This week, Overwatch game director Aaron Keller announced that Overwatch 2’s PvP mode will field teams of five players, down from six players in the game’s current PvP mode. Now players, staffers, and fans of the Overwatch League are wondering if professional teams will be cutting down their rosters in response.
Currently, Overwatch League games are between two teams of six players in the 2-2-2 format, reflecting the format of Overwatch matches in the game’s ranked mode. There are always two tanks, two supports, and two damage players for each team. Overwatch 2 will be dropping a tank slot so that each team only has one tank.
The pros and cons of this upcoming change are being hotly debated within Overwatch’s fan communities, but for the professional players competing in the Overwatch League, it could have massive professional consequences.
Many tank players could be seeing their careers cut short, but that depends on a huge number of factors which include how Blizzard balances the 5v5 format, map design, how teams decide to restructure, OWL guidelines, and the ever-changing meta.
“I think it’s a bit too early to say but my initials thoughts are that I can’t think of a single tank player in OWL that will be able to cover the entire tank cast as it is currently,” Albert “yeHH” Yeh, VP of Esports Operations for the Florida Mayhem, told Kotaku. “So I think teams will still retain at least two tanks initially.”
Overwatch’s hero pool is vast and difficult to master, even for OWL players who specialise in a single role. For example, Wrecking Ball is an extremely mobile tank who can use a grappling hook to propel himself through the air. But Wrecking Ball requires a different skillset than a tank like Reinhardt, who guards his teammates behind his energy shield.
On Twitter, Yeh hoped that the 5v5 format would come with more balancing measures to ensure that the role remains impactful. The tank position is arguably the most important role in the game, since they create space for the rest of the team to engage, reposition, or retreat.
I really hope there's a lot more changes coming to tanks balance wise. I didn't get the feeling from any of the gameplay shown that 5v5 provided a better experience. If there's only one tank, tanks need to feel crazy strong to encourage people to play it.
— Albert Yeh (@yeHHH) May 20, 2021
Justin “Jayne” Conroy, former assistant coach of the Dallas Fuel and founder of Elo Hell Esports, was far more critical of the announcement, suggesting that it came about due to financial rather than game balance considerations:
If you think the shift to 5v5 for Overwatch 2 has anything to do with game balance and not just saving the Overwatch League some money then oh boy do I have a bridge to sell you.
Good luck to the current OWL tank players and any aspiring OWL pros – you're going to need it.
— Jayne (@EnvyJayne) May 20, 2021
5v5 Overwatch (esports) Thoughts:
esport will be visually much simpler for fans
most esports are 5v5 so live events will be easier
brutal for pro/aspiring tanks – reality is half of them will get cut
— Jake Lyon (@jakeow) May 21, 2021
Imagine spending 5 years to perfect your role…..Just for it to be deleted while knowing your role does not translate to another your expected to give all you got till the end of season (:
— Gator (@Gator_OW) May 20, 2021
Dallas Outlaws coach Jake Lyon, Atlanta Reign tank player Blake “Gator” Scott, and Overwatch League caster Wolf Schröder all worried that the 5v5 format would mean that a whole lot of tank players are going to be unemployed.
Others, such as former OWL player George “ShaDowBurn” Guscha and Overwatch League commentator Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez, were more optimistic about 5v5. Goldenboy hoped that a new crop of expansion teams could pick up the tank players who may be cut as a result of the new format.
I think 5v5 is going to make overwatch better, but that also means there are a lot of work to balance all of that. OW2 would feel so fresh as the game I could see
— George Gushcha (@SDBurnOW) May 20, 2021
Overwatch 2 is 5v5 now? Actual POGGERS.
— Goldenboy (@GoldenboyFTW) May 20, 2021
Despite the Overwatch League’s player contract rules, the 5v5 format is an especially worrying prospect for the Korean pros in the League. Most of the Overwatch League’s finest players hail from South Korea, and virtually all of them are from working-class families. Many of them have pursued esports as a way to escape poverty, and some have become the primary breadwinners of their families.
Esports is still a precarious venture in which the whims of a company could spell the end of your career. For players in the Overwatch League, that fear just got more real.