As part of its newfound quest to keep Overwatch fresh, Blizzard debuted hero pools today, which will see a number of popular characters banned temporarily from competitive play. The first victims of the new system — Orisa, Hanzo, Mei, and Baptiste — are out of rotation as part of the game’s 21st competitive season.
Blizzard first announced hero pools back in January, alongside a new experimental mode where the developer could try out new ideas. (The first was a triple damage mode that debuted at the end of February.) The idea is to constantly change the game so that no single character or strategy becomes dominant for long. The pool of banned heroes will change on a weekly basis; no hero will be out of rotation for more than two straight weeks. “What we’re trying to address is the feeling that the game isn’t changing rapidly enough,” principal game designer Scott Mercer explains. “This is one part of — along with more aggressive balance changes — helping make Overwatch an ever-evolving game.”
Other games, such as League of Legends, have dealt with this problem by letting players ban certain characters before a competitive match. But Mercer believes that isn’t necessarily the right option for Overwatch. “We didn’t want to turn the pre-match phase into something where you have to spend five minutes staring at UI and hero portraits and listening to people argue about the heroes they do or don’t want,” he says. “But we looked at pick-ban systems and asked, ‘What do they provide?,’ and what do we want to accomplish?
Hero pools are also making their way to the highest level of Overwatch, the professional Overwatch League, starting on March 7th. The league has already announced which four heroes will be banned this week: McCree, Widowmaker, Reinhardt, and Moira. Like the regular hero pool, these characters will change on a weekly basis.