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Blizzard hopes to improve Overwatch "Play of the Game" highlights

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In a recent column on the much-maligned transforming turret Bastion, Evan noted that Overwatch's Play of the Game system “sometimes celebrates mundane multikills as godlike feats of heroism.” It's an inevitable consequence of asking a machine to pick the pivotal moment in a competitive event comprised of thousands of them. Lead Software Engineer Rowan Hamilton touched on that point in a recent interview with GameSpot, in which he talked a bit about how the system works, and said that Blizzard isn't done with it yet. 

Variables that factor into Play of the Game honors include damage dealt, kills, and healing allies, and also less obvious things like the difficulty of making a shot: “A snipe of someone half a screen away who was just chilling out and waiting to be headshot won't be weighted as heavily as a Tracer zipping across, barely in sight that you manage to pick off,” Hamilton said. But he illustrated the difficulty of using hard numbers to determine subjective results with a story about Zenyatta, an offensive support hero.   

“I think at [one] point when we were tweaking it Zenyatta would almost always get Play of the Game every time he popped his ultimate, because he would just do this massive amount of healing and the algorithm would almost always freak out,” he said. “But it was just Zenyatta just sitting there floating.” 

Naturally, Blizzard has access to “a whole bunch of data” on what actions are leading to Play of the Game awards, and can fiddle with the relevant algorithms on internal systems to change the outcomes. “So it might've been Widowmaker getting three snipes, but I change the weighting on some other aspect that we take as important, and it could all of a sudden [be] Mercy resurrecting everyone on the point two seconds before the match ended,” he said. “It's going to be an ongoing process, and hopefully we continue to improve it.” 

That doesn't mean wholesale changes will appear right away, however: Hamilton said the focus for now is to get competitive play finished, and to ensure that performance doesn't suffer now that Overwatch is in full release.   

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.