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Overwatch’s capture the flag mode took years to figure out, but it may be here to stay

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It took a long, long time, but it’s won Jeff Kaplan over

Overwatch’s Chinese New Year event adds more than just festive skins to the game. It adds a new game mode, called “Capture the Rooster,” a holiday-themed take on the classic playground game capture the flag. The popular game type’s inclusion may come as a surprise to longtime Overwatch fans, who recall Blizzard Entertainment’s repeated comments about how capture the flag just wouldn’t work for the hero shooter.

“Over the years, when we were iterating and testing various versions of capture the flag, we actually gave up on the mode for awhile,” director Jeff Kaplan explained in his latest “Developer Update” video, above. “We felt like what we didn’t want to do was add a bunch of rules that no longer made Overwatch heroes feel like Overwatch heroes.”

The problem that Blizzard frequently ran into while prototyping a capture the flag mode was that certain heroes’ rapid-fire movements felt cheap. Take the speedy Brit Tracer: Kaplan explained that she could just blink ahead to the flag, then use her recall ability to go back to her base just as quickly. That would leave the other team completely unable to fight back.

That’s what Kaplan mentioned to Polygon in a November 2015 interview as well, months before Overwatch actually launched. Back then, he said explicitly that Blizzard “didn’t like” how capture the flag felt in-game, despite it being an extremely popular mode in the first-person shooter genre.

Capture the Rooster is an Overwatch-specific take on the gym class classic.
Blizzard Entertainment

“You either have it wind up being a match of all Tracers and Genjis, or you end up putting so many rules in that Tracer doesn't feel like Tracer anymore or there's no reason to play her in the map,” Kaplan told us then.

Assistant game director Aaron Keller said a similar thing more recently. When speaking to PC Gamer in September 2016, he maintained that Blizzard had yet to find a way to make capture the flag work for Overwatch’s incredibly fast heroes.

“For instance in a capture the flag game mode you have to start wondering what Tracer does or what Genji does; they’re so incredibly mobile they would be incredibly powerful flag carriers,” Keller said. “Modes like that become difficult for us to design.”

Yet between then and now, Blizzard continued to iterate on the game type. Community feedback and suggestions helped inspire the development team to keep at it, Kaplan explained in his new video. Eventually, Blizzard was able to find a way to make capture the flag fit Overwatch without sacrificing fairness or its heroes’ unique powers.

“When people think of capture the flag they think of those great movement abilities,” said Kaplan. “Instead of trying to overly balance and overly tune Overwatch around this concept out of fairness, why don’t we embrace what our heroes do?”

In “Capture the Rooster,” players will find some specific tweaks not common to the capture the flag mode in other games. That includes a small amount of time between when a player grabs the flag and when they can run with it. That should prevent Tracers from blinking away and ending the match within seconds.

“Capture the Rooster” is a special feature for the Lunar New Year event, which runs through Feb. 13. Kaplan doesn’t rule out the possibility of it making a longterm appearance in Overwatch’s Arcade Mode, however.

“Maybe, you know, someday, if we fine-tune and iterate on it, it will be great and we’ll think about it that way,” he explained. “But we’re not even remotely thinking about it that way right now.”