Jeff Kaplan: Overwatch 3-2-1 and 4-1-1 role queues were tested

On the Blizzard forums, he discussed the pros and cons of the damage-heavy composition.

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In a Blizzard forum comment, lead game director Jeff Kaplan revealed a setup with triple damage, double support, and single tank has been internally tested for months. While the change could bring some form of stability to queue times, Kaplan illustrated the negatives for those who believe role queue should change. 

Role queue was added to Overwatch and the Overwatch League in August. Every quick play, competitive, or professional match of Overwatch would need to include two tanks, two supports, and two damage dealers. Before role queue was enacted, players were left to create whatever compositions they desired. Triple tank and triple support was the dominant choice along with the often-chaotic four damage, one support, one tank setup. 

Developers added role queue in an attempt to even out the game, but not everyone has been happy. Since DPS is such a popular role, players who choose the damage role have to deal with long queues. High-ranked DPS players often have queues upwards of 30 minutes. 

In a forum post asking Blizzard to “save [the] game,” a player offered up the idea of 3-2-1 to shorten queue times for damage dealers. After numerous comments from usual forum posters, Kaplan added insight into Overwatch’s internal testing at the Blizzard offices. In short, 3-2-1 has created positive changes for some players but has created problems of its own. 

Screengrab via Blizzard Forums

“Internally, for the past two months, we changed the game to be based on 3-2-1 composition,” Kaplan said in his forum comment. The offices also internally tested the 4-1-1 composition with “terrible” results. 

Problems arose after 3-2-1 was tested, mainly around off-tank characters like Roadhog and D.Va, who hover on a thin line between damage and tank. “Is the correct thing to do for Roadhog…to try to make him more ‘main tanky’ or is the correct thing to do to simply move him to the Damage role and balance him as a damage character,” he asked.

Roadhog was given internal tweaks to make him a damage character, which included less health and changes to his primary fire. While these changes will not make it to live servers, they didn’t have much of an impact internally, either.

Kaplan explained that tank players felt a level of “pressure” in the 3-2-1 composition. Many testers, he said, feared that not playing the most popular, or “meta” heroes, would result in failure or social pressure from teammates. “Some tank players felt a tremendous anxiety about their performance in the match,” Kaplan said. He did note that some tank players adapted to the role, enjoying the “lone hero” aspect of the change. 

Damage dealers enjoyed the 3-2-1 testing, with shorter queue times and wilder compositions. Kaplan mentioned a double sniper setup with an additional flanker, like Tracer or Genji. He described the matches as “more chaotic” and aim-focused. Support players said they could spend more time healing other players without focusing on tanks, but also noted that the chaos brought some of them anxiety. 

One tester said the 3-2-1 role queue detracted from the “teamplay” aspect of Overwatch. Kaplan admitted that early on in Overwatch’s development, teamplay was something they “forced” to build a cooperative game. In 2020, Kaplan’s tone seems to have changed. “I feel like the over-emphasis on teamplay…causes a lot of psychological pressure for your average player just looking to blow off steam in a video game,” he said.  

Screengrab via Blizzard forums

“When we started, everyone treated it like this was ‘one of Jeff’s crazy experiments’ and was a super different, challenging (and possibly stupid) idea,” Kaplan said. Many testers noted that the game felt like how Overwatch used to be played. Before the advent of role queue, many games were played in a chaotic fashion with variable compositions. Kaplan asked those testers to remember when having two tanks was the true surprise. 

Kaplan said he is not against bringing 3-2-1 to some form of public testing, though the Public Test Realm (PTR) might be a stretch. “We don’t want to freak people out though,” he said. “Usually when stuff hits the PTR, we intend for it to go live.” Overall, he thanked the poster for their idea and noted that things like this do not go unnoticed. Hard work goes into testing these thoughts. “I am really proud of the [Overwatch] team for experimenting with it for the past two months,” he said.