You queue up for an Overwatch map, check your team’s composition and pick a character you’re comfortable with. Let’s say your team is low on damage, so you go with Junkrat. Suddenly, the faint crackling sound of your teammate’s microphone fills your ears. And that’s when you hear it:
“Can you switch?” your teammate says. “Junkrat isn’t really meta.”
It’s not uncommon for a team to debate whether someone’s hero choice is the wisest, but using the “meta” — a term that describes which heroes or strategies are currently in vogue among professional players — as a justification for forcing someone to switch is absurd and frustrating.
Wait, what’s an Overwatch meta? Who decides what the meta is?
If the term “meta” is new to you in the context of a game like Overwatch, it’s a word that describes what lineup of heroes and which strategies are currently dominating the professional scene.
For example, the “triple tank” meta dominated professional matches for much of the fall. Characters like Reinhardt and Ana were considered mandatory picks. But now, the more agile, erratic “dive” meta — with fast characters like Winston, Tracer and Lúcio — is most popular among pros.
It’s not as though some high council weighs the positives and negatives of every possible team composition and, after donning black, hooded robes, determine the new meta every few months. Just like chokers aren’t cool anymore, the current Overwatch meta is what pros have tacitly decided works (for now). Some of the meta’s evolution has to do with balance changes Blizzard makes to specific heroes, but a lot of it simply revolves around inventive new strategies. In three months, the meta will likely be entirely different.
And that’s where the problem arises. When casual players like us take the predominant Overwatch meta and extrapolate it to our own pick-up games, we force players to pick heroes they’re not comfortable with and hinder our chances at winning by trying to emulate a professional scene from which we couldn’t be more divided. (And then people rage-quit like this.)
In fact, there’s been so much hand-wringing over the Overwatch meta that director Jeff Kaplan published a forum post to set a few things straight and tell everyone to calm the heck down.
There’s a deep divide between the professional and casual Overwatch scenes.
Kaplan’s post is a lengthy read, but a good chunk of it sheds light on just how different the perceived meta is from how the majority of players actually play — and why trying to balance the game based solely on the professional scene is unwise.
“[The dive meta] is the predominant strategy being used in the professional scene,” Kaplan wrote on the Overwatch forums. “The top six picked heroes (over the last month) in Quick Play are Genji, 76, Hanzo, McCree, Mercy and Junkrat. For the statistical majority of Overwatch players who are not pros and don’t play Competitive, this is your meta.”
In other words, the strategies people see in professional matches aren’t matching up to how the majority of fans actually play Overwatch. Professional teams literally get paid to play Overwatch, and their strategies revolve around the six of them communicating with one another quickly and efficiently.
When random people across the country play together for just a single match, there’s no way that team is going to be as efficient as the pros. As a result, the strategies they use and the heroes they pick are going to vary much more wildly — and that’s OK.
This doesn’t mean casual players can’t learn a thing or two from the pros. That’s not what I’m arguing. Dive compositions are effective and deadly if a team can pull it off. I’m simply saying that taking the professional scene as some kind of instruction manual for how to play Overwatch is silly. The two scenes just aren’t equivalent.
Carve your own path. Be the master of your own destiny. Establish your own meta. Feel free to take tips from the pros, but resist the idea that the professional meta is the only way to play Overwatch well. That’s simply not the case.
More Overwatch news and updates
For more on Overwatch, check out the rest of what Mic has to offer. Here is an intro to the cute, new “Wholesome Overwatch” subreddit, a look at some gorgeous Overwatch-themed PS4 and Xbox One controllers, a cool Easter Egg in the new Horizon Lunar Colony map and a criticism of Blizzard’s failures in its design of Symmetra.