The NFL should learn from Overwatch and stop deciding games by coin flip

Last night, Tom Brady led the New England Patriots through a miraculous 25 point comeback to send Super Bowl LI versus the Atlanta Falcons to overtime, the first time it's happened in Super Bowl history. This meant, thanks to the NFL's abysmal overtime rules, that the biggest football game of the year would essentially come down to a coin flip.

For those not familiar with NFL overtime rules, it works like this: When an NFL game is tied at the end of regulation time, the game goes to a pseudo-sudden-death period where the first team to score a touchdown immediately wins the game. 

This means that the first team to get possession of the ball is at a significant advantage, as they need only to score a touchdown to win, whereas the defending team needs to prevent a touchdown and then score one of their own to secure victory. It gets a bit more complicated if the first team only scores a field goal, but the important point is that if the team with first possession scores a touchdown, the defending team has no chance to answer. And the first possession of overtime is determined by a coin toss.

Blizzard's Overwatch faced similar issues during its first season of competitive play. When an Overwatch match ended in a tie, the game would go into an abbreviated sudden death period during which one team would have a short time to attack the first point of a map. If the attackers took the point, they won. Holding the point resulted in a defender win. 

While the system doesn't match up perfectly to the NFL's, the way Overwatch's overtime clock works (continuing a match so long as an attacker is touching the point) as well as the fact that the first point of most maps favors the attacking team (defenders have a longer respawn walk back on the first point) means that the attackers had a big advantage in sudden death. And like the NFL, the attacking team was determined by a coin flip.  

The NFL system has long been criticized for adding an element of chance to what should give both teams a fair shot at victory. And with last night's Super Bowl being decided in overtime (a first in the 51-year history of the big game), the system has come under even more fire. Sure enough, the Patriots won the overtime coin toss, then drove down the field to score a game-winning touchdown—not giving Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons offense a chance to answer. 

Blizzard recognized the inherent problems in the coin flip sudden death system (thanks in large part to community outcry) and, with the introduction of competitive season two, removed sudden death (and the coin flip) from competitive play. Now, games are decided by a much-more-fair time-bank system that gives both teams a rightful shot at victory. 

The NFL should follow Blizzard's example and adopt a better overtime system, perhaps one akin to the rules used in college football, where (like Overwatch's new time-bank system) both teams get a chance to play offense and defense. It's a bit absurd that a videogame has better overtime rules than the most popular sport in America, but here we are.

Bo Moore

As the former head of PC Gamer's hardware coverage, Bo was in charge of helping readers better understand and use PC hardware. He also headed up the buying guides, picking the best peripherals and components to spend your hard-earned money on. He can usually be found playing Overwatch, Apex Legends, or more likely, with his cats. He is now IGN's resident tech editor and PC hardware expert.