Having been announced back in January, the first Experimental Mode has been revealed. Going live on all platforms today (if all goes to plan) Triple Damage will see the team composition balance and role queues shifted away from two damage, two tank and two support to three damage, one tank and two support characters.
Experimental Mode is a new way for Blizzard to test gameplay and balance changes, new modes and more. These kinds of tests have previously been restricted to the Public Test Realm on PC, but with the Experimental Mode it’s now something that is part of the game on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch as well.
Principal Game Designer Michael Heiberg explained the thinking behind this first test: “When we rolled our Role Queue with 2 damage, 2 support, and 2 tank players per team, we ended up with a lot more damage players in queue than tanks and supports. This created longer queue times, and one of the things we considered was, what if we tried to make the team composition closer to the actual ratio of players by role? If that did work out, people would be waiting less, playing more. So, it behooved us to actually try it.”
While this increases the number of high damage players, it doesn’t necessarily change the dynamics of attack and defence too much. It will increase the damage being dealt and the number of player deaths, but can also open up the door to team compositions with two snipers defending, for example.
Interestingly this goes back to the original design of the game. Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan said, “When we created our tanks, we didn’t think of any as off-tanks. In fact, we had anticipated people playing with only one tank. That’s much of how early Overwatch was played. If you ever jumped into Quick Play before Role Queue, you know that having one tank was a luxury.”
As part of this role queue change, there will also be an accompanying rebalance of the characters – Roadhog gains a Take a Breather ability that emits a protective gas cloud – but these are only taking effect within the Experimental Mode and not the 2-2-2 role queue that is still the game’s bread and butter. If 3-2-1 is adopted throughout the game, those changes will roll out as well, but if it’s put back on the shelf, the character tweaks will go with it.
This is likely to be the biggest Experimental Mode for some time, with Kaplan saying that after Triple Damage they will instead focus on smaller balance changes while coming up with more ideas.