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Three Years Playing Overwatch: From Making Lifelong Friends to Giving Up on a Toxic Community

games like overwatch

Overwatch was once the love of my life.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s completely true. I remember, back in 2016, when the game was first released, watching people playing the game online. I fell in love with the characters, the co-operative multiplayer gameplay and the game’s lore. But I never thought I’d get the chance to actually play the game myself.

You see, at the time, the game was only available on PC and I had nothing close to a gaming PC that would be able to run it.

It was only when I started writing for this very website that I realised just how much I loved being able to play and write about video games. My computer at the time was just for school, and it was running out of juice. I could play some non-demanding indie titles, but anything with even a whiff of graphical complexity? No chance. I talked with my parents, who could see how passionate I was about my new writing hobby/potential future career, and we agreed that I could use a portion of my student loan to get a gaming laptop.

Of course, when my laptop was delivered, I unwrapped it from its shiny box, downloaded Battle.net and bought the Overwatch. This was a few months after the game’s release, but I’d been so obsessed that I knew every character’s name, every map’s name, all of the character’s moves – everything. I’d even call my mom in the evenings and tell her all about Overwatch, even though she had no idea what I was talking about.

It took an age to download. For someone that had been waiting three months to play the game, waiting an hour for the game to download was SO PAINFUL. I loaded it up and that, as they say, was history.

I was initially horrified at the idea of playing an online game where people could hear my voice, talk to me, and tell me how bad I was at the game. I knew how bad I was; I didn’t need internet strangers (mostly dudes) telling me. So I played with no microphone, on Quick Play, hoping no one would notice that I was a girl.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to be a part of the GameSpew team who has never treated me differently because I’m female. Women are paving their way aggressively and fabulously into the games industry, but people are often still surprised to find out that – shock, horror – there’s women who play games. No one on the GameSpew team has ever assumed that I like games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing just because I’m a girl. I mean, I do love those games, but I also love shooting the crap out of stuff in games like DOOM and Borderlands. It helps that one half of GameSpew’s founding duo is a powerful, talented woman, but my point is, as lucky as I am to be a part of a diverse, understanding, amazing team that has always accepted me, not all places on the internet are like this.

And Overwatch, at the beginning, was pretty badly anti-girl. At least when I started. If you were a girl, you’d be mocked unless you chose a character like Mercy or Ana; god forbid you played as a male character. And I was almost always forced into healing roles – even when people didn’t know I was a girl, I was forced into healing roles. That’s why my very first main ended up being Mercy. She was the best healer at the time, and I was good at it, if I do say so myself. But she wasn’t the character I wanted to play.

It wasn’t until I decided to try competitive mode that I realised the wider community of Overwatch players wasn’t as anti-female as I first thought; it was just a small niche of people that I’d been unlucky enough to encounter during my first few weeks. Playing competitive Overwatch was where I really hit my stride. I had some players asking if anyone had mics and I had to type in the chat that I did not. Then, during one game I came across another girl who did have a mic. No one made fun of her, no one asked her to fill a healing role.

It gave me the confidence to plug in my own microphone and say hello. I decided to play Pharah – I’d been practising with her in Quick Play whenever I wasn’t forced to fill a healing role, and one of the team members in competitive complimented my skills. He invited me to a group with one of his other friends and we played a few competitive games together. I was kicking butt as Pharah.

At some point during our time playing together, however, another player joined; one who demanded I play as Mercy. I got ready to switch – I’d become accustomed to doing so, after all. However, the guy I’d been playing with for a few hours piped up to say exactly the words that I needed hear: “She’d be wasting her talent playing as Mercy, she needs to kill.”

Not the most elegant of sentiments, granted, but it was the confidence boost I needed to say no to switching to Mercy. And that’s where it all started. I played a lot of competitive games and met a lot of really nice people during my time playing Overwatch. I teamed up with the same two guys every night for months. With Blizzard consistently adding characters and having different events, it never became repetitive. And I loved playing with my friends – we got to know each other really well and talked all the time. Overwatch had become my outlet for getting rid of the day’s frustrations. So what happened? After almost two years of playing every single day, what drove me away from the game?

Life getting in the way is a valid reason, of course. I had a job alongside writing about video games, so finding time was increasingly difficult. Then there was the fact that my internet is usually terrible. But the main reason was that I just didn’t find the game as enjoyable as I once did.

The entire purpose of Overwatch is co-operative play; working with your team to try and win the game – or at least have a good time trying. I personally didn’t care about winning, but I did want to have fun. And it got the point where I just wasn’t anymore. Too many people weren’t playing for fun, they were playing to win – and if they didn’t, they were incredibly rude and unpleasant.

Essentially, Quick Play was the place where everyone would go to practice characters and then get angry when they didn’t win (or when they couldn’t get anyone to play a healing role). I still enjoyed Arcade mode and Mystery Heroes, where everyone’s characters are chosen at random – but even that could be a pretty toxic place. I’ve tried going back to competitive a few times but no matter how well I play or how many of my placement matches I win, I still end up in high bronze or low silver level and find it increasingly impossible to get out of.

So I was stuck. I enjoyed being able to talk with my friends everyday, but found myself wondering if it was worth it to stick around and play a game that didn’t really bring me joy anymore. I Marie Kondo’d the crap out of Overwatch slowly but surely – and currently, I don’t play it at all. Alright, I’ll occasionally go back if there’s an event running, to work towards getting a skin I like for a character, but recently I haven’t even liked a new skin enough to warrant a return.

Overwatch Doomfist

But here’s the thing: I want to go back to Overwatch. I didn’t like the negativity in the community and the way that players were forced into specific roles, but I cherish the friendships I made through playing the game. Despite everything, I still love Overwatch. I have Pop Vinyls of every female character, I have posters on my wall, and I devour the animated shorts and comics every time something new is released. I still enjoy reading about the game and keeping up to date with its latest updates – but even the new characters haven’t been enough to make me take the plunge.

What has me considering a come back, however, is the recent addition of Role Queue. Essentially, it lets you choose the role you want to play in either Competitive and Quick Play, and the matchmaking system will team up two tanks, two supports, and two damage heroes together to create a team. In order to incentivise choosing a role that is in high demand, players may be offered rewards such as lootboxes or extra experience.

From my experience with Overwatch, Role Queue is exactly what is needed to make it a friendlier and more inclusive place. If you queue as a tank, you’ll get to play as tank without anyone on your team pressuring you into a filling a role you aren’t comfortable with. Sure, Role Queue isn’t going to stop those players who only want to win, but it feels like a step in the right direction.

And with Overwatch launching on Nintendo Switch next month, it may well be enough to lure me back in – providing I can get my teammates to play on the new format, too. Being able to play under my bedsheets might just be enough to combat the negativity that has permeated one of my favourite games.

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Becca knew that she would be addicted to video games for the rest of her life when she saw the first pixelated zombie shambling across her TV screen while playing Resident Evil 3. She particularly enjoys being scared, laughing until she cries, or just plain crying while experiencing games. When she isn't playing games she loves spoiling her cat Usagi and eating any kind of sushi she can find.