Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan announced that big changes are coming to the team-based shooter's Competitive mode. Season 6 will be shorter than its predecessors, change Blizzard's approach to players' skill ratings, and boast improved matchmaking, among other things.
Overwatch has four main game modes. Quick Play offers casual matches where people are likely to just mess around. Arcade hosts numerous game types, like the new deathmatch modes, where victories are rewarded with loot boxes. Competitive lets people strut their stuff and climb the ladder to reach higher and higher ranks. And the Custom mode lets people set up their own servers with pretty much any settings they want.
Competitive is the most serious of the game modes. Blizzard has positioned the mode as the first step on the path to becoming a professional Overwatch player in Overwatch Contenders, the Overwatch World Cup, and the Overwatch League, as well as outside tournaments. Quick Play, Arcade, and Custom games don't really matter in the long term, but many players want to do their best in Competitive matches.
Here's how Competitive mode works now. Blizzard has hosted five different "seasons" that, at least recently, have lasted three months apiece. At the beginning of each season, you play 10 placement matches to determine your skill rating (SR) for the season. You gain more SR for a win and lose some for a loss. Your SR determines your rank, which ranges from Bronze (anything below 1500) and Top 500 (which varies by server).
That's going to change with Season 6. Kaplan said the season will last two months instead of three to make sure people stay engaged throughout the entire season. He also said your starting SR will be more accurate. Blizzard previously gave you a lower SR than you deserved so you could "climb" back to where you should be. Many players have been frustrated by this decision—it's not fun to finish a season in Platinum and get placed in Gold. It also seemed odd to play 10 placement matches only to have your SR determined by Blizzard's whims.
Another controversial decision was an SR "decay" system that penalized players who didn't play a certain number of games each week. Once you reach Diamond, you're expected to play at least seven games a week. If you don't, your SR will drop 50 points a day. Take one trip and you can find yourself 100 SR lower not because you lost a bunch of games, but because Blizzard thought you didn't play enough Overwatch.
Kaplan said in the developer update that Blizzard will change the decay system in Season 6. Players will be required to play five games a week instead of seven, and the rate of decay will be cut down to 25 SR. The shorter season will also reduce the possibility of losing hundreds of SR, so this should mitigate frustrations, and Kaplan said that Blizzard's open to making further changes to this system in the future.
All of this will culminate in better matchmaking at higher ranks. Instead of throwing a Top 500 player into a Master game two ranks underneath them, Overwatch's system will make the Top 500 player wait a little longer in exchange for a fairer match. That should make things more enjoyable for everyone—now you won't have to worry as much about getting stomped on by someone playing a match well below their rank.
Kaplan revealed that other changes will be coming to Season 6 of Overwatch competitive; check out the developer update for more details. The season will kick off on August 31.