Was GOATS Really a Threat to Competitive Overwatch?



Sun 24th Nov 2019 - 7:17pm

Perhaps the most controversial move that Blizzard made during this season of competitive Overwatch, and perhaps in the game’s history overall, was the implementation of Role Lock on the professional level. And while there were inklings of speculation regarding the system’s potential benefits, no one expected it to be thrusted into competitive play so quickly.

And yet, by the time Stage 4 was ready to kick off, the Overwatch League had already dedicated itself to 2-2-2 Role Lock. Mind you, this was after months and months of the “GOATS Meta” dominated the professional scene. Throughout the entirety of the league’s second season, the 3-3 approach to the game had been extremely prevalent, with traditional DPS heroes tossed to the side in favor of what the pros had determined to be the best possible lineup of characters in Zarya, Reinhardt, D.Va, Lucio, Zenyatta, and Brigitte. With these six characters in tow, teams were finding that any other composition just wasn’t comparable in the professional meta, and it was quickly becoming evident that the GOATS comp was here to stay. 

But even after nerfs to the individual pieces of the composition throughout all of 2019, GOATS still wasn’t going away. In a game that features 31 characters, seeing the same 6 got real old real fast. But the competitive scene had been more defined than ever before as a result. The experimentation phase of the game was over, and players everywhere were shaping the meta and, as a result, moving the game into a new era.

Which is why it felt like the introduction of Role Lock in the professional scene was more of a Hail Mary thrown by Blizzard in an attempt to save the Overwatch League from GOATS. Sure, the comp got boring after a while, but it would be tough to imagine the Overwatch League without its existence. While it’s easy to write off the GOATS meta as a blemish on the history of the professional scene, you can’t deny that it changed the game immensely and ultimately left a massive mark on the way we’ll always view the history of professional Overwatch

But when you look at the composition’s ultimate downfall, it’s not about the fact that GOATS is dead - believe me, everyone wanted it to go away sooner rather than later - it’s about how GOATS died. The fact that Blizzard felt obligated to inorganically destroy the comp by way of a major sweeping change to the entire competitive scene shows just how concerned the league was. But, was it really time to force an inorganic change upon the scene? Or could GOATS have gone away on its own?

After months and months of stale gameplay and repetitive strategy, it became imperative for the league to step in and destroy the comp once and for all. Clearly, patches, nerfs, and adjustments to the individual pieces of the puzzle weren't working. It was time to blow up the whole operation and start from scratch. 

As the second season of the Overwatch League went down to the wire, its viewership numbers started to dip. Back in Stage 1 of the 2019 season, concurrent viewership consistently hovered around 150,000. By Stage 3, the broadcasts were pulling in just around 75,000 viewers at any given time. As the season waned, the viewers dwindled. And for good reason, too. There came a point this past season where the reasons to watch OWL were dropping each week. As the year went on, more and more teams began to distance themselves from the middle of the pack. It became increasingly clear as to which teams were at the top of the league, and which ones were going to serve as fodder for those elite squads on a weekly basis. Fans can only watch teams like the Washington Justice and the Florida Mayhem get stomped in a 4-0 sweep so many times before they start to tune out. 

On top of the lack of discrepancies when it came to the competitive nature of the league, the GOATS comp absolutely played a factor in what made fans shy away from the middle stages of the Overwatch League’s second season. There comes a point where watching the same characters - piloted by the same players - compete against each other in the same setting for months upon end gets repetitive and boring. 

The GOATS era of the Overwatch League, combined with general OW burnout, were factors that were volatile enough to drive viewers away from 2019’s later stages. However, by the time the season’s playoffs came around, viewership numbers were skyrocketing once again to a point where the season’s opening averages were rivaled. 

Throughout the course of the 2019 playoffs, the most viewed matchups were bringing in average numbers that could rival some of the season’s highest moments. While Winners’ and Losers’ Finals for the Playoffs peaked at 154,599 and 170,193 viewers, respectively, the Grand Finals between San Francisco and Vancouver peaked just under 320,000 - the highest peak at any point during any series throughout the 2019 season. 

Sure, it’s fair to say that people were going to watch the Grand Finals regardless of the forced changes to the meta and that this increase in ratings was organic and natural, but it’s definitely not unreasonable to argue that many viewers gave professional Overwatch a second chance after GOATS had been extracted from the equation.

With all of this in mind, it’s plausible to assume that the 3/3 meta had a massive impact on the way viewers approached the Overwatch League in 2019. Fans became disinterested in the game on the professional level with matchups and team compositions becoming repetitive and stale. In 2019, with the addition of 8 more teams into the fold, it got harder to even keep up with the ecosystem of the league, but when that same league wasn’t promoting character diversity or intrigue for the majority of the season’s duration, it was very easy for the average fan to feel disconnected from the professional scene. 

When you reflect on the GOATS era and the various effects that it had on the relationship between the pro scene and the average player base, it’s fair to say that the casual Overwatch player wasn’t able to resonate with what they saw on the OWL stage. When you see pro players running 3/3 comps and utilizing strategies that are essentially exclusive to the competitive scene, and then you go and play for yourself and are consistently met with comps featuring multiple DPS characters and a traditional 2/2/2 approach, it’s easy to see why the average player would feel like an outsider when watching the Overwatch League during the first three stages of the 2019 season. 

The implementation of 2/2/2 on the professional level was less of an attempt to kill GOATS - of course, that was a welcome side effect - instead, it was about streamlining the game on multiple levels to make your ladder games feel as close to OWL games as possible. Games like League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have little barriers in place to prevent the average player from pulling off something they saw in a professional game. In the case of Overwatch, it was getting harder and harder to replicate the professional scene unless you played Zarya, Reinhardt, D.Va, Lucio, Zenyatta, or Brigitte. 

Regardless, we now move forward into 2020 and the 2/2/2 system that Blizzard put in place late this year is going to be around for its first full season. Perhaps GOATS wasn’t going to kill professional Overwatch, but it certainly felt like something needed to be done before the game’s foundational viewer base was lost forever. If the league had waited even longer to implement role lock, the future of competitive Overwatch might have been extremely grim. 

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