Overwatch 2: How to Make Player Progression Feel Bad

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hello world!
Tyler Graham
| January 19, 2024
hello world!

Overwatch 2 is a game that I’ve put hundreds of hours into. It’s a game I care about, even when it feels like the game is getting the crap kicked out of it.

Calling the title’s launch “rocky” would be an understatement, and we now know that Bobby Kotick (the famous shitweasel ex-CEO of Activision-Blizzard) has been actively hampering Blizzard’s Team 4 for years. I really feel for them; the passion behind the development of this game can be felt in every official communication, but in practice, the patches often feel like “2 steps forward, 1 step back.”

Hell, at its worst, the overall direction, game balance, and state of monetization in Overwatch 2 might even be described as “1 step forward, 2 steps back.” 

The release of player progression has been a particularly prickly subject for me, personally. I think it’s a perfect example of a brilliant idea executed poorly, and there are several deep-rooted flaws in the currently implemented system.

Let’s start with going over what the progression system actually is for the folks who have no idea what I’m talking about. Season 6, “Invasion,” shipped with a round of PvE missions, the Support hero Illari, and a new player progression system that allowed players to level up their profile. 

Each hero, role, and game mode in Overwatch 2 is leveled up separately, and the sum total of these levels is a player’s profile level. To gain the experience points necessary to level up the heroes and roles, players need to level up “sub-badges” associated with actions that players should be performing with those heroes. 

Post-game progression screen showing sub-badge progress for Lifeweaver. “Blossom Healing” and “Players Saved” badges leveled up.
After each game, you get a mini dopamine release when you see the sub-badge progress you made. Yay!

It might sound rather complicated, but Blizzard’s blog post announcing the update explains the whole affair quite well. I actually think the complex layering of different tiers of progression is an awesome idea… at least in theory. Leveling up sub-badges feels like a reward for playing well, and then leveling up the hero badge or the role badge is a total dopamine rush!

Unfortunately, not all sub-badges were created equal, which is my first gripe with the current progression system. Seriously, some of the numbers for leveling these things up feel completely arbitrary. I think the most ludicrous example of this from the pool of heroes I play can be seen with Mercy’s “Healing Done” sub-badge and Lifeweaver’s “Blossom Healing” sub-badge.

Level 11 Mercy in the character progression menu.
The “Healing Done” sub-badge for Mercy is absurd, and the “Damage Amplified” sub-badge rapidly outpaces everything else.

You’ll need a whopping 17,000 healing to level up Mercy’s healing sub-badge once. Any competent Mercy main will tell you that makes no sense: Mercy is a flex support who gets far more value from amplifying damage with her blue beam. My own “Damage Amplified” sub-badge is over twice the level of my “Healing Done” sub-badge.

Meanwhile, Lifeweaver is a character who derives his value from mobility and positioning utility, and high healing output. Yet his “Blossom Healing” sub-badge only requires 13,000 healing to level up. It really leaves me scratching my head as to how the devs picked these numbers… do they think that just because Mercy has her Caduceus Staff out for nearly the entire game that she’ll have the highest healing numbers in a lobby?

Level 31 Lifeweaver in the character progression menu.
Lifeweaver’s “Blossom Healing” requires less healing than Mercy, when that’s literally Lifeweaver’s entire job!

Some of these progression badges feel extremely out of touch with the way that Overwatch 2 is actually played, and that doesn’t feel rewarding at all.

That’s not the biggest problem with the progression as it stands, however. The biggest issue is instead that it completely fails to accomplish the stated mission. When discussing how the player progression badges would be leveled up prior to the system being launched, game director Aaron Keller emphasized that they wanted to make it rewarding for every type of Overwatch 2 player.

“It’s about your own playstyle,” Keller said. “And we want everybody’s player progression board to be a unique reflection of how they play [their] hero.”

This sounded great! Players who were incredibly good at certain heroes would have a chance to express their skill on their own profile, leveling their hero much faster than others. Maybe they’d have certain sub-badges leveled up way higher than others, marking them as a very unique brand of Overwatch 2 player. In the end though, skill seemed as though it’d be the path to a cool profile showcase.

Except when the player progression system launched, it didn’t quite work out that way.

It turned out that every sub-badge level awarded 200 experience points toward an overall character’s level. After level 20, each character level requires a lofty 60,000 experience to progress, so most sub-badge levels are truly a pittance in the grand scheme of things. The catch is that wins afford 1,200 experience, and “Time Played” provides 5,600 experience.

What a profile overview looks like with the profile badge and the “hero level” search criteria chosen.
At the end of the day, the badges are cool, but they don’t feel as rewarding as they should.

This means that every 20 minutes you spend on a character is equivalent to 28 levels of any other sub-badge. If you could secure — by some miracle — 70 eliminations in a game, you’d still only be making around 400 experience on the eliminations sub-badge. That skill expression doesn’t really matter… it’s just about how much time you spend playing the game.

I understand that Team 4 doesn’t want to make it easy to blast through the levels on your favorite character and feel like you’ve done it all right away. This system was designed for Overwatch 2 as a live service game. It’s meant players for years. That’s ok. I’m ok with that!

What I’m not ok with is how the experience distribution of the player progression system as it stands now just amounts to another tactic to promote continued player engagement. Your skill doesn’t matter. Popping off in a game and securing eliminations, doing vital healing, or performing vital utilities just doesn’t matter. The thing that matters most is how many 20-minute increments you spend playing the game.

And I’m sorry, that just sucks. I’m at a point where the sub-badge levels mean much more to me than the character levels and the role levels. They mean more to me even than the overall profile level! I don’t feel like I have control over my experience gain, no matter how well I play.

Overwatch 2’s player progression system feels bad, plain and simple. I can only hope the sub-badge experience values get tweaked to be more friendly to true skill expression in the future.

What do you think of Overwatch 2’s player progression system? Has it enhanced your experience with the game? Or does the current implementation leave you feeling frustrated? Let us know in the comments!

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