Overwatch runs on a 12 man 6v6 format. Competitive mode, which is said to come out ‘soon’, will follow the same design. Why is Blizzard steering clear of the better known 5v5 format. Why do they want 12 players instead of 10?
5v5 has proven success
5v5 is the most successful multiplayer esports format to date. As 6v6 was used by less competitive games like Team Fortress 2, the evidence blindingly favors the current standard. Unfortunately, human psychology removes the possibility of confidently discerning the main reason behind 5v5’s success. Either way, some educated guesses can clarify the picture.
Aeon of Strife, Counter-Strike and Dota were some of the first 5v5 multiplayer games to emerge. LoL, Dota 2 and CS:GO, their modern counterparts, popularized the format. 5v5 has been at the forefront of Western multiplayer esports ever since. One might even say that the main drive behind the popularization of esports in the West was the emergence of 5v5 games.
Granted, MOBA popularity may have given the 5v5 format too favorable of a view. After all, the early version of Dota employed a 5v5 format to suit its symmetric map structure. If MOBA games became popular for another reason (e.g. because of character customization), then the 5v5 format wouldn’t have played a part in the popularization. This is why I mentioned that we’re limited to educated guesses.
Most importantly, odd numbered teams increase the difficulty of balancing team harmony. The politics of such teams always have a majority – facilitating confident decision making. In matters of in-game decision or roster changes, the majority opinion can break the feud. Consequently, stalemates are reduced and productivity increases. This very principle also facilitates player drama which can catalyze the scene by boosting viewership.
Higher cost in production is the most obvious downside that comes to mind. LAN organizers need to provide more computers. They also need to provide more space for additional players. This disadvantage seems pretty trivial. After all, the cost of slight adjustments are handily outweighed by a flourishing scene.
6v6 also requires the server to consolidate more information. Server’s have two more connections to keep track of. This issue is also pretty trivial, but features that promote technical instability should be reconsidered.
Even teams (of 2,4,6…) are prone to political deadlock. If teammates can divide themselves evenly, they will feel more confident in holding their ground. Ultimately, it will be harder to push for a roster change or settle on mid-game decisions.
Lastly, a large portion of community feedback voices that competitive Overwatch is too cluttered. Reducing the format to 5v5 could clear some of the visual mess to make the game more accessible.
During roster changes teams will merge in more complex ways. Unlike 5v5, six person teams can reconstruct evenly with three sets of two or two sets of three. Star players who want to switch organizations together should be easier to accommodate. Also, joining a team with a trusted teammate promotes cohesion.
Similarly, players will be more likely to come in packages. Overwatch’s content production could be grown by stories of jointly migrating players. 6v6 can naturally amplify social aspects of the game.
Why did Blizzard choose 6v6?
Generally, I think that the negatives outweigh the advantages. Blizzard probably went the other way because they disagree with my point on team volatility.
My argument pitches productivity as the desired feature. If people can gang up on each other, the atmosphere will be more tense. I think that encouraging members of the team to outdo each other is a positive feature.
Blizzard sees it the other way. 5v5 promotes a more hostile team environment. Overwatch caters to a casual audience by using 6v6. That’s Blizzards pitch. It’s a solid strategy.
Personally, I think we’re better off with 5v5. It can reduce a reasonable amount of clutter. The competitive scene will be more dramatic and games could last longer.