My oh my are there some exciting changes coming to Overwatch for Competitive Play Season 2.
Here are the big bits:
- Skill Rating is changing from 1-100 to 1-5000
- Tiers are being introduced (Bronze, Silver, Gold, etc.) that you cannot fall out of (except Master and Grandmaster)
- Competitive Point rewards are being multiplied by 10 (goes for banked CPs too) - but so is the cost of golden weapons
- Sudden Death is being removed
Note: Season 1 ends this Thursday, 18th August, and Season 2 begins 6th September - although that date could still change.
Why is Skill Rating changing? Because clawing away at fractional slithers of advancement didn't feel good, let's face it - and who understood how much the progress bar was sliding left or right anyway? - and because people were becoming too fixated on a number.
Also, achieving a Skill Rating of 60 or higher is bloody hard to do and means you're bloody good at the game - but it doesn't look bloody impressive, does it? "If you had 60 Skill Rating you were in the top six per cent of all Overwatch players," said Kaplan. "But it didn't feel like that. We see that '60' and a lot of us go back to our school days and go, 'Oh what did I get a D on this? 60 is terrible!'"
Having a relatively tight-fisted system also meant people would cling to their highest achieved Skill Rating like a man overboard would a lifebuoy. "I'm a 52 - this 51 isn't really me!" they would probably say. Blizzard doesn't want that association - that numberfication of players.
"We want Skill Rating to be that gauge of where you're at as a player - how am I performing right now on any given night or any given play session - but we don't want that number to be the thing you associate with you as a Competitive player more than anything else," Kaplan said.
It's for those reasons Blizzard has widened the Skill Rating scale to 5000 as well as introduced tiers - a system very similar to League of Legends, our dashing guides writer Chris Tapsell tells me.
Blizzard wants you to associate with tier rather than a number - and to chill out a bit about that number which, by design, has to fluctuate (and will do so in pleasingly whole numbers rather than itty-bitty fractions).
"What we want to do with the new system is try to focus you more on 'I'm a Gold player; I'm on average playing at a Gold skill level. And sometimes my Skill Rating goes up or down but I generally think of myself as a Gold player.' And when I see a Silver player, or a Platinum player above me, I have a general idea of what their skill level is or how they should be playing the game," said Kaplan.
There will be seven tiers grouped roughly every 500 or so Skill Rating points, said Kaplan (although that breaks into nine groups so maybe lower brackets will be wider?) and he named six of them: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master and Grandmaster. That's my best guess at the order.
Importantly, once you achieve a tier you won't drop out of it (not true of Master and Grandmaster tiers), even if your Skill Rating drops below the entry threshold for it. And perhaps more importantly still, your end of season reward will be based on the highest tier you achieved.
"We feel like this will feel better for players," said Kaplan. "They'll know that they're a Gold player and if their Skill Rating drops into that Silver range they'll get it back after a couple of nights, or a week, or whatever.
"We don't want to have that debilitating feeling that players have when they lose something in the game. That 52 Skill Rating player [in the current/soon old system] feels just terrible when they drop down to 51. We want to get rid of that feeling."
How does that work with grouping with higher-tiered friends? When the patch goes to the test realm the grouping range will be within 500 Skill Rating of each other.
"You have to realise that what we're fighting with here is the desire for people to play with their friends versus the unfairness of widely disparate Skill Ratings grouping with one another," said Kaplan, "so it's a tricky place for us to get to in terms of balance. If it's too aggressive we'll loosen up on it a bit."
There will be a Skill Rating decay for people in Diamond, Master and Grandmaster tiers if you don't play a Competitive match for seven days. The rate of decay is 50 Skill Rating every 24 hours, and will have a floor of the bottom of Diamond tier.
"We really want those top-end players to not just earn their spot and sit there for the rest of the season - we want them to be playing competitively and earning their spot so they'll have to keep active in the system," said Kaplan. "It's not brutal; it's not like we're asking you to play 20 hours a day - we're just making sure that you're checking in with the system and still playing."
Also, a pre-requisite of entering the top 500 will be playing 50 matches, to prevent people lucking their way there.
Those are the major Competitive Play changes for Season 2 but there are other alterations too, including the removal of Sudden Death, which no one really liked because one team always felt like it got, in Kaplan's words, "the bum deal". "All of Sudden Death is going away," he said.
The time bank system will rule in its place, and there are adjustments to how this will be implemented to be both fairer and more aggressive on time. Indeed, Blizzard is trying to shave time off the whole Competitive Play experience so games don't take as long. It will be better to wait for more specific patch note details on these changes, although Jeff Kaplan discuses some of them briefly in the video if you particularly care.
Incidentally, Kaplan didn't explain why Competitive Points are being multiplied by 10.
Elsewhere in the world of Overwatch: the community are calling for Blizzard to create a Zarya victory pose modelled on the real-life victory pose of Spanish weightlifter Lydia Valentin. Someone has even drawn a picture of how it might look (above).