BlizzCon managed to raise quite a few brows this year. However, it was, on the whole, a great success for Overwatch. With Hero 29 officially live and enjoyable for PC players on PTR, the dust is beginning to settle enough to return to old ongoing issues in the Overwatch community. Perhaps not front and center, but rather the big proverbial elephant in the room is the issue of an Overwatch role queue.
Blizzard has no specific plans to add a role queue system yet. However, they have expressed on multiple occasions that it is something they are considering to help balance ranked matchmaking. Role queueing could drastically change the way we play Overwatch, which, of course, makes it quite a controversial issue. So let’s talk about some pros and cons of role queue in Overwatch.
The Overwatch Puzzle
For those unfamiliar, team composition is a key factor in the team-based play-style of Overwatch. Six players are randomly grouped to battle the opposing six-member team for control of points, to escort payloads from point a to b, or a combination of both.
Characters are sorted into three classes: tank (shield), damage, and support (healing). Different characters within each class have a variety of abilities which aid the team in different ways. The goal is to strategically compose a team of heroes from each of those classes capable of defeating the enemy team and achieving point/payload objectives.
The most effective strategic composition, or meta, changes according to trends, hero balancing changes, or new characters added. However, a generally accepted starting point for competitive team building is the 2-2-2 formula: 2 tanks, 2 damage, 2 support. This can be tweaked according to skill level, necessary counters, or personal preferences at the will of the player. Building a team with no healer or tank at all, though, is a sure-fire way to lose a match.
Major problems arise when six damage players are randomly placed on a team together and personalities clash because no one wants to tank or heal. A role queue system would, in theory, reinforce the 2-2-2 setup by ensuring that each team has players willing and skilled enough to play characters from each class. Every player entering the queue would specify tank, damage, or support. The system would draw two players from the tank pool, two from damage, and two from support. All players would then enter a game knowing precisely what role they would be expected to fill.
Role queueing is primarily an issue for competitive (ranked) play where just a few losses due to bad matchmaking can drastically drop a player’s individual skill rating (SR). If the team is guaranteed all functioning parts with a 2-2-2 set-up, what’s left is to develop individual game sense and mechanical skill. If players can focus solely on self-improvement, SR will more accurately represent their actual abilities and, in turn, allow for more precise matchmaking with other similarly skilled players.
Thus players will experience consistently better quality games. Sounds like a dream come true to those of us who have taken SR nosedives for silly issues outside of our control.
The Overwatch Worksheet
The thing is, a large part of ‘getting good’ at Overwatch is learning situational awareness and developing good game sense without having our hands held. We weren’t necessarily told we needed at least one tank and one healer, who reads those hero selection suggestions, right? That slowly ingrained itself in our minds over hours and hours of game-play trial and error. Six damage heroes just doesn’t typically work. Six support with enough skill, though? That could happen.
The beauty of Overwatch is the ability to try different combinations, and the 2-2-2 formula does to Overwatch what the worksheet did to high school biology. It’s boring, repetitive, and formulaic. As a player becomes more skilled and climbs the ranks, they should be able to recognize and execute for themselves whatever they need to do to succeed in any new situation. If they know they have the skill and team support to make some crazy, outlandish comp work, why shouldn’t they be allowed to?
Reinhardt, Reinhardt, Reinhardt
What’s more, a 2-2-2 role queue still doesn’t ensure that your team will have the “correct” tank or support. In a recent interview, lead system designer Scott Mercer rightfully pointed out that role queue does not guarantee any team a Reinhardt main. Reinhardt’s uniquely powerful and mobile shielding ability is highly desirable to teammates seeking to avoid damage.
But one team might instead receive two DVa-and/or Zarya mains who have no experience with Reinhardt. While not inherently bad, the 2-2-2 system still can’t guarantee that teams start on a completely equal footing without requiring the exact same six characters on every single team. That’s not going to happen.
Don’t get too excited if the topic of variety within each class makes the 2-2-2 setup seem slightly less formulaic. Keep in mind that a 2-2-2 role queue wouldn’t allow for the once-popular triple tank meta from way back when. You’ll get two tanks, but they may not be the ones you need. And if they’re not, you can’t do anything about it because you signed up for damage and that’s that.
A Gentle Suggestion
Who says a queue system has to be rigid, though? Perhaps the system could gently suggest player roles. Flex players could queue as tank, but still have the ability to switch if necessary throughout the game. For example, let’s say a team starts out with Reinhardt, Zarya, two healers, McCree, and Reaper. The other team has a Pharah/Mercy combo preventing the team from breaking choke.
