Play of the Fortnight: The Issue of Overwatch Backfill

Players have been able to backfill in non-competitive Overwatch matches since the Dawn of Time. Or, you know, at least since the game launched or thereabouts. There’s been a lot of back and forth on why backfilling is not possible in competitive, and whether or not it should exist at all. Either way, we need to talk about the issue of Overwatch backfill.

In this Play of the Fortnight, we’ll discuss how Overwatch backfill affects players, why it’s important, how it could be improved and more.

Backfill might help hold a match together

Overwatch Backfill

The primary reason for backfill in a non-competitive match is to stop the match completely falling apart as soon as one person leaves. If one person left and was never replaced, their team would likely follow suit, and eventually the winning team would either finish out the (very dissatisfying) match, or they’d leave as well. Unsurprisingly, most players don’t enjoy completely stomping an empty team. It’s not fun.

Player A gets mad and leaves. Player B joins, and if it’s early enough in the match, maybe they can help turn things around for their new teammates. Then again, perhaps not, but at least it’s better and less demoralizing than being down a player and knowing you’re more than likely going to lose.

However, backfill feels really bad for the backfiller

Overwatch Backfill

The player filling in for the leaver generally has a pretty awful experience, though. You’re more often than not joining a losing game. Sometimes, you’re joining it with only 30 seconds to go before the match ends. Regardless of whether you’re rewarded for very little effort, it doesn’t feel good to join a match and barely get to leave spawn before it’s over. Even a free victory after a backfill feels hollow.

The rewards are also pretty lackluster considering you’re effectively bailing a team out of almost certain doom. Or at least, almost certain loss, which is practically the same thing to most players.

Even so, backfilling is a necessary evil

It may feel like a bad experience, but backfilling serves a really important purpose. It’s not just about saving the one match that had rage quitters and disconnects in it. In fact, more important than that is what comes after that terrible, good-for-nothing, no good game. With rage quitters and leavers, players who do remain in the match have to wait for people to rejoin, or simply get dumped back out to requeue themselves.

Overwatch Backfill

With backfill, you get one awful match that has a bunch of people join halfway through or later. But, assuming they stick around, everybody gets to go into a fresh match next time. The games get to continue seamlessly as if nothing went wrong. In theory, this is the ideal scenario for players. Blizzard wants to keep the downtime between matches low so players don’t get bored waiting around.

The rewards for backfill should be increased

Since backfilling is necessary for a healthy game, and is also a horrible experience at least initially for the filler, the rewards are poor at the moment. We’d love to see Blizzard adding additional rewards for backfilling to prevent the fillers from having a bad experience and also to stop them from immediately leaving when they join a losing game.

Players have suggested a few different things: increased XP rewards to allow faster unlocking of loot boxes, achievements or endorsements, or even separate reward tracks that again allow speedier loot box unlocks. While it’s unlikely Blizzard will go too far down the route of providing loot box rewards, we’d like to see a better nod to the people actively saving matches, not to mention other players’ time.

Allowing players to opt-out of backfill wouldn’t work

Some members of the community have suggested allowing an opt-out of backfill. While this idea sounds nice in theory, even with increased rewards as mentioned above, most players would opt-out. This would mean a few things: backfillers would be fewer and farther between, and worse still the players who didn’t opt out would only ever get put into a backfill.

While it’s nice to think that players would do the right thing and stay opted in, it’s unlikely. Give players a choice, and they’ll choose the easier, less frustrating route. An almost guaranteed loss and an annoying experience for a few measly XP? No thanks, I’ll take a brand new game with an undetermined outcome.

Ultimately, we’d see increases in queue times across the board, and backfillers would be even more upset than before.

Why it wouldn’t be good for comp

Overwatch Backfill

We’ve established why backfilling is important, but what about competitive? Surely it’s necessary there, too? Again, this would be great for teams already playing, but incredibly frustrating for the person having to backfill. If this were ever an option, the backfiller would need to lose no SR for a loss, which would make this a somewhat abusable situation. If the backfiller would join a game that was already being lost, without having contributed to the beginning of the match, losing SR would feel like a massive punishment. However, the alternative just doesn’t work.

Also, if backfilling competitive was optional, no one would want to do it. Some players have suggested that if they neither won nor lost SR but got the same XP bonus or better from quickplay, they’d backfill competitive matches for warm-ups, but that’s very easy to say. In reality, most players wouldn’t choose to backfill.

It’s also worth mentioning that competitive matches don’t roll into one another like quickplay. Players have to queue up manually each time. This would mean the backfill isn’t saving the following game, and is potentially just joining for a 30 second stomp. On top of that, it leaves players open to getting stuck in a backfill chain where they don’t get to start a brand new match.

There are other ways backfilling could be improved

Overwatch Backfill

Apart from rewards, there are a few different ways backfilling could be improved. At the moment, a backfilling player has no idea what the enemy team comp is, so their first pick is blind. It’s feasible that everyone on the team (including the leaver) knew at that point what the enemy comp is, so it’d be great if a backfiller could see the comp and pick accordingly.

Another change could be giving some amount of ultimate charge to the filler. As ultimate charge is based on a points system and then represented as a percentage, the filler could be given the same number of ultimate charge points that the leaver before them had. This would then translate into a variable percentage based on which hero they choose. This way, the team with the backfill doesn’t necessarily get an instant-ult on their new player, but they also don’t lose the ultimate charge that was being built before the leaver left.

Closing Thoughts

Backfilling is an important service every player provides when they play quickplay or arcade matches. It’s not always pretty, but it helps keep the game ticking along and gives players overall less downtime between matches by preventing them from having to requeue. However, it’s certainly not perfect, and we’d love to see some changes to make backfilling more rewarding.

What kind of changes would you like to see for backfilling? Are you a believer in competitive backfilling?

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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.