Assessing the Overwatch map drafting formats
A recurring debate in the Overwatch community has been the discussion of what map draft formats should be used in tournaments. Which one is the best? But also, what will Blizzard approve of and allow for? In this piece, I examine three well known formats that have been used in big offline events, pointing out each's strong and weak points. Then, I suggest some possible changes to them, in an attempt to address the issues that either Blizzard or the competitive community have with each of them. The changes don't aim to be the panacea of drafting formats, but rather a step in bridging the gap between the competitive Overwatch community, which wants each tournament to crown the best team present, and Blizzard, whose main purpose so far — judging by their actions — has been to promote the game to a wider audience.
Something that doesn't have much place in this discussion of drafting formats, but is closely related to it, is the increasing amount of maps. With the number of maps available growing, the professional scene needs a defined active map pool for tournaments, not unlike CS:GO's. Fourteen maps to practice for the players is already too much as it is, even if practicing is their job. The benefit of having a limited amount of maps will be a higher quality gameplay shown on the broadcast, as teams will have more time to prepare map-specific strategies and execution.
In traditional sports, judges are required to be both impartial and consistent in their decision-making to ensure the competitive integrity is maintained. Luckily, in esports, judges aren't needed as all the rules by which players abide are coded into the game. However, with Overwatch, the impartiality has been already broken on a few occasions with random map selections favoring one team over the other. As any pro will happily tell you, different maps lend themselves better to different teams. It can stem from a squad's preferred playstyle, prior amount of practice or simply from the personnel's abilities to play certain heroes better than others. The organizer selecting the map pool from which teams pick — or what is worse — the exact maps on which teams are going to play will almost always skew the field's advantage in one team's favor and thus leave the integrity of the result questioned.
That is not to say that some of the formats don't have place for them. But if the primary purpose of a tournament is to find out who's the best team, the competitive integrity needs to be maintained at all times. Should the purpose of an event be different, it needs to be clearly stated by the organizer to avoid unnecessary frustration among fans.
What has been the competitive community's preferred format is unfortunately also the one that has been out of Blizzard's good grace. The format that was used most recently at DreamHack Winter 2016:
– teams take turns at banning a map until each has banned two maps.
– teams pick one map each.
– teams ban one map each.
– teams pick one map each.
– teams take turn at banning maps until there is only one or two (from which one is selected randomly) left.
- teams get to pick exactly what they want to, regardless of map type, which in turn provides a higher level of gameplay to the viewers.
- having bans limits the number of one sided games, as teams can get rid of maps they can't play well, which, once again, increases the quality of gameplay shown on the broadcast.
- if a map — or even a type of maps — isn’t enjoyable and doesn’t award teams who practice it with consistent results, it will naturally get shoved aside.
- the format gives advantage to the team that’s best on most maps, regardless of whether it’s all but one map of each type or all maps except Control.
- can lead to seeing same maps and limited amount of game modes over and over. Casual viewers will not enjoy this and likely complain about it, as they've done in games like Quake and Counter-Strike.
- as far as public knowledge goes, Blizzard is directly opposed to the usage of this format.
Players get to pick and ban exactly what they want to with no further restrictions, which means that they will play the maps they want. This model gives a team who is better than their opponents across a higher number of maps the better chances for a win. For example, if a team is better than their opponent on all but four of the fourteen maps, they can use the first two bans on two of those and — at least on paper — they'll be guaranteed the win in a Bo5 series from there.
The problem with it? Understandably, to a degree, the folks from Blizzard want to showcase a variety of maps and game modes in every single professional match.
Over the course of a single event — especially one that takes only couple of days to complete — it is likely certain maps and map types will get played more than others. But over a longer period of time, that wouldn't be as much of a problem. As shown in other games, teams will attempt to learn maps no one else plays to gain a competitive advantage — that is, if a map is in good enough to allow a team that practices it to win consistently over opponents who don't. The most recent example in CS:GO is the addition of Nuke to the active map pool. Initially, no one wanted to play it, but over the course of months it became the map that all the top teams are not only willing to play, but also pick themselves, given the opportunity.
