There are just three options in Rock Paper Scissors — three options that form the mythic triangular power struggle known to everyone from schoolyards to nursing homes. If Overwatch and its 21 heroes aren't careful, they'll be just three options in that game too.
Bold! I know. And maybe it'll be more like four heroes, but as Phase 2 of the Overwatch beta enters its 3rd weekend — a few tournaments now behind it — the emerging competitive community has some serious soul-searching to do. The cause for concern? There's a brewing ideological divide questioning if the competitive format should explore limiting heroes within a team build or not. With current competitive players falling on both sides, it's important to know why this issue is coming to the forefront only now. For more on that, let's break it d — nope, not gonna do it.
Ultimately, the earth-shattering smoking gun responsible for the sudden surge in players gravitating toward resurrecting the limitations idea is the "diversity" debacle seen in last week's GosuGamers NA tournament. If you missed it (bless you, child) it looked a bit like this:
That assault on your eyes is the egregious double Winston, double Reaper, Lucio & Zenyatta strategy that essentially takes the "2x" meta we've seen in the past (2 Tank, 2 Support, 2 Damage) and focuses it into a chaotic full-frontal aggressive death ball. "Nice strat!" You might say, and it certainly was, proving to be dominating and unmanageable for teams unsure how to attack a build of high HP and constant shielded DPS.
How was it eventually countered? It wasn't. But if you can't put out your own fires, you burn your enemy too. You mirror the strat and you throw it back at them. Fire versus Fire. May the best gamer win. You end up having a Grand Final that looks something like this.
The question on the competitive community's mind right now is whether or not that is an issue at all. So is it?
For many, in a game with 21 heroes seeing just 4 of them used (give or take an overpowered Genji) is nothing short of problematic. While words like "Grand" and "Final" might be premature in a beta — and a closed beta at that — the concern is anything but. If there is a problem, it is better that we recognize it now. To make that decision we need to first understand how the current Meta works.
For better or worse, Overwatch functions as a real-time strategic Rock Paper Scissors throw-down. Since a team can never be quite sure how many of each hero or hero type they'll have to contend with, the best understanding of the meta is to build a composition with a healthy spread of each type (2 rock, 2 paper, 2 scissor — or the 2x strat mentioned above) and see what happens.
The larger issue on the back on many minds is whether it's possible to discover a single hero that best fits each category. If it is, and if hero stacking remains allowable without limitation, the Meta suddenly breaks down, Lucio style, into the dull 3-4 hero standard seen in GosuGamers W#4. If that turns out to be true, competitive OW will have achieved organically what competitive TF2 had to artificially force: a standard and "best" hero build which inevitably pushes other heroes to the wayside. Unlike in TF2, however, OW has more than double the character pool. It would be nothing short of tragic, and possibly eSport-killing to see 18 heroes suddenly fall out of the meta because 4 heroes were just better most of the time.
But let's not be alarmists. Said, Mixup team member and Overwatch personality, Seagull:
I feel like the hero stacking debate is a dangerous argument to be having at this stage in the game. I think as beta players it's our job to point out the game's issues - if there is a dominant strategy, it's our duty as competitive players to let it play out as much as possible and find any possible counters in order to let the developers better balance the game before release. Hero limits should be a last resort in response to a dominant strategy ruining tournaments for months at a time with no balance changes, not a kneejerk reaction to a metagame in beta being obnoxious. There are legitimate concerns about balance issues and hero stacking for the long term (slight imbalances can lead to hero stacking) but from my perspective that's Blizzard's problem to deal with, not ours.
Seagull is not alone in this point of view, with the prevailing competitive attitude leaning toward waiting to see what happens in subsequent tournaments before setting hard limits. After all, what works one week might not work the next once team's break it down (Lucio sty . . . oh you get the point) and formulate a counter. The ubiquity of the 4 heroes currently in question could be nothing more than a symptom of OW's underlying Meta: that when you lack the knowledge to counter a strat, the safest option is to simply mirror it.
With a full week to prepare and practice, all eyes will be turned to this weekend's GosuGamers #5 to see if teams have — or even can — present an effective counter build that isn't simply regurgitating it back at the offenders. Whether or not teams can actually do this will heavily influence the limitations conversation moving forward.
Even if teams do fail, the answer could simply lie — as Mr. Seagull suggests — with future balance patches, not necessarily in a format that imposes restrictions. If this ultimately means nerfing the big bad bully monkey, well then that is just fine with me.