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Feature Article

The Future of Overwatch

Far from over.

Overwatch's first new map Eichenwalde--a vertical battleground set in a derelict German village complete with an ancient castle--is set to launch this September. Last month, the team at Blizzard released the game's first new hero, Ana: a sniper Support character who can heal her teammates from afar. Neither update cost players a penny. Though two relatively small pieces of DLC may not seem like reason to celebrate, the measured pacing of the game's DLC in many ways encapsulates the care and craftsmanship that have helped turn Overwatch into a full-blown phenomenon.

The question now becomes: will Blizzard continue to deliver free, high-quality DLC to its fans? And if so, what comes next? To find out, we sat down assistant game director Aaron Keller during Gamescom and picked his brain about Eichenwalde, Lucioball, and everything coming to Overwatch in the foreseeable future.

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What does Eichenwalde offer players that maybe the other maps haven't so far? What's the focus of this map?

Eichenwalde is one of our hybrid maps. A hybrid map starts with a capture point, and then from there you take a payload to the end of the map. The interesting thing about Eichenwalde is it's our most vertical map by far in the game. Once you take that payload, you have to push it up a series of castle ramparts, and there's a really big height elevation between the start and the end. So you have players using all the different mobility abilities, and they're running around on castle walls, on the ramparts. And at the end of it, they actually have to push the payload across a narrow drawbridge, and on each side of it, there's this drop off.

I can see where this is going.

It's really fun. You can knock people off of it, and it's also a really hard thing for a team to push through. They have to have a lot of coordination and strategy in order to push across that. It's a total choke point on the map, but it's also very open at the same time. It's our first really open choke point that people have had to use.

I can just imagine with that level of exposure and the risk of having to push this payload across, there are going to be a lot of really amazing and frustrating moments that occur at that specific choke point.

Yeah, and it's those moments, I think, that make Overwatch what it is because a whole team has to come together in order to accomplish the objective, whether it's pushing [the payload] across or holding it. You get these great moments where you get Reinhardt with his big shield out in front of the team, and then you might get a Widowmaker, even on offense, up on some of the ramparts trying to pick off some of the defensive members, all the while trying to stay close to the payload and not fall off the side of the bridge to your death.

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My concern when hearing you describe this map is that certain heroes might be better suited to it than others. Particular traversal abilities might allow some characters to scale that verticality a little more easily or quickly. Do you think certain heroes are going to be better equipped for this map than others?

We have a philosophy that we want every hero to be viable on every map. That doesn't mean they have to be viable on both offense and defense, and it doesn't mean they have to be really powerful on every section of the map. So that second area--it is a little bit more open and certain heroes do excel in there, and since it is a payload map, you always want a big, strong tank on your team for that. But there are other sections of the map where there's a lot of side alleyways. The first part of the map takes place in this little German town, Eichenwalde, and there are these back alleys, there are ways through the buildings, so heroes like Reaper can really excel in those areas.

A lot of your maps and other content are tied quite closely to the lore, so where in the overall lore does Eichenwalde fit?

Eichenwalde, like I said, it's the ruins of a small German town outside of Stuttgart on the edge of the Black Forest. And in Overwatch lore, the reason why it's ruined is that there was a big battle that took place here between Omnics and humans during the first Omnic Crisis. There was this whole crusader division here--and the crusaders are people like Reinhardt, these big guys with hammers-- that made this heroic last stand in order to finally defeat the Omnics. The leader of the crusaders and Reinhardt's mentor, Baldric, fell in battle, and you can see his remains at the end of the map. So, the story of the map is, as an Overwatch agent, you're actually breaking into the castle trying to recover his suit of armor.

Will there always be something for fans to pick at and get excited about when it comes to the backstory?

Yeah, there will be. We are committed to doing more animated shorts, we have the comics, we have a graphic novel coming out, [and] we're trying to build as much story into the maps as we can in a first-person shooter. As you know, the core gameplay isn't really about that story, but it's really important to Blizzard to develop the world of Overwatch as much as we can. We feel like we've always been a company that's excelled at world-building. We hope that we can get players as invested in our world as they are in the other worlds that we have.