The idea behind the changes to this format is to bring Blizzard aboard by ensuring a variety of game modes will be showcased in every match. Keeping the current process as it is, I'll add two new rules to the pick and ban process:
- the first two maps, banned by a team cannot be of the same map type.
- a team cannot pick two maps of the same type.
This way we will see at least three types of maps over the course of a full Bo5 with minimum of two if the series is a clean sweep. Additionally, a team can not single-handedly ban out the majority of certain type of maps, even if down the line we get an active map pool, featuring only two maps of a certain game mode.
The “Overwatch weekend” format from IEM Gyeonggi and MLG Vegas:
– Predetermined maps by the tournament organizer or Blizzard.
- teams know the exact maps they'll be playing throughout the event and makes preparation easier.
- allows for in-depth preparation and coming up with specific map strategies that are tailored to specific opponent. It's harder to justify spending time on this when you don't know if the opponent will ban the map or if you'll have the opportunity to pick it.
- casual fans will be happy with the diversity of maps that is guaranteed by this format.
- the map pool, decided by tournament organizer or Blizzard, can heavily swing the match in one squad's favor. This takes away from the integrity of the competition and turns it into an exhibition.
This format — and there's no two ways of going about it — is primarily designed around not boring casual or new fans who might be turning up for a first time to check out the “Overwatch esports thing”. The problem is that, especially in the way it was held at MLG and IEM, it effectively turns the event into more of an exhibition than a tournament. If two teams are of a similar caliber, but their map pools barely overlap, the outcome of the match between them will be heavily affected by the selection of maps. Having a third party arbitrarily decide which are the maps is comparable to admitting that finding out which team is the better one is of little concern.
Additionally, if casual fans decide they like the “Overwatch esports thing”, they'll soon figure out the problems the format presents on their own.
To return to the previous example, if a team is better than their opponent on all but four of the fourteen maps, it doesn't matter. Whoever or whatever selects which are the maps for the series can randomly select three or all four of the maps the aforementioned team is worse on and put them at a disadvantage, even though they're better on 10/14ths of the map pool.
Before we even begin thinking about improving the map-drafting format, scheduling needs to be mentioned. If this sort of format is ever used again, teams need to have the sufficient amount of time to practice, while knowing the maps they'll be playing on during the tournament. How long before the tournament is something the TO will have to figure out by consulting the participating squads.
As for the format itself, one way the randomness can be mitigated is by giving each of the participating teams four bans (one ban for each map type) which will be consistent in all their matches. With the current map pool, even if two teams have eight different maps, it leaves the organizer with enough maps for a Bo5. Depending on the size of the professional map pool and the number of formats, the number might need to be tweaked.
The format would still be far from perfect, but could be used at some events whose main purpose isn't to find which of the present team is the best. It could suit an event like Blizzcon's World Cup — and I might be just reading a bit too much into the nationality aspect and fans voting here, whose main purpose is to act as a promotion for Overwatch and its esports scene, rather than crown the best team in the world.
The format used by OGN in APEX, a variation of it was also used in the Overwatch PIT. Over time the format has grown on the competitive community, in part because APEX has been the only tier 1 tournament in the last few months. But even though its premise is not a bad one, the end result still has some flaws in it.
– map 1: random Control map.
– map 2: loser of 'map 1' picks from a map pool of Hybrid maps.
– map 3: loser of 'map 2' picks from a pool of Assault maps.
– map 4: loser of 'map 3' picks from a pool of Escort maps.
– map 5: loser of 'map 4' picks from a map pool of Hybrid maps.
- the loser of a map selecting the following one creates naturally closer and thus more exciting matches. It acts as a comeback mechanic over the course of a series.
