Overwatch director Kaplan explains significance of Overwatch 2's features

Overwatch 2's new Toronto map will feature a new game mode: push. Provided by Blizzard Entertainment

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan stood in front of a raucous crowd at the Anaheim Convention Center during the opening ceremonies of BlizzCon to announce Overwatch 2, a sequel to Blizzard's 2016 team shooter. It contains new single-player content, progression systems that let you customize your character and a new game mode.

While Kaplan emphasized that this sequel is nowhere near ready for release, telling ESPN that the new heroes, maps and mode would not be ready for the third season of the Overwatch League, he did talk about what this sequel would have on the competitive scene. The biggest change is the new game mode. In addition to assault, control, escort and hybrid, there will now be push maps. It tasks players with pushing a robot, who starts out at a central location, into the enemy team's base.

"It's not like any gameplay that currently exists in Overwatch. The routes end up having a lot of flanking in them," Kaplan said in response to a question from ESPN. "You actually have to adapt and change how you play Overwatch when you try it, you have to play at a 360-degree type of position."

The Overwatch level design team originally tried to make linear maps stretched out across a larger area, but they realized that design made teams stall out the farther they got from their spawn. That pushed them to design maps with more unique layouts, meaning plenty of flanking options.

Kaplan said the mode was most similar to Overwatch's current mode, Control, due to the symmetrical nature of the maps involved, meaning that tiebreaking scenarios in the Overwatch League would have another game mode to use. Kaplan said that the rules could be tweaked to see this new mode play a role once Overwatch 2 launches at some point in the future.

While Overwatch League players and other high-level talent have only just started to test the waters with push, Kaplan says he believes the mode could open up possibilities for a different meta. "The coolest part is that it started to open up a brand new meta internally," he said. "Most of us chase the meta, we're not as good as our players, so we pay a lot of attention to what they're playing. We usually play their comps.

"We found that certain comps weren't really effective, like a bunker comp on push isn't really effective. It started to bring new heroes into the mix -- a lot of Reaper, a lot of Tracer, a lot of Sombra because of all the flank routes."

Kaplan also said that anyone who owns the original Overwatch game will still receive all balance patches, updates, new heroes and other multiplayer content to prevent dividing the community. He says he believes this, along with new single-player content, will help build more viewership and interest in the Overwatch League.

"I believe the broader you can make a game the more you open a funnel to find who those hardcore players are," he said. "Hardcore players don't know they are hardcore right away ... but with that said, I feel like the lack of cooperative [single-player] content greatly reduced the player base we could have had in the original game."

One common thread that Kaplan kept returning to was the persistence of certain metagames in Overwatch, like GOATs -- the term often used for the triple-tank, triple-support composition. He says he believes that all heroes are currently well balanced, and thinks that the key to having consistent and meaningful meta changes is adding new game modes, different map types and pushing systems that encourage new strategies.

Those systems include the role queue, a system that forces players into choosing either a tank, damage or support role before a match, which was implemented earlier this year. It also includes and a new map queue, a feature that limits which maps are available at a certain time, which is coming ahead of the next in-game competitive season.

Still, Kaplan says he believes there is only so much the development team can do to help push significant metagame changes.

"GOATs was dominant in the early part of Overwatch League Season 2," he said. "Non-OWL players were not using this strategy. A lot of people said that GOATs would stick around if we didn't add a role queue, but the truth is that GOATs meta was viable for way longer than it was played."

He went on to say that metagames come primarily from word of mouth and that they would continue looking into options that incentivized and pushed players to try different strategies.