Four Years of Overwatch: Reflections by a Gold-Rank Player
Overwatch turns four next week. Here is a look back on the popular, hero-based shooter from the eyes of a completely average player.
I had my wisdom teeth pulled on May 20, 2016. My orthodontist recommended I excavate them sooner, but my lack of dental care delayed the surgery until the spring after I graduated from college. Reading up on accounts of the procedure had me somewhere between bold-faced confidence and sheer terror. Sometimes, wisdom tooth removal is painless. Other times, you get dry socket. Dry socket sucks.
Luckily, my operation went smoothly. Though the surgeon advised a recovery time of two to three days given the relatively effortless surgery, I was back on my feet hours after the meds wore off, packing my cheeks with cotton and avoiding straws like the plague. A successful surgery didn’t stop me from taking advantage of my time off. When I told my job I’d be going under the scalpel, they, unlike most employers, suggested I take a few extra days off to really make sure I was back to full-strength before returning to the grind.
Without a plan for my newfound mini-vacation, I did what most sensibly bored people do: shop on Amazon. At the time I had just finished Uncharted 4 and was looking for my next thrill. It wasn’t long before I scrolled to a game called Overwatch, which piqued my interest with it’s simplistic box art.
Tracer, the spiky-haired, spandex clad, dual-wielding protagonist on the cover seems like she was ready to drag me along on her adventures. Taken with Amazon’s then-20 percent discount and one-day delivery, I pulled the trigger on buying Overwatch, a purchase that unbeknownst to me, would become a gaming staple in my rotation for the rest of the decade.
It’s 2020 and I just finished my placement matches for Overwatch season 22. Well, I’ve finished a third of them, placing gold in the tank class. Per my in-game stat sheet, I’ve played Overwatch for a total of 1,200 hours over four years and by Blizzard’s incredibly scientific metrics, I’m average. Out of 40 million Overwatch players, I was somewhere between, “he knows which way the objective is, but doesn’t always know how to capture it.”
Though it might be shameful that I’ve put in a tenth of the time Malcolm Gladwell’s faulty rule suggests it takes to become “world-class” at something only to be completely average, I’ve loved every minute of my time with Overwatch. (Save for the first week I played, during which I was convinced the game was poorly balanced because I couldn’t Call of Duty my way to victory). I came into the game a relative newbie to first-person shooters, let alone multiplayer team-based games. Now, I’d call Overwatch one of my favorite games of all time. And I’ve been gaming since I was three.
I’ve learned a lot about Overwatch, and myself, over these last four years. My ticks, my thought processes, they’ve all been highlighted while running around a color-splashed battlefield playing rejuvenating tunes with Lucio or yanking people off cliffs as Roadhog. To commemorate Overwatch’s fourth anniversary, here are four reflections from a completely average player. (According to Blizzard. In my mind I should be Diamond, at least.)
I Suck at Multitasking
Debates about the benefits and detriments of multitasking have raged for years. On one hand, effective task management improves productivity. On the other, spreading oneself thin damages the quality of work.
As a higher education public relations staffer in my professional life, I live by multitasking. How else could I manage vitriolic Facebook comments while addressing the Governor’s need to interview one of my students?
As a gamer, I’m straight trash at multitasking. I have a phobia of eating while gaming. I hate sharing the controller with someone whose greasy mitts were knuckle deep in a bag of Sun Chips. (I applaud myself for my freakishly dry hands even in the tensest moments.)
These sensibilities fly out the window faster than my Reinhardt flies off the first point at Hanamura (I can’t play Rein). I’ve taken phone calls while I playing Overwatch. I’ve eaten dinner while playing Overwatch. I’ve purchased holiday gifts while playing Overwatch. Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — I multitask because I haven’t broken out of gold, and I haven’t broken out of gold because I multitask.
I thought that things might have changed when I made platinum for the one- and only-time during season 11. But let the record show that 11 seasons later, I’m a gold rank player who is probably standing in spawn because I’m downing the last bite of a cheesesteak.
I’m Not a Flex Player… Or Am I?
