Of all the games that were revealed in 2019, Overwatch 2 was likely one of the least surprising of the bunch. Rumors of the game’s existence were floating around the internet for weeks, if not months, prior to the official announcement. Leaks of logo appeared shortly after. By the time Overwatch 2 was actually unveiled at BlizzCon, the only thing that was surprising about the game was that it has no concrete release date. Plus, if you look back at the last year of live events and updates for Overwatch, it seems clear that Blizzard was focused on something else.
If one were to make an educated guess on when development started on Overwatch 2, it might’ve been when Overwatch’s seasonal events stopped offering anything new. The release of new skins and the like continued of course, but, as an example, the Summer Games event has seen little change since its introduction. The same can be said of the Halloween event. The Winter event, while novel for a time, could be more or less recreated by the custom game creator tools. You can count the number of story-related events on one hand. It goes without saying that there’s little to differentiate between Competitive seasons either.
A similar pattern appears if you look at the release of major Overwatch patches through the years. Counting only new Hero releases, maps for core game types, new game types, and major game mechanic balancing overhauls (e.g. armor), there were around five such updates in 2019. In 2018, there were about seven major updates. In 2017, there were eight or so of these updates. Unfortunately, the newer Heroes have also been noticeably more and more problematic, with the exception of Ashe. In some ways, largely due to power creep, new Hero releases have actually shrunk the viable Hero pool. Speaking of which, normal balancing updates have also appeared to have slowed down.
Given that Overwatch is a multiplayer game, stagnation is a major concern. Typically, stagnation leads to a bored audience, a bored audience leads to a dwindling player base, and a dwindling player base leads back to stagnation as the developers move on to something else. Repeat as many times as needed until a game is officially “dead.” Now to be fair, Overwatch is an old game by multiplayer game standards. Having an active player base for a year is typically considered reasonable. Overwatch by comparison is about to turn four this year. The franchise is obviously not going anywhere anytime soon. The seeming profitability of the Overwatch League all but guarantees this. Of course, if the League adopts a traditional sports model, that might change things, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
In any case, if current patterns continue, the question is whether or not anyone will particularly care when Overwatch 2 releases. Overwatch 2 will still sell very well, there’s no doubt about that. It’s just a matter of whether it will be a one and done game or something that can carry launch excitement into the future. The weird thing is Blizzard would surely have a plan for a smooth transition from Overwatch into its sequel, but it doesn’t seem apparent at this time. At the very least, PTR patches are still very safe, and very gradual changes that are being released at a glacial pace. Maybe Blizzard thinks that the game is currently in an acceptable place as far as balancing is concerned. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would imply that Overwatch will not see substantial updates until the sequel is released, whenever that is.
Indeed, not having an official release window, much less a date, is oddly disconcerting. It definitely raises some questions. Will we have to wait months until something new comes along? Holiday 2020? Next year? Is there a reason to play until then? No one outside of Blizzard knows. There would be no concern whatsoever if Overwatch 2 was a completely new game. But instead, it is essentially an expansion of a mode that has proven to be a little tedious, to put it lightly. Admittedly, there’s no rush for Blizzard to reveal or even do anything as of now. Eventually though, because the two are so closely related, they will have to do something to show that Overwatch 2 is a game that people will want by showing that Overwatch is a game that you should keep playing.