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Overwatch is down as Blizzard preps for Overwatch 2

Players say goodbye to the original Overwatch

Tracer saluting to a young buy as seen in Overwatch’s cinematic debut trailer Image: Blizzard Entertainment
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

The original Overwatch is offline. That’s as expected, because Blizzard Entertainment plans to launch the semi-sequel, Overwatch 2, on Tuesday. Overwatch players will be without the game for a 27-hour period, when Blizzard will kick off the free-to-play era of Overwatch 2.

The end of Overwatch is bittersweet, as the original game, which itself has evolved dramatically over the years, effectively disappears. Once Overwatch 2 takes over, many heroes will play differently than they have for the past few years. Familiar, well-worn maps like Hanamura and Temple of Anubis will all but disappear, as the game mode that uses them is no longer part of sequel’s game rotation. Six-hero teams will give way to five-hero teams, part of Blizzard’s attempt to bring balance and improved readability to the game.

Blizzard gave players a small but meaningful sendoff on Monday, saying via in-game chat, “Even the best journeys end, but a new one is right around the corner. Thank you, heroes! See you October 4th!” At 12 p.m. EDT/9 a.m. PDT, matchmaking servers for the original Overwatch went down. But anyone who played the original will have access to Overwatch 2 when it goes live on Tuesday.

Overwatch launched in 2016 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. The hero shooter boasted 21 playable characters and maps at launch, and over the past six years, Blizzard added another 11 heroes to the game’s roster. Overwatch 2 will welcome three new heroes, with more slated to arrive every 18 weeks or so.

Two years after launch, Activision Blizzard pushed aggressively into esports, launching the Overwatch League, which is currently in its fifth season. Blizzard’s focus on esports and competitive play has, in some ways, affected the game for all players, as Blizzard pursues a level playing field and aims to make pro Overwatch enjoyable to watch.

The past two years of Overwatch have been lighter in terms of new content compared to its first four years. The most recent hero added to the original was Echo in April 2020, and players of the original Overwatch have sustained themselves on rotating seasonal events, new maps, hero reworks, and experimental balance changes in recent years.

Recent years have also been a tumultuous time for Overwatch’s development team. Key people, including original game director Jeff Kaplan, lead writer Michael Chu, executive producer Chacko Sonny, and lead hero designer Geoff Goodman, have left Blizzard during the development of Overwatch 2. Other Blizzard employees have been fired or forced out, leading to changes that have impacted the Overwatch roster itself.

The transition to Overwatch 2 will come with some wrinkles of its own, as all players are required to tie a phone number to the game, part of Blizzard’s effort to curb cheating and toxic behavior. That will ultimately leave some original Overwatch players behind, who may no longer be able to play the game. For them, the closure of the original Overwatch is even more bittersweet.

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