The Climb Never Stops (Overwatch Log #2)

As mentioned in the previous log, Overwatch lacks a structured narrative. Despite its extensive mise-en-scene, there’s no story mode, no plot to speak of, not even a definitive companion chronology. However, there is one element of the game which provides a certain narrative interactivity: Competitive Mode.

Competitive Mode places players in matches with others around their skill level. Each season, one plays ten placement matches and receives a skill rating based on their performance in them. Based on their skill rating, they’re placed in one of eight possible tiers.

Again, there’s no structured plot here. But there is a sort of implied narrative in the design of Competitive Mode. Higher numbers denote higher skill, and as the skill tier increases the icon representing it becomes more intricate and brightly colored. These small details turn the skill ranking players receive into a sort of implicit value judgment. The better you are at Overwatch, the more prestige you have. Of course, this is only logical for the Competitive Mode in a team and objective based game, but it’s still an element of narrative that seems carefully constructed.

Another interesting aspect of Competitive Mode is the sort of metagaming that goes along with it. Overwatch allows people on a team of six to select one hero from a range of over two dozen options, each with different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. This means that at any given time a team must have six different characters in play. While the development team behind the game has continually tried to balance the heroes so that a player can choose any of the options and have an equal chance at victory, they haven’t really succeeded.

This leaderboard shows the top 500 players in my region and their most played heroes. Although there is a decent amount of variation, the most common characters for these players only represent 14 out of a possible 26. Because it is impossible to make a game perfectly balanced, certain heroes will always be better equipped to win than others. The current hierarchy of the characters is called the meta, and knowing it allows players to choose the best options to win.

Of course, the meta isn’t a part of Overwatch‘s programming. When one works with the meta, one moves on Galloway’s categorizations from diegetic operator action to non-diegetic operator action. They are no longer working within the mechanics of the game, but are still striving to win it by using outside methods.

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