After over a year of talking about co-op modes in Overwatch 2, Blizzard has finally revealed some of the major changes coming to its main PvP mode. By far the most radical change on the way is a shift from 6v6 to 5v5, a change that game director Aaron Keller says "simplifies everything" about Overwatch's often-chaotic firefights.
As a result of the reduction, Overwatch 2's team compositions will be limited to two DPS heroes, two Supports, and only a single Tank. Early reactions from fans about the player count shift are all over the map, but I've noticed a distinct uncertainty about the future of the Tank role.
"Horrible change for offtank players. Like… the toxicity of not picking a shield tank. Ugh," said Reddit user Revoldt in reaction to the 1-2-2 news. User ImHully replied with a similar concern: "As a D.va main I'm wondering: Do I switch to something else or just switch to a new game?"
They're not wrong—the inherent usefulness of shields in Overwatch has long demanded that each team have at least one shield tank (like Reinhardt, Sigma, or Orisa) to succeed. The other Tank slot (the 'offtank') typically has more freedom to play an aggressive (in my opinion, more fun) hero like Zarya, Roadhog, or D.Va.
Now with only room for a single Tank on each team, players are worried these offtank rolls will have no place on a team. Blizzard might hope to address this by reworking Tanks into a more aggressive, DPS-lite role. We saw some of this in today's livestream. Zarya now has two bubble charges that she can use on herself or teammates independently, meaning she can choose to double bubble herself or lend extra support to a teammate. Winston has an entirely new alt-fire ability that lets him fire bursts of lightning at range.
It seems clear from the outside that something has to change about the current shield meta if every Tank is to be viable in Overwatch 2 (unless every Tank just suddenly got a Reinhardt shield, but that'd be silly). Aaron Keller took some time during the livestream to address the "jarring" Tank changes and encouraged players to keep an open mind.
One response from Reddit user Tipakee with over 100 upvotes feels painfully true. "Why balance the roster distribution when you can just release more DPS heroes, and kill off half the tank players," they said.
The feeling seems to be that Blizzard is taking the easy way out by shrinking the Tank role, but that hasn't been my personal reaction as a de facto Tank main. Tanks are wildly unpopular in Overwatch. The vast majority of players favor DPS and Support, meaning that you sometimes have to wait five to seven minutes for a match unless somebody in your group bites the bullet and chooses Tank. That guy is almost always me. Taking away one of those slots feels like an indirect acknowledgement of the status quo from Blizzard.
I'm pretty excited for 1-2-2, at least as an idea. As a mostly casual player, it could help queue times and the Tank changes may encourage my DPS-focused friends to give Winston a shot.
6 stack overwatch groups deciding who's going to be voted off the island in overwatch 2 pic.twitter.com/8HCqc7iU6uMay 20, 2021
5v5 also means dedicated 6-player Overwatch friend groups are left with an uncomfortable headcount decision to make. Who gets to be the one tank and who gets benched? Professional Overwatch League players in particular must be feeling some pressure. At least one player will definitely be benched when Overwatch 2 comes around, and several might lose their positions altogether.
I'm certainly interested in what the Overwatch player base at large thinks of the Tank changes, but I'm most concerned with the opinion of the most important Overwatch player in my life: my partner, who happens to be the best Mercy main I know. She's also pretty optimistic about 1-2-2 from the perspective of a Support mom who hates to watch her Tank children die. "I think it'll be a nice reset for Supports as they now don't have to prioritize two Tanks, but it will also put a lot more pressure on the two DPS players to coordinate and stay aware."
It's one thing to watch a few streamed matches and another thing to actually play the game, so we'll have to see how these meta shifts play out when Overwatch 2 finally launches (maybe hopefully) in 2022.