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Somehow, I’m playing ‘Overwatch’ again

I’m not sure what pulled me back into Overwatch. Correction: It was all Jessica Conditt’s fault. Her incisive overview on the Summer Game Fest, which noted the lack of fresh updates on AAA games – those major games we’re all excited about – got me thinking about which games I’m waiting to play.

One of those is Overwatch 2. Which is coming this year, has a release date and is just wrapping up its public beta. Oh, and it’s completely rid of loot boxes. Rejoice!

The fact that the original Overwatch will evolve into its sequel, which will be free-to-play, rewired my brain. Before I knew it, I was back in the game’s lobby waiting my turn to play as all of the popular characters (now categorized as Damage players).

I was already used to the notion that your team of heroes had to strike a balance between support (healers), Tank (damage sponges) and Damage (your, er, damage dealers). This dynamic makes for more strategic fights, even in casual match-ups. But it means I often don’t get to play with some of my favorite characters.

Overwatch

Blizzard

In casual games, there seems to be a dearth in Support players, sadly. (Luckily for me, Moria is one of my go-to characters.) Hopefully, Overwatch 2 will redistribute characters across those three categories — not to mention new additions and new skills and supers. Of course, these mandatory squad layouts were one of many major changes and shifts in Overwatch since it first arrived back in 2016.

Once upon a time, the dwarfy, Torbjörn had an upgradable turret gun and threw out armor packs, Reaper had to collect little orbs of death to gain health from his kills. Symmetra, one of the relatively late additions to the game, has had her abilities and ultimates reshuffled several times. At one point, she had two ultimate options, while another changed nerfed her sentry turret down from six turrets down to three. Outrageous!

The most controversial change was made to everyone’s go-to healer, Mercy. In the early stages of Overwatch, her ultimate attack would revive all KOed heroes in range. It was… rather overpowered. These days, it’s a more sensible single-person revive that charges faster – but some may never get over some of these shakeups. (They should.) [Ed. note: I won’t.]

There are big changes afoot in Overwatch 2, too. After weeks of playing the beta, I was relieved that many of my primary characters really haven’t changed at all – at least, not yet. It’s unusual to see Bastion wheeling around as a tank (and I’m now bad at playing as Bastion?), while I’m still acquainting myself with Orisa’s changes, which completely shake up her playstyle (no shield?!). This will take some time. A few new skill effects are also a little hard to decipher visually. (You can check out my colleague Jessica’s deeper thoughts on the beta right here.)

I maintain, despite (or thanks to) the many, many additions, that Overwatch has the most iconic character roster of a game since Street Fighter 2. Still, I don’t like having to really dig for the lore and character backgrounds outside of the game to understand the motivations — or, at least, the sassy asides they say to each other. It’s funny I mention SF2, because the beta feels a little like Super Street Fighter 2, which gave us four new characters, a few more locales, but didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel.

The beta remains limited to standard versus matches, though you will occasionally get to test out the cute robot-tug-of-war matches every now and then. It’s mostly the same Overwatch experience. The two new characters, Junker Queen and Sojourn, are both compelling additions to the roster so far (even if there are still too many Damage characters). The Junker Queen, in particular, seems to offer some intriguing new moves to shake up the competitive meta.

I’m still hoping for more beyond the base game matchups though, whether that’s more cooperative set-pieces or something entirely new and different. Is that too much to ask from what will be a free-to-play game? Hopefully, Overwatch 2 will also better expand on narrative bits and pieces.

The addictive ebb-and-flow of the fights feel the same, but I wonder if Blizzard can continually evolve and expand the experience to keep me hooked this time, just like Roadhog would have wanted.

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‘Overwatch 2’ won’t have loot boxes

Overwatch 2 will get rid of one of the first game’s most infamous elements. Blizzard has confirmed at a reveal event that that the new team-based shooter won’t have loot boxes when it premieres October 4th. Instead, you’ll get the items you want through either a Battle Pass or a “consistently updated” in-game store. You won’t have to roll the dice wondering if you’ll get a special character skin or emote.

Blizzard also used the event to show what you can expect for the first two seasons. The developer will provide free updates every nine weeks to keep things fresh, with progression applying across game platforms. The first season will include three new heroes (Sojourn, Junker Queen and an unidentified third), six more maps, 30-plus extra skins and a new game mode. The second season, kicking off December 6th, will add a new take hero, another map and still more cosmetics. In 2023, you can expect a new “PvE experience” that advances the story.

