Blizzard's New Ranking System Will Change Competitive Overwatch

by Tiffany "Tifa" Chiu // July 1st, 2016

It’s an exciting week for Overwatch fans. “Competitive Play” was released on Tuesday, June 28th for those who play Overwatch on PC. Blizzard ranks players via a “skill rating” system so they can see how they match up against other players directly, and also added gilded weapon skins that you can “buy” with points earned while playing in the competitive mode. There are lots of information out there to find out more about Competitive Play, but let’s take a look at what this all means for the competitive esports scene of Overwatch.

For a lot of games, ranked queue had been an integral part of fostering the competitive community and growing the game into a popular esport (think League of Legends, StarCraft II, DOTA 2, etc.), whereas a poor ranking system, or lack thereof, have in some ways hurt a game’s competitive community. The team behind Overwatch is clearly aware of the importance of a ranking system, given how vocal they have been about its development in Overwatch, but it’s been an uphill battle to find a system that both Blizzard and the community can agree upon.

The past few weeks have been filled with lots of exciting tournaments, including the JoshOG Invitational, One Nation of Gamer’s Operation Breakout, the BEAT Invitational, and more. All of these major tournaments and other ones as well have been utilizing a ruleset unofficially dubbed “Eggplant” which includes a one hero limit, stopwatch rules, and Assault maps such as Volskaya Industries removed from the draftable map pool. For the most part, the players competing in these tournaments prefer these set of rules, so it was quite the surprise when ESL announced their format and rules for the Atlantic Showdown, Overwatch’s first $100,000 tournament.

With many rules in place that were rejected by the community at some point in time, like a rotated weekly map pool instead of a map draft, and utilizing a version of Blizzard’s Competitive Play to determine scoring, Blizzard has had a clear influence on ESL’s tournament in the interest of removing the limitations on content that current popular rulesets, like stopwatch, have. I can definitely appreciate where Blizzard is coming from—having created this amazing game, removing whole parts of it from tournaments is a counterintuitive idea.

Personally, I prefer the ruleset that I chose for Esports Arena’s Agents Rising, which was a great compromise between viewership experience and staying fair and competitive for the players while also solving the issues that Blizzard has with stopwatch rules. Unfortunately, that system was designed for tournaments and only works in a series of games—not a best of one—so it would not work in Overwatch’s ranked queue. It only makes sense for the ranked system in-game and Blizzard-sanctioned tournaments to be similar in format, so it’s understandable that other options are being explored.

Either way, if Blizzard wants Overwatch to shine as an esport, they have a lot of things to polish up in order to make the game truly “competitive”. As Competitive Play stands right now, which will have a big influence on how tournaments will be run in the future, a common feeling is that too much is left to chance, and better players aren’t always rewarded for their skill. Tie breakers are essentially decided by a coin flip, with certain attacking or defending sides having an advantage over the other. Some maps are perceived to be unbalanced when played at a high competitive level. Luckily, the team behind Overwatch is listening very closely and some of these issues have been addressed by Jeff Kaplan, which is a great start.

Competitive Overwatch will be very exciting to watch in the coming weeks, with professional teams transitioning to the format set by ESL in the Atlantic Showdown. I expect rankings to shift and to see new teams come out of the wordwork, with many different factors such as large variety in hero pools contributing to a relatively volatile competitive climate in this still brand new game. Whichever path Blizzard chooses for Overwatch, I do know that the game is in good hands with a development team deeply involved in the community, and some of the best minds in the world behind the game we love so much.

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