Jeff Kaplan Talks Experimentation, Hero Pools, More in Latest Developer Update

Some interesting changes in Overwatch’s latest Developer Update as Jeff Kaplan outlines major content coming with Patch 1.45 in early February. Kicking off the video, Kaplan explains the development team’s commitment to balance with more frequent impactful updates to “deliberately” change the meta. While this may mean adjusting certain heroes at first, Kaplan has stated that the team also wouldn’t be averse to reverting changes when necessary. One of Overwatch’s biggest criticisms among players is that the dev team isn’t as responsive as it should be to address balancing issues–which has made the game frustrating to play in certain contexts (like Competitive mode).

So what does this mean for gameplay? To keep in the spirit of balance and frequent support of the game, the team plans to introduce a new main card to the Play screen known as “Experimental Card”. Essentially, this is a mode that will appear every now and then in the future that allows players access to changes the development team is working on. Where PC players were the only ones who could access PTR, Experimental Card allows all players on all platforms to take part in potential content updates–from hero balances to game mode changes.

Playing games in the Experimental Card even grants players experience and rewards as if they were playing regular modes like Quick Play or Competitive. Additionally, unlike PTR, this new card is not for bug testing, but instead will be used to experiment with changes being investigated internally. What is played in this experimental mode is not always guaranteed to be released either, depending on how well the changes are received by the community. It’s apparent that Kaplan and his team are committed to changing up Overwatch as needed to continue the game’s longevity, so it may not have come as a surprise to many that “Hero Pools” will be introduced in Season 21 of competitive play. In the last few weeks, many outlets speculated about possible hero bans within the game–with Kaplan even going out of his way to say that hero bans are not what Overwatch needs. Yet he takes a moment to distinguish between a “pool” and a “ban” (although they still definitely sound like the same thing).

According to Kaplan in the update video, Hero Pools will only be live in competitive play and seeks to “push players out of the meta”. What this means is that each week, only select heroes will be eligible for play while the rest of the roster will be left out.¬† Hero pools will update on a weekly basis during the Season. This will force players to think of new strategies that only involve the pooled heroes. Kaplan explains that this feature is a test to keep the meta from stagnating and could potentially be removed by Season 22.

Hero Pools are an experimental element that may be adjusted or removed, but where other team-based games (like League of Legends) incorporate bans before matches, these pools will be curated by the design team rather than random assortment¬† chosen by algorithms. It’s an interesting change to competitive play that may force players out of their comfort zone, but could potentially shake up the game enough for it to remain fresh. The new Developer Update shows a lot of positive promise for the future of Overwatch, with some changes that hope to give players what they’ve been asking for. It’s too early to tell if something like Hero Pools will be good or bad for the game, but the development team seems committed to listening to community. While we covered the main highlights here, take a look below at the full video for all the details.