Overwatch has seen plenty of changes since it first arrived on the team-based multiplayer first-person shooter scene back in 2016. Over the course of its five years, the shooter has seen large shifts to the way players queue for quickplay and competitive play alongside the numerous patches and updates. When it first launched, there were no limits to the hero choices that players could make when playing, meaning you could see an entire team of Symmetras versus an entire team of Mercys.
Overwatch and the team behind it at Blizzard have been working to find the perfect recipe since its launch. News related to Overwatch 2 has mostly focused on the new co-op mode, but during the May 20 Overwatch 2 PVP Developer livestream, some big changes were finally shared — namely that team sizes are dropping from six to five players. That seemingly minor change means that professional players will have some adjustments to make.
With the 5v5 announcement now out and there no longer being too much mystery around what PvP changes are on the way, this raises questions for players across the board, and especially for tank players. It’s specifically a pressing matter for professional players at the Overwatch League, Contenders, and Open Division levels, as well as more casual teams that players have found online or within their local communities. Careers are on the line.
The switch to 5v5
Alongside new map announcements, the biggest change by far coming to Overwatch 2 is the shift from the 6v6 mode that has been a staple of the first game. The series’ new game director, Aaron Keller, shared the news right off the bat in a developer livestream that Overwatch 2 would be played with “two teams of five players, consisting of two support, two DPS, and one tank.”
Keller went on to speak about some of the reasons that the Overwatch team made such a large change: “We feel like this is the next step in the way that Overwatch ought to be played. If you think about it, there is a lot going on in an Overwatch map. It is incredibly fast paced and we have always tried to make our combat easy to read and understandable. And even with all of the work that we put into that, sometimes it’s just hard to track what 11 other players are doing on the battlefield. Removing two of those simplifies everything and it allows players to understand everything that’s happening around them and to be able to make better choices because of it.”
So suffice to say, this new 5v5 approach to PvP will affect tank players a great deal. Keller acknowledged that as well, saying that “a tank has abilities that can be noisy or when stacked with other tanks can cause problems for other teams to try to overcome and counter.” Calling attention to the fact that if two main tanks (Reinhardt, Orisa, Winston, and Hammond) are on a team, the gameplay can be oppressive for players to a certain degree.
And it can be important to note that while the role or general idea of an off tank is leaving with the new approach to PvP, every single tank character in-game will be moving over to Overwatch 2. Tanks will be undergoing adjustments for Overwatch 2 that will make them “more hybrid-y” as Geoff Goodman, lead hero designer, said. Adjustments include Zarya having two bubble charges that players can freely use on themselves or their teammates and Winston’s Tesla Cannon now being able to hold alternate fire charges.
So, what might this massive change mean for tank players at the higher levels?
The pros weigh in
Though Overwatch teams are currently composed of six players, with the role selection set to two damage, two support, and two tanks, the move to adjust the current state of tanks has raised questions around the tank role and the makeup of teams. Robert Gedarovich, a digital strategist at Gather.co and member of the casual Overwatch team Danger Close Esports, provided some insight into how tank players and teams might proceed once Overwatch 2 is out.
“In addition to roster decisions, tank players themselves that previously specialized in only either main tank or off-tank heroes will need to become much more proficient with other tank hero options in order to compensate and switch mid-match based on scenarios that 5v5 will provide since they will no longer have a tank partner with complementary skills at their side,” Gedarovich tells Digital Trends.
“Teams that were strong specifically because of the experience and synergy of their two-man tank line (especially those duos that have been playing together for a long time) will need to make the most adjustments and be most greatly impacted by the 5v5 switch.”
It’s safe to say that Overwatch teams and individual players at all levels will have some adjustments to make. Rosters, especially in regard to tank players, will undoubtedly see shifts. With potential roster changes in the future, this brings us back to how current tank players are reacting to the news.
In speaking to Overwatch League player Daniël “Daan” Scheltema, who is a main tank player for Overwatch League team Paris Eternal, he offered some insight into his own first reaction to the five-player teams.