The approach to loot boxes is a relative about-face. The company has kept the random boxes in Overwatch ever since launch, and has been defensive. Blizzard even refused to release Diablo Immortal in Belgium and the Netherlands due to those countries’ laws banning loot box mechanics as a form of gambling. With Overwatch 2, the team is acknowledging the backlash.

There might not have been much choice. Overwatch has maintained a largely steady player count and even grown slightly over the years, with ActivePlayer.io data indicating an average of 7.2 million players per month as of May. However, it’s no secret that some players hate loot boxes and might be wary of playing the new game if they persist. As it stands, US agencies like the Federal Trade Commission have investigated loot box systems in the past. Whatever the motivations for scrapping the boxes, the decision could help Blizzard avoid legal trouble in its home country.

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‘Overwatch 2’ is going free-to-play with early access starting on October 4th

Activision Blizzard isn’t owned by Microsoft just yet, but the publisher still had a presence at Sunday’s Xbox and Bethesda showcase. There was a trailer for Overwatch 2, along with some major news. The game will be free-to-play and early access will begin on October 4th on all platforms (the Overwatch blog calls this the game’s launch). There will be at least one more beta before then, with details to be announced at a reveal event on Thursday.

The clip showed a glimpse of a new hero that’s been part of the game’s lore for years, the Junker Queen. It seems likely that the character will be playable as part of the next beta. They have a shotgun and a melee weapon, and it appears that one of their abilities involves rampaging forward. Junker Queen is a tank character. The sequel already had one confirmed new character, damage hero Sojourn. 

The trailer also included a quick look at a new Zenyatta ability, which allows the omnic to knock back an enemy with a melee attack. Naturally, it invokes the movie 300, since you can kick an opponent into the Ilios well. In addition, there was a glimpse of a mysterious fox that was leading a team into a fight.

Given that Blizzard will move all current Overwatch players to Overwatch 2, the original game will be going free-to-play as well. Those who own the game before June 23rd will receive a founder’s pack, with a special icon, two skins (General Doomfist and Jester Sombra) and more goodies. You’ll need to log in by December 5th to receive the pack.

It’s worth noting that only the player-vs-player (PvP) side of Overwatch 2 will be available on October 4th. The co-op missions will arrive later. The PvP overhaul will feature new maps and heroes, the Push mode, reworks of current heroes, an upgraded game engine and a move from teams of six to five vs. five.

It’s unclear whether the player-vs-environment side of the sequel will be free too. Overwatch 2 will herald a shift to a seasonal content format, which suggests there will be a battle pass of some kind. That means there should finally be content updates on a regular cadence. Blizzard also says there will be premium cosmetics and (at last) cross-platform progression. 

“We can’t wait to roll out the beginning of the Overwatch 2 experience on October 4 and introduce an exciting new competitive vision, featuring a reimagining of the iconic heroes, maps, and gameplay that made the original game so compelling,” Mike Ybarra, president of Blizzard Entertainment, said in a statement. “This is the beginning of an always-on and always-evolving era for the franchise, and a recommitment to serving players with frequent and substantial updates planned well into the future to keep Overwatch 2 fresh and fun for many years to come.”

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Blizzard will show off more ‘Overwatch 2’ on June 16th

The first  just wrapped up today, and Blizzard is already preparing to reveal what’s next for the game with an event on June 16th. Details about what to expect are fairly thin for now, though the studio will provide some info on the next PvP beta as well as its plan for the coming months.

Blizzard could be hoping to use the event to address some of the criticism about the first beta. Along with and four fresh maps, the beta introduced another game mode, an upgraded game engine, major changes to many heroes and, most significantly, a shift in the number of team members from six to five.

I loved the beta, for the most part (I’m not a fan of the revamped scoreboard at all). It was only a slice of what Overwatch 2 will eventually become, but it still felt fresh. However, some critics felt that the beta after two years without significant content updates for the original game. Others suggested it was .

“Overwatch as a world, as a universe, is deeply personal to the team; something that we pour our time, creative energies and passion into,” game director Aaron Keller . “It can be scary putting something that means so much to you out there for other people to look at. Especially when you know that it’s not finished and you’re asking for people’s real and valid criticisms of what you’ve made. But the reason we do it is important — to make a better game, and it’s our players and our community that make it possible.”

The Overwatch 2 team it focused on testing specific elements in the first beta, such as the new maps, shift to 5v5, balance and stability of the build and servers. It promised that more features, heroes and maps will be introduced in upcoming betas. Blizzard will surely try to convince the doubters that it’s on the right track with Overwatch 2, hopefully by revealing some more major updates next month. 

