Overwatch's Low Tick Rate Can Be A Problem

Overwatch has a lot going for it. Interesting heroes, a great feel, beer — the list goes on. It's crazy to think that this is Blizzard's first FPS. It is, however, conspicuously lacking in one area. It's called "tick rate", and it has a big impact on the game's responsiveness. What you're seeing/doing and what the server in a game like Overwatch registers are not 100 per cent in sync. The server's receiving input after input from you and other people, and nothing's instantaneous. The tick rate measures how often the server updates per second. Per Eurogamer, Overwatch's tick rate is, by default, 20.8hz. Games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Battlefield 4, meanwhile, set theirs at around 60hz. In a game that often comes down to split-second reflexes, that makes a big difference.

You might not notice this initially, but I'll give you an example from personal experience. Last night, I was playing as Reinhardt. My shield got busted, and I was being chased down by a D.Va and a Mercy. Smelling blood, they got sloppy going for the kill. They were right in my face. Pinning D.Va would be easy. I hit my charge button and made contact... only to suddenly die. In the replay, my charge never happened. No sound effect or anything. The server instead registered one of D.Va's shots hitting me before my charge ever began. That handful of milliseconds — tossed carelessly into the void — cost me my life (and a chance to look like a Real Cool Guy to people I'll never talk to again). I'm not entirely sure if general latency or tick rate was more to blame (probably both), but this is the sort of thing that can happen when the local client and server get too out of sync.

Players have alleged that Overwatch's comparatively low tick rate is responsible for ample missed shots hitting, for clumsy snipers with spaghetti for hands being able to play Widowmaker and Hanzo like assassins. They might be overstating the effect (it takes a lot more than pure sniping to play Widowmaker and Hanzo well), but there is a measurable delay produced by Overwatch's tick rate. Battle(non)sense measured it in a video that's made round after round after round in the more competitively oriented portion of the Overwatch community.

The takeaway? "After 40 tests, the highest measured delay was 105 milliseconds," he said, having compared shots fired between two PCs on separate internet connections. "On average I measured 90 milliseconds, and 67 milliseconds was the lowest measured delay."

In the grand scheme of things, that's nothing. But again, when pure, adrenaline-fuelled reflex is in the mix, even a tenth of a second can be significant. With a 60hz tick rate, there'd still be a delay, but it'd be up to 30 milliseconds less.

You can play Overwatch with a 60hz tick rate, but only in a custom game mode. In an announcement video, lead engineer Tim Ford confessed that it can help "a lot", even if you're dealing with latency that might arise from, say, playing with people in another country. It won't solve your latency problems, he stressed, but it will have an impact.

I reached out to Blizzard to ask why 60hz isn't Overwatch's default tick rate. Unfortunately, despite fan complaints ever since the beta and renewed focus on the issue now that the game's out, I've yet to receive a response. Players asked about it in a Facebook Q&A, but didn't get an answer there either.

If nothing else, it's good that there's a custom mode option for higher tick rate games. The thing is, it's not a lot. For casual players it might not be the biggest deal, but what happens when Overwatch's competitive mode launches? The uncertainty that arises from a low tick rate could convince high-skill players to climb other mountains.

Even beyond that, the situation is puzzling. Perhaps Blizzard wants to maintain a lower tick rate so that more casual players can occasionally pull off crazy shots. Overwatch is, after all, aimed at a wider audience than your traditional hardcore FPS. Or maybe Blizzard concluded that Overwatch's particular set of characters and abilities wouldn't benefit all that much from a higher tick rate, that it wasn't worth the resources. At this point, I can only speculate. Here's hoping Blizzard breaks the silence sooner rather than later.


Comments

    I hit my charge button and made contact… only to suddenly die. In the replay, my charge never happened. No sound effect or anything. The server instead registered one of D.Va’s shots hitting me before my charge ever began. That handful of milliseconds — tossed carelessly into the void — cost me my life (and a chance to look like a Real Cool Guy to people I’ll never talk to again).

    If your ability animated for more than 0.1 seconds then you were lagged. If it activated and made contact as you described, it sounds like your problem was latency, not tick rate. Lag compensation usually does a fairly good job of handling what happens in that 0.1 second gap but it has limits.

      They've also officially said that the replays may not be accurate either as their refresh rates are lower.

      As for tick rate, I wonder of that has anything to do with the console support? What's a typical tick rate for console shooters?

    The other issue is that the mouse sensitivity slider doesn't display decimal values, only whole numbers. This make a big difference for competitive FPS players because it affects how far they need to move their mouse in order to turn around and need to set the value *exactly* right.

      Used to have to edit config files manually to get this kind of accuracy.
      Maybe we can do the same here (i havnt checked yet...heck do we even have a console that we can write a config in, Quake 3 styles?)

        Nah you apparently can't even edit config files in Overwatch, it's pretty bad if you're a hardcore competitive type (which is a segment of the market Blizzard is definitely targeting, so the omission of such a feature is puzzling at best).

    I might have been that D'Va. Personally, I've taken to charging Reinhardt shields, especially when I've got a self destruct ready :P. Funniest thing SD'ing when Reinhardt charges you :D.

    And death? Meh, I get to kite for 20 seconds and i get a new mech > <.

    Last edited 26/05/16 11:28 am

    Unfortunately the tick rate does make this game feel like battlefield 4 at times which removes the skill aspect of the game since you never had the chance.
    I.E. you successfully avoided something on your screen, but on theirs you didn't and their computers argument won. (I have a hunch that low tick rates exasibate latency and server decisions making whoever has the better latency even more likely to winning out the argument with the server)
    The only way they are currently able to get the performance out of the game that they are, while still using low tick rates is because hit detection is (apparently) server side.
    If they actually upped the tick rates they'd have a game that handled as good as old multiplayer FPS games from the 90's (the standards of which we havn't seen since).

    Please note that the replays are wildly inaccurate and the community has been reminded of this several times by the blizzard.

    I thought it felt a bit off, I get killed behind walls a fair bit as well.

      Aye this happens to me as well where I know I just ducked behind a wall to suddenly die. Look at the killcam and it seems I was just out in the open instead of moving for that split second.

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