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A Whiny Criticism of Blizzard's PVP Design Practices...

Or perhaps I should say Activision Blizzard, as I am not entirely sure which is to blame in this regard. Either way, I'll just be referring to Blizzard as the games I will be discussing were developed and released by them. So welcome to my rant. Here we go!

This is probably going to be an unpopular opinion among more hardcore competitive gamers, and it won't be entirely unjustified. However, let me give some context beforehand of where I'm coming from in regard to this particular criticism.

I am somewhat of a middle of the road gamer when it comes to pvp. I'm not casual, but I'm not exactly hardcore either. I am hardcore in the sense that I play and have played a plethora of games in my 35 years on this planet, but I am fairly casual in my approach to those games. I don't min/max, I don't get deep into the communities anymore, and I don't particularly care if I lose so long as it's fair. My philosophy for pvp gaming is very much, "I play for fun, and only fun." I am not super competitive in gaming, I never play ranked or ladder modes, I could care less about getting all the achievements, trophies, top leaderboard, etc. etc. I like to get on, play some matches, and log off and forget about it.

This is why Blizzard games always appealed to me. With the exception of the Starcraft franchise (which I enjoy for the most part and got into the esports scene back in the Idra, Huk, NesTea and BoxeR days), Blizzard has always been good at one very simple thing: creating fun, simple, casual games that basically anyone can log on and pick up right off the bat. There's a reason World of Warcraft (WoW) became the powerhouse that it is: simplicity. Kids could play it, grannies could play it, moms and dads could play it, dead wildlife could play it, everyone could play it, yay! Blizzard was always good at that fun, simple games...until recently.

With the inception of behemoth title Overwatch (OW) and the now somewhat defunct Heroes of the Storm (HoTS), Blizzard has transitioned into this attempt of actually taking their games seriously when it comes to pvp. This wouldn't be the first time, as they did it with WoW arena as well. But let's be honest, the vast majority of us probably enjoyed battlegrounds in WoW a great deal more. I know I did at least. But given how Blizzard has been pushing the competitive scene in OW and HoTS, we come to this realization that they aren't really that great at implementing pvp mechanics on a level that should be taken seriously.

What do I mean by this? Well, let's take OW for example. OW is an ability based first-person shooter. Each hero has their own unique abilities thus giving the game somewhat of a MOBA feel to it. What does that mean? It means that it's a balancing nightmare.

In OW you have drastically different heroes that can be borderline useless, or outright overpowered on occasion. There are some heroes that have virtually lock-on weapons that you don't have to, or barely have to aim, while others require pinpoint precision to be effective. You have some heroes that are literal speed balls of disruptive tankiness that can soak massive amounts of damage while others die from a fart in the wind. And there's an aspect that most people don't really consider too often: model size. Some heroes are huge and thus easier to hit, yet they aren't always tanks or even slightly tanky. Some that do massive damage or keep the entire team healed are like toothpicks that require that pinpoint precision to take out. It's a jumble of very diverse and 'kinda' complex mechanics that are straight up fun, but in no way shape or form something that should be taken seriously in a competitive environment in my humble opinion. I mean, there is solely one hero that can fly (well two others can fly, but only for few seconds at a time) in the game that quite literally 1/3 of the entire roster has little to no chance of actually killing because they simply have no means of reaching her with their arsenal. How can that be taken seriously in a competitive environment? Also, there's a fundamental problem in that OW is just too flashy. There are a plethora of effects, lighting, explosions, colors and beams going off all at once that make it often very difficult to see what the hell is going on. Again, great fun! But not great for a competitive scene.

The defense of these types of mechanics is that OW is built around countering and switching out heroes on the fly. This is true, but that can lead to a perpetual cycle of nonstop switching that leads to nothing but frustration where everyone is simply trying to get the edge rather than having fun. Plus, not everyone is skilled in every single hero in the game. Most play a small pool of heroes or even one trick pony their ways through the game.

But Blizzard pushed the whole competitive scene anyways. They pushed esports, they pushed pro tournaments, they pushed the ranked and ladder system in the game where they balance the entire roster on the top 1% of players or so. This then leaves the rest of us filthy casual gamers that play for fun in the dust. You know, the ones that are actually paying the bills? Yeah, we're stuck with superpowered cyber ninjas, unhealthily strong healers, and one-shotting archers spamming arrows plus the flying hero that can launch high damage rockets from thirty feet above you leaving you looking to the sky the entire match instead of focusing on the objective or the rest of the enemy team. Ugh!

There is a reason Quick Match is the most played mode, it's because people just want to have fun and play what they want. But when the game revolves around constant balance changes, hero nerfs and buffs in order to tow the bottom line of 'the meta,' then it makes the game less and less fun for the rest of us that aren't playing 14 hours a day to improve our flicker shots or Lucio wall skating boops. That's why I have transitioned to Mystery Heroes as of late, because even Quick Match was becoming insufferable with people getting upset because I don't pick the hero they want me to play rather than the one I want to play. This is all fueled by Blizzard's unwillingness to balance the game for the majority of their playerbase that are playing simply to have fun, and instead putting their soul focus on the top pro players and streamers that literally live off of playing these games. Then there's the fact that the entire game was being balanced around the meta of two heroes and their abilities (Ana and Genji ults, and Ana grenade) for months, maybe even a year?

It is super difficult for me to take a game seriously that has a literal aimbot and wallhack implemented in its systems. I think it's fun, I think it's great for casual, silly gameplay, but I can't in my right mind say that this is something that should be pushed in esports or on a competitive, ranked ladder system. It's baffling to me and I would assume others agree given that the OW esports scene never seemed to go anywhere. MOBAs like LoL and DOTA 2 dominate that market.

But what about Heroes of the Storm? Again, another fun, casual game that benefits greatly from its simplicity. I moved away from League of Legends after Riot decided to get rid of Dominion (The Crystal Scar), which was my favorite and only-played mode since its release all those years ago. No more last hitting; it was just fight-focused gameplay, faster leveling, and a total blast. HoTS has this same feel to a certain degree.

Blizzard took the standard MOBA model, and improved it for casual gamers. Team-based leveling, no last hitting (hallelujah!), no hyper carries, and most fun of all: multiple, diverse maps. HoTS was the casual gamers introduction to MOBAs, and it was great fun.

But what happened? Esports happened. HoTS 2.0 happened. Blizzard began pushing a game into the esports scene that has no right being taken seriously. A game that has a map where you can't even attack the core but can only activate shrines to attack for you, a game where the quick match matchmaking is so bad that you will be placed against a perfect 2x2x1 team of veterans with nothing but noob siege heroes on yours. A game where stealth heroes completely ruin every match they're in by being either stupidly strong (Zeratul, Valeera), ridiculously useless (Nova), or just absolutely infuriating to play against (Samuro). How can anyone take this game seriously?

If Blizzard would have just stayed true to their usual philosophy of making fun games for the masses then HoTS would probably still have a strong and thriving playerbase. But no, they read like 1-2 complaints about the queues to get into QM being too long, and they completely overhauled the matchmaking system in order to match people up in 45 seconds instead of a whopping two minutes (Oh the humanity!). So now QM is completely and utterly broken, but hey, at least you only have to wait 45 seconds to get in a match, right? They implemented hypermobility with Tracer and Genji, so now most of the older heroes are outdated and virtually every new hero now has to have a bunch of mobility abilities to keep up with each other. Mobility creep at its finest...whoopee.

Each new implementation was a step to making the game look flashier and appealing for esports instead of making the game more fun for the average player. This resulted in many cool, awesome looking heroes that were just an absolute chore to play against. Like Hanzo, Hammond, Pharah and Genji in OW, many heroes just ended up not being fun to play against. They aren't overpowered or broken by any stretch (well maybe Hanzo is in a way), they're just not fun to fight.

This alienated gamers, and they left. Many went back to LoL and DOTA. Others Smite. It sucks. It sucks because I don't want HoTS to fail. I never wanted it to. I enjoy the fun, diverse maps and objectives, the heroes from the entire Blizzard universe, the more slow-paced style of the game versus the fast-paced, instant-delete style of LoL (with the exception of Zeratool who instakills all the time). HoTS was a fun, casual game for casual gamers and they butchered it (no pun intended).

So what can Blizzard do going forward? In my opinion, they should just stick with what they always did best and focus on the casual gamer, the everyday Jane and Joe that work hard each day, get home and just want to chill and play some games without having to worry about what's going on in the meta or what drastic, sweeping changes or implementations Blizzard did in the last patch that's going to ruin their game time. They should focus on balancing around the most played game modes: quick match. Forget esports, leave that to Starcraft or design a game specifically just for it.

The main problem I'm seeing with Blizzard as of late is they are trying to appease everyone. They are trying to make everyone happy, the casual crowd and the hardcore competitive crowd. But that simply doesn't work. At the end of the day, they need to choose a side and go with it because trying to play both teams just leads to disasters like HoTS. Personally, I think they should side with the majority of the playerbase, the casuals. It just makes sense from a business standpoint as well as a design one. Balance the game around its main playerbase, not the top 1% of players. Problem is, those that suck will always complain, but if Blizzard does it right, their games can be accessible to all without breaking it. I think they could pull it off. And by all means, have your competitive modes and esports if you want, just don't focus on that or balance around it. Just because some pro Korean mastermind player was able to pull off some gnarly sextuplet no-scope Ashe kill in OW doesn't mean that that hero should now be changed; because who the hell else among us would be able to pull that off? Just because somebody in a HoTS tournament was able to wipe the enemy team with a perfectly placed gravity bomb, doesn't mean the ability should be nerfed. Know what I mean?

All-in-all I hope going forward Blizzard will learn from their mistakes and go back to their roots of making fun games for fun (fat chance, Activision loves money too much). Although I bitch and moan about all this on a regular basis, I still enjoy these games and hope for them to get better and succeed. And I think they have in a sense. OW is pretty balanced now compared to what it has been. But then again, I only play QM and MH. HoTS is a complete travesty right now in QM due to the most incompetent matchmaking system I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing. And the playerbase is a fraction of what it used to be because of it. But that's doesn't mean Blizzard can't bring it back around...right?....g-guys? Well crap. Maybe I'm just being delusional. Either way, keep those chins up. Perhaps one day these big studios will realize that it pays to focus on the player rather than the pros and the money. For if the game is good, the money will follow. Game on my pretties; game on.


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