The bulk of online multiplayer shooters require raw skill to enjoy. These games typically demand that players push incredible kill/death ratios (killing a lot more than they die) or heroically capture, carry and return flags in order to feel relevant and useful.
Not Overwatch. From the character selection and the team composition to the subtle ways developer Blizzard gently leans in and whispers, “good job, buddy,” Overwatch makes everyone feel like a hero.
First and foremost, this is a game that champions objectives. There’s no deathmatch mode; that is, rounds that come down to killing more players than the other team. Instead, Blizzard created different takes on King of the Hill that force teams to alternate attacking and defending various points in each level. You’re rewarded for taking objectives, not establishing killstreaks.
Blizzard also gave each hero a unique and defined role. While there are characters that focus solely on causing damage (Soldier 76, Reaper, Widowmaker, Hanzo), there are also heroes with great crowd control, defensive capabilities and team support (Symmetra, Mei, Junkrat, Lucio, Mercy, Zenyatta). If you want to be that player who focuses solely on hitting teams where it hurts, you can do that. If you’re not so hot when it comes to developing a strong kill/death ratio in one-on-one bouts, you might be better suited playing a Reinhardt or my personal favorite, Lucio. Blizzard has designed Overwatch to reward players who think about these choices, both during matches and in between them.
One of the biggest ways that Blizzard makes all players feel like they’re contributing? There’s no team scoreboard. I can’t think of a single multiplayer shooter to come out in the last 20-some-odd-years without a team scoreboard. Traditionally it would bring up a table showing each player’s kills and deaths with extra stats, letting you see how well your individual teammates are doing.
In Overwatch, the only true statistics you can see are your own. That goes for both during the match and after. For everyone else, you can see three things: if they’re alive, if they have their ultimate ability ready and if they’re “on fire” (on a roll).
That “fire” system is the other way Blizzard rewards players for more than just getting kills. When you’re doing really well, your character icon spouts flames that other players can see so everyone knows you’re killing it. Pretty much everything that helps your team contributes to being on fire. Kills? Sure, they add to your fire meter. So does healing, building a teleporter, standing on the objective, destroying an enemy turret and moving the payload. If you don’t contribute, your meter drains until it’s gone. If players on your team are on fire, they’re doing a great job.
This fire meter is also a crucial part of how Blizzard handles kills. In most shooters, whoever lands the final blow on an enemy gets the kill, while those who dealt damage before that blow get “assists.” Overwatch doesn’t have assists—instead, everyone who contributed to the kill gets some credit, and the more damage you did relative to your teammates the more your “fire” meter will increase, and the closer you are to feeling like a hero yet again.
Even further, regardless of how much damage you dealt, if you played a part in an opponent’s death, it counts as a kill (or, as Overwatch calls it, an “elimination”). Your elimination total could be just as high as your team’s best player, as long as you did your best to contribute.
Finally, when the game ends, Blizzard awards superlatives for two, three or four of the 12 players. While sometimes these award cards are for elimination totals or kill streaks, they’re just as frequently for things that don’t involve killing. You’ll almost always see an award for most healing, most time spent on the objective, most damage blocks, most barriers sent out and, what I consider the highest honor, longest time spent on fire.
And that’s not even mentioning the “Play of the Game” that replays at the end of every match, a feature that became a meme before the game was even released.
Overwatch brilliantly abandons the traditional format for being good at an online shooter. The way Blizzard designed the game to reward players of all skill levels for showing up and playing the objective—instead of selfishly trying to get as many kills as possible while ignoring the team’s goals—is a goddamn triumph, and I love that it’s pushing players together in a totally new way.
If you can control a character in a video game, you can contribute in Overwatch. Thanks to all the ways it rewards good play, you can feel like a hero, too. That’s incredible.
Joey Davidson has been on the internet writing about video games and nerd crap for something like a decade. Yell at him on Twitter @JoeyDavidson. If you want.
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