I've made it no secret that I've mostly fallen off Overwatch in the past year. It used to be ingrained as a part of my daily routine. Like how some people wake up and immediately start brewing a pot of coffee while still in a groggy state, or crack open a beer after a long day at work. For me, my post-work afternoons were spent hovering close to a Pharah in the air as Mercy; or as a D.Va charging headfirst into the enemy line. I played Overwatch daily, and opening up loot boxes was my post-match dessert.
Then as the months marched on, I cooled on it. The meta was changing faster than I was able to keep up with. The characters I played the most all had the gear (skins, sprays, emotes, voice lines, highlight intros, golden guns) I found most essential for them. As someone naturally averse to competitive, there wasn't much to keep me playing outside of events for more skins and the like. Even then, if the event's exclusive items didn't entice me, I'd log on for that free loot box, log off, and that was that.
That said, fervor still exists for the game and its community—especially with the recent start of the competitive Overwatch League—but for the average player who likely bounces from game to game, the cement that once kept players grounded has cracked.
Talking to the friends I once played with who have since gone onto other experiences—from PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds to Destiny 2—the running narrative, at least in my wide net of combatants, was that there's not really any incentive to keep in touch with the game when the heroes don't even feel the same anymore. Plus if we're not even tickled with delight over the prospect of opening a hard-earned loot box, what's the point?
Blizzard finally found it. It's an obvious one, and it feels long overdue, but a big cosmetic update is finally here.
For the past week, Blizzard's been teasing the hefty cosmetic update of over 100 items coming to Overwatch. The biggest new items aren't blanketed across every hero, necessarily, but fan favorites like D.Va getting an adorable goth cat skin is enough to inspire its own fan art from just a Mary Blair-esque spray teasing it. Even when Overwatch isn't obviously dominating the world like during its initial year, the fandom around it is more thirsty for new things than ever.
Plenty of multiplayer games rotate in cosmetic items outside of events. Valve's Team Fortress 2, what some may call proto-Overwatch, regularly cycled in new cosmetics for its heroes to don. Even smaller-scope multiplayer games, like Uncharted 4's tacked on multiplayer suite, has semi-regularly published free cosmetic updates.
Overwatch, along with Nintendo's Splatoon 2, suffered from the same problem: once players got all they wanted out of the base game cosmetics, there wasn't much else to work towards unless you're really into competitive. Splatoon 2 remedied this by adding a massive cosmetics update in late November, including new hairstyles. For Overwatch, a cosmetics update outside of semi-frequent limited time events took well over a year.
While Blizzard's busy building an esports empire, I was worried that they'd forget about the little players, like me. The ones who play Overwatch as a glorified game of dress-up. While the incessant balance changes have their positives and negatives—the game always feels fresh with complete hero overhauls, but on the other hand, when a hero changes I usually find myself gravitating to another hero (such as now, I've gone from maining Mercy to Moira when my team needs a support)—it's not the only thing potentially driving casual players away from the game.
Even so, Tuesday's update is an exciting prospect for the future of the game. The hefty cosmetics update is ushering in Epic and Legendary-tier skins, new Highlight Intros for those coveted Plays of the Game, new emotes, among dozens of other goodies. This isn't an entirely new concept: in the past, Blizzard has added other cosmetics to the standard loot box rotation outside of timed events, but they've always been minimal. When the map Eichenwalde dropped, Reinhardt got two skins to go along with it. After a brief Heroes of the Storm promotion, the skins that were previously only attainable if people played a certain amount of matches in the Blizzard MOBA were released as standard loot box fodder.
But those updates in between events were few and far. The only new gear players could rely on was in the shape of the events (of which there are typically five, judging from last year). If players weren't into the contents of the event's skins and more, they were basically shit outta luck. Towards the middle of last year, I definitely related to that sentiment. But with this new update, which features a bunch of gear that I'll probably never get in loot boxes and have to buy with in-game gold, my outlook on the game's future as a casual multiplayer game feels a tad more refreshed.
Ideally, this big cosmetic update that released yesterday, alongside the new map Blizzard World, won't be the last of Blizzard tweaking their usual schedule. Back at BlizzCon, Blizzard even hinted that they'll potentially play with implementing more cosmetics outside of the confines of limited time events, and honestly, that's probably just what Overwatch needs to maintain the entire scope of its audience. After all, competitive-focused play isn't everything. Quick Play and Arcade exist for good reason. Sometimes we just want our hero of choice to look cute while they shoot.