Breaking Up With Overwatch

One of my good friends has been playing Hearthstone since the game launched, practically. He's sunk hours upon hours into it, not to mention hundreds of bucks. Yet not a week passes that he doesn't somehow drag the game. From bad drop rates to useless expansions to the fact that the client itself is buggy and prone to crashing, he has a laundry list of complaints. He still plays, but most of his time is spent in DOTA 2 (a game he's also hate-played for about 2.5k hours,) and the release of each new expansion is met not with excitement, but with dread for how Blizzard's going to screw it up. According to him, Blizzard is a company prone to screwing things up, yet never getting punished for it.

This is a fact I can attest to. Back in high school, I was pretty hardcore into StarCraft. My ex was a lifelong player, since she was practically a toddler, and her enthusiasm by proxy got me into playing it. Sure, I'd dabbled before, borrowing my friend's Battle Chest and messing around in the campaign. But it was between 2009 and 2011 that I got really deep into it. Throwing myself into the lore, trying my hand at playing online (boy, was that a mistake,) messing around with all sorts of custom maps. Sarah Kerrigan quickly became one of my favorite characters in science-fiction, and the Protoss one of my most despised fictional races. I was hooked, to say the least, and there was no better time to get into it. Because during this period of three years, StarCraft II was on the horizon. It was really happening. I rushed to catch up and get ready for what I was convinced would be one of the best gaming experiences out there. I still remember my heart skipping a beat when I got the email from GameStop: "Midnight Launch Detected."

Like the dweeby sixteen year-old I was, I got one of those enormous cans of Monster, the ones with the screw-on lids, and a bag of Munchos. From midnight to dawn, I played, rested, then woke up and played more. For a period of July, I barely left my computer. How could I? Jim Raynor was going to toe-to-toe with his former flame. Tycus was starting to clash with his lifelong friend. The Protoss were being arrogant jackasses again. This was what I'd been waiting for. Or so I thought.

The more I played Wings of Liberty, the more I realized that I wasn't really into it. It was one of those situations where you play something obsessively, yet step away from it and start tearing it apart in your mind. This was a situation I'd get more acquainted with as I got older and lived through disappointments like Soul Calibur V, but in 2010, it was kind of an alien feeling. Not liking something in a series I loved? What kind of insanity was this? This was before I even finished Wings of Liberty, too, and got to experience what has to be one of gaming's most asinine climaxes. Kerrigan goes from being the badass queen of a hivemind to being held in the arms of an edgier, more John Marston-like Raynor, right after he's shot the character assassinated Tychus. What was this hot garbage?

strong female characterization.jpg
In the coming weeks, I'd discover that things weren't much better on the multiplayer front. Those early months of StarCraft II effectively killed my interest in ever touching the series again. The game's meta was in a constant state of flux, to the point where it felt pointless to learn any meaningful strategies, lest they become irrelevant when I woke up the next day. Blizzard's early attempts at integrating World of Warcraft and StarCraft II in the same client was also garbage, far from the basically functional bit of software it is now. Other problems, like new units that were absolutely useless, a community that was a far cry from the fun found in the first game, and a ranking system that felt pretty fucking arbitrary, made me go back to just enjoying the original. Fast-forward to 2017, and StarCraft II is almost entirely irrelevant. Its eSports scene is all but dead, and the two follow-ups to Wings of Liberty came and went without a whole lot of attention. Considering this is the franchise that birthed the eSports scene as we know it, that's pretty sad.

Don't even get me started on Diablo III, either. The acceptable state the game is currently is the result of several years of fixes that should've been available at launch. What consumers got in 2012 was nothing short of a disaster. Server issues. Hilariously broken balance. Obscene drop rates. An in-game auction house that utilized real-world money. That's not even mentioning the ugly visuals or mediocre narrative. Compared to the landmark Diablo II, it was a joke, and even after Reaper of Souls, still kind of is.

So why did I even give Overwatch a chance?

It's a funny question for me to type, as I look around my office. My walls are still plastered in fan art of D.Va, Tracer, Symmetra, D.Va, and more D.Va for good measure. I can't wait to play with my Tracer Nendoroid when it comes this month, and my girlfriend surprised me with a preorder of the Mei one. From the outside looking in, it seems like I'm a diehard Overwatch fan, and it's clear that I've done a whole lot more than "give it a chance."

Why, then, have I not touched the game since calibrating at the start of Season Five? Why could I not care less about Doomfist? Why do I roll my eyes every time Blizzard unveils new patch notes? Why I am more liable to spend time playing Friday the 13th or Splatoon 2, or drop money on LawBreakers, than put more time into something I have a hundred-something hours worth of playtime in? What, exactly, is up my ass when it comes to Overwatch?