- teams get to show their play across multiple types of maps while still having a degree control over the maps they play.
- the random match-to-match map pool can still be to the benefit of one of the teams, even if it's not as much. Same goes for the first map.
- there is an unbalanced amount of focus on capture point play in the first three maps with Control, Assault and a Hybrid map.
- allowing one team to pick the next map without restrictions can provide boring and one sided maps, even if the series score can be closer.
Returning to the familiar example, if a team is better than their opponent on all but four of the fourteen maps, they'll be able to take the series most of the time. The format does prolong it artificially, though, and gives the illusion of the two teams' levels being much closer than they would be if all fourteen maps were played out.
The big flaw, similarly to previous format is the random nature of the first map and the map pool from which teams select in a given match. The completely arbitrary selection of the Control map means that a team can be better on three of the four choices, yet still lose it. This is not a scenario that helps with finding out who the best team is. If I was to guess why APEX uses a random selection of maps, I'd say it is so viewers see an even amount of each maps. However, it has been the case in neither of the APEX seasons. In S2, Illios has seen over five hours of playtime, about one and a half hours more than the next most played map, Oasis. Five hours is also more than the combined amount of playtime on Lijiang Tower and Nepal.
Since the format isn't accomplishing what (in my guesses) it set out to, we might as well improve it in a way that will make the professional players and the viewers who value the integrity of competition more than variety. A simple solution would be to allow each team to ban a map, rather than informing them of the three randomly selected maps they need to prepare for. It would leave two Control maps in the pool, one to be selected by the randomizer as the first map of the series, and the second to be used as a tiebreaker, if required.
The Hybrid maps can be approached in a similar manner, as even a Bo7 series features only two of them.
For Assault and Escort, the teams would need to flip a coin with the winner getting to decide what type of map they want to ban. Each banning a map of the two game modes would be possible in Bo5, but at this point, the maps are too few to allow for that in a Bo7.
A lesser problem is the heavy focus on Capture Point play early in the series between a Control, Hybrid and Assault being the first three maps in a Bo5. This is of concern as a team that is strong on Escort might not even get the chance to play the mode if they fail at capturing A on a Hybrid map; of course, a team that does not win any of the first three maps wouldn't have won even if given a chance to play an Escort map, but their map differential could be unfairly deflated and it is used as a tiebreaker in certain scenarios.
The author's recommendation would be to switch the places of the first Hybrid map with the the Escort. The results for the order of maps would be Control, Escort, Assault, Hybrid, Hybrid in a Bo5 and Control, Escort, Assault, Hybrid, Escort, Assault, Hybrid in a Bo7 to keep a similar order. For a Bo5 it means that if a team wins 3-0, they would have shown themselves superior on all the individual game modes and if they have to finish in a longer match, it will have to be done by being better on a map that showcases multiple aspects of the game.
The end result would be:
– each team bans one Hybrid and one Control map.
– teams flip a coin to decide which team bans an Escort map and which an Assault map.
– the Control map is picked randomly from the two left with the second being used as a tiebreaker.
– the following maps are picked by the loser in the order of Escort, Assault, Hybrid, Hybrid for a Bo5 and Escort, Assault, Hybrid, Escort, Assault, Hybrid in a Bo7.
When discussing drafting formats, it is important to remember that they are a replacement for the teams playing across the whole map pool. The best way to find out who is the better team would always be having them face each other across all the maps. As that is a relatively hard thing to do, we use the drafts. Thus, in a tournament whose purpose is to find out who the best team is, we need a drafting format allowing such a team to shine.
Photo credits: OGN
About the author:
Hello readers, I go by the ID RadoN! My introduction to esports happened in 2009 and I’ve been following different titles within the industry ever since. Esports that I watch regularly are Overwatch, CS:GO, LoL, QL with the occasional SFV and DOTA2. If you wish to reach out, follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on esports, you can find me on twitter at @RadoNonfire.