Play of the Fortnight: When Will We Get Overwatch Battle Royale?

In our last Play of the Fortnight, we talked about the potentially precarious future of Overwatch. Members of the community have speculated for some time about game modes Blizzard might release to keep things interesting. With that in mind, when will we get an Overwatch Battle Royale?

In this Play of the Fortnight, we talk about what such a game mode would look like, and whether it’s likely we’ll see it any time soon.

Apex Legends takes the BR genre by storm

Apex Legends, a game by Respawn – the same devs behind Titanfall – has been a delightful surprise to the gaming community. It’s also been repeatedly compared to Overwatch, with heroes who have varying abilities and ultimates. The art style is like a combination between Overwatch and something like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 with its Battle Royale mode: Blackout.

It has people wondering: why isn’t there an Overwatch Battle Royale? As it turns out, Blizzard considered the game mode after its soaring popularity just over a year ago. Jeff Kaplan said in an interview with Kotaku, “There’s a lot of design and tech work to get us to that place and not just feel like a me-too game.”

However, Kaplan also went on to say that Overwatch is specifically about its heroes, and that it would be difficult to implement a Battle Royale game with this kind of gameplay. That statement hasn’t aged well, seeing as Apex Legends has done just that. So what is stopping Blizzard from doing the same?

What would need to change for an Overwatch Battle Royale to work?

Overwatch Battle Royale - Maps

There are certainly a few things that do prevent an Overwatch Battle Royale from being a fun experience, though. Blizzard would need to make quite a few changes, the biggest of which is the current maps. All Battle Royales on the market have relatively large maps, giving players options for where to drop and loot. Overwatch simply doesn’t have that style of gameplay yet: the maps are very small, however, Call of Duty is similar. Black Ops 4 has smaller arena style maps for its regular gameplay and a larger one for BR. Blizzard would need to develop a map specifically for the BR game mode, but it would be a step in the right direction.

The Overwatch matchmaking system would also need a few tweaks, as obviously right now it’s geared towards much smaller matches. Overwatch seems like it would make for a better “small” BR. Apex Legends, for example, has 60 players at the beginning as opposed to the usual 100+. Overwatch would benefit from going a similar route.

With Overwatch being a team-based game, it would also be a good idea to take a leaf out of Apex Legends’ book and not have a solo game mode. Whilst it’s somewhat frustrating to need a group of three to play, otherwise being forced into a pick-up, the team dynamic is what makes Apex fun. This goes for Overwatch too; the heroes work well together, but alone they can be frustrating.

How would looting work?

Overwatch Battle Royale - Looting

The big question is how Blizzard would implement looting in a game like Overwatch. Is it necessary for a Battle Royale to be able to loot different weapons and armor? With the way heroes work in Overwatch, and the fact that their weapons are key parts of their kit, it doesn’t really make sense to have different weapons available. Though perhaps there could be upgrades for weapons that drop. Other loot could include armor, with everyone starting with no base armor and items to heal or regenerate shields.

Ultimately, we feel that looting is a fairly core part of the BR genre, but it doesn’t have to be implemented the same way every time. There is room for innovation, which Blizzard has never really shied away from before.

What challenges does Blizzard face for an Overwatch Battle Royale?

Overwatch Battle Royale - Resurrection

The biggest challenge is one mentioned by Kaplan in the Kotaku interview: balance. “Our primary engagement distance is usually around 15 to 40 meters.” This is much, much shorter than engagement distance on a bigger BR map. Would Overwatch even translate well to longer ranges?

Another aspect of balance is that heroes are very specifically balanced for the state of the game currently. This may seem unimportant, but a Battle Royale game mode plays very differently. Blizzard would likely have to consider balancing heroes completely differently for BR and possibly even remove certain heroes from the mode entirely. For example, what purpose does Mercy have? Her range would be very limited and her resurrect would be unnecessary if everyone would be able to lift teammates.

Overwatch Battle Royale as a standalone game

One way to overcome a lot of the challenges Blizzard faces would be a standalone game. Perhaps a limited hero selection pool, one large map with loot spawns, and a separate balance pass would help immensely.

If Blizzard made the BR free-to-play, we’d likely see a rush of players giving it a try. We already know Apex Legends has driven up player numbers for Titanfall 2, so it’d have the added benefit of drawing attention to Overwatch’s main game.

However, this is incredibly risky. If Blizzard adds an Overwatch Battle Royale, regardless of whether it’s a standalone or built into the existing game, and it doesn’t do well it could only harm Overwatch’s popularity further.

Closing Thoughts

We think it’s fairly likely Blizzard is looking into the potential of an Overwatch Battle Royale. They were already thinking about it back when PUBG and Fortnite were the top dogs, but now that Apex Legends has shown a hero-based BR is possible and even incredibly popular, it’d be foolish for Blizzard not to consider the possibilities.

However, there are a few challenges to overcome first. Even so, we wouldn’t be surprised to see an announcement of an Overwatch BR in the coming year, assuming the genre maintains its current popularity.

Would you like to see an Overwatch Battle Royale? Let us know how you think it should work.

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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.