The games industry has changed dramatically since Overwatch first launched in May 2016. Free-to-play models for online multiplayer experiences and battle pass monetization models have become commonplace with games like Fortnite, League of Legends and Counter-Strike leading the pack.
On Oct. 4, Blizzard also will follow this model when Overwatch 2 launches with three new heroes, six new maps, a new competitive ranking system and much more. These new details have shown how Blizzard and the Overwatch team is shifting to match popular trends in order to revitalize the vibrant first-person shooter's playerbase.
"Overwatch is fundamentally changing," Overwatch 2 game director Aaron Keller told reporters in a group media session. "It's not because this is our most significant release since the game launched -- there is a lot coming with it. We've changed a lot with the game."
The shift to five-player teams and a free-to-play model are two things that Keller and other members of the Overwatch development team continually highlighted during an hour-long media session ahead of their reveal event on June 16. Keller made it clear that his team was incredibly committed to updating and adding content to Overwatch 2 for the foreseeable future.
"The biggest part of [going free-to-play] is that it's a huge way for the team to think about the game and how we release things differently," Keller said. "It doesn't just end on October 4th. We are so committed to putting out more content than ever before."
Sojourn, Junker Queen and mysterious new hero joining the game
Image credit: Activision Blizzard
Overwatch 2 ditches the original Overwatch's loot box mechanic and inconsistent update schedule for nine-week, themed seasons centered around a battle pass. A new hero will be added every other season, meaning that we could see three to four new heroes added to the game each year.
"At the end of the day if we have 150 heroes and people are still jazzed about them, then we'll keep going," said Overwatch lead hero designer Geoff Goodman about whether or not they plan a limit to how many characters they add in the coming years.
Three of those new heroes will be introduced on Oct. 4, including the rail gun-toting damage hero Sojourn, the tanky leader of Junkertown, Junker Queen, and a mysterious new fox-like support hero who was teased during the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase. Another new hero (and map) is set to arrive Dec. 6 with the start of Season 2.
Overwatch fans have been expecting Sojourn since she was originally announced in February 2021. Junker Queen, on the other hand, is a new tank hero that came as a pleasant surprise to fans, even though she's been a small part of the game's lore, including as a voice on the Junkertown map that was added to the game in 2017.
"You're either braver or dumber than you look to come back here, Junkrat," Junker Queen, who's real name is Odessa Stone, says over the intercom on Overwatch's Junkertown map when a Junkrat is on the offensive team.
"I've always planned to include her [as a playable character]," Goodman said about how long Junker Queen has been in development.
Junker Queen is a new tank hero who wields a giant ax and a throwable knife, named Carnage and Gracie, respectively. Goodman referred to her playstyle as overly aggressive with a Lucio-like shout ability that boosts the speed and abilities of any teammates that surround her.
Her move set also includes abilities that siphon health from enemies and restores her own, rewarding players that use the tank hero to get up-close-and-personal with the enemy team.
Why constant updates will be the norm going forward
Image credit: Activision Blizzard
Junker Queen is one of the first examples of how Blizzard plans to change its relationship with Overwatch and its community. Keller said that the team is no longer focused on refining a large amount of content for "big box" release dates, instead releasing more content, more often as it becomes ready.
"The Overwatch team has grown three times in size since Overwatch first launched," Keller said. "That lets us work on multiple heroes and maps at the same time across the team."
Multiple members of Overwatch’s development team were giddy with excitement as they highlighted some of the 25,000 new voice lines that will be available in the game. They were particularly excited about one that’s triggered when a Junkrat kills a Reaper from far away as the Reaper is ulting.
The team continued to emphasize that they hope the shift to a free-to-play model, engine updates and new tools that will allow for quicker balance patches, and a steady drip of content will bring old players back to Eichenwalde and Lijiang Tower and excite new players trying the game.
"Free-to-play, for us, is about growing the audience. This is a game at its most fun when you can jump in with friends. We think that this is the best time to make that shift is with the launch of Overwatch 2," said current Overwatch commercial leader and former Overwatch League commissioner Jon Spector. "It's got to be a marathon and not a sprint. We want to do this for years."
Players eager to jump in sooner can sign up for the next Overwatch 2 beta that begins June 28 for PC, Xbox and PlayStation.
Lead image credit: Activision Blizzard