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Overwatch 2’s Mobility Crisis

Volamel 2022-07-01 04:06:43

Overwatch is playing a dangerous, dangerous game. One that leaves open the possibility of rigid metagames.  While we’re about to do a little hypothetical finger-wagging at Blizzard, Overwatch 2 does look wonderful. With a revamped monetization model, new content, and ways to play the game, it feels like the shot in the arm that we’ve all been waiting for. However, once you sift through some of the recent hero developments, a worrying trend begins to creep up. That trend is Overwatch 2’s mobility crisis. Before we explain why Zerglings should not carry an AWP, let’s explore a game design philosophy that feels ubiquitous across nearly any genre; the inverse balance of mobility and power.  This law of “slow and strong” and “fast and weak” are mainstays of gaming in general.  To quickly define some terms, “fast” and “slow” refer to a hero's mobility, don’t think we need to explain that too much. The former is high mobility, the latter is low. However, “strong” is a little vaguer.  For this, we’re going to define “strong” as big numbers. Big damage, big health, something with large values is what we’ll define as “strong”. While “weak” is more the opposite. Smaller numbers, lower health, lower damage, things like that.  And with that, we travel back to the late 90s for a great example of this dichotomy in action.     StarCraft expert and commentator Sean “Day9” Plott provides a great example of this rule from the real-time strategy (RTS) genre. StarCraft: Brood War features three races, however only two are necessarily important for this discussion.  The bug-like Zerg race features a slew of incredibly cheap, fast, and weak units.  On the flip side of that coin, you have the technologically advanced Protoss who are expensive, slow, and strong.  One side leverages their mobility while the other leans on their inherently strength and power.  Let’s move to other FPS titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or VALORANT. We all know you can move faster with your knife out, that goes without saying, but let’s examine the AWP or the Operator respectively. When wielding the weapon, you move and a slower rate than with other weapons, your rate of fire is limited, but the damage you deal is very high.  Quite literally, you’re trading speed, in a few different ways, for power Interested in fighting games? Take Zangief from Street Fighter or Potemkin from Guilty Gear. These are behemoths that move at a snail’s pace which underlines their fundamental flaw; their mobility. However, once they close that distance, you’re in for a world of pain. We can even venture into the card game space for tangible examples of the opposite in action. A common rule in most competitive collectable and trading card games is the lack of action when you first summon a creature or monster.  To put it more simply; when you summon something you normally have to wait a turn before it can attack.  In both Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone this delay in action or “summoning sickness” is a normal occurrence. However, one way to circumvent that delay is through keywords like “haste” or “charge” depending on your perspective game.  Consider Hearthstone’s Wolfrider card. With the keyword “charge” he can act immediately. However, he’s balanced in a way to keep that metaphorical mobility in check. He is fast, especially when compared to other cards, but his defenses are very weak.  Magic: The Gathering has a slew of examples as well. Cards like Goblin Chariot and Hellspark Elemental are decent enough examples. With the keyword of “haste”, both cards can immediately act on the board but are balanced by their cost and more importantly, their low defenses.  Those that are strong are often slow. Those that are weak are often fast.     Even within Overwatch 2, this philosophy is apparent.  Ashe and Widowmaker are very strong but they are not very mobile. Yes, they have mobility tools but you wouldn’t consider them mobile. Winston and Wrecking Ball are very mobile but are not very strong. Yes, they have their moments and windows of damage, but you wouldn’t consider them strong.  This list goes on and on. However, the concern for Overwatch 2’s future is less about this rule being inherently broken outright but how there seems to be an increase of heroes to facilitate that rule being bent. And before we get lost in the weeds of a third axiom at which to balance, be it “resource cost” or “effective range”, the problem here is that Overwatch 2 is introducing ways to bend mobility which feels intrinsically tied to strength.  Of course, there are other ways to balance a game, we would never argue otherwise. What we’re saying is that these two attributes should be on a sliding scale and the messaging doesn’t seem to fit the bill.  We’re specifically looking at how the balance of both strength and speed are tied to one another and when one is facilitated too aggressively, it can lead to rigid metagames.  To put it more simply, heroes that increase others’ mobility are dangerous.  And Overwatch is testing those limits.  Overwatch’s long-awaited sequel is slated to add quite a few new heroes to the cast, and the newest addition to the cast, Junker Queen, brings quite a bit to the table. Outside of a pseudo-hook ability and ways to limit the amount of healing the enemy can receive, it’s her Commanding Shout that has our attention.       Not only does Commanding Shout add additional health to Junker Queen’s allies, a separate concern altogether, but it also provides a speed boost. And during an Overwatch 2 Q&A, members of the development team confirmed that Commanding Shout’s speed boost would stack alongside Lucio’s speed aura.  This goes further with the interesting speculation around the unannounced “fox” support that Blizzard teased in their Overwatch 2 release date reveal. In the small clip where she assumedly was shown, only four heroes are revealed. Zarya, Hanzo, Genji and Ana. This has led many to assume that she will be a support. However, those with a keen eye will have spotted the same particle effect that Lucio gives his team while increasing their speed around this party of heroes.  The problem here is that Lucio cannot be in the team if we assume this fox hero is a support.  This has led the Overwatch community to further speculate that this fox hero may also be able to increase their team’s movement speed. And if Junker Queen’s Commanding Shout is to set a precedent then this currently unnamed fox support’s speed boost may also stack with Lucio.  And the pièce de résistance here is one hero that has gone under the radar and has been a thorn in the side of Team 4 for years. Symmetra.  Having horizontal mobility is one thing, we’ve dealt with Lucio for this long, but with the ability to physically teleport your team vertically, given some conditions are met, alongside all of these proposed speed increases and things get a little hairy.  So why does this matter?  To play within some examples we previously mentioned, let’s say we suddenly hacked our way into Street Fighter and suddenly made Zangief much faster. Do you think he’d be better or worse than where he is now? If we played with Counter-Stike’s source code to make the AWP fire twice as fast and removed the movement penalty, do you think it would be better or worse than it is now? If we ventured into StarCraft and allowed Zerg players to create units with the strength of a Protoss unit and vice-versa, do you think they would be better or worse than they are now? Many of these examples become much better and borderline oppressive when we alleviate their inherent weaknesses.  So much so that they run the risk of fundamentally becoming broken, and no not like Mercy or whatever flavour of the month hero is the target of your ire.  We’re talking too hard to ignore, too good not to play, we’re talking GOATS here, folks. And before someone hijacks that, we’re talking about the rigidity of that era of Overwatch, not the style, mechanics, or even some of the heroes.  When something is discovered to be inherently broken, meaning it weaponizes something wrong or fundamentally “off” about the game, it tends to be oppressive both in terms of pick rate and perception.  Mind you, this doesn't happen often, but when it does--you notice it quite a lot.  Kind of like in League of Legends.     Veteran League of Legends fans will remember the strength of the Yuumi delivery service. Be it Garen or Olaf or some other bruiser-type champion, Yuumi’s ability to facilitate these strong and slow-esque heroes was incredibly powerful and at least part of that was increasing their mobility. Mind you this is terribly reductionist and doesn’t touch the nuance of the MOBA genre, but you can see where our argument takes form.  According to YouTube content creator Nicolai, within the four major regions in League of Legends, Yuumi was picked or banned nearly 600 times during the summer of 2019.  When the rules for the game begin to bend, professionals will find ways to exploit it to the letter of the law.  Funnily enough, this isn’t anything new for Overwatch either.  Former esports journalist Amelia “paschlol” Mary-Justice commented on this subject nearly five years ago. While her article was more explaining and translating why, at the time, we were seeing so many dive mirror matchups and the value of stall within Overwatch, many of her points still ring true today.  After pointing towards D.Va and Lucio as problem children of the Overwatch roster, she writes, “Finally, maps in Overwatch are designed around [the] advantageous high ground, which is intentionally time-consuming to access for heroes without mobility.” “This high ground is important because it provides a positional advantage and an escape from fights, should one become necessary. The rooftops of Hollywood, the ship in Watchpoint: Gibraltar, [and] the orange beams on Horizon Lunar Colony [...] are all time-consuming and, in some cases, completely inaccessible to slower, immobile heroes,” she explained.  “Comparatively, mobile heroes can easily reposition themselves in a fight when necessary. This is incredibly important on maps like Numbani and Dorado, to name only two, in which the ability to transition quickly and easily between mirrored high ground is vital.” Down to the maps you play, Overwatch is balanced with the heroes’ mobility in mind.  When we bend the line between those who are “fast” and “slow” and add tools to facilitate mobility you begin to inherently warp a fundamental rule Overwatch has been balanced upon. When heroes that have been designed to find it difficult to easily access these high ground positions, as Mary-Justice rightly pointed out, two things happen. You run a risk that the “strong and slow” design become oppressive and you chip away at the core strength of the “fast and weak” archetype.  Ironically enough we’ve seen full well what the inverse trend can do as well, yet we always end up in the same place. When Brigitte’s Armor Pack used to actually provide armour, this made flanking heroes like Genji, and more importantly, Tracer, incredibly oppressive. Why? Because it desaturated her weakness. Tracer is designed to be fast and weak. She zips in, dashes behind your team like a gnat, but has to remain cautious because of her very low health pool. If that crux, in this example her health, were to suddenly increase on a regular basis (and almost doubly so due to how armour’s damage reduction is applied), then where are her faults?  This ends up making her both “fast” and “strong”.  Following that general logic, if we provide characters like Reinhardt, Mei, and Reaper with additional tools to overcome some of their inherent weaknesses, in this example their mobility, then where do you suspect we end up? We’d point you towards some of the Overwatch tournaments held towards the backend of 2016. And let’s be very clear, this isn’t some biased rhetoric on why everyone should just be slow. If there comes a day where Blizzard adds other abilities that increase an ally's health pool on a regular basis, be it shields or armour or over-health, we’ll also dust off the soap box and voice concern as well. Because these are two sides of the same dangerous coin. No matter how we flip it we always end up in the same place; heroes and even styles that are “fast and strong”. It’s not that Junker Queen’s ability will ruin the game or even produce a rigid metagame immediately, the unannounced fox support might not either, but the trend and precedent that these abilities set are concerning for the future of the game.  It may not be tomorrow or even within the initial year of Overwatch 2’s launch, but the mobility crisis feels like a bug in the code, just waiting to be abused. One wrong buff or nerf to the cast and now you’ve got Lucio and Junker Queen speeding headlong into each other ad nauseam.  This is about foresight rather than what happens today.  When you consciously or unconsciously balance Overwatch with mobility in mind, while also increasing the ways in which you can circumvent that rule, you begin to play a dangerous game.  As for solutions, nothing about this seems easy. The first step would be to remove the ability to stack separate speed boosts. Again, for those that have the beta and don’t see anything wrong inherently, it’s not about what happens today, this is about attempting to spot problems in the future.  Just think of quickly blitzing around a corner or being able to cut down on the rotational time it takes for slower heroes to access certain high grounds. The ability to augment slower heroes’ mobility limits counterplay because they are meant to have a hard time closing the gap.  If we allow that to be easier, what stops the game from being deadlocked into mirror matchups again? Removing the ability for movement speed-increasing skills to stack severely cuts down on the problem becoming immediately abusable, but still doesn’t sit well with us regarding the frequency for slower heroes to be able to reposition and even rotate around the map.  Limiting the range at who can be affected by such abilities or only allowing the speed increase along a set path helps to add another hurdle to the mix. This still allows the ability to feel good to use but dampens how accessible it is while opening up avenues of counter-play.  This is reminiscent of how Baptiste’s Immortality Field is designed.  Stand in the lamp and you’re protected.  Stand outside or get displaced and die.  At the end of the day, this is just concerned conjecture--and we hope we’re wrong. Yet, everything shown to us so far points towards a future where the “slow” and “strong” have windows of increased mobility and become very, very “fast”.   Perhaps this signals a drastic change in how Blizzard plans to develop Overwatch, focusing on excitement and fun rather than being hung up on safey and simplicity. If so, then nothing about this is inherently wrong but the way you attack the problem is far different. To be more specific: if Blizzard wants to lean into creating a few broken heroes of the week, then agile and heavy-handed changes should happen more frequently.  If they waffle in the middle of the two opinions, that’s when things go sideways.  This is why a Zergling can’t hold an AWP and why Zangief shouldn't have “haste” as a keyword.  It may not be tomorrow or even within the initial year of Overwatch 2’s launch, but the mobility crisis feels like a bug embedded deep within its design code, just waiting to be abused. We already have two heroes that facilitate the cast’s mobility, obviously one better than the other.  What do you suppose happens when we start adding more without any governor? Are we running headlong into a year of Junker Queen, Reaper, Mei, Lucio, and Moira? Probably not, but something similar might not be too far off. 
  Images via Blizzard Entertainment 
 

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