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Overwatch’s next patch adds experimental mode and League of Legends-style hero pools

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Expect ‘more frequent and impactful balance updates’

Blizzard’s colorful team-shooter Overwatch is getting some big changes next month. Today the developer provided some details on the game’s next patch, bringing Overwatch to version 1.45, and it includes two major shifts. One will add a more experimental flavor to the game, while the other concerns which hero characters players can choose from.

To start, there will be a new feature called the “experimental card,” which will be available right in the main menu. Essentially, it’s a way for Overwatch’s developers to toy around with ideas that might not actually make it into the main game. That could mean anything from balance changes to brand-new game modes. Overwatch already has a PTR, or public test realm, which serves as a sort of beta for incoming features, but the new experimental card will be different.

“Unlike the PTR, the experimental card is not for bug testing,” Blizzard says. “Instead, it will be used to experiment with balance updates, game modes, or changes to rules that we are investigating internally. While some of these features will reach live, the content within this game mode is not guaranteed to be released.” Crucially, while the PTR has been limited to Overwatch players on PC, the experimental card will also be available on console.

Arguably a more significant change will be the addition of “hero pools” for competitive play, a rotating selection of playable characters that will change every week. It’s reminiscent of League of Legends, where free-to-play champion characters are changed weekly. “The goal of this system is to allow the meta to change weekly and see more hero diversity in matches,” Blizzard says.

The feature won’t impact non-competitive modes like quick play, and Blizzard says the hero selection will be curated by development staff. There’s also a chance the mode won’t last long, depending how things go. “We’re trying hero pools for Season 21, and depending on how it performs, it may not persist past that season,” Blizzard explains. “We are also going to keep a close eye on this system to see if the hero pool rotation cadence should be changed.”

Starting in March the change will even impact the professional Overwatch League, with “one tank, one support, and two damage heroes unavailable for selection during matches each weekend.” You can find more details here.

More broadly speaking, the new patch will also usher in a new philosophy for Overwatch. According to Blizzard, it plans “to implement more frequent and impactful balance updates with the intention to deliberately change the meta.” The developer appears to be taking a page from Fortnite’s playbook, aiming to keep the game fresh through regular updates.

The changes are expected to go live in early February.