Overwatch’s Role Queue and Role Lock: How will the new rules change the game?

It’s fair to say that Overwatch has been in a bit of a rut for the past several months. Professional play has been dominated by the composition known as 3-3 or GOATS, which sees players ignoring flashy, exciting damage-dealers in favor of a slow, hard to kill team made up entirely of bulky Tanks and healers known as Supports.  It’s not much fun to play and even less fun to watch, so the game’s creators at Blizzard have been trying to discourage this style of play for the better part of a year.

Overwatch’s developers have been trying mightily to get pros to try something (anything) else by reducing the effectiveness of this style of play. Almost all of the characters who make up a GOATS team have gotten some adjustments intended to discourage reliance on the composition. Despite multiple patches which seemed to target the GOATS composition specifically, it’s been incredibly resilient, dominating both professional play in the Overwatch League (OWL) and competitive play for non-pros. On Thursday last week, Blizzard finally announced they’d be exercising the nuclear option.

The Role Lock and Role Queue systems being added to Overwatch fundamentally change how the game will be played. It’s no exaggeration to say this is the biggest change to the title since the single-character limit was imposed  three years ago. Let’s take a look at what’s changing, how it affects your choices, and what it means for the game.

Role Lock: What does it mean?

Overwatch’s new Role Lock rule means that every team will be composed of exactly two Tanks, two Supports, and two Damage characters (commonly known as a 2-2-2 composition) rather than allowing players to switch freely between roles and heroes. Team composition is extremely important in Overwatch, and a game can be won or lost before players even leave their spawn room if they’re not willing to work with one another and select synergistic heroes.

Currently, the team composition phase is frequently a source of strife since some players may only know how to play a single hero or may not feel comfortable in more than one role. When two players argue over a specific character or are forced to play a hero they don’t know well, it can often lead to harsh language, “throwing” (intentionally playing poorly), or other bad behavior.

The new rule is meant to take some of the stress out of building a team during the first 40 seconds of a game, ensuring that both teams should have players who are willing and able to play a role they’ve chosen before they even enter a match. Players will enter a queue for either the Damage, Tank, or Support roles and will be matched with other players who want to play complementary heroes.

Each queue will have different estimated wait times based on the number of people currently waiting to join, and game director Jeff Kaplan said anyone selecting less popular roles with fewer players queued might be eligible for additional rewards (most likely bonus competitive points or some extra loot boxes). Queue times for more popular roles will probably be much longer than less desirable positions, and it looks like Tank specialists will be the most in-demand.

Once a match has begun, players won’t be able to swap to a different position and will only be able to choose between the other available characters within their chosen role. This is similar to how the Looking For Group tool already functions, preventing players from changing to a different type of character when roles are enforced. Unfortunately, once the change goes live you won’t see any more plays like this one from Kephrii.

What’s going to change?

Because players may have very different skill levels depending on whether they’re playing Tank, Damage, or Support, Overwatch will now track all three roles separately and match players based on the MMR (Match Maker Rating) of whichever role they’ve queued for. Every player will have to do at least five placement matches per season for every role they’re interested in playing, and will be rewarded at the end of a competitive season based on their highest rank from among the three roles.

Competitive points will be awarded for all three roles if a player places in each, or they can choose to specialize and only receive the reward for the roles they choose to play. It seems like players’ MMR will be at least partially reset before Role Queue goes live, to account for the major change to how skill rating is calculated.

Several other changes are being made to the game’s competitive mode. Top 500 leaderboards for all three roles are being added, with a fourth combined leaderboard for players who excel in all three positions. Players who wish to be eligible for a leaderboard will need to play at least 25 games as that role during a competitive season (down from 50 currently).

Higher ranked players (Diamond and above) will no longer see their MMR decay if they don’t play a certain number of games in a week. Competitive season 17 will end early, and a two week provisional competitive season will occur on all three platforms before season 18 begins on September 1. This beta version of competitive Role Queue begins August 13, and is intended to let the development team observe the new system in action and make any necessary changes.

The new system will be applied to Overwatch’s Competitive and Quick Play modes, enforcing a 2-2-2 composition in both gametypes. Players who prefer the current playstyle will still be able to play as a less restricted team in “Quickplay Classic,” which will be added to the game’s less serious Arcade mode once Role Queue is implemented. This is similar to how the “No Limits” Arcade gametype was added after single character limits were imposed. 

