Editorial Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of over.gg
In the last few hours further of details have appeared on Major League Gaming's events page including the schedule and maps per round for the $100,000 Vegas Overwatch Invitational set to commence on Friday 16th December. That's ten days from now, maybe eight days before teams will fly out to Las Vegas, and now they casually reveal that the maps are preset for every single round of the tournament - from the groups to the grand final.
You read correctly. There will be no map draft for what was set to be the most competitive North American Overwatch tournament to date. How can we go from the progressive ban-ban-pick-ban-ban-ban at DreamHack Winter to no map draft whatsoever? The mind boggles. Is this a serious competition or is it an art exhibition?
Slasher kindly totted up the map totals (not including more potential juicy Ilios tiebreakers):
- Ilios: 9
- Temple of Anubis: 5
- Route 66: 5
- Eichenwalde: 4
- King's Row: 4
- Hanamura: 3
- Watchpoint: Gibraltar: 3
- Dorado: 3
- Numbani: 3
- Volskaya Industries: 2
- Hollywood: 2
- Lijiang Tower: 2
- Nepal: 2
Originally posted totals were inaccurate and have been updated, most significant changes being Hanamura dropping from 5 to 3 and Route 66 rising from 3 to 5.
The top two maps could be mistaken for the competitive scene's most scorned list, whilst tried and tested favourites like Hollywood languish in obscurity. It's not even about which maps pros like to play, it's which maps they actually spend the majority of their time practising. Do you want to see North America's elite play at their best or not?
As the licensing authority for tournaments of prize pools greater than $10,000, Blizzard received heavy criticism form the pro scene for fixed maps at the first major, ESL's $100,000 Atlantic Showdown back in August. Since then their approach seemed have softened or at least developed in to a more scattergun approach.
The $300,000 Overwatch Open in Atlanta saw teams drafting maps on paper off air, banning until three maps remained. Likewise, BananaCulture's $192,000 APAC Premier used the same ban until X maps remain system which has been pervasive since competitive Overwatch's beta largely due to the influence of OWDraft.com, the most wildly used drafting site.
OGN's $178,000 APEX Season 1 adopted a hybrid system where the maps that could be played in each game in a series were restricted to a particular game mode. Although still not ideal, teams had some element of choice at least. Blizzard's own Overwatch World Cup featured set maps throughout, but can be excused on the grounds that it was literally an exhibition tournament. MLG Vegas is supposed to be a serious attempt to determine who the best team in North America is, but the addition of arbitrarily fixed maps only serves to muddy the waters.
The naive amongst you might think that it is reasonable to expect teams to produce elite performances on all thirteen (soon to be fourteen) maps, but that is simply not the reality of top tier competition in any esport. Teams work hard to develop a subset of maps on which they can perform to their highest level. It does not make sense to spread their finite practice time thinly across every map in the game when they could gain a mastery of a few in the knowledge that they can ban out their worst maps in tournament play.
Blizzard seem oblivious to these simple facts, instead favouring some bizarre last-shall-be-first system where they promote the maps and game modes that the majority of the competitive scene have actively pushed back against since day one. The pain of acknowledging that some maps and modes are simply worse than others seems impossible for them to bear.
No one is trying to shame map creators. There is no hidden agenda behind competitors map choices, they simply pick maps that they feel they can reliably win on. 2CP maps quickly fell out of favour because the number of team fights required to win produced seemingly random outcomes for many teams. Even within the Control / King of the Hill game mode that is heaven to some and hell to others there has been a historical consensus that Ilios was significantly worse than the other maps in part due to random factors like the central pit o' death on Well.
Teams want to feel in control of their destiny and a haphazard fixed map system takes that away from them. A proper map draft like those used to great success in other major esports like CS:GO represents the best interests of the teams and adds further strategy to every fixture. It creates an additional narrative and allows for teams to dictate the terms of the engagement rather than be subjected to some preordained coinflip.
It is confusing and frustrating to see Blizzard fumbling on this issue when they have proven willing to listen to pros and to compromise or even completely U-turn on issues like stopwatch and hero limits for the betterment of the game. I have no insight in the internal politics of Blizzard, but I really find it hard to fathom why they would prefer fixed or even semi-fixed maps beyond their own vanity.
Removing this artificial impediment to competition can only serve to produce better games, which in turn can only fuel the popularity of Overwatch as an esport. Hear the collective plea!