Overwatch crossplay is a confusing mess so far

overwatch 2
(Image credit: Blizzard)

Hey, did you know crossplay came to Overwatch this week? For the first time since its 2016 release, it's now possible to group up with console/PC buds and hop into any mode (as long as it's not Competitive). If you're a PC player, you've probably been playing with console players for days without knowing.

I don't blame you for not noticing. It's surprisingly hard to tell which players in your lobby are playing on a different platform, and the rules for when platforms can play together are way more complicated than virtually every other crossplay game out there. It's already causing a fair bit of confusion in the community. The most common misunderstanding so far happens when console players match up with PC players and are pleasantly surprised that the game still feels balanced against mouse-and-keyboard users. In reality, most of these players aren't actually playing against PC players at all, they just think they are because Overwatch's UI is obtuse.

Console players can't match up against PC players unless they have a PC friend in their party when matchmaking begins. Any group with PC players in it automatically enters the "PC pool." Every other type of player or group can only play with other consoles, specifically the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and Nintendo Switch.

To make matters worse, Overwatch doesn't surface any of these details about matchmaking in the game itself—you have to read a dedicated FAQ to figure this stuff out. Overwatch also follows the increasingly popular trend of making it harder to tell when cross-platform players are in your game. There's no indication of a crossplay presence on the scoreboard or anywhere on the post-match screen. You have to call up the Social menu (that screen I occasionally use to switch voice channels) and look for the little crossplay symbol next to player names. The symbol doesn't tell you which platform they're on, just that they're not on yours.

It's a lot to keep track of, but not for no reason—Blizzard is trying to keep Overwatch as fair as it's always been while bringing the platforms together and improving queue times. The thought is nice, but honestly, that's impossible in an FPS.

The last few years have proved that there are clear winners and losers when it comes to crossplay. Mouse players will always have an aim advantage over controllers, and the more competitive a shooter is, the more noticeable this skill gap becomes. This is why Overwatch's PC pool is cordoned off from the all-together-console-funtime pool. It's a different, more ruthless space that console players can only opt into by grouping up with a PC friend.

It's hard to see how any console player is supposed to have a good time in the PC pool, especially because the one advantage the controller usually has, aim assist, is automatically turned off. Blizzard decided to outlaw aim assist in the name of fairness (if mouse players get no help with aiming, why should controllers?), but as frustrated console players have pointed out, crossplay is inherently skewed in favor of PC anyways. Call of Duty: Warzone's crossplay allows aim assist for controller players and PC players often complain that the assist is too good at close range, but considering the laundry list of bonuses PC players enjoy (an unlocked framerate, FOV slider, proper video options, and mouses), is it really a big deal? Blizzard says yes.

Of course, console players have the option to steer clear of the PC crowd and enjoy the newly-expanded playerbase. But even this can be problematic for players on Overwatch's most obscure and (I suspect) least popular platform, Nintendo Switch. The Overwatch console experience is more-or-less the same no matter which Sony or Microsoft box you're on, but the Switch version runs at a locked 30fps. That's half the framerate of PS/Xbox's locked 60fps, a major disadvantage in a fast-moving shooter. It's possible for Switch players to decide the disadvantage isn't worth it and turn off crossplay. Unfortunately, Reddit user ulemann123 tried this out and found discouraging news:

With crossplay off, Quick Play queue times on the Switch are as high as eight to fifteen minutes to play a single match. It seems that with crossplay on by default, players that turn it off are automatically in the minority. That's an absurd amount of time to wait, but if they want to play a casual match on equal footing, it's now the only option. From what I can tell, wait times were already longer on Switch than every other platform, so many may think the performance disadvantage is worth it.

So who are the winners here? PlayStation and Xbox players, mostly. Those are the platforms that can now enjoy universally faster queue times (in theory) without much disruption to balance (unless they make the choice to jump into the PC pool, then it kinda sucks).

It's not bad for PC players, either. Having the option to group up with friends that I couldn't before is great! I haven't had noticeably faster queue times, but I have noticed that matches are slightly easier when my all-PC friend group matches up with console players on the other team. The only wrinkle is that PC players can't turn crossplay off, so I have no control over how many console players will show up on my team (and, regrettably, make it harder to win).

It's a good thing that Overwatch crossplay is in beta, because it could use some tuning. Blizzard says it's listening to feedback and aims to improve the feature moving forward. In the meantime, I apologize to any and all controller players that I've ground into dust this past week, especially if you're on Switch.

Morgan Park
Staff Writer

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.