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This may sound like a silly question, but why is storytelling so important to Blizzard? What value do you guys find in building worlds to this extent?

That's a great question, actually. It's something I've never really even asked myself. I know that at Blizzard, we all love worlds. There's something about building a whole space and bringing it to life that is gratifying to us. If you look back at the original World of Warcraft, the creative director on that was a guy by the name of Chris Metzen. He always called the world of World of Warcraft the main character of the game. So we kind of think of our worlds as the main characters. We want you to feel like you can go and get lost in any of our worlds and feel immersed there and, when you finally shut that game down, kind of miss it a little bit in your real life.

When you're approaching things like new maps, what tends to motivate their direction? Are you looking at fan feedback and trying to fulfill their requests? Are you trying to fill voids you've noticed? Or is it just, "Hey, we had this really cool idea, let's do this"?

I have a feeling it's going to be all of that. The early stuff that we're doing is more about filling a gap. We released our first new hero, Ana, about a month ago. She was really to fill this hole that we thought we had on the Support side of the game. Most of the Support characters in Overwatch are very accessible and easy to pick up. You have Mercy and Lucio, and for them to support their team, they don't really even need to aim to do it. So Ana is actually a very high-skilled Support character. It was something that we were hoping would appeal to almost a different set of Support players than the heroes that we currently had there.

Eichenwalde, there is definitely a story behind it. We also just think it's cool. We want to just deliver a fantasy for the player in all of our maps. And they might not always be totally true-to-life, but we want you to think, "What's my fantasy of a German castle?” and to think of something like Eichenwalde. That's what we are hoping to deliver to players with these maps.

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When you add new bits of content, what challenges does that present when it comes to the balance of the game?

Any time we add a new hero, the game definitely changes a little bit. The meta of the game changes. There is a short-term and a long-term effect on it. In the short-term, it kind of breaks in a really fun way because everybody is playing the new hero. You might run into a team of six of the new hero because everybody wants to play it. In the long-term, I think it's really good for the health of the game.

One of the things we found we need to do is, we prefer to release one hero at a time. During beta, we released three heroes at one time, and that short-term effect I talked about actually became very debilitating. Everybody was just playing three heroes. One of the learning curves that you have in Overwatch is that when you first start playing, you need to not only learn what your hero can do, but what all the heroes on the enemy team can do. So when you're suddenly faced with three new ones at the same time, it becomes very tricky to figure out what you're supposed to be doing. So one of the things that we want to do for the foreseeable future is just release one hero at a time.

Is that what motivated the decision to adjust Competitive Play to only allow one of each hero, to kind of stop that breaking you talked about?

Yeah, and it was actually a really hard decision for us, going from no hero limit to a one-hero limit. It's something that I stand by. I think it was the right decision in the long run.

Can you tease what the future might hold? What's next for Overwatch?

Well, the next piece of content that is going to go live is Eichenwalde. It's going to the public test run very soon. Then in early September is when it actually goes live. But it's not the only thing that's going live in September. We have a huge set of changes coming to our competitive mode. Internally we call it competitive 2.0. We got a lot of feedback on the way that competitive was working and we made a lot of changes to it based on what rank you can actually attain and how we display that to you.

Previously you would just be a skill rating of 0 to 100; now we've kind of expanded it. You can be between 0 and 5,000. But more importantly, we have tiers of bronze, silver, gold. We have these seven different tiers, so rather than a player thinking of themselves as being a skill rating of 62, they can now think of themselves as a diamond level player, and I think it's a lot easier for players to wrap their heads around.

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Are we going to continue to see more new free content past September? Is this going to be a consistent plan moving forward?

Definitely, and it's been our plan from the start. We think it's very healthy for the game long-term for us to be continually delivering new content. Heroes and maps are a really big part of the plan. We also just launched our first seasonal event; it's called the Summer Games. That includes over 100 items for players to collect, and it also included Lucioball--it's like our take on soccer.

We were really excited to see the reception [Lucioball] had because in our point of view, we'd really like to do more things like that. Overwatch is a very intense, competitive game. Sometimes you just need some downtime. For you to be able to do that inside the game itself and play in a mode where you can't actually even die in the mode and play with other people--I think it's great for the health of the game.