While the new rule does limit experimentation, the stated goal is to make players happier by reducing or eliminating the social friction caused by playing a hero your teammates might disagree with.  The fact that this change effectively kills the uninteresting GOATS meta is a happy side effect (Conspiracy-minded players might suspect the reverse is true, that this change was put in place primarily to destroy GOATS once and for all). Casual players won’t see the changes until mid-August, but Overwatch League competitors will begin playing under the new rules when stage four begins on July 25.

Speaking of OWL, the Role Lock rule means players will have to wait until a map is complete before they can change to a different role. This is similar to player substitutions, which can only occur in between maps. Players and teams in the league were informed of the changes in early June so as not to waste time practicing unviable compositions for stage four and beyond.

What else should we expect?

As these new rules take effect, players both casual and professional will need to relearn some things they’ve always taken for granted about Overwatch. Locked roles mean you won’t necessarily be able to swap to a hero who counters your opposition easily, and may need to ask a teammate to swap instead. Damage specialists will have the most versatility since their hero pool includes 14 characters, compared to just seven options each for both Supports and Tanks. Thankfully, it looks like Tank specialists will have another option once the new character Sigma makes his way into the main game.

Bunker compositions which hide behind Orisa’s shield will probably be very popular at the outset, so it might be a good idea to practice with characters who fit into this team type such as Baptiste, Roadhog, and Bastion. New team makeups will rise, such as the “Clockwork comp” which arose as a counter to GOATS and should still be viable in the new format. This composition relies on zoning enemies into a specific section of the map, choosing the battleground rather than trying to go toe-to-toe with the enemy at the objective. It’s also possible new characters will enable new styles of play, so it’ll be exciting to see what new heroes are in store as we progress through the year.

Changing the rules this way doesn’t necessarily make Overwatch harder or easier to balance, just different. It’s clear that many heroes will need to be tweaked to accommodate the new rules, and some will be far more viable than others, at least starting out. To this end, many changes are already being tested on Overwatch’s Public Test Realm (PTR).

  • The biggest change affects every hero equally, as the rate at which Ultimate abilities charge is being reduced for every character by 12%. This should help slow the game down slightly, make using an Ultimate feel more impactful, and keep every team fight’s outcome from being determined by Ultimate usage. 
  • Major changes to how slowing effects (like Mei’s primary fire or Symmetra’s beam turrets) are applied will be added soon. Some heroes can voluntarily slow themselves down, like Reinhardt holding his shield, Widowmaker using her scope, or McCree during his Ultimate. With the new change to slow effects, characters who are already moving at a reduced speed will not be affected by enemy slows unless the enemy would hinder their movement more than it already is. This is undoubtedly a nerf for Mei and Symmetra, though it’s possible characters who are already moving slower will find it harder to notice when a Mei is targeting them. This change suggests that the recently announced hero Sigma may come equipped with some sort of slowing effect, though we’ll have to wait a little longer to find out more about him.
  • Beam weapons like those belonging to Zarya and Symmetra should now do more consistent damage when fast-tracking. This may offset the loss of utility Symmetra sees due to the changes to slow effects.

Brigitte is receiving almost a complete overhaul since her kit excels in a three-support team but isn’t nearly as useful in a 2-2-2 setup. These changes are intended to make her a more viable healer, and less of a hybrid Tank.

  • Her Inspire passive ability will now heal up to 130 damage for teammates, up from 100 per application. Her self-healing from Inspire is being reduced by half however, meaning she’ll only heal herself for 65 per application.
  • Repair Pack will now have three charges which regenerate automatically every eight seconds, similar to Tracer’s Blink ability. The healing from each Repair Pack will be reduced from 150 down to 120, and now heals over two seconds instead of instantly. Overhealing a target will still provide armor worth up to half the Repair pack’s heal value, but throwing multiple repair packs at a friendly player won’t give them additional stacks of armor. This means players can only gain a maximum of 60 armor from Repair Pack, down from 75. Throwing multiple Repair Packs at the same target will extend the healing-over-time duration by two seconds per application rather than speeding up the process.
  • Brigitte’s Whip Shot ability will be sped up by 25% and the time it takes to retract her flail will be cut in half. This should make it easier for her to activate Inspire at range.
  • Her Barrier Shield’s maximum health is being reduced from 500 down to 200. She’s still the most durable Support, but this should make it a lot easier to break her shield and force her to move. Additionally, the stun duration of her Shield Bash is being reduced to ¾ of a second, down from 0.9 seconds.
  • Her Ultimate Rally will be used far less frequently since the cost is being increased by 10%. This is on top of the 12% ultimate charge reduction being applied universally and means Rally will be one of the slower Ultimates to charge rather than being available for every team fight.