In the meantime, a new event just started in the original game, offering the chance to snag some new versions of fan-favorite skins and play some limited-time modes. That could help players pass the time until the next beta, whenever that may start.

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Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 delayed amid another Blizzard executive shake-up

Two of Blizzard’s big upcoming titles have been hit with delays. During its most recent financial earnings call with investors, Activision Blizzard announced that both Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 have been delayed. In addition, the company announced that Jen Oneal will be leaving her position as co-leader of Blizzard at the end of the year, meaning Mike Ybarra will be the sole leader of Blizzard.

A longer wait for two heavy hitters

The announcement of these delays for Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 has got to sting for the fans who were looking forward to them. Both games were announced at BlizzCon 2019, and though we’ve received various updates about the state of both games, the delay announced during Activision Blizzard’s call with investors seems to push both titles out of their 2022 release windows.

“While we are still planning to deliver a substantial amount of content from Blizzard next year, we are now planning for a later launch for Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 than originally envisaged,” Activision Blizzard said during its financial presentation.

“These are two of the most eagerly anticipated titles in the industry, and our teams have made great strides towards completion in recent quarters,” the company continued. “But we believe giving the teams some extra time to complete production and continue growing their creative resources to support the titles after launch will ensure that these releases delight and engage their communities for many years into the future.”

Later in the presentation (a transcript of which can be found on Activision Blizzard’s IR site), the company says it is “not planning for material contributions from Overwatch 2 or Diablo 4 in 2022.” That, as you may have already guessed, suggests that both games have been delayed to 2023 or possibly even beyond. Unfortunately, Blizzard didn’t give specific release dates or even release windows for either game outside of that statement.

These delays leave Blizzard without a major new release for 2022, at least for the time being. Diablo Immortal, a version of Diablo destined for smartphones, is currently in testing and should be launching in the first half of 2022, though that isn’t really what people expect when they think of Blizzard blockbusters.

It’s always possible that Blizzard has some yet-announced project to fill the gap between now and the releases of Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2, but it doesn’t seem likely. Instead, Blizzard may just fall back on maintaining the games it currently offers as work on Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 continues, such as World of Warcraft and its Classic iteration, Hearthstone, and the original Overwatch.

Still more leadership changes at Blizzard

This batch of financial results also brought the news that Jen Oneal, current co-leader of Blizzard with Mike Ybarra, will be departing the company at the end of the year to focus on her position as a board member of Women in Games International. This will leave Ybarra as the sole leader of Blizzard in 2022 and presumably beyond.

“Jen has decided to leave the company at the end of the year, and we have agreed to support Jen in her involvement with WIGI by making a donation to WIGI in honor of Jen,” Activision Blizzard president and COO Daniel I. Alegre said during the call with investors. “In her remaining months for the company, given her commitment to this work, Jen will build the foundation of programs funded by the grant.”

Alegre added, “As such, Mike Ybarra will take on Jen’s leadership responsibilities. It is great to see how employees at our company are committed to bring about the positive changes in our industry and beyond, and our leadership team stands behind these efforts.”

Oneal was the leader of Vicarious Visions – an Activision Blizzard subsidiary – before being elevated to Blizzard co-leader alongside Mike Ybarra following the departure of J. Allen Brack. Oneal’s exit from Blizzard continues a long line of executive departures, many as a result of the sexual harassment and abuse scandal that has enveloped Activision Blizzard this year.

Other high-profile departures this year include Diablo 4 game director Luis Barriga, Diablo 4 lead designer Jesse McCree, and World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeCraft, among others. All three of those exits came after the state of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard regarding sexual harassment complaints. In addition, earlier in the year, Overwatch and Overwatch 2 director Jeff Kaplan left the company, though he did so before the DFEH’s lawsuit came to light.

With these departures in mind, it becomes easier to understand why Blizzard may need more time to complete Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2. Both games have seen high-level employee shakeups in recent months, which likely does not lend to a brisk development schedule. We’ll let you know when Blizzard announces firm release dates for both titles, but given Activision Blizzard’s messaging in this call with investors, we’ll probably be waiting a while for new details.



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Overwatch 2, Diablo 4 Delayed As Blizzard Leadership Shifts

Blizzard Entertainment announced delays for Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 during an earnings call earlier today. The company presented a slide that provided an update on its creative pipeline, which explained that content planned for next year would need “more development time to reach its full potential” due to changes in “key creative roles.”