“My reaction to the switch is mixed,” Scheltema tells Digital Trends. “I am sad some people will lose their jobs and there will be less positions in OWL [Overwatch League] for players like me, so competition will be even tougher. Although personally I think 5v5 could open for more fast DPS-centric gameplay, which I think people will like more to watch over more slow tank-based metas like double shield (Orisa & Sigma) or Rush comps (Rein & Dva).”
And fellow Overwatch League player Indy “Space” Halpern, who is an off-tank player for the Los Angeles Gladiators, shared similar worries as well.
“I initially thought 5v5 would only be for one specific game mode and on a few maps but wasn’t aware it’d be a full switch for the whole game,” Halpern tells Digital Trends. “My first reaction was to duo with as many of my main tank players as I can while I still have time.”
Daan’s mixed reaction does seem to have carried over to fellow Overwatch League main tank player Matthew “Super” DeLisi, who plays for the San Francisco Shock. Super did appear during the PvP developer livestream on May 20 and asked the developer team questions. Afterward, he tweeted out one thing he would be missing about the game: “As for whether or not 5v5 is good for the game, I won’t pretend to know the answer. But coordinating with a tank, building synergy, and dominating is probably one of the most fun things I’ve done in a game.”
A mixed reaction
The changes coming with the future arrival of Overwatch 2 might cause some concern for players, but Overwatch League players Daan and Space both seem to have a positive outlook on the 5v5 approach.
When both were asked about any potential concerns to their jobs as tank players in Overwatch League with the new developments, both responded with little worry.
“I personally pride myself in my flexibility,” says Daan. “I have gotten rank 1 before playing off tanks and the reason I was picked up over players like BenBest and Cloudy, who are better than me on specific heroes, is that I play all the tanks to a high level.”
Space says that he’s ultimately not too concerned either. “I’ve always thought being a good Overwatch player and understanding the game enables you to play any role and any new characters that come out, not just the ones you play professionally.”
On the other hand, some Overwatch League players did express concern over the future of their jobs. Gael “Poko” Gouzerch, off-tank player for the Philadelphia Fusion and Fusion University teams, shared on Twitter, “Any fellow tank player scared for their job?” in response to the 5v5 announcement.
In a similar strain, off-tank player for the Vancouver Titans Nathan “frdwnr” Goebel said on Twitter, “Unbelievably disrespectful to make this decision and completely remove a role that people gave up years of their lives to achieve — not all your favorite tank players will disappear, but lots will. And not once were pro players made aware of this or asked on their philosophies.”
Mixed reactions from Overwatch League players are understandable. Esports, especially at the global level at which Overwatch League takes place, is a young industry. While Overwatch often has regular updates and changes, a complete overhaul of the PvP experience was unexpected by players.
When asked if he was told about the PvP change ahead of time, Daan says that players were told two days beforehand that some news regarding Overwatch 2 was coming. Space also went on to say, “I had heard word of potential 5v5 game modes, but the whole game switching to 5v5 was not communicated.”
Christopher Mann, the lead for rEvolution’s gaming and esports group REV/XP, offered insight into how the 5v5 change may impact Overwatch esports.
“This is a specific Overwatch situation where the publisher is looking to give OWL a shot in the arm,” Mann tells Digital Trends. “Keep in mind that games are updated and/or patched all the time. These updates are intended to benefit the community of players and the competitive scene. Metas change, and that will be the case here with Overwatch League, Contenders, and the grassroots leagues.”
This “shot in the arm” may elicit different reactions from players in relation to their status as tank players, but there is also excitement behind the change as well. Space said, “I’m excited to see the flow of the game and what it looks like in 5v5. I know for sure there’ll be a lot of changes to abilities and balancing.” He is also looking forward to what the Overwatch developers have to show in future.
Daan shared one silver lining of the change: “One positive I like is that the game will be 5v5 like more watched esports like League, Valorant, and CSGO. Maybe it will make the game less chaotic, easier to watch and I hope it takes away boring metas like double shield.”
This next evolution for Overwatch has struck a chord across the community of players, especially at the highest levels. The switch to 5v5 is set to simplify gameplay, reduce queue times, and bring about an entire overhaul to how tank players operate on a team. With mixed reactions across the board, the big changes coming to Overwatch 2, and tank players especially, will be something to watch once the game is released.
Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity.