What the latest patch and rules mean for the Overwatch League

Blizzard wasn’t kidding about the changes to Overwatch’s seasonal event schedule, and the Lunar New Year event began on Thursday last week with almost no warning. The event runs from now through February 6. Along with the expected character skins and cosmetics, the celebration also ushered in a new series of balance changes which will affect the metagame for pros and casual players alike. Interestingly, this patch spent very little time on the PC’s Public Test Region (PTR) before going live, presumably to make sure it was ready for the Overwatch League’s (OWL) opening ceremonies in early February.

The current patch is an important one, since it’s what we’ll be seeing in OWL for the next few months. While standard Overwatch players can expect a balance patch every month or so, League players play for months using the same ruleset they practiced on at the start of the season. The League format is a little different for 2020, replacing the four stage divisions we’ve seen in previous years with a longer single season, divided by a midseason tournament. This change is intended to allow teams a little more recuperation time, since they’ll be traveling far more frequently than before.

Now travelling to…

The 2020 season will be the first in which team’s home and away status actually means something. Prior to this year, almost every League game was played at the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California. Starting in February, each team will begin hosting city-based home games and travelling to away games, a first for a major esports league. The worldwide nature of the League required the Pacific and Atlantic conferences to be further subdivided into the Pacific North and South Divisions, and the Atlantic East and West Divisions. Pacific East is comprised of teams from China and South Korea, Pacific West contains teams from California, British Columbia, and Texas, Atlantic South has teams from Texas, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania and Washington D. C., and Atlantic North includes the teams from New York City, Boston, Toronto, Paris, and the United Kingdom.

Although the Divisions are set up geographically to try and reduce the amount of travel necessary, travelling to other host cities will inevitably be a lot more tiring than the previous format where every team played on the same stage. Interdivisional play will also occasionally be a factor, requiring some teams to fly for more than 15 hours to meet a rival. To help combat exhaustion, each team will have a bye week every three weeks under the new system.

This format shift will change more than just the season schedule. Instead of a best-of-four format with a tiebreaker round, League matches will now be a first-to-three map series, as we saw during the 2019 playoffs. With a longer season and less stage breaks, the teams’ records shouldn’t be as close when seeding is determined. Theoretically, this means the tiebreaker aspect of which team won the most games should be less of a concern.

Where’s the fun in playing fair?

One thing we should probably mention is the rumor that OWL season three will have some sort of pick/ban rule in place. This would make a huge difference to the League, and would help to prevent the constant mirror matches we’ve seen during the first two years of the Overwatch League. It’s understandable that the pros always want to play the “best” six heroes, but forcing them out of their comfort zone a bit could go a long way towards spectators seeing more diverse, entertaining matches. For now, this remains a rumor. That said, it makes a lot of sense, especially since the powers-that-be consider this a “make-or-break” year for the League.

Although it’s impossible to predict what sort of metagame will evolve for OWL’s third season, we can make some educated guesses based on the current state of play and how things are shaking out in Overwatch’s competitive mode. The last few patches have been focused on walking back some of the power creep that had been added to the game in an attempt to kill the hated GOATs metagame. Before the change to locked roles, Blizzard overtuned several Damage characters in an attempt to get players to choose something other than Tanks and Supports. Many of these changes have been reverted in the last couple of patches, particularly the patch which went live in December.

The 2019 Winter Wonderland patch was especially important since it changed some of the fundamental rules of the game. The barrier shields used by Tanks such as Reinhardt, Orisa, and Sigma were retuned to be far more fragile than before, a response to the tank combination of Orisa and Sigma which could cover a team indefinitely with proper placement. The change made to armor’s damage reduction was also reverted at this time to give Tank characters more endurance, and several Tank cooldowns and passive abilities were adjusted to compensate for their reduced protective role.

While Orisa is still the best Tank around thanks to Halt and Fortify, players have found that it’s no longer a waste of time to shoot at shields since they offer much more limited protection. This has opened up a lot more options in the Damage category, allowing long-range hitscan characters such as Widowmaker and Ashe a chance to shine. Hanzo has seen a lot of play since he has so many options available to him after his 2018 rework. Doomfist has also been quite popular since he does his damage regardless of whether there’s a barrier in his way.

