New Developer Update

Hero Pools in Overwatch and OWL


News that affects the future of competitive Overwatch and the Overwatch League arrived in a Developer Update video this week.

Beginning with Season 21 (Thursday, March 5), weekly hero pools are being added to Competitive Mode in Overwatch. Beginning two days later on Saturday, March 7, the Overwatch League has their own version of the feature launching during the Seoul and Washington DC homestands.

For the competitive community, each week a new, small selection of heroes will not be available to choose from in games. This means that, for example, maybe Sigma, Ana, and Reaper are deactivated for week 1 of the season. At present we don’t know how many heroes will be banned in any given week or if it will even remain a constant number, but the Overwatch League may have a clue for one potential way this could work.

In the OWL, one tank, one support, and two damage characters will be unavailable for play by all teams playing that week. Teams will be notified about a week before they play as to which heroes will not be allowed. Characters will never be banned two weeks in a row, and only characters that are regularly selected, based on OWL player data, will ever be barred.

These rules will not be in effect for tournaments, playoffs, or the Grand Finals.

More Frequent Patches

Kaplan also discussed that hero balance is going to be much more aggressive, something we’ve already seen in January with two patches already hitting live servers.

He went on to say that the team is changing their balance philosophy away from slow and steady changes to try to balance all heroes to be about the same in power, instead now deliberately targeting the meta and maybe make more drastic changes for individual heroes than they would have had in the past. If a hero falls out of favor dramatically or something gets too powerful, they’ll be more apt to pull back some or all of those changes.


New Way to Test Upcoming Changes

A new system is coming to the live game on all platforms that will allow the dev team to test these frequent changes and potentially get more data to work from.

Soon a new Experimental card will appear alongside Quick Play, Competitive, Arcade, and Custom, with hero changes and other things to be tested. Being that this is in the live game, it will allow anyone, not just PC players, the ability to help test some things out and see how changes feel.

Having it appear in the live game not only provides more access to future test changes, but will also allow players to earn rewards as if they were playing any other mode of Overwatch.

The PTR will still exist as it does now for major changes such as a new hero or new map. The Experimental card is only for things that do not require a large patch to be installed like hero adjustments.

OWL Patch Updates

With the new, more aggressive patching, and with not having Stages in the 2020 season to roll changes out, patches will work differently for the League than they did in the past.

When a patch is released for Overwatch, the Overwatch League will implement that patch two weekends later. If a patch ever comes out during the weekend the OWL is playing, it will not be applied until the next weekend.

In the same post, the League said that they may revise these Hero Pool rules and patch implementations at any time based on experience and feedback from the players and community.

OWL Games in China Postponed, Some Teams Moved


The Overwatch League announced that homestands in China for February and March have been canceled and that the games will be played at a later date. This will affect games for 5 weekends.

The reason is due to the spread of the coronavirus, which was just declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, and has hit China the hardest so far.

Teams in the region had each made their own announcements as well.

Shanghai is moving its players and coaching staff to South Korea. Guangzhou has already moved their non-Chinese players to South Korea and are working on visas for their Chinese players to do the same. Chengdu is remaining in China but are extending their New Year holiday and every team member that comes to the training facility is said to have their temperature checked and they will be sanitized. They will also have facemasks and disinfection tools available.

Chengdu’s measures feel odd compared to the others, but their statement says it meets government protocol. Who am I to say?

As of this writing, Hangzhou has not made any statements on what, if anything, they will be doing during the outbreak.

Overwatch League Moves to YouTube

Late last week the League revealed that live broadcasts would be moving away from Twitch to YouTube.

Little more than that is known as of this writing, such as will All Access make a return, and will drops for OWL tokens be available? CEO of Blizzard Esports and OWL Pete Vlastelica said, “We’ve heard your questions about how drops might work on YouTube. It’s important for fans to know that we’re exploring ways to offer rewards for watching our broadcasts on YouTube in the future.” So that’s a resounding, “Maybe.”

The first disadvantage I thought about OWL moving over to YouTube is that with the current system, there is no easy way to capture clips like with Twitch. Watching viewer highlights or recapping a cool moment is about to get more difficult.