By Petar Vukobrat
February 12, 2020
Is Overwatch dying? That’s a fascinating question. It has been posed many times over the last year or so. On the one hand, there are many doubters out there in the world. Quite frankly, they have every reason to question Blizzard’s fascinating IP. On the other hand, much of the hate the game’s been getting online has been unjust. It’s perhaps geared towards Blizzard and their poor decision-making rather than Overwatch itself.
Still, it is an important question as there’s a solid debate to be had.
So, first, Overwatch has around 50 million players at the time of this writing, according to game director Jeff Kaplan. That’s an impressive yet deceiving number. It’s not the number of active players, but rather the number of people who bought the game across four different platforms (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch).
This is not the total number of active monthly players, nor is it indicative of anything other than the amount of profit Blizzard raked in ever since Overwatch’s release. All signs are pointing towards Blizzard’s venerable IP becoming a bit stale, which is perfectly understandable. It released in late 2015. Everyone who wanted to buy and play it probably has by now.
The game has a very loyal hardcore player base, but it’s also been decreasing in size as time went on. Blizzard hasn’t been doing an excellent job with patching the game and communicating with their players. Infrequent balance changes, sporadic hero and map releases, and boring metas (GOATS, for example) are just some of the many problems plaguing Overwatch. Now sure, Blizzard has finally caught on and is promising to be a lot more proactive, but one has to wonder: Is it too late?
Massive changes are needed. Blizzard’s track record certainly isn’t a positive one.
Ever since the Overwatch 2 rumors started flooding the web, many wondered what the sequel would bring. After all, releasing a brand-new game inside the same universe is no small undertaking. In the end, however, it seems that Blizzard decided to infuse their IP with more life, but as with many other things, they did so in a tame and subdued manner.
Overwatch 2 is the same thing. Yes, it’ll have a better campaign-like experience. Yes, there are some positive changes like talents and whatnot. But is it an entirely different game? Absolutely not. It’s more of an expansion. It’s a strange one at that. Everyone who has the first installment gets all the benefits from the second one as well. That means you’ll get each new hero and map as they are released. So, if you’re not into PvE content, there’s not a single good reason to invest once the game’s released.
This brings us to the most important point: Blizzard would not be working on Overwatch 2 if the first game was still selling well. That’s just pure logic. They’re certainly trying their hardest to create a sequel worthy of mentioning, but it’s panning out to be an incremental upgrade at best. Overwatch as a game has plateaued, in no small part, because of Blizzard’s baffling decisions and inactivity.
How they could afford to let the GOATS meta run for so long is anyone’s guess at this point. There’s a huge disconnect between the developer team and the community. It’s pushing people away. Blizzard’s making solid moves now. But, it’s hard to envision a world in which these small (but important) decisions and changes bring back millions of players who’ve given up on the game.
In that sense, Overwatch is dying. Its regression is just a side-effect of Blizzard’s implosion and bad management. Their most recent Warcraft III: Reforged release was a debacle in every sense of the word. The company is now offering full refunds upon request. They’re aware of the mistakes they’ve made and trying to stop the bleeding. The whole Diablo: Immortal fiasco also comes to mind. The company is making decisions that continue to baffle the minds of many. Overwatch is, in many ways, caught in the crossfire.
And yet it all seems so simple. Blizzard has hardcore fans who’ve been with them for multiple decades. They need to satisfy their vast fanbase, and all will be well. But again, it is this disconnect, this lapse in judgment and communication that is causing the biggest problem.
We’ve also heard of their smaller teams (like the Heroes of the Storm one) disassembled in favor of Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4. They want to finish these installments as quickly as possible. The folks at Blizzard are trying their hardest to rectify their recent mistakes. They’re hoping that these two releases will right the ship.
If that doesn’t pan out, consequences will be dire.
Another reason why fans across the globe are worried about Overwatch is because of its competitive aspect. Before the Overwatch League began, many fans and analysts were extremely skeptical about its success, and with good reason. It was an unproven concept, and Blizzard certainly tried to create an esport out of thin air.
However, they succeeded. Maybe that’s even an understatement. OWL was an absolute, resounding success. It was, of course, far from perfect, but for an esport in its infancy, it did many things right.
This year, however, they’re trying to create a localized model just after two years. Such a thing is unheard of in the esports realm, a monumental undertaking in every way, shape, and form. To create a league that’s not operating on a loss (a big one, at least) is a seismic achievement. But it feels like they’re pushing their luck this year. They’re taking something that’s functioning well and trying to scale it in a way that is forced and far from organic.
If it pans out, great — they’ll make history. But the odds of it happening are extremely small. In doing so, they’re putting everyone and everything at risk, without any concrete reason. Running a localized league creates a logistical nightmare for everyone involved. It creates even more pressure on the 20 permanent partners.
Overwatch is not Call of Duty. It hasn’t existed for almost 20 years. It’s also not League of Legends. It grew fast, but not fast enough for Blizzard to be attempting such a colossal endeavor. Instead, it is a fascinating albeit heavily flawed game that has a price tag. It has done very little to grow and expand in new and unique ways. Instead of further developing, it feels like Overwatch reached a stalemate.
The biggest reason why people still play (and enjoy) League of Legends even after 10 whole years is that it never feels stale. The game is constantly changing, new champions are releasing every few months and the meta rarely stays fixed for long. Riot knows that by updating frequently, they can keep their players entertained and engaged. Blizzard, on the other hand, is still making rookie mistakes and we’re slowly but surely reaching a point where that becomes unacceptable.
Again, the dev team promised they’d do better, but until we see the fruits of their labor, we must stay reserved.
So, in the end, is Overwatch dying? The (really) short answer would be “no,” but it’s not exactly black and white. The game is deteriorating in more ways than one, and that’s a worrying sign. It’s in dire need of attention. Releasing a sequel will not change much if anything at all.
Be that as it may, the game is still every bit as exciting (especially after role lock) and polished as ever. Don’t let the haters deter you from buying it as Overwatch is well worth the asking price.