Build 'em up, break 'em down.

D.Va was the recipient of the only buff in the most recent patch, as her Boosters cooldown was reduced from five seconds down to three. D.Va has had a bit of an identity crisis since Sigma released, because he can do almost everything she can and has more flexibility in other areas. Allowing her more mobility gives her a unique playstyle in the Tank lineup and gives players more of a reason to pick her in certain situations. Remember that the Boosters can be used to score environmental eliminations, and when combined with her Micro Missiles, D.Va has the potential to pounce on a low-health target and remove it. D.Va will remain a conditional pick, but she may see use against Dive or Bunker compositions to eliminate key targets.

Baptiste, Doomfist, Hanzo, Mei, and Orisa have been especially oppressive recently since their escape abilities make them hard to punish. All of these were on the receiving end of the nerf stick in the most recent patch.

Baptiste’s Immortality Field had its maximum duration reduced by three seconds, and the cooldown was increased by five seconds. Crafty players have learned the best places to put the drone so it can’t be attacked, so it was difficult to play around. From the patch notes: “Reducing its uptime will help address this case while remaining strong at saving teammates out in the open.” It still remains an effective tool, but the Baptiste player will have to be certain of its placement now since the ability will take so much longer to recharge. Expect to see Immortality Field used more often to protect a key member of the team rather than to enable a push. Used in this way it’s comparable to one of Zarya’s bubbles, but without the benefit of powering up one of your teammates.

Baptiste’s Amplification Matrix ultimate was also hit, and the cost of the ultimate was increased by 20%. It seemed as though Baptiste had his ultimate available for every team fight, and it’s still one of the easiest ultimates to charge thanks to his ability to heal multiple targets simultaneously. Baptiste’s damage potential and healing output make him one of the best supports in the game even after the changes, so you’ll probably see a lot of him in early League games.

Doomfist’s Rising Uppercut used to allow for nearly instant followups, letting him combine it with a Rocket Punch or some Hand Cannon shots to confirm a kill. He’ll now have a slightly longer recovery time after using Rising Uppercut, up to 0.35 seconds from 0.2. This recovery time was pushed all the way to 0.5 seconds on the PTR, but was reduced after the community argued that it was a “self stun” for Doomfist and hurt the flow of the character. He’ll still be deadly in the right hands, but pros will now have the opportunity to make some counterplays in the brief window before Doomfist can finish them off. Watch for some skillful Ana sleep darts and McCree Flashbangs on Doom in upcoming OWL highlight reels.

Mei’s Endothermic Blaster (freeze gun) is being walked back a bit after her buffs during the GOATS era. She retains the ability to freeze multiple targets, but the slowing effect is much less oppressive than it had been in the past. The slowing effect of the beam now reduces enemy movement by 20-70%, down from 30-90%. Additionally, the duration when a character is fully frozen has been reduced by half a second. This means it should be a little easier to get away from Mei or to move outside the range of her Blizzard ultimate. Mei has been the hard counter to Wrecking Ball since that character’s release, and if these changes make her so weak she doesn’t gets picked, expect to see Hammond going on a rampage.

Hanzo’s primary fire projectiles have had their maximum speed reduced, from 125 meters per second down to 110. This change once again requires Hanzo to lead his shots, where before he almost felt like a hitscan character. He’ll see somewhat reduced effectiveness at extremely long range, and will have a harder time up against Pharah and Mercy. He still offers more value than most other characters in the Damage category, and snipers in general are much better thanks to the breakable barriers introduced in December.

Orisa’s Fortify had its damage reduction value modified, and she’ll now receive 60% of incoming damage while it’s active instead of just half. Fortify’s cooldown was reduced in the December patch, and Orisa gained more Armor HP at the same time. Both factors combined have made her very difficult to dislodge, but I’m not sure the 10% nerf to Fortify will have the effect Blizzard is looking for. I still expect to see plenty of Sigma/Orisa compositions in early OWL matchups.

It remains to be seen whether all of the experiments in the Overwatch League will pay off with increased viewership, but it’s clear Blizzard is doing its best to keep the game relevant in the leadup to Overwatch 2. Are you planning on watching more Overwatch League in 2020? Let us know in the comments below.