Reinhardt is soaking up damage like a champ while Zarya treads water. McCree is struggling to deal with PharMercy by himself but the only other character Reaper is skilled at is Junkrat. The Zarya knows she’s a killer Sombra and could effectively flank to hack the PharMercy out of the sky. Team willing, Zarya switches and the team takes the first point with only one tank. The team has security in knowing it has a reliable second tank if necessary, but still maintains the ability to adapt as needed.
The caveat is, of course, the unfortunate ease of abuse of this system. World of Warcraft LFR queues for DPS often extend for an hour or more because there are far more DPS players than tanks or healers. If queues became comparable in Overwatch, many players would likely queue as tank or support and immediately switch to DPS.
If a rigid queue system is necessary, maybe it’s important to think about who would benefit most. Let’s assume advanced players already know the ins-and-outs of team composition and have more mechanical skill. Perhaps strict role queues are best for lower ranks where players need more structure to get a feel for strategy. It wouldn’t make up for lack of skill, but could serve as a scaffolding. Over time, it could withdraw slowly as players rank up and gain more freedom of choice.
The irony is that many in support of role queue are higher-ranking players concerned with finding balanced teams among their smaller pools. Naturally, few players actually make it to the higher ranks. The smaller the pool, the harder it is to generate a diverse team. Role queue might ensure higher ranking teams avoid six Mercy mains on one team.
But that may come at the cost of absurdly long waits because there aren’t enough diverse players available. The best alternative for higher ranks may simply be to do a little proactive networking. Conveniently, Blizzard introduced the Looking For Group (LFG) system recently to do just that. Speaking of LFG, though, why waste time and effort on a queue system when Blizzard has already made it easier for players to form their own groups?
Looking For Group
Ultimately the problem with LFG boils down to time. Between work or school or other obligations, it’s difficult for players to sync schedules to play together regularly. Solo queueing, though incredibly frustrating, is the most convenient method for playing around busy schedules. A solo queue system fills in the spaces when players can’t find or maintain regular groups. But obviously making a solo queue system work without completely ruining the joy of the game is no simple matter.
It’s worth mentioning that all of the logic in this article completely removes the human element. Having a balanced team is a major step in the right direction. But no matter how balanced a team is, no one can guarantee that the person behind the character is going to play to their utmost ability. Throwers and trolls have pervaded Overwatch game-play since the beginning.
No amount of filtering or structure can weed out someone just having a bad day. Except, perhaps, for LFG. While it may require more player effort to network, LFG gives players the means to connect with like-minded players of similar rank. They can then work together to customize a team with a structure of their choice without being micromanaged by the system. If, of course, they can sync their schedules.
Is There Hope?
Short of forgetting about a role queue system completely, the best existing solution seems to be a 1-1-1 formula. 1 tank, 1 damage, 1 healer, and 3 flex. This option doesn’t solve all of the issues, but it is something of a compromise. There’s still a bit of room for variation among the three flex players so it’s not completely stagnant. Your designated tank may not be a Reinhardt main, but one of your flex players could be willing to fill.
You could even still pull a triple-tank team if you so desired. You may still be waiting longer for matches, and your team may still not work well together, but at least you’re guaranteed a tank and a healer.
Role Queue In Quick Play
While ranked Overwatch is serious business with real loss-of-bragging-rights repercussions, Quick Play is a bit of a toss-up. Depending on who you are, Quick Play is either a place to practice new characters to prepare for ranked play, or a place to goof off, warm up, or cool down. It’s not quite Arcade levels of No Limits or Mystery Heroes silliness, but it is a place where some really interesting experimentation can happen.
Jeff Kaplan recently compared the likely impact of a role queue system to the introduction of character limitations. That major change established that teams could only have one of each character in matches outside of Arcade Modes. Character limitations did carry over from ranked to Quick Play, admittedly for the better. If role queue followed similar patterns, it’s not hard to imagine that Quick Play would also see a queue system to maintain its status as a casual alternative to ranked.
If you’re the type who prefers Quick Play to be Ranked Lite, this might sound like a godsend. On the other hand, if you’re invested in fun and creative comps, role queue would obliterate QP as we know it. Some might direct those players to Arcade games like No Limits. But No Limits often descends into completely ridiculous six-stacks of Torbjorn or Bastion or other ridiculous comps which can quickly make the game hard to enjoy for what it’s meant to be.
While entertaining in its own right, there’s a huge difference between six-stacks of the same character, and creating unique team compositions. In other words, Quick Play is the creative middle ground between serious competition and just plain ridiculousness. That’s an important thing for casual players who want to experience decent, fun games without the pressure of ranked play.
Join The Discussion
Clearly, there’s no one simple answer to the dilemma of role queue. Blizzard is right to take their time to carefully examine the data and consider the many repercussions.
Should players adapt to an enforced 2-2-2 setup? Would the 1-1-1 formula be a better compromise? Are there better solutions? Should Overwatch even have a role queue at all? Let us know what you think in the comments!