Another weekly brawl where only a handful of characters are allowed? Come on, Blizzard. Is that the best you can do? I've seen that sentiment a lot surrounding this week's Overwatch brawl, "Tanks A Lot", which limits players' hero choices to the game's tank characters. As a general rule, brawls impose some sort of special rule set on more traditional Overwatch play.
In the past, brawls have done things like restrict players to Genji and Hanzo (because they're brothers and stuff), make everyone play support, or only be women characters. Last week, it was all Eichenwalde, all the time to celebrate the release of the new map. Not super exciting, but understandable and egalitarian. So basically, each brawl is unified by an extremely simple theme. The big exception is Lucioball, a Rocket-League-inspired "sport" mode that really did shake things up. More like that, please.
The problem is, most brawls are barely entertaining for a handful of matches, let alone a whole week. They're basically Blizzard slapping a pun name on a glorified custom game, one in which they take away interesting parts of the game instead of adding them. The majority of brawls have basically amounted to, "Regular Overwatch, except you can't do ____." That can be interesting for a bit, and I have to admit that I've found a few brawls (like this week's and the all-support one) enjoyable. Limitations beget creativity. You see bizarre team competitions and strategies... or this hilarious goddamn mess.
But most brawls feel like they were conceived less with an eye toward creating interesting play dynamics and more to fit some hastily slapped together theme with the least amount of effort possible. Instead of fun new dynamics, players just end up running out of options more quickly. Brawls don't make the game feel different. Just limited.
To date, my favourite Overwatch brawl ever is the first: "Arcade." There were no restrictions on heroes. There were no restrictions at all. Instead, everybody got double health, light speed ultimate charge and quicker ability cooldowns. It was completely wild. It was like the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes locked in a life-and-death battle with a thousand fireworks. No matter where you looked, bonkers shit was filling the screen.
I'm not asking for brawls that don't have restrictions. Instead, if Blizzard's gonna take that route, a) don't only do that, and b) when you do, make them interesting restrictions. Overwatch's brawls feel especially tame compared to their obvious inspiration: Hearthstone's Tavern Brawls. Now, Hearthstone is a far more modular game than Overwatch. Card games simply lend themselves well to variants. I fully understand that developing and implementing these sorts of things for a game as big and (deceptively) complicated as Overwatch is no small feat. I just wish it felt like Blizzard was trying.
Overwatch players have been voicing general dislike of brawls for quite some time now, and they have also come up with some solid suggestions:
To Blizzard's credit, they're aware that fans aren't digging a lot of brawls and have promised more interesting ones in the future. "This is fair feedback," game director Jeff Kaplan wrote in a forum post today. "We feel the same way. We're working on some new Brawl ideas now and hope to have some of them coming online this fall and early winter [spring and early summer in Australia]."
I desperately hope Blizzard draws on the massive pile of suggestions they have received. Alternatively, they could throw another big curveball like Lucioball. I've also seen a few people suggest a switch from weekly to monthly brawls, to give Blizzard more time to create something that's not just a half-baked throwaway idea. I feel like that might be a good idea. Overwatch isn't Hearthstone, and the weekly pace just might not be a good fit for it.
As is, though, I can't say that Overwatch's brawls are doing much for me. In theory, they should be an exciting part of the week, an incentive for lapsed players to dive back into the fray. For me, though, they're a curiosity at best. I'll play a match or two, then switch back to quick play or competitive without a second thought. That's a shame, because I do think the format is a great idea. Fingers crossed that Blizzard figures out a good way to do more with it.