Forced role lock is the dramatic change Overwatch League needed

(Image credit: Blizzard)

The biggest change to hit Overwatch in quite some time came recently in the form of role locks. Long-desired by many, this new system has made it so that there must be two tanks, two damage dealers, and two supports on the field at all times in competitive and quick play—Overwatch's two most common game types. While the community reception was largely split, there were even more question marks surrounding the idea of forcing 2-2-2 on professional Overwatch players. For most of Overwatch League's second season, GOATS—that is, a team composition of three tanks and three supports—was the dominant strategy. But 2-2-2 eliminates GOATS as a possibility. After the first week of stage four, it's safe to say that 2-2-2 has blown life into the stale lungs of Overwatch League.  

For starters, fewer tanks necessitates a much higher demand for individual skill and technical play. Teams can't just field a boatload of HP and back it up with overwhelming healing and buffs anymore. With every single kill actually mattering again, what we're seeing is the rise of Widow and Hanzo, Mei, and a deadly Orisa-Roadhog combination. 

Snipers are back

There isn't anything like watching two world-class Widowmakers go at it in all of professional Overwatch, and we got plenty of that last weekend. If Hanzo is more your speed, 2-2-2 has you covered just the same. The pacing and general tension that you'd want from an Overwatch League match has been mostly lacking this season up to now. The reintroduction of huge Dragonstrikes and pivotal headshots has amped that way up.

Widowmaker players like Jiri "LiNkzr" Masalin of the Houston Outlaws were able to hit the rewind button like nothing ever happened. Seeing the sort of contribution top Widow players were able to generate over the course of the weekend was exactly what Overwatch League needed after months of GOATS-heavy play. As obvious as it sounds, professional players in any game or sport should be able to thrive in their given roles. It's good for their individual brands, and it makes fans want to watch what happens next. 

Lots of Mei 

If any one hero made a louder statement than Widow and Hanzo, it was definitely Mei. With the lack of a third tank, teams relied heavily on Mei walls and Blizzards for damage mitigation and zoning. It's hard to say at this point if Mei will be a staple in this meta, but according to the official Overwatch League site, she was used about 40 percent of the time in week one. Not bad, considering she was mostly relegated to stall duty in overtime situations prior to now. 

The introduction of Mei to the meta could prove to be one of the more interesting developments for Overwatch League. I don't think it necessarily boils down to which teams have the best Mei players, so much as how well teams without a top-shelf Mei can adapt. For example, the Boston Uprising tried putting Kelsey "ColourHex" Birse on Pharah during an attack phase on Temple of Anubis even though they were facing a Mei, Roadhog, and Hanzo on the other side—all of which can make Pharah's life a nightmare if she floats for even a second too long. It wasn't pretty, but it worked out okay. 

Lastly, Mei can completely shut down ultimates in close quarters if she's left unchecked. It's been awhile since we've seen something like this:

Orisa is kind of good

Orisa's kit made her a top choice of main tanks during week one. Her Halt ability mixes with just about everything on the field right now, but its two primary functions are to bunch enemies up for big ult damage, and to lift targets into the air for Roadhog hooks and sniper headshots. Not too different from how Halt worked previously in pro play, but it's really devastating at the moment. 

Orisa is still the go-to pick on escort maps in this meta thanks to the pirate ship tactic we're used to seeing on Junkertown. With her shield on the payload, an off-tank and both supports can enjoy relative safety with an excellent view of the action at all times. On assault and capture maps, Orisa still saw a surprising amount of playtime thanks to the different compositions that were being played.

Going forward, one thing to watch for will be whether or not teams go for Supercharger or Earthshatter-based play for defense. Reinhardt still saw plenty of action last weekend, and it may very well come down to personal preference or necessary switches mid-match. Both have their merits, and it felt as though each team was exploring different viable tanking options.  

With the rise of Orisa, it felt as though we didn't see too much D.Va. Stationary play doesn't suit her very well, but her recent Defense Matrix nerf (10 meters down from 15) might also have something to do with it. The very best D.Va players and dive teams will likely field her, but expect to see Orisa-Hog more often than not.

Overwatch League nay-sayers were particularly loud throughout the dreaded GOATS meta. Couple that with Nate Nanzer's seemingly abrupt departure for Fortnite esports, and the legitimacy and longevity of Blizzard's experimental league came into question yet again. Even though it's far too early to tell, role lock seems to have put things back on track for the time being. The community seems to be excited about the upcoming playoffs thanks to 2-2-2, and pro players are largely on board.

The most pressing question, though, is how the league is going to fare next year once international homestands finally become a reality. If there was ever a time for Overwatch to be at its best, it's right now. No one is asking for perfection, but every fan and player is deserving of diverse team compositions that keep stagnation at bay. To that extent, 2-2-2 looks like it's Overwatch's best bet at a succesful 2020.