The Return to Overwatch

I’ve been taking a break from Overwatch for a while. I got to a point where my favorite teammate, my roommate, wasn’t playing very much, so I was mostly playing solo or with other friends. Unfortunately, most of the time, I got placed with people below my skill level or who weren’t trying to play well, and so I got trounced repeatedly. I’d often wind up with the most kills, the most damage-dealt, the most time on the objectives, and the most kills around the objective, four out of five of the measures of individual player achievement in Overwatch, all despite playing a tank character who is supposed to focus on keeping people alive. One or two out of the possible four (the fifth is healing and all the tanks I’m best with don’t do healing) is not a problem, but consistently getting all four is frustrating, especially when we wind up losing because I’m the only person contesting the objectives or trying to coordinate the team.

I’m no savant. I’m not even an amazing player. I’ve got a good grasp of team strategy, character dynamics, and how to figure out people. I have a few skills I’ve polished very well and I’ve got an excellent sense of timing and battle flow. As a shot-caller, I’m pretty good at figuring out where my team needs to be and what we need to be doing. As a tank, I’m good at being where I need to be. Unfortunately, as I’ve said before but with a different take-away, Overwatch is a team game. I can’t win the match on my own. I can do everything right and still lose. I can call every shot with perfection and lead every charge perfectly, but my strategies are doomed to fail if all the people who were behind me when I started peeled away to do who knows what on their, leaving me to get shredded by an enemy team that stuck together.

It can be incredibly frustrating to lose because my teammates either aren’t trying to win (“it’s just Quickplay, quit trying so hard” is a common refrain when I try to communicate with my team) or everyone is trying to play Call of Duty. I don’t might losing if the other team is just better than we are. It can be incredibly frustrating, just like any loss, but at least I know I lost because they were just better or smarter or faster than my team. Losing because my team is a pile of idiots who pick the worst possible characters or refuse to play healers or tanks doesn’t feel good at all.

A common response to this sort of behavior in matches is to just stop caring. Most of my friends don’t really care or can just shut it off when they started to get bummed by dumb Overwatch matches. They’ll lean into whatever dumb thing the rest of the team is doing and laugh as it inevitably collapses. I can enjoy that. Some of the most fun matches I’ve played have been when we did something dumb that would up working in the silliest way possible, or failing in a huge but hilarious way. The thing is, those matches aren’t super fulfilling to me. The matches I enjoy the most, that I get the most from, are the ones where we execute brilliantly timed plays, where the entire team operates in sync, where we manage to just barely scrape a win because we were slightly better or managed to combine our abilities perfectly. Those feel amazing and they’re the reason I play Overwatch.

I want those games because I feel like I’m learning something new or improving myself. I like forward progress and that’s difficult (if not impossible) to get when you can’t actually play at your current skill level. I don’t like re-treading the same ground again and again because I’m being held back.

I’m sure I’ve screwed up matches for other people. I’m not some poor victim of the twists of randomly assigned teammates, I’m also one of the perpetrators. I can get a little tilted (playing aggressively and unwisely because I’m angry) when I get frustrated. I’m good at keeping my cool and playing consistently, but I occasionally mess up horribly because I’ve misread the situation or made a terrible guess at what the enemy team was going to do. I get that most people aren’t doing it maliciously and I’d probably benefit from trying to help other people play well than lamenting that they play terribly, but there was little incentive for people to actually care during most matches or to try to be a team player beyond winning or losing the match (which people don’t always care about).

That might be different now. Recently, Overwatch added an “endorsements” feature. You can endorse allies for sportsmanship, shot calling, or being a good teammate. You can endorse enemies for sportsmanship. If you get endorsed frequently, you get rewards and a little ranking thing next to your name. It also shows what you get endorsed for by coloring each endorsement differently and showing the percentage via color around the endorsement level in your name. Now, players are rewarded for actually working as a team beyond a win or loss. You can also spot when people just get endorsed because people see no drawback to endorsing as many people as possible after a match. If they are heavily endorsed for sportsmanship and very rarely endorsed for anything else, there’s a really good chance their opponents are just auto-endorsing them at the end of matches. If their teammates like them, there should be a higher percentage of “teammate” or “shot calling” endorsements.

I’m cautiously optimistic (like always), so I’m willing to get back into the game. I’ll give constructive leadership and shot calling a try again. I’ll do my best to make my teams the best we can be, try to reward good teamwork with endorsements, and hope positive reinforcement is going to be enough to change my experience with the game. If I can get back to a year ago, when I just loved playing the game whenever I had the time, I’ll be ecstatic. If I can stop feeling frustrated every time I play, I’ll count this as a rousing success. The internet is aglow with praise for the endorsements feature, so maybe it really will mean a shift in the game’s culture.

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