It's the end of a hard-fought Overwatch match, the brief moment before an algorithm tells the game's 12 players who had the most badarse play. I'm poised to receive my laurels after pulling off a triple-kill with Roadhog's ultimate attack. I also won't be upset if our Pharah gets Play of the Game with her well-timed rocket barrage triple-kill. The screen goes dark. Then, the high-pitched cackle of Junkrat is heard.
Here's what Junkrat's seemingly now-ubiquitous Play of the Game tends to look like: In brief seconds, he launches his motorised tyre bomb up a wall, into the air, and onto the control point, where my team stands tightly organised. We frantically look around for where the tyre is coming from in the two seconds between its inception and detonation. After it explodes, he spews mines all over. Four of us die.
Great, I think. This again. I'm not impressed.
Before late August, Junkrat wasn't really an issue. The average Junkrat haphazardly lobbed grenades in the air, hoping to inflict mass damage on enemies without aiming too closely. He'd drop his concussion mine and steel trap somewhere a little strategic. His ultimate attack's tyre bomb damage was always killer, but in exchange, it was hard to steer and slow-moving enough to anticipate and destroy. That seemed fair.
After a late August buff, Junkrat's tyre moves 30 per cent faster, giving enemies less time to bunker down for its arrival. It can also climb walls longer, making it harder to spot and kill off. In the patch notes, Overwatch community manager Josh Engen wrote, "RIP-Tire's damage has always been very good, but it was often difficult to steer the tire into position before it was destroyed. Increasing its speed will allow players to effectively detonate the tire more often and decrease the amount of time that Junkrat is vulnerable while controlling it." Adding to the hero's recent surge in power, Junkrat now has two concussion mines instead of one. He can spam 120 damage, which can almost kill some of the squishier heroes. All of this means that, from what I've seen, Junkrats have been on a rampage recently.
The main issue, Overwatch players argue, isn't necessarily that Junkrat is overpowered right now. He has a lot of counters and isn't difficult to kill. It's that the plays Overwatch tends to reward skew toward big-damage and multi-kill. After Junkrat's buff, I've noticed a glut of rewards for the scrappy Australian criminal. A lot of players sick of seeing Junkrat Plays of the Game argue that the current incarnation of the hero feels tool low-effort for such a high, and apparently frequent, reward.
Play of the Game doles out rewards according to a complicated formula, but as Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan told Business Insider, "Mostly what's going on is the game tracks an internal score for each player at each second of the game, and it looks for windows where player scores spike tremendously." Big damage and epic multi-kills, especially spurred by an ultimate ability, are a pretty reliable way to get Play of the Game. For tanks who mostly block damage, support heroes who mostly heal teammates, or even defence heroes, Plays of the Game can be rare, since their toolkits are more about denying the enemy team opportunities (for example, access to a control point or, well, your team dying) rather than forging a path of carnage. Junkrat's buff has made him a recent Play of the Game favourite, other players and I have noticed over the last few months:
"A huge amount of POTGs [Plays of the Game] are Junkrat now, especially in QP [Quick Play]. They're much, much more common than they used to be. You can pretty much expect the POTG to be Junkrat now if one of the teams has someone playing him," reads a Battle.net comment.
"Junkrat is POTG [Play of the Game] 70% of the time," complained another Battle.net commenter. "If it is based on damage it is MOST DAMAGE OF THE GAME. NOT PLAY. It simply isn't what it states it is. Now with Junkrat's buff it's almost a guarantee he will get it most of the time... Nothing against Junkrat but god damn I'm over watching a riptire get a quad kill for the 500th time."
"Junkrat takes zero skill to use now [because] he is overpowered. All from what I see is people just relying on the concussion mines just to get kills," reads another. Five days ago, one commenter said they saw a Junkrat Play of the Game three times in a row.
My beef is that a lot of impressive things happen throughout an Overwatch match - Mercy swooping in with a well-timed resurrection and then escaping to safety; Roadhog successfully handing his hook on a quick-moving Tracer; Zarya coordinating her her Graviton Surge attack with Pharah's rocket barrage to get maximum kills; or even Lucio speed-boosting his party to the point so they reclaim it before the other team. It's important for those things to be rewarded too, or damage-dealing heroes will continue to appear more glamorous than lower-key ones, even when they're just flinging grenades into the air and hoping they will hit someone.
What's the solution? Scatter when you hear the now-ubiquitous Junkrat threat, "Fire in the hole!" As always, Overwatch players are recalibrating their strategies to counter post-buff Junkrat. Just make sure to compliment your high-performing, non-Junkrat teammates who might feel overlooked by Overwatch's Play of the Game algorithm.