You would think that after four years of Overwatch, I’d have a main. Sure, I’ve put a healthy amount of time on Moira, who by my estimation is the game’s strongest healer (mostly because I DON’T DIE when I play as her), as well as D.Va (winky face!), Lucio, and Roadhog. But just this season, I’ve come to a shocking realization that Zarya, the Russian bodybuilder with a penchant for bygone memes (“In Russia, game plays you!” is one of her battle quotes), can completely annihilate defenses with her particle cannon. At least she can in gold.
This isn’t the first time I’ve stumbled upon a hidden gem of a character. Through assignments in Mystery Heroes, Overwatch’s randomized game mode, I’ve learned that Zenyatta is a total pest in gold rank, his Orb of Destruction picking off back line heroes like Mercy. Likewise, Doomfist and Phara can be monsters with the high ground, taking the rubes I play with by surprise time and time again.
Now, none of these characters have helped me rise out of the golden doldrums, but the fact that I’ve figured out their winning strategies has to count for something, right?
I Still Don’t Get the Pro Circuit
Don’t get me wrong, I love that you can purchase professional-themed skins for your characters in Overwatch. I’ve wanted the Super Smash Bros. series to adopt a similar feature for years (thanks to the 20XX hack pack, that’s sort of a possibility!). But as someone who can appreciate the viability of professionally played video games, I’m not sure I understand Overwatch.
In theory, twelve finely tuned, hyper-talented players going head-to-head to capture objectives should be fascinating. In 2018, Overwatch began garnering the attention of the masses, as the pro league was broadcast on ESPN. According to Nielsen data, the Overwatch League saw a bump in viewership from 2018 to 2019, averaging a global average-minute audience of 313,000 viewers.
But from a pure spectator perspective, my perspective, it’s a tough game to follow.
Maybe it’s the everchanging camera angles, which flip between single-player cams to overhead, battlefield of view set ups. Or maybe it’s that the pros are so good, I can’t really appreciate what’s going on. In Smash, I feel the excitement of landing Falco’s shine-down-air combos to high percent. In Street Fighter, I sense the intensity of footsies breaking into an offensive string. Spectating Overwatch’s frenetic action without a controller in my hand, however, doesn’t nudge me towards a racing heartbeat like other competitive games do.
In a way, watching professional Overwatch is kind of like watching a good public relations pro go to work. In both cases, if they are any good, you won’t notice what they are doing at all.
Overwatch Is Therapeutic
I hate losing. I don’t think anyone likes losing, but when it comes to video games, I’m not a fan of it. Gamecube controllers have lost their lives at the hand of a hotly contested game of Smash. I swore off playing Street Fighter years ago, when couldn’t make a painless transition to a using fight stick. It didn’t help that in both Smash and Street Fighter, losses come in one-on-one bouts. My losses are my own weight to carry.
The very idea of Overwatch, a team-based shooter, nullifies the negativity. Sometimes my team loses because I got preoccupied with picking off Genjis and Hanzos with my invincible Moira. Or we lose because the person running Sombra thinks it’s better to spray her machine gun than hack the surrounding health packs.
Regardless, Overwatch is a team game and sometimes you’re going to lose. I’ve played about as perfectly as I can at times, only to drop a game because a teammate rage quit after the fourth Widowmaker headshot. And sometimes, I’m eating a sandwich, and can’t be bothered to cap the point when we are already in the final countdown on Ilios.
Overwatch has taught me that losing doesn’t have to sting so badly. Athena reminding you of your defeat in big, red letters isn’t an affront on your character or a representation of your self-worth. It’s just a statement of fact. (Unless you’re playing Ana in gold rank on console. You can’t snipe, so stop trying and switch to Mercy. Thanks.)
Overwatch turns four this Tuesday, the milestone ushered in by another in-game anniversary event. I’ll be playing as eagerly as ever, propelling my teammates to victory while helping them earn those great anniversary skins. I’m going to make mistakes, my teammates will make mistakes, but that’s just the imperfectly perfect way of Overwatch.
I’m going to play my heart out during the anniversary event, but if you see me chilling in spawn for a little bit, don’t get too upset with me. I may or may not have a bowl of mac ‘n cheese on my lap.