Overwatch Is No Longer My Third Place

Nobody ever asks why anyone stopped playing Halo 2. No response would merit it. The game came out in 2004, and three years later, there was Halo 3. At some point, it got old. Another game came along. Friends moved on.

Everybody has been asking me why they don’t see me on Overwatch anymore. It used to be that on most weeknights, between the hours of 9 PM and 11 PM, a green dot would accompany my Battle.net tag. It had been like that for years. Overwatch was a place where friends could find me, like the neighbourhood coffee shop in “Friends” or the corner pub.

When I stopped showing up, I got questions. Nobody was worried when I stopped coming around — my job necessitates regular bylines, so friends had repeated assurances that I am still alive. But Overwatch had once been my third place, where I went when I wasn’t home or at work, and I was no longer there, which meant that either I had changed or the game had changed.

Games are places now, not just entertainment media. It’s been like that since the great boom of massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI, sprawling virtual worlds that, in addition to being games, also included attractions like dressing up in festive costumes, sitting on the beach and talking, riding a giant bird across the desert and shopping for presents at the auction house.

Now, online shooters are places too, furnished with lobbies, embedded voice chat, and in-fashion skins. They’re where you meet your friends to do your hobby, similar to batting cages or golf courses or pick-up basketball at the YMCA. In broader terms, they’re mind palaces where players hunt down whatever might spur whatever dopamine rush they may seek alongside friends.

For me, I love the feeling of control, and in my time playing Overwatch recently, control has become a near impossibility.

I recommend Googling “Why I stopped playing Overwatch.” “Here’s my reason,” wrote WorstPlayer on the Battle.net forums last September. “I stopped playing was because I started watching Naruto, and I am now addicted.”

Other players cite the arrival of newer games, damning changes to a favourite hero or friends they played with moving on. The most common response I have seen from players leaving Overwatch was, “It’s too stressful.” This is a six-versus-six team shooter, so winning means relying on internet strangers to be a.) competent, b.) good communicators, c.) serious about winning and d.) unselfish.

If you’re not all of the above, you’re probably losing the game for your team and they will know and they will tell you. Likewise, because Overwatch players tend to enjoy strategising, lots of them also enjoy picking apart what exactly went wrong and assigning blame as they deem fit. On the whole, of course, no one person has control over a win or a loss.

Hundreds of hours into playing Overwatch, after mastering the basics of the game, Overwatch’s metagame emerged: Arguing over who lost your team the game and why it was not you. 

This loss of control became more pronounced as Overwatch’s “crowd control” mechanics took over. Pushing, stunning, sleeping, popping backwards, bouncing into the sky—after the introduction of characters like Brigitte, Wrecking Ball and Ashe, this all could happen over the course of a minute in an Overwatch game.

Returning to Overwatch just this morning, I watched myself get sleep-darted, knocked off a platform and popped back into a wall by three different heroes. It was a bit of an out-of-body experience. There was nothing I could do. Overwatch, once my go-to third place, had become a pressure cooker and I was a kernel of popcorn.

The ambiguousness of success and failure outside of games can feel messy, and in games, these things are refreshingly rigid. I used to go to Overwatch for that structure. Even as the game changed and new heroes entered the fray, I enjoyed taming the new forms of chaos. Everything felt manageable so long as I applied myself.

At some point, the balance shifted. I can’t pinpoint what it was exactly, but over the last few months, I realised I couldn’t get that feeling of control out of Overwatch anymore. And seeking it out only heightened my frustration.

Publishers don’t just airdrop a game and rocket off anymore. Many games ask for continuous investment. Overwatch is not what it was in June 2016. Eight new heroes have been introduced since then, along with some major hero reworks, countless balance patches, a handful of seasonal events, new modes, lore, an infinitely increasing number of tempting skins and a multimillion-dollar esports league, all aimed at keeping players’ palates whetted and the franchise fresh.

Overwatch has generated over $1 billion in revenue, in part because it’s a live game. In “third place” terms, it’s gotten trivia nights, a back patio, string lights, an on-call maintenance crew, and a cycling menu of refreshments, all aimed at making customers feeling more entertained and at home.

Overwatch has now become unrecognizable to me. If you’ve ever been on an Overwatch message board, you know they are littered with desperate calls for Blizzard to change the game in one way or another, with each player having their own ideas of what a good game looks like. This, in theory, is good. Overwatch stays interesting when it changes. It’s good for investors. It’s good for new players. It’s good for esports. Lately I’ve learned that there’s a balancing act that must take place between newness and oldness.

If games are to be both places and continuously appealing commodities, there will always be the risk that, at some point, they will become too molten to call home.


Comments

    As a Tracer player the game died for me when Brigitte came in and things like the Hanzo changes came in. The change to Sombra was the cherry on top. In the base game she was about high risk vs high reward. And while virtually every other character could destroy her in a heart beat, she had true and fair counter in McCree. In that he could counter you, BUT if he missed up his counter, you then it was your turn. So both characters had risk verses reward. That was 'balanced' in a sense. It was completely fair.

    But with things like Brigitte, there was little to no risk at all to her. There was no counter play. You get near her, you die (slightly less bad now, slightly). This philosophy comes across in other ways like the fact that Brigitte and Moira can both hard counter Tracer (and Genji), with little too no skill, that is not to say those characters dont take skill to play, but in order for a Tracer (and Genji) to be good it takes highly precise shooting, skill in controls and movement, HOWEVER that can be both shut down by Moira and Brigitte who only need to hold down there attack button and barely aim (for the most part) something highly unskilled, acting as a hard counter to highly skilled characters.

    I still play the game, it still brings a smile to my face and I still play a lot of Tracer but there is something lost with all the new characters, they all have far too many abilities in such a way that so many of the original and best characters seem antiquated and simple now. These days I can still lose a whole afternoon on it but it is not the same, these days I have more fun watching professionals play and cant wait for a league, isnt that bad thing to say?!!

