Overwatch League, in many ways, grew to become something that many people in the esports community doubted; a formidable competitive gaming league for its staple game. As the league collected teams from all across the world and started pulling in enough viewers to try to fill the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for its Grand Finals in late July, the release of this news was overshadowed by one key problem: patches. While the issue of patches of the game was mentioned before in-between stages, the problems coming out of the transition between Stages 3 and 4 change the meta drastically.
Let’s go back to the end of Stage 3.
With the public watching New York Excelsior beat the Boston Uprising in the Stage 3 playoffs on May 6, players at home were already familiar with the new hero that recently released: Brigette. With her abilities shaking the competitive scene for the regular players at home, the release came out at the end of Stage 2 (on March 20) leaving viewers excited about when she would be used and how all these teams would work with her. The casters then confirmed that she would be in the game for Stage 4 and beyond. Questions about Brigette came into the forefront of press conferences. Alone, she countered many heroes with her shield and consistent stuns; especially ones in the meta.
While this itself wasn’t crazy news to the players and casters, the main issue arose from a patch that came out a couple weeks later. On May 3, the Overwatch development team released a patch that included a downgrade to Brigette’s Shield Bash ability. At the same time, the Scatter Arrow rework on Hanzo that the community desperately wanted.
Finally, good changes, right?
Just three days before the end of Stage 3, two heroes received changes that drastically changed the competitive scene for players at home. While Brigette got some deserved downgrades, the changes to Hanzo were drastically different. Hanzo was more focusing on aiming at heads than on the ground for those scatter arrow kills, but suddenly could kill tanks and multiple low health targets incredibly fast with the ability that replaced it, named Storm Arrow. To keep this short, the Storm Arrow ability allows Hanzo to fire multiple arrows in succession. This change has led to the public playing Hanzo very differently than before; much more aggressively.
These two changes, while alone are normal, together cause trouble. Stage 3 ends with the announcement that the most recent patch doesn’t include these changes. The Brigette introduced is the unchanged one, unaffected from the same patch that game Hanzo the rework. While this makes sense, it caused a lot of controversy in the Overwatch League community.
A key example of this disagreement has to do with a petition being made on change.org that wants the Stage 4 matches to have the May 3 patch, with over 9,000 people have signed it of the date of this post. Even the creator of the petition chipped into the conversation, mentioning in the comments of his petition: “I want to see pros playing the same game I’m playing, not the game from 2 months ago”.
Does the petition creator have a point?
It is understandable why he does, but it is also understandable why the patch system in Overwatch League is like this though. The players practice a specific patch for part of their current stage as well as their week off in-between stages. The main issue simply comes out from the timing of the patch; too close to the Stage 3 final for enough practice to fit in, but far enough away to cause all of Stage 4 (and most likely the Grand Finals) to be on an old patch. This makes the claim of watching professionals playing an outdated version of the game make more sense.
Week one of Stage 4 has just ended. They won’t announce patch changes mid-stage. Even if they did, I could only imagine more outrage from the pro players themselves. They would have to change strategies from an old patch to the newest one without the comfort of set practice. Although, the other side can be argued, as many players stream Overwatch after their league games (such as Geguri from the Shanghai Dragons, Ark from New York Excelsior, and many more) and play on the current patch as all avid watchers do. They don’t lack experience in the most recent patch, it is just the league making them play the older one.
The avid watchers of Overwatch League have got to remember a key factor when it comes to this debate. These people play this game for a living. These changes are things these players have to adapt to. The meta changes and the teams that adapt better are the teams that win. We’ve already seen the effects of this meta shift due to the patch they’re using within week one of Stage 4. For example, Boston losing their first two regular-season matches after winning fourteen in a row, as well as the resurgence of the Houston Outlaws.
What does this mean for the future of Overwatch League?
In my opinion and in the words of Christopher ‘MonteCristo’ Mykles, “the players have to suck it up”. The meta won’t always stay the same. Dive meta that dominated the game for multiple stages just isn’t the meta now. As the San Francisco Shock showed us in Stage 4, it has definitely had a significant decrease in use. Brigette alone changed the meta drastically, recognized by the Watchpoint crew of casters just before Stage 4 started. Personally, I love the meta change and how teams have to change players and roles to fit. Players such as Jake from Houston and Libero from New York having to use their versatility to win games. This also leads to specific players who haven’t had the limelight get their shot to show the community how good they are, such as Spree from Houston.
Adapt or die is the motto these players have to live by. Even though some of them didn’t agree with the choice of the patch, their professionalism led to some great matches already.