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The virtues of first person in Overwatch competitive play

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Both free view and first person have pros and cons, but one comes out ahead in emotional impact.

Not every teamfight is as clear and readable as this one.
First person view has lots of impact, but can get confusing in a tournament.
Blizzard Entertainment

Overwatch is a first-person shooter, and while its accessible gameplay and striking characters drew millions of players into the game, it’s having a hard time translating that first person view into competitive play.

This is what a tournament looks like from one player’s perspective:

Plenty clear when you’re following just ONE player, but confusing when you account for all 12.
Immortals’ GrimReality aims as Soldier 76.
Blizzard Entertainment

Here, we see Immortals’ GrimReality aiming at an airborne skirmish. It’s clear what GrimReality is doing, but it’s tough to tell what the bigger picture is. That’s where free cam becomes important. Here’s what the same fight looks like, with a focus on the entire battlefield and not just one player.

Free cam shows a lot more of a prolonged fight
Immortals and Yikes contest the Hollywood payload.
Blizzard Entertainment

Both cameras have their pros and cons. A first person camera let’s us see a key player — a DPS on fire, a Mercy with Resurrect up, a Reinhardt about to charge — take control of the battlefield. Some plays demand the camera’s full attention, and being able to see the impact that a Pharah or Genji has is crucial to our understanding of a fight.

Free cam has the opposite problem. You get to see the entire fight, as a team contests an objective or pushes a payload. Everyone can fit on the screen, and you can watch the extended back and forth between squads. The problem is that big moments are easily lost in the fray. A pulse bomb landing and exploding gets as much attention and fanfare as a Soldier 76’s primary fire. Even players who follow the game can lose the subtle details of a clever play.

The main advantage of first person is that it amps viewers up, and gives us something to aspire to. When I see Mangachu land rocket after rocket from his point of view, my hands itch to load up the game and play some Pharah. When I see the same play in free cam, I can appreciate it on a logical level, but it doesn’t have that same draw.

Of course, there are ways around this. Talented casters can call out big plays and draw the player’s attention to a critical ultimate. Still, a free cam fight can be so frantic, quick and detached that even die hard fans can find their eyes glazing over. We also see a lot of these subtle details being brought out in post game breakdowns.

Does this mean that we should get rid of free cams altogether? Of course not. They have their uses when used minimally to show the setup around a payload, or a prolonged poke period where neither team is making a big play. But the details they capture are not necessarily worth losing the emotional impact of the game.

While free cam can be useful, it also sterilizes Overwatch. There’s something compelling and satisfying on a primal level about watching a Pharah ult or triple kill off a pulse bomb from the player’s POV. Sure, the constant switching can get hectic, but having accomplished spectators at the helm takes much of the edge off. When I see an amazing series of kills or objective hold from a player’s POV, I think that could be me. When I see the same kill, even if it’s objectively impressive, in free cam, I think that just happened. I’m numb to the impact in a way that I’m not when I watch in first person.

Camera angles have been a contentious topic since Overwatch esports first took off, and they’ll continue to be hotly discussed until the issue is solved once and for all. While Contenders is breaking new ground, there’s still a ways to go. It remains to be seen whether its possible to merge the two angles, or find a new avenue that captures the pros of both.