The Overwatch 2 developers on Blizzard’s Team 4 talk a lot about how excited they are. But I can’t help but wonder whether the word they’re looking for is ‘relieved’.
While fans have waited a long time for Overwatch 2 news, it’s easy to forget that on the other side of that coin is a group of developers who have had to remain quiet about the work they’ve done for the past several years.
“Morale is really high and we can’t wait to not only play this game with everybody but also just talk about it,” says game director Aaron Keller. “We really haven’t been able to do that for a long time.”
That relief extends to the Overwatch community. For over two years, players didn’t receive any new heroes or competitive maps, and news on the sequel had fallen largely silent. When a rumor hit late last year that Overwatch 2 was being delayed into 2023, things became pretty concerning. Players and content creators alike wondered if their relationship with the series had ground to a halt.
However, while it’s taken a long time to get here, Overwatch 2’s future is looking very bright. As revealed in today’s showcase, the sequel is launching as a PvP game on October 4 and is becoming a fully fledged, free-to-play live service thereafter, with a commitment and roadmap that outlines content for years to come. The vague, amorphous promise of Overwatch 2 is no more, and hard numbers and plans have replaced it – such as nine week seasons, and a hero at least every other season.
“Now the whole plan is out there for players to understand,” says Overwatch VP and commercial lead Jon Spector.
Even in its prime, the original Overwatch never had such a defined future. Now Overwatch 2 players have a structure and timeframe. With that definition comes something potentially scary for the team though – a promise. But Blizzard has realized that it’s important to show players the lay of the land in advance.
“A lot of people play our game or other games as their main hobby, they invest a lot of time into it,” Keller says. “Without that information of what’s coming, sometimes it becomes hard to either stay excited for it, or plan how much time they want to spend in it, or what it means to them.”
“What we want to be really clear with our players about is [the October 4 launch], that’s the beginning,” Spector adds. “And each season the game is going to evolve and grow and we’re going to be regularly adding new and exciting things for them to do. All of that together is the Overwatch 2 experience. We wanted to make that feel really real for players, which is a lot of what drove our decision to release more information about that roadmap.”
The pace of the roadmap is enabled by new technical achievements. On top of the team growing several times larger than the original Overwatch unit, it has developed tools and engine updates to allow for faster and easier building.
“I think [with] our technology, you’ll see we’ll be able to keep Overwatch a very living game,” says art director Dion Rogers.
Of course, while all of this is exciting news for Overwatch 2’s future, a question lurks in the shadows like Reaper preparing an ambush – why has it taken so long? The game was originally announced in 2019, and bar a couple of live streams, up until this year, it was pretty quiet.
The big switch
In conversation, it becomes clear that around a year ago, there was an internal shift in Blizzard’s Team 4. Where once the experiences of PvP and PvE were packaged together, the developer made a decision to separate the two to get them into player hands faster.
“When we [originally] made the decision to start focusing on Overwatch 2, it really made it so that both parts of the game had to be released at the same time. And as we [were] iterating more and more on some of the more innovative gameplay for the PvE side of Overwatch 2, it just meant that it was going to take longer for the PvP, any of our PvP features, to go public,” Keller says.
“The decision was, we want to be able to release stuff as frequently as we can and it’s taking us too long to be able to get any of that out in front of players. So we made this big switch. It has been a really fast-paced year where we have had to do a lot of things to turn this massive ship that was going in one direction, to go in another direction – in order for us to be able to fulfill one of our key values for the game, which is to be able to continually update it.”
In an interview (opens in new tab) with popular Overwatch YouTuber Stylosa in 2020, previous game director Jeff Kaplan confirmed that Echo would be the last hero in Overwatch 1. That proved to be true, meaning the game still hasn’t had a new character since April of that year. It seems that when Keller picked up the reins in 2021, the need to get more into player hands became an urgent priority – hence this shift to a more piecemeal release approach.
“I just want to reiterate that we don’t have a value of holding onto content,” Keller says. “We don’t want to develop things and try to pull it together into a big box release. We’d rather just put content out when it’s ready, and do it as quickly as we can.”
Defining the future
When Overwatch launched in 2016, it arrived in a world that was still trying to figure out live service as we know it today. Fortnite, Apex Legends and Warzone weren’t yet released, and the monetization of free-to-play seasons and battle passes hadn’t hit the masses. Because of that, Overwatch has been tied to a dated model of a full price purchase and lootboxes as microtransactions ever since. One could argue the title was never truly a live service at all.
That’s why this updated model is an enormous deal for Overwatch, as much as it is for the community. Overwatch has always been a game that people love, but in the last few years, that appreciation has felt unrequited. Players continued to play, but without much support from the developer.
Thankfully, Blizzard’s Team 4 has clearly decided to end the one-sided interaction. The live service model, hard numbers and defined content outline are the concrete bricks that now pave the road to Overwatch 2. At least, that’s the plan.
There’s a saying from the first Overwatch character cinematic, Recall (opens in new tab): “Never accept the world as it appears to be, dare to see it for what it could be.” While fixing the world may be beyond Team 4’s grasp, with this promise of continued support for years to come, Overwatch is finally daring to become the series it always could be.