There’s a push and pull between pro players and “regular folks” underlying every major esports game, a delicate dance of priorities. And when that balance gets knocked askew as it’s been in the case of Overwatch League Stage 4? Then nobody’s happy.
After last weekend’s stage-closing showdown between Boston Uprising and New York Excelsior, Overwatch League is once again in hibernation, leaving fans with little to do but yell at each other online. And yell they have—though this time, they’re also directing some of their pent-up sports emotions toward the league itself. The OWL will be updating its version of the game to include new hero Brigitte for Stage 4, but won’t be bringing over a more recent update that nerfed Brigitte and turned Hanzo into a credible threat.
Word of this decision first came from Dallas Fuel player Brandon “Seagull” Larned, who said during a stream that Hanzo’s much-reviled, thankfully-replaced scatter arrow ability will be part of Stage 4 despite all the fanfare around his overhaul. Overwatch League analyst Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson later confirmed this during his own stream.
While the lack of a single patch might, on its face, not seem like the biggest deal, the potential ramifications spread as far and wide as a whole dang flock of scatter arrows. Brigitte, the newly-christened queen of stuns, is expected to be a centerpiece of the stage four meta. Many felt like she was OP against tanks when she joined Overwatch’s competitive mode at the start of this month, and OWL fans expressed a quiet fear that she’d be a necessary pick in pro matches to the point that there’d be little variety and, thanks to all her action-halting stuns, even less excitement. They were hopeful, though, that some minor nerfs and the looming threat of a turbocharged Hanzo would at least go part of the way toward balancing things out.
“The new Hanzo has the potential to provide new skillful possibilities and comes with a nerf to Brigitte,” wrote a fan named Worthlessthoughts on Reddit in reaction to the Stage 4 patch decision. “A portion of the audience hates Brigitte and would like anything that can potentially cut down her usage. Plus, Hanzo could be fun to watch with his new movement.”
Overwatch League has run patches that were out of sync with what players had access to on live servers many times in the past, most notoriously during the days following the big Mercy nerf earlier this year. This situation, though, is a little bit different. Many OWL viewers are pointing to the curious fact that Brigitte only spent a handful of days in Overwatch’s competitive mode—the proving ground for patches before they hit OWL’s big stage—before the Hanzo patch went live and shook things up again. It’s a version of Overwatch nobody ever got to settle into. Whatever new meta emerges in the league, then, may not look anything like what regular players are dealing with.
“Didn’t that patch exist for like 3 days or something?” asked Jayne, an Overwatch streamer who specializes in analyzing OWL play, during a recent stream. “Why would I care about that patch? I’m, like, this close to just doing something else on my stream other than analyze Overwatch League Stage 4.”
Others, like Overwatch League caster and analyst Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles, have retorted that this is par for the course when it comes to big game developers and official esports leagues. “This prevents bugs and balance issues from ruining professional matches,” said Monte. “There is no world where OWL uses the live patch instantly.”
Still, OWL has picked an awkward spot to set up shop for an entire stage. Fans are so incensed that they’re petitioning Blizzard to change its mind and use a patch that’s even slightly newer. As of today, the petition had over 6,000 signatures.
Despite the outrage, though, there’s a strong chance that when Stage 4 trundles into town next week, it’ll be business as usual.
“The vast majority of viewers are not going to care,” said a fan named Isord. “We had a disconnect between instant rez mercy and fixed Mercy, we had one for Brigitte going live, we had one for Blizzard World. It’s a major non-issue outside of a relatively niche crowd.”