Many other characters are receiving smaller changes intended to tweak their utility under the new rules. In particular, the developers made some changes to Symmetra which should help make her Teleporter a more viable gameplay tool.

  • Ashe’s reload time is being reduced slightly, which should help her damage-per-second increase just a bit.
  • Doomfist’s quick melee will no longer keep his primary fire ammo from reloading. He should also find it easier to kill opponents with Rocket Punch since they’ll now fly in the direction he hit them rather than maintaining any momentum. This includes Zenyatta during Transcendence and any character affected by Zarya’s Particle Barrier, so be extra cautious if you’re near an environmental hazard. Some bug fixes to his Meteor Strike Ultimate mean he’ll find it easier to position himself where he wants to go, and he shouldn’t be as hampered by door frames while using Rocket Punch.
  • Hanzo’s Storm Arrow quiver shrunk in the heat, and he’ll get one less arrow (five rather than six) when using the ability. It’s certainly a nerf for Hanzo, but this could also be considered a passive buff to characters who use hardlight shields since Storm Arrows are one of the fastest ways to help break enemy barriers.
  • Moira’s Fade ability can now be used even if she is stunned or otherwise immobilized. This is intended to give her greater value compared to some of the other Supports, since she doesn’t provide the varied utility of some others in her class. Testing on the PTR has shown she can escape from any crowd control abilities including McCree’s Flashbang, Junkrat’s traps, and even Reinhardt’s Earthshatter. Fade was already one of the best escape abilities in the game, but this seems like it might be a little too powerful. Moira is already considered overpowered at lower ranks, and Fade’s increased evasion potential gives players very few ways to effectively counter her. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fade receive either a longer cooldown or some other tweaks before this change goes live.
  • Orisa’s Protective Barrier will have a slightly longer cooldown, up to 9 seconds from 8. This makes it a little more viable for an opposing team to try and destroy the barrier since they’ll have a slightly longer window before Orisa can place a new one.
  • Reinhardt is getting a new passive ability called “Steadfast.” This will give him 30% resistance to abilities which would push him out of position such as Lucio’s Soundwave, Ashe’s Coach Gun, and Pharah’s Concussion Blast. It should make it feel better to play Rein on the front lines and less punishing when enemy players try to knock him away from the rest of his team.
  • Sombra’s Hack ability will last only five seconds when applied to enemy players, down from six. Her EMP’s Hack effect will remain the same length, but activating the ability will take her slightly longer.
  • Symmetra’s Teleporter will now last until destroyed, either by the enemy team or by the player who placed it. Players will be able to voluntarily destroy their Teleporters using the ability 2 input, and the cooldown to place a new Teleporter will begin as soon as the old one is destroyed. The Teleporter’s maximum range was increased by five meters, though it will be destroyed if either end is ever more than 40 meters from the other (this can only happen if one end is placed on a moving platform).The cooldown for a new Teleporter was increased to 15 seconds, up from 12.
  • Tracer’s Pulse Bomb Ultimate ability will have its damage increased to 350 up from 300. This ability had its damage reduced from 400 to 300 late last year, which may have contributed to GOATS’ dominance for the past six months. This particular damage threshold should let Pulse Bomb one-shot sturdier targets like Brigitte and Bastion without necessarily deleting full-health Tanks, who are usually easier to stick a bomb to.
  • Wrecking Ball received a pair of slight changes to his Minefield Ultimate ability. The mines will now spread out more if the ability is triggered in midair, and will arm themselves more than twice as quickly.

It’s an exciting time for Overwatch to be sure, and I think it will be especially interesting seeing how the community adjusts to the new rules. The programming behind the scenes apparently took the better part of a year, and the developers say they’ll be keeping a close eye on how things shake out as the new rules are implemented. It’s very likely we’ll see a lot more changes after 2-2-2 becomes the law of the land, and players become used to the new restrictions. For now, raise a toast to the end of GOATs: you will not be missed.