that has, like so many Overwatch changes, caused both outage and glee among the community.The system, planned to be introduced after a short testing period, will force players to adopt a 2-2-2 team formation; two damage heroes, two tanks, and two support characters. The intention is to bring a little extra balance to Overwatch, but I’m not so sure this is a solution that is going to work.
Announced by Blizzard yesterday, Role Queue is planned to be applied to both of Overwatch’s core game modes: Quick Play and Competitive. Before finding you a match, the game will ask you which role you intend to play: damage, tank, or support? With your answer provided, the system will then place you into a game that requires the role you have selected. During play, while you will be able to swap characters, you will only be permitted to select a hero from the role that you queued for. This means that teams will always maintain a strict balance of two DPS heroes, two tanks, and two supports.
On both the surface and a deeper level, this makes a lot of sense. Casual matches have always been plagued by the fact that fewer people wish to play as healers, which often results in a team largely made up of DPS characters. On the opposite side of the field in the hardcore zone, top-tier players replicating professional tactics from the Overwatch League are locked into the GOATS meta – a team of three tanks and three healers – and the game has, at least in my opinion, become stale.
On top of that, the Overwatch League has become a largely dull sport in its second season because of the GOATS meta, which for a long period appeared to have solidified like concrete. If you didn’t play GOATS, chances are you’d be trampled to death by a constantly healed stampede of tanks stomping their way across the map. While Blizzard claims Role Queue isn’t designed to disrupt the Overwatch League, the fact that the system is being implemented into the sport before the game’s main servers is telling. And there’s definitely pressure from fans to eliminate GOATS; it’s simply not as exciting as sniper battles and close-range headshots.
Ensuring that four DPS characters are in a match at any one time would certainly bring a little energetic spark back to the Overwatch League, and provide consistent balance to every match of standard Overwatch. But is Role Queue really the blanket catch-all solution?
While recognising the benefits of Role Queue, and understanding that it has been designed by people far more knowledgeable about the tiny intricacies of Overwatch’s makeup than myself, I do have a couple of key concerns. Firstly, it feels like Blizzard is dictating the experience of the whole Overwatch community based on the actions of just the top-tier players. I’d understand applying Role Queue to Competitive, but making it mandatory in Quick Play – effectively the school play yard of Overwatch – it feels like Blizzard enforcing exactly how fans should play.
I appreciate that ‘Classic’ Quick Play will still be available in the Arcade, but by forcing players into the ‘non serious’ side of the game, there is the feeling that Blizzard is suggesting that people who like to swap roles are “doing it wrong”. It also steals flexibility from a huge portion of players that don’t care for meta play; Overwatch is one of the most played games in the world, and by that very nature the majority of its active players are casual. Casual players that, at least anecdotally, love to play DPS heroes. Should those players be forced to step in line with a system designed to fix the problems experienced largely by higher-tier, hardcore fans?
The average Overwatch player is also presumably going to suffer in queuing times. With damage such a popular role, and only two damage players allowed per match, surely those looking to take Soldier 76 for a blast will be facing longer wait times than those who favour healers, who will be in comparatively short supply, and thus snapped up the moment they hit ‘Find Match’? That’s the kind of thing that begins as a niggle, but could potentially evolve into rot.
But beyond those issues is the fact that if Role Queue does become a permanent addition to Overwatch, it will rob both the game and the sport of one of its most exciting and useful features: flex. At the top tier and in professional play, the biggest thrills often come from players opting for a mad hero switch to characters like Torbjorn or Symmetra and executing an impossible tactic that somehow flips the tables and wins the match. While Role Queue isn’t so restrictive that hero switching is impossible, it does heavily limit the type of switching that can be performed, and thus shrinks tactical potential.
The recent Stage 3 finals of the Overwatch League saw San Francisco Shock face off against Shanghai Dragons, and both used teams that would not be permitted under the rules of Role Queue. It’s also important to note that neither team opted for GOATS, which perhaps demonstrates that the meta is naturally losing its own steam. The possibilities of a new meta combination are endless under the current system, but with Role Queue, whatever comes next will likely consist of the same duos of damage, tank, and supports for the majority of professional teams.
Role Queue does solve one of Overwatch’s longest-standing problems, but enforcing a ‘balanced’ team comes at the cost of true flexibility. And it’s that flexibility that makes Overwatch what it is; the game’s personality can be found in its wonderful roster of characters, and how any one of them could be a vital pick at the right moment. Role Queue appears to be set to eliminate this in favour of rigid stability. And while that’s easier to control and maintain, I fear that it will extinguish a lot Overwatch’s sparky charm.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Entertainment Writer, and dedicated to being a flex Overwatch player. You can follow him on Twitter.