The answer is complicated. But I think the most succinct way to put it is that the magic has worn off.

mercy main btw
When Overwatch came out, I was late to the party, but was still impressed with what Blizzard was doing to the realm of first-person shooters. Speaking as a lapsed Call of Duty fan, it was really refreshing to see someone making a cartoon-y objective-based shooter, with bright color palettes and a clearly anime-influenced art direction. The classes seemed really unique and diverse, and gave players of all types plenty to sink their teeth into. Plus, the cast itself was great - there weren't many other shooters who had characters with personalities like Pharah, McCree, and personal favorite D.Va. There was something about the game that stood out, and the growing community didn't hurt. Finally, I jumped in, and didn't look back for ages.

Along the way, though, I think there were early warning signs that I was too caught up in the luster of it all to notice. Since launch, people were calling Blizzard's latest a reskin of Team Fortress 2, and as each competitive season came and went, they were doing very little to address that. The loot box system, despite having spent a good deal of cash on it, is a pretty terrible one and something that I would tear apart in any other game. Clearly broken characters went months without so much as a single alteration, with Roadhog and Mei being the most egregious examples.

That last point segues perfectly into a big sticking point I have - Overwatch's community. When characters are pointed out as being broken or imbalanced, a vocal portion of the player base is quick to engage in the good ol' fashioned practice of gaming enthusiasts defending corporations like they're actual people. So much as suggesting that a character might have some problems prompts a deluge of snarky memes, harsh comments, and a collective cry of "GIT GUD M8" from these fine folks. Now, I'll be the first to admit that these players are a vocal minority of the actual player base. But let's be honest - vocal minorities are often the loudest when it comes to nerd "culture," and when you have a smarmy, nasal-y voice screaming at you about something you're trying to love, it's hard not to form an impression that this is a voice that speaks for a large portion of the community, even if that's not necessarily the case.

handy zodiac chart for ya
With the game feeling liked a gussied-up repeat of Valve's ruined team-based shooter, a pretty insidious microtransaction system, characters that felt sort of busted, overarching balance issues, and a meta that grew more stagnant by the day, all supported by an increasingly toxic community, it's weird that I stuck with Overwatch as long as I did. Yet until May or so, I did. Until the beginning of the current competitive season. That was around the time I calibrated, didn't do so hot, and didn't really look back.

It used to be I took my lack of skill at the game as a personal challenge. I really did want to get better. But no matter how much I improved my mechanical skills, it didn't feel like enough. Reaction time and playing my class alone wouldn't stop the game's balance problems, wouldn't shut up the people I played with, wouldn't fix a meta that's been growing staler by the day, wouldn't fix the newcomers who fuck up and blame it on everyone else. All the fun character designs and enjoyable lore in the world couldn't make up for how little fun I was having at that point.

So I just kind of stopped.

It wasn't some big, dramatic thing. I just started finding other games to take up my time. I've put around 65 hours into Friday the 13th, 25ish in Playerunknown's Battlegrounds, and god-knows-how-many in other single player games on my backlog. Sometimes, I see that Battle.Net icon on my desktop, and think I should play some, then shrug. Why would I do that to myself? Do I even care much anymore? Yeah, I still buy Overwatch merch, still love the characters, still think D.Va is mankind's greatest gift to itself. But how obnoxious and hopeless it feels to pick up a game of Overwatch overwhelms whatever goodwill is still.

I do realize that it's a little silly, getting this in-depth about something as simple as "I stopped playing this game." But I think why it hurts is that, once again, it's Blizzard. It's this company I've had a caustic relationship with since I was, like, seven years old, when I picked up Diablo II. Since then, this is a company that's been letting me down time and time again, taking franchises I care about and running them into the ground due to blatant mismanagement. I still care about StarCraft and Diablo, but I care about the feelings and memories I associate with those franchises more than I do playing the hollow shells of their former selves they turned into.

With Overwatch, I guess I saw a new chance. This was a new franchise, and maybe in my own way, I saw less opportunities for it to let me down thanks to it being a fresh start. But within a year of experiencing a game that fluctuates in all the wrong ways and dealing with a community that's generally unpleasant, I just don't feel like I can be bothered to give much of a fuck anymore. And looking at their track record, I don't see Blizzard doing anything to bring back burnt out fans. Because they don't care. They have their militant fanbase. They have their war chest of WoW dosh. They're set.

And so am I. I have other shit to play. Other ways to waste my time. So I guess I will.

That said, after getting in a thirty-minute conversation about Overwatch in a local store with a few people yesterday... I cared again. Even if only for a few seconds. Maybe I'll give it another shot. For old time's sake.

among other reasons


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