Overwatch’s 21st season of competitive goes live today, and with it a new way for Blizzard to mix up the shooter’s meta game: hero bans. Four heroes — Baptiste, Hanzo, Mei, and Orisa — have been temporarily locked out of competitive play, a move that Blizzard hopes will create change in the meta.
Blizzard announced its plan to introduce the Hero Pools system back in January. Hero Pools went live in the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One versions of the game on Thursday. On the Overwatch website, the company said the plan is to disable “one tank, one support, and two damage heroes ... from the roster each week with the intent to keep the meta fresh and encourage hero diversity in matches.”
“Every week when players log in to Overwatch, it’ll be a slightly different game,” Overwatch principle game designer Scott Mercer said. “There’ll be more variety. What we’re trying to address is the feeling that the game isn’t changing rapidly enough. This is one part of—along with more aggressive balance changes—helping make Overwatch an ever-evolving game.
“A lot of players find an ever-evolving game more exciting. They don’t want to play the same heroes and compositions every time. When they feel like the meta gets more static, it’s not as fun for them. We’re trying to do this to make our game more enjoyable to both play and watch.”
While it may be a rough adjustment for Mei and Hanzo mains out there, Mercer assures players “you won’t see any unavailable for more than two weeks in a row” in competitive play.
Hero Pool rules for the Overwatch League will be different from the weekly curated list of heroes banned in competitive play in the standard game. For pro-level play, Blizzard will monitor which heroes are being played most in Overwatch League, and disable heroes based on that.
“In the Overwatch League, analysts will look at the previous two weeks of hero play data, and if a hero is played more than 10 percent of the time, they’re eligible to be taken out of the rotation,” Mercer said. “For example, from all of the tanks that are played more than 10 percent of the time during weeks three and four, one will be randomly chosen and taken out of rotation for week five. The same will happen with two damage heroes and one support hero.
“Since the heroes being taken out will be the most used, I don’t know if you’ll ever see someone like Torbjörn taken out of rotation. But you never know!”
Hero Pools won’t affect Overwatch’s other modes, like quick play and arcade.