Yesterday, Overwatch game director Aaron Keller announced that Overwatch 2’s PvP mode will field teams of five players, down from six players in the game’s current PvP mode. Now players, staffers, and fans of the Overwatch League are wondering if professional teams will be cutting down their rosters in response.
Currently, Overwatch League games are between two teams of six players in the 2-2-2 format, reflecting the format of Overwatch matches in the game’s ranked mode. There are always two tanks, two supports, and two damage players for each team. Overwatch 2 will be dropping a tank slot so that each team only has one tank.
The pros and cons of this upcoming change are being hotly debated within Overwatch’s fan communities, but for the professional players competing in the Overwatch League, it could have massive consequences.
Many tank players could be seeing their careers cut short, but that depends on a huge number of factors which include how Blizzard balances the 5v5 format, map design, how teams decide to restructure, OWL guidelines, and the ever-changing meta.
“I think it’s a bit too early to say but my initials thoughts are that I can’t think of a single tank player in OWL that will be able to cover the entire tank cast as it is currently,” Albert “yeHH” Yeh, VP of Esports Operations for the Florida Mayhem, told Kotaku. “So I think teams will still retain at least two tanks initially.”
Overwatch’s hero pool is vast and difficult to master, even for OWL players who specialize in a single role. For example, Wrecking Ball is an extremely mobile tank who can use a grappling hook to propel himself through the air. But Wrecking Ball requires a different skillset than a tank like Reinhardt, who guards his teammates behind his energy shield.
On Twitter, Yeh hoped that the 5v5 format would come with more balancing measures to ensure that the role remains impactful. The tank position is arguably the most important role in the game, since they create space for the rest of the team to engage, reposition, or retreat.
Justin “Jayne” Conroy, former assistant coach of the Dallas Fuel and founder of Elo Hell Esports, was far more critical of the announcement, suggesting that it came about due to financial rather than game balance considerations:
Dallas Outlaws coach Jake Lyon, Atlanta Reign tank player Blake “Gator” Scott, and Overwatch League caster Wolf Schröder all worried that the 5v5 format would mean that a whole lot of tank players are going to be unemployed.
Others, such as former OWL player George “ShaDowBurn” Guscha and Overwatch League commentator Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez, were more optimistic about 5v5. Goldenboy hoped that a new crop of expansion teams could pick up the tank players who may be cut as a result of the new format.
Despite the Overwatch League’s player contract rules, the 5v5 format is an especially worrying prospect for the Korean pros in the League. Most of the Overwatch League’s finest players hail from South Korea, and virtually all of them are from working-class families. Many of them have pursued esports as a way to escape poverty, and some have become the primary breadwinners of their families.
Esports is still a precarious venture in which the whims of a company could spell the end of your career. For players in the Overwatch League, that fear just got more real.