A recurring source of frustration for fans of professional Overwatch is the game’s seemingly inescapably trend towards a stale meta. Jung touched on this issue in his article about the divide between the game’s casual and competitive scenes. It’s a bit of a paradox, because Overwatch tryhards—I use the term endearingly—are quick to pledge their allegiance to “the meta,” and will frequently complain about non-meta hero picks in ranked games, despite the disconnect between the pro scene and a semi-competitive pub environment. I’ll save my eye-rolling about the community’s love affair with arguing about hero picks for another time. Instead, I’m going to focus on the largest obstacle (so to speak) to the game’s success as a spectator esport: Reinhardt’s shield.
Reinhardt is a big guy with a big hammer, and he walks around in a big ol’ suit of armor. Reinhardt is also German, and he’s probably the only character in Overwatch that I’d like to have a beer with. I’m betting he can crush beer cans against his forehead, and Reinhardt is probably the only Overwatch hero who stands a chance in a fight to death with Jeff Kaplan.
Reinhardt can swing his hammer as a melee weapon, dealing 75 damage to whatever unfortunate soul happens to end up on the receiving end of his mighty tool-turned-weapon.
Reinhardt’s “Rocket Hammer,” as Blizzard have dubbed it, is also apparently a magic wand. Here’s Blizzard’s official description of the “Fire Strike” ability, which deals 100 damage:
“By whipping his Rocket Hammer forward, Reinhardt slings a flaming projectile which pierces and damages any enemies it touches.”
Reinhardt can also charge at people, leaving his hapless teammates to fend for themselves as the bloodlust overcomes him. Reinhardt hurtles towards his foes, hoping against hope that he will pin one against the nearest wall and rejoice at the sound of their fragile bones breaking under the weight of his gargantuan armor-clad body.
Sounds cool, doesn’t it? Yeah, too bad. This dude’s job is to sit in front of your punk ass and hold up a big blue shield. Rein’s shield soaks up 2000 damage before it breaks, at which point Reinhardt will need to take a momentary respite from his babysitting duties so that his big blue shield can recharge. After it recharges, Reinhardt will, once again, return to the frontlines, shield up, moving forward at a snail’s pace while his teammates take potshots at the other team’s Reinhardt shield.
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As the staring contest between these two shield-bearing German knights rages on, the final outcome for non-professional players is often determined by which Reinhardt has had enough of his team’s shit, throws the proverbial towel into the ring, and charges like a goddamn freight train at whatever snot-nosed little brat on the other team pushed him over the edge.
What’s the Problem?
The problem is that Reinhardt’s kit, much like that of the equally prominent Lucio, provides such unparalleled assistance to his team, to the point that almost every effective team composition requires Reinhardt’s inclusion. Check out the latest data about the pro scene’s meta, courtesy of Overbuff:
Reinhardt’s sheer utility is undeniable on the chokepoint-heavy maps of Overwatch, as his shield paves the way for successful offensive pushes. Now, since Reinhardt moves slower when he’s got his shield up, the offense gains ground at the same rate that their Reinhardt turtles his way towards the objective.
But wait, there’s more–the defending team more than likely has a Reinhardt as well, which means that the pace of each engagement is dictated entirely by the status of both shields. Is it down? Good, give ’em hell. Is it up? Better shoot at it until it goes down.
There’s nothing entertaining about watching two teams shoot at each other’s big glowing rectangle until it disappears.
Yes, there’s skill involved in managing the status of your shield. Players constantly need to be aware of when they’re going to have to drop their shield, retreat and/or pop off a quick Fire Strike while it recharges. Yes, there are some interesting mind games to be played between two Reinhardt’s, especially when they’re trying to bait out an Earthshatter or entice the other Rein into charging at them. Yes, skilled Rein players can make intelligent choices about dropping their shield to force out high-cooldown abilities from their opponents.
This part is going in italics so that there’s no room for confusion: I’m not saying that Reinhardt is a “low skill” hero, or that he can’t be played successfully in an aggressive fashion. Players like Reinforce have made that abundantly clear.
But discussions about skill and whether or not the hero is fun to play have nothing to do when we’re talking about trying to make Overwatch an entertaining and strategically deep spectator esport.
Overwatch isn’t exactly an FPS title, at least in the classic sense of the genre, but the most entertaining characters to watch, especially for spectators, are heroes with high mechanical skill ceilings: McCree, Tracer, Genji, and even Soldier: 76. In other words, the heroes that require you to aim.
The problem? Reinhardt’s shield forces them to undergo the tedious chore of chipping away at his shield until they’ve dealt 2000 damage. This is how you initiate teamfights in Overwatch. Barring player error, taking down Rein’s shield is the first thing these heroes need to do in order before they start displaying the kind of raw mechanical skill that’s immediately recognizable to viewers. In the case of flankers, this is less of an issue, since they’ll be attacking from a different angle and thereby circumventing the whole issue of breaking Reinhardt’s shield. But heroes like Genji and Tracer are especially fun to watch at the professional level because of exactly this reason: they don’t have to deal with Reinhardt’s shield.
The most consistently effective way to play Reinhardt requires that you have your shield up whenever possible, and, as a result, the “best” place for Reinhardt’s teammates to be at all times is behind this shield. Think about it. From your own experiences complaining about teammates in competitive, ask yourself: what does a bad Reinhardt look like? A “bad” Reinhardt is a fighting Reinhardt. A bad Reinhardt doesn’t have his shield up to protect his team. A bad Reinhardt charges into the thick of the fight to pin the foolish enemy supports who dared taunt him. In most cases, good Reinhardt play is slow, methodical, and, again, based entirely around his effectiveness at shielding teammates from damage while he builds up the charge for his Earthshatter. Reinhardt’s shield doesn’t eliminate the importance of effective positioning, but it makes it less important.
And this, friends, is a problem.
Think I’m an idiot? That’s fair. The second part of this article will be released tomorrow, and I’ll be talking a little bit more about the effect of Reinhardt on professional gameplay, as well as discussing the ways that Blizzard is trying to change the way he’s played in order to improve the experience of Overwatch as a spectator sport.