It’s no big secret that game developers and designers, especially those on the balancing team, spend hours and hours trawling through player data and statistics. While smaller games tend to focus on the casual competitive scene, bigger games, like Overwatch, have an ace up their sleeve – they’ve got a professional esports scene to look at too.
These are players who are at the top of their game and in a hero-shooter like Overwatch, where there’s countless heroes and abilities to master over a variety of different maps and modes, learning how to tune characters without upsetting the overall balance of competitive play, is quite the challenge. So, Blizzard uses it to its advantage.
In fact, when it comes to balancing, Jeff Kaplan, Overwatch’s game director and Blizzard vice-president, believes the Overwatch League and its players are key.
“One of the best things for the game of Overwatch – for all the players of Overwatch – has been the Overwatch League,” Kaplan tells PCGamesN. “Because we get players playing at such a high competitive level that it lets us as developers understand the game much more quickly than we would otherwise. I think the amazing coaching staff of the Overwatch League and the players really force the game to coalesce in a way that it wouldn’t normally.”
While Kaplan and his team regularly engage with regular fans like you or me on the official forums, he also works closely with the professionals through Discord. There, anyone from a franchised team can offer their two cents on quality of life changes and raise any concerns. Add in a monthly open forum, and suddenly the development team is being kept very, very busy.
“Not only can we watch them play, observe, and track all of their statistics which help us tune and balance the game, we can also get their quantitative feedback, as well as their qualitative feedback, which is very, very useful to us,” he adds.
In fact, if you look at the most recent Overwatch patch, there’s two particular changes that we can attribute to the professional scene – the changes to the Hollywood elevators and the experimental changes to Soldier 76. Although the former is less serious and more of a quality of life change, the latter has the potential to really mess with the meta.
Here, Soldier 76’s gun is being changed so it follows more of a recoil system similar to that in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Valorant. “Players who sit at a very high skill cap, like the Overwatch League pros, prefer mechanisms where their skill can overcome deficiencies in guns or aiming, rather than depending on something like bloom, which adds a random spread they can control less,” Kaplan explains. “A lot of that feedback came from the pros.”
The professional teams can even email Kaplan and his team directly if they want more of a direct action, although it seems like they’re being kept busy enough already.
Casual players can only dream of this type of access, but whether you’re a regular viewer of the Overwatch League or not, you can’t deny that these guys haven’t improved the game for the better and for everyone.