Diablo IV and Overwatch 2 delayed pic.twitter.com/4pr9c0OEdz

— Stephen Totilo (@stephentotilo) November 2, 2021

“These are two of the most eagerly anticipated titles in the industry, and our teams have made great strides toward completion in recent quarters,” reads the slide. “But we believe giving the teams some extra time to complete production and continue growing their creative resources to support the titles after launch will ensure that these releases delight and engage their communities for many years in the future.”

Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 didn’t have definitive release dates. However, fans still had hope that the games would release sometime during 2022. In fact, the presentation mentioned that recent changes would mostly affect content for “next year,” so it’s possible that the two titles were slated for a 2022 release before the Activision Blizzard shake-up. At this point, the games will likely be in development until 2023.

It’s unclear what leadership shifts the company was referring to in its announcement. However, Jenn Oneal also said she was stepping down from her position as co-leader in a blog post on the company website the same day. She will transition into a new position before leaving the company at the end of the year. That leaves Mike Ybarra as the sole lead at a company already in hot water for its toxic company culture.

“I am doing this not because I am without hope for Blizzard,” Oneal wrote in her goodbye. “I’m inspired by the passion of everyone here, working toward meaningful, lasting change with their whole hearts. This energy has inspired me to step out and explore how I can do more to have games and diversity intersect, and hopefully make a broader industry impact that will benefit Blizzard (and other studios) as well.”

Blizzard reps didn’t specify when fans could expect to see more content related to Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4. Other leadership doesn’t seem to have publicly acknowledged Oneal’s imminent departure.

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‘Overwatch’ hero McCree will be renamed Cole Cassidy on October 26th

Overwatch hero Jesse McCree has a new name, and, no, it’s not Deadeye Dave. , Blizzard has renamed the gunslinger in the aftermath of his real-life namesake back in August. As of October 26th, McCree will be known as Cole Cassidy.

“To make the new Overwatch better — to make things right — he had to be honest with his team and himself.” Blizzard said in a tweet. “The cowboy he was rode into the sunset, and Cole Cassidy faced the world at dawn.”

The real Jesse McCree left the studio after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for fostering a “frat boy” workplace. While not directly named in the complaint, McCree reportedly took part in the infamous “Cosby Suite” where Blizzard employees, including former World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi, allegedly harassed women. When it first announced the name change, Blizzard said it wanted to find one that better represented Overwatch’s ideals. It also promised it would no longer name in-game characters after employees.

Alongside the name change, Blizzard is changes to Cassidy’s kit. It may tweak his Deadeye ultimate to make it more deadly and allow players to use his Combat Roll in midair. The latter change should help with avoiding vertical knockback abilities from heroes like Doomfist and Wrecking Ball. You can try out the tweaks by launching Overwatch’s Experimental mode.

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Overwatch Cross-Platform Support: Everything We Know

Since the game’s launch in 2015, Overwatch players have been begging for cross-platform support. It’s easy to see why, too. Overwatch lives among massively popular, multiplayer-only shooters like FortniteCall of Duty: Warzone, and Paladins: Champions of the Realm, all of which support crossplay. Thankfully, Blizzard has finally added the feature before the launch of Overwatch 2

Further reading

Is Overwatch cross-platform?

Blizzard

Yes, after months of waiting, Blizzard has finally launched crossplay into Overwatch on all platforms. Cross-platform support is now available on PC, Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch as part of the matchmaking process.

Cross-platform support comes through a free Battle.net account, so you’ll need to make one if you’re playing on console. To help players along, Blizzard is giving away a free golden loot box to anyone who signs up for a Battle.net account before the end of 2021. Crossplay is enabled by default on PC and consoles, and console players will be able to turn it off if they want, although you still need to have linked a Battle.net account whether or not you intend on using crossplay. PC players can’t turn off the feature.

Although crossplay has come to Overwatch, cross-progression isn’t. You have to start from scratch when moving between different platforms, so none of your skins, experience, or other unlocks will transfer. It could come in the future, though.

How to enable crossplay in Overwatch

Character in overwatch holding up a shield.
Blizzard

Crossplay is available in all playlists currently in Overwatch, with the exception of the competitive mode. This mode will default to keeping console players playing against each other, and PC players playing against PC players to avoid any advantages PC players have. When a PC player groups up with one or more console player, they will be placed into the PC player matchmaking pool by default.

Now that crossplay is live, we mentioned console players will be required to sign up or link their Battle.net account to keep playing online, so create an account and link the platform you play on (similar to Call of Duty: Warzone). Once you’re done, you’ll be able to see players on other platforms through your Battle.net friends list.

