Tank One for the Team

I have been following Overwatch’s “one-trick pony” debacle off-and-on for a few months now. The official word is that no one gets banned for picking just 1-2 heroes and ignoring the team composition. The unofficial word is that you should be banned for not picking a character that best helps the team. Several Top 500 players seemingly get banned for one-tricking, and Gevlon sees a conspiracy to sell lootboxes.

Thing is, the overall system is such a shitshow that I almost agree with Gevlon that there has to be a conspiracy. The alternative is that the designers A) have never participated in a school project in their life, B) never played WoW, and/or C) never played their own damn game for 5 minutes.

See, the problem is this:

We built Overwatch around the concept of teamwork, and we believe the game is much more fun for everyone in a match when we’re picking heroes that contribute to the overall success of the team. At times, this means we’ll be playing our mains; other times, we should be trying to help the team by choosing heroes that round out the team’s composition. We won’t be actioning you if you only play your main, but we also don’t believe this is the ideal way to play Overwatch—especially in competitive settings.

Imagine the following: you are playing WoW and you hit the queue button for Looking For Dungeon. After a minute or so, you zone into the dungeon with five other people. As you stand there looking at one another, you have 40 or so seconds to figure out who is going to be the tank, who the healer, and who the DPS. Oh, and the dungeon itself has a time limit, and the bosses will change based on the classes and specs you choose. Good luck!

It’s an absurdity in a MMO-like setting, but the designers actually think it works in Overwatch. And it does for a bit, because there are X number of people who are willing to take one for the team and choose a character they don’t like to play in order to give the team composition a chance at success.

A team composition that was not chosen as a team, mind you, but rather by the whims of whoever insta-locked the DPS first. So in order to have a chance at winning, you have to reward the selfish behavior of others. And let me tell you, there is nothing more toxic than the feeling you experience when you take one for the team and the team loses.

Possible solutions are relatively straight-forward:

  • Allow players to queue for roles (Tank, Healer, DPS, Flex)
  • Create in-game Guild or Clan functionality, so players can organize themselves
  • Only allow premades in Competitive modes
  • Do nothing, while tacitly admitting your failure as a designer

Thus far, the Overwatch team is decidedly choosing the last option.

Posted on April 26, 2018, in Overwatch and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. The situation is much worse than that. In low ratings playing your main, regardless of team composition wins. 5 DPS mains + 1 healer main beats 2-2-2 almost always.

    So it’s not “take one for the team”, “it’s take one for the whims of some angry kid despite his is wrong”


    • Absolutely. And by the time the player gets out of the low ranks, her/she has spent dozens of hours with their preferred character and no one else, making them even more unprepared for the higher ranks where switching can turn a stalemate into a win. It’s a bad system all around.


      • If you do that you might spend 1000 games in Silver. At some point most reasonable players figure out that actually learning the game is important, and learning means knowing/playing multiple characters/roles.


  2. This is all only a problem at very low levels of play. In Silver games of LoL, people are only (marginally) decent at one role, and when pushed out of that role, they go from marginal to terrible.If they were better at more roles, they wouldn’t be in Silver just learning the basics.

    At even mid-tier levels of play, it’s a non-issue. People know the game well enough to adjust, and have multiple roles they are good at, because that’s one of the keys to getting better and moving up in rank in these kinds of games. Sure, edge-cases exist where someone is phenomenal at one role and has a high rank, but in games with millions of players, that really isn’t a pressing issue for the average player outside the starter rankings.

    As for the bans, lets be honest, they are almost always because the person being banned is toxic and deserved the ban. Gevlon was toxic in EVE and rage-quit is way out, he was officially flagged as toxic in LoL and raged when he failed to leave Silver ranking, and surprise, he got temp-banned in OW after once again being stuck in the lower rankings. Pretty sure that pattern isn’t about any one game, it’s about the player at that point. And what it shows is that games are getting better at removing toxic players (still plenty of room to go, given his thousands of games prior to each ban, but baby steps I guess).


    • Yeah, I don’t quite believe the whole “I was banned for one-tricking and nothing else” line. When I was reading articles on the subject, for example, one of the banned Symettra streamers had apparently dropped his rank to Bronze on purpose, so he could show a stream of going from Bronze to Grandmaster via Symettra. That’s a lot of thrown games on the way down, which probably upset the other 5 people on his team.