Will we continue to see approximately one big new piece of content per month going forward? Will that pacing be pretty consistent?

I don't know if it's one per month or so, but the pacing is relatively right for what we've got right now. It seems like it's enough content with a hero and an event and map, and we keep releasing it, then yeah I think that you'll see that for the ongoing future.

Will we ever reach a point where you start releasing paid DLC for Overwatch?

Nope. That's not in any of our plans. The plan is to release heroes and maps and other content for free.

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41 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for RabidBurp
RabidBurp

Hopefully they have new game modes in the works. KotH and Capture Points get stale as hell after you play them in every single FPS ever.

Avatar image for troll_elite
Troll_Elite

I just hope the future entails a Genji nerf. Probably the most overpowered character of the game.

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mursexxx

@Chernnunos: I'm not sure what the future holds for Overwatch, but I do know we have a troll here.

Avatar image for Henry518
Henry518

@Chernnunos: It has over 15 million players, so yeah, it has a future.

Avatar image for bobbo888
bobbo888

@Chernnunos: you have a future?

Avatar image for deactivated-5845a9a3984cb

i would easily even buy paid dlc's for this game ... compare to shitty games that cost so much more for so little ; blizz is rocking the gaming industry with their quality content

Avatar image for smf0211
smf0211

Blizzard may be the best AAA dev out there.

Avatar image for GH05T-666
GH05T-666

@smf0211: Easily

Avatar image for Crypt_mx
Crypt_mx

@GH05T-666: @smf0211 and even more surprising considering they're owned by Activision...but still I've yet to be disappointed.

Avatar image for RadPro
RadPro

@Crypt_mx: They're not owned by Activision anymore, they bought back their freedom and now have a partnership with them.

Avatar image for Crypt_mx
Crypt_mx

@RadPro: A partnership still means they're greatly involved with the game production and development, they even had members from the CoD team working on Overwatches console shooting. It is good to hear that they aren't owned by them anymore though.

Avatar image for Ruinedz
Ruinedz

@Crypt_mx: Pretty sure the CoD developers were only on board because Blizzard devs didn't know how to handle first person shooters. The CoD devs helped them out with learning how to create those mechanics.

Avatar image for Gravity_Slave
Gravity_Slave

"Previously you would just be a skill rating of 0 to 100; now we've kind of expanded it. You can be between 0 and 5,000."

Why not keep the 0-100 and rank players based on personal performance rather than the team winning or losing? I'm so tired of yo-yo'ing in rank because I get a sh*tty team every other game.

Avatar image for G-Legend
G-Legend

@Gravity_Slave: I agree, but I think it's hard for them to rank everyone based on personal performance as a skill system. A win and loss have to equate as some kind of skill balancing as well even if your team ends up sucking.

Avatar image for dcoutten
dcoutten

All this lore but with no campaign or "wave mode". This is my only issue with this game as it would be great if there were a non player vs player mode that possibly explored the lore in the actual game and not in shorts, comics, and graphic novels. A co-op campaign would perfectly fit as it would also give an option to players that don't want to deal with toxicity or practice more with different characters.

Avatar image for gotthammer
gotthammer

@dcoutten: a single-player or co-op campaign would be nice. Preferably one that explores each hero.

I'd also like something like Starcraft 2's Co-Op Missions (which is kinda like a 'wave'/horde mode, I guess), esp. if it has progression to make your already 'overpowered' hero more OP (for Co-Op Missions only, of course).
Throw in weekly mutations, too. :)

Avatar image for jcharp
jcharp

@dcoutten: I agree. Blizzard has created this fascinating world with some really awesome characters but we don't have a way to meaningful way to interact with it in the game. Don't get me wrong. I love Overwatch for what it is. It's incredibly fun as a team based pvp shooter. But I feel disconnected from the lore when I see Pharah raining rockets down on her mother's head or when Tracer zips around Winston so she can shoot him in the back.

Avatar image for Gravity_Slave
Gravity_Slave

@dcoutten: you SP only guys need to get it thru your thick heads that some games were strictly designed to be MP only. You don't see ppl crying about RPG's not having MP modes...

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dcoutten

@Gravity_Slave: Read my comment again. I said nothing of single player. Over there angry for no reason, at least be smart about it.

Avatar image for Gravity_Slave
Gravity_Slave

@dcoutten: Right but you did say "campaign" (twice). you really want to play semantics?

Avatar image for dcoutten
dcoutten

@Gravity_Slave: Its not playing semantics when all you read is the word "campaign". Campaign doesn't even mean single player. Its just story missions. I said co op as well to clarify. Borderlands is a campaign game but can be played multiplayer just as easily. You also ignored when I said wave mode. Plants vs Zombie GW has a wave mode and that's a multiplayer only game.

There are plenty of good fps games that are not just PVP. Overwatch's main theme is team work not killing other players. So with all this lore which they can not really explore in pvp, there can be a campaign(sorry you don't like that word), missions that still rely on team work. And with this there will be other advantages like getting better with characters you do not normally play.

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PS2fweak

@Gravity_Slave: You did call out "SP only guys", so you were the one who was talking about something else. Titanfall had a campaign(MP), but Titanfall 2 actually has an SP only campaign mode. Two completely different things. dcoutten clearly said "co-op", which is definitely MP.

A lot of us are huge fans of Overwatch and MP in general, but there are a lot of Overwatch players who want some more story based content too. It has such an interesting backstory, so it would be nice to see it explored more in a game. I think it should be separate tho, but it would just be nice to battle against omnics and get deeper into that conflict and other aspects of the story.

Avatar image for MkNYRx
MkNYRx

@PS2fweak: u mean to fight a wave of Bastions and/or giant Bastions? I think I will break my K/M before I get through the first map. I know there are counters for Bastion but 1 v 10? I don't care if you are an expert Genji, you will still get wreck.

But I do want a story mode tho

Avatar image for spartanx169x
spartanx169x

I really wanted to like this game. But the kills are just not satisfying there is hardly any reaction when somebody gets shot. there is so much going on on screen its hard to even tell whats what. I'm not hating, just sayin. Good for people that like it though.

Avatar image for Gravity_Slave
Gravity_Slave

@spartanx169x: it's a cartoon game, not CoD

Avatar image for Scarshi
Scarshi

Make a full-blown Overwatch movie. This is such an original idea. Far better than the reboots, sequels and remakes that are currently bombarding cinemas. Seriously. Non-gamers would love this stuff!

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jyml8582

The Future of Overwatch: What to Do When All of Your Customers Went Back to School.

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RadPro

@jyml8582: Everyone I know that are playing this game are either in their late 20's or early to mid 30's. Troll harder next time.

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KingKalo

Anybody have a team? I kinda want to play this game at a higher level. Im 40 with kids and a ponytail, hit me up

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Schwah

@KingKalo: ponytail ftw

Avatar image for Gravity_Slave
Gravity_Slave

@KingKalo: 1st off- wtf does having a pony tail matter? 2nd-now that you mentioned it..,ewww!

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Barighm

Would really like to see more of the game's world beyond slight snippets, shorts, and blurbs. I know we'll never get a campaign, sadly. Maybe a TV show?

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H0RSE

@Barighm:
Like he said, they have comics and they are working on a graphic novel.

https://comic.playoverwatch.com/en-us/mccree-train-hopper

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Gamer_4_Fun

Very nice play whoever played as Pharah.

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G-Legend

@Gamer_4_Fun: Yeah, it's good to see a competent player displaying the new maps lmao. Usually its scrubs.

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sev2010

I've always liked Blizzard's business model for their games. They introduce a new ip every once in a blue moon, but they continue supporting and expanding it to a point where a new phenomenon is born. Now, with the amount of support they're injecting into this latest ip, it's not too far off to think of Overwatch as another worldwide success, gradually emerging from beneath the surface.

I also think that we should be waiting for a lot of different follow-ups, secretly shaping in the wake of Overwatch. The first thing that comes to mind is either an animated series or a movie based on the game.