Overwatch League Finals: How Metas Made The Game

Ashley Parrish
Games Blizzard
Games Blizzard PC Gaming Overwatch
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Way back in Season One of the Overwatch League, on the last day of the first stage, the day started and ended with a match between the London Spitfire and the New York Excelsior — eight hours apart. Back then, the Stage playoffs were only between the top three teams and took place immediately after the scheduled matches for the day were completed. That peculiar arrangement resulted in 12 grueling hours of matches, a day that started at noon and ended at midnight. London played three times that day, a total of 14 maps, and still won against the Excelsior and a Houston Outlaws team that hasn’t played at that caliber of excellence since.

Turns out too much of a good thing is bad. The league took steps to ensure nothing so exhausting as a 12-hour day of matches could ever happen again. They changed the playoff format, adding an extra team, and an extra day to the mix, giving everyone — fans and players alike — a bit of breathing room.

Meta changes happen exactly like that — when too much of a good thing becomes bad. The game becomes untenable for players, either through stagnating team compositions or broken characters, and the league steps in to change it to give the casual and professional player a bit of breathing room and the chance to reinvent the way the game is played.

To hear fans tell it, the GOATS meta was the worst thing about this season of the League. The three tank/three support composition engulfed three of the four stages, and became not the preferred method of play, but the required one if a team wanted to win… almost (more on that later).

While it sounds intimidating — and ridiculous — the GOATS meta isn’t too terribly difficult to grasp. Let’s start with the basics: composition. GOATS is comprised of three tanks and three supports. Reinhardt, Zarya, and D.Va are your tanks, Zenyatta, Lucio, and Brigitte are your supports. The tanks work as tanks do, as damage sponges. Teams work to favorably position themselves on the map, taking the high ground or the choke point, often poking out from behind the shields that Reinhardt and Zarya provide, looking for the early kill that will make the opposing team vulnerable to a team kill. Lucio and Zenyatta work to keep the team alive while Brigitte goes to work as a stunbot, using her flail to knock players back or interrupt their ability use. Now you can throw in a Sombra for a bit of spice, but the GOATS equation works best with all its traditional ingredients.

That “tradition” is likely what made GOATS so reviled. There’s only so many times a fan can watch two teams poke at each other, looking for an early kill while they wait for their Zarya’s Graviton Surge to come on line. Throw the gravity bomb in a way that sucks in the enemy team, wipe them out, then execute whatever the map objective is while you wait for them to respawn.

Rinse. Repeat. For three three whole stages.

There was no hard counter to GOATS; only GOATS could counter GOATS. And if your team was bad at it, if they couldn’t quite make it click, then you were in for an embarrassingly bad time. GOATS relies heavily on a team acting in concert with a margin of error as thin as Florida’s win record. So if your team couldn’t get it, there’s a good chance they weren’t going to win.

With notable exceptions.

The Chengdu Hunters, for the life of the meta, did not care about GOATS. Ameng, piloting his signature character Wrecking Ball, smashed the expectation that only the prescribed meta could win games. These players decided they were gonna play whatever heroes they wanted, in whatever configuration they pleased, and for a good while it worked. They won games on stage — and fans from it, as watchers were delighted to see a refreshing new take on the game.

But quirk can only get you so far. The meta is the meta for a reason, it’s powerful. And teams that mastered it dominated the game.

I’m going to put my neck out here and make an assertion: The San Francisco Shock was the best at GOATS. Now, before standings are waved in my face clearly indicating the Vancouver Titans have the superior win record, hear me out. San Francisco is good at GOATS, Vancouver is just … good. The Shock executed GOATS well; they were the specialists. They did one thing extremely well. Vancouver also did GOATS well but they do everything well. They have a certain unquantifiable x-factor in their team that allow them to play and get away with things no other team, including the Shock, could.

Not everyone hated GOATS. In fact, some preferred GOATS to the new meta that’s taken over since the introduction of Sigma and Role Lock. Granted, all metas to some degree rely on teamwork, but GOATS was special in that you are practically tied to your teammates by a thick chain of trust and timing. Play concentrated into a smaller space, the team had to move together as a single unit lest you be picked off by a volley of Zenyatta orbs to the head. It was a kind of cooperation that very closely resembled traditional sports and with little room for error, where there’s no space for flashy plays from a lone wolf.

Without GOATS, all that comes back. There’s room for error, room to breathe, room for hard carries from single players. The playing field expands, there’s opportunity to flank, and for DPS players to go off and pop off on their own. With GOATS gone, the community exhaled, and exclaimed Overwatch was fun to watch again.

Stage 4 brought with it the introduction of Role Lock. Now every team composition must include two tanks, two supports, and with damage players effectively nuking GOATS off the face of the game forever. Teams have more freedom to construct a composition of heroes that suited their players’ strengths — for about the first week. Then everyone figured out what the best composition was and now every team auto-locks that. Mirror matches abound.

Worse yet, with the addition of Sigma, fans and players are expressing their distaste at the new meta — the shield meta. With Orisa’s barriers and Sigma’s shields littering the playing field, players have to work twice as hard to get the kills they need, forcing them to rely on bunker busting heroes like Doomfist and Reaper. Moira’s area healing and Lucio’s Speed Boost and Sound Barrier make them necessary supports and viola: the new meta. If people were upset at GOATS forcing them to watch the same six heroes play each other the same way over and over again. They’re going to be just as upset by this.

This isn’t new. Fans from Season One will remember the Mercy meta and how everyone hated that.

Then came the dive meta. Also hated.

Blizzard added Brigitte, her stuns able to de-fang Tracer — one of the integral components of dive. With her came the rise of GOATS and we already know how people felt about that.

See where I’m going here?

Role Lock is still new. So is Sigma. There’s time for teams to iterate on compositions until they find the one that works the best. And like always there will be the Chengdu Hunters of the world that will completely disregard that, and go their own way for good or ill.

No matter what the meta is, and no matter what steps Blizzard takes to buff and nerf heroes to respond, it’ll end up the same way — a good thing gone bad in the inevitable quest for the true nirvana: Balance.