Now that Overwatch hit the market, let’s see how its item system fares against other established eSports titles.
This article is meant for casual players who place a lot of value on avatar customization. Power users who like to collect virtual items can also make use of this analysis.
Due to the limitations of my knowledge I will restrict the comparison to Dota 2, League of Legends and CS:GO.
Let’s start with the basics.
How do users receive an item?
Players receive loot boxes upon leveling up. These boxes can also be bought for approximately 1 USD, depending on how many you buy at a time. Loot boxes give the opener four different items. These can be any combination of new spray paint patterns, player icons, hero voice lines, emotes, victory poses (taunts) and in-game currency.
Skins affect the aesthetics of the character’s entire body. Only one skin can be attached to a character, meaning that they cannot be mixed and matched. Skins have to be equipped before entering a match.
Items can also be purchased within game currency. However, the virtual money is only received through loot boxes as one of the four items or when receiving a duplicate character skin. You can only buy loot boxes and hope for the best. Alternatively, you can accumulate the necessary gold to purchase specific items.
So now that we’ve established the basics, let’s delve into a brief comparison between games.
League of Legends
A comparison against LoL’s item system seems warranted because it is currently the most popular eSport.
- Full body skins
- LoL skins affect the aesthetics of the whole avatar.
- In-game currency
- Riot, just like Blizzard, avoid representing in-game money with real currencies. In LoL, the money is called “Riot points” and in Overwatch it is referred to as “Credits”.
- Item equipment
- Unlike Overwatch, LoL skins can be chosen in the character selection screen before every match. This means that people can avoid choosing the same skins during the match, whereas Overwatch players cannot. Admittedly, the difference is trivial, but from a spectator perspective it has the ability to change the game’s oversight.
- Item acquisition
- LoL users can exchange real money for in-game currency. If the user desires a specific skin, all that has to be done is pay the necessary amount of money for the purchase.
The virtual skin system used for Dota 2 includes a vast array of customization options and third-party betting options.
- More than just avatar skins
- Just like Overwatch, Dota 2 allows you to unbox items that go beyond avatar customization. For example, players can buy announcer packs and overlays. Although the types and amounts of extra items differ, the fact that Blizzard allows for more immersive customization reminds of Valve’s approach for Dota 2.
- Skin market
- Overwatch lacks the ability to gift and trade skins. In addition, users cannot trade real money for specific Overwatch skins because they are forced to buy loot crates.
- Item drops
- In Dota 2, item drops are randomly gifted to players after every game. In Overwatch, loot boxes only drop between levels. The concept of rewarding play time with virtual items appears in both titles. However, the way in which gifts are distributed differ.
CS:GO items are prevalent enough to be news-worthy, warranting a comparison with Blizzard’s Overwatch skin system.
- CS:GO provides cases to users for free. Overwatch does the same when an account gains a level. The implementation is slightly different but the underlying concept is similar.
- Cases require keys
- Although both titles provide free item boxes, CS:GO cases are only half of the equation. Opening a case requires a key that costs 2.50 USD. Overwatch cases are opened upon receipt.
- Non-avatar items
- CS:GO doesn’t mess with items beyond avatar customization. Skins only apply to weapons (hence the name ‘Weapon skins’).
- Achievement pins
- Pins representing achievements and participation (like major and challenge pins) do not exist in Overwatch.
- Skin market
- Again, Overwatch does not allow for skin trading and selling.
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Speaking for a whole community is never easy. This problem is exacerbated when the community in question is experiencing rapid growth. Keeping this limitation in mind, many of the same requests appear on Reddit and stream chats.
As shown above, gifting is a common item system trait that was omitted by Overwatch’s developers. Most users appreciate this feature as it deepens games’ social aspect.
Similarly, item trading is also present in other popular eSports titles. One can argue that the lack of item trading reduces the reward of acquiring them.
This is not too different from trading, however it seems that virtual items become more appealing when they come with the potential of earning money. Features that provide possibilities for profit can attract new players. In a way, Blizzard’s oversimplification of their item system neglects that chunk of the market.
Note that other people prefer the absence of a market. Players who hold this view believe that an item market opens up an unrelated facet of the game. It is hard to neglect that the possibility for profit might attract the wrong crowd.
Either way, considering the prevalence of virtual skin markets in modern eSports titles, Blizzard might want to move in that direction to widen their target audience.
All in all, virtual items in Overwatch follow a very basic design. Blizzard’s minimalist approach emphasizes their desire to prevent Overwatch items from becoming an online currency. At the same time, they do so in a way that still provides game customization. The customization options are shallower than in other prevalent eSports. So, the balance between freedom and safeguarding looks to accommodate the majority of video game consumers.