Last week Overwatch lead designer Jeff Kaplan laid down the law on the game’s official forums, saying that a conventional “hero ban” system would not solve the problems that Overwatch players often complain of. Hero ban systems, for the uninitiated, allow the players on one team to prevent the players on another other team from choosing specific characters. The idea is that, by allowing players to make these bans, the most popular and/or overpowered team compositions can be prevented. Such systems have been common in competitive online multiplayer games for some time, but no such system exists in Overwatch. Kaplan said that “we do a have a solution in mind – an actual system – that we’ll talk about (next week’s dev update) but it is not hero bans.”
Well next week is now, and it turns out that Blizzard’s ingenious, way-better-than-hero-bans solution is to ban heroes. But instead of letting players choose which heroes to ban on a per-match basis, Blizzard is going make that decision for you, weekly, as part of a new system it calls Hero Pools. Hero Pools will exclude a small handful of heroes from both teams’ roster choices, upsetting the established meta while still preventing either side from having a direct impact on the options available to their counterparts.
This is key to how Kaplan describes his PvP philosophy, saying last week that “you don’t get to pick what the enemy team does. The challenge is overcoming the enemy team with teamwork, ingenuity and skill. It feels really off to me that the other team dictates how or what I play.” Therefore, players should not be the ones to choose which characters are available and which aren’t.
Later in that same post, Kaplan goes on to say that “Overwatch is a game about mastering many heroes,” and that “we think the game is more fun for everyone involved if you play at least a handful of the heroes.” So it’s okay for you to not get to play the hero you want to play, but only as long as Blizzard is the one making that decision. We all on the same page? Alright, good.
Hero Pools are a new, experimental feature, and as such are subject to change as Blizzard sees how everything shakes out. At a minimum, the new system will be active for the duration of Season 21, but its various parameters (number of characters banned, frequency of rotation) may be tweaked along the way. It’s also worth mentioning that Hero Pools only apply to competitive/ranked modes, so folks in Quick Play and the Arcade can still pick whoever they want.
This announcement comes as Blizzard continues to manipulate the competitive Overwatch formula, in an effort to make it faster and more exiting for an esports audience. Today’s developer update also outlines plans for more frequent balance changes, as well as more substantive changes to Overwatch‘s many heroes. In addition, console players will soon be able to try out experimental character updates in a new “Experimental” mode, similar to how PC players are able to preview an upcoming patch by installing the special “Public Test Realm” client.