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OverwatchMay 20, 2021 4:25 pm CT

Overwatch 2 is shaking up PVP with smaller, five-player teams and only one tank

A dozen no more! In Overwatch 2, PVP matches will consist of two teams of five players: two damage, two support, and only one tank. This is a massive change to the sequel’s gameplay that does away with existing team comps, and there’s no telling just yet how the new dynamic will shake out.

A major change like this is also yet another reason why Overwatch 2 has been facing what has seemed to the community like an overly long development process. But today’s PVP-focused livestream showed that the developers are hard at work rethinking how Overwatch should play. Here’s what we’ve found out about the game’s big composition shift.

Tanks should be fun to play (and fun to play against)

Aaron Keller, the new game director for Overwatch 2, said that “tanks can be problematic” in the live game. He said that their abilities can be “noisy” in practice, and that when multiple tanks stack their abilities, it could feel oppressive to play against. He said that taking two tanks off the field would make matches simpler for players to understand and to make those snap decisions in-game.

Let’s be real, in just about any game, tanking tends to be a pretty thankless task. It was the constant bottleneck for World of Warcraft even before Overwatch existed. Overwatch 2 intends to make tanks more aggressive, giving them more ability to really lead attacks instead of just absorb damage — and that could help make them appeal to a wider range of players. Ideally, that would have a snowball effect of reducing queue times and letting people spend more time in game rather than waiting. If that winds up being the actual result, then this could indeed be a positive change.

The goal is both to make tanks more fun to play and less overwhelming to play against.

Let the balancing chaos begin!

Obviously, such a critical composition change has meant that every other class has to be reconsidered by the hero design and balance teams. Lead Hero Designer Geoff Goodman said that once the team committed to the new five-person team format, it required a deeper look at how all of the roles worked together. Having only one tank should change the math required for healing throughput on support players. And it might mean different figures for attacks dealt by the damage heroes, especially because the designers do still want tanks and damage to feel different. Basically, all classes and heroes are fair game for changes. Your main could end up filling a very different niche by the time Overwatch 2 goes live.

During BlizzConline, the devs discussed some of the hypothetical tank changes in the works. They’d noted that they wanted to make the class more aggressive rather than encouraging players to hang back and turtle behind a shield. The livestream showed that Winston, usually a melee-only tank, with a charged long-distance attack. The gameplay demo also showcased Reinhardt’s leveled-up Fire Strike ability.

Nothing that was shown off during the livestream is guaranteed to be in the upcoming release; everything is still a work in progress. But matches in any mode will probably have a faster pace due to the shift to more aggression and one fewer large body to fight through.

Possible pink slips in the OWL

Finally, and most obviously, the announcement will likely lead to a ripple effect of changes for the Overwatch League. Competition for the tank spots on teams will get even more tense with the loss of a main roster member. We can probably expect to hear how the franchises and how the OWL commissioners will be adapting to these changes soon.

It’s possible that teams might be encouraged to run larger rosters with more substitutions. Or tank specialists might have to pick up more flexible play styles to retain their positions. Hopefully for the pros who have been making their living in the OWL, Blizzard will be giving clear and quick communication on how the changes will roll out for the esports side of the business.

New team compositions mark a new era for Overwatch

The game’s leadership talked about this new chapter being the optimal time to make such a dramatic change to the core of how Overwatch works. And, considering the frustrations players have had to the gradual applications of more restrictions to composition and role queue into the live game, they have a good point.

One fewer character at play means exponentially less complicated balance math for a match. My hope is that this change will equate to fewer big shifts to both the definitions of Quick Play and Competitive matches and fewer hero design overhauls. And quite frankly, that’d be good for everyone. Every time Blizzard makes a change to Overwatch, players tend to have a knee-jerk negative reaction against it. And yes, it’s definitely a blow for those people who do specialize in tanks. But we won’t know for sure how the change will feel until more of us actually get our hands on the game. For now, we can only speculate.

From my view, this move seems intended for stability and simplicity. That’s a positive thing for the community, especially after what for many might feel like a stagnant year for Overwatch while we wait for Overwatch 2 to be finished. I’d like to see more people excited about tanking, and for the skill cap on the whole class to be even higher. If that’s something Blizzard can accomplish with a 5v5 format, then the game will be better for the change.

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