether, or the match can be setup in such a way that teams only have access to one or two heroes for the entire game.
Just as handy is the addition of map playlists. Instead of having to remake a game every single time you wanted to play on a separate map, players will be able to set an order. It could use some refinement — the game is in beta, after all — but it's a crucial addition for tournament organisers and players that reduces stress and setup time.
The list appears to be sorted in the order maps were added to the game
It doesn't seem like much for now, but it's worth remembering that Overwatch is still a good deal away from being released and already it has quality of life features that many other competitive focused titles lacked at launch. Most of the main broadcast, spectate and additions designed for esports aren't even in the game yet, although Kaplan told me those elements will get more focus in future patches.
"We have way more plans than made it into this patch, we just hope that this patch feels like the first hint, or nod, towards the competitive scene, broadcasting, spectating, streaming, competitive, that they see some of the trends that are going to happen. But this one [patch] wasn’t the one targeted at them."
Precisely how Overwatch fits into Blizzard's esports calendar, however, is still being worked out. But the Blizzard vice president made it clear that the game is undoubtedly targeting the world of esports. "We have a major effort going on behind Overwatch esport in the studio right now, and we’re trying to get all of our ducks in a row before talking to the press, and talking to players and the community," he said.
"The thing that I think is important at this point ... we are wholeheartedly embracing the game as an esport and we are going to put a tremendous amount of effort behind really growing a competitive community around Overwatch."