The keyboard and mouse problem

Wrecking Ball in Overwatch.
Blizzard

There are other massive hurdles for Overwatch cross-platform support: The keyboard and mouse. On consoles, Overwatch supports a controller, and on PC, it supports a keyboard and mouse. Despite supporting keyboard and mouse inputs, you can’t use this setup on a PS4 or Xbox One. There are ways around this problem that involve spending a few hundred dollars on an adapter, but we wouldn’t recommend going that route.

In a forum post, Kaplan stated, “The Overwatch team objects to the use of mouse and keyboard on console.” This statement isn’t an explicit ban threat, but it’s close. Understanding the team’s rationale is essential for soothing frustrations over a lack of support, of course. Suppose one person is using a keyboard and mouse and everyone else uses a controller. The person with a keyboard has an unfair advantage. Sure, you could point to other games that support crossplay regardless of your input device (Modern Warfare is among them). For Overwatch, though, the dev team has decided that it’s too significant an advantage for this particular game.

The Overwatch League is the most noticeable explanation for this position. A player on Overwatch likely has skills that favor one device or another. Their skillset is typically either best on a controller or a keyboard and mouse, and not on both. That said, until all of the different factors across devices become consistent, it isn’t easy to accurately compare skills across matchup results. And since professional players are recognized for measurable skill, consistency must be prioritized across gameplay. Overwatch is recognized for its long-time passion for the playstyle.

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DOJ investigates Overwatch League over salary caps

It’s not just eSports players’ promotional deals coming under scrutiny. Dot Esports has learned that the Department of Justice has launched an antitrust inquiry into Overwatch League soft salary caps meant to prevent teams from buying their way to victory. The investigation isn’t criminal, according to DE‘s sources, but DOJ trial attorney Kathleen Simpson Kiernan is reportedly wondering about the lack of a players’ union that would let the league claim the same labor exemptions you find in conventional unionized sports leagues.

The cap, which has never been publicly revealed, reportedly centers on a “competitive balance tax” that effectively forces teams to pay twice if they pass the salary cap — once for the players, and again for the league to redistribute funds among other teams. That cap was rumored to be $1.6 million in 2020, but DE understood that no teams had “naturally” broken that cap based on typical pro player rates.

Activision Blizzard didn’t elaborate on the investigation, but confirmed the basic inquiry and said it was “cooperating accordingly.”

This investigation won’t necessarily lead to a major shakeup of the Overwatch competitive scene. It does, however, indicate the growing stature of eSports in the US. Competitive gaming is now important enough that player pay is a significant issue for officials, even there aren’t any major signs of trouble.

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Overwatch headlines new Xbox Free Play Days weekend

Microsoft is hosting another Free Play Days event on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S, making a handful of games free-to-play for the weekend. There are three games up for grabs this time, and they cover a pretty wide range of genres between them. This Free Play Days weekend is headlined by none other than Overwatch, which rolled out a cross-play beta earlier this week.

This isn’t just standard Overwatch that’s available through Free Play Days, though, but rather the Overwatch Origins Edition. The Origins Edition includes the base game and skins for five heroes: Reaper, Soldier: 76, Bastion, Pharah, and Tracer. It also includes in-game items for other Blizzard games, unlocking Tracer in Heroes of the Storm, a Baby Winston pet in World of Warcraft, portraits for StarCraft II, a Hearthstone card back, and Mercy Wings for Diablo III.

Overwatch is going free on Xbox alongside the launch of Ashe’s Deadlock Challenge, a new limited-time event that grants players new icons, sprays, and an epic skin for Ashe by completing matches and watching Overwatch Twitch streams for a certain number of hours. Ashe’s Deadlock Challenge is on now until July 5th.

Overwatch Origins Edition is joined by Saints Row IV: Re-Elected and Warhammer: Verminitide 2 for this Free Play Days weekend. Neither game needs much introduction these days, but if you’re looking to play a wacky third-person action game or a co-op monster slayer this weekend, these two titles fit the bill pretty well.

As always, Free Play Days games are available to everyone subscribed to Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. While discounts usually accompany these Free Play Days weekends, Overwatch Origins Edition is actually the only title on sale, as its price has been reduced from $59.99 to $19.80 for the duration of the weekend.

Unfortunately, Saints Row IV: Re-Elected and Warhammer: Verminitide 2 are both still at their normal prices of $19.99 and $29.99, respectively, so it seems that if you want to keep them after the weekend is up, you’ll be paying full price for the privilege. All three games are available now through Sunday, June 27th at 11:59 PM PDT.

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