Developers will need to play their cards right to calm the community's concerns.
In recent years, more games have taken the free-to-play financial model over pay-to-play more than ever before. Included in almost all of these games is some kind of battle pass, a system where players are given the option to purchase a reward track offering more cosmetic items than its free variant.
This model has been highly successful for many games, including Fortnite, Fall Guys, and Apex Legends. Not only does a free-to-play game with a paid battle pass option allow for a broader audience, but its also a monetization strategy that has paid off financially for the developers that implemented them.
One of the first titles to use a battle pass was Dota 2 in 2013, but it was popularized with Fortnite in its 2017 release. According to research done by senior lecturer and researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University Daniel Joseph in 2020, games with a monetization structure other than pay-to-play were in the majority of the top 10 games in terms of global revenue.
Overwatch was released in 2016 while the battle pass model was in its infancy. Blizzard didnt jump on the battle pass train, even though modern-day first-person shooters released around that time had already started experimenting with it. Now that Overwatch 2 is on the horizon, it isnt surprising the developer switched to this highly successful financial method of monetization.
Although no one is surprised Blizzard is implementing a battle pass, one leaked piece of information sent the community into a tizzy: heroes will be locked behind the rewards track. Overwatch 2 is changing significantly and Blizzard has been especially silent while speculation festers on social media about what this means for the game.
For now, its almost impossible to make any argument about what battle pass hero locks will do to the game. Its likely not going to be as restrictive as people think, as long as the devs play their cards right. Having concerns about what this means for the game is fair, but all of the information and details have not been confirmed, which makes it hard to truly judge how the battle pass will affect the game in the future.
When information on how the game was going to hide heroes behind the battle pass first leaked on Sept. 7, the reaction was outrage. This caused Overwatch commercial leader and VP at Blizzard Jon Spector to address the community on Twitter and confirm that heroes would be unlockable via the battle pass, but that they would be included in the free version.
So far, the community is seething about this. Because Overwatch is a game that relies so heavily on the ability to counter-swap heroes, players are rightfully nervous and have concerns about new heroes locked behind any kind of grind. Locking heroes behind a battle pass can lead to players being unable to switch to that character for a long period of time if they miss it. This disadvantage leads to an imbalance between teams, threatening the competitive integrity of the match.
There are no details about where the heroes will be in the battle pass, but players are hoping it will be early in the track. That way, players will only have to invest a minimal amount of time in the game during a two-month period to unlock the hero for use in later seasons.
Its too early to speculate on how locking heroes behind the battle pass will affect the game. Players don’t know how long it will take to unlock the hero, which makes it easy to be frustrated before all of the information is out there. How widespread the backlash should be depends on how much time needs to be invested to unlock new heroes.
Battle pass seasons, if they stay the same length as the Oct. 4 and Dec. 6 seasons, will change every two months or so. If the developers put the heroes close to the beginning of the battle pass, players have far less reason to argue with the decision. Even if a player doesn’t have much time to play during the week, the requirement of playing a game or two in a two-month period will not be difficult for many players.
The argument will be much different if the devs choose to hide the hero all the way at the end of the pass, but the truth of the matter is players simply don’t know what Blizzard plans to do. Fans of the game are reacting based on the information they have, which isn’t much. Although its fair to be concerned about what this will do to the game and how its played, there simply isn’t enough information to base a solid argument on yet.
While theres still plenty of information players don’t know, it’s hard to imagine how Blizzard will defend the argument players have been pointing out: if they miss a battle pass season with a new hero in it, what happens to that locked hero?
Spector says it will be available later on, but that still causes a large issue, especially in ranked play. There also isn’t any indication of whether new heroes unlocked through the battle pass will be available for that season’s Competitive play, but the problem is more nuanced than that.
In fact, those who play ranked regularly will likely be the ones who have the best argument for why heroes should not be locked behind a battle pass. There have always been discussions of balance in Overwatch, and it isn’t fair if one player jumps into a ranked game and then doesn’t have access to two or three of the heroes because they just so happened to miss one or more of the previous seasons and wasn’t willing to pay to unlock it.
Its unknown how Overwatch 2 will handle the hero locks in ranked. Considering there has been widespread conversation about balance in ranked before any of these issues were present, it could create a major problem for those who might miss a couple of seasons but then pick the game back up in earnest a few months later. How are they to unlock those characters without having to spend money on them? What if one of the new hero unlocks is a tank and it becomes meta, but a dedicated tank player doesn’t have that one unlocked?
Even if Overwatch 2 delays the arrival of a new hero into the ranked ecosystem to allow everyone to catch up, it still causes issues down the road for someone who missed a season for whatever reason. The only solution that might placate players is to allow them to build up currency and unlock heroes with that currency if they missed one.
There are a lot of questions and close to no answers. While a lot is still unclear, the development team will likely provide clarity before the game is officially released.