Jeff Kaplan discusses possible 1-3-2 role lock in Overwatch 2

Olivia R. January 16, 2020

They didn't like dive. They hated GOATS. They don't like 2-2-2. And now some Overwatch fans are begging Blizzard to "save the game" by changing to a 1-3-2 role lock. 

One fan took to the Blizzard forums to discuss why 1-3-2 role lock would benefit the game. Their first point was that one tank, three DPS, and two support heroes would fix DPS wait times. 

"People want to play DPS, so allow an additional slot and put more power into DPS," they wrote

They also stated that 1-3-2 role lock would give tanks a clear direction in the game instead of worrying if they're a "main or off-tank." 

"The dynamic of 1-3-2 is more exciting, fights are faster… It’s why people want dive! Shields suck, standing at chokes sucks! People want to move!" the user explained. The Overwatch fan concluded that this should be a rule implemented in Overwatch 2

The Overwatch community had mixed feelings about the idea of a 1-3-2 role lock. Some players felt that tanks would need to get major buffs in order for one-tank compositions to work. Others noted that the recent armor buffs should already support the movement OP seemed to think was missing from the current game. 

"It’s a very good idea if you want the remaining Tanks players to quit," another player responded.

But nobody was more vocal about the subject matter than Blizzard vice president himself, Jeff Kaplan. 

Jeff Kaplan writes on why 1-3-2 role lock won't work

"Wow, it was super weird to stumble on this thread," Kaplan wrote. 

That first sentence was the start of an 11-paragraph rant from the Overwatch lead designer. Kaplan revealed early on that developers had considered 1-3-2 to combat long queue times for DPS mains. While the team felt at first that this would be an "overall positive improvement" to queue times, they were reluctant for a number of reasons. 

"Before implementing 2-2-2 role queue, we had done experiments with the team compositions being one tank, one support, and four damage. The playtests under a 4-1-1 comp were terrible," Kaplan said.

He explained that the problem was the "solo support," who was left unable to keep the entire team alive effectively. When a support player on one side died, Kaplan added, the "entire team woul fall like a house of cards." 

For the past two months, developers have experimented with 1-3-2 instead. During that time they faced a number of challenges. 

The first issue was centered around off-tanks like D.Va, Zarya, and Roadhog. The current play style for those three tanks is often being paired with "main" tanks like Orisa, Sigma, and Reinhardt. Switching to 1-3-2 would require balance changes to help change this current playstyle, much like someone in the comments mentioned previously. 

"Roadhog is a great example. Is the correct thing to do for Roadhog under that design to try to make him more 'main tanky' or is the correct thing to do to simply move him to the damage role and balance him as a damage character?" Kaplan said.

Developers currently have Roadhog as a DPS hero with 400 health. His Take a Breather ability only heals and doesn't have its current damage reduction affect. His scrap gun was also reconfigured to fit the DPS role a bit more. This change wouldn't be released for 2-2-2, but it's just one possibility for 1-3-2. The other is turning him into a "main tank." 

Roadhog Overwatch 1-3-2

"How do you take what is essentially an 'off tank' and make him a 'main tank?' That is what we would have to explore with any of these tank characters. Since the tank roster is already one of the more limited character selections, we’re obviously not crazy about removing choice from tank players," Kaplan said. "And if our stated goal is to improve queue times, did going to one tank actually remove a bunch of otherwise tank players from the queue? Or were some of these 'tank' players actually damage players who wanted a faster queue time so they picked Roadhog?"

Kaplan made clear that these were complicated questions that would require complicated answers.

Blizzard developers also fear a 1-3-2 comp because of the pressure tank players would face. According to Kaplan, playtesting this composition resulted in players feeling pressure to choose the "right" tank, as well as giving players "anxiety" over their performance. Another issue is limited metas and a small hero pool that fits within them. 

Still, Kaplan admitted that there are some tank players who enjoy the "glory" of being the lone tank on the team. 

"Watching this play out in our weird, internal experiment has been fascinating," Kaplan said. 

When it comes to support players' feedback on the 1-3-2 role lock, they felt guilty when the one tank died. On the positive side, support players felt they had more freedom to focus on other players on their team. The chaotic nature of the 1-3-2 role lock was also seen as more exciting for some support players, while others had a hard time keeping up with the extra damage. 

No surprise here, but DPS players enjoyed the three-DPS meta. Not only do they have a higher chance of getting to play DPS, but they have a lot less pressure on their roles as damage dealers when there's an extra source of damage on the team. 

"The compositions have been very interesting. For example, you can have a two sniper comp (maybe Widow and Hanzo) and have a flanker (Genji/Tracer). It’s really opened up the game. If you’re evaluating plusses and minuses, it adds to the chaos, makes the game play more like a traditional FPS (less barriers/damage mitigation going on) but also detracts a bit from teamplay," Kaplan discussed. 

While many competitive Overwatch players have a major focus on communication and teamplay, a reason some Overwatch League players prefered the GOATS meta, Kaplan noted that "in 2020, I feel like the over-emphasis on teamplay causes a lot of psychological pressure for your average player." So less teamplay might be a good thing, he argued. 

At first, others on the Overwatch team felt that 1-3-2 was just another "crazy experiment," but it started to grow on the developers after a while. For some, it even reminded them of the early days of Overwatch. Still, the team felt that, while an interesting experiment, 1-3-2 role lock is "not the correct thing for the game." 

While it solves a lot of problems, it also introduces a lot of problems, Kaplan said. Still, people outside of Blizzard's doors might get to check it out for themselves and leave feedback for the team based on their experience. 

"We’ve also been brainstorming if there is a way to bring this experiment to the community somehow (either through the PTR or the live game somehow). We don’t want to freak people out though. Usually when stuff hits the PTR, we intend for it to go live (or some version of it). But this is much more of an early experiment more than anything else," Kaplan said.