I probably spend, on average, 5 or 6 hours a week playing Overwatch. I log in nearly every day, and when I do, I spend at least an hour playing. Often times I’m playing with our own Joey Davidson, whether we’re rolling five or six deep in an evening game or hopping in for a quick session of what we’ve dubbed Overlunch.
Here’s the thing – there’s nothing about Overwatch that I should like.
I don’t like Blizzard games unless you count a passing interest in Diablo. I don’t like MOBA-style games. I don’t like online shooters – especially ones that all but require team play.
But here I am, moving toward a hundred hours deep into Blizzard’s MOBA-inspired online team-based shooter. What gives? Is it a bandwagon thing? Did Blizzard brainwash me? Have I been lying to myself all these years? Not at all. I won’t be picking up StarCraft II, League of Legends, or Battlefield 1 anytime soon.
Overwatch takes elements from all of those sources but somehow manages to avoid most of what I don’t like about those games. It’s like the Reverse Flash of video games.
Like the rest of Blizzard’s stable of games, Overwatch is, indeed, an online game. Unlike most of what they have on offer, though, it’s not an MMO that requires countless hours of play, and it’s not a Real Time Strategy game that asks you to manage a massive battlefield filled with tiny units. It’s also a brand new property, something Blizzard hadn’t jumped into in almost two decades. Even new ventures like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm are built on existing properties.
For people like me who’d avoided Blizzard games in part because of that, Overwatch presented a whole new opportunity. I had a place to get in on the ground floor, and this new property was different from what they’d offered before, so a lot of my prejudice was out the window when I hopped on for the first time.
Shooters, in general, I avoid as a matter of skill. I’m good enough at them, and I can make it through most single-player campaigns on hard difficulty when I’m in the mood. When it comes to online shooters, though, I’m always the source of first blood. I find the other team’s sniper quickly, but I almost always do it with my head, not my rifle. A good team can boost my skill, but it’s pretty rare that I feel like I’m contributing in Call of Duty or Battlefield.
Overwatch, on the other hand, gives me so many ways to contribute that it makes my head spin. While getting used to at least one character in each class is recommended, and necessary if you plan to play in the competitive mode, it’s not absolutely required for Quick Play. Generally speaking, I play as a healer. It’s pretty rare that anyone fights with me for that.
I’m often the lone healer for the team – Lucio or Mercy – or sometimes accompanied by a character like Zenyatta or Ana, who are generally seen as secondary healers. This makes me a crucial member of the team and able to contribute with something that doesn’t involve headshots.
You also pick up experience no matter which class you play, as long as you’re playing the class the way it was meant to be played and you’re working toward the objective. Healers aren’t shooters and aren’t really expected to be dropping enemies. It’s easy to play as Mercy and not pull out your gun for an entire match while still having a great time, both contributing and racking up experience points. Mercy and characters like her are part of the support class, but they don’t feel like support characters. If other shooters put those with the best aim in starring roles, Overwatch is much closer to an ensemble cast.
Despite some inspiration from MOBA-style games like League of Legends and DOTA 2, it’s different enough from those to really matter. Where that comes in is the number of characters, maps, and modes.
Where those games each have over 100 characters, Overwatch has just 22 (23, before too much longer) characters spread across four classes, Learning one character from each class is expected to some degree, and even the idea of learning the ins and outs of all those characters isn’t out of the realm of reasonability.
There is also a load of maps and modes that provide momentary variety without shying away from the core concept of having one team circling around a particular point on the map and the other converging on them to push them out of it.
The one place where Overwatch does line up with all those other games is the online community, and what you get out of this depends on which mode you play and whether or not you decide to put on a headset.
Like any other online game, Overwatch has its fair share of unhappy people that simultaneously think they’re God’s gift to the game and that you’re the worst thing that ever happened to it. If only you weren’t such a bad player whose parents have a questionable lineage and if only you didn’t live a particular lifestyle, they might be able to win! Those people are always going to be there to some degree, but if they’re what put you off, simply staying out of competitive play does a lot to mitigate that aspect. The tone of Quick Play, where I spent my first four months with Overwatch, is very different from the tone of the competitive mode. Getting equipped with a headset is also not nearly as necessary.
Blizzard made a MOBA-inspired, team-based online shooter that downplays, mitigates, or outright demolishes everything that pushes me away from all of those things, and in doing so made a multiplayer game that I’m as happy to log into alone as I am to hop in with five friends. They made a game I want to play out of all the things I don’t want to play.
After years of rolling my eyes at the way people treat Blizzard like they make magic instead of games, I’m ready to say it: Overwatch is magic.