It's been a week plus since Overwatch launched, and I'm up at 2am getting in a quick round before I go to sleep. Some amazing Symmetra and Zarya play later, I'm rounding level 26. Before I log off for the night, I check my newly-acquired Loot Box. Fingers crossed for a cool skin of some sort, I'm greeted with two sprays, a voice pack, and a victory pose. One of the sprays and the victory pose are already in my inventory, so the game throws a tiny bit of currency my way.
I have yet to receive a premium skin in Overwatch, outside of the skins given to me for having the Origins Edition.
Overwatch's progression system rewards players with a Loot Box every time they gain a level. Outside of these loot boxes, levels in Overwatch don't really represent anything other than time played. The difference between a level 10 and a level 15 player is frequently just the hours spent playing Overwatch.
So the real, tangible progression comes in the form of items you receive from loot boxes: victory poses, sprays, voice packs, intro vignette, and skins. (Blizzard itself noted that, not just me.) The latter tend to be the most desired items in the game, ranging from Rare and Epic skins which change a character's color to Legendary skins, which change the character model.
Epic skins tend to be the snazziest colors available and while all of the Legendary skins aren't great, many are rather cool. If you're a Bastion player, you probably have your eye on the Steambot skin, Pharah's Raptorion legendary is a great update, and Soldier 47's Daredevil skin adds more levity to a somewhat vanilla character. I've personally had my eye on every single one of Reinhardt's skins. I love the character and I just want to collect all of his gear.
You're relying completely on the Random Number God (aka RNGesus) to smile upon you when it comes to skin collecting. You can purchase more Loot Boxes with cash, in the following sets:
- 2 Loot Boxes – $1.99
- 5 Loot Boxes – $4.99
- 11 Loot Boxes – $9.99
- 24 Loot Boxes – $19.99
- 50 Loot Boxes – $39.99
There's no guarantee that you'll get anything for your trouble though. There is an alternate system where you can purchase skins, but gaining that currency relies on the same loot box system. One of that draws you may get from a loot box is in-game currency and if you draw an item you already have, a certain amount of currency is deposited instead.
This is a heavily-used form of monetization in free-to-play and mobile games. It can lead to whales, players that throw in a ton of money to get the items or toys they want. Money in, random stuff out.
This is more an annoyance than a point of anger. I have been here before. I'm a World of Warcraft veteran, so I remember the days of raiding and hoping that a raid or dungeon boss would drop the items that you had so desperately been waiting for. I look back on the dark days of running Ragnaros on my Paladin over and over, crossing my fingers that Judgement Legplates would drop. (They never did, but I saw Nemesis Leggings multiple times. Yay!) God forbid if you wanted the Bindings of the Windseeker.
Eventually Blizzard changed the system to armor tokens, so a drop could be used by multiple players within a raid. The same issue persisted. I remember the round robin of Burning Crusade dungeons: Prince in Karazhan for my helm or Gruul's Lair for my shoulders. Every week, every dungeon, waiting and hoping. Eventually luck was with me, but I know others who never got the chance to complete their set, their efforts ultimately useless in the face of randomness.
Blizzard seemed to realize that at some point that a player might never see their desired item. Burning Crusade added Badges of Justice to help the issue, allowing players to buy near-raid level gear. It wasn't the same, but it was close enough. Then the Wrath of the Lich King expansion added Emblems of various types, allowing players to actually purchase the raid Tier armor tokens. If the RNG wasn't on your side, that wasn't a problem, because eventually you'd have enough Emblems to buy that armor token outright. It was an acknowledgement that things might not go the player's way, but their long-standing effort and success should still be rewarded. (Blizzard backtracked on that in Mists of Pandaria and beyond.)
The currency in Overwatch is similar, the problem is it's painfully slow and is still contingent on RNG. There's no alternate way to gain additional currency. Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm both have daily quests (no, neither game is a 1-to-1 comparison to Overwatch), allowing you to augment currency gain by using certain characters or completing specific match conditions.
There's a number of other ways that Blizzard could help unlucky players move forward. Adding daily quests similar to Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm would alleviate some of this issue. Alternatively, providing extra currency for participating in the Weekly Brawl series or upping the currency refund for duplicate items would help.
Remember, until something else comes along, collecting skins, sprays, intros, and whatnot are the only tangible results of progression in Overwatch. Given my current track record, I'll probably be around level 50+ before I have the currency needed for a single Legendary skin.
I'm not sure Blizzard will implement any of these measures though, because in the end, they want you to buy more loot boxes. That's how gacha-style monetization works: give people the hint of something they want, then make them spend money merely for the possibility of getting it.
So here I sit, looking longingly at Reinhardt's Blackhardt skin and counting do the levels until I have enough currency to buy it. Hopefully, you're having better luck than I.