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Shot standing behind a wall: why isn't Overwatch's tick rate higher?

The blemish on otherwise exemplary netcode performance.

The Overwatch launch, in terms of server performance, is going very well. But there's an issue the community feels is being ignored and they would like to see changed. It's the game's tick rate.

The tick rate is how often a server updates every second. Generally the higher it is, the more responsive the game. In Overwatch it is the tick rate that's responsible for you sometimes taking damage even though you've run behind a wall, or for your ultimate not going off at that crucial moment even though you swore you pressed it.

There's a delay, you see, between your command, the other people's commands, and how quickly the server can deal with all those. To deal with this Overwatch uses some really nifty tricks and also tends to favour the shooter where there are discrepancies, although there are exceptions to this (see this detailed but understandable video on the topic).

The beef the community has is that Overwatch's tick rate is 20.8hz, which is comparatively low when compared with online games of a similar ilk, such as Counter-Strike: Go and Battlefield 4, which have tick rates of around 60hz. And it's not that Overwatch isn't capable: you can raise the game's tick rate to 62.5hz - but you can only do it in Custom games via a High Bandwidth option in the settings.

The tick rate isn't much ado about nothing; raising it to 60hz would tangibly improve Overwatch's responsiveness, as explained brilliantly in a video by YouTube channel Battle(non)sense. Blizzard even acknowledged this in the netcode video mentioned above, which was posted seven weeks ago (and which announced the High Bandwidth Custom game mode option).

Here's a still from the video showing Overwatch's performance compared to other major online shooters. The Overwatch numbers come from two machines connecting to the server with a 17ms ping.
Cover image for YouTube videoOverwatch Netcode Analysis

"Your latency is a factor, processing time, interpolation delay - these are all factors," said Overwatch lead engineer Tim Ford. "If you are playing a custom tournament against people across the pond (US to UK/Europe) that 60hz update rate's probably not going to help much because it's going to be dominated by a latency."

But, he added: "It'll still help - it'll help a lot. It'll shave off about 20ms on average from the interpolation delay and about 20ms on from the processing time, so that 40ms zone, assuming everyone has a good solid connection, should be good."

So why isn't Blizzard upping the tick rate for Overwatch overall? It hasn't said - and it's this silence that's getting up the nose of the community. Indeed, the tick rate topic was overlooked in a live Facebook Q&A with Jeff Kaplan last night despite being apparently the most liked/popular question there. Instead Kaplan was asked about shaving his beard.

It could be that Blizzard wanted the tick rate lower to ensure a stable launch, so as not to overload the servers. But if it wants Overwatch to be an eSport at the highest level like Counter-Strike, where every millisecond counts, then it's hard to see another option other than to bring the tick rate in-line.

Senior game designer Michael Chu said, during my interview with him yesterday, he wasn't the right person to talk about tick rate. But he did say the team had been gathering feedback since the netcode video was released and "they have made some changes to address some of the issues that have come up".

Cover image for YouTube videoDeveloper Update | Let's Talk Netcode | Overwatch

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