The Problem With Overwatch’s ‘Dive’ Meta – Kotaku

 In Technology
Image credit: Blizzard.

It’s a new Overwatch match, a fresh start. You’ve got a good feeling about this one. But then you get within spitting distance of the point, and suddenly Winston crashes down on you, Tracer sucks up your health pool like her weapon’s a giant milkshake straw, and Genji chops up what’s left—all in the blink of an eye. It sucks! Welcome to the dive meta.

The highest echelons of Overwatch play have, for the past few months, been ruled by “dive” compositions. Basically, these teams select hyper-mobile characters like Winston, Tracer, and Genji (or, increasingly, Soldier 76) to focus offense on individual heroes and tear them to confetti in seconds. Often, another person playing as Zenyatta will put an Orb of Discord on the target, boosting the damage they take even more. Tanks like D.Va and Zarya and healers like Lucio round out the composition, shielding and healing the attackers, who are squishy on their own.

Players who aren’t anticipating a dive get absolutely melted, their ashes used to garnish Winston’s peanut butter victory sandwich.

If a team communicates well, it’s an incredibly effective strategy. Players who aren’t anticipating a dive get absolutely melted, their ashes used to garnish Winston’s peanut butter victory sandwich. You can understand, then, why some players find it so frustrating: losing to a dive comp isn’t interesting or exciting. You’re done before you even get a chance to put up a fight. Many players—whether they play in higher tiers of competitive mode or watch Overwatch esports—are sick of it.

So, Blizzard should do something about dive comps, right? Tweak some heroes, twist some balance nobs, delete Genji entirely? The issue is, however, far more complicated than it seems on its face. Let’s break this down.

Diving into the deep end

The downsides of dive comps are a symptom of a sickness, not the sickness itself. In fact, taken on their own merits, they can be pretty fun. Where once tanks dominated Overwatch’s meta, trudging forward and keeping fights relatively slow-paced, a dive comp battle is full of sprinting, leaping, and close shaves. I’ve seen some players say they prefer it to previous metas and hope it sticks around, and personally, I enjoy watching pro players duke it out with dive comps more than I did the other dominant metas.

Where dive comps start to become a problem, however, is in effective countermeasures. While a poorly organized dive comp will generally capsize against the rocks of a decent defense, a coordinated one can only really be countered by another dive comp. Previously dominant defensively-oriented comps like “triple tank” (where three tanks form the backbone, usually with Ana somewhere in the mix) lack the mobility to avoid a smart dive. As a result, the current Overwatch meta—especially in esports—isn’t really “dive.” It’s Dive vs Dive. Clash of the Dives. War For the Planet of the Dives.

Fans are clamoring for variety. Dive, many say, would be totally fine and even welcome if some kind of rock-paper-scissors dynamic enclosed it and at least a couple other equally viable team comps. So far, however, Overwatch’s highest levels have been defined by singularly dominant compositions, rather than colorful chess matches where tactics shift to fit the needs of the moment. A year ago, people were calling the 2/2/2 meta (two tanks, two healers, two DPS) “stale and boring to watch.” Later in the year, fans called triple tank “the cancer meta.” So dive has its own problems, but people also dislike it because, like previous dominant metas, it’s overstayed its welcome.

Unfortunately, Overwatch’s dominant metas have a way of snowballing. Top-level competitive players watch pros and decide which heroes are “on-meta.” If other competitive players try to play off-meta heroes, they get chewed out. But the only way the meta can evolve (outside of a sudden, seismic balance change from Blizzard) is through experimentation. Some players, however, refuse to go out on a limb because they don’t want to risk losing precious rank points, and others either feel too socially pressured to switch heroes or realize they can’t make anything meaningful happen without support from their team. So the meta stagnates. People will figure out a game-changing counter to dive comps at some point, but until then, high-level Overwatch remains a place where the hero pool suddenly becomes very shallow, despite how interesting and varied it could be.

Storm’s coming

There’s obviously a pattern here: a new comp arises and becomes dominant at the expense of other comps’ viability. Top-level Overwatch is briefly exciting, but then it calcifies into this scaly scab of a thing for a few months. This raises a question: what role does Blizzard play in all of this? Did it design a game where the strategic possibility space is too narrow for more than one kingpin comp to thrive at a time? And is it failing to address that problem now, despite ample awareness that it exists? A vocal contingent of players seem to think the answer to those questions is, “Yes, duh. Why hasn’t Blizzard pressed the magic button that fixes it yet?”

In an attempt to assuage those concerns, Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan recently published a lengthy post on the game’s forums. The crux of his argument was that the top-level meta only represents a particular group of players—“the top 3rd of all players,” he said, and even then, they play catch up with pros for “weeks if not months.”

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