      "You get near her, you die" - It's almost like... you shouldn't get near her.

        thats my point, that isnt good balance design. McCree versus Tracer is how a good game works. A counter but a risk attached with the counter. There is fairness there. With the original Brig it is a hard counter, and she wasnt just doing it with Tracer, any squishy character could be massively stunned locked, every tanks could be as well. Every character except maybe Pharah could be instantly stunlocked with NO RISK to Brig. These days it is a little less powerful but still annoying.

        So it was not just a case of Tracer not going near her, it was a case of any squishy of not getting near her, all with no risk to Brig.

          OW's tickrate completely negates skilled ways to counter high level tracer and genji play, hence why we have 'click to counters'.

          I've been saying OW is a bad game for years, with tired, repetitive design and horrible character balance wrapped up with production values that can put Pixar to shame. And this will only continue to get worse as more characters are added.

          Have you tried depleting Brigs shield before you go in?

            I have like 900 hours in the game, I think I get such a core concept, the problem lies in the fact unless you are playing a certain level of the game, to do something smart like that requires her shield to be focus by a few people (ideally), which requires communication and team work.

            Im not saying as a Tracer she was impossible, even in her first state, but it was more the philosophy around the change. Hard counters replacing balanced counters.

              I try to be optimistic. Simple characters like Brig are good for focusing on the objective (she's a fantastic payload pusher) and I hope that it will force the overall gameplay towards more teamwork and more coordination. I'm not accusing you of being like this because you seem very reasonable, but there are far, far too many DPS mains who have no concept of teamwork whatsoever and they complain the loudest when anything they can't decimate in a 1v1 gets introduced. They also tend to be the most arrogant and toxic. I've had a McCree on the other side of the map when the entire team is capping the Lijiang Market objective come on voice and start cussing me (Mercy) out because I didn't leave the team, leave the objective, cross the massive open space being camped by a Widow, and come heal them where they were standing still behind a wall instead of just walking to a health pack. Like, the lack of logical reasoning is incredible with these people.

                Like, the lack of logical reasoning is incredible with these people

                Yep that sums up my last few days playing. My personal favourite is when we are obviously losing the game to capture a final point, and everyone keeps going in by themselves, and wondering why I havent been healing them " No doofus Rein, if you are going to charge a point and the rest of our team are dead, I am not going to go flying in there with you as well" hehehe

                  Yeah, just last night a friend and I (both supports) were scolded by a DPS for not "staying with the tank" when the whole team, tank included, were just trickling in instead of waiting for us.

      The Sombra change made me play the game far more. Before I wouldn't even touch her. Now she's my main and made me start enjoying the game again.

        yeah been playing her a lot myself, thankfully it seems they fixed a problem with her hacking that was present when she first got redone. Where you could spam hack with zero cool down, if you were interrupted. So as a Tracer she could just spam it over until she succeeded. Also I believe this was a console thing only, due to the latency her new hack was so fast, often the hack was successful before you get the warning. That too seems to have chilled out.

    I had a similar experience with TF2, although mine was more technical (my rig was struggling to keep up with the changes to the engine, particularly as dual core processors became more common, so it just didn't feel like 'my TF2' anymore).

      For me it was when the visual style became too polluted with all the crazy crap they kept adding. Too much stuff made it way too chaotic and destroyed the visual class profiles.

        Yeah, well I perhaps understated the role of 'hats' in my decision not to play anymore. I thought it was silly and distracted from the core experience. I was sure it was a fad... boy how wrong was I!

    Me and Blizzard in general, really. :(

    I miss WoW.

      you know wow is still running right or did i miss something.

      i don't miss wow i miss raiding with my friends :(

        I don't miss WoW or raiding with my friends. I miss the days I had time to play WoW & raid with my friends.

        The WoW I miss is not the WoW that exists today. Which was kinda the point of the last half of the article.

          I miss wanting to play WoW

          I was subbed for the first month of BFA and nothing they had added in patches has made me want to return.

        Game isnt the same though. MMO's morph as they add features, and eventually they become something else. Whether you can accept that or not is up to the individual. But going back means its not the same as what you experienced, which is the general point of the article.

        I went through it with Everquest. Going back to that was jarring. Its evolved to the point its unrecognisable. WoW hasnt evolved THAT much, but its still a different game to what it was.

          well if you played Asherons Call i hear the guys resurrecting it are doing a good job, maybe look into that.

          if you never played AC then i have just wasted a minute of your life :S

            Yeah, played AC. Was fun for a while, until minmaxing an archer (from memory) made the game fairly trivial. Bunch of mates were all playing at the same time but most of us went back to EQ :) Never played AC2 though, which is something I have in common with a lot of people.

            Main memory of AC though was a buggy spot on a main road that for some reason just lagged me to hell and back. Just outside a starter town, and a natural point to run past.

            Framerate would drop to under 1, and just turning to get out would take a good few minutes. Was early in the game, so I moved on from the area fairly fast, but it was annoying enough the memory stuck with me.

            Wonder if it would still happen today. It was so unusual compared to the rest of the game that I always wondered what was causing it.

              my brother is playing the reboot i can ask him if you like =)

    A place to just Be and a sense of control over that place.

    That succinctly expresses just what it is I enjoy about many games I play and have played in the past, why I find that for some of them I just stick to.

    Thank you for publishing this, it triggered a cascade of musing within myself.

    I stopped playing Overwatch when I picked up Blops IIII and discovered how much better its reward/progression system is.

    I wanted to like Overwatch but they just keep changing what little is left of the original game until all that was familiar is gone.
    That and they kept fucking Roadhog into the ground.

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