Criticising ESL's Overwatch Format
On Friday, June 24, ESL posted its rules for their upcoming Overwatch Atlantic Showdown, and its blatant disregard for the established format seen in tournaments like Alienware Monthly Melee and GosuGamers Weekly boggles my mind.
Before we get into what ESL is doing and why it is bad, allow me to describe the common competitive Overwatch format that we have been seeing so we can draw the comparisons. Like CS:GO, a match will start with teams drafting maps, banning a few before picking. This allows teams to control the matchup by taking away the enemy’s better maps or get rid of maps they are uncomfortable on. Recently, the three Assault maps (Temple of Anubis, Volskaya Industries, and Hanamura) were removed from the rotation as teams always ban those maps due to imbalance in the game mode. This means only Escort, Hybrid, and Control are considered professional game modes.
In Escort and Hybrid, the victor is determined with a stopwatch scoring system; if a team caps a checkpoint faster than the other, it wins the entire map. This avoids a tiebreaker situation from both teams completing the map.
Additionally, GosuGamers recently implemented a Single-Hero restriction for each team. While such a restriction does not exist anywhere in Blizzard’s client, it has proven to expand compositional diversity in all game modes, and has been regarded as a welcomed change.
What ESL is doing forgoes all of that. There will be no draft phase, as maps will be determined by a randomizer from a pool of six weekly maps, and ties Escort and Hybrid are settled with the competitive play mode’s sudden death rule, which has the teams play a single King of the Hill point. There will be no hero limits.
Why is ESL’s system worse? With regards to its designs for the maps, the inability to draft maps voids an important element of strategy; matchups will not be characterized by the choices of the teams, but by a random number generator. For example, if a team excels at Escort, but the map pool only consists of Assault and Control, then that team is at a disadvantage by factors it has no control over.
Furthermore, the inclusion of Assault is a horrendous decision. Those maps have not been played on or practiced competitively since they are not balanced well for competitive play. After listening to the professional players’ desires, most tournament organizers removed Assault maps from the pool. ESL’s inclusion of these maps, therefore, disregards the validated opinions of professionals. Dan Street, a competitive Overwatch player, compared this to CS:GO including causal maps in competitive tournaments.
The use of the competitive play mode ruleset is also disastrous. Now a team will not be rewarded on Escort if it completes the objective faster, since a team only has to worry about completing the map, or preventing the other team from doing so. The fact a tie would be settled by a Control Point, a format completely different from Escort, fails to give a correct judgment on which team is better at Escort. While the stopwatch format is not free of its own criticism, it is still the best current format to accurately reward a team for excelling at this game mode.
As for hero limits, ESL would tell you that a lack of limitations “gives teams the most room to be flexible and adapt,” and that “the option to stack heroes (is) a core game concept and central to the strategy of Overwatch.” There is some validity to this statement: not having any restrictions expands the number of possible compositions greatly. However, in practice, this can actually limit the applicable strategy. For example, teams playing Control often mirrored each other’s hero stacks, as seen in Overkill League’s grand final between Cloud9 and Reunited. Using two Wintsons, two Lucios, and two Tracers, the teams had the fastest possible composition with strong kill potential to always contest the point as fast as possible. The results were a chaotic, unentertaining mess for players and viewers.
While there are more possibilities, in actuality, no hero limits actually strangles diversity. Following the implementation of hero limits, compositional variety increased as teams had the ability to explore options rather than keep pace with hero stacking. One could point to the nerfs to Mcree and Widowmaker for allowing other heroes like Pharah to emerge, but the inclusion of a hero limit incentivized hero diversity.
My critical opinions on ESL’s format is not one in isolation. Numerous pros vented some of their frustrations on twitter, mocking the aspects of ESL’s format I have touched upon, and some examples are shown below.
While ESL’s tournament has the largest prize pool yet seen in competitive Overwatch, it is painfully clear that the company is up to its usual shenanigans of questionable decisions and mismanagement. Hopefully, this format is only used to simplify the online qualifiers, and be disregarded for the LAN event.
This may be the largest tournament yet for Overwatch, but it does not reflect the development of the western scene for the past several months. The possibility that this structure could undersell what competitive Overwatch is to the curious masses watching for the first time is a difficult pill to swallow.
(Header image courstesy of VG 24/7)