Overwatch's competitive mode is the ugly Mr. Hyde to quick play's superb Dr. Jekyll | PCGamesN

Overwatch's competitive mode is the ugly Mr. Hyde to quick play's superb Dr. Jekyll

Overwatch competitive v quick play

When Overwatch first launched I was drawn into its chaotic world due to something I didn’t expect: it’s a really friendly game. Blizzard games are typically fiercely competitive affairs that don’t take too kindly to newbies, but instead of anger and superiority complexes, early Overwatch matches were filled with joy and laughter.  

And then competitive mode happened. 

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Competitive Play was added a few patches back and introduced a ranked ladder system to the game. After playing ten placement matches, players are assigned a rank which increases with competitive mode wins and decreases with losses. Anyone with a profile level of 25 or above can play, in seasons that last two-and-a-half months. This mode is a distinctly stakeless affair: aside from an animated spray and two special icons for the top 500 players, there’s nothing really to win. No prize funds, no big surprise gift for the winner. And you only need to get past the placement matches to bag yourself the season-exclusive new player icon and spray tag. 

Here’s the problem. Despite not having any huge rewards, competitive matches feel like gangs of vicious army officers coming to blows. Voice chat crackles with the growls and snarls of people demanding their team mates do this and that, while the text chat scrolls like an asterisk-studded Star Wars opening crawl. 

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When playing competitive I tend to opt for Mercy, as I know she’s my strongest role. Yet despite the gold medals and high points for healing, the entire team is ready to blame me for momentary demises. 

“Mercy, I was JUST THERE!” types a furious Genji, apparently insistent that he is a priority over my two other patients (who are actually in greater need of healing). Of course he has no way of knowing if he should be a priority since he can’t view allied health guages in the same way I as Mercy can. Only I can see who requires the light of the healing rod. 

On another match I play Pharah, again one of my stronger roles, and play a pretty standard game. Nothing outstanding, but plenty of good direct rocket strikes and kills. 

“We had a Pharah!?!?” exclaims one player in the stats screen after our defeat. “How did we lose?” Another player on the team tells me I’m not high level enough for competitive, insisting I go away to quick play where I “belong”. 

Overwatch competitive v quick play

These are sanitised versions for the sake of keeping this article clean, but you get the picture. The most notable thing is that in each match it isn't just me who’s receiving blame for team failures, but everyone. Regardless of if you are a top-tier player with hundreds of hours behind you, or someone on their first competitive game, you are at fault for something. And with the exception of just a few matches, competitive mode feels this oppressive all the time, come win or lose.

Some of this is almost certainly down to the lack of any scoreboards, which comes with its pros and cons. Without a list of players ranked by performance, no one can be singled out and bullied for being the ‘worst’ player. But rather than preventing any toxicity, in competitive mode the absence of an identifiable weak link just seems to mean that everyone is considered a valid target for vitriol. 

Four hours into competitive, I bowed out. “This is it,” I thought, “the elitist trolls have taken over”. I feared my enjoyment of Overwatch was over. 

Overwatch competitive v quick play

Thankfully I was wrong. Reverting back to quick play mode, I found the friendly camaraderie for which I adore Overwatch so much remains stoic. Here there’s a thumbs up for every heal, a wave to everyone before the doors open. 

My most recent game saw me play Bastion among a team of five Anas, defending on Numbani. The enemy team weren’t quite as enamoured with Overwatch’s new medic sniper character, and so opted for a balanced group. We shouldn’t have stood a chance. Yet friendly teamwork kept our rag-tag team together, winning us the match without the objective vehicle making it past the second checkpoint. 

“Bastion, I LOVE you!” typed one of my Ana comrades after I racked up a triple kill, preventing the enemy overwhelming us. It was a compliment that genuinely made me grin. 

It’s as if Overwatch is a land divided by a great river, with two separate populations living on either side. One is a relaxed group of trigger-happy hippies, the other a pack of hungry wolves. The point of confusion is that surely these two groups intermix: with the wolves being pleasant in quick play while the hippies go feral in competitive. 

Overwatch competitive v quick play

I’ve looked at the reasons why players are abusive online before, but generally there’s not quite the divide between game modes that I’ve been experiencing in Overwatch. So what is it about a number that makes players so angry? Because that’s all I can put it down to: the only thing you risk when playing competitive is your ladder rank dropping. A rank, I should add, that gets reset every season. Is that numerical indicator of your skill so important that people will belittle, insult, and attack each other? For some, apparently so. 

I’m not on my own in these experiences. Colleagues at this site and friends at other publications have told me they’ve seen similar behaviour trends. And while for some players their experiences may differ, these occurrences show that not even the cartoon visuals, lack of leaderboards, and promotion of friendly emotes can block out this seemingly everlasting problem in games. 

But those elements are a push in the right direction, and I maintain my view that Blizzard have certainly made an attempt at forging a welcoming community. Both they and other developers now need to look forward and figure out what the next step is on the long path to eradicating online abuse.  

Have you seen a big difference between quick play and competitive mode in Overwatch? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

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HersheySquirtle avatarAnAuldWolf avatarskywardshadow avatar
HersheySquirtle Avatar
1 Year ago

Performing on-the-fly triage for continuously changing conditions is often a pretty thankless job. I know what it's like to constantly perform quick Band-Aid heals to teammates as they all work to take down the enemy. I understand that it's often necessary to heal four people a little bit rather than always having the convenience of a single, obvious healing target (usually an effective tank).

I have also experienced what it's like to continuously heal a single target who's in a one-on-one firefight with an enemy (so 2vs1)... and that skirmish takes way longer than it ought considering one side is nearly invincible—and then the solo enemy shifts their sights to me, and I end up killed while my teammate has still failed to mitigate the threat.

DPS heroes who do their job well (or at least getting in a few moments of solid damage output) receive accolades after the match, sometimes even when their team loses. If they do poorly, it's often "because of" the tank and/or healer who failed in their duties.

Doing your job effectively as a healer or tank too often just means you smile and nod knowingly to yourself for a job well done. If you're lucky, teammates thank you because they recognize and appreciate the big shield that was protecting them or the yellow or white glow around them while they blasted missiles or obliterated enemies with their turrets or auto-aim visor.

But if the team loses, it's a safe bet that there'll be flack aplenty for the Mercy who didn't get any protection or the Reinhardt whose shield people failed to utilize.

Your Pharah anecdote also closely mirrors my friend's experience the other night. He selected Mei, his usual go-to hero. After the first loss, he was called out as being foolish for his hero choice. Long story short, he surpassed his career best for kills and definitely contributed to our match win. Oh, and he got PotG.

AnAuldWolf Avatar
1 Year ago

This toxic nonsense killed off Battleborn from the outset, too, just pushing for the whole eSports thing. It seems like eSports just isn't a very nice crowd. Casuals seem to be fine, no problem there, and they can generally be really understanding and lovely people.

That Gearbox put competitive PvP as their priority over PvE by such a huge margin that I felt like I was being used, that's what killed off what interested I had in the game (and it was a lot). And Overwatch I don't want to play because -- for me -- there are still too many issues with sexism and ageism that need to be cleared up (did they really need to give Ana young skins?).

It's an unpopular opinion, but I can't help it that I'm kind of a bleeding heart. I spent my life suffering and being dehumanised as a disabled person. I literally (not even figuratively) cannot help myself when I see something that I know would make people suffer.

So Overwatch is not for me either.

As such, I'm playing neither.

skywardshadow Avatar
1 Year ago

Your experience mirrors mine exactly, just different heroes.