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Overwatch developer update: Ranked play, matchmaking and more

Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan returned to YouTube today to talk about some popular topics in the community, including ranked play, the matchmaking system, and a little discussion on the nature of the closed beta as well. Along with the video, Kaplan took to the forums to discuss the topic of banning heroes or maps from matches.

Ranked play is something that’s been talked about, but we haven’t actually seen anything out of the topic just yet — that’s because it’s still in the process of being designed. In the video, Kaplan talks about the difficulties of trying to design a ranked play system that satisfies what players are looking for. The question of what the system will look like is something they’re still exploring internally at this point.

Kaplan went on to talk about how the matchmaking system works and what it looks for. But what struck me as interesting was just how complex that system has to be — in a game where players can literally swap heroes at a moment’s notice, trying to predict who is going to play what hero is virtually impossible. This makes matchmaking far more difficult than you’d expect.

More importantly, the goal for the developers is to get people in matches and playing without too much of a wait. So there are several different factors the matchmaking system looks at, but there are still moments of unpredictability that can’t really be countered. This all goes hand in hand with the blue post, which talks about the possibility of banning maps or heroes in competitive or ranked play. To put it bluntly: It’s probably not going to happen.

Originally Posted by Jeff Kaplan (Official Post)

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We’re not big fans of banning heroes or maps.

For some games, these systems make a lot of sense. RTS and MOBA have good reasons why they implement these systems. Even though Overwatch has some similarities and attracts fans from other genres, we really feel like the game is unique in its own way. The reason to add banning of maps or heroes is to solve a specific problem and even then if that’s the only way that problem can be solved.

I think it’s perfectly valid feedback to say “I don’t like playing against Torbjorn because his turret is frustrating to me”. That’s a problem we need to work on solving. But it feels like a large leap to add banning of heroes or maps to solve that problem.

I am a huge hockey fan and I grew up in LA during the Gretzky era. I have so many fond memories of watching The Great One take the ice at the Forum. It would have made me really sad to go watch the game only to hear that the other team had banned Gretzky from playing that night because he was hard or frustrating to play against…

Lastly, Kaplan talked about the closed beta itself, apologizing to the community and explaining the purpose of all the beta testing and why they’re keeping the closed beta relatively small. They wanted to keep the testing to more of a “traditional” beta, meaning small, closed, and focused. Kaplan did say that he wished that they had just called it an alpha, just because that might have painted a better picture of what to expect from players. That might have been a good idea, in hindsight — the meaning of “beta” has changed significantly for players over the years, with more and more beta tests that seem to minimize the testing over the idea that players are getting a sneak peek at unreleased content.

It’s nice to see the feedback being addressed, particularly with the number of players clamoring for spots in the beta, or just to play the game. Kaplan did say they’d try to figure something out, but worst case scenario, the game is going live by the end of spring and everyone will be able to play at that point. Check out the full video below.

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