Play of the Fortnight: 5 Reasons Overwatch is So Popular

Yesterday was Overwatch’s second anniversary. As part of the anniversary celebration, Blizzard just announced that Overwatch has reached 40 million players. They’ve also shared some additional fun stats, like how many times, “I need healing!” has been uttered (probably mostly by Genji…)

Why is Overwatch So Popular? - Infographic

However, the total number of players stat is pretty exciting. What is it that makes Overwatch so popular? In this Play of the Fortnight, we’re going over some of the reasons people play Overwatch, and what makes it so appealing.

1. Overwatch is Highly Accessible

We’ve discussed the accessibility of Overwatch in the past. There are two major ways that Overwatch is accessible: its availability to players, and how easy it is to pick-up as a newcomer. We’ll talk about both of those.

Overwatch’s availability to players

Overwatch is a multi-platform game. This is becoming more common, and while cross-platform isn’t possible, the fact that players can pick up the game on multiple consoles means it’s a lot easier for a gamer to try it. I, for one, own the game on both PC and PS4 so I can play with my friends on both platforms, despite being a PC gamer mostly.

Cross-platform play would be difficult, but if we look to games like Fortnite, it’s certainly possible. Perhaps we’ll see Blizzard implement cross-platform play, where console players can join their teammates on PC. They’d obviously be at a disadvantage due to the differences between controller and keyboard/mouse play, but if that was a choice the player made themselves, it wouldn’t be so bad.

Why is Overwatch So Popular? - Accessibility

Overwatch as an easy game to pick-up

Overwatch attracted a lot of non-FPS gamers, people who had never really played a shooter before. It’s a little slower-paced than some FPS games, making it easier to get started. Blizzard also added heroes that are easier to play if you haven’t got a lot of experience aiming and shooting. For example, Soldier-76 has an ultimate that enables you to make a huge impact even if you couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. Mercy doesn’t need you to be able to aim to still keep your team alive.

Players don’t have to learn different keybindings for different heroes, or how to switch between a huge number of weapons that just grows in number as they pick up more. Once you’ve tried one hero, that hero’s kit is the same every time. This makes it a lot easier for someone coming from a gaming background that doesn’t include DOOM, Quake, Unreal, or any of the war shooters.

2. Blizzard is Renowned For Their World-Building

From the mostly bright, rich environments of Warcraft to the dark, twisted landscape of Diablo, all the way to the sci-fi future of Starcraft, Blizzard has a lot of world-building experience. Overwatch seems like it was almost an accident. The team was apparently originally working on Titan, the project title for an upcoming MMO that eventually got scrapped. Some of the developers got held back to come up with a new game in a few weeks, and they decided to go with a future earth, featuring all the things about our own world that are stunning and exciting.

It’s not just the world that has a lot of detail to it. The team has focused on creating a rich and engaging story that is always evolving. The heroes add depth to the world without being over-the-top. The lore isn’t shoved down players’ throats but there are little hints of it here and there for anyone who is interested in going digging.

Why is Overwatch So Popular? - Hero Rivalry

As an example, there are rivalries between heroes that are evident in their voice lines. Some heroes knew each other a long time ago, and make references to each other when they’re standing together on the same team. All of this expands upon the world we’re playing in, despite the game being a non-story-driven shooter.

3. The Overwatch Heroes Are Diverse and Interesting

Why is Overwatch So Popular? - Diverse Heroes

Overwatch has heroes from various cultures around the world. Players can generally find at least one hero they can identify with. Whether it’s cultural background, skin color, gender, body type, or even sexuality, the characters’ backgrounds are diverse and widely spread. This is certainly something that Blizzard received a lot of criticism for, but they have stood by it all the same.

At the DICE Summit 2017, Jeff Kaplan said, “The goal was inclusivity and open-mindedness. Diversity was the result. We wanted to make a world that was accessible to all.” Their initial goal wasn’t for diversity, but diversity was born from their efforts to make the world of Overwatch interesting and open to everyone.

Another interesting thing about Overwatch’s roster is that the heroes have lives outside the game. They have children, partners, and stories that exist beyond the other heroes. These characters that feature in the heroes’ backstories may show up sometime in the future as part of the roster, or they may not. But Blizzard has shown that they are not against developing interesting characters that never even get seen in the game.

4. Overwatch is Different

Why is Overwatch So Popular? - World Building

While Blizzard has always been pretty well known for taking inspiration from other games when developing their own, Overwatch is very different. It certainly takes the best parts from games like Team Fortress 2, but it has its own life and depth. Blizzard released Overwatch in a time when we were watching shooter games constantly bounce back and forth between war-based games and futuristic games. The Call of Duty and Battlefield series were seemingly competing on the same playing field, and then Overwatch came onboard with a bright, colorful and slightly fantastical game set in a different era, with no real grounding in reality.

Players love war games. Those games will always have their place, as will hyper-realistic games. But Overwatch has shown that games can be weird and wonderful, and still be popular.

5. One Player Can Make a Huge Impact on the Match

Why is Overwatch So Popular? - D.Va Ultimate overwatch popular

Overwatch is a team-based shooter. If you’re not working together as a team, you’re probably going to lose. However, one individual player can make a massive impact on a match and even swing a stalemate or loss into a win. Hit everyone with your Reinhardt ult? Blow up the point with D.Va? You could’ve just wiped the enemy team and managed to get the capture that you needed.

This is highlighted particularly well with the Play of the Game feature. While it may need some tweaking, it’s incredibly rewarding seeing your name and your play at the end of the screen. It gets played for everyone to see and reminds them what you did well.

Players love being rewarded for doing well. Even better if their awesome play is shown to everyone on their team and their opponents. My group chat is often filled with my teammates betting that they were the PotG this time. The excitement when they’re right is palpable. So is the disappointment when the enemy Torbjorn got it with his turret, though!

Closing Thoughts

Overwatch is an immensely popular FPS and has done really well over the last two years. Part of that is due to the “Blizzard effect”. Blizzard is already well-known and has a huge playerbase to draw from, plus the means to create a massive marketing drive for a new game. However, there are lots of things that Overwatch does right that keeps players coming back, and attracts new players all the time.

If you’ve never played it before, now is a great time to give it a try. You can play Overwatch for free this weekend until Monday, May 28th. For more info, go to the Overwatch free trial page.

Those of you who already play, what drew you to Overwatch? Let us know in the comments below!

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About Psyche

Psyche is a loud, obnoxious gamer, streamer and writer from Northern Ireland. She formerly worked in the games industry as a community manager and eventually project manager. When she's not writing about games, or playing them, she's working on her first novel. RPGs, books, a cup of tea, and talking about outer space are the ways to her heart.