  3. Yeah, I’ve been reading about that stuff as well.
    It’s pretty funny actually, on the one side because it’s more or less orthogonal to WoW’s design of “bring the player not the class”….. in OW it sounds more like “bring the class and fuck the player”.
    The other pretty funny thing is that it’s clear for the design that the “right” way to play is to play for feedback (which is just a different way to say “for fun”). I.e. press random buttons, see nice explosions and who damn cares about the result…. so the “play to win” crowd gets the short end of the stick, and either whine (Gevlon) or finds far-fetched justifications for their superior “skillz” (Syncaine).
    Keep it up, it’s more fun than the game itself :) /popcorn


    • Please do explain the far-fetched justifications you see. Honestly curious what you mean by that.


      • Probably “far-fetched” was not the right word. Anyway:
        – your last paragraph sounds like: toxic people get banned, how do you spot toxic people? Simple, it’s the ones who get banned.
        – your 1st paragraph says that Gevlon is doing exactly what should be done to win in the lower ranks, i.e. play a role you know how to play. Which unfortunately goes straight to the problem Gevlon mentions: you end up choosing a role you don’t know how to play, you don’t care to play, because you get marked “toxic” if you don’t.
        Of course game designers have the right to design their games as they want, but this system is complete garbage, and it cannot be justified just with “good players learn to play other roles”.


      • First part: I’ve been gaming long enough to know that 99% of bans are justified, and that 99.9% of the people coming out publicly saying they were unjustly banned are lying, which if you consider for a second, makes plenty of sense; if you’re morals are low enough to cheat or be toxic, you likely have zero issue with also lying on top of that to cause more drama. People like Gelvon fit the above, and he has self-incriminated himself plenty on his blog alone. Every game Gevlon is banned from is better off.

        Second part: Getting out of the lower ranks in a game with millions of players is as simple as knowing the basics of the game, assuming you have at least average ability in motor functions and learning. Someone with a thousand games in 6 months in a starter league is very clearly lacking the above, or intentionally trolling themselves for attention/drama. This isn’t a conversation about what it takes to play at the top 1%, or even top 10%. This isn’t a conversation about the ‘proper’ way to play unranked games. This is purely a conversation about playing ranked mode in the lower tiers and wanting to move up, and that solution is very simple (by design, since we are talking mass-market PvP games here). It very, very much can be justified with ‘learn the game’, which includes learning more than a single champion if we are talking games like LoL or OW.

        Finally, I’m not sure I’d call a system garbage when that game has millions of players and is highly profitable, and said system is a cornerstone of the game. You can say you personally don’t like it. You can say it could be improved. But ‘garbage’ probably isn’t the right word again.


      • Thanks for your answer.
        1- I’d love to know where you pulled your 99% and 99.9% numbers from. Companies never disclose the reasons for a ban, which is a guaranteed way to hide false positives and true negatives. In the case of F2P games in particular, this helps to hide how whales are protected against such bans (BTW I have first-hand knowledge of this). Just like you should not trust the player’s word you should not trust the companies’.

        2- Again you’re assuming a lot of stuff, in particular that there’s a “right” way to play the game, which is the one endorsed by the company and whoever does not align is toxic. Gevlon may be incompetent, but playing single hero just because you like it is not toxic by any stretch of imagination.

        3- If I’m not mistaken, WoW having millions of players never stopped you from treating it much worse than garbage. The the rules stay the same: garbage design is garbage, successful game or not. Again, I understand that a company may care more about the bottom line than the game design and optimizing for the former does not guaranteed in any way that you’re optimizing for the latter, in particular in F2P/P2W.

        My overall opinion is that tthere’s something fundamentally wrong at a much deeper level. I just discovered that in WoT 1.0 chat with the enemy team does not exist any more. This is not a solution, this is a symptom, but I’m not really sure I understand of what. And I’m not ready to go for a Gevlonesque one-size-fits-all solution of separating the world in losers and winners.


      • Getting back to this late but hopefully you see it.

        Ban numbers: I’ve worked with a decent number of devs over the years now thanks to the blog, and with many I’ve talked about cheating with them since its a topic of interests for me. It’s almost always the same story, especially with high-profile or public players that cheat and then get banned; they lie and deny to maintain the image they are after. Also for a while Darkfall did publicly show who was banned and why. The system didn’t really work, as almost all bans were on throwaway accounts so who was banned was meaningless, but the times a known player was caught, it was the same story over and over. Forum drama, lies, and then sometimes the devs stepped in with 100% proof of the cheating and the cheater would go silent (or try to keep playing under a different name).

        Two: There is a ‘right’ way to play in games like LoL or OW or other team-based games. In LoL you can’t always play one role if the queue puts you in a different role. That’s not a choice you have. You accept those rules the moment you sign up and queue up. Team-based games have core rules, and part of the privilege of playing them is following those rules. Someone who doesn’t follow those basic rules SHOULD be banned, as they ARE toxic.

        Also, ‘basic rules’ extend to in-game actions too. You should be banned if you pick a tank and never tank, or if you pick a bottom lane champion and then don’t last-hit creeps. If you don’t play the ‘right’ way, you are ruining the game for everyone else, and that 100% should lead to a ban eventually (with eventually usually being hundreds if not thousands of reports). Plus with Gevlon specifically, it wasn’t a perma-ban, it was a slap on the wrist to help him understand how he is wrong. Of course someone like him doesn’t understand the slap, and goes to the extreme the other way, but for a normal person the system works.

        WoW: I was critical of WoW when it started handing out welfare epics and generally going too far in making the game ‘accessible’, among other items. Since that criticism WoW has lost millions of players; prior to those changes it was still gaining millions. We can argue whether those design changes are the reason or not for the player loss, but I at least have some data to back up the criticism of those changes and the harm they did. I don’t see this happening with OW and its core system, or in LoL and its system for flagging people like Gevlon as toxic.


  4. Overwatch’s USP is hero switching so we are unlikely to see changes which limit that mechanic. It is most likely we would get some changes designed to use behavioral soft nudges. I’d have two nudges.
    1) On hero selection, a big red down arrow appears instead of my level when I pick an infrequently played hero. Instead of being abused to meet the team’s demands, others players encourage me to stick to my mains and more flexible players that are OK with accommodating me without being toxic about it.
    2) Competitive placement games are done in random hero mode. One-trickers get be “punishment” by starting at a low rank (nudging them to learn more heroes) while other players see under-ranked off-meta one-trick mains that carry the team to victory (nudging them to welcome one-trick players instead of considering them to be trolls deserving of toxic abuse).


  5. Syncaine writes: “First part: I’ve been gaming long enough to know that 99% of bans are justified, and that 99.9% of the people coming out publicly saying they were unjustly banned are lying, which if you consider for a second, makes plenty of sense; if you’re morals are low enough to cheat or be toxic, you likely have zero issue with also lying on top of that to cause more drama.”

    True, but only because 99% of bans are mundane. Prohibited speech, exploits, RMT, account-sharing, clear-cut stuff. These one-trick bans, if they happen as alleged, are the zebras: bizarre and counter to official policy.

    The remainder is a logical loop familiar to any student of our old Inquisition. A heretic’s defence must be a lie, since lying is the core of heresy. Right up there with ‘Any system within which Gevlon succeeds must be broken because Gevlon succeeded within it.’

    One troubling aspect of Stevooo’s smurfing saga is the power to ostracise that other players appear to have, if enough of them decide to band together and report to trigger the automated ban. As well, the opaqueness of the bans: Jeff Kaplan can state that one-tricking is not bannable without any risk of verification of that statement, because it’s corporate policy not to expand upon reasons for banning. And it can remain corporate policy, because of course no one will challenge the EULA in court over sixty bucks. It does not make for a particularly savoury arrangement, overall.


  6. I kinda object to drawing the parallel to WoW. First of all, there’s a ton of people who only ever played one role, sometimes two. I’m not one of those people, I’ve always mostly liked all three – but the games makes it so damn hard to have the right toon available at the right time. This has gotten a bit better over the years with account-wide stuff (and then gotten worse again) – but for the majority of time I only did that 5man because I had to (as it’s not “all of the game”) and I used the toon I needed some gear/points/whatever for. Contrast to Overwatch, while different, I still lump in with the other shooters. You gain skill, you’re not capped by your gear 50% of the time. So if you have even a little fun playing as something not-your-main, that’s easily doable, also it helps the team. In WoW it’s usually just “we desperately need a tank or healer” and it’s not like people deliberately don’t tank – but if my main’s a rogue, there’s nothing to be done about it.


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