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Like millions of other people, I fell hard for Overwatch. I must admit to not having followed it at all until the console closed beta back in April; I was vaguely aware of its existence, but didn’t know much about it at all. So it was out of sheer curiosity that I decided to try the beta on Xbox One. I jumped into a game against AI opponents to learn the ropes, and discovered that I had no idea what was happening or what I was supposed to do. Matches were over so fast that it was difficult to actually learn anything at all.

So I entered a game against fellow humans, woefully unprepared, and began to learn the hard way. Now, I’m not really one for online competitive shooters to be perfectly honest – Halo is really the only series whose multiplayer I’ve bothered to get to grips with, give or take a few dozen hours in Titanfall, because mechs and wall-running – so I only played a handful of games over the beta period. Enough to get a rough idea of what it is you do in Overwatch.

Yet after the beta ended, I found that I couldn’t get the game out of my head. There was something about it that kept firing my imagination, and I took to posting about it on forums, discussing it with friends, and then watching strategy videos on YouTube, which is when the game really started to come into focus and excite me with the possibilities: “I didn’t even try that character!” I’d think to myself. My mind ran away with all the cool things I could do with this character on that map, or even with a certain hero in a specific circumstance. I was hooked. I pre-ordered the limited edition. Blizzard had me.

So this is a thing that seems to be happening.

So this is a thing that seems to be happening.

And when the game came out, I immediately fell in love with it. I played it daily, sharing plays of the game online and with friends, uploading my own clips to YouTube, discussing my own strategies, and just plain having a ton of fun with the game.

Then came competitive, and I loved that too. I found it so much more fun than quick play, much more focused and less ‘messy’, thanks to the lack of hero stacking and players taking better account of team composition. When the season ended and I was forced back into quick play, I was a little disappointed.

So when competitive began anew with its second season, I couldn’t wait to jump in. And I was off to a flying start, winning my first four placement games on the trot. I joked to friends that I was obviously due a losing streak. I was. I lost all of the remaining placements bar one, which ended in a new-for-season 2 tie. I’d heard people complaining about ‘the slide’, and wondered if this was mine. It was, and it lasted weeks.

It was all going so well...

It was all going so well…

Yep. I didn’t win a game for almost an entire month. Of course, it’s not quite as catastrophic as that sounds; I was already playing the game less and less thanks to the streak of demoralising, one-sided losses I found myself in, managing maybe four or five games a week. But I didn’t win a single one of them, and eventually I found myself avoiding the game entirely. I’d still read and talk about Overwatch online, but my comments had a bitter edge to them. I’d still watch gameplay and strategy videos online, I’d still keep up to date with changes and new hero speculation. But when I thought about actually playing it, I’d have to force myself. I’d play for half an hour, spend the whole time getting utterly crushed, and then abandon it for another week. It went from something I loved being a part of, to something I only enjoyed at arm’s length: I still loved the game, I just didn’t want to actually play it.

All of which brings me up to today, with the game currently back in the headlines thanks to the surely-imminent Hallowe’en event and players hoping to greet a new hero in Sombra, I devised a plan. I’m going back to boot camp.

The first step to getting back in the game is avoiding competitive. Getting steamrolled in ranked matches is just too damn demoralising, so I’m going to just give it a wide berth for a bit. Secondly, I’m going to focus on heroes that I’ve neglected. At launch, my idea was to build up a base of three or four heroes that I felt really good with, and then branch out from there, and I was (and still am) very comfortable and confident with Pharah, Lucio and D.Va. I was also starting to get good with Junkrat, Mei and Soldier back when I was still playing regularly, but when the slide began and I started to drift away from the game a bit, I’d find myself falling back on my mainstays. This means I now suck with at least two of those heroes (I think I’m still kind of OK with Soldier).

It's going to be difficult not to autolock D.Va, because she's so damn awesome.

It’s going to be difficult not to autolock D.Va, because she’s so damn awesome.

So that’s why I’m going back to boot camp. I’m taking myself into an environment where I’m not so afraid to lose and I’m going to branch out, try new heroes and work at getting better. I started last night, taking my first step to getting back into the game by jumping into quick play for a few games with my established heroes, just to get my feet wet again. But over the coming days and weeks I’m going to force myself to vary my picks and get better with a wider array of heroes. To do this, I’m going back to the way I got to grips with a handful of characters right at the start, before rushing into the game and subsequently neglecting much of the cast. So I’ve given myself these three steps:

1: Jump into the training arena to get to grips with a hero I haven’t played before. Obviously I have a working understanding of every character, having played against them all at some point in my 50-odd hours with the game, but that’s not the same as actually using them. I need to learn what to do with them myself.

2. Play a few VS AI games with that new hero to see how they play in an actual match environment. I’ll go for medium AI so that the match isn’t over in seconds and thus teaches me nothing of note.

3. Take that hero into quick play and see how I get on.

I’m not sure how much more frequently I’m going to be playing Overwatch with this plan in mind, given we’re now entering video game silly season – indeed, Gears of War 4 is out today and I want to give that the time it deserves, too – but I do know I miss the game a lot and want to get back to having fun with it. So I think what I might do is set myself a loose goal of learning a new hero a week and then reporting back on a weekly basis. That also has the positive side effect of getting me to write more, which is another thing I’ve been neglecting of late.

So we’ll see how it goes. With any luck, I’ll see you back here next week with a new hero under my belt and, hopefully, some fun Overwatch stories to tell. Who knows, I might even give my Elgato a work out and get some video evidence on the go. At the very least, even if I don’t get back into competitive and find myself enjoying it again, at least I’ll have seen more of what the game has to offer.

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