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What happens when Overwatch’s in-game stats system struggles?

Overwatch’s medal ranking has out of game competition

Blizzard Entertainment

“I’m not switching off DPS - I have three gold medals.” We’ve all heard this cry in our competitive games before, and it may be a bigger problem than we think. It’s this “every player for themselves”, focusing on gold medals approach that has led to the rise of new programs and methods. For instance, there’s Visor, a program that provides players with automated analysis, reviews, and advice based off its analysis of each frame of gameplay.

Overwatch’s in-game stat system is stripped down and simple, especially compared to some other competitive titles that offer the player a flood of information. Players are ranked in five categories in which they can earn a gold, silver, or bronze: Eliminations, Hero Damage, Objective Kills, Healing Done, and Objective Time. Players can also see basic stats on accuracy, kill streaks, and deaths. It gets the job done, but it doesn’t do much beyond that.

Blizzard Entertainment

This stripped down approach is at odds with the way the Overwatch League handles stats. The Overwatch League painstakingly lays two Widowmaker’s ratios down next to each other. Who hit more body shots? Who eliminated more supports? Who avenged their allies? Who is the best at removing tanks from play? The Overwatch League liberally sprinkles these stats throughout a broadcast to liven things up and give us regular players something to aspire to.

However, in game, we’re stuck with this array. Not only are medals simple, but they can often be misleading. For example, let’s say you have gold on hero damage. Sounds excellent, right? You must be doing very well. But what if you’re just tearing into tanks, who then move into their Mercy’s line of sight? You’re essentially handing the enemy free Valkyries. A Moira who brags about gold damage may be so invested in eliminating that tricky Ana that she forgot to heal her team. Each hero plays differently, but we all have the same five medals. Sure, it feels good to hit tab and see the gleaming array of golds that we pick up during good games, but it doesn’t necessarily win games for us.

The player base has responded by building their own infrastructure. Overbuff offers a whole host of statistics. With a few clicks, I can tell that Reinhardt has the highest pick rate in the game across all skill rankings this month, but Bronze and Grandmaster pick Mercy the most. I can search my own profile and see that I’ve spent three days of my life playing Pharah, which is certainly a sobering fact, especially because I’ve only spent 11.7% of that time on fire. Winston’s Lab chooses to focus on pro player stats, showing what happens in pro games and the effect those decisions make.

Just play and have fun, Overwatch’s UI says. Try to get kills, win, and maybe you’ll score a fun Play of the Game. Wait, no, says Overwatch’s Path to Pro system. You want to improve, climb to the top, and maybe even play this game professionally. With this divide between the game’s presentation and intent, it’s no surprise that players are seeking out external ways to improve their gameplay.

Enter Visor. Visor is starting with support for Overwatch, and that makes sense — there’s a pool of players who want to get better, and a lack of in-game tools to help them. Visor markets itself as a second brain, offering constant real-time insights into things like enemy ult timings, positioning, and more. Visor was developed in partnership with the Seoul Dynasty, and it offers the ability to provide everything from big picture insights like team fight data and your trending performance on Widowmaker to numbers advantage and first kills and deaths during team fights. In short, Visor offers an automated advisor and analyst to every single Overwatch player who wants to improve.

This is where the division at the heart of Overwatch becomes strongly apparent. There are players who never check their stats, head into competitive play, and are in Overwatch as a fun time killer with gorgeous art. Then there are players who are hungry to improve; these players want to be at the competitive level. Even Overwatch itself beckons to both camps of players, by running the Path to Pro and offering the chance for anyone to be a star... at the same time that they carefully keep characters accessible to all levels of play. Visor isn’t just a program meant to help people improve their team play or Widowmaker accuracy; it’s meant to be a bridge gapping what Overwatch is and what it can be for players who dream of the competitive stage.

In the years to come, if Blizzard want Overwatch to be a lasting sport, they’ll need to consider how they on-ramp players and train them. Right now, the medals system looks nice and is pleasingly minimalist, but it does little in the way of teaching players how to improve or actually play the game.