How Overwatch's Competitive Mode Works

If you’re too dang skilled for the mortal riffraff in Overwatch’s regular modes, you’ll be excited to hear that the PC version just got a competitive alternative (it’s coming to console next week). It’s got rankings, golden guns, golden balls—all that good stuff. So, how does it work? Let me explain.



You can’t just jump into competitive and start climbing the ladder. You’ve got to pass muster in a couple prerequisites first. For one, you’ve gotta be at least level 25 before you can even play competitive mode at all. If you’re not, well, Quick Play is still fun! Just remember, those three entire people playing Reaper on your team have real edgelord feelings and real edgelord dreams. Don’t be too hard on them.

OK so, let’s say you’ve made it to level 25. That means it’s time for placement. When you begin competitive mode, you have to play 10 placement matches which will decide your initial Skill Rating. It can be anywhere from 1-100, and it’s rooted in overall wins/losses as well as your personal performance during a match.

Once you’re placed, your Skill Rating will go up and down as you play more and more matches. If you beat a team made up of players with a higher average Skill Rating than yours, your Skill Rating will change more. So don’t be discouraged if you come across a team of high-level juggernauts. It’s an opportunity!



Competitive mode matches unfold in a best-of-two format. On escort, assault, and hybrid maps, you spend one game attacking and one defending. The team that manages to accomplish the most objectives overall wins. If you push the payload past a certain area, you score a point, etc. Control maps, meanwhile, are best-of-five, and first to win three rounds takes the whole (presumably gold) enchilada.


In the event of a tie (say, because both teams pushed a payload to the end of the map), you enter sudden death, with attack and defense decided by a coin flip. Attackers get two minutes to capture a point. If they pull it off, they win. If they don’t, defense wins. People, er, don’t love the randomness of the coin toss system, and it will likely change sometime in the future.


Golden Friggin’ Guns

While TRUE COMPETITIVE GAMERZ need only the satisfaction of watching a number ascend ever upward into the heavens of mastery to sustain them, some people want rewards. In Overwatch’s case, that means cosmetic items.


Completing your placement games nabs you an icon and spray for the season, which is, you know... whatever. The real meat of the system, though, lies in Competitive Points, which you can use to purchase golden weapons. You earn competitive points both by playing matches during the season and based on your ranking at the end of the season.

There are also special rewards for making it into the top 500 players on your platform. Specifically, you’ll get a special icon that will helpfully let other players know they Shouldn’t Fuck With You and an animated spray that corresponds to the season you earned it in.



Of course, nothing lasts forever. At the end of each season, rankings get wiped. When the next season begins after a two-week off-season, you begin the climb anew. The hope is that this will let Blizzard make tweaks between seasons (they already have a lot planned) and, of course, it’ll wipe the slate clean for players instead of keeping everybody entrenched forever.


Seasons will normally last two-and-a-half months, but due to logistical issues, season one is only gonna run for one-and-a-half months. Each year will be comprised of four separate seasons, a novel idea inspired by the true story of calendars.



The overriding message of Blizzard’s current competitive player conduct rules? DO NOT LEAVE MATCHES. If you leave early or are inactive for too long, you won’t be able to play another match until the one you were in has been completed. You can rejoin the match you left, and if you don’t, you’ll get a penalty.


If you keep on violating this rule, you’ll start getting locked out of competitive play for increasing amounts of time. Do it too much, and you’ll get banned for the whole season.

So yeah, don’t leave. Never leave. Shouldn’t be too hard. We are all in a symbiotic relationship with Overwatch now. It is simply The Way Of Things.

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About the author

Nathan Grayson

Kotaku reporter. Beats: Twitch, PC